Feast of Trumpets and the Resurrection of the Dead

Except from The Thread (p. 100 – 121) by Ronald L. Dart available for download here.

For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.[1]

Even if you are not Jewish, you are probably aware of the two main Jewish holidays in the autumn of every year: The Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur. By now, you are beginning to suspect that these may also be Christian holidays.

The end of the first century saw a time of severe persecution of the Jews in and around Rome. It was no wonder that the Roman Christians began to differentiate themselves from the Jews in every way they could. Many practices that were very common in the early church disappeared in the smoke of the persecution of the Jews. But why would the early church have paid any attention to what we know as Jewish holidays in the first place? For one thing, Christians and Jews shared the same God. In its earliest years, Christianity was viewed by the world, not as a separate religion, but as a sect of Judaism. The earliest Christians were Jewish, and they had no consciousness of starting a new religion. Many saw what they were doing as a restoration of a purer faith. Judaism, in their view, had gone astray from the faith of Abraham and Moses.

There is nothing strange about that. Every new sect of religion sees itself as a restorer of lost paths. And so the first Christians, who were Jewish, continued to observe the holidays they had observed all their lives, and they taught the Gentile converts to do the same. But it was inevitable that they should begin to see new significance in these days, a significance that transcended the Jewish/historical meaning of the days. The early Christians saw Christ in the “Jewish holidays.” And now, 2000 years later, you and I come along and wonder, “What did they see that led them to this conclusion?” When you look at the law on the question of the Jewish New Year, you don’t get a lot of help.

Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to the children of Israel, saying: “In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a sabbath-rest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work on it; and you shall offer an offering made by fire to the LORD” (Leviticus 23:23-25).

There are two curious items here. First, why have your new year in the seventh month? That’s easy enough. Israel had a religious year and a civil year. The civil year began in the seventh month of the religious year. It is not unlike a company that has a fiscal year that starts in July of a calendar year. But the other item runs a little deeper. This day is called “a memorial of blowing of trumpets,” and there is nothing in the Bible to tell us what is memorialized. It is a memorial of what? In Christian thought, a memorial can be in terms of the future. In Jewish thought, memorials had to do with the past. There is a short aside in one of Paul’s letters to the church in Colosse that illustrates this.

So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ (Colossians 2:16-17).

Strangely, some use this passage to argue against the observance of the holydays. The truth is, this passage assumes the observance of the days by the Colossians and tells them not to let anyone condemn them for doing so. But more important than that, it shows that Christians thought of these days as shadows of things yet to come – a future memorial, as it were.

Now there is a curious ambiguity relative to the Feast of Trumpets, also known as the Jewish New Year.

Speak to the children of Israel, saying: “In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a sabbath-rest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation” (Leviticus 23:24).

The word “trumpet” is absent from the text and is assumed by the translators. That assumption is correct, but still there is a point to be taken from it. The Hebrew says literally that this is a day of shouting or blasting. The term is used elsewhere of a trumpet blast, so the translation is appropriate enough. But the word “shouting” here is also commonly used of the shouting of a crowd. And if you trace the word through the Old Testament, you will gradually see that the sense of the word is better rendered, in modern terms, by the word “cheering.”

A day of shouting is not a day we go around yelling at one another, it is a day of cheering. So what do we have to cheer about? In the Old Testament, the trumpet was used as a signal. Just as the military has used trumpets for reveille, taps, chow call, officers call, or to the colors, trumpets were used in the Old Testament in much the same way. They would use a distinct blast on the trumpet to call all the elders together for a meeting. They had yet another call to warn everyone that there was an enemy in sight. Still another sound was used to order the people to break camp and prepare to go on the march. And in the Scriptures, the shofar[2] is called an alarm of war. It is not clear how the trumpet passed into Christian theology, but it plainly did, in two significant places in Paul’s letters and in a major section of the book of Revelation. I am sure that when we get the chance someday, we will want to ask Paul why he didn’t say some of these things more clearly. But he would probably stare at us as much as to say, “You mean you didn’t get that? It’s as plain as day.” He would also want to know why we didn’t do our homework.

Take the first letter to the Thessalonians as a case in point. If we have read that portion of the book of Acts dealing with this, we will realize that the poor Thessalonian brothers had been persecuted beyond measure. Even reading between the lines of Paul’s letter, we can see that in the very short time since Paul had left there, only a matter of weeks, some people had been killed. So in this first letter, he was at some pains to encourage everyone concerning their brothers who had died, who had “fallen asleep,” to use Paul’s euphemism.

But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep (1 Thessalonians 4:13-15).

