The first four trumpets of revelation will the historic interpretation of the

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In introducing this subject let us first of all discuss the question, Do the trumpets have a secondary end time application? This view is held by an increasing number of Adventists today. The historic SDA position is that only the seventh trumpet has an end time application. Do the other six trumpets also apply to the time of the end? The following statement is used as authority for this position,

Trumpet after trumpet is to be sounded, vial after vial poured out one after the other upon the inhabitants of the earth." Selected Messages 426. See also “The Appendix” (1).

On the basis of this statement it is concluded that the trumpets are yet future. What is the answer to this view? There is no hint whatsoever in the above statement that it is an exposition of the prophecy of the 7 trumpets of Revelation. In fact it appears that the term "trumpet" is used in a general sense of a call to battle in the coming crisis of the church. The phrases used in the full Spirit of Prophecy statement certainly confirm this.

"In this last conflict the Captain of the Lord's host is leading on the armies of heaven and mingling in the ranks and fighting our battles

for us ... We would lose faith and courage in the conflict, if we were not sustained by the power of God.

Every form of evil is to spring into intense activity. Evil angels unite their power with evil men ... they will not yield the last great final contest without a desperate struggle and all the world will be on one side or the other of the question.

The battle of Armageddon will be fought and that day must find none of us sleeping ... the Captain of the Lord's hosts will stand at the head of the angels of heaven to direct the battle ... Trumpet after trumpet is to be sounded; vial after vial poured out one after another, on the inhabitants of the earth." 3 Selected Messages 425-426. (2)

The term trumpet is employed as a call to battle, to stand up and be counted in the great conflict before us.

Are the seven trumpets identical with or associated with the seven last plagues? The statement reads, "Trumpet after trumpet is to be sounded, vial after vial is to be poured out." Some conclude that if this refers to the seven trumpets then the trumpets are associated with the plagues. This is not necessarily so. The word "vial" does represent a plague, but the expression could refer to other plagues that may fall upon mankind before the close of probation. Already there are evidences of a plague epidemic. The A.I.D.S. disease is even labeled "the wrath of God"! Undoubtedly we

will see other epidemics which will be so devastating that the population of the earth could be lowered.

In connection with the 7 trumpets of Revelation, the term plagues is used.

"The rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues (or trumpets) yet repented not of the works of their hands.” Rev. 9:20.

The seven trumpets were certainly a type of plague upon the inhabitants in the areas where they applied, but they are not the seven LAST plagues. The seven plagues just prior to the Second Advent are the LAST plagues, indicating that there were other plagues beforehand. (See Appendix for another misuse of S.O.P. statement.)

The setting of the trumpets clearly indicates that the first six were fulfilled before 1844 AD. In the introduction to the trumpets an angel offers the prayers of the saints at the altar of incense in the heavenly temple. This ministry was performed in the first apartment of the sanctuary which continued from Christ's ascension until 1844 when it transferred to the second apartment of the heavenly temple. In the sixth trumpet also, it says,

I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God. Rev. 9:13.

This is another first apartment scene (the holy place of the sanctuary) indicating that the sixth trumpet was taking place during the time when the ministry of Christ was in the first apartment, i.e. before 1844 AD.
But what of the similarities between the trumpets and the plagues?




Upon the earth

Rev. 8:7

Upon the earth


Upon the sea

Rev. 8:8

Upon the sea


Rivers & fountains of waters

Rev. 8:10

Rivers & fountains of waters

Rev. 16:4

Sun smitten

Rev. 8:12

Upon the sun

Rev. 16:8

Air darkened

Rev. 9:2


Rev. 16:1

Great River Euphrates

Rev. 9:14

Great River Euphrates

Rev 16:12


Mystery of God finished

Rev. 10:7

"It is done"

Rev. 16:17


Lightnings, voices, thunderings, earthquake, great hail

Rev. 11:19

Voices, thunders, lightnings, great earthquake, hail

Rev. 16:18

On the surface it appears that the trumpets and plagues are identical, and many scholars have drawn this conclusion. However, not only are there similarities but there are a greater number of differences between the plagues and trumpets, as the following diagram reveals.



