In Revelation 8 we get the opening of the Seventh Seal and the sounding of the first Four Trumpets. This chapter marks a transition from the Seals section (Rev. 6-8) of the book, which began in chapter 6, to the Trumpets section (Rev. 8-11), which will run from here through the end of chapter 11.
The Seventh Seal
At the opening of the Seventh Seal, “there was silence in heaven for about half an hour” (Rev. 8:1). This heavenly silence likely corresponds to the earthly ritual at the Temple, where the priest traveled from the Courtyard into the Holy Place and offered the prayers of the saints upon the Golden Altar of Incense (Luke 1:8-12, Lev. 16:11-14). In Luke 1, we see Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, carrying out this duty; it says in verse 10, “And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense.” Alfred Edersheim describes the scene this way, “As the president gave the word of command, which marked that ‘the time of incense had come,’ the whole multitude of the people outside withdrew from the inner court, and fell down before the Lord, spreading their hands in silent prayer.”
“Silence,” as Peter Leithart says, “is an audible prostration…it is an act of faith…it is the prerequisite to hearing.” There is as Ecclesiastes 3:7 says, “a time to keep silence and time to speak.” So also in the Lord’s Service, there is a time to sing praises (Rev. 5:13) or to cry out like the martyrs beneath the altar (Rev. 6:9-11), and there is a time to keep silence, as in the hearing of God’s trumpeting Word. Silence is obedience to Habakkuk 2:20 which says, “The Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him.”
Another key passage that gives us context for Revelation 8 is Israel’s conquest of Jericho in Joshua 6. There, Joshua tells the people, “You shall not shout or make any noise with your voice, nor shall a word proceed out of your mouth, until the day I say to you, ‘Shout!’ Then you shall shout” (Josh. 6:10). While the people marched in silence, “seven priests bearing seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark of the Lord went on continually and blew with the trumpets…and so they did for six days” (Josh. 6:13-14). On the seventh day, the people marched around the city seven times, “And the seventh time it happened, when the priests blew the trumpets, that Joshua said to the people: ‘Shout, for the Lord has given you the city!Now the city shall be doomed by the Lord to destruction, it and all who are in it. Only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all who are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent’” (Josh. 6:16-17). So Joshua gives us this pattern of 1) silence followed by 2) trumpets followed by 3) the conquest and destruction of a city. Notice also that God marks out (seals) and saves Rahab and her household. The righteous are spared from the wrath of the Lamb.
While there is silence in heaven during this Seventh Seal, it is about to get loud upon the earth. Verses 5-6 say, “Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth. And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake. So the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.” The rest of chapter 8 records in strict succession the sounding (εσαλπισεν, “trumpeting”) of the first four of the seven trumpets. Let’s turn now to a closer examination of each blast.
Seven Trumpets: Trumpets 1-4
When it comes to interpreting the Seven Trumpets, commentators differ wildly amongst themselves. Here’s how some of the different interpretive schools handle them:
- Futurists punt these events into a future (to us) Great Tribulation.
- Historicists connect each trumpet to various events in later church history. For example, Nicholas of Lyra (1329 AD) sees the silence of the Seventh Seal as the closing of Christian churches under Julian the Apostate (the Roman Emperor who lived from 331-363 AD). The trumpet blasts are then descriptive of things like the Arian controversy (First Trumpet) in the 4th century though the reign of Justinian (Seventh Trumpet) in the 6th century.
- Idealists like G.K. Beale see the Trumpets as a recapitulation of the Seals, but the idealist does not tie these Trumpets to any specific historical event, but rather interprets them as descriptive of God’s judgments throughout the entirety of the church age. So for them, these trumpets are sounding all the time in various places throughout history and in diverse geographic locations. Although Beale gets a lot of the biblical background and symbolism correct, he fails to see any chronological succession or timestamp that would necessitate a 1st century fulfillment of the Trumpets.
- Partial-Preterists like James Jordan, Peter Leithart, Doug Wilson, and David Chilton, agree with Beale on many of the symbolic aspects of the passage, but because of the way they interpret earlier sections of the book that state that these are events “which must soon take place” (Rev. 1:1), they see these Seven Trumpets as occurring in the 1st century, and then they vary as to the exact timing and how literal (or not) to take each verse in connection with what we know from secular history.
- My Approach is the Partial-Preterist approach, which might also be called a sort of 1st century Historicism. In other words, Historicists are correct in trying to tie these Trumpets to real historical events, they are just wrong about which century they occur in. I also differ with some preterists who see the Seals, Trumpets, and Bowls as all describing the same time period. I believe there is a linear progression in time that starts with Christ’s ascension in AD 30 (which we saw in chapter 5) and moves forward through the end of chapter 14, at which point there is a chiastic reversal (which I will explain in a future episode). So if you remember the chronology of the Seven Seals, I believe they describe the historical period from AD 30-AD 66. The Jewish war with the Romans began in AD 66 and ended in AD 73, and I believe these Seven Trumpets describe events that took place during the first half of that war (AD 66-AD 70).
