The Seven Trumpets – Past or Future?
Introduction: The purpose of this article is to address the claim that the seven trumpets occurred in ancient time; not as a document against anyone holding to a historical fulfillment of the seven trumpets. This paper is an attempt to address a claim that needs updating, refinement and clearer definition. Truth can afford to be open and fair and truth loses nothing when subjected to close scrutiny.
Historical Claim: “The seven trumpets represent severe judgments sent to warn the wicked to change their ways.” (C. Mervyn Maxwell, God Cares, page 58) The historical meaning of the seven trumpets and their respective time-periods is generally defined as follows (ibid, page 232; Maxwell quoting from Outline Studies in Revelation by Edwin Thiele):
Trumpet 1 – Fall of Jerusalem A.D. 70
Trumpet 2 – Fall of pagan Rome A.D. 378-476
Trumpet 3 – Corruption of the professed church of Christ 476 – 538
Trumpet 4 – Darkness of the Middle Ages A.D. 538 – 1299
Trumpet 5 – Mohammedan scourge A.D. 1299 – 1499
Trumpet 6 – Scourges under Turkish control A.D. 1449 – 1840
Trumpet 7 – Terrifying outbreaks of human passion and hate [End-time]
These conclusions are supported by several underlying issues that appear reasonable and defensible to those who advocate the historical fulfillment of the seven trumpets. However, it can be shown that two of the underlying issues are neither reasonable nor defensible. The purpose of this paper is to address these two underlying concepts and show that they do not support the historical conclusions set forth above. [There are more than two underlying concepts involved and they each need attention, but that is another book!] These two areas to be challenged are:
Claims of Historical Fulfillment and Conformity with Scripture
It is unfortunate that some people cannot consider a future sounding of the seven trumpets without associating the idea with the counter-reformation tactics (e.g., futurism) introduced by Jesuit scholar Ribera and Alcazar around the 16th century. Nevertheless, it appears that the future sounding of the seven trumpets accomplishes much more than a historical sounding of the trumpets. In fact, a future sounding of the seven trumpets will accomplish a most critical task. They will serve notice to seven+ billion people on earth that God’s offer of salvation is about to close. Maxwell would have been much more accurate if he had said, “the seven trumpets represent severe judgments sent to warn the wicked to change their ways” at the end of time.
I. Sanctuary Typology Issues
Note: The arguments discussed in this section are based on the assumption that the reader has a working knowledge of the doctrine concerning two tabernacles – the type or copy on earth, the antitype or true tabernacle in Heaven. From this doctrine, a number of important parallelisms are found between the services of the earthly and the heavenly temples. For brevity and for the sake of provoking thought, it is also assumed that those reviewing this document are in agreement with the timely fulfillment of Daniel 8:14 in 1844. Because the earthly tabernacle was but a shadow of the real temple that functions in heaven, certain practical adaptations make the earthly tabernacle unlike the heavenly. In light of this fact, we have to carefully examine type and antitype to understand the truth they reveal. Hebrews 10:1
Historical Claim: Because of sanctuary typology, the seven trumpets had to occur prior to 1844 because the Day of Atonement began in 1844. It would violate the order of the sanctuary pattern to sound the seven trumpets of Revelation after the Day of Atonement begins.
Rebuttal: This claim is faulty for four reasons. First, sanctuary typology places the sounding of the trumpets near the close of mercy. Second, the sounding of the trumpets prior to the Old Testament Day of Atonement served as a warning to the living that God’s offer of mercy was drawing to a close. Third, the idea that the antitypical Day of Atonement began in 1844 is simplistic and overstated. God’s offer of mercy did not come to a close in 1844. A better understanding of the process of events that took place on the tenth day of the seventh month is required. Last, the claim that the trumpets sounded in ancient history imposes a time-frame on the seven trumpets. This imposition forces one to ignore certain timely statements made in Revelation about the trumpets.
Earthly Type: The obvious purpose for the annual Feast of Trumpets [first day of the seventh month] and the sounding of the trumpets on the days following was that of warning: “Israel, get ready to meet thy God.” (Leviticus 23:24-32) According to Jewish literature, trumpets sounded throughout the camp for the first nine days of the seventh month to notify Israel of the approach of the cleansing of the tabernacle. The cleansing of the tabernacle necessitated a repentant nation. All sins were to be confessed and all sacrifices offered before Yom Kippur began on the evening of the tenth day. No sins were transferred to the tabernacle after the Day of Atonement began. Even today, many Jews regard the first nine days of the seventh month as “a time for repentance, preparing for God’s judgment on the tenth day of the month.” For this reason, they afflict their souls and confess their sins as they approach Yom Kippur so that no sin may be held against them on the day of Judgment. One last point. During the time of the earthly temple, the last day of mercy [the last opportunity to repent] was well known to be the ninth day of the seventh month. Even so, mercy came to an end each year only after a generous warning had been sounded by the trumpets. [This is a wonderful parallel for those who shall live at the end of time.]
