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The Master’s Trumpets


Revelation 8:6-12
June 7, 2020
Lord’s Day Worship
Sean Higgins

The sermon starts around 20:05 in the audio file.



Or, The Blasts of Blood, Burning, and Bitterness

The first four trumpets belong together, and also the next “And I looked” occurs in verse 13, compared with 8:2, so verses 6-12 will be our focus.

The trumpets belong with and are blown after the breaking of the seventh seal. In context, after the silence in heaven for half an hour in the previous paragraph, the trumpets initiate the next phase of apocalypse. The prayers of all the saints are presented to God, and God is so pleased that He cues the angel to throw down judgment, and the trumpets are blown.

There is a shift with the breaking of the seventh seal, and the completely opened scroll, with atypical silence in heaven and the prayers received. The trumpets are next level regimen (a prescribed course or system), not a unit of soldiers but a prescribed course of action (i.e., a “regiment”), and the final three trumpets bring woes “to those who dwell on the earth” (8:13). An eagle appears in verse 13 and announces woes before the last three.

These first four disrupt the earth’s ecology, and indirectly men. The fifth and sixth target men directly, the seventh is similar to the fifth and sixth.

In titling the sermon, “The Master’s Trumpets,” I’m playing on John Knox’s self-aware duty to “blow his master’s trumpet” and perhaps his most famous book, “The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstruous Regimen of Women.” Of course, the seven trumpets are given to angels, but they are given by order of the Lamb (Revelation 8:1). This is the regimen of retribution (compared to revenge, retaliation) prescribed by the Master.

Are these “warning” judgments, or more “hardening” judgments? And are we willing, let alone eager, in our own context, for God to harden the hearts of the unrepentant to make His righteousness known? More signs against Pharaoh meant more of God’s power being shown, as Exodus 9:16, and quoted in Romans 9:17. What if God wants to show how stupid sin is? Judgments may lead to repentance, they may make a point about judgment itself.

Comparisons of the trumpet judgments to the Egyptian plagues are fine, but mostly to show that God’s arsenal has not been depleted. Similarities to the seventh (hail), the first (water to blood), and the ninth (darkness) plagues respectively show through the trumpets. It is also interesting that most who view the trumpet judgments in Revelation as symbols and who relate them to the plagues of Egypt do not take the plagues of Egypt as symbolic.

On the nature of the trumpet judgments, Morris says that it would be a “great mistake to read this fiery, passionate and poetic spirit as though he were composing a pedantic piece of scientific prose” (quoted by Mounce). For my part, I want all of us to keep reading the words of the prophecy and see what makes sense of John’s vision.

6  Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them.”

The seven angels were introduced in verse 2, prior to the parenthesis of prayers adding fuel to the fire of God’s judgment. In verse 6 each angel has received his trumpet and is “prepared to blow” it. Instruments are up, lips are pursed. They are ready to sound off.

The verb (σαλπίζω) for “blow (a trumpet)” is a cognate with the noun (σάλπιγξ) for “trumpet.” But “blow” is fine, so is “sound” (KJV, NASB) or “publicize with fanfare” (BAGD). If we were John Knox, we might say “blast.”

The angels are unleashing God’s judgment, one trumpet blow at a time.

First Angel (verse 7)

The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the earth. And a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up. (verse 7)

I’ve seen hail falling, I’ve never seen fire falling, unless you count lightning as electrical fire. I certainly have never seen anything falling “mixed with blood.” Where did the blood come from? Whose blood is it? Is it even real blood? What in the paragraph suggests that wouldn’t it be?

These “were thrown.” The eighth angel threw fire on the earth in verse 5, so who is throwing this concoction? Hurling sounds like a thing from someone’s hand. I love the image of God’s storehouses, for snow and hail, as described to Job, Job 38:22-23, “reserved for the time of trouble, for the day of battle and war.”

However much blood was mixed with the hail and fire, the result of this mixture was combustion. Observe three times the phrase “burned up,” and three times it was a “third.” If “fire” and “burned” are symbols, symbols of what? Some think the fire is a metaphor for famine.

How strictly should we take the fraction? It at least means it’s not final. A Preterist, one who thinks Revelation was written before AD 70, takes this as a “third” only in Jerusalem, or perhaps the Roman Empire.

Even the “green grass” was burned up, not just the dry, and “all” of it compared to the thirds. The land and its vegetation are consumed, black, scorched earth.

Second Angel (verses 8-9)

The judgment redirects land to sea.

The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. (verse 8)

In view is “something like a mountain,” so, what is it? Also note, the Bible does know how to identify something as symbolic, here a simile. Is a volcano like a mountain? How about a meteorite?

