The Seventh Trumpet – The Prospect of Judgement
The last three trumpets announce the three great woes which are to fall on the earth.
The first woe (fifth trumpet) is the flood of lying spirits from hell which spread confusion and darkness through the earth; we have seen this fulfilled many times through the years.
The second woe (sixth trumpet) is the hideous violence of war which comes out of the hardened hearts of men. Again, we have seen something of this throughout the centuries but particularly in our own now that war has become so mechanised and hideously "efficient".
But the last and greatest disaster - the third woe, the seventh trumpet - comes from heaven; it is God's own terrible answer to the sinful state of the earth. It is the final and total outpouring of the wrath of God.
The Day of Wrath is greeted with praise from heaven because it is the day when the kingdoms of the world become the kingdom of God.
The announcement in v15 takes us back to the promise of 10:7. Taken together they tell us that there is to be no further time for rebellion when the events of the seventh trumpet are completed. These promises are important land-marks. Among other things, they tell us that a millennium with a further revolt of sinful humanity is not possible after those days. As we shall see in chapter twenty of Revelation, there is a better way to understand the millenial teaching which does not contradict these promises.
Some writers find two (or even three) judgement days in other parts of Revelation but here, as in the rest of the bible, there is ONE time for all judgement, reward and penalty (v 18). Readers are only led into inventing such complicated systems if they insist on a strictly literalistic reading of the scripture.
The most famous of such schemes is labelled "dispensationalism" because it claims to find no less than seven dispensations or changes in God's covenant through history. Like a ramshackle mansion it has grown new extensions every time part of the system threatened to fall down and whenever fulfilments of prophecy promised as "imminent" have failed to materialise.
Dispensationalism was invented by a number of brilliant but wayward minds in the first half of the 19th century and has been getting more complicated (or, from the other point of view, more refined) ever since.
There is no time here to answer the claims of this system, or the adaptations of it in the schemes of Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and numerous smaller sects.
A fatal criticism of all such schemes is that they tie up the Revelation as the province of "students of prophecy" rather than opening it up to the humble christian. What is worse, perhaps, is that they throw the whole book into the future, rather than receiving it as a book for today.
Dispensationalism has taken great hold in the comfortable centres of economic surplus - nineteenth century Europe and twentieth century America. This is not an accident. Pampered, self-satisfied christians find it difficult to see this age as the "great Tribulation". The sting of the Revelation's attack on "easy believism" is drawn by turning it into a textbook for empty speculations about the future.
This school of theology has thrown up an army of enthusiastic doomsters who have trivialised the christian hope, so that some of us are even embarrassed to talk about Christ's return, which is still the real centre of all our hopes.
Christ will return to reign (v 15 & 17) and His rule contains the fulfilment of every promise and prophecy. That will be the day when all things will be restored. If sin were to go unpunished for a moment or a promised reward were withheld, then His reign would be imperfect and inadequate. The day Christ takes His Great Power and begins to reign is, therefore, the day of judgement.
In the Revelation the Kingdom of God is a matter of hope and promise (v12). Many christians bandy with words like "the Kingdom" and speak of being in the Kingdom now or even "bringing in" the Kingdom. Is this right?
While Jesus was on earth the Kingdom was revealed (since He is the King) and, now he has returned to glory, the Kingdom is near when his Gospel is preached and believed but the Kingdom will not come until the King returns.
Just as Christ only dwells in us as "the hope of glory" (Col.1:27) and through faith (Eph.3:17) so we are members of the coming Kingdom in hope and faith. Christians are often tempted to bring Christ down from heaven and the Kingdom into the here and now. But our Gospel and our hope looks to a future day when Christ really will return and reign forever in power.
This does not mean that we should banish all talk of the Kingdom of heaven now. It just means that we should recognise that we experience it now as a matter of faith and hope, unseen but real (Luke 17:20/21). Although the Kingdom was announced by sign miracles through Jesus and His Apostles the continuing evidence of its reality is the faith and life of christians in the Spirit (Romans 14:17,18). The Kingdom will come when Christ appears.
In these verses His return is not described but anticipated. God has more to teach us about the spiritual realities in this age before dealing in detail with the Bowls of Wrath and the glories to follow. These few verses are inserted here to remind us where we are going. The focus is on the elders of the church in heaven rejoicing in the fact that the delay will end in the days of the seventh trumpet and that the justice of God will be revealed.