Heavenly Antitype: The purpose for sounding the seven trumpets in Revelation is parallel with the sounding of the trumpets in ancient times. John heard seven literal trumpets sound in chronological order in heaven’s temple. He also describes earthly events that follow the sounding of each trumpet. Each event serves as a warning judgment to all nations. “Prepare to meet thy Creator.” The time-period of the seven trumpets is short because those who experience these judgments live during the last days of earth’s history. The seven trumpets can be understood as seven first plagues mixed with mercy. These will be followed by seven last plagues having no mercy. The sounding of the seven trumpets in heaven and their associated events on earth is for the primary benefit of those who live during the judgment of the living. Mercy closes for the living just before the seventh trumpet sounds. Revelation 10:7
The Dead Were Not Judged
Earthly Type: Services on the Day of Atonement reveal a process whereby the sanctuary is restored to a clean and undefiled condition: all on one day. In addition to other things done on that day, the process of cleansing the tabernacle followed a well defined process: The slaying of the Lord’s goat, the cleansing of the Ark of the Covenant, the cleansing of the Altar of Incense, the cleansing of the Altar of Burnt Offering and the transfer of sin from the Sanctuary to the head of the scapegoat.
Heavenly Antitype: To claim the Day of Atonement began in 1844 is not an accurate statement for three reasons:
First, earthly sanctuary services made no provision for “judging the dead”. No annual event or temple services were conducted for the benefit of the dead. The claim that 1844 marks the beginning of the Day of Atonement is based on deductive reasoning that judging the dead is a type of cleansing that began in heaven’s temple in 1844. However, one has to admit that there is no direct parallel.
The point here is that the sounding of the trumpets and the services that followed on the Day of Atonement were for the benefit of those living at the time – not the dead. To claim, as historicist do, that the seven trumpets sounded over a period of several centuries is to eliminate the trumpet warnings that shall be sent to those who will live during the time when God’s offer of salvation is ended. What redemptive effect [or outcome] can be historically demonstrated from sounding the trumpets during the past 2,000 years? Did they sound in vain? Did they accomplish anything measurable with respect to the close of mercy? Is the world better informed about the close of God’s mercy today because the trumpets sounded in ancient times? If one places the trumpets in ancient history he disassociates the trumpets from their all important purpose of warning living people that God’s mercy is about to end.
Second, individuals could not transfer their sins to the earthly sanctuary after the Day of Atonement began. The commencement of the tenth day served as a line of demarcation. Therefore, a true parallel with the earthly type cannot exist if 1844 marks the beginning of the Day of Atonement, else salvation could not be available to those who live after 1844. The logic behind the claim that 1844 marks the commencement of the Day of Atonement is faulty because it is simplistic and overstated. God’s offer of mercy did not end in 1844. The door of mercy was not shut to the living in 1844. [A number of Millerites believed for a short time in a “shut door” theory after 1844 because they insisted on a direct relationship between the type and antitype. Later however, the passage of time forced a modification on this position.]
Third, the services on the Day of Atonement represent a span of [at least] 2,000 years in time. For example, the slaying of the Lord’s goat on that day points to Calvary. The transfer of sin from the sanctuary to the head of the scapegoat points down to the time when sin is transferred onto the head of Satan. The critical point here is that everything that happened on the tenth day of the seventh month in ancient times does not have parallel event occurring after 1844. The process represented on that day is much larger. [More about this in the next section.]
Therefore, the claim that the seven trumpets of Revelation must occur before 1844 because the Day of Atonement began in 1844 cannot be valid. Yes, Heaven’s temple “began to be cleansed” in 1844 but, the temple will not be clean until each article of furniture is cleansed and sins are transferred to the head of the scapegoat. Forcing the seven trumpets to occur before 1844 because the Day of Atonement is alleged to have begun in 1844 is not warranted because the trumpets sounded for the benefit of the living near the end of mercy. Actually, it comes down to one of two choices: Are the seven trumpet judgments for the benefit of the living who shall experience the close of God’s offer of mercy OR were the trumpet judgments spent upon those who lived in historical fulfillment of the trumpets. If the trumpets occurred down through ages past as claimed, their effect in terms of preparing people to meet God at the close of mercy is zero – how unlike the sounding of the trumpets in Old Testament times!
