John’s first oracle, the Seven Seals, is found in Revelation 6:1-8:1, with a pause before the final seal is broken. A similar pattern happens with John’s second oracle. Revelation 8:2-11:19 covers the Seven Trumpets, also with a pause. But this pause is much longer and contains a lot more material. Some scholars suggest that the seventh trumpet actually belongs in its own section, Revelation 11-13, or maybe even 14.
During this intermission, John is introduced to a second scroll, a small one, not only unsealed but already opened. The angel holding it straddles land and sea, indicating the whole earth. John is instructed to devour this scroll—not just eat it but consume it entirely the way a voraciously hungry person might do. The little book tastes sweet, as the voice predicted, but it sickens John’s stomach. Digesting its message causes turmoil to John’s insides.
Once the scroll is consumed, John is now told he must prophecy again to the whole world. Everyone in every place is to hear what John has to say.
And that is just the beginning!
Next, John will be made to measure the temple (a Herculean task). He then is told of two witnesses who will be granted miraculous powers, and a timeframe of three and a half years for their ministry.
Finally, after all this activity and preamble, the seventh trumpet is sounded.
But this section does not close in a clean and tidy way, because the topic of timing, the three and half years, is taken up again for two more chapters (12-13)—hence the scholarly opinion that perhaps this is its own oracle, with the seventh trumpet perhaps acting as a bridge, or a focal point.
All four interpretive approaches have sought to make sense of how the seven trumpets are organized.
Commentators who see the Revelation of John having been fulfilled throughout the course of the last two millennia view the first six trumpets as representing the Roman Empire succumbing to steady assault.
- Trumpet 1, Fifth century invasion of the Goths and Vandals, and the sacking of Rome.
- Trumpet 2, Continued invasions by land and see of the Nordic hordes.
- Trumpet 3, Attila the Hun, called the Scourge of God.
- Trumpet 4, Odoacer dismantles the western Roman Empire and crowns himself king of Italy.
- Trumpet 5, Invasion of the Saracens (locusts) dismantles the eastern Roman Empire.
- Trumpet 6, Ottoman Empire subsumes the Byzantine Roman Empire, Constantinople becomes Istanbul.
The little opened scroll represents the Bible made widely accessible to the public through the Reformation.
Interpreters who concentrate on the Jewish War of 66-70 CE see these trumpets as assorted aspects of the Roman army (horses) laying siege to Jerusalem, the demonic mayhem inside that city (locusts) and Rome’s following onslaught of all Judea.
The little opened book pertains to a second body of prophecy dealing not with the fall of Jerusalem, but rather the fall of Rome.
Expositors who are still looking for future fulfillment of John’s Apocalypse understand the trumpets as increasingly supernatural and horrific judgments sent by God to bring low the unrepentant. Some of the trumpets are so obviously bizarre, a number of futurist theologians are willing to see them as symbolic depictions of a no less catastrophic reality.
The little opened scroll represents God’s word and God’s message that John must disclose to the world.
Those who pull back to take a broader view of Revelation see these trumpets as recurring judgments that God has brought throughout church history—both directly from the Lord but also as normal consequences for human sin and failure. Natural disasters, environmental ills, pollution, disease, war, violence and crime all stem from human sources.
These judgements act as both a wake-up call to the current need to repent and reform, but also act as warnings of far more dire circumstances if matters are left to run their course.
The little book is God’s message of love, grace, and salvation, that is its sweetness. But there is also suffering because apart from God’s grace there can only be judgment.
My Own Take
I personally agree with those expositors who keep the seven trumpets together because the narrative itself keeps them together during the long interlude. The “second woe,” which came with the sixth trumpet, apparently lasts for a while, but the third woe is still part of this second cycle of sevens.
The second woe passed. Behold, the third woe is coming quickly. Then the seventh angel sounded a trumpet …Revelation 11:14-15
THERE ARE THREE SETS OF SEVEN IN REVELATION, WITH AN INTERLUDE BETWEEN CYCLE II AND CYCLE III
|Seven Seals (5:1-8:5)||Seven Trumpets (8:6-11:18)||Seven Bowls (15:1-16:21)|
|1||Conqueror on a White Horse||Hail, fire, and blood burning a third of the earth||Painful sores|
|2||Warrior on a Fiery Red Horse||Mountain of fire turning a third of the sea to blood||All seas turn to blood|
|3||Famine on a Black Horse||Blazing star named Wormwood hurled into fresh water, making a third bitter||All fresh water turns to blood|
|4||Death on a Pale Green Horse||A third of all heavenly orbs are dimmed||Sun scorches the people|
|5||White-Robed Martyrs||Woe one: A star from heaven unlocks the abyss of horrors||Darkness covers the earth|
|6||Wrath of the Lamb||Woe two: four angels release three plagues, killing a third of humanity||Euphrates dries up, and armies prepare for war|
|PAUSE||Great multitude of those sealed to God are gathered to the throne||Seven thunders, two witnesses, massive earthquake, many die||Christians prepare, remain alert, wait expectantly|
|7||Silence in Heaven||Woe three: The Day of Judgment||“It Is Done!”|
The four perspectives taken from Revelation: Four Views A Parallel Commentary, edited by Steve Gregg