Opening prayer: Father, we can't imagine the difficult times ahead for the people of this planet. Help us, we pray, to see Your purpose and Your plan to bring good out of this apparent devastation.
This is a continuation of our series on the Revelation of Jesus the Messiah. If you haven't done so already, I encourage you to study our previous lessons in this series:
- Revelation 1: The Revelation of Jesus,
- Revelation 2-3: I Know You!
- Revelation 4-5: Preview of Heaven
- Revelation Study: Prophecies of Daniel
- Revelation Study: Raptures and Resurrections
- Revelation 6: Overview of the Tribulation, and
- Revelation 7: Some Special People.
We learned from the Prophecies of Daniel that there will be a seven-year period in which the central focus of world events will again be the nation Israel. We learned in Revelation 6 that this will be a difficult period, to put it mildly. The last half of the seven-year period is called the Great Tribulation (literally "tribulation the great") in Scripture, and it will be a time of trouble like the world has never seen. For convenience, I will refer to the seven-year period as "the tribulation period," and the last 3.5 years as "the Great Tribulation."
As we saw in Revelation 6, when the Lamb opens the seals, we see the launching of the events that Jesus predicted during his Olivet Discourse:
- Religious deception and a false messiah,
- Wars and rumors of wars,
- Disease and famine,
- Earthquakes and natural disasters,
- Martyrdom of Christian and Jewish people for their faith, and
- The mighty calamities that will happen during the Day of the Lord.
Interestingly, these "beginnings of sorrows" parallel the problems that the Lord God promised to send upon the nation Israel if they were not faithful to Him (See Deuteronomy 28 for a complete list). In addition, we have already been experiencing the first five of these (although on a lesser scale) since the very beginning of Church history.
Wait a minute, teacher! If the first five judgments are similar to what we've already been experiencing, how will we know we're in the tribulation period?
Good question. That's why Jesus told us to watch and be ready for His return. He also told us to pray that we "may be counted worthy to escape all these things that are about to take place..." (Luke 21:36, according to the better manuscripts). If we're watchful, we'll see the gradual intensifying of the "beginnings of sorrows." (Our pastor calls these "false labor pains.") Then, at the appointed time, Jesus will call us to heaven so that we might "escape all these things."
The events and processes launched at the opening of the seals are continuous events, except for the Day of the Lord, which comes at the very end of the Great Tribulation. There will be religious deception, major wars (perhaps nuclear, as we'll see when we study the book of Ezekiel), famine, disease earthquakes, "natural disasters" and progressively intense persecution of Christians and Jews for the entire 7-year period. These calamities will claim one-fourth of the world's population.
In this lesson, we look at trouble from a different source: the Trumpet Judgments.
We begin in Revelation chapter 8, verses 1-6:And when He had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour. 2 And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets. 3 And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. 4 And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand. 5 And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast [it] upon the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake. 6 And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.
Why the half-hour silence?
Good question. In the book of Genesis, we saw God resting after His work of creation. The work of creation was finished, and it was time to rest and reflect before going further. In this case, Jesus opens the seals on the Title Deed of the Earth, symbolizing His work of redemption. The work of redemption is finished, God's plan is now revealed, and all of creation should stand in awe.
Note the angel with the censer in verses 3-5. The angel takes the holy incense and offers it together with the prayers of the saints that we saw in the previous chapter. In Revelation 6:9-10 we saw these saints crying out, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" Now we are about to see the answer to their prayers. The angel gives us a hint when he takes fire from the altar and casts it upon the earth, causing "voices and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake." Then the angels with the trumpets prepare to sound.
Why the fire from the altar?
Good men with theology degrees have a host of plausible theories. Some of them might even be right. But to this country boy, it looks like God's way announcing the start of the Great Tribulation. The denizens of the earth have been killing God's people, Christian and Jewish, and polluting the earth with their violence. Now we see God preparing to cleanse the earth by fire.
Peter warned of this in his second epistle, chapter 3 verses 3-7:Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, 4 And saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation." 5 For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water, 6 Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished. 7 But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.
