Some interpreters understand several parts of the Apocalypse as somewhat repetitious, each leading its readers through the same period, adding new perspectives each time. In this view—called “recapitulation”—each part of Revelation ends at the final consummation (the return of Christ or beyond). For instance, some interpreters would understand the seven seals and the seven trumpets to both cover the period from the cross to the return of Christ or beyond.
In contrast, other interpreters understand the visions of Revelation to represent chronologically sequential events, with only one final climax at the end of the book. One application of this principle is the large number of scholars that suggest that the seventh seal includes the seven trumpets, and that the seventh trumpet includes the seven plagues. In this way the seven seals comprise the rest of the book.
The purpose of this article is to investigate this specific issue. This issue may not matter too much to a preterist, even though preterists often defend recapitulation (repetition). However, it is a decisive question for other interpretations of the Apocalypse.
The major parts of Revelation may be presented as follows:
- The seven letters in chapters 1 to 3.
- The seven seals (4:1 to 8:1). The question to be answered in this article is where the seventh seal ends.
- The seven trumpets (chapters 8 to 11).
- The seven wars (chapters 12 to 14). These wars are not listed numerically as the letters, seals and trumpets are, but “wars” is a good description of this part of Revelation, and an article is available that analyses this part of Revelation into seven wars.
- The seven plagues (chapters 15 to perhaps 19)
- The Millennium (chapter 20)
- The New Heaven and New Earth (chapters 21 to 22).
This article will focus specifically on the seals and the trumpets, but will also refer to some of the other sections from time to time.
The proposal that the trumpets are all included in the seventh seal is based on the assumption that the seventh seal includes the whole of Rev 8:1-6. Revelation 8:1-6 is therefore key in this analysis:
(1) When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. (2) And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. (3) Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a golden censer; and much incense was given to him, so that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar which was before the throne. (4) And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand. (5) Then the angel took the censer and filled it with the fire of the altar, and threw it to the earth; and there followed peals of thunder and sounds and flashes of lightning and an earthquake. (6) And the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound them. (NASB)
The person who numbered the text of Revelation put the seventh seal in a new chapter with the trumpets. That person must have had the view that the seventh seal consists of the seven trumpets. There is really nothing that happens when the seventh seal is broken—only silence. The same applies to the seventh trumpet—nothing happens in that trumpet, except that God is praised for taking control of the earth. This is justification for the view that the real action of the seventh seal is the seven trumpets, and that the seventh trumpet really consists of the seven plagues. However, the numbering of the text is not inspired. It was added about a thousand years after Christ.
It is proposed here that the seventh seal only comprises 8:1, and that 8:2 is the start of the series of trumpets. This proposal is based on the following observations:
The first point to be made is that every major part of Revelation has an introduction. This is important for a proper understanding of the structure of Revelation. Furthermore, it will be shown that the introductions are aligned to the themes of the various major parts. The point that will be made is that the theme of the seals is very different from the theme of the trumpets. The theme of the seals is about God’s people, and salvation. The theme of the trumpets is about the people that do not believe in God, and about what God do to bring them back to Him. It will then be proposed that if the themes are so different that the trumpets cannot be part of the seals.
Understanding of the introductions is also important for analysing the issue in this article. The introduction for the major part will not be identified:
The introduction to the seven letters
Revelation 1 provides an introduction to the entire Book of Revelation (1:1-8), followed by a vision of Christ that serves as the introduction to the seven letters (1:9-20). This vision provides the context for the letters, and most of the letters start with a reference to this vision.
Another important characteristic of the introductory scenes is that they all are heavenly scenes, in particular scenes of the temple in heaven, focussing on some aspect of the temple that is aligned to the theme for that part of Revelation. In the introduction to the letters Christ is seen between the lampstands (1:13). The lampstands represent the churches (1:20). The theme of the letters is then messages from God to correct His church.
You may question why it is said that these lampstands is in heaven:
- Firstly, Revelation indicates specifically that there is a temple in heaven (Rev 7:15; 11:19; 14:17; 15:5). This might be a foreign concept to the reader, so please read these verses, and also Hebrews 8 and 9. Then add to this concept the concept that, in the ancient Jewish temple, the lampstand was in the temple (Hebr. 9:2). If the temple in Revelation is in heaven, and the lampstands are in the temple, then the lampstands must also be in heaven.