6 symbolic. 1 literal

6 literal. 1 symbolic


4 affect 1/3 earth, 'Hail, Fire & Blood'


4 are worldwide, 'Noisome & grievous sores’


1/3 sea to blood, 1/3 creatures die


Sea as blood of dead man


1/3 waters bitter


All drinking water blood


1/3 sun, moon, stars smitten


Sun more active – men smitten with fierce heat


Smoke from pit - darkness. Locusts torment for 5 months


Papal kingdom filled with darkness


Angel (spirits) loosed from Euphrates.


Euphrates dried up & Evil spirits unite whole world against God.


Gospel concluded events extend to End of Millennium.


Great earthquake. Cities of world fall. End at Second Advent.

These differences (and there are many more) show that the trumpets and plagues are entirely separate and distinct. How then shall we interpret the seven trumpets of Revelation? The historic SDA view is that the first six trumpets apply to the downfall of the Roman Empire and the seventh trumpet refers to the downfall of the whole world when it becomes, as it were, a revived Roman empire under the papacy. The positions currently taught by our leading S.D.A. academic institutions follow those of Dr. Edwin Thiele. Dr. M. Maxwell in "God Cares II" admits the same. (3)

The first trumpet, it is claimed, deals with the destruction of Jerusalem, The second deals with the fall of Western Rome, the third, with the pollution of the gospel by the papacy. The fourth trumpet deals with Christ's heavenly ministry being obscured by a false system of mediation. On the fifth trumpet, their position agrees with the historic SDA view, that it refers to the Arabs. Likewise with the sixth trumpet, that it refers to the Turks. This appears to be the current view concerning the seven trumpets. (4)

Will this modern interpretation stand up under investigation? There are some serious questions concerning it. For example, the first trumpet is applied to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. This event occurred 25 years before John began to write Revelation, and when he wrote he was shown "things which must shortly come to pass" (Rev. 1:1).

Therefore the destruction of Jerusalem would barely come into the picture, because it was already history. The destruction of Jerusalem was a fulfillment of other great predictions made many centuries before. Moses in Deut. 28:49-68 gave a very detailed prediction concerning the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. Daniel, in Dan. 9:26-27 predicted the same and Jesus in Matt. 24, Mark 13 and particularly in Luke 21 also predicted that event.

The second point where this interpretation is under question is that in the first trumpet "...all green grass was burnt up..." and this it is claimed, symbolized God's people flourishing in righteousness. (God Cares Vol. II. p. 237). (5) But in the destruction of Jerusalem, the Jews were not flourishing in righteousness - it was exactly the opposite. They had reached the height of rebellion against God, and they were no longer God's people. Their probation as God's people had ended in 34 AD.

The third point under question is the third trumpet where it mentions a " falling from heaven..." and that it represents Satan. In scripture a star represents a leader. While Satan was the leader of the angels, it could refer to another leader. In Rev. 1:20 the leaders in God's church are likened to stars. Dan. 8: 10 indicates the same. In Jude 1:13 apostate leaders are referred to as "wandering stars".

"The stars of heaven are under God's control; he fills them with light; if he did not, they would become fallen stars, so with his ministers." G.W. p 13-14. (6)

A falling star then may not only refer to Satan but to human leaders - even religious leaders. We will show that there is another interpretation of the third trumpet that is far more satisfactory.

Another claim that must be questioned is that in the second trumpet a mountain is cast into the sea, and this represents the Gothic invasions that overthrew the Roman Empire. (7) But it is only one mountain that is cast into the sea, one kingdom, for a

mountain in scripture represents a kingdom, whereas the Gothic barbarians that invaded the Roman Empire and brought it to its end involved at least six different peoples or tribes or kingdoms. Probably ten different peoples or more - such as the Visigoths, the Ostrogoths, the Huns, the Vandals, the Suevi, the Burgundians, the Heruli and others.

The mountain is cast into the sea - it is connected with the sea., and history is quite clear that only one Gothic power had association with the sea. Again in the third trumpet the falling star, called wormwood, is claimed to represent the polluting of one third of the world by Rome's apostasy of the middle ages. (8) But Rome's apostasy affected almost the whole then known world, not just a third of it. According to Rev. 2:20 even some of God's people were infected with the apostasy.

In the fourth trumpet a third of the sun was darkened etc. which it is claimed represents Christ's heavenly ministry being obscured by the papal priesthood, the counterfeit system of mediation. (9) But the papal counterfeit obscured not just a third of the world of the day but more like nine tenths of it. We believe that we should look for a more satisfactory interpretation of the first four trumpets.