In today's lesson, we will see the very beginning of God's judgment by fire. The conclusion will be described in a later lesson.
What's the significance of the trumpets?
In Scripture, God uses trumpets in a variety of ways. The most obvious use of a trumpet is to make a noise that can clearly be heard for a long distance. If your son decides he wants to play the trumpet in the local high school band, everyone in your neighborhood will soon be aware of his choice. Likewise, God uses trumpets to make His people aware of important circumstances.
In the book of Numbers, chapter 10, we see God's general instructions for using trumpets to signal and direct movements of the people, in verses 1-7:And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying, 2 Make thee two trumpets of silver; of a whole piece shalt thou make them: that thou mayest use them for the calling of the assembly, and for the journeying of the camps. 3 And when they shall blow with them, all the assembly shall assemble themselves to thee at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. 4 And if they blow with just one trumpet, then the princes, which are heads of the thousands of Israel, shall gather themselves unto thee. 5 When ye blow an alarm, then the camps that lie on the east parts shall go forward. 6 When ye blow an alarm the second time, then the camps that lie on the south side shall take their journey: they shall blow an alarm for their journeys. 7 But when the congregation is to be gathered together, ye shall blow, but ye shall not sound an alarm.
God also added two special uses of trumpet soundings in verses 9-10:And if ye go to war in your land against the enemy that oppresseth you, then ye shall blow an alarm with the trumpets; and ye shall be remembered before the LORD your God, and ye shall be saved from your enemies. 10 Also in the day of your gladness, and in your solemn days, and in the beginnings of your months, ye shall blow with the trumpets over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; that they may be to you for a memorial before your God: I [am] the LORD your God.
In addition, trumpets are used in many places to signal significant events and to call God's people to action:
- In Exodus 19-20, the first significant occurence, God used the sound of a trumpet to call His people to come into His presence.
- In Leviticus 23, the Lord instituted a Feast of Trumpets for the first day of the seventh month -- to signal the start of the second grouping of prophetic feast days in Israel.
- In Leviticus 25, the Lord commanded that a trumpet blast be used to announce the beginning of the Year of Jubilee:And thou shalt number seven sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and there shall be unto thee the days of seven sabbaths of years, even forty and nine years. 9 Then shalt thou send abroad the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month; in the day of atonement shall ye send abroad the trumpet throughout all your land. 10 And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.
- In Joshua 6, the Israelites marched around Jericho sounding trumpets until the Lord sent them forward on the seventh day.
- In Judges chapter 7, Gideon's little band of 30 men blew trumpets as a call to battle. The opposing soldiers destroyed each other in terror, and fled before the army of God.
- On many occasions, the judges, kings and prophets of Israel blew trumpets to call God's people to mobilize for action.
C'mon, teacher! Get to the point.
All through the Bible, God directs His leaders to sound the trumpets whenever He is about to do a mighty work on behalf of His people Israel. The trumpets serve as a wake-up call, as God asks His people to step forward in faith. And when His people respond, God performs mighty works. It's very simple in concept, but awe-inspiring in real life. In our daily walk, the trumpets are usually much more subtle -- sometimes just a feeling or a whisper inside our hearts. But if we respond, the Lord will work great miracles through willing vessels.
But what about THESE trumpets in Revelation 8?
The sound of a trumpet is loud, rude and unmistakeable. The disasters unleased by these trumpets will be loud, rude and unmistakeable warnings to those still down here on earth.
Now let's continue, with verses 7-12:The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up. 8 And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood; 9 And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed. 10 And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters; 11 And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter. 12 And the fourth angel sounded, and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars; so as the third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise.
Ever since World War II, Bible teachers have had a chilling explanation for these first four trumpets: nuclear war. And in recent years, nuclear weapons have been purchased in great numbers by nations hostile to Israel and the United States. Let's look at the ways that these verses might be describing nuclear war:
- At the first trumpet, hail and fire hit the earth and destroy one third of the trees and all the green grass. The first targets of a nuclear attack would be cities with strategic political or military value. You probably noticed that the hail and fire of this first trumpet are mixed with blood -- there will be a terrible toll of human life.