- The silence of the Seventh Seal is the great inhale before the plunge, the quiet before the storm that will bring judgment on Jerusalem and Rome. The book of Jeremiah describes the regular order of God’s judgments: 1) God’s people break covenant with Him, 2) so God raises up a foreign nation to punish His people (Assyria, Babylon, or in this case Rome), and then 3) God destroys whatever nation He used to punish His people (Jer. 50-51). Revelation is describing this same cycle: 1) Apostate Jews persecute the Christians 2) so God raises up Rome to punish the apostate Jews, and then 3) God punishes Rome for their own idolatry and persecution of the Christians. In broad terms, that is what the rest of Revelation is going to show.
Let’s walk through the first four trumpets and I’ll explain first the biblical symbolism, and then what I believe was the literal historical fulfillment. And I should note here how this relationship between symbolism and history works, because Revelation is showing us that symbols are not mere metaphors, they are spiritual and physical realities. So with these Trumpets, we are told what John sees in the language of biblical symbolism, but these symbols literally happen in history on the earth, and these earthly events are in themselves signs and portents of things to come.
|Literal Historical Event (Earthly Sign)
|Biblical Symbolism & Significance
|First Trumpet (Rev. 8:7)
The first angel sounded: And hail and fire followed, mingled with blood, and they were thrown to the earth. And a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.
|Hail and fire mingled with blood is thrown to the earth, burning up one third of the trees and all the green grass.
*Kayser dates this to the beginning of the Feast of Trumpets (Tishri 1), which would place it on September 8th, AD 66)
|Allusion to the plagues on Egypt (Ex. 9:24-26) prior to the Exodus. Israel has become Egypt and will experience the covenant curses.
*Note that when this seventh plague struck Egypt, the land of Goshen was unharmed, suggesting that Christians were likely preserved/sealed from this plague.
|Second Trumpet (Rev. 8:8-9)
Then the second angel sounded: And something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. 9 And a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.
|Something like a great mountain burning with fire (asteroid) crashes into the sea (causing massive tsunami). One third of the sea becomes blood/blood red (possible algae bloom from increase in water temperature caused by asteroid). One third of the sea creatures die. One third of the ships are destroyed.
|The great mountain (Jerusalem) will be cast into the Gentile/Roman sea. God is bringing destruction on both the Jews and Romans through the ongoing war.
|Third Trumpet (Rev. 8:10-11)
Then the third angel sounded: And a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. 11 The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the water, because it was made bitter.
|A meteorite or asteroid named Wormwood (by God) falls to the earth and pollutes a key source of drinking water such that many died from drinking it. *Kayser says, “A literal meteorite fell into Lake Ram, which is located in the Golan Heights.”
|Wormwood is bitter (Deut. 29:18, Pr. 5:4) and is connected with idolatry, false prophesy, and corrupting justice (Jer. 9:15, Jer. 23:15, Lam. 3:15-19, Amos 5:7, 6:12). Stars signify both earthly and angelic powers. Here the star likely signifies the high priesthood (perhaps the wicked Sadducean leader Ananas). Those influenced by his bitter water (polluted doctrine) share his fate and die.
|Fourth Trumpet (Rev. 8:12-13)
Then the fourth angel sounded: And a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them were darkened. A third of the day did not shine, and likewise the night…
|The sun, moon, and stars were affected such that day and night were each darkened by one third.
|The sun usually signifies a king (2 Sam. 23:4) or empire (Is. 13:10, 24:23, Ezek. 32:7). In this context the sun would signify Rome/Caesar. The moon signifies subordinate leaders (lesser lights) under the authority of the sun. In this context a moon would be someone like Herod Agrippa. The stars likely refer to pro-Roman priests/Jews like the Sadducees. All of these luminaries would be darkened by one third, likely referring to the casualties each would experience in the war.
The First Trumpet (Rev. 8:7)
7 The first angel sounded: And hail and fire followed, mingled with blood, and they were thrown to the earth. And a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.
Biblical Symbolism: This hail, fire, and blood, is an allusion to the seventh plague on Egypt (Ex. 9:24-26). Apostate Israel has become like Egypt, oppressive and idolatrous, and thus they will suffer the curses of the covenant as promised in Deuteronomy 28. If you read Exodus 9, you will note that when this plague of fire and hail struck Egypt, the land of Goshen was unharmed; this supports my argument (as I said about the 144,000 in the previous chapter), that Christians were likely sealed and preserved from this plague.