- Secondly, Rev 1:20 does say that “the seven lampstands are the seven churches”, but according to 2:5 each church has a lampstand. The lampstand therefore represents the church. The churches are on earth, but their lampstands are represented as if they are in heaven.
- Thirdly, notice that these are not lamps, but lampstands. But if these are lampstands, there must be lamps as well, and in Revelation the Holy Spirit is represented as lamps in heaven:
“And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God” (4:5). The churches are the stands on which the Holy Spirit “burns”.
If the lamps are represented as in heaven the lampstands must also be in heaven.
- Fourthly, Revelation is a symbolic book. We should not think about a physical temple in heaven. The temple was the place to which the Israelite in ancient times went to obtain forgiveness from sin. As stated by Hebrews 8:5, the ancient Jewish temple was a copy. It was a physical representation of the means by which God solves the sin problem. Therefore, the temple in heaven is really the processes God applies to rid the universe of the sin problem. In that sense the temple in heaven includes the earth. The sacrifice for the temple in heaven was made on earth (Hebr. 9:23). Therefore, when we refer to the “temple in heaven” it must rather be understood as in contrast with a physical temple on earth, and not as something physically in heaven. These wonderful works of God is something that we will study for millennia to come. It is not something that we can now fully understand
- Lastly, it will be shown that all the other introductions are clearly scenes from the temple in heaven.
In conclusion, the theme of the letters is messages from God to correct His church. If they overcome the world through His love, He promises them to sit with Him on His Father’s throne (3:21).
The introduction to seven seals
The throne vision of Revelation chapters 4 and 5 functions as an introduction to the seven seals. In Revelation 5 a slain Lamb (Jesus) receives a book. The book is sealed with seven seals. Each of the “seals” then starts with the Lamb opening a seal (6:1 to 8:1). Similar to the letters, the throne vision provides the context for the seals.
As for the introduction to the letters, this is a scene from the temple in heaven, and the aspect of the temple on which it focuses is aligned to the theme of this part of Revelation. In the introduction to the seals God’s throne (4:2), which is in His temple (7:15) is prominent. At the end of the seals all God’s people are around His throne (7:9). But perhaps the key temple symbol in the seals is the slain Lamb:
“And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain” (5:6)
This is perhaps the key temple symbol in the seals because the seals are about salvation, as indicated by the following two quotes—one from the introduction and one from the sixth seal:
And they *sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” (5:9-10)
… And he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. “For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple … (7:14, 15)
The blood of Christ therefore brings people to the throne of God, and the symbol of the slain Lamb introduces that theme. The theme of the seals is perhaps best illustrated by the question from the lost multitudes:
for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Rev 6:17)
Jesus receives the sealed book at the throne (5:1), and eventually gathers all His people around the throne of God (7:9). Non-believers are not specifically mentioned in the seals, except when they hide, like Adam, from the One sitting on the throne on “the great day of their wrath” (6:15-17). As in the seven letters the focus is on God’s people (5:9; 6:9; 7:3, 9). They must all come to the judgement throne of Christ, where they will be changed to see things as He does.
The introduction to seven trumpets
The vision of the angel serving at the golden altar, throwing fire on the earth, (8:3-5) is the introduction to the seven trumpets. In the first place, this scene provides the context for the trumpets as the reader will notice fire everywhere in the trumpets (8:8, 10, 9:2, 17, 10:1; 11:5), and in the trumpets things typically fall on the earth or come down from heaven to the earth:
- In the first trumpet fire is thrown to the earth; and much of the earth is burned up (8:7).
- In the second a great burning mountain is thrown into the sea (8:8, 9).
- In the third a great burning star fell from heaven (8:10, 11)
- In the fifth a star from heaven fall to the earth, and the sun and the air were darkened by smoke, like the smoke of a great furnace (9:1-3).