Will the historic SDA view stand up under the microscope of scripture? When we re-examine the historic Adventist interpretation there are some things we need to consider. Is every item mentioned in the trumpets to be taken as symbolic? It is generally understood that the trumpets are, symbolic, but how much is symbolic, and how much is literal? In this area there is confusion. Can the symbolic and literal be employed in the one description? Scripture often combines the two. The symbolic and literal are employed together, and it is important to differentiate between the two. For example notice the following psalm.

"Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt and hast cast out the heathen and planted it. Thou preparest room before it and did cause it to take deep root and it filled the land. The hills were covered with the shadow of it and the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedars. She sent out her boughs to the sea and her branches to the river." Ps. 80:8-11.

Here is a combination of symbolic and literal. "Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt". "Egypt" is literal and "vine" is a symbol of Israel. "Thou has cast out the heathen" (literal) "and planted it" (symbolic). "Though preparest room before it" (literal) "and did cause it to take deep root", (symbolic) and, "it filled the land" (literally) "the hills were covered with the shadow of it" (symbolic) and "the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedars" (symbolic) 'She sent out her boughs" (symbolic) "to the sea" (literal sea Mediterranean) "and her branches to the river"

(literal - Euphrates River). A similar pattern is found in Jer. 3:6; Ez. 27:26; Ezek. 32:6-7 and Hosea 13:15. Therefore it is necessary to determine what is symbolic, and what is literal in the wording of the seven trumpets.

In examining the first six trumpets it appears that generally the initial terms used to describe the trumpet are in symbolic language, while the effects of the trumpet in the first three are expressed in literal terms but in the fourth trumpet they are expressed in symbolic terms. In the fifth and sixth trumpets the initial description again is in symbolic language with one or two exceptions but the explanation of the symbols is in literal language, except for a couple of points. The effects of the fifth and sixth trumpets are mostly in literal language.

The historic SDA position is not original with them. It has been held by many scholars of yesteryear, prior to 1844. (10)

What does a trumpet represent in prophecy? In scripture the trumpet was employed for four different reasons.

  1. To proclaim the various festivals of Israel such as the Sabbath, New Moons, New Year, Holy Convocations and Feasts.

  2. To summon Israel to prayer and praise.

  3. To proclaim the time of each advance of the camp of Israel in their wilderness journeying & toward the Promised Land. (11)

  1. A call to arms, or a warning of an enemy Invasion.

The fourth reason appears to be one that applies to the seven trumpets.

A trumpet denotes an invasion of enemy forces. This is made very clear by Jeremiah,

"Blow ye the trumpet in the land, cry, gather together and say, Assemble yourselves and let us go into the defensed cities." Jeremiah 4:5

It denotes an invasion is imminent, enemy forces are at hand.

... I am pained at my very heart. My heart makes a noise in me, I cannot hold my peace because thou hast heard oh my soul the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war." Jeremiah 4:19.

The trumpet denotes an alarm of war. The historic Adventist position is that the first six trumpets denote a military invasion against the mighty Roman Empire. (12) The seventh trumpet denotes an invasion against this rebel world by Christ and the armies of heaven, when "the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord..."

What evidence do we have that the Roman Empire could be the object of the first six trumpets? This undoubtedly is the crux of the matter. Have SDA's been justified in applying the first six trumpets to the downfall of the Roman Empire? We offer the following reasons.

In John's day, when Revelation was written, according to Edward Gibbon, the greatest authority on Rome, "The Roman Empire filled the world." It was a Roman

world. John was a prisoner on the isle of Patmos, a victim of Roman oppression. Secondly, the scene of the trumpets is described at least four times, as "the earth", also "the sea", vegetation and waters. What do these represent? Undoubtedly a part of this world. The world of New Testament times, until the fifth century, was the Roman world. In Luke 2:1 it mentions how a decree from Augustus Caesar went forth for "all the world to be taxed". What world? The Roman world.