- At the second trumpet, the devastation strikes the sea. As any military person can tell you, the Navy's primary mission is anti-submarine warfare, and the ONLY purpose of ballistic-missile submarines is a pre-emptive first strike. Therefore, the nation launching the first strike will not only target land-based sites, but will attempt to destroy the other nation's missile submarines. Hint number one: The Bible says one-third of the ships are destroyed. Hint number two: Russian submarines outnumber ours by a ratio of two-to-one. Hint number three: The United States Navy can no longer track Russian submarines, which are mostly based under the polar icecap. If these hints are too subtle, I suggest visiting Chuck Missler's web site and checking out some of his excellent study materials.
- At the third trumpet, this devastation strikes the fresh water sources. Drinking water becomes contaminated and "many men died because of the waters." Our lakes, rivers, reservoirs and aquaducts -- even if they survive an initial attack -- will be contaminated by nuclear fallout.
- At the fourth trumpet, we see how the nuclear holocaust pulls dirt and ash into the upper atmosphere, dimming even the light of the sun.
Is nuclear war the only explanation for these verses?
Absolutely not. The Lord doesn't need our help to make fire rain down from heaven. He's done it before on many occasions during Biblical times. And He is perfectly capable of causing a meteorite shower of epic proportions. He is also capable of manipulating world events to make a nuclear war happen exactly when and where He wants.
Another point to remember: In later chapters, we'll see two different groups of people cause fire to fall down from heaven. First, the Lord's two witnesses call fire down from heaven upon those who would try to silence them. Second, the last-days dictator and his false prophet cause "fire to fall down from heaven" to deceive the people into accepting his divinity. Either or both of these could be describing nuclear war. Either or both of these could be describing supernatural events.
No matter which way it works out, I intend to be looking DOWN on these events, not looking up at incoming missiles.
Let's continue reading at Revelation chapter 8, verse 13:And I beheld, and heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabiters of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which are yet to sound!
How could anything be worse than nuclear war? Maybe chapter 9, verses 1-6 will explain this:And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit. 2 And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit. 3 And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth: and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power. 4 And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads. 5 And to them it was given that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months: and their torment [was] as the torment of a scorpion, when he striketh a man. 6 And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them.
Whoa! What is this bottomless pit thing?
Actually, it's a concept that appears frequently in the New Testament. For example, in Luke 8:31, the legions of demons begged Jesus not to send them to the bottomless pit (literally "abusso" in the Greek, from which we get our word "abyss"). So whatever it is, the bottomless pit is a prison camp for demons. And it appears to be on or under the earth. Speculation: If you drilled a shaft directly down into the core of the earth and out the other side, you would have a pit with a middle but no bottom. Gravity would trap you in the middle of the shaft, but there would be no bottom to land on. It doesn't sound like a place I'd like to visit.
What ARE those locusts that emerge from the pit?
These are not your garden-variety locusts:
- They emerge from the bottomless pit, a place where other Scriptures tell of imprisoned demon spirits.
- These creatures do not devastate the countryside. These are commanded not to touch any vegetation.
- These creatures have enough spiritual discernment to avoid any Christian who has been sealed by the Holy Spirit of God. If this concept is new to you, our lesson on Special People may give you some insight.
- The damage these creatures inflict is temporary (for five months) but terrible. The pain is severe enough to make the victims consider death as a preferable alternative.
- For you detail-conscious individuals, notice that the torment is for five months, and comes at the sounding of the fifth trumpet. The number five in Scripture always speaks of God's grace. This passage hints that even during the worst of the Great Tribulation period, God continues to offer salvation and grace to anyone who repents and receives Jesus as his or her Lord and Savior.
Verses 7-12 of chapter 9 speak of the appearance of these demon hordes:And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared unto battle; and on their heads were crowns like gold, and their faces were as the faces of men. 8 And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions. 9 And they had breastplates, as it were breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle. 10 And they had tails like unto scorpions, and there were stings in their tails: and their power was to hurt men five months. 11 And they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue has the name Apollyon. 12 One woe is past; behold, there come two woes more hereafter.