Literal Historical Event: Just as God really sent hail and fire upon the land of Egypt, so also I believe he threw down hail, fire, and blood in AD 66. We do not have extra-biblical records of all these events, but there are references in Roman history that describe similar phenomenon.
For example, the Roman historian Cassius Dio describes the following omens against Nero prior to his death in AD 68, “And little did he [Nero] reckon that both sets of doors, those of the mausoleum of Augustus and those of his own bedchamber, opened of their own accord on one and the same night, or that in the Alban territory it rained so much blood that rivers of it flowed over the land, or that the sea retreated a long distance from Egypt and covered a great portion of Lycia (Cassius Dio, Historiae Romanae 63.26–27).” There are many references to blood rain in both ancient and recent history, and they are usually seen as portents of a worse judgment that is to come.
To give you another example, this is Cassius Dio’s description of Caesar’s conquest of Egypt in 30 BC, “Thus was Egypt enslaved. All the inhabitants who resisted for a time were finally subdued, as, indeed, Heaven very clearly indicated to them beforehand. For it rained not only water where no drop had ever fallen previously, but also blood; and there were flashes of armour from the clouds as this bloody rain fell from them. Elsewhere there was the clashing of drums and cymbals and the notes of flutes and trumpets, and a serpent of huge size suddenly appeared to them and uttered an incredibly loud hiss. Meanwhile comets were seen and dead men’s ghosts appeared, the statues frowned, and Apis bellowed a note of lamentation and burst into tears” (Cassius Dio, Historiae Romanae 51.17). Although this may sound fantastic to us, it reveals to us the worldview of the ancient pagans. A literal fulfillment of these Seven Trumpets are not out of place with what we read in history.
The Second Trumpet (Rev. 8:8-9)
8 Then the second angel sounded: And something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. 9 And a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.
Biblical Symbolism: The first burning mountain we encounter in the Bible is Mount Sinai, but this language of the “great mountain” is more closely connected to Mount Zion/Jerusalem. Jesus tells his disciples in Matthew 21:21, “Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ it will be done.” Now in this saying of Jesus, both the fig tree and the mountain are images of Jerusalem, and so I believe this Second Trumpet is a sign of what is going to happen to Mount Zion: the great mountain is going to be burned with fire and cast into the sea, and there will be blood and death on all sides as a result. Jerusalem will be trampled by the Gentiles for forty-two months (Rev. 11:2). God is bringing destruction on both the Jews and the Romans through this upcoming war.
Literal Historical Event: First, notice that this is “something like a great mountain burning with fire,” which suggests this is probably some kind of meteorite or asteroid rather than a volcano. And I so believe this Second Trumpet is describing an asteroid that crashes into the Mediterranean Sea, and then perhaps due to the increase in temperature or a tsunami, a third of the living creatures in the sea die, a third of the ships are destroyed, and a third of the sea becomes blood (or blood red from an algae bloom). Phillip Kayser says the following: “There have been extensive studies on sedimentation and coastal tectonics in the Mediterranean in recent years, and these studies consistently show that there was a massive tsunami generated by something in AD 66, and some scientists insist that there were two tsunamis that year. There are two layers of ocean sediment on the mainland that came in AD 66.” So perhaps this tsunami is evidence of this great mountain burning with fire being cast into the sea.
*Kayser Footnote: See his Tsunamis in the European-Mediterranean Region: From Historical Record to Mitigation, (Waltham, MA: Elsevier, 2016), p. 41. But see Dale Dominey-Howes, Alastair Dawson, & David Smith, “Late Holocene Coastal Tectonics at Falasarna, Western Crete: As Sedimentary Study,” Coventry Centre for Disaster Management, School of the Built Environment, Coventry University, UK. He gives evidence that all of the sedimentation had to have occured in AD 66.
The Third Trumpet (Rev. 8:10-11)
10 Then the third angel sounded: And a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. 11 The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the water, because it was made bitter.
Biblical Symbolism: In Scripture, Wormwood is bitter (Deut. 29:18, Pr. 5:4) and is connected with idolatry, apostasy, false prophesy, and injustice (Jer. 9:15, Jer. 23:15, Lam. 3:15-19, Amos 5:7, 6:12). Stars can signify either earthly or angelic powers. Here the star likely signifies the Sadducean high priesthood who took to themselves the symbol of the star. The high priesthood was controlled by a wicked mafia of sorts that used their power, wealth, and violence to get what they wanted, and we know from Josephus the names of the leaders at this time. I think there’s a good chance that this Wormwood star refers to Ananas/Ananias, who had five sons, one of whom was named Eleazar. Josephus points to the following actions of Eleazar as the event that started the Jewish-Roman War:
Josephus (38-100 A.D) On How the Jewish War Began:
And at this time it was that some of those that principally excited the people to go to war, made an assault upon a certain fortress called Masada. They took it by treachery and slew the Romans that were there, and put others of their own party to keep it. At the same time Eleazar, the sons of Ananias the high priest, a very bold youth, who was at that time governor of the temple, persuaded those that officiated in the divine service to receive no gift or sacrifice for any foreigner. And this was the true beginning of our war with the Romans; for they rejected the sacrifice of Caesar on this account; and when many of the high priests and principal men besought them not to omit the sacrifice which it was customary for them to offer for their princes, they would not be prevailed upon.