- In the sixth fire and smoke and brimstone proceed from the mouths of horses, killing third of mankind (9:17, 18).
- In the interruption a strong angel come down out of heaven with feet like pillars of fire, brings a little opened book (10:1, 2), and fire flows out of the mouth of God’s two witnesses to devours their enemies (11:5).
The point is that the fire which the angels throws to earth in 8:5 results in the fire that we see everywhere in the trumpets, which means that 8:2-5 provides to context to the trumpets.
Secondly, as with the introduction to the letters and the seals, the vision in 8:2:5 is of something in the temple in heaven, particularly of the golden altar. This introduces the theme of the trumpets. In the ancient Jewish system individual sinners brought their sacrifices to the altar of burnt offering outside the temple, but sacrifices for the collective sins of the people were made at the golden altar inside the temple. Revelation represents “much incense” (the benefits of the sacrifice on the cross) and the prayers of the saints on this altar because the trumpets represent God’s messages to a lost world. In contrast to the seals the focus in the trumpets are on non-believers (9:4, 20). God’s messages to them are symbolised of in the interruption in the form of John having to “prophecy again” (10:11) and the two witnesses (11:3). But in the end, the focus is again on the non-believers, but now they worship God because they fear His power (11:13), not because they love Him. This happens at the end of the sixth trumpet, which is equivalent to the non-believers hiding from God at the end of the sixth seal (6:15-17). The trumpets, as prefigured in the incense and prayers offered on the golden altar, represent everything God does to reconcile non-believers to Him.
A further relationship between the introductory scenes is flashes of lightning, voices and thunders. These were not seen in the introduction to the letters, but they are seen in the introduction of both the seals and the trumpets (4:5; 8:5)
Something else found in the introductions of both the seals and the trumpets is “incense” in connection with “prayers of the saints”. In the introduction to the seals the incense is defined as the prayers of the saints (5:8), while, in the introduction to the trumpets, incense is offered on the altar “with” the prayers of the saints. The term “prayers of the saints” is found only twice in Revelation, namely in the introduction to the seals (5:8) and in the introduction to the trumpets (8:3-4).
The introduction to seven wars
The first trumpet is blown in Rev 8:7. Each trumpet is clearly identified. The last trumpet begins with Rev 11:15. This trumpet is beyond the end of current world history, as indicated by the following:
- “loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ …” (11:15)
- the twenty-four elders, … saying, “We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign. … (11:16, 17)
- The term “the one that is to come”—occurring elsewhere in Revelation as part of the formula of the divine name “who is and who was and who is to come” (e.g. 1:4)—is omitted in Rev 11:17. In 11:17 God is designated only as the one “who is and who was”, pointing to the fact that He now has come and that the end of world history has arrived.
There is almost general agreement that something new starts with Rev 12 because:
- The seventh trumpet ends current world history, while Revelation 12 jumps back to the time Jesus came as a human being (12:2, 5);
- New characters are introduced. A woman and a dragon are introduced in Rev 12. In Rev 13, the dragon empowers a beast from the sea. Then a beast from the earth arises and instigates the inhabitants of the earth to establish an image of the beast. The dragon and the beasts belong together and form a counter-trinity. The major evil powers therefore enter the scene. The woman opposes that evil trinity.
Revelation 12 is therefore a new part of Revelation. The question is where 11:19 fits. Is it the end of the trumpet vision as many scholars suggest, or is it the introduction of the seven wars in chapters 12 to 14, or is it both, as others propose?
In 11:19 the “temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple, and there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder and an earthquake and a great hailstorm”. For the following reasons it is proposed that 11:19 is the introduction of the seven wars in chapters 12 to 14:
ONE: Rev 11:19, 12:1 and 12:3 present three successive scenes—the ark, the woman and the dragon. The phrase “it was seen” (translated “appeared” in the NASB) occurs just three times in Revelation: namely in these three verses. These three verses therefore belong together, which connects 11:19 with the subsequent two scenes.
TWO: A further link between these three scenes is the phrase “in heaven” in each of these scenes. There are differences between Rev 11:19 and Rev 12:1 and Rev 12:3, but such differences are not surprising, because introductory verses are always somewhat different from the section it introduces.