As an interesting aside, this sounds very much as though Paul assumed the return of Christ was rather less than 2000 years in the future. But of course, he had not been told that, any more than had the rest of the disciples. We are not going to see Christ one moment before those who have died will see him.

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words (vv. 16-18).

The connection between the trumpet of God and the Resurrection of the Dead is firmly established. Not only is there a blast on the trumpet, there is the shout of the Archangel. Knowing what Paul knew about the Feast of Trumpets (or shouting) the connection becomes even more obvious. In any case, in Christian theology, the shout and the trumpet are tied to the resurrection. Then there is yet another definitive statement on the subject in Paul’s famous resurrection chapter – the first letter to the Corinthians. The first thing he does is to establish that the resurrection is heart and core of the Gospel, a message that he had delivered to the Corinthians right from the start.

Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you; unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time (1 Corinthians 15:1-8).

So Paul establishes the first important thing. Christ died, he was buried, and he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures. Without this simple equation, there is no Gospel. The point had to be driven home, because the resurrection had been called into question by one or more heretics. Not only does he assert the truth of the resurrection, he cites the cloud of witnesses who could attest to the fact that Jesus was seen alive after he had died and been buried. It is easy to overlook the simple truth that all through these days, it was still fairly common to be able to sit down and talk with someone who was a witness of the resurrected Christ – there were 500 people who saw him on one occasion, and there may have been more. I strongly suspect that those people who could attest to Jesus’ resurrection were in great demand and moved around a great deal. Corinth being the center of commerce that it was, it is not at all unlikely that Paul was not the only witness they had heard.

Nevertheless, there were those who still did not believe. It is an age old problem of any faith, that no matter how well established it may be, there will be someone who will challenge it. In this case, it may well have been a believing Sadducee. We don’t hear very much about these people, but if there were Pharisees who believed, and there were, it seems likely there were Sadducees as well. And just as the Pharisees retained many of their core beliefs, so would the Sadducees who, from the start, did not believe in the resurrection of the dead.[3]

Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up; if in fact the dead do not rise (vv. 12-15).

Paul leaves no middle ground. You could not argue that Paul and the others were merely mistaken. Either they told the truth on this important issue or all 500 of the people who claimed to have seen Jesus alive, and all the people Paul has named above, were bald-faced liars.

For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! (vv. 16-17).

Now there is a remarkable statement. I suspect most Christian believers think that it was the death of Christ that took care of everything, his shed blood that covered their sins. The nailing of Jesus to the cross, his blood running down the sword of the Roman soldier who pierced his side, these are the things that took away our sins. When Christ died, was taken down from the tree and placed in the tomb, then we were forgiven and all our sins were gone.

According to Paul, that common belief is not true. If Christ was not raised from the dead, you are still in your sins. Being forgiven of your sins depended on something happening after the resurrection of Jesus. That something was Jesus being presented to the Father on that morning after as the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. It also depends on Jesus’ continual intercession for us in the Father’s presence.

The point is thus established that it is not merely the death of Christ, but his resurrection that makes all the difference. Paul goes on to drive this home.

Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive (vv. 18-22).

I don’t know if, today, I could quite say what Paul said then. Even in this life alone, it is better for me to have known Christ, to have followed his teachings, to have walked in his ways, than not to have known him at all. But it was different then. A person took his life in his hands if he openly confessed Christ. People lost jobs, careers, friends, family. It was a hard time to be a Christian, and thus pointless if there is no resurrection from the dead.

And here is the nexus between Jewish and Christian belief. The Feast of Trumpets is to Jews the memorial of creation, specifically the creation of man. It is also believed to be the day that Adam sinned. And so the Jewish New Year is the first of ten days of repentance leading up to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement or reconciliation. It is a day of profound awareness of the first Adam, and of Adam’s sin. Paul seems to be tapping into this ancient Jewish belief.

In Christian thought, the ultimate reconciliation of Adam’s sin takes place at the resurrection from the dead, which is also a day of shouting and blowing of trumpets. So there is a Christian meaning to the Feast of Trumpets. There is naturally some uncertainty reading this some 2000 years later. It seems apparent that this Jewish belief prevailed as early as the first century and that Paul, a Pharisee of Pharisees, was well schooled in the first Adam and the Jewish doctrine of reconciliation. It is hard to imagine, knowing all this, that Paul was not drawing the Jewish doctrine of reconciliation into the picture of the resurrection.

For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming (vv. 22-23).

So the resurrection takes place at the coming of Christ. Our thread emerges here again in that Christ is called the firstfruits, looking back to Pentecost, the Feast of Firstfruits.

Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death (vv. 24-26).

It is the resurrection that finally destroys death and the power of the grave. Paul delivers quite a polemic about the resurrection and then comes to some of the niggling questions others had raised about the resurrection. He does not suffer fools gladly. It seems surprising to me that the debate about bodily resurrection has raged for centuries. It is true enough that Paul does not answer every question we may have, but it is also true that he shouldn’t have to.

But someone will say, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain; perhaps wheat or some other   grain. But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body. All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds (1 Corinthians 15:35-39).

It is clear enough that what we put into the ground and what we take out of the ground is both similar and different. We sow a seed and get a plant. We are all different, as varieties of grain are different. We are distinct going into the ground, and distinct coming out of it. From what Paul says here, I derive an answer to an old question: Will we recognize one another in the resurrection? Of course we will. Just as a good farmer can look at a plant and know what seed it came from. But there is another way we are different in the resurrection from the way we are now.

There are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body (vv. 40-44).

All this is said in response to the question, “How are the dead raised up and with what body do they come?” From what Paul says, I would conclude that they come with glorified bodies and they are different – in other words, they can be recognized as distinct persons in the resurrection. When you think about it, if you know who you are, you can make yourself known to others. We sometimes have to do this when we encounter an old friend we haven’t seen in many years. We do change with age.

Now Paul’s awareness of the Jewish connection of the Feast of Trumpets, the creation of Adam, and Adam’s sin, come back into play. It is almost as though the sin of Adam and the resurrection from the dead are the bookends of a very long story.

And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man (vv. 45-49). Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed; in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed (vv. 50-52).

In saying “the last trump” is the time of the resurrection, Paul implies that there might be more trumpets, a veritable “feast” of trumpets. So where do we go to find the rest of them?

Trumpets and the Resurrection

Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed; in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.[4]

 There is no idea more central to the Christian faith than the resurrection of the dead. And yet, in these early days of Christianity, it had been called into question – in the church. It is in the great 15th chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians that Paul wrestles with a group that claimed there was no resurrection from the dead.[5] I presume they still held a doctrine of the Kingdom of God, but for them, it was a physical kingdom – something a lot of Jews believed and expected. They thought the Messiah would come, conquer the Romans, and set up his kingdom right then on the earth – a physical kingdom. But Paul made it plain that they had it wrong. “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption” (1 Corinthians 15:50). For Paul, the whole discussion ends right there. He is not talking about a physical kingdom.

According to Paul, in the passage cited above, the resurrection and the change of living saints to spirit beings takes place at the same time, at an event he calls, “the last trumpet.” Now in saying the last trumpet, he implies that there is more than one trumpet in a series. It is the last one that results in the resurrection from the dead.

There is only one place in the Bible where such a series of trumpets is described. It is in the book of Revelation. Revelation is not an easy book to interpret, and in fact, I think most Bible teachers try to over-interpret the book. They explain far too much.

Revelation is a description of a vision seen by the Apostle John. John merely tells us what he saw and what he heard, and he makes no real effort at interpreting those things. The problem is that what he saw was not, in itself, real. It was all highly symbolic and it didn’t take place in real time anymore than your dreams do.

While Revelation is difficult, it does have something of an outline that helps us follow it. After some introductory letters, John comes to the core of the vision:

After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, “Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.” Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads. And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices. Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God (Revelation 4:1-5).

By this time, I expect John’s hair was standing on end. He had come into the very throne room of the universe. He was not in body, he was in spirit, which I take to mean that he was in vision. Something akin to this happened to Paul, and he couldn’t even tell if he was in or out of the body.[6] John saw a throne with one sitting on it, and a green light like an iris surrounding the throne. There was enormous power in the place with lightning, crackling thunder and voices rumbling in the background. John had come to the place where God was. That one sitting on the throne was none other than God himself.

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?” And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll, or to look at it. So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it (Revelation 5:1-4).

This is so dream like. No time frame for the search is given, but John, like a lot of people in dreams, was just crying his heart out when he thinks they will be unable to open the scroll. This was not a book as we think of it, but a scroll. Scrolls were often written on only one side and then rolled up. This one was full, written on both sides, rolled up and sealed with seven seals. John could have merely said the scroll was sealed, but this one was sealed with the number of finality, of completion, seven.

But one of the elders said to me, “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.” And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth (vv. 5-6).