Altar of Incense Offers an Important Clue
Earthly Type: As the High Priest exited the Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement, he cleansed the tabernacle in a four-step process: First, he made atonement for the ark of the covenant. Second, he made atonement for the altar of incense and Third, he made atonement for the altar of burnt offering, Last, he placed the sins from the temple on the head of the scapegoat. (Leviticus 16:15-21) If the type and antitype are parallel, we should find the same order in heaven that we find on earth. Indeed, we do!
The presence of two altars in the tabernacle indicates two different levels of atonement. One altar served the corporate body of Israel, the other served families or individuals. The value and location of the two altars confirms this distinction. One was covered with gold, the other with bronze. One was in the temple, the other without. Although there were a number of offerings and sacrifices, two stand out in the administration of sin: The daily offering and the sin offering or burnt offering.
According to Leviticus 4, atonement for sin by individuals [through sin or burnt offerings] was made upon the horns of the altar of burnt offering. Atonement for corporate sin was made daily upon the horns of the altar of incense morning and evening. The daily [or corporate] offering provided continual atonement for the entire camp. This daily offering provided full assurance that if one did sin, he was covered by this sacrifice until he could present his offering at the altar of burnt offering. [Jewish literature claims that priests served and tribes offered burnt offerings according to a monthly schedule.] Leviticus 4 also points out that if a priest sinned, his offering was placed upon the altar of incense because he held a corporate responsibility, that is, as a pattern of Jesus – he officiated on behalf of the entire camp before God. The leaders of Israel did not share in this level of responsibility; therefore, their offerings were placed on the altar of burnt offering.
The distinction between the two altars and the services conducted upon them is highly important to our examination of the seven trumpets because the altar of incense is directly associated with the sounding of the trumpets. As stated earlier, the altar of incense was the second article of furniture to be cleansed on the Day of Atonement. This fact is important for three reasons:
First, the operation of the daily offering on earth [morning and evening] at the altar of incense (Exodus 29:38-41) suggests the presence of a parallel service at the golden altar of incense in heaven. Further, the operation of the burnt offering on earth at the altar of burnt offering suggests a parallel service in heaven’s temple at its altar of burnt offerings. [Note: John mentions both altars in Revelation, expressly identifying and associating the altar of incense with the seven trumpets. The altar of burnt offering is also indicated in heaven although, it is not so called. It is the altar identified in the fifth seal, with the souls of martyrs “under it”. The location of “the souls” corresponds to the container kept beneath the earthly altar of burnt offerings where the blood of sacrifices was kept. Leviticus 4:18
Second, we know that the altar of incense was the second item to be cleansed on the Day of Atonement. We know that this altar’s function is limited to corporate atonement. This suggests that the casting down of the censer at the altar of incense in Revelation 8 symbolizes the cessation of heaven’s daily [corporate intercession] of Christ on behalf of the world. If this is true, then the commencement of the seven first plagues [seven trumpets] would be consistent with the outpouring of God’s wrath because His corporate patience is no longer restrained by the corporate intercession of man’s High Priest. The fact that the seven trumpets are similar to the seven last plagues is not accidental. The trumpets are similar in some ways of what the full wrath of God will be during the seven last plagues – which are poured out without mercy.
Note: The idea of corporate intercession may be new for some. In short, God not only deals with individuals, He deals with corporate bodies. For example, consider Sodom and Gomorrah. These cities had become vile and He destroyed them for their corporate degeneracy – while preserving a few individuals, Lot and his daughters. God destroyed the whole world in Noah’s day but saved a few individuals. He will again destroy the whole world and save a few individuals. The point here is that God’s mercy with the world in general and God’s mercy for an individual is presented in the tabernacle by the administration of mercy on two altars.]
Third, the last article of furniture to be cleansed on the Day of Atonement was the altar of burnt offering; the altar where atonement for the sins of individuals was conducted. After this altar is cleansed, the sanctuary is free of sin. If we follow the exit of the High Priest from the Most Holy Place in the earthly pattern, the close of mercy in heaven must be associated with the altar of burnt offering. This means that even after the casting down of the censer in Revelation 8:3-5 [cessation of mercy on behalf of the world], mercy remains open for individuals. In fact, Jesus will still receive anyone who repents at the heavenly altar of burnt offering until just before the seventh trumpet sounds. When the last individual on earth lays hold of God’s extended offer of salvation, then mercy closes. Jesus declares, “Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right, and let him who is holy continue to be holy.” (Revelation 22:11) The sealing is over. Then, the final step takes place. The sins of the sanctuary were carried by the High Priest to the head of the scapegoat and it was taken out of the camp to die a terrible death.
