Does the seventh seal include the seven trumpets?

SUMMARY OF THIS ARTICLE

The Book of Revelation may be divided into main parts, including:

      • Seven Seals (ch. 4-7);
      • Seven Trumpets (ch. 8-11); and
      • Seven Wars (ch. 12-14).

Some propose that the seventh seal includes the seven trumpets. Nothing happens when the seventh seal is broken—only silence. For some, this is evidence that the real action of the seventh seal is the seven trumpets. Perhaps in the 13th century, when they divided the Bible into chapters and put the seventh seal in a new chapter with the trumpets, they held this view.

However, for the following reasons, the seventh seal does not include the seven trumpets: 

DIFFERENT THEMES

While the seals are about the experience of God’s people, the trumpets are about unbelievers and about what God does to reconcile them back to Him. Therefore, the trumpets cannot be part of the seals.

THE SEVEN SEALS END WITH THE RETURN OF CHRIST.

The sixth seal has the signs associated with the return of Christ (Rev 6:12-17) and continues in Revelation 7 with a description of the “new earth” (Rev 7:15-17). Since the seven trumpets jump back in time to the old earth of sin and sorrow, they cannot be part of the seventh seal.

JUMPS BACK IN TIME

The seventh trumpet is the return of Christ (Rev 11:15). Then the next main part of Revelation (chapters 12-14) jumps back to the time of Christ’s first advent (Rev 12:2, 5). Since that happens in the switch between those two main sections, the same may happen in the switch from the seven seals to the seven trumpets.

SATAN’S OBJECTIONS FULLY REFUTED

Book of LifeThe seals are Satan’s objections to God’s judgments. When the seventh seal is broken, all of Satan’s accusations have been refuted. Then there would remain no further reason for God to delay the execution of His judgments through the return of Christ.

RECAPITULATION

Both the seven seals and the seven wars (Rev 12-14) start at the time of Christ and reach to Christ’s second coming. Therefore, it is likely that the trumpets also cover the whole church age.

Daniel the prophetIt 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 Daniel is the foundation on which Revelation is built, we might also expect recapitulation in the Apocalypse.

Both the seven trumpets (ch 8-11) and the seven wars (ch 12-14) include the “time, times, and a half” (Rev 11:2, 3; 12:6, 14; 13:6). Because this is a period of persecution for God’s people (Dan 7:25) and because the seals are about the persecution of God’s people, the seals must also cover this period.

A LITERAL READING CONTRADICTS ITSELF.

In the first trumpet, all the green grass is burned up (Rev 8:7) but, in the fifth trumpet, the grass is protected (Rev 9:4). This is an example of the contradictions that would result from a strictly literal and chronological reading of the text.

REV 8:1 IS NOT PART OF 8:2-6

Revelation 8:2-6 is the introduction to the trumpets. This passage has a literary structure called a chiasm which means that it forms a self-contained unit. Since verse 1 does not have a place in this chiasm, it implies that Rev 8:1 does not form part of the trumpets.

CONCLUSIONS

The trumpets are not part of the seventh seal.

The relationship between the seals and trumpets may be explained as follows: The first five seals focus on God’s people. The sixth seal has the signs of Christ’s return and describes:

    • The lost hiding in the mountain (Rev 6:15-17) and
    • The saved standing before God’s throne (Rev 7:8-17).

The silence in the seventh seal reflects the sorrow in heaven when the hiding multitude is destroyed at Christ’s return (Rev 19:21). The seventh seal, therefore, shifts the focus from God’s elect to the lost. The trumpets then jump back in time to explain what God did to turn the lost from their disastrous paths.

– END OF SUMMARY –

PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE

The Book of Revelation may be divided into main parts:

      • Seven Letters (chapters 1-3);
      • Seven Seals (4-7);
      • Seven Trumpets (8-11);
      • Seven Wars (12-14);
      • Seven Plagues (15-19);
      • Millennium (20); and
      • The new heaven and new earth (21-22)

Some interpreters understand the different parts of the Apocalypse as each leading the reader through the same period of time, each adding a new perspective to that period.  In this view—called “recapitulation”—each part of Revelation ends with the return of Christ or beyond.  For instance, in this view, both the seven seals and the seven trumpets cover the period from the cross to the return of Christ.