In Christian iconography, the Lamb is Christ. It is the Lamb slain and risen. There is something we should know about icons and iconography: A generation ago, icons meant little to us, but in the computer age, they are common. An icon is a little picture or image that stands for something. Instead of cluttering up the page with words and sentences telling us what this or that program will do, the designers use icons. On your computer screen, there may be a little image of a printer. Click on it and the print program is executed immediately. I counted on the screen of my computer this morning and saw some 65 separate icons. I was shocked that there were so many things I could do with one click of a mouse.

When you read the Bible, you find icons nearly everywhere. They are described by words in the Bible, but they are intended to evoke a mental image. A serious student of the Bible will have to do his own study of icons, his own iconography, so he can grasp what God, through the prophet, is trying to say. I believe that, in some cases, we have lost the significance of the icon. We read the description, but don’t have a clue what it means. It is like an icon on your computer screen that you don’t recognize. You may say to yourself, “I wonder what that does,” click on it and get a rude surprise. I think it is possible that the icon was meaningful to the first generation that read this, but is lost after so long a time. But the icon of the slain lamb is well understood across all of Christian study. The Lamb is Jesus Christ.

Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain To receive power and riches and wisdom, And strength and honor and glory and blessing!” And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: “Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!” Then the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever (Revelation 5:11-14).

There is no great difficulty in understanding what is happening here. The Father is there, the Son is there, and they are receiving the worship and adoration of, well, everybody and everything. Poor John must have been weak in the knees by this time. But there remains the question of why no one but the Lamb could open the seals. No one else was “worthy.” How can that be? The answer will emerge: Jesus Christ, by his life, his suffering, his death and his resurrection, was the only one who had the experience to judge the earth. He had earned the right.

Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals; and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a voice like thunder, “Come and see.” And I looked, and behold, a white horse. He who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer (Revelation 6:1-2).

At first blush, one might think this icon was also Christ, who will return on a white horse (see Revelation 19). But the returning Christ has a sword. The horse, the bow, and the sword are all icons for warfare.[7] This horseman carries a bow, the icon represents the Antichrist.

When He opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come and see.” Another horse, fiery red, went out. And it was granted to the one who sat on it to take peace from the earth, and that people should kill one another; and there was given to him a great sword (vv. 3-4).

The red horse is also an icon of war, which is borne out by the context. What is opening up here, seal by seal, is the judgment of the earth by the one to whom all judgment has been given (John 5:22).

When He opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come and see.” So I looked, and behold, a black horse, and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine” (Revelation 6:5-6).

The icon of the black horse and the rider with the balances in his hand, is the icon for famine. Famine naturally follows on the heels of war. If this is a dream, it is a nightmare.

When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come and see.” So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth (vv. 7-8).

The pale horse is the icon for pestilence, which follows war and famine like day follows night. It is our future that John is seeing here.

When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed (vv. 9-11).

Still more persecution falls on the heads of the saints, following hard on the heels of what are commonly called, “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” At the time John saw this vision, the church had already endured much persecution and more was on the way. But this vision is for the very last days. It is hard to see a major persecution of Christians in the modern world from any other than an Islamo-Facist power. It is already underway in remote corners of the world, and it will reach a crescendo at the time of the end.

I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place. And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Revelation 6:12-17).

What a description! It reminds me of what happens here in Texas when they decide to harvest pecans. They have a machine that grabs the tree high on its trunk and shakes the tree. All around them comes a “rainstorm,” as it were, of pecans. John sees something like that, only global and with fire. It is something like a meteor shower of enormous proportions – an event that the earth has seen before, but long before there were any men to see it.

I don’t know what the ancients thought about this vision, but scientists now have no difficulty in accepting it because they have found the evidence that it has happened before. When one or more really big meteors strike the earth, they throw up a cloud of dust that can block out the sun and change the climate over the entire earth. So can the eruption of a volcano.

Someone recently theorized that Mars at one time had considerable water and an atmosphere not unlike ours. But an asteroid of considerable size had a close encounter with Mars and stripped away much of its atmosphere. I suppose if that happened here, a prophet might describe it as the heavens departing like a scroll.

One can almost imagine God saying at this moment, “All right, world . . . do I have your attention now?”

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 (Revelation 8:1-2).

After all that has happened up to this point, that silence would have been more than welcome, I should think. But now we come to the only meaningful series of trumpets in the Bible and along with it, an interesting view of the outline of the book of Revelation. The events of the last days are divided into sevens: Seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowls of God’s wrath. The seventh seal, as it is opened, is composed of seven trumpets. And the last trumpet includes the seven bowls of God’s wrath (Revelation 15:7 ff.). It is enough to make one shudder.

So the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound. The first angel sounded: And hail and fire followed, mingled with blood, and they were thrown to the earth. And a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up. Then the second angel sounded: And something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. And a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed. (vv. 6-9).