Secular authors in those years recognized that the world of that day was indeed the Roman world. (Ovid & Dionysius "Horae Apoc.” Elliott I p. 359) (13) Sir Isaac Newton the famous scientist, who spent over 40 years in the study of prophecy, in commenting on Rev. 8:5 and the fire being cast upon the earth, says,

"Such a fire was; cast upon the earth, the Roman world, the territorial platform of prophecy " (14)

There is a third reason why the trumpets refer to the Roman world. The first four trumpets are linked together. Likewise, the last three. The terms used in the first four trumpets denote invading, destructive, military powers which are employed to punish apostate peoples. What historical drama in history back to the time of John the Revelator meets such a specification? There is only one and that is the downfall of the Roman Empire, by the barbarians who swept over Western Rome and ended that empire. The first four trumpets deal with Western Rome, the fifth and sixth deal with Eastern Rome. Notice the telling comment on this point by Dr. Albert Barnes, (the noted Presbyterian scholar of the 1850's)

"There are four of these “trumpets” and it would be a matter of inquiry whether there were four events of sufficient distinction that would mark these invasions or that would constitute periods or epochs in the destruction of the Roman power. At this point in writing I looked upon a chart of history, composed with no reference to this prophecy, and found a singular and unexpected prominence given to four such events extending from the first invasion of the Goths and Vandals at the beginning of the fifth century to the fall of the Western empire AD 476.

The first was the invasion of Alaric king of the Goths, AD 410; the second was the invasion of Attila king of the Huns, AD 447; a third was the sack of Rome by Genseric king of the Vandals, and the fourth resulting in the final conquest of Rome, was that of Odoacer king of the Heruli." 'Notes on Revelation 8.' (15)

The fourth point indicating that it was the Roman world, is that the trumpets are described as " ... divine judgments on God's professed people in apostasy..." Rev. 9:20 confirms this. Where did apostasy develop in the early Christian church?

In the Mediterranean world, the Roman world, in the Christian church in the Roman Empire, and finally it centered in the church at Rome itself.

What political powers and people supported and protected this apostasy? The Roman Empire after the Caesars became Christian. Were there any other powers or people at that time that could fit this specification? Not one. Therefore the first six trumpets must apply to the Roman Empire. Dr. M. Maxwell correctly comments,

It is noteworthy that the century of disasters (378 - 476 AD) we have been talking about, befell Rome after she had adopted Christianity. The Roman empire had become in a sense an apostate people of God, ripe for experiencing the judgment of God, inflicted by her enemies.” God Cares II P 240. (16)

There is another point, as to why this prediction of the 7 trumpets must apply to the Roman Empire. Seven times in the five trumpets the “third part” is specified. The third part of what? The only satisfactory application of this point is that is was the third part of the Roman Empire. There were a number of divisions in the history of Rome, but there was one in particular that neatly fitted the prediction at this particular time. Three divisions were formed in the time of Constantine. The empire was divided between him, Licinius and Maximin, and these three divisions existed at the time of the barbarian invasions of the empire. No other application of "the third part" satisfactorily fills the prediction.

"In the time of Constantine the Roman empire was divided into three great sections: to Constantine was assigned Gaul, Spain, Britain, Italy, Africa; to Licinius the Illyricum prefecture; to Maximin, the Asiatic provinces and Egypt.''

Dr. Cumming 'Apocalyptic Sketches' Vol. 2. p63. (17)

"Either Diocletion or after him Constantine, made Illyricum one of the four prefectures ... This prefecture included Pannonia, Noricum, Crete and the entire Balkan peninsular except Thrace, which was attached by Constantine to the prefecture of the East ... The whole peninsular except Thrace was still known as Illyricum."

Encyc. Britt. 1911 Ed. Vol 14 p 326. (18)

"Each one included its third of the Mediterranean or Roman Sea, as well as its third of the land: and each one also its characteristic stream of the three great frontier rivers, the Rhine, Danube and Euphrates." 'Horae Apocalypticae' E.B. Elliott. Vol. 1 p 342. (19)

This is a completely satisfactory explanation of "the third Part", that is involved in five of the six trumpets.

It is significant to notice that other prophets predicted the fall of Rome. In the primary prophecy of Daniel, (after dealing with the first three universal kingdoms) it says of the fourth or iron kingdom, "it shall be divided". Dan. 2:41.

This fourth kingdom was pagan Rome. In the prophecy of the four beasts of Daniel 7 the four kingdoms are again presented and of the fourth or Roman kingdom it says “ ... the ten horns out of this kingdom (Rome) are ten kings (or kingdoms) that shall arise." Dan. 7:24.
The first four trumpets reveal how the ten kingdoms were formed out of the Roman Empire. Maybe this is one of the purposes of the first four trumpets. Jesus Christ also predicted the end of the Roman Empire in connection with old Jerusalem.

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