Couldn't this just be a colorful way of describing modern tanks and helicopters?
There are several elements that rule against tanks and helicopters:
- Tanks and helicopters have no spiritual discernment, and would not be able to identify and avoid hurting Christians.
- Tanks and helicopters engage in mass destruction, and are incapable of inflicting the specific kind of five-month malady described here.
- The people in charge of the armed services during the Great Tribulation period will NOT be interested in sparing Christians and afflicting non-Christians. In fact, quite the opposite.
- If modern tanks and helicopters are being stored in the bottomless pit, they won't be very operational after experiencing the heat at the core of the earth. And where are they storing the crews to pilot them?
Verses 13-21 tell of the next woe:And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, 14 Saying to the sixth angel which had the trumpet, Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates. 15 And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, for to slay the third part of men. 16 And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred million: and I heard the number of them. 17 And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone: and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone. 18 By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths. 19 For their power is in their mouth, and in their tails: for their tails [were] like unto serpents, and had heads, and with them they do hurt. 20 And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk: 21 Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.
Now THESE 200 million folks could well be a modern, human army with tanks, helicopters, missiles and artillery. Several reasons:
- The horses cause the type of destruction we normally associate with modern weaponry: fire, smoke and explosive charges (brimstone).
- Their destructive power is absolutely non-discriminatory. Everyone in their path is torched.
- The size of the army (200 million) happens to be the size of the army that Red China has long boasted of being able to field.
- The horsemen charge in from the East, exactly as Red China would do.
- This charge MIGHT be the same as that ascribed to "the kings of the East" at the battle of Armageddon, as we'll see in a later lesson.
How could a good God allow nuclear wars to wipe out 1/3 of mankind?
A better question would be: "How could a good God allow 2/3 of these evil people to survive?" Why doesn't He wipe out the whole bunch? After all, in verses 20-21 above, we read: "And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols... Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts."
The key is to remember that God has already airlifted all the good ones to safety and given them eternal, resurrection bodies. We studied this in Raptures and Resurrections and Special People. The folks left behind are really hard core, and "bad to the bone." Yet God continues to sound the warning, tenderly hoping that a few more will heed the call to repent and follow Jesus, His Son.
Time out, teacher! Can you give us an overall timeline for all the tribulation events? I'm getting confused about what happens before what.
Welcome to the club: nobody (including you and me) can know the exact chronology, but we can develop some guidelines by comparing these Scriptures to other prophetic passages. The problem arises because the book of Revelation is arranged by subject, not by strict chronology. Within each chapter or major division, the events are arranged in sequence. But these events might happen before, after, or concurrently with events revealed in later chapters. For example, both the sixth seal of Chapter 6 and the sixth trumpet of Chapter 9 trigger events of the Day of the Lord, at the very end of the Great Tribulation.
Having said that, here are some general guidelines based on material we've already covered:
- At some point in the near future, possibly on a Pentecost Sunday or on Rosh Hashanah (the Feast of Trumpets), the Lord will call His followers to heaven and give them/us all new resurrection bodies.
- Shortly after you and I are airlifted to safety, the last-days dictator will facilitate a seven-year peace treaty between Israel and its hostile neighbors.
- The signing of this peace treaty will be the beginning of the "70th week of Daniel" -- as described in Prophecies of Daniel. This "week" (seven-year period) will be a time of God's specific dealings with the nation of Israel, so the Church must be taken away just before or exactly at its beginning.
- Beginning then and continuing through the seven years will be the unfolding of the judgments we saw in Revelation 6, with the opening of the seven seals:
- Religious deception and a false messiah,
- Wars and rumors of wars,
- Disease and famine,
- Earthquakes and natural disasters, and
- Martyrdom of Christian and Jewish people for their faith.
- One-fourth of the world's population will be destroyed by the agents unleased with these six seals.
