The Unveiling of Jesus Christ
THE SEVEN TRUMPETS
"BLOW the trumpet in Zion . . . For coming is the day of Yahweh! For it in near! A day of darkness and gloominess, A day of cloud and murkiness . . . " (Joel 2:1,2). The trumpet was blown in Israel both in war and in peace. Moses gave them the statute that "In case you enter a war in your land with the foe who is distressing you then you will blast on the bugles" (Num.10:9). And again "And in the day of your rejoicing . . . you will blow on bugles" (Num.10:10). How fitting, then, that God's great conflict with the nations should be set forth under the symbol of seven trumpets!
Yet we must not let these dreadful alarms rob us of the delightful anticipation of that joyful blast which will transform us into His likeness and call us to Himself. For us the trumpet is a gladsome sound, the most welcome that our ears can hear, the signal of our deliverance from every ill and the fulfillment of every expectation. It will summon us into His presence beyond the sphere of judgment. The seven trumpets are the very opposite of this. They usher in earth's darkest hour with a train of woes unparalleled.
The seventh is the last of the trumpets. Hence it has sometimes been identified with "the last trump" which will change the living, at the Lord's coming (1 Cor.15:52). If this be so, our entire interpretation so far is faulty. Then the saints of this economy of God's transcendent grace are called upon to endure the raging of His wrath. Instead of participating in the untraceable riches of Christ (Eph.3:8) we are identified with the wrath which was revealed through the prophets. Instead of being blessed with every spiritual blessing among the celestials, we are subjects of His severest indignation, upon the earth. The consequences of identifying the seventh with the "last" trump are so disastrous that it behooves us to examine each more minutely and see if the accounts contain sufficient detail to establish their identity or distinctness, apart from any system of interpretation.
We have already noted the marked difference in the dispensation of grace and judgment. In His delight to deal out grace, He brooks no intermediaries or agents. In judgment, however, He stands back, and sends His messengers to execute His will. The seventh trumpet is sounded by a messenger. Voices in heaven proclaim the advent of the King and His kingdom. Not so when He comes for us. The Lord Himself will be descending from heaven with the shout of command, with the voice of the Chief Messenger, and with the trumpet of God (1 Thess.4:16). The trumpet is indeed sounded by a Messenger, but it is the Lord Himself, not another. In all He has the pre-eminence. He is the Chief Messenger. His voice alone can wake the dead. His blast alone can change the living.
This fact forever fixes a chasm between the last trump and the seventh judgment blast. One is blown by the Lord Himself; the other is the trumpeting of His messenger. "For He will be trumpeting" is a statement which explains the foregoing without any reference to any trumpeting mentioned elsewhere in Scripture. It is a part of the secret here revealed.
But why is it called the last trump? This cannot be taken in an absolute sense, for even the seventh trumpet which ushers in the kingdom is not the last time a trumpet will be blown. In the temple ritual and the festivals and jubilees, the redeemed earth will often bear the trumpet's tones. The seventh is the last of the series. So also the last trump is the last peal of a prolonged blast.
The insistence of the apostle on the point that our change will occur in a single instant of time has produced the impression that the whole procedure of His advent is instantaneous. On the contrary, we are distinctly told that the dead in Christ shall be rising first. There is a definite order to the rapid events of His presence. First comes the resurrection of the dead. Then the transfiguration of the living (Phil.3:21). Then both, at the same time, shall be snatched away together (1 Thess.4:17) for meeting the Lord in the air.
Time was, not long ago, when the idea of a trumpet blast reaching all over the earth was accounted a silly superstition. Sound is very slow. Its speed is not much over a thousand feet a second. It would take the greater part of a day to reach every spot on earth from a given point. Its force is soon dissipated, so that the ear cannot hear it. How impossible, that the saints should respond to its appeal in an instant of time! Faith would reason that it is just as impossible to wake the dead. To believe one and not the other would be irrational indeed.
But today all such oppositions of pseudo science have long since been withdrawn. Sound can be carried at the speed of light and travel to the ends of earth in less than a tenth of a second. How easy, then, for the Lord to call His own!
We shall by no means outstrip those who are reposing in Christ (1 Thess.4:15). The present apostasy makes this solemn assurance seem superfluous. If all "go to heaven when they die," what chance have we to outstrip them? Paul never sent anyone to heaven at death. He postponed that until the resurrection. To understand the last trump, however, we must remember, that, instead of our outstripping the dead, they are first to respond to the trumpet call. They shall be rising first.
Another phase of the apostasy seeks to separate the saints at this point. We are told that many of the dead are raised years before others, who are still alive, will join them in the resurrection. Not so is the record. Both the raised and the living shall be snatched away together, at the same time, to meet the Lord in the air. Our versions, both Authorized and Revised, entirely ignore this in their renderings. They probably thought that "together" would imply as much. But the spirit of God is very insistent on this point. The living and the raised are snatched up at the same time, together. The C. V. sublinear is SIMULTANEOUSLY TOGETHER. If there is redundancy here it is inspired. The present apostasy shows that it is needed.
The meaning of hama, the Greek word which is ignored in our versions, is clear from its first occurrence. In the parable of the wheat and the darnel (Matt.13:24-30) the question arises, When shall the darnel be removed? If the darnel is culled out before the harvest, the wheat will be rooted up at the same time. This is the meaning of the archaic withal, which the A. V. uses thrice (Col.4:3; 1 Tim.5:13; Philemon 22) as the equivalent of hama.
