Bible Prophecy in Chronology series (post #10)
The trumpet judgments are the second wave of judgments that will occur during the first three-and-a-half years of the tribulation period. They gain their name from the fact that an angel blows a trumpet to begin each one. This post will deal with the first four of these seven judgments.
As we work our way through these four judgments, we are going to find that each of them involves some kind of catastrophe that is possibly natural. This raises an interpretative question. Are these occurrences natural or supernatural? My answer is that if they are natural they are, at the very least, amped up on God’s steroids, which makes them supernatural. In my opinion, though, these judgments cannot be rightly understood through a purely naturalistic lens. It’s more likely that they are unique, specialized, miraculous events that God cooks up and sends down to the earth to suit His purposes.
Another interesting aspect of these four judgments is that each one produces an environmental disaster of epic proportions. We should keep this in mind whenever we are confronted with the subject of environmentalism. Slogans such as “save the planet” and “remember your mother (earth)” have become popular nowadays, and the environmentalist movement has made some real dents in the way big business conducts itself. I think this is good to a certain degree. I’m all for a healthy planet, and the only way we can have it is to be good stewards of the environment. The problem arises when people lose perspective and try to replace “Father God” with “mother earth.” Rather than nature being God, God uses nature in His plans. And the first four trumpet judgments prove that in the tribulation period He will do more damage to the environment than mankind ever dreamed of doing.
Trumpet Judgment #1 (Revelation 8:7): Hail and Fire Mingled With Blood
When the first angel sounds his trumpet, hail and fire, mingled with blood, are thrown down to the earth. The devastation from this event is so great that it results in one-third of the earth’s trees and all of the earth’s green grass being burned up. Wow.
If we want to consider the naturalistic interpretation of this judgment, this event might be produced by something that happens just before the first angel blows his trumpet. According to Revelation 8:5, before the trumpet judgments officially begin, the earth experiences noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake (a different earthquake from the one mentioned in Revelation 6:12). So, could this earthquake be large enough to produce massive volcanic eruptions all around the planet? And could these eruptions account for all the devastation? For example, could the steam and water blown into the sky by the eruptions condense into hail that falls back down to the earth? And could the fire that falls be explained by all the fiery lava that blows out of the volcanoes? Well, I wouldn’t completely discount this theory, but it’s hard for me to imagine volcanic eruptions and their aftermath doing the extent of damage described. Even if such eruptions could burn up one-third of the planet’s trees, I don’t see how they could burn up all the green grass.
Continuing on with the naturalistic approach, some have suggested that this event could involve a massive storm system that produces electrical storms complete with hail across a large swath of the planet. The reasoning here is that God once hit Egypt with a hailstorm the likes of which had never been seen (Exodus 9:22-25), and that storm featured hail mixed with fire (the same Hebrew word that is used to describe the fire of Moses’ burning bush). Furthermore, the hail and fire from that storm in Egypt had an effect similar to the first trumpet judgment in that they struck every herb of the field and broke every tree. Again, though, the problem we run into is that it seems highly unlikely that any storm system, no matter how impressive, could destroy all of the green grass. I mean, if “all” really means all, we’re talking about WORLDWIDE devastation.
And then there is the matter of the blood. What kind of volcanic eruption or storm could produce blood? None. Someone says, “But the blood shouldn’t be understood as literal blood.” Tell that to the prophet Joel, who quoted God as saying in reference to the days of the tribulation period, “And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke” (Joel 2:30). This is why I conclude that it seems best to understand the first trumpet judgment as a supernatural event that cannot be categorized as volcanic eruptions, electrical storms, or anything else the earth has ever seen.
Trumpet Judgment #2 (Revelation 8:8-9): A Great Mountain Burning With Fire
When the second angel blows his trumpet, John reports that something like a great mountain burning with fire is thrown into the sea. The result is that one-third of the sea becomes blood, one-third of the sea creatures die, and one-third of the ships are destroyed. As for which sea (singular) John has in mind, I suppose our best guess is the Mediterranean. I say this because John was exiled on the island of Patmos, and Patmos is in the Aegean Sea, which is a part of the Mediterranean.