THREE: Just like the introduction to the seals (4:5) and the trumpets (8:5), 11:19 refers to the heavenly temple. Rev 11:19 uses the word “temple” (naos) twice. John is allowed to see the innermost part of the heavenly sanctuary containing the Ark of the Covenant. Both the golden altar (8:3-trumpets) and the ark (11:19) were part of the ancient temple furniture (Hebr. 9:4). The Ark contained the Ten Commandments, and the wars on Revelation 12 to 14 are wars against God’s commandments. This is indicated by the following:
- God’s people are described as commandment-keepers (12:17; 14:12).
- In the wars the first commandments are disobeyed. The people of the world worship the dragon and the beast (13:4), they blaspheme God (13:6) and erect and worship an image (13:14, 15).
- Therefore the plagues come from the “tabernacle of testimony” (15:5), which is Old Testament language from the temple of the Ten Commandments (Ex 25:16).
FOUR: Still a further link with the other introductions are flashes of lightning, voices, thunders seen and heard also in 11:19. Actually, each time thunder, voices, and flashes of lightning are enumerated, another element is added. These three elements are found in Rev 4:5. The introduction to the trumpets adds earthquakes (8:5). In Rev. 11:19 a fifth element is added, namely a great hail. The same five elements are found in 16:18-21.
FIVE: Rev 11:18 is a fitting end to the trumpets because summarizes the final events that are described more extensively in the following chapters of Revelation. It says:
- “the nations were enraged” summarises the seven wars in Revelation 12 to 14;
- “and Your wrath came” summarises the plagues Revelation 15 to 19;
- “and the time came for the dead to be judged” is the judgement before the great white throne in Revelation 20;
- “to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints” summarises the description of the new heaven and new earth in chapters 21 and 22, and
- “and to destroy those who destroy the earth”, explains the lake of fire and the second death (21:8).
The introduction to seven Plagues
The vision of the angels receiving the plagues from one of the four living beings (15:7) is the introduction to the seven plagues. This is again a temple scene. The temple here is called the “tabernacle of testimony” (15:5) which emphasizes the “testimony” a name for the Ten Commandments (Ex 25:16).
Introductions provides themes
It is important to note that these introductions always are scenes from the temple in heaven, and that the aspect of the temple that is seen is aligned to the theme of that part of Revelation. The point here is that the themes of the seals and the plagues are very different. The seals deals with the redemption of God’s people while the trumpets deal word God’s efforts to bring the lost back to Him. Because the theme of these two part of revelation are so different, the trumpets cannot be part of the seals.
ENDS WITH THE RETURN OF CHRIST
Perhaps the most convincing argument is that the seals and the trumpets and the wars (Revelation 12-14) all end with “the end”—the final consummation—which includes the return of Christ. If the seals end with “the end”, then the trumpets must jump back in time, and at least to some extent cover the same period as the seals. The following paragraphs therefore indicate that the seals and the trumpets do end with “the end”.
Since Rev 8:1 is introduced by neither “I saw” nor “I heard”, it seems that this verse has a very close relation to the preceding material. With the sixth seal, not only the heavenly signs pointing to Jesus’ second coming have been fulfilled (6:12-14)—the day of the Lord itself—the “great day of their wrath”, has come (6:17). In the extension of the sixth seal God’s people are perceived as already standing before His throne (Rev 7:9, 15). This answers the question at the very end of the sixth chapter: “Who is able to stand?” They are led by the Lamb to the water of life (7:17). The climax has been reached. Then the seventh seal adds silence in heaven. So, the seals lead up to the final consummation. Having reached Christ’s second corning, the Millennium, judgment, and new creation, a return to the old earth as described by the trumpets does not make sense if understood chronologically. If Rev 8:2-6—which draws with it Rev 8-9—would be connected with 8:1, the progression of Rev 6 and 7 up to 8:1 would be reversed and the climax destroyed.
The same is true at the end of the trumpets. As illustrated above, in the seventh trumpet “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord” (11:15). Then, in the next chapter, we read about Christ becoming a human being (12:2, 5). Because the seals, trumpets and wars (Rev 12 to 14) all end with the end of human history as we know it, they must overlap in terms of periods covered.
