The seven trumpets are described in Revelation 8:6–9:19 and 11:15–19. The seven trumpets are the “contents” of the seventh seal judgment, in that the seventh seal summons the angels who sound the trumpets (Revelation 8:1–5). The judgments heralded by the seven trumpets will take place during the tribulation period in the end times.
The first trumpet. When the first angel sounds his trumpet, the world experiences “hail and fire mixed with blood” (Revelation 8:7). One third of the world’s trees are burned up in this plague, and all the grass is consumed. This judgment bears some similarities to the seventh plague in Egypt (see Exodus 9:23–24).
The second trumpet. In heaven, a second angel sounds a trumpet. The result is that “something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea” (Revelation 8:8). A third of the sea turns to blood, a third of the ships sink, and a third of ocean life dies (verse 9). This judgment is similar in some ways to the first plague in Egypt (see Exodus 7:20–21).
The third trumpet. The third trumpet judgment is like the second, except it affects the world’s freshwater lakes and rivers instead of the oceans. Specifically, “a great star, blazing like a torch” falls from the sky and poisons a third of the water supply (Revelation 8:10). This star is given the name Wormwood, and many people die (verse 11). In botany, wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) is a shrub-like plant noted for its extreme bitterness and poisonous properties.
The fourth trumpet. The fourth of the seven trumpets brings about changes in the heavens. “A third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them turned dark. A third of the day was without light, and also a third of the night” (Revelation 8:12).
Following the fourth trumpet judgment, John notes a special warning that comes from an eagle flying through the air. This eagle cries out with a loud voice, saying, “Woe! Woe! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the trumpet blasts about to be sounded by the other three angels” (Revelation 8:13). For this reason, the fifth, sixth, and seventh trumpets are referred to as the “three woes.”
The fifth trumpet. The fifth trumpet (and the first woe) results in a terrifying plague of “demonic locusts” that attack and torture the unsaved for five months (Revelation 9:1–11). The plague begins with a “star” falling from heaven. This star is most likely a fallen angel, as he is given “the key to the shaft of the Abyss” (verse 1). He opens the Abyss, releasing a horde of “locusts” with “power like that of scorpions” (verse 3). The locusts do not touch the plant life of earth; rather, they head straight for “those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads” (verse 4). For five months, these locusts torment people, whose agony is so great that they will wish to die, “but death will elude them” (verse 6). The locusts are not allowed to kill anyone, only to torture them.
These demonic “locusts” have a “king,” who is the angel of the Abyss (Revelation 9:11). In Hebrew his name is Abaddon, and in Greek it’s Apollyon, meaning “Destroyer.” The locusts themselves are described in unusual terms: they look like “horses prepared for battle” (verse 7). They wear something like “crowns of gold,” and their faces are vaguely human (verse 7). They have hair “like women’s hair” and teeth “like lions’ teeth” (verse 8). They have something like iron breastplates, and their wings sound like “the thundering of many horses and chariots rushing into battle” (verse 9). Like scorpions, they have stings in their tails (verse 10). This description has prompted many different interpretations: is this a vision of helicopters, of barbarian warriors, of a satanically empowered army, or of actual creatures from the pit of hell? We won’t know for sure until it happens.
The sixth trumpet. The sixth trumpet (and the second woe) involves the onslaught of another demonic horde (Revelation 9:12–21). Once the sixth trumpet sounds, a voice from the altar of God calls for the release of “the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates” (verse 14). These four angels had been kept in captivity for just this purpose: to wreak destruction during the tribulation (verse 15). These four wicked angels lead a supernatural cavalry of thousands upon thousands to kill a third of humanity (verse 16). The riders have breastplates of “fiery red, dark blue, and yellow” (verse 17). Their horses have “the heads of lions, and out of their mouths came fire, smoke and sulfur,” and “their tails were like snakes” (verses 18–19). They kill with their mouths and with their tails.
Despite the severity and horror of these plagues, the survivors on earth still refuse to repent. They continue in their idolatry, their murder, their sorcery, their sexual immorality, and their theft (Revelation 9:20–21).
Following the sixth trumpet judgment is a literary interlude. John sees an angel descend from heaven with a little scroll in his hand. A promise is given that “the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet” (Revelation 10:7), and John is told that he must prophesy some more (verse 11). Next comes a description of the two witnesses who will preach in Jerusalem and perform miracles before they are murdered. God will then raise them back to life and take them to heaven (Revelation 11:1–13).
The seventh trumpet. The seventh trumpet (and the third woe) sounds, and immediately there are loud voices in heaven saying,
“The kingdom of the world has become
the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah,
and he will reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).
The twenty-four elders say, “The time has come for . . . destroying those who destroy the earth” (verse 18). Obviously, God is about to wrap things up once and for all. At the sound of the seventh trumpet, the temple of God is opened in heaven, and “within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a severe hailstorm” (verse 19).
Thus end the seven trumpet judgments. All is set for the seven angels with the seven bowls of God’s wrath. These angels stand inside the now-open temple, ready to step forward and bring the final judgments on earth (Revelation 15).