Other interpreters understand the visions of Revelation to be in a strict chronological sequence from beginning to end, with only one final climax at the end of the book. (See, Are the events described in strict chronological sequence?) One application of this principle is the suggestions that:

      • The seventh seal includes the seven trumpets, and
      • The seventh trumpet includes the seven plagues. 

On this basis, the seven seals comprise the entire rest of the book.

The purpose of this article is specifically to determine whether the seventh seal includes the seven trumpets.  This question may not matter much to a preterist, even though preterists often defend recapitulation (repetition).  However, this matter is decisive for other interpretations of the Apocalypse.

ARGUMENTS FOR

The following arguments support the view that the seventh seal includes the seven trumpets:

CHAPTER AND VERSE DIVISIONS

The person who numbered the text of Revelation put the seventh seal in a new chapter with the trumpets, perhaps implying that the seventh seal consists of the seven trumpets. However, chapter and verse divisions are not inspired.  It was added about a thousand years after Christ.

NO ACTION IN THE SEVENTH SEAL

Nothing really happens when the seventh seal is broken—only silence for 30 minutes.  The same applies to the seventh trumpet—nothing happens, except that God is praised for haven taken control of the world. The fact that there is no specific action in the seventh seal and the seventh trumpet may support 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.  

ARGUMENTS AGAINST

The following observations oppose the view that the seven trumpets are part of the seventh seal: 

THE THEMES OF THE SEALS AND TRUMPETS ARE VERY DIFFERENT.

The themes of the seals and the trumpets are very different:

    • The seals are about God’s people; their experience on earth and how the Son of God redeems them (e.g. Rev 6:9; 7:3, 14). The only place where unbelievers are mentioned in the seals is in the sixth seal, where they hide in the mountains “from the presence of Him who sits on the throne” (Rev 6:16).
    • The trumpets focus on the earth dwellers (Rev 8:13), namely the people that do not have the seal of God (Rev 9:4) and the people that rejoice over the death of the two witnesses (Rev 11:10). The trumpets explain what God does to bring them back to Him. 

Because the themes of the seals and the trumpets are so vastly different, the trumpets cannot be part of the seals.

THE SEALS END WITH THE NEW WORLD.

In the sixth seal, we find the heavenly signs that point to Jesus’ second coming (Rev 6:12-14). It mentions the day of the Lord itself; “the great day of their wrath has come” (Rev 6:17).

After an interruption (Rev 7:1-8), the sixth seal continues in Rev 7:9 where God’s people stand before His throne (Rev 7:9, 15).  They are the answer to 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 (Rev 7:17). This means that “the end of the age” (Dan 12:13) has arrived; including Christ’s second corning, the Millennium, judgment, and “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1). 

If the sixth seal brings in the “new earth,” then the seventh seal of silence must be even later and cannot include the seven trumpets because the trumpets jump back in time to the old earth of sin and sorrow.  This does not make sense if understood chronologically.

WHEN THE SEVENTH SEAL IS BROKEN, ALL OF SATAN’S OBJECTIONS ARE REFUTED.

In Revelation 5, John sees a Lamb taking a book sealed with seven seals. He breaks the seals in Revelation 6, causing catastrophes on earth. However, in Rev 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 (Rev 8:1). 

The silence must be because all the seals are now broken and the beings in heaven are “able to open the book or to look into it” (Rev 5:3). To understand what the silence is, we need to understand what this book is.

Another article proposes that the sealed book is the book of life, containing God’s judgments, indicating who will inherit eternal life and who will suffer the second death (Rev 20:15). For example, that article shows that, while Jesus appears as a slain Lamb in Revelation 5 to receive the sealed book (Rev 5:6-7), the book of life is called “the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (Rev 13:8).

When the seventh seal is broken, it means that all of Satan’s accusations have been refuted. Then there would remain no further reason for God to delay the execution of His decisions through the return of Christ. This means that the disasters of the old earth, as contained in the trumpets, cannot be part of the seventh seal.  Rather, the trumpets jump back in time.

EVIDENCE OF RECAPITULATION IN THE TEXT

This section provides evidence of recapitulation (that different parts of Revelation cover the same time periods).

THE SWITCH FROM THE TRUMPETS TO THE WARS

In the seventh trumpet, “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord” (Rev 11:15). This is, then, “the end of the age.” But the next chapter, which begins the next main part of Revelation (the seven wars), jumps back to the time when Christ was born (Rev 12:2, 5). Since this happens in the switch from the trumpets to the wars, the same is possible in the switch from the seals to the trumpets. In other words, that the trumpets jump back to the time of Christ.