If we consider these three points to be true, then a simple conclusion follows: The casting down of the censer at the altar of incense in Revelation 8:3-5 indicates the end of corporate intercession. The subsequent sounding of the seven trumpets (Revelation 8:6 and onward – is fully harmonious with sanctuary typology because God’s corporate mercy for the world [services at the altar of incense] ends before His mercy for individuals is brought to a close [altar of burnt offering]. The essential purpose of the seven trumpets is therefore to warn living individuals that the close of mercy is near.
Heaven’s Process Explained
Now that we have examined sanctuary typology, let’s step back and look at the big picture. Let’s see how the Day of Atonement process on earth and in heaven flow together.
- Jesus [the Lord’s goat] was slain at Calvary. Subsequently, He was found worthy to receive the kingdom of earth. (Daniel 7:13,14) His worthiness to receive all that the Father promised was based on His righteous life and shed blood at Calvary.
- Jesus not only fulfilled the righteousness required by the law of God, He provided a perfect atonement demonstrating in His flesh that God’s law is holy and righteous. Adventists generally believe that upon Christ’s ascension, His sacrifice was approved and atonement for the ark of the covenant [Most Holy Place] was made on the basis of His shed blood.
- In 1844, Jesus began the investigative judgment – reviewing the record books of the dead. For 170+ years, this process has been taking place.
Assuming the above to be true, then the next item of furniture to be cleansed would be the altar of incense. Here’s an explanation of how this occurs:
- We know from Daniel 8:19 that the appointed time of the end is a time of wrath. One day, the seven angels who stand before God were given seven trumpets. (Revelation 8:2) As they are about to sound their trumpets and cause harm to the land, sea and trees, they are told to wait until the 144,000 are sealed. (Revelation 7:1-4) When the 144,000 are sealed, the daily intercession of Jesus on behalf of earth [services at the altar of incense] are finished. The censer is cast down, and the wrath of God breaks out upon the world – albeit with mercy mixed in. The phenomena that accompanies the casting down of the censer in heaven is literal on earth: earthquake, lightning, peals of thunder and rumblings [voices]. Incidentally, the same phenomena accompany the Second Coming. Revelation 16:18
As the judgments of God fall upon earth [the first four trumpets], the 144,000 proclaim the three angel’s messages [the Gospel] with latter rain power, and a great harvest will be gathered in because they were awakened by these trumpet judgments to hear and consider the terms and conditions of the everlasting Gospel! The trumpet judgments will bring about martial law in all nations and within this context, worship laws regarding the sacredness of Friday [Moslems], Saturday [Jews] and Sunday [Christians] will be imposed. [The coming enforcement of worship laws is discussed in my book, Earth’s Final Hours.] By the time the seventh trumpet sounds, every decision will have been made and Jesus terminates the service of receiving sinners at the altar of burnt offering in heaven’s temple. With every decision made, Jesus pronounces the end. Thereafter, the sins removed from the temple are assigned to the devil. Then, the seven last plagues fall upon those receiving the mark of the beast because they rebelled against God. As far as the saints and the process of salvation is concerned, the Day of Atonement process is over. Although a few matters will not be completed until the 1,000 years have ended. At the Second Coming, the antitypical Feast of Tabernacles begins. The saints go to the city [New Jerusalem] where they live temporarily until the earth is made ready for them.
The use of sanctuary typology to defend the sounding of the trumpets prior to 1844 is inconsistent with the actual process that took place on the Day of Atonement. If anything, sanctuary typology places the sounding of the trumpets in the future! The order of events presented on the Day of Atonement does not allow the seven trumpets to be sounded prior to 1844. The casting down of the censer in Revelation 8:3-5 indicates the cessation of services at that altar, and according to Scripture this cessation occurs just BEFORE the first trumpet sounds. We must align our thinking on the seven trumpets with sanctuary typology and with Scripture.
If the only problem with the historical view on the seven trumpets was sanctuary typology, it might be generous to say, “this matter cannot be raised above dispute. Therefore, allow every man to believe as he chooses.” However, the claims of a historical fulfillment for the trumpets go beyond the question of sanctuary typology. They enter the realm of research and verification.