One possible interpretation for this “great mountain burning with fire” is that it’s the blown off cone of an island volcano. Under this interpretation, the volcano’s lava, debris, and windblown dust have a deadly effect upon a wide section of ocean waters. First, the lava could perhaps give the surrounding ocean the look of “blood.” Second, the lava, debris, and dust could cause the deaths of the sea-creatures. Third, the tsunami created by the blast could race across the ocean and strike heavily populated sea ports, which could account for the loss of one-third of the ships.
The problem with this interpretation is that John doesn’t actually call the triggering force a mountain, let alone a volcano. He calls it “something like a great mountain.” This has led many to speculate that what John is really describing is an asteroid that comes in from space, hits the earth’s atmosphere, ignites, and crashes into the ocean. The impact into the ocean subsequently creates the tsunami that reaches the busy shipping ports and thus destroys one-third of the world’s ships.
While this interpretation makes some sense, my issue with understanding trumpet judgment #2 as an asteroid strike is that trumpet judgment #3, which we’ll look at next, sounds even more like an asteroid strike. Therefore, since I don’t believe that two of the four trumpet judgments are the same type of deal, I tend to dismiss the idea of the “great burning mountain” being an asteroid.
I would like to mention that, in my mind, the most important question to be asked about not only this second judgment but also the first one is: When John uses the term “blood” is he talking about literal blood? If he’s describing hail and fire mingled with literal blood, and one-third of the sea becoming literal blood, that rules out anything that could be produced by either nature or the cosmos. If, however, he’s only talking about the sea taking on the appearance of blood, that might bring into play a well known phenomenon called “red tides.” A “red tide” is produced when billions of microorganisms die in a large body of water and turn the water’s color red. Obviously, either a volcanic eruption or an asteroid crashing into the ocean could cause the deaths of billions of microorganisms.
Trumpet Judgment #3 (Revelation 8:10-11): The “Star” Called Wormwood
When the third angel blows his trumpet, a great “star” falls from heaven. As it falls it burns like a torch. The Greek word that is translated as “star” is aster. Now you see why I feel safe in calling this “great star” an asteroid that comes into earth’s atmosphere flaming hot and crash lands somewhere on the earth.
As I said earlier, though, even if this is an asteroid it’s one that is amped up on God’s steroids. How amped up is it? It’s amped up enough to poison one-third of the earth’s rivers and springs and cause many people who drink from those rivers and springs to die. This accounts for the name “Wormwood.” Wormwood is a species of plant that grows in the Middle East. All of its varieties have a strong, bitter taste (Proverbs 5:4, Lamentations 3:19). These plants aren’t poisonous, but John is only using the name as a way of expressing that the “star” turns the water’s taste bitter.
But could an asteroid really have such an effect upon the world’s water? Maybe it could if it crashed with enough force to imbed itself deep at the headwaters of some major rivers or the underground water sources of some major springs. Here again, though, a normal asteroid wouldn’t behave this way. Clearly this “star” (whatever exactly it is) has God’s customized design all over it.
Trumpet Judgment #4: (Revelation 8:12-13): A Darkened Sun, Moon, and Stars
When the fourth angel blows his trumpet, the sun, the moon, and the stars are all darkened by one-third. This can be interpreted in two different ways. First, it could mean that the actual radiating power and luminance of these celestial bodies is reduced by 33.3%. Second, it could mean that their radiating power and luminance remain exactly the same but they are covered over by clouds, dust, smoke, an eclipse, or something else for eight hours each day so that people cannot see them during those hours. The favorable interpretation seems to be that their radiating power and luminance will be reduced. This fits best with John’s words about them being “struck.” No explanation is given for how this reduction takes place. Evidently it’s just something that God handles personally.
Surely this judgment will have unnamed effects. For example, a 33.3% drop in the warmth of the sun will certainly create a colder planet. I should point out, though, that later on in the tribulation period the sun’s heat will actually be intensified to a dangerous level (Revelation 16:8-9). So, whatever effects the fourth trumpet judgment has, those effects appear to be temporary. One thing is for sure about this judgment: It will be a scary thing to look up in the sky and find a lessened sun, moon, and stars!
Something else that is certain is that even after these four judgments have occurred, three more trumpet judgments are to come. John reminds us of this by giving us Revelation 8:13, and it is with those words that I’ll conclude this post:
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!”