Or, symbolizers see it as a kingdom, namely, Babylon (which could be a reference to Rome in John’s mind). The mountain would be the object of God’s judgment, not the means of it. Babylon was addressed as a mountain in the OT:

“Behold, I am against you,
O destroying mountain, declares the LORD, which destroys the whole earth; I will stretch out my hand against you, and roll you down from the crags, and make you a burnt mountain.” (Jeremiah 51:25)

Doug Wilson, for example, in his commentary on Revelation, is confident that the “mountain” is Jerusalem/Israel in AD 66-70. The “sea” that Israel falls into are the Gentiles. Then he quotes Josephus about a battle that turned the Sea of Galilee red with the bodies and blood of dead soldiers, but then offers zero explanation about the rest of the descriptions in verse 8 or 9.

This whatever-mountainish-land was “thrown into the sea.” More throwing. Even if no hands were visible picking the mountain-like-mass up by the roots, the force makes the movement appear rapid.

That part of the “sea became blood” reminds us of the first plague in Egypt (Exodus 7:20-21). It’s not comforting, and yet it’s also not complete. There is no “like” or “as” blood either; it’s blood-blood.

What would be the physical components, the elements combined to turn water into blood via stone? Of course, because we don’t know the formula doesn’t mean God can’t do it by His word. It also makes one wonder, if the mountain is Babylon, what is in what way are the Gentiles-as-sea turned to blood?

A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed. (verse 9)

Living things “died” and built things were “destroyed.” Did the fish die from being displaced onto dry land? Were the ships demolished because they crashed into each other? Is this third all in one geographical location, or is it a symmetrical all over?

The destruction does not seem to be caused by a tidal wave (contra John MacArthur), but because of the blood, though the ships may crash into each other.

If the mountain is a kingdom, how does that mess with the fish? The fish are people? Or are the waters people? It’s confusing.

Interesting that there was no mention of animals or men dying with the hail-fire from the first trumpet. Here explicitly, life and commerce, ecology and economy, are damaged.

Third Angel (verses 10-11)

The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. (verse 10)

Another simile, but this time to describe how the star fell, not that something fell like a star. This was a “great star.”

How does one star fall on a third of the non-salt water, inland sources on earth? Perhaps more importantly, how does one star fall when it seemed that all the stars already fell, per Revelation 6:13 “and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale”?

blazing like a torch” could mean like a comet, or meteor, on fire, like a rocket on reentry to the earth’s atmosphere.

The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter. (verse 11)

Wormwood has a history, and it’s not a pleasant one. Like king Midas turned everything he touched into gold, so Wormwood turned all the water it touched into wormwood. The “strange woman” is like wormwood (Proverbs 5:3-4), and she brings death. This is the only verse in the NT that speaks of wormwood.

G. K. Beale believes that Wormwood is the name of Babylon’s angel. He goes further to argue that there is no water, no poison, but bitter emotions and experience. But that interpretation requires commitment to finding symbols everywhere, when instead the destruction of nature seems to be the point.

It was fresh water, so drinking water. This bitter water is contaminated, poisonous, foul, not potable. Industrial waste dumps don’t compare (per Grant Osborne).

It’s the opposite of Moses throwing a stick in the water at Marah when bitter became sweet (Exodus 15:25).

Fourth Angel (verse 12)

The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light might be darkened, and a third of the day might be kept from shining, and likewise a third of the night. (verse 12)

More thirds, this time affecting “rulers” in the sky, that is, the sun, moon, and stars. I say “rulers” because God calls them that in Genesis 1:16-18. There are similarities to the sixth seal (6:12-13), yes. And, as in chapter 6, some believe these are political rulers, Roman emperors (like Doug Wilson).

The planets will be “struck.” As the trumpet blows, the planets will receive a blow. The Greek verb, ἐπλήγη, is related to the noun, πλήγη (plēgē, “plague”).

It is more than an eclipse.

“both day and night are “alike” (ὁμοίως) without light; that the darkness lasts for a third of their length; and that the darkness means there is absolutely no light” (Grant Osborne)

It isn’t partial darkness, but complete darkness, for a part of the time.

Conclusion

It does not appear that repentance is in view, but retribution on those who refuse to repent. Without saying repentance is no longer possible, Revelation 9:20-21 corroborates that men will think, after six trumpets, that they are fine.

As with the churches in Revelation 2-3, the call for us is still to conquer. We must conquer “fighting without and fear within” (2 Corinthians 7:5). Don’t yield to the pressures, don’t give in to false teaching, don’t be lukewarm. Strengthen what remains, and seek the crown of life.


Charge

Benedictions are good speakings that bestow blessing on the hearer. It’s possible to ruin it by not receiving it. For example, we read in the Bible that God is omnipresent; where can we flee from His presence? (Psalm 139:7) So what would you say to a person who prayed, “Lord, be with us today”? You might say, “You don’t need to pray that, He’s already with us.” And, sure. But we also read in the Bible that blessing and encouragement are imparted to us by the Word. And so, while the Lord promised His peace and His presence, it really is provided to you.

Benediction:

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all. (2 Thessalonians 3:16, ESV)