FROM JESUS TO JESUS

The seals start at the time of Christ. The twofold introductory scene in Rev 4-5 points to Jesus’s enthronement in heaven after His ascension (See Revelation 5). The seals reach to Christ’s second coming and even beyond. Thus the seals cover the entire Christian era.

The vision of the seven wars (chapters 12 to 14), starts with a woman giving birth to a male child, which also refers to when the Son of God was born as a human being. It concludes at the end of Revelation 14 with the harvest, which is Armageddon (See Armageddon).  The vision of the seven wars, therefore, again covers the entire Christian era.

Consequently, the question is not whether the Apocalypse uses recapitulation—that is clear.  The question is rather whether the trumpets recapitulate the seals. Since the two main parts of Revelation, one before and one after the trumpets, both cover the whole Christian era, and since the seals, the trumpets, and the wars conclude with Christ’s return, it is very likely that the trumpets also cover the whole church age.

DANIEL’S PROPHECIES

A strong relationship exists between the Book of Revelation and the Book of Daniel.  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 (See The seven heads of the beast).
      • The important period of a “time, times and a half,” found in Revelation 11, 12, and 13, is first mentioned in Daniel 7:25.
      • The interruption in the trumpets (Revelation 10) is a continuation of Daniel 12 (Compare the oaths in Daniel 12:7 and Rev 10:5-6).
      • Both books belong to the same type of literature, namely, apocalyptic prophecy. These are the only predominantly apocalyptic books in the Bible.

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, we might also expect recapitulation in the Apocalypse.

TIME, TIMES AND HALF A TIME

Both the seven trumpets (Rev 8-11) and the seven wars (Rev 12-14) refer to the period of “time, times, and a half” (Rev 11:2, 3; 12:6, 14; 13:6).  Both these parts of Revelation, therefore, include 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 are about God’s people, and particularly about their persecution (Rev 6:9; 7:14), the seals necessarily also cover this period. That would mean that the seven seals, the seven trumpets, and the seven wars cover this important period, which means that these prophecies cover the same period, but from different perspectives.

The interpretation of the “time, times, and a half” is critical to a correct understanding of the prophecies.  The article – The beast – identifies this as the period of the persecution of God’s people by the church of the Middle Ages.  (For a further discussion, see Are the events described in strict chronological sequence?)

A LITERAL READING CONTRADICTS ITSELF.

In the first trumpet (Rev 8:7), a third of the trees and all the green grass are burned up. However, in the fifth trumpet (Rev 9:4), the grass and the trees are protected.

Similarly, in the sixth seal (Rev 6:12-14) the stars fall to the earth.  However, in the fourth trumpet and in the fourth bowl (plague), these heavenly bodies are still in place (Rev 8:12; 16:8).

A strictly literal and chronological interpretation, therefore, results in contradictions. (See also – The beast)

CHIASTIC STRUCTURE

Revelation 8:2-6 is the introduction to the trumpets. This passage 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 Rev 8:2-6 forms a self-contained unit.  Rev 8:1 does not seem to have a place in this chiastic structure, which implies that 8:1 does not form part of the trumpets.

FINAL CONCLUSIONS

The trumpets are not part of the seventh seal.

The seven seals, the seven trumpets, and the seven wars each begins at the time of Christ and concludes with His return.  They all cover the entire church age.

The sealed book is the book of life.

The silence in the seventh seal relates to the last judgment at the end of the Millennium.

Daniel is the foundation on which Revelation is built.

All three of these main parts (seals, trumpets, and wars) cover the persecution period of a “time, times, and a half.”

ARTICLES ON THE SEVEN SEALS

OVERVIEW

REVELATION 4

REVELATION 5

REVELATION 6

    • Seal 1: The white horse is the gospel.
    • Seals 2 to 4: Bloodshed, famine and death
    • Seal 5: Who are the souls under the altar?
    • Seal 6 includes the plagues and concludes with Christ’s return.

REVELATION 7

REVELATION 8

For further reading on Revelation, I recommend Jon Paulien’s commentary. For general discussions of theology, I recommend Graham Maxwell, who you will find on the Pineknoll website.