II. Claims of Historical Fulfillment and Conformity with Scripture
Since this is a discussion paper, it is necessarily brief and inconclusive. Therefore, my objective is to identify a couple “obvious targets” and challenge them. One of the positive outcomes from the Glacier View Summit in the early 1980’s was the formation and publication of a series of rules governing prophetic interpretation. [As far as I know, this is the only set of published rules pertaining to Apocalyptic Prophecy set forth by Adventist scholars.] Dr. Gerhard Hasel, a faculty member from Andrews University at that time, succinctly outlined Four Rules that were used by the Daniel and Revelation Committee to defeat the apotelesmatic principle espoused by Dr. Desmond Ford. These Four Rules are published on page 290 of the Daniel & Revelation’s Committee Series, Volume 3. They are:
- The context is a sound and indispensable guide. Each aspect within the prophecy must be weighted and evaluated carefully.
- A literal fulfillment is to be expected, unless there is clear inspired evidence that is should be non-literal.
- Every detail must be met in the fulfillment. It is not a genuine fulfillment if only some specifications are met, but not others; nor can it be a genuine fulfillment if it is such only in principle and not in detail. All aspects of an Apocalyptic Prophecy must be met in order to have a true fulfillment of the prophecy.
- Apocalyptic prophecies have neither dual nor multiple fulfillments. On the contrary, each symbol has but one fulfillment.
These rules are not only valid, they are self evident from Scripture. The problem here is that the historicist claim on the seven trumpets does not conform to rules 1 through 3! Something is seriously wrong. For the sake of brevity, consider the second trumpet in light of these rules.
“And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood; and the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed.” (Revelation 8:8,9, KJV) The second trumpet describes “a great mountain burning with fire that was cast into the sea”. Consider the result: a third of the sea became blood, a third of the sea creatures died and a third of the ships were destroyed. Would an asteroid, a mile in diameter speeding toward earth at 40,000 mph accomplish every detail specified in the prophecy if it hit an ocean? Clearly, yes. Numerous scientific studies have verified it. And given Rule Two above, shouldn’t we expect a literal fulfillment before demanding a non-literal fulfillment?
Historicists insist this trumpet judgment is symbolic. They say it represents the fall of pagan Rome. (Refer page 1) Consequently, certain contextual and interpretative problems rise. Here are a few: First, the elements must be identified. Then, the meaning of each symbol must be interpreted with relevant Scripture so that the Bible interprets itself; and, finally, a rational explanation from history is required that fully conforms with the text! Consider the elements of the second trumpet:
- A mountain burning with fire
- Cast into the sea
- The sea turns to blood
- Sea creatures die
- Ships destroyed
If the intended meaning of this trumpet is both literal and future, the fulfillment will be easy to grasp by billions of people when an asteroid [the size of a mountain] impacts the sea. The harmony between what will be seen and the description provided by John will be fully understood by ordinary lay people of every religious body on earth! Jesus adds in Luke 21:25 saying, “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.” If the signs mentioned by Jesus are literal, why shouldn’t the sea in the second trumpet be literal?
On the other hand, if the intended meaning of the second trumpet is hidden by symbolism, and given the poverty of relevant Scripture to clearly define these symbols, the meaning then becomes obtuse and mysterious. Such robs this passage of its simplicity, power and purpose. Demanding the second trumpet to be symbolic leaves no other outcome but to make laymen dependent upon scholarly private interpretation. In the end, people will have no choice but to follow their favorite “religious authority” rather than “a plain thus saith the Lord.” There is a most serious warning to anyone we adds words to the prophecy of Revelation. (Revelation 22:18,19) Better to stand back and allow Scripture to mean what it says than to attempt to “explain away” its simplicity. When someone claims the Bible doesn’t mean what it says, that person just inserted himself between the Word and its student. This is a serious position to hold for anyone who takes God at His Word.
Harmony and Conformity
If we accept the idea the seven trumpets are future, a very easy harmony rises from Scripture. In Revelation 7:1-4, the Bible identifies four angels who “had been given power to hurt” the earth, specifically , the land, sea and trees. But, they are told to wait until the 144,000 are sealed. These verses directly connect the sealing of the 144,000 with certain harm that is going to fall upon earth after the 144,000 are sealed. Three questions naturally rise:
1. When did these angels receive such power?
2. Why are they going to harm the land, sea and trees?
3. Why must they wait upon the sealing of the 144,000?
1. Seven angels were given authority to do certain things when they received the seven trumpets. (Revelation 8:2) These seven angels are possibly the same angels that pour out the seven vials. We know that the first two angels have power to harm the land, sea and trees. How do we know this fact? The first two trumpets literally harm the land, trees and sea! The point here is that the four angels in Revelation 7 are some of the seven angels described in Revelation 8.
