The trumpets symbolize God’s judgement against the enemies of God’s people. These rebellious unbelieving sinners are those who persecute the believers of every generation, reject the gospel of Christ, and put down all those who support it. All those who were martyred by them are now in heaven and their prayers, like incense in the temple, reach the throne of God in heaven. God hears their cry and avenges their death by inflicting punishment against their enemies.
This Lord’s Day morning we will read and meditate on the first four trumpets and the first woe.
Trumpets were used as warning sign in the Old Testament. They signify God’s judgement and demonstrate the severity of God. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord (Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:19).” The wrath of God is poured out to those who oppose him. Each trumpet represents God’s righteous judgement over his enemies.
Woes , on the other hand, are call to repentance. In the midst of all these afflictions, God calls all men to repent and commands them to submit and obey. In Matthew 23, Jesus himself sent out seven woes against the false teachings of the Pharisees and Scribes. He pronounces judgement over them and their false doctrines, and call on them to repent from their hypocrisy. Old Testament prophets do the same and Isaiah in his book wrote: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20)” And this morning we will examine the first woe in Revelation.
So again, our topics this Lord’s Day morning preaching are: 1) The First Four Trumpets; 2) The First Woe.
Before we begin, let us pray…
The First Four Trumpets
verses 6-13: “Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them. 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. 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. A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed. 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. 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. 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. Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overhead, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!”
Again, for context, what prompted these trumpet judgments are the prayer of the saints coming up to the throne of God (verses 2-5). Let me read them again: “Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.” We learned here that God hears the prayers of his people and answers them immediately. As example here, he quickly punishes those who were responsible for their death.
We often think God is slow to hear and to act on our petitions. We imagine him as someone who is busy and unable to take care of our needs. Others think falsely that God who is our Creator takes on creaturely sinful characteristics like forgetfulness, laziness, and even neglect. And yet Scripture consistently portrays God as above his creation, who possess infinite wisdom and power. He is perfect. Therefore, we need to renew our minds in light of what Scripture teaches us about God. God never delays. He answers in haste.
So how do we then respond to this teaching about God and our prayers in the midst of tribulation. James reminds us in James 5:7-9, “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. ” Let us not complain and grumble. Instead, let us patiently wait on God.
I want to exhort us on this first before hearing the details about the first four trumpets. We need to always have the proper perspective before hearing about terrible catastrophic events.
The first four trumpets are similar to the ten plagues punishing the Egyptians. They affect four major regions of creation: dry land, sea, fresh water, and sky. And as explained last week, they were limited to the one third region and affects only unbelievers. These events overlaps with the events portrayed in the seven seals. They happened during the first and second coming of Christ. This means we can notice some similarities in them. They were natural and man-made calamities.
The first is hail and fire (verse 7). It is similar to the seventh plague in Egypt. The burnings affect dry land. They were the result of the wars and conquest. Similar to the seals, these were afflictions made by nations fighting against other nations and as result affecting the livelihood people surrounding them. Burning renders dry land unusable for agriculture and result to famine. The first trumpet reminds us that not only the believers were affected by these wars and famines but mostly unbelievers too.
The second is blood in water (verses 8-9). It is similar to the first plague in Egypt. The burning of a great mountain into the sea seems to picture volcanic eruptions like what happened in the destruction of Pompeii but they are actually calamity affecting sea trade. Rome gets it riches from the resources mined from the seas and the money coming from this economy brings power. And power corrupts and it comes from lust and we know all these comes from sin. God brings judgment against the source of pride among sinful men and brings death to those who worship them.
The third affects fresh water (verses 10-11). It does not match with any of the plagues in Egypt. This calamity infects fresh water making them “bitter” undrinkable. According to Rev. Dr. Dennis Johnson, this is similar to Jeremiah 9:15 where the Lord pronounces judgment on idolatrous Israel: “I will feed them, this people, with wormwood and give them poisoned water to drink”. In a way, it is similar to the first plague in Egypt but instead of affecting the sea’s resources it also affected drinking water. And while, this makes us think of man-made poisoning of water resources, it is most likely a result of nations in war cutting off each others source of food and water. Again, they were effects from wars resulting to famine.
The four trumpet is darkness (verse 12). It is similar to the ninth plague in Egypt. Compared to the sixth seal which points to universal destruction of earth, this darkness is local and only partially affects the skies. And again according to Rev. Dr. Dennis Johnson, we may imagine this as celestial bodies falling down but given its specific effect to unbelievers, we have reasons to believe it may have been only affects of burning resulting to smokes and darkening of the skies as a result. This bring us again in relation to the previous plagues which results from wars leading to famine.
The recurring theme we can discern from these plagues is the punishment of the wicked brought by sinful desires and deeds. God brings judgement against these people by passing them over. He leaves them to harvest the fruit of their own iniquities. “Crime doesn’t pay. There is more trouble than benefit from committing a crime.” says a popular idiom. Even in romanticized Hollywood movies depicting the lives of criminals like mafias and drug lords. The Godfather dies in lonely in the end. Pablo Escobar died in a gunfight while trying to escape from arrest. The wrath of God presses these people to immediately experience the consequences of their own sinful actions.
The First Woe
verse 13: “Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overhead, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!”
This is the first of three woes given in Revelation. The first comes between the fifth and sixth trumpet. The second comes before the seventh trumpet. And the third will come in the succeeding chapters. The woes are similar to the Old Testament woes like in Amos who proclaimed: “Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! Why would you have the day of the Lord? It is darkness, and not light (Amos 5:18); Woe to those who are at ease in Zion, and to those who feel secure on the mountain of Samaria, the notable men of the first of the nations, to whom the house of Israel comes! (Amos 6:1)” These signify the coming judgement of God over this enemies. The woes in particular here in verse 13 signify for us the coming of the second three trumpets which affects unbelievers. It serves a warning sign and later on will come as a call to repentance.
We will expand on this theme of repentance when we come to the second woe leading up the seventh trumpet but let it suffice for us now to say that God’s judgment while severe also displays his mercy. For any judgement God bring upon all of us, it reminds us of our sins and calls us to repent from them. They warn us against the way of the wicked and proclaims to us their destiny. They encourage us to consider their ways and enable us to choose the way of the righteous and the penitent. We are reminded again and again how God is patient towards everyone and desires for us to reconcile with him. In the end, we know the elect will and the reprobates will not. So let us continue to examine ourselves before God.
ZCRC(Imus), God will punish those who oppose him. He will bring everyone in submission to him. Let us continue to wait patiently for God’s justice and pray for his will be done on earth as it is in heaven. May the Lord bring all things to its consummating end. Amen.
Rev. Lance Filio is a minister of the Word and Sacraments at Zion Cornerstone Reformed Church (Imus). He finished his Bachelor Degree in Electronics Engineering at Mapua Institute of Technology and He is currently taking his Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) at MINTS. He lives in Taguig City, Philippines with his wife and three children.