This conclusion is supported by an understanding of the “silence” in 8:1. In Revelation 5 describes John sees a Lamb taking a book sealed with seven seals. When He opens the seals (Revelation 6), dramatic events occur on earth. However, in 7:9 the scene returns to heaven with the great multitude standing before the throne and before the Lamb. Then, when the last seal is broken, and the book is now completely open, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour, in contrast to the flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder which previously came out from the throne (4:5). The silence must be because the book is now completely open, and can be completely read. To understand this we need to understand what this book is.
There are various books in Revelation:
- One is the book Revelation itself (Rev 1:11; 22:10; 22:18; 22:19).
- Another book is the little opened book which the angel brings from heaven, which John has to eat so that he can prophecy (Rev 10). Some believe this is the same book as the book the Lamb receives in Revelation 5, but the seventh seal will only be completely lifted after the end of current world history—after the return of Christ (6:17), while the angel’s book in Revelation 10 is already open when brought down to earth, and it is brought down as something that must be prophesied (10:11), which must happen before the return of Christ.
- The third is the book of life. In this book are written the names of the overcomers (3:5). They will inherit the New Jerusalem (21:7), while all other people will suffer the second death in the lake of fire (20:15). This is one of the books that will be used in the judgement (20:12). This book is also called “the book of life of the Lamb” (13:8), or “the Lamb’s book of life” (21:27). This implies that the book that is received by the Lamb in Revelation 5 is the book of life. This is supported by the following observations:
- The book received in Revelation 5 is only completely unsealed at the end of current human history while the book of life is opened in the last judgement at the end of the Millennium (20:12).
- Jesus “has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals” (5:5). In other words, His sacrifice on the cross gave Him the authority to open the book. But we also know that through the cross Jesus “purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (5:9). The book is therefore intimately tied to the redemption of man. In other words, to open this book is to redeem God’s people.
The fact that the book with the seven seals is the book of life means that the seventh seal (8:1) happens in the final judgement at the end of the Millennium:
(Rev 20:12) And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.
This silence then results from the judgement before the great white throne. After this there is only the new heaven and new earth. There is no space left for a return to earth for the events described in the trumpets. This serves to confirm the previous conclusion, namely that the seals, the trumpets and the wars all end at the great consummation.
STARTS WITH THE CROSS
The seals start at the time of John. As discussed elsewhere, the twofold introductory scene in Rev 4-5 points to Jesus’s enthronement in heaven after His sacrifice, possibly in 31 A.D. The seals reach even beyond Christ’s second coming. Thus the seals cover the entire Christian time span.
The vision of the seven wars (chapters 12 to 14), starts with a woman giving birth to a male child, which is a reference to the time God came as a man. It ends with the harvest at the end of Revelation 14, which is the war Armageddon. (See the article on Armageddon.) The vision of the seven wars therefore again covers the Christian period.
Therefore the question is not whether the Apocalypse uses recapitulation—this issue is clear. The question is rather whether the trumpets recapitulate the seals, which is possible given that the preceding and succeeding parts do cover the same period of time.
The “much incense” given to the angel serving at the altar (8:3) may be viewed as the benefits from the sacrifice at the cross. In Revelation 5, at the inauguration of Christ’s ministry in heaven, the elders have bowls “full of incense” (5:8), which may be the “much incense” given to the angel at the altar in 8:3. Notice in the following wonderful and joyous passage how Revelation 5 links the incense to the Lamb taking the book, and how taking the book is linked to His blood sacrifice at the cross, and to redemption:
When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they *sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. (Rev 5:8-9)
It is therefore proposed that the “much incense” results from the Lamb’s sacrifice, and that the incense is given to the angel immediately after the sacrifice was offered. This would mean that the trumpets also cover the full Christian period.
TIME, TIMES AND HALF A TIME
One of the seven wars in Revelation 12 to 14 is the “time, time and a half” of Dan 7 and 12 (Rev 12:6, 14).