2. Why are these angels going to harm the physical elements of earth? Because time for the outpouring of God’s wrath has come upon a wicked world. When God’s patience with the world [corporately speaking] comes to an end, the censer is cast down at the altar of incense. There will be a global earthquake, lightning, peals of thunder and rumblings. Then, His wrath begins – seven first plagues [seven trumpets] – a time of mercy: seven last plagues [seven bowls] – a time of no mercy; fourteen events total. Yet, the door of mercy remains open for individuals until the seventh trumpet sounds.
3. Why must the four angels wait on the sealing of the 144,000? The 144,000 will be God’s spokes-persons [servants] during the Great Tribulation. (Revelation 10:7; Joel 2:28-31) Sealing them as first-fruits makes them chronologically the first of the numberless multitude that comes out of the Great Tribulation.
4. One more point on the harmony that comes from a literal interpretation of the seven trumpets. The angels in Revelation 7 “had been given power to hurt” the land, sea and trees, but the “locusts” in Revelation 9 are not allowed to harm the grass, trees or any plant. If one insists on symbolism in both places, the verse by verse details become highly unmanageable and the intended meaning of Scripture is robbed of its simplicity. In the end, no layman can remember all the symbolic twists and turns [including the Greek and Hebrew syntax] necessary to explain away the Bible. But, if one interprets the trumpet judgments using valid rules and parallel language found in the Bible, a literal interpretation of the seven trumpets during the end-time clearly describes the outcome. Actually, if one expects a literal fulfillment first as Rule Two above states, the intended meaning becomes clear because truth is always clear and reproducible.
The fifth trumpet presents several problems that should cause every Adventist to reconsider his historical confidence. Here is one problem: “They [the locusts] were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads.” (Revelation 9:4) If the fifth trumpet took place between 1299 and 1449 as historicists claim, why did God (a) associate “the seal of God” with this time-period and (b) indicate those having the seal are not to suffer from this judgment – which implies that the rest of mankind would suffer from this judgment?
Adventists believe the seal of God to be the Sabbath, the seventh-day of the week. If one places this trumpet in the future, a simple explanation follows. If one places this trumpet in the ancient past, the significance of this trumpet and the importance of the seal of God during this trumpet is totally lost and confused.
Assuming this trumpet to be future, it represents the release of Lucifer [the star that had fallen] from his spiritual realm [the abyss] so that he might physically appear before the people of earth personating Christ. A great multitude of angels will attend him [like a swarm of locusts]. He is not allowed to harm the vegetation of earth because if he did, the world would perish from famine before Christ arrived. Further, he is not allowed to torture God’s people at first. He may only harm those who don’t have the seal of God. Why would Jesus allow the devil to harm his own people? Simple. The primary purpose of the seven trumpets is to awaken man to his need of salvation. Jesus will save all who turn to Him in faith. Just as Jesus sent serpents into the camp to bite the Israelites with deadly venom, Jesus sends the “man of sin” into the world to torture the wicked with grievous torment so that, if possible, He can save to the utmost. As Moses lifted up the bronze serpent on the pole, so Jesus will be lifted up before the world by the 144,000 as “man’s only hope to overcome the torture of sin.” The suffering inflicted by the devil will cause many to reconsider their need of a Savior and many will be saved! [See 2 Thessalonians 2:6-12 on the timing and manner of Satan’s appearing.]
If one ignores the plain context of Scripture to defend a traditional position, he might also ignore the plain context of history. Some historicists claim the time-period included in the sixth trumpet came to an end on August 11, 1840. This date, which marks the end of 391 years and 15 days, they claim, marks the fall of the Ottoman Turkish empire. What does history say?
- According to history, the Ottoman Turkish empire did not fall on August 11, 1840 as the Millerites claimed. In fact, from 1783 to 1914, the boundaries of the Ottoman empire were reduced by a series of defeats. The war waged against the Sultan of Turkey in 1840 ended in 1841 without significant change to the empire. Today, the August 11, 1840 date hailed by the Millerites is not regarded by any credible historian as an important date in Turkish history. Historians widely agree that the Ottoman empire came to an end in 1914. However, in World War I, Turkey allied with German and lost even more territory. In 1923, the Grand National Assembly of Turkey proclaimed Turkey to be a republic and Turkey remains a sovereign nation to this day.