- Shortly after the start of the seven-year period, the Lord will put His seal on 144,000 Israeli-born, Messianic-Jewish men. These men will have a unique evangelistic ministry for the first 3 1/2 years of the tribulation period before being given a private rapture to be with the Lord.
- In the middle of the tribulation period, the last-days dictator will break the treaty, seize control of Jerusalem, defile the rebuilt temple, and go on a killing rampage to destroy the Jewish people. A faithful remnant will escape "to the wilderness" -- perhaps the rock city of Petra.
- The breaking of the treaty will announce the beginning of the 3 1/2 year period known as the Great Tribulation.
- Shortly after the start of the Great Tribulation, the Lord will call a rapture for a second group of believers. These will be people (both Jews and Gentiles) who come to a saving knowledge of Jesus, the Messiah, during the first 3 1/2 years of the tribulation period. These are called the "numberless multitude," as we saw in the lesson Special People.
- At some point, probably at the midpoint of the seven-year period, the Trumpet judgments will begin to fall upon the remaining inhabitants of the earth. These judgments will bring the type of devastation normally associated with nuclear war, and 1/3 of the earth's remaining population will be destroyed. Since 1/4 were previously destroyed, this judgment will take 1/3 of the remaining 3/4 of the world's original population. This will leave just half of the world's original population by the end of the Great Tribulation.
- At the end of the seven-year period will come the Day of the Lord and the Battle of Armageddon.
- When the dust has settled, Jesus will return to the earth to set up His Kingdom and a 1,000-year period frequently called The Milennium. You and I will return with Him to participate in His government.
In upcoming lessons, we will add more significant events to the above outline.
Hey, teacher! I'm not sure I agree with any of your explanations and conclusions.
Good! Please don't be satisfied with ANYBODY's explanation, especially mine. My goal is to spur you on to do further study on your own. In fact, nothing would make me happier than to hear that you were so outraged by my lessons that you spent days studying these Scriptures trying to prove me wrong.
All I ask is one thing: Spend your time studying the Bible. Don't waste your time reading books ABOUT the Bible, except for fun. (Hint: You will save yourself a lot of grief (and money) if you avoid commentaries.) Instead, pray for the Holy Spirit to open your heart and mind. Then make up your own lists and charts based on your own personal study of the Bible.
A few study helps are worth purchasing. Look up key words and phrases in your Strong's Concordance and in your Vines' Dictionary of New Testament Words. Get the Greek/English Interlinear text by George Ricker Berry, so you can get a flavor for the word-by-word literal translation of the Greek. Spend the majority of your time studying in the New King James translation, which is generally the most accurate version. (Note: Although the paraphrase versions (Living Bible, NIV) are very readable for the Old Testament and helpful for devotional studies, they are less accurate in the New Testament.) Follow up on the margin notes in your Bible, looking for related passages and concepts. Take everybody's explanation (including mine) with a grain of salt.
The most important thing you can do is to prepare your heart for the return of the Lord. If you do, you will be the recipient of some amazing promises, as explained in our lesson on Raptures and Resurrections.
If you aren't sure if you're ready, please click the "mail-to" link below to send us an e-mail. Explain your concerns and we'll respond as quickly as we can.
Closing Prayer: Lord, I don't pretend to understand the complexity and precision of your Scriptures. But I put my trust in You and Your Son, Jesus, to keep me safe through the hard times to come. Amen.
Here is a partial list of warnings to God's people, Israel, as written in Deuteronomy 28 verses 58 to 62:58 If thou wilt not observe to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that thou mayest fear this glorious and fearful name, THE LORD THY GOD; 59 Then the LORD will make thy plagues wonderful, and the plagues of thy seed, [even] great plagues, and of long continuance, and sore sicknesses, and of long continuance. 60 Moreover he will bring upon thee all the diseases of Egypt, which thou wast afraid of; and they shall cleave unto thee. 61 Also every sickness, and every plague, which [is] not written in the book of this law, them will the LORD bring upon thee, until thou be destroyed. 62 And ye shall be left few in number, whereas ye were as the stars of heaven for multitude; because thou wouldest not obey the voice of the LORD thy God.Click here to return to the lesson.