Friday, May 28, 2021

Apocalyptic? #23: Seals and Trumpets and Plagues, Oh My!

Mirroring the Prophets to the Plagues (Rev. 6-18)                     


“And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals. 
Then I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?’” (Rev. 5:1-2 NKJV)

 “Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.” (Rev. 5:5 NKJV)

“When He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. 
And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets.” (Rev. 8:1-2 NKJV)

Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous: seven angels having the seven last plagues, for in them the wrath of God is complete.”  (Rev. 15:1 NKJV)


The most difficult portion of Revelation, for interpreters, has always been the Seven Seals, the Seven Trumpets, and the Seven (Bowls of the Seven Last) Plagues.  What do the Seven Seals, the Seven Trumpets, and the Seven Bowls/Plagues have in common?

1.      They are all lists of SEVEN.

2.      They all indicate “bad news” for somebody.

3.      They repeat each other (frequently, echoing the Exodus Plagues):

a.       Egyptian Plague 1—Water turned to blood (Exodus 7:14-25, Revelation Trumpet 2, Trumpet 3, Bowl 2, Bowl 3, See also Revelation 11:6—in a break between the 6th and 7th trumpet—a reference to Moses and the Plagues, especially turning water to blood)

b.      Egyptian Plague 2—Frogs (Exodus 8:1-15, Revelation Bowl 6)

c.       No Revelation parallels to Exodus Plagues 3 (gnats) or 4 (flies)

d.      Egyptian Plague 5—Pestilence (Exodus 9:1-3, Revelation Seal 3)

e.       Egyptian Plague 6—Boils/Sores (Exodus 9:10, Revelation Bowl 1, Bowl 5)

f.        Egyptian Plague 7—Hail and Fire (Exodus 9:22-24, Revelation Trumpet 1, Bowl 7)

g.      Egyptian Plague 8—Locusts (Exodus 10:4-5, Revelation Trumpet 5)

h.      Egyptian Plague 9—Darkness (Exodus 10:21, Revelation Seal 6, Trumpet 4, Bowl 5)

i.        Egyptian Plague 10—Death (Exodus 11:4-5, Revelation Seal 4)

4.      Two of the three have a concern with something happening at the Euphrates:  Revelation Trumpet 6, Bowl 6

5.      Two of the three have a concern with the sun scorching:  Revelation Bowl 4 (but Revelation 7:16—in a break between the 6th and 7th trumpet—says that the sun will not strike upon the 144,000)

Some Revelation scholars have believed that these various events—water turned to blood, frogs, pestilence, sores, hail, locusts, darkness, and death—are somehow ordered chronologically.  Others look for a different system of ordering the events.  Critical scholars, following the Contemporary Historical method, suggest that they are all prophesied to happen in roughly the same time period—the time when John was writing.  The simple process of glancing at the list of Exodus plagues and their Revelation counterparts (as I have presented above) confirms that John is prophesying concerning a host of plagues that greatly resemble the Exodus plagues, even though he lists them in differing order when he lists them under seals, trumpets, and bowls of plagues.  I suggest that seals and trumpets and plagues were all predicted either to happen “soon” (for John—Revelation 1:1, 3, 22:6, 10, 20) or, perhaps, had already recently happened.  Jesus tells John in Revelation 1:19 (KJV): “Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter.”  Some of the elements in John’s Revelation, therefore, are “things which are” (not “things which shall be hereafter”).  All critical scholars, for example, understand that the seven churches of chapters 1-3 are among the “things which are.”  (Dispensationalists disagree and want to make the seven church into seven futuristic dispensations in the church, however.)  Nevertheless, virtually all Revelation exegetes take the picture of God and Christ in Heaven in chapters 4-5 as being among the “things which are.”  No one is speculating that Jesus will AT SOME FUTURE TIME take his place in Heaven at God’s side.  He is there at the time John is writing (in 69 A.D.) and has been there for about 40 years.  Likewise, the events related to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection and Satan’s fall from heaven to Earth in Chapter 12 are to be placed in the category of “things which are.”  Jesus has already been crucified and resurrected.  Even some of the seals and trumpets and plagues may have happened in the previous 40 years.  I offer Apocalyptic? #7 as an explanation of those things that strongly appear to be among the things that “shall be hereafter,” i.e., will happen “soon.”  There, I state: “G. B. Caird asked: ‘What did John think was “bound to happen soon”?’ (Caird, p. 236).  The answer to that question is found by watching out for the number six in Revelation.” Whatever happens after the SIXTH seal and through the seventh seal, after the SIXTH trumpet and through the seventh trumpet, after the SIXTH bowl/plague and through the seventh plague) is that which is “bound to happen soon.”  Of course, the “things which shall be hereafter” would include whatever happens AFTER John writes in 69 A.D.