In 1873, Dr. Josiah Litch [the man responsible for this interpretation] published a retraction of his position on the basis of the outcome of history! [See A Complete Harmony of Daniel and Apocalypse, 1873, Claxton, Remsen & Haffelfinger, Philadelphia.] Litch and others could see that his claim was embarrassed by the passage of time. Evidently, Adventists were unwilling to relinquish Litch’s claim of fulfillment for they had nothing else to put in its place. This act is born out in Uriah Smith’s 1898 edition of “Thoughts on Daniel and Revelation.” Smith presents an elaborate case sustaining LItch’s original claim without knowing that two fatal flaws would render his exposition worthless. [The next two points.]
- The August 11, 1840 date was reached though a faulty King James translation of Scripture that says: “and the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, for to slay the third part of men.” (Revelation 9:15) Dr. Litch reached the August 11, 1840 date by applying the day/year principle to this verse. Therefore, he derived 391 years and 15 days out of an hour, day, month and year mentioned in the verse. However, the King James translation of this verse is incorrect. A correct translation reads: “And the four angels who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year were released to kill a third of mankind.” Greek scholars around the world widely agree that the syntax of Revelation 9:15 points to a specific point in time and is therefore punctiliar and not the sum of chronological units of time. (See the NIV, NEV, RSV and ASV.) In short, this verse cannot contain 391 years and 15 days. Rather, this verse points to a specific moment in time! Given the well documented history of Turkey and the widely recognized punctiliar nature of this verse, one cannot but be amazed that historicists continue to defend their claim that the trumpets are in the past. But, the next point fully proves the folly of defending the historical view.
Dr. Litch failed to adjust his 391 year, 15 day prophecy with the change of the Julian calendar in October, 1582, when ten days were dropped to correct for cumulative error. Thus, his August 11, 1840 date should have been August 21, 1840. The problem here is that nothing of historical consequence occurred on this date. When presented with this evidence, many Adventist pastors and leaders will blindly insist on the fulfillment of the sixth trumpet. Perhaps they do so for two reasons: First, they don’t have an answer. What can they say when their claims are proven to have no merit when judged by the very thing they defend: A historical fulfillment [Rule 3]! Second, they can’t believe Ellen White would have overlooked this matter.
The Historical Test
When the historical evidence of Turkish history is considered, when the Greek text is considered, and when the adjustment of the calendar is considered, Mrs. White’s position on the sixth trumpet (GC 335) is simply wrong and if she were alive, she would clearly say so. She would update her position and remind all of us that she was not infallible. But, from her vantage point at the time, the sixth trumpet as interpreted by Dr. Litch, looked reasonable.
Ellen White was aware of the potential problem that people would consider everything she said to be “the Word of God.” She wrote: “I find myself frequently placed where I dare give neither assent nor dissent to propositions that are submitted to me; for there is danger that my worlds I may speak shall be reported as something that the Lord has given me. It is not always safe for me to express my own judgment.” 3SM 60
God did not reveal much to Ellen White concerning prophetic chronology. In fact, she had to study the works of historians and others to understand the timing of most of her visions or dreams! Ellen White’s son, W.C. White, says of his mother’s visions concerning The Great Controversy and The Desire of Ages: “In a few of these scenes, chronology and geography were clearly presented, but in the greater part of the revelation of the flashlight scenes, which were exceedingly vivid. . . (they) were not marked geographically or chronologically, and she was left to study the Bible and history, and the writings of men. . . to get the chronological and geographical connection.” 3SM 459
According to W.C. White, most of his mother’s visions and dreams on the great controversy between Christ and Satan were short segments or “flashlight scenes” of conversations or events that transpired. These scenes did not appear in chronological order, thus Ellen White had to study and search for herself to find the proper chronological place for these things. Given the comments of W.C. White, it is apparent that most of her statements regarding chronology are her own opinion and were not confirmed by vision.
Multiple and/or Partial Fulfillments
Some people strongly insist that prophecies can be repeatedly fulfilled, applied or partially fulfilled. This concept, they claim, is demonstrated in Matthew 24 where Jesus merged the end of Jerusalem with the end of the world into one prophecy. This dual application of prophecy, they claim means that prophecy can have more than one fulfillment. But, a close examination of Matthew 24 does not confirm the claim.