(Josephus, Wars 2.408–410)
So the household of Ananas forces the priests to stop receiving or offering sacrifices for Gentiles and this launched the Jewish-Roman war in AD 66. If you remember when Jesus cleansed the temple, he said that it was to be a house of prayer for all nations, but they had turned it into a den of thieves, well a generation later, the spirit that had been cast out by Jesus returned with seven spirits more wicked than itself (Matthew 12:43). To finish out the symbolism we would say that those influenced by this Wormwood and his bitter water (false doctrine) share his fate and die.
Literal Historical Event: Here as with the Second Trumpet, I believe a meteorite or asteroid named Wormwood (by God) falls to the earth and pollutes a key source of drinking water, likely an underground aquifer, such that many died from drinking it. Phillip Kayser gives more specific geographic details saying, “A literal meteorite fell into Lake Ram, which is located in the Golan Heights” (you can find his sermon on this HERE if you want to explore this more).
Josephus (38-100 A.D.) On The First Roman Reprisal Against the Jews in AD 66:
These soldiers rushed violently into that part of the city which was called Delta, where the Jewish people lived together, and did as they were bidden, though not without bloodshed on their own side also; for the Jews got together, and set those that were the best armed among them in the forefront and made resistance for a great while; but when once they gave back they were destroyed unmercifully; and this their destruction was complete, some being caught in the open field, and others forced into their houses, which houses were first plundered of what was in them, and then set on fire by the Romans; wherein no mercy was shown to the infants, and no regard had to the aged; but they went on in the slaughter of persons of every age, till all the place was overflowed with blood, and fifty thousand of them lay dead upon heaps; nor had the remainder been preserved, had they not betaken themselves to supplication. So Alexander commiserated their condition, and gave orders to the Romans to retire; accordingly, these, being accustomed to obey orders, left off killing at the first intimation; but the populace of Alexandria bare so very great hatred to the Jews, that it was difficult to recall them; and it was a hard thing to make them leave their dead bodies.
(Josephus, Wars 2.495–498)
The Fourth Trumpet (Rev. 8:12-13)
12 Then the fourth angel sounded: And a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them were darkened. A third of the day did not shine, and likewise the night. 13 And I looked, and I heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, “Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!”
Biblical Symbolism: The sun usually signifies a king (2 Sam. 23:4) or empire (Is. 13:10, 24:23, Ezek. 32:7). In this context the sun would signify Rome/Caesar. The moon signifies subordinate leaders (lesser lights) under the authority of the sun. In this context a moon would be someone like Herod Agrippa. The stars likely refer to pro-Roman priests/Jews like the Sadducees. All of these luminaries would be darkened by one third, likely referring to the casualties each would experience in the war.
Literal Historical Event: My view is that the sun, moon, and stars were affected such that day and night were each darkened by one third; so the days literally became darker during this time. Cassius Dio describes similar omens in the sky.
Cassius Dio (155-235 A.D) – Describing Omens in the Sky:
While he was behaving in this way, evil omens occurred. A comet was seen, and the moon, contrary to precedent, appeared to suffer two eclipses, being obscured on the fourth and on the seventh day. Also people saw two suns at once, one in the west weak and pale, and one in the east brilliant and powerful. On the Capitol many huge footprints were seen, presumably of some spirits that had descended from it. The soldiers who had slept there on the night in question said that the temple of Jupiter had opened of itself with great clangour and that some of the guards had been so terrified that they fainted. At the same time that this happened Vespasian, who was engaged in warfare with the Jews, learned of the rebellion of Vitellius and of Otho and was deliberating what he should do. Vespasian was never inclined to be rash, and he hesitated very much about involving himself in such troublous affairs.
(Cassius Dio, Historiae Romanae 65.8)
In summary, I believe these Seven Trumpets literally took place in time and history as portents and signs of greater judgments to come. Although we do not have extrabiblical evidence to confirm every detail, we can see from both Jewish and Roman historians that there were all kinds of cosmic disturbances and strange phenomenon during these years. In all of these trumpets the message is plain: God’s wrath is coming, so heed the signs and repent before it’s too late.