Nothing associated with the seventh trumpet which ushers in the kingdom is present at the last trump. The Lord does not descend to the earth, no kingdom is set up, no judgment of the nations follows. Nothing associated with the last trump finds a place under the seven trumpets. No dead are raised, no living are changed. Under the trumpets many are killed, rather than raised. Israel's resurrection does not take place till forty-five days after the seventh trumpet sounds.
It is of prime importance that we identify the section of mankind affected by the seven trumpets if we wish to enter into God's thoughts concerning them. Such inflictions as these upon those who are "saved for grace" (Eph.2:5) would be inexplicable. The saints of this economy are God's ambassadors, proclaiming peace, hence have been withdrawn before this warfare commences. Even the faithful in Israel are sheltered from its fury. The hundred and forty-four thousand and the vast throng are enabled to stand. The unfaithful in Israel are subject to the severer infliction of the bowls, which, it may be, are simultaneous with the seven trumpets, but intensified and localized. Hence the seven trumpets are concerned with the nations, or gentiles, who have taken political possession of the earth. Certain it is that they lose their political supremacy when the seventh trumpet ushers in the kingdom of our Lord and His Christ (11:15).
The seven trumpets are an expansion of the seventh seal, hence they deal with the double aspect of man's possession and rule of the earth. Just as the Lord, as the Son of Abraham, has the right to possess the promised land, and, as the Son of David, has the right to rule it, so the seals cope with the nations as countries, occupying the earth's surface, the trumpets deal with them as governments, sharing its power and rule.
In the last analysis, no nation has a right to its territory nor any government to its authority. There have been exceptions to this, when God delegated rule to such men as Nebuchadnezzar, or when He gave lsrael their land and chose their king. But there is not a nation today that can give a perfect title to any of its territory, or a valid basis for its authority. All of us are "squatters" or usurpers, living on Another's soil and using His authority.
I well remember the remark of a famous law specialist concerning the title to a piece of property. He declared that, in a large city whose valuation would reach to the billions, not a single title deed was incontestable. He did not go far into the past. Many of the land titles in the United States go back to patents from the King of England or to grants of the King of Spain. But what real right had they to the land they gave to others? If it be the "right of discovery" then anyone with sufficient power can "discover" anything in the possession of one weaker than himself and take it for his own.
William Penn saw this, and bought Pennsylvania both from the king and from the Indians. Yet, even so, what title had the Indians? Even if they had found it unused and untenanted by man, we are hardly prepared to admit that a vacant piece of property or one unused is subject to seizure by anyone who can hold it, and that such a one can sell it to others and give a valid title.
No matter how many intervening steps there may be, we must finally come to the Psalmist's conclusion that the earth is the Lord's, and that which fills it. When Israel dwelt in the land they acknowledged this by paying a tithe of its produce to sustain His worship. They were simply His tenants. Holding property in fee simple, or absolute ownership, is a fiction which will come to a sad end when the seven trumpets sound.
So also with government. The right to rule is divine, and no man can have it except as it is delegated to him by God. The great cry of this day is democracy, or the rule of the people. Republicanism is but a modified form of it. It has proved itself most unstable and corrupt, as all mere human government is bound to be. When the mass of mankind arrogates to itself the authority which is God's they soon desire independence, not only from earthly despotism, but divine sovereignty. So that today the most perfunctory acknowledgement of God is only tolerated as a superstition.
Democracy often ends in despotism and a dictator. In times of stress a strong hand is needed at the helm of the ship of state and the crew are glad to obey the one who can guide them through the storm. So it was in Rome when Caesar came upon the scene. So it will be in the time of the end, when the last great monarch of Christendom will accept from Satan the scepter that our Lord refused. He will take a definite stand against God and His authority and seek to banish Him from the earth. He will demand divine worship for himself. His success would mean the utter alienation of the earth from every divine influence. It would be a blight that would sink the whole in corruption and death.
Let no one imagine that these awful inflictions are merely the blind, vindictive rage of a furious god who would destroy what he cannot set right, whose only purpose is to punish his opponents. Grace may be unmeasured and overflowing, but judgment is always meted out with restraint. In measure and character it is suited to the correction and removal of evils far more serious than it is. Man's misrule will have come to a crisis where it is no longer tolerable to God or man. Severe, decisive measures are, in reality, a mercy. There can be no millennium without them.
This is the setting of the seven trumpets. Severe as the inflictions are, they fend the earth from a far worse fate. They remove the cause of its corruption. They cleanse and renew it for the righteous reign of the Son of Mankind.
The seven trumpets, like the seven seals, group themselves into four and three. The first four invoke the forces of nature, the last three introduce sentient, living creatures as the agents of destruction. The first four are indirect, the last three are direct inflictions on mankind. The first four affect a third of the earth, the sea, the rivers, and the air. The last three are the terrible woe trumpets, under which more than a third of mankind are killed.
These are the closing judgments on mankind as a whole before the kingdom is established. The judgments of the bowls are more severe, but are confined to the apostates of Israel. When the seventh trumpet sounds the kingdom comes. Indeed, the seventh trumpet consists of the judgments which take place in the kingdom itself.
The specific object of the seven trumpets is evident from the worship of the elders when they are finished. Yahweh has taken His great power and reigns. The nations were angry and He was indignant, so He blights those who are blighting the earth. As a result the prophets and the saints receive their rewards and the earth becomes a part of the kingdom of the heavens.
We shall now consider the marvelous silence that precedes them, and their immediate cause, as well as the warfare of the elements in the first four inflictions, and the terrible woe trumpets, the supernatural locusts, the horrible cavalry, and the still sorer judgments of the kingdom which are not detailed in this book. We shall more deeply appreciate His grace to us as we see the awfulness of His wrath when He arises to shake terribly the earth.
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