Both the trumpets and the seven wars (Revelation 12 to 14) refer to the period of “time, times, and half” (11:2, 3; 12:6, 14; 13:6). Both these parts of Revelation therefore cover this important period. Everywhere in Daniel (where the period is first mentioned—Dan 7:25 & 12:7) and in Revelation this is the period of persecution of God’s people. Because the seals revolves God’s people, and their persecution (6:9; 7:14), the seal necessarily also cover this period, which would mean that the seven seals, the seven trumpets and the seven wars all cover the “time, time and a half”.
The interpretation of the “time, times, and half” is critical to a correct understanding of the prophecies. A separate article is available on this period.
8:2-6 has a literary structure called a chiasm. In such a structure the first element corresponds to the last, and the second to the one immediately preceding the last, etc. The chiastic structure for 8:2-6 is as follows:
A Seven angels with seven trumpets (2)
B Angel, altar, censer (3a)
C Incense, prayers of the saints (3b)
D Altar before the throne (3c)
C’ Incense, prayers of the saints (4)
B’ Angel, censer, altar (5)
A’ Seven angels with seven trumpets (6)
This means that 8:2-6 forms a self-contained unit. Rev 8:1 does not seem to have a place in this chiastic structure, which would mean 8:1 does not form part of the trumpets.
AND I SAW
Rev 8:2 starts with the words “and I saw”. In Revelation the words “and I saw” or similar phrases are used to introduce a new section or at least a new aspect of a vision. The same principle should be applied to 8:2. it might be better to understand “and I saw” in 8:2 as introducing a new part of the Apocalypse.
In the seventh seal (8:1) the content (silence in heaven for half an hour) is presented immediately without a preceding “and I saw” used in all other seals, probably because silence cannot be seen and it would be awkward to say “and I heard silence”.
TREES AND STARS
There are things in Revelation that do not make sense if Revelation is understood as a single series of literal, physical and chronological events:
- In the first trumpet (8:7) a third of the earth and a third of the trees and all the green grass are burned up. However, in the fifth trumpet (9:4), the grass and the trees are protected.
- Under the sixth seal (Rev 6:12-14) the stars fall to the earth. However, the fourth trumpet and the fourth bowl (plague) visions presuppose that the heavenly bodies are still in place (8:12; 16:8).
The seals are initiated in heaven (Rev 4-5: Introduction), executed on earth (Rev 6:1-7:8—6 seals) and consummated in heaven (Rev 7:9-8:1). The trumpets follow the same pattern. They start in heaven (8:2-6: Introduction), are executed on earth (Rev 8:7-11:14; 6 trumpets) and ends in heaven (Rev 11:12, 15-18 Part of the 6th trumpet, 7th trumpet).
If the trumpets are a continuation of the seals, why would the scene return to heaven before it continues with the trumpets? Would the “heaven-earth-heaven” sequences in both the seals and the trumpets not indicate that they are separate from each other?
A further indication that the trumpets are not part of the seals, and of the seventh seal in particular, is the differences:
“And I saw” statements are found throughout the entire seal series, including its introductory part. None of the other groups of seven in Revelation are so intensely characterized by “and I saw” statements as is the vision of the seven seals. With the trumpets this formula is found only rarely.
The seven trumpets start with a common formula, namely “and the. . .angel sounded the trumpet”. This formula is prefigured by 8:2 and 8:6. It is quite different from the formula used in the seals: “and when it opened the … seal I heard the … living being saying” which draws on Rev 4-5.
There are no time periods mentioned in the seals. In trumpets contain several time periods and indications of the passing of time:
- After the first four trumpets an eagle warns those who dwell on the earth about the last three trumpets (8:13).
- In the fifth the earth-dwellers are tormented for five months (9:5)
- The sixth starts at a specific point in time when the four angels are released (9:15)
- The interlude mentions the 42 months during which the holy city will be tread underfoot and the 1260 days during which the two witnesses will prophesy clothed in sackcloth (11:2, 3)
- When the two witnesses finish their testimony the beast from the earth will kill them (11:7). They will be dead for 3.5 days (11:11).
