Grace Changes Everything

Redeemer Presbyterian

About Us

Reading Revelation

Greetings and grace to you.

This week we continue looking at the seven trumpets. Richard Phillips provides some helpful insights on reading the book of Revelation, and I wanted to share them with you. I briefly mentioned this approach at the beginning of my sermon last week but thought it might be more beneficial for you to read and, perhaps, to keep for future reference.

Blessings, Wayne

Reading Revelation II[1]

Chapter 8 begins the third major section of Revelation, the seven trumpets that herald God’s judgment

  • Chaps. 1-3 presented the glory of Christ as Lord of his church, and
  • Chaps. 4-7 presented a view of history focused on the opening of the seven seals of God’s scroll
  • After the symbolic histories of the fourth section (chaps. 12-14),
  • The fifth section will feature the seven bowls of God’s wrath (chaps. 15-16).

It is obvious that there is a relationship between the seven seals, trumpets, and bowls. Before diving into this material, which makes up the heart of Revelation, we should seek to determine how this relationship works.
Some scholars hold the view that the seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowls are organized consecutively. They see a straight-line chronology in Revelation, with the seven seals followed chronologically by the seven trumpets, which are then followed in history by the seven bowls. Under this view, the opening of the seventh seal does not reveal any actual content; the scroll is opened only to show that the story moves forward to the seven trumpets.

There are good reasons to reject this view and instead to see the various cycles as covering the same period from complementary perspectives. The parallel content of these cycles is obvious, especially since the trumpets and the bowls line up almost exactly. Moreover, much of what happens when the trumpets are blown and the bowls are poured obviously precedes the final judgment revealed in the sixth seal. For instance, when the angel blows the third trumpet, a star falls from heaven to poison all the rivers (Rev. 8:10). Under a strict chronology this is impossible, since under the sixth seal (6:13) all ‘the stars of the sky’ had already ‘[fallen] to the earth.’ Therefore, it is evident that the judgments of the trumpets and bowls take place chronologically before the sixth seal, which occurs earlier in the text of Revelation. Understood rightly, the seventh seal, the seventh trumpet, and the seventh bowl all depict aspects of the same event: the return of Christ in wrath and salvation.

Even a brief survey makes clear, then, that the cycles of seals, trumpets, and bowls are parallel representations of similar scenes of judgment. This reminds us not to read Revelation like a history book of the future. We would do better to read it as a play (actually, a musical) put on by the angels of heaven for our benefit, with its different scenes showing us important features of history from heaven’s perspective. Or we might think of Revelation as a symphony, with its main melody of judgment and salvation working through each movement. There are variations on the melody within the various cycles, reflecting the different materials of the Old Testament from which John is drawing. In chapter 7, John alludes to the sealing of faithful servants depicted in Ezekiel 9. The trumpet judgments of chapter 8 will reminisce on the fall of Jericho and the plagues inflicted on Egypt in the exodus. Therefore, while the cycles cover the same ground, they do so from different angles and with an ever-increasing intensity. The theme of the seven seals is God’s restraint of judgment for the sake of the church, the seven trumpets announce the victory of God’s judgment over the world, and the seven bowls depict the wrath of God’s judgment, after which the loud voice shouts from the throne, exulting, ‘It is done!’ (Rev. 16:17).

[1] Adapted from Richard D. Phillips Revelation: Reformed Expository Commentary (New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2017) 265-66.