There is some hint of chronological order in the other seals and trumpets and plagues as, for example, the first four seals (horsemen—which I explain in Apocalyptic? #6) but, generally speaking, these seals and trumpets and plagues are not ordered chronologically—instead, they are ordered chiastically—as a mirror image from the Old Testament prophets back to the plagues of Egypt.  John is writing in mirror image!  I have already suggested that John sees all of history—but specifically BIBLICAL history as mirror imaged.  (Apocalyptic? #2-5, 15-17, 20-21).  He structures Revelation as a movement back to the future from where he then is (in 69 A.D.)—the age of epistles—back through the Gospel material, and now back to the Old Testament prophets.  As I showed in Apocalyptic? #6:

1.      The church in dispersion (to whom John is writing) was informed largely through the “epistles” of Paul and others.  There, in Revelation 1-3, John began his book exactly where the church was at the time, sending “epistles/letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor.”

2.      The Gospels’ presentation of a mortal Jesus, the servant of God, was updated [chiastically] with John’s picture of the exaltation of the Lamb in Heaven (Revelation 4-5).

3.       The Jewish prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea) presented Israel/Zion as the wife of God who played the “harlot” and who was, therefore, threatened with “divorce.” John [chiastically] precedes his “plagues” with the telos of this divorce threat--the “divorce” scroll with seven seals, as seen by J. Massyngberde Ford (Revelation 6-11).


Seven Trumpets (and the Battle of Jericho)

If the “seals” of the divorce scroll, then, are a mirror image of the Jewish prophets, the “trumpets” are a further mirror image of the period of Joshua (the taking of the promised land).  In the next step into the mirror, John will move to the time of Moses and the Exodus, but before he gets there, he spends time associating his prophecies (in mirror image) with the period following Moses and preceding the prophets.  The old spiritual, “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho” has helped Christians (even children) down through the years remember what happened in that event: “Go blow them trumpets, Joshua cried, for the battle am in my hand . . . and the walls came a tumblin’ down.”  The song does NOT tell us, however, that there were SEVEN TRUMPETS.  For that information, we need to actually read the Book of Joshua (6:1-5 KJV): 

Now Jericho was straitly shut up because of the children of Israel: none went out, and none came in.

And the Lord said unto Joshua, See, I have given into thine hand Jericho, and the king thereof, and the mighty men of valour.

And ye shall compass the city, all ye men of war, and go round about the city once. Thus shalt thou do six days.

And seven priests shall bear before the ark SEVEN TRUMPETS of rams' horns: and the seventh day ye shall compass the city seven times, and the priests shall blow with the trumpets.

And it shall come to pass, that when they make a long blast with the ram's horn, and when ye hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city shall fall down flat, and the people shall ascend up every man straight before him.


The conquest of Jericho was the beginning of the conquest of Canaan (the Promised Land).  If John is prophesying that Israel is being divorced in the seals, he is, now, moving back to the time when Israel effectively began as a geographical nation—in the trumpets.  In a backward, mirror-image, fashion, John has taken us from the age of the epistles to the time period of the gospels to the age of the prophets and, now, to the time of entering the promised land.  The seven SEALS represented a warning to God’s wife Israel.  Each seal broken meant that God was one step closer to divorcing her.  She remained the harlot (Babylon/Jerusalem) nevertheless.  She did not repent and return to God, so God sounded seven TRUMPETS, as he did to warn Jericho that the city must allow His people to enter their Promised Land.  Not even great city walls like Jericho could withstand the force of God’s trumpets.  When they sounded, the wall of the city (Jericho/Jerusalem) fell “down flat.”  If the repetition of seven seals, combined with seven trumpets, combined with seven plagues does not sound like something that could happen in a very short time period, note in the Jericho story that God had commanded Israel’s seven priests to carry seven trumpets and circle the city for seven days; then, on the seventh day, circle the city seven times, before the priests blew the seven trumpets.  These repetitious multiples of seven converge upon one another.  The force of the number seven is multiplied exponentially but, each time, there is an opportunity to repent—although neither the harlot Babylon/Jerusalem nor the “walled” city of Jerusalem/Jericho availed herself of the opportunity to do so.  So, John takes us another step through the mirror back to the time of Egypt.  Note that John has already called Jerusalem “Egypt” in Revelation 11:8 (KJV):  "And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified."