- 11:13 mention another specific point in time, when the two witnesses are resurrected and ascend to heaven, with catastrophic results on earth.
The role-players in the seals are quite different from the trumpets:
- In the first seals the Lamb is the centre of attention. He is mentioned ten times within the seals, but not at all with the trumpets.
- In the trumpets angels are very important. In the seals they are only spectators. Since no angels occur in the first six seals (except in the interruption) one probably should not expect to find them in the seventh seal.
- In the seals the four living creatures and twenty-four elders are found in the introduction (4:4, 6; 5:5, 11, 14), in each of the first four seals and in the interruption (7::11, 15). In the seals they are found only in the seventh.
There is a marked difference with respect to the people on which the seals and the trumpets focus, as already discussed above:
- The trumpets to focus on the earth dwellers (8:13), namely the people without the seal of God (9:4) and the people that rejoice over the death of the two witnesses (11:10).
- The seals focus on the people of God (6:9; 7:3, 14).
These differences imply that the seals and the trumpets are two distinct parts of Revelation, and that the trumpets are not part of the seventh seal.
THE SEALING AND THE SIXTH TRUMPET
Rev 7:1-8 describes the sealing of God’s people. They must all be sealed before the winds can be released. Four angels hold back the four winds “so that no wind would blow on the earth or on the sea or on any tree” (7:1). In Revelation the number four means “world-wide”. As in Daniel 7:2, the winds must be understood as things that cause conflict. God’s people are therefore prepared (sealed) for a difficult period. Until they are sealed, four angels hold back the four winds of heaven.
In Revelation the closest parallel to the sealing is the sixth trumpet. This trumpet also mentions four angels. It says that the four angels are bound (9:14) at the “great river Euphrates” (9:14). The Euphrates must be understood as Babylon’s river, because the ancient city Babylon was built on the Euphrates River, and Babylon is a prominent symbol in Revelation. The Euphrates is then the “peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues” on which Babylon sits (7:15). Four synonyms (peoples, multitudes, nations and tongues) again used to indicate that all the people of the world are included. The sixth trumpet releases the four angels on a specific point in time (9:15) to “kill a third of mankind” (9:15).
Note the similarities between the sealing and the sixth trumpet:
- In the one devastation is held in check. In the other devastation is released.
- In both a crowd which is numbered. In the sealing it is “one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel” (7:4). In the sixth trumpet it is the “two hundred million horsemen”. The phrase “I heard their number” is found only in 7:4 and in 9:16.
- Four angels are mentioned in both sections. In the sealing they are holding back the winds (7:1). In the sixth plague they are released (9:14). In the sealing they are said to be granted to harm the earth and the sea (7:2). In the sixth trumpet they kill a third of mankind (9:15).
On the basis of these similarities it is proposed that the sixth trumpet is the release of the winds warned of in the sealing. This conclusion is confirmed if the plagues (Rev 15 +16) are compared with the sealing and the sixth trumpet:
- The plagues are poured out on all people with the mark of the beast (16:2). The mark of the beast is the opposite of the seal of God (13:16-14:1). The plagues are therefore poured out as soon as every person on earth has either received the mark of the beast or the seal of God. The release of the winds, referred to in the sealing (7:1-3), is then the same as the plagues of Revelation 16.
- The sixth trumpet is the same as the plaguesbecause:
- The sixth trumpet also refers to “plagues” (9:18, 20). It is only the sixth trumpet, the two witnesses (11:6) and the section on the plagues (15:1, 6, 8; 16:9, 21; 18:4, 8) that refer to “plagues”. The later occurrences of the word “plagues” refer back to the plagues of Revelation 16 (21:9; 22:18).
- Only the sixth trumpet (9:20, 21) and the plagues (16:9, 11) refer to people that “repent not”.
If it is accepted that the sixth trumpet is the release of the winds, then the previous (fifth) trumpet, which is the torment of the people without the seal of God for five months (9:4) is the same as or overlaps the sealing-period. This is confirmed by the reference to the seal of God in this trumpet. Further, the sealing (7:1-8) must logically precede 6:17, because 6:17 is the “the great day of their wrath”, when “every mountain and island were moved out of their places” (6:14). The fifth trumpet therefore preceded the sixth seal. It is then impossible for the trumpets to be included in the seventh seal.