There is a fascinating development in v17. Compare what is said about the Almighty there with His description in 1:8. Instead of being the one who "is to come" He has now taken power and has begun to reign.
We are reminded in the next verse that the quarrel between heaven and earth was started by mankind but will be ended by God. This is a reference to Psalm Two - a part of the Old Testament which was very important to the early church and is quoted in the Acts of the Apostles (e.g. 4:25, 13:33) as a clear prophecy of Jesus and the irrational opposition to Him.
There is one note here which is strange to our ears. How can the church take delight in a day of such destruction and suffering? (see v 16-18). This is something of a mystery but Rev. 9:20-21 gives at least some idea. God in his patience holds back the angels of destruction but the time of grace is abused as mankind devotes itself to sin. The trumpet period was a time of generous forbearance while the witnesses told the gospel to the world but the world has treated them in the same way it treated the Lord (11:7-10).
We cannot understand heaven's joy in the day of wrath if we haven't understood the horrific evil which is in the world. Just as our hearts cry out for justice in the face of an awful crime and we are glad when justice is done, so heaven applauds the justice of God on that Day.
Jesus spoke a parable on this matter of the way God patiently dealt with Israel but eventually destroyed her in judgement (Luke 20:9-18). That parable has now taken on universal significance as so many in the world refuse to accept Christ as king. The coming of wrath on the world will be just as right and proper as the coming of wrath on Judea in the first century of Our Lord.
There is also the matter of reward for those who did "reverence the name" of God and often suffered hardship as a result. These are the "meek who inherit the earth" and they cannot enter into their inheritance until the earth has been judged and purged. It may seem like low self-interest for the church to rejoice in receiving her inheritance but it is surely more. She served and waited in hope. The fulfilment of that hope, based on God's righteous promise, is a good and holy thing which every morally conscious creature will welcome.
But this is more than a matter of justice. We can not be indifferent to God. If we hate the sin of the world we love God, if we are friendly to sin we hate Him (James 4:4). Loving God means we want to see Him rule. We see Him as WORTHY (4:11,5:9) and take His side in His great argument with the world.
The description of the world as Egypt in 11:8 and the mention of plagues also remind us of the Exodus account. For faithful christians the return of Christ will be our "exodus" when we leave a world which has persecuted some of us, mocked others and rejected our Lord. For suffering christians particularly it will be a day of great joy.
Even if some we love suffer His wrath we will say "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus." (Rev.22:20, Luke 14:26 - that Day will reveal ultimate loves and loyalties.)
These are hard things. We should not forget that but for grace none of us could hope for any good from God's hand. We should cling on to to Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb, who suffered in the place of His people and we should urge everyone to lay hold on Him while they have time.
V18 speaks of God destroying those who destroy the earth. God cares about his creation and we have violated the trust placed in us to care, tend and subdue the earth in a way which is responsible to the creator.
This remarkable prediction that man will have a destructive effect on his own home seems to be coming to fulfilment now. In an indirect sense it was always true. God cursed the earth in response to sin (Genesis 3:17-19). The irony of the modern world is that He allows man to bring the trumpet and bowl judgements on himself. Technological Man is a blinded Samson whose new-found mastery of the earth is pulling down disaster on his own head.
The sudden appearance of the ark of the covenant in the heavenly temple coincides with the hymn of praise over the judgement of the world. The fate of the ark, which seems to have gone missing from the temple some time after the reign of King Josiah, was a subject of lively speculation and legend amongst Jews up to the time of Christ.
The ark was probably taken as plunder during the troubles in the last years of the Kingdom of Judah. By Jeremiah's time it was missing and sorely missed. Its loss seemed a sign of God's disfavour in the same way as it had been in the days of Eli (1 Samuel 4:17-22).
In Jeremiah 3:14-18 there is a promise that God will restore the blessings of His presence in a better way so that the ark will not be missed or thought of. This glimpse of the ark in heaven is a suggestion that all the covenant promises will be fulfilled in the days of the last trumpet. In other words, it is a visual restatement of the promises of 10:7 and 11:18.
These promised blessings will not be introduced smoothly. The lightning, rumblings, thundering, earthquake and mighty hailstorm of v19 anticipate the coming of God's wrath (16:17-21).
Before that is laid before us we have a crucially important series of visions on the nature of our spiritual warfare.