Seven Bowls/Plagues and the Battle of Armageddon

Chiastically (and, in the sense of the history of biblical literature, chronologically), John now takes us in mirror image to the time of the Exodus from Egypt, when the actual enslavement of the people of Israel ended.  It was this 400-year Egyptian enslavement of Israel that marked the beginning of what Rabbi Jehoshua and the School of Elias counted among the thousand years of affliction of Israel, which Strack and Billerbeck see as basis of the Millennium prophecy in Revelation.  (They say that the Egyptian, Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman dominations of Israel lasted 1000 years.  They expected God, based on Psalm 90, to make the Kingdom of Heaven last at least the same 1000-year length, which is the biblical length of a day in God’s sight.)  It is logical, therefore, for John to, chiastically, stretch back in mirror-image from the Roman time in which he is writing back to the time of Egypt (with the plagues of Exodus).  To be sure, the last step in the mirror beyond Exodus is Genesis and Creation with God creating a New Heaven and New Earth in chapters 21 and 22 of Revelation.  The bowls/plagues offer Jerusalem/Egypt one final opportunity to repent, as did the seals and the trumpets.  This time, however, God is not just divorcing the harlot Jerusalem/Babylon, nor is He just destroying the walls of Jerusalem/Jericho.  He is completing his destruction of Jerusalem/Egypt, just as he drowned the Egyptian dragon in the Red Sea.  Revelation 15:1 states:  “seven angels having the seven last plagues, for in them the wrath of God is complete.”  In Chapter 4 of my book Revelation:  The Human Drama, I observe: 

The seven heads of John's dragon refer most likely to the ancient mythical sea monster of chaos, Leviathan, to whom Ugaritic texts (ancient Semitic texts at least as old as the earliest Biblical Hebrew texts) refer as "the accursed one of seven heads."  The 74th Psalm utilizes this myth to poetically describe how God drowned the "monster of the waters" (Egyptians) at the parting of the Red Sea, and "broke the heads of Leviathan in pieces."  Isaiah 51:9-10 refers to this same literary use of the Leviathan myth, but calls Leviathan by its alias, Rahab.  Isaiah 27:1 identifies Leviathan as a "serpent" (nachash), the same term used to identify the serpent of Eden.  Apparently, John uses these references to connect the role of the raiser of world rulers (especially, Egypt) to the other roles of tempter and accuser for the archetypal villain, the serpent of Eden. 


Seals-Trumpets-Plagues Symbolize the Progressive Destruction of Old Jerusalem

Just as John sees the progressive destruction of the Serpent/Dragon, through the seals and trumpets and plagues John is seeing the progressive destruction of the Old Jerusalem.  The progressive destruction of the Serpent/Dragon looks like this:


   For deceiving Eve, the serpent/Satan is CURSED in Genesis, but remains in Heaven in Job (as Job’s accuser and tester) and even up to the end of the Gospels (as, in Job-like fashion, Satan demands the right to test Simon Peter).  Luke records: “And the Lord said, ‘Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren’” (Luke 22:31-32 NKJV).

2.      There is the hint in the 74th Psalm and Isaiah 27:1 and 51:9-10, just cited, that Satan’s role as raiser of world empires—beginning with Egypt—is progressively doomed.

3.      Then, in Revelation 12:7-11, Satan’s role as “accuser” in heaven is eliminated because of Jesus’ sacrifice and Satan/the Devil/the Dragon is “cast out” of Heaven to Earth (the Fall of Satan)—Progressive Step One.

4.      Progressive Step Two occurs in Revelation 20:1-3, immediately following the Battle of Armageddon (the conclusion of the seals and trumpets and plagues) as Satan is bound and thrown into the Bottomless Pit/Abyss, thus ending for 1000 years his role as the raiser of world empires.  He would then be released from the Abyss for a while, following the 1000 years, in order to raise world empires once more.

5.      Progressive Step Three occurs in Revelation 20:7-10, at the conclusion of the 1000 years, after he has gathered Gog and Magog from the four corners of the “Land” (of Israel) to surround and attack the Beloved City and the Camp of the Saints.  Fire comes down from Heaven and destroys Gog and Magog and the Devil is cast eternally into the Lake of Fire.

In similar fashion, John prophecies the progressive destruction of the Old Jerusalem. 

1.      Progressive Step One consists of the SEVEN SEALS of the Divorce Scroll (BIBLION) which, when they are completely unsealed, indicate that Old Jerusalem/Israel has been “divorced” by God (which was completed in the Jewish-Roman War of 66-73 A.D.).

2.      Progressive Step Two consists of the SEVEN TRUMPETS which, when they are completely sounded, indicate that the “walls” of Jericho/Jerusalem will fall (which they did in 70 A.D.).

3.      Progressive Step Three consists of the SEVEN BOWLS/PLAGUES which, when they are completely poured out, indicate the final and complete destruction and “desolation” of the Harlot Babylon/Jerusalem ending in the Battle of Armageddon (which was the Jewish-Roman War of 66-73 A.D.).   G. K. Beale (p. 893) cites Sweet suggesting: “The desolation of Babylon . . . prepares the way for God to dwell in the new creation.”  Sweet is correct.

At this point, I will conclude this blogpost, despite the fact that I have not yet articulated what the specific historical referents and fulfilments for the seals and trumpets and plagues are.  That discussion will be the grist for the next blogpost.  At this point, the conclusion is advanced that the reason for John’s three separate (but similar) lists of SEVENS (seals, trumpets, and plagues) are due to his chiastic perspective and his progressive destruction of Old Jerusalem. 

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