Commentators that believe the seventh seal includes the seven trumpets typically also believe that the seven plagues are included in the seventh trumpet. The above analysis also proposes that this is not the case.
A strong relation between the Book of Revelation and the Book of Daniel must be recognized. For example:
- The beast from the sea (Rev 13:1-2) is directly linked to the four beasts of Daniel 7.
- The seven heads of the beast in Revelation are or include the beasts in Daniel.
- The important period of a “time, times and half”, found in Revelation 11, 12 and 13, originates from Daniel.
- The interruption of the trumpets in Revelation 10 and 11 are actually a continuation of Daniel 12. (See the article on this interruption for more detail.)
- Both books belong to the same type of literature, namely, apocalyptic prophecy. These are the only predominantly apocalyptic books in the whole Bible.
The Book of Daniel undeniably contains recapitulation: In Daniel one series adds additional elements to the preceding one. Whereas Dan 2 discusses the political dimension—that is, the kingdoms of the world—Dan 7 adds a religious dimension, namely, the saints, and Dan 8 adds another spiritual dimension, namely, the sanctuary.
Since the Book of Revelation depends on the Book of Daniel, we might also expect recapitulation in the Apocalypse.
The question in the article is whether the trumpets are part of the sixth seal. A range of evidence has been offered to indicate that this is not the case.
- It has been illustrated that each major part of Revelation has an introduction, and that 8:2-6 is the introduction to the trumpets. This implies that these parts are distinct from each other.
- These verses (8:2-6) have a chiastic structure that excludes 8:1. These five verses (8:2-6), which carried with them all the trumpets, is therefore not part of the seventh seal. This is supported by the fact that the initiating words “and I saw” is only given in 8:2.
- It has been shown that each of the major parts of Revelation have a different theme. It therefore does not make sense to propose that one such part is included in another.
- Each of the major parts of Revelation ends with the return of Christ and beyond, and the seals, trumpets and wars probably all start at the time of Christ. They must therefore overlap in terms of period covered.
- Although this only confirms that the seals end at the final consummation of things, it was shown that the silence coincide with the last judgement before the great white throne, because the book in the seals is the book of life.
- The seals, trumpets and wars all cover the important period of the “time, times and half a time”.
- A number of differences between the seals and the trumpets have been listed, such as phrases often used, the presence and absence of time references, the important issue of differences in the role-players and the very important issue of the differences in people groups that the seals and the trumpets focus on. These differences imply that the trumpets are not part of the seals.
- If Revelation is read literally and sequentially, then there are certain contradictions. For instance under the sixth seal the stars fall to the earth but later they are still in place.
- It is generally accepted that the visions in Daniel build on each other—each providing additional insights with respect to periods covered by previous visions. Since Revelation is built on Daniel it is more than likely that the same principle applies in Revelation.
- Lastly, and possible most complex, is has been shown that the fifth trumpet precedes the sixth seal. It is then impossible for the trumpets to be included in the seals.
The argument that the seven trumpets are included in the seventh seal is based on the fact that nothing happens in the seventh seal—only silence. It is submitted that this is very scant evidence against the evidence submitted above.
It is proposed here that the seventh seal does not include 8:2-6 chronologically, but it does include those verses, and therefore the trumpets, thematically. What is meant by this statement is that the silence refers to the judgement of the dead at the end of the Millennium, and the trumpets explain what God did to turn them from their disastrous paths. In other words, in the first six seals the focus is on God’s people, in the seventh and in the trumpets the attention turns to the “the nations” (11:2).
In conclusion, instead of viewing the trumpets as coming out of the last seal, it seems to be more appropriate to view Rev 4-5 and Rev 8:2-6 as introductory scenes providing the vocabulary for the introductory formulas used with each of the seven trumpets. The seven trumpets apparently start with Rev 8:2 and end with Rev 11:18. Rev 11:19 already belongs to the next part, functioning as an introductory sanctuary scene.