Matthew 24 contains information about the end of Jerusalem and the end of the world, but the two are not the same event. Everything predicted about the end of Jerusalem has been fulfilled. Period. And, everything about the end of the world in Matthew 24 will be fulfilled. Period. No one denies that parallels exist, but the specifications about the end of the world and those about the end of Jerusalem are separate and distinct. But, the unsaid motive behind the concept of dual fulfillments is often this: Adventists are looking for a way to maintain the inerrancy of Ellen White and they also want a better, more thorough explanation of prophetic text. After all, large segments of Daniel and Revelation are never mentioned by Ellen White. So, after examining this matter, here are some observations:
- A fulfillment is a full-filling. God knows every detail about the future and He has predicted the details in advance. All that He has said shall come to pass. A prophecy doesn’t reach full-fill-ment until all that God has said about the event takes place. [Refer Rule 3.] For example, trumpet two cannot be full-filled until everything described in trumpet two occurs. Furthermore, trumpet two has to occur after trumpet one. If the trumpets do not occur in their order, to whom shall we turn for authority to determine their order?
- 2. Suppose that trumpet two is a great asteroid impact upon a sea, how can a partial fulfillment of trumpet two occur? Or, how can trumpet two occur multiples of times unless trumpet one occurs multiples of times. Maybe the question should be asked, how many times do the seven trumpets sound in their order?
- Suppose the fifth trumpet is the physical appearing of Satan. Then, the Bible predicts that the devil will torment those not having the seal of God for five months. When does the five month time-period occur? Can it occur more than once? Can it partially occur? Can the devil partially appear and satisfy the specifications of this prophecy? [I have addressed the issue of day/year reckoning and literal time reckoning in my book, Earth’s Final Hours.]
The premise behind the dual fulfillments, multiple applications or a partial fulfillment of prophecy is faulty from the start. For example, if one looks closely at the second trumpet, he will see that dual fulfillments, multiple applications or a partial fulfillment is nothing less than multiples of interpretation. How can the trumpets be different things at different times? Whatever trumpet two represents can only be satisfied by the full-fill-ment of the specifications given in trumpet two and trumpet two must happen before trumpet three and after trumpet one. So, the use of dual, partial or multiple fulfillments to defend the infallibility or limited knowledge of Ellen White does not accomplish a desired end. The fact remains, she simply did not know everything. God did not show her everything there is to know about end-time events. Therefore, some of her prophetic conclusions can be proven wrong because her knowledge about the future was partial.
Paul said, “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.” (1 Corinthians 13:9) But, this lack of understanding does not lessen her work as one inspired by God. She, as did all the writers of the Bible, gave the best she had. This is one of the limitations of being finite – yet God gently works within our limitations to reveal things higher than the highest human thought can reach. For this reason, later generations have the privilege of knowing more about God than previous generations. So, what privilege is ours today?
The claim that the second trumpet represents the fall of pagan Rome is a second attempt by Adventist scholars to make sense of the intended meaning of Revelation 8:8,9. The first attempt, by Litch and later Uriah Smith, was driven by false assumption. Litch thought that 1844 was the end of the world, and that necessarily forced the fulfillment of all prophecies prior to October 22, 1844. Smith thought the Day of Atonement had begun. For this reason, advent pioneers grasped for any explanation that would explain the fulfillment of the seven trumpets in history and they chose the fall of Rome. Here we are, 170+ years later. For some strange reason, highly educated men are still willing to defend something that makes no sense to an ordinary person. How can a burning mountain cast into the sea, killing a third of the sea creatures and sinking a third of the ships describe the attack of Alaric, Genseric or Attila the Hun upon Rome and meet the specifications of the prophecy? What was the purpose of this warning judgment? Who benefitted from the sounding of this trumpet? How is this trumpet related to the close of mercy and the Day of Atonement that would occur 1,400 years later? These questions only rise because the historical view of the trumpets is deficient. In fact, in light of what sanctuary typology reveals, what Scripture says and all that history confirms, there is not one shred of good evidence supporting the sounding of the seven trumpets during ages past.
In closing, one might ask, “Why aren’t the rules of interpretation discussed more frequently?” What about Rule Two which says, “A literal fulfillment is to be expected . . .” Could it be that if we start with a literal understanding of the seven trumpets, we would have to overhaul our complete understanding of Bible prophecy? Could it be that if we start with a literal understanding of the seven trumpets, we would find a meaning that is too simple? Too obvious? Would it be too embarrassing for a whole denomination to change its corporate mind? Would this cause a prophetic shaking among individuals? The subject addressed in this thought paper is vast and needs discussion. Consider:
Are the trumpets future?