It boggles the mind to even think about it. What could possibly account for this kind of event? In recent years, movie makers have found new ways to show us what lies in our future, things that lay well beyond the knowledge or the experience of a first century prophet. Over a period of a few years, there were no less than four major films dealing with encounters with meteors, comets or asteroids. One introduced us to the idea of an “extinction event.” It is generally assumed now that we have had events like that in the history of the planet; one ended the age of the dinosaurs. As awful as the events of Revelation sound, they are far from impossible. They are indeed certain to come and now we don’t need a prophet to tell us they are in our future. We have science and Hollywood to tell us that. We need a prophet, though, to tell us why.

Then the third angel sounded: And a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the water, because it was made bitter (vv. 10-11).

It is only natural to wonder as you read through some of these disasters, are they all natural disasters, like passing through the tail of a comet? Or are some of them man-made? The earlier trumpets do sound like cosmic events, but this third trumpet is different. One can imagine this “great star falling” as a missile coming in, carrying chemical or biological weapons – something well beyond John’s horizon, but it could happen tomorrow with weapons now available.

Then the fourth angel sounded: And a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them were darkened. A third of the day did not shine, and likewise the night. And I looked, and I heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, “Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!” (vv. 12-13).

It is almost too much to think about. After all this, there are three more angels to sound their horns. The next chapter in Revelation includes the fifth and sixth angels and as you read them, the overwhelming impression is that these are not natural disasters. This is war. Human beings are engaged in the final acts of destruction from which, except for divine intervention, no flesh would be saved alive.[8]

You don’t have to go back many generations to a place where, had you spoken of something putting an end to all life on the planet, men would have scoffed. Then we went through a time when man could do it, but he would have to work at it. Now we have come to the place where we could put an end to life without even intending to.

So two more angels sound with terrible disasters following, but we have only found six of the seven last trumpets, and only two of the three final “woes.” It is not until chapter 11 that the seventh and last angel blows his trumpet.

The second woe is past. Behold, the third woe is coming quickly. Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” And the twenty-four elders who sat before God on their thrones fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying: “We give You thanks, O Lord God Almighty, The One who is and who was and who is to come, Because You have taken Your great power and reigned. The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come, And the time of the dead, that they should be judged, And that You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints, And those who fear Your name, small and great, And should destroy those who destroy the earth.” Then the temple of God was opened in heaven, and the ark of His covenant was seen in His temple. And there were lightnings, noises, thunderings, an earthquake, and great hail (Revelation 11:14-19).

Right here, at the last trumpet is the moment of the resurrection of the dead and the rapture [catching away] of the saints. It takes place at the end of the period the Bible calls “the Great Tribulation” and just before the period called “The Wrath of God.” It is right here that we once again pick up the thread that has run from the beginning and through all the appointed times of God. It is Judgment Day.

I made the point previously that the early church had connected the Jewish New Year, or the Feast of Trumpets, to the resurrection. I also made the point that it is called in the Hebrew, a day of shouting, or cheering.

Someday you will gather up your feet into your bed, and you will die. It may be a heart attack that takes you. Or congestive heart failure. Or it may be the gradual shut down of your vital organs. And you will sleep. I doubt that you will be conscious of the passage of time at all.

Perhaps you will be “grinding at the mill.” You may be working in your cubicle or cutting your grass. You may even be hiding out in a cave someplace. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, you will find yourself cut loose from the earth, rising upward, your body radically changed. And you will know. You will know that you are finished with the flesh and that you are about to meet the Glorified Christ. Do you think you will shout?

 

 

Endnotes:

[1] 1 Corinthians 15:21-22.

[2] Jeremiah 4:19. The shofar, the ram’s horn “trumpet.”

[3] “But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, ‘Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!’ {7} And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection; and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both (Acts 23:6-8).

[4] 1 Corinthians 15:51-52

[5] It is easy to forget that the very earliest Christians were Jewish and had been members of one or another of the Jewish sects of the day. The Pharisees and Sadducees are the two commonly encountered in the New Testament. One fundamental difference between these two sects was that the Pharisees believed in a resurrection of the dead, while the Sadducees did not. Apparently, the Sadducean error had crept into the church along with several other mistaken ideas.

[6] See 2 Corinthians 12:1 ff.

[7] In ancient times, horses were not used for agriculture, but for warfare, often pulling chariots, the “tanks” of the armies of old. Consequently, when kings came in peace, they rode mules or donkeys – icons for humility.

[8] “For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall. And unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short (Matthew 24:21-22 NASB).

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