What the Holy Spirit held back in chapter 7, by holding back ‘four winds’, is now released to unleash the full power of all the agencies of destruction the God intends.
The Lamb opened the seventh seal (v.1) and as a result there was silence in heaven for half an hour, so this is a very significant event. This seal has under it seven trumpets which seven angels, standing before God, sound off one after another (v.2).
Now what follows is the sounding of those seven trumpets (v.6). There is reference to the prayers of the saints (v.3,4), the true believers, so this indicates that the true church is still on earth, even under persecution (v.5). This is not some future post-rapture period as some teach.
Why a trumpet? The trumpet is used to give a signal. Usually it implied the start of the march or the charge of an army. See Joel 2:1,15, Jeremiah 4:5 and Ezekiel 33:1-6. Sometimes it calls the people to worship. See Numbers 31:6 and 1 Chronicles 15:24 .
First trumpet (v.7) – Hail, fire mixed with blood which resulted in a third of the trees to burned up and all the green grass.
John beholds a mighty storm-cloud rush over the earth. From it comes ‘hail and fire mingled with blood’. They fall upon the earth and a third part is ‘burned up’. These expressions imply desolation from judgment. The scene is one of desolation of ‘the earth,’ which was then the territories of the Roman Empire in John’s day. The ‘blood’ indicates carnage, and death from war. The burnt up trees and green grass meaning a scorched land indicates the devastation from destroying armies. The concept of ‘scorched earth policy’ is a military tactic of destroying everything in its wake. This is symbolic of destruction over a third of the known world, which would be the western portion of the Roman Empire conquered by the Barbarians. See map.
Second trumpet (v,8,9) – A great mountain burning cast into the sea, one third sea turned to blood, one third sea creatures died and one third of ships destroyed.
The burning mountain could be representative of volcanic eruptions and mighty devastation in the seas at that time, but most likely the sea is symbolic of peoples and nations and these verses indicate widespread destruction and devastation from invading armies and navies. Again ‘fire’ and ‘blood’ are used as in verse 7. Roman once controlled all the sea ways and river systems, but their control of these was compromised through war from invading Barbarians in the period of about AD 400 to AD 476 when Rome finally fell. One third may symbolise the third portion of the world ruled by Rome, the western part of the empire that fell to the Franks, Huns, Goths, Visigoths, Vandals etc.
Third trumpet (v.10,11) – A star fell from heaven on a third of the rivers and fountains. It turned the waters bitter and many died as a result.
The star, like a meteor, blazed for a short time and fell from heaven is symbolic of a powerful leader who rose quickly and fell quickly from power. This could be a Barbarian leader who rose briefly and fell from power as quickly. His influence was on the nations, but the rivers may indicate their commerce and supply lines were interrupted. Fountains of waters may indicate growth of the nations of peoples. Because of war many nations were stymied. The name of that meteoric person was “Wormwood” meaning bitterness. Because of his rule many died and became bitter.
Fourth trumpet (v.12) – A third part of the sun, moon and stars were smitten meaning that they did not shine by this fraction.
Now the third part of the sun, the moon, and the stars that was smitten, and darkness followed those events. The sun symbolises of a supreme ruler, emperor or king, and the moon and stars symbolize lower ranking princes, rulers or government officials. It seems to indicate the time when the power of the final Roman emperor, the ruler of the world, is greatly diminished or destroyed. His empire is overthrown, and as a result the consuls, senators, and great men who supported emperor were cast down. A period of intellectual, moral and spiritual darkness is symbolised.
An angel flies through the heavens calling woe, woe, woe. The trumpet angels (messengers) brought a messages of woe. By repeating the word ‘woe’ it means it was very bad. It also seems to signify a pause before a new era begins—the Dark Ages.
The following was excepted from the last section of this Bible Study Tools Commentary
I have explained briefly the symbolical significance of the visions which follow each trumpet blast of the first four angels. The next question is whether history has anything corresponding which follows the overthrow of Paganism and triumph of Christianity as predicted in the sixth seal. Thus far we have a complete correspondence between the series of symbols and the events of history, following each in regular order, events and symbols corresponding. Does this correspondence continue? Do we find that, as the four trumpet blasts are blown, four hurtful agencies long held back (the four winds) rush to the destruction of the Roman Empire? Let us see:
1. About A. D. 400, the “four winds” could be held no longer. The Goths gathered out of the mysterious lands of the unexplored North, and, like a mighty torrent, threw themselves, a mighty, dauntless, savage host, upon Rome. Barbarous as the Indians of the desert, they left behind their march, scarred, scorched, blackened, bloody and desolated lands. Countries blooming like garden were turned into treeless deserts. In A. D. 409, under Alaric, their king, they descended on Italy. It had not seen the face of a foreign enemy for eight hundred years. At last the hosts gathered around the Imperial City. After a long siege, in the dead hour of night, the gates were opened by the hands of traitors and the barbarians rushed in. For three days the sack went on before they were glutted with blood and spoil. Then, their leader having died, they retired, loaded with spoil. The iron hail of war, the fire of burning towns and cities, mingled with the blood of the slain defenders, the scorched and blackened lands denuded of their fruit trees, and the grass trodden under foot by the march of armies all correspond surprisingly with the language of the Scripture. It is strange, also, how the infidel Gibbon has chosen the very language of inspiration to describe some of the events of this period. I will quote a few phrases found in his thirty-first chapter and descriptive of the great invasion of Alaric and the Goths. “The tremendous sound of the Gothic trumpet” stirred the host to invasion. “At the first sound of the trumpet the Goths left their farms” to rush on in invasion. “The Gothic conflagration” consumed the empire. “Blood and conflagration and the burning of trees and herbage marked their path.” Here is surely a remarkable fulfillment of the symbolism that follows the First Trumpet.
2. The second trumpet implies a warfare upon the sea. Let us turn to history. The Goths completed their work about A. D. 409. About ten years later another mighty horde of northern barbarians was sweeping south. The principal tribe was called the Vandals, from whence our word vandalism. They rushed over Gaul, swept through Spain, leaped over the narrow straits of Gibraltar, and wrested northern Africa from the Roman dominion. Then they threw themselves like a burning mountain upon the sea and filled it with fire and blood. In order that they might assail Rome on the seas and carry their armies to the islands and to Italy, they built fleets and struggled for the mastery of the Mediterranean. For six hundred years no ship hostile to Rome had disputed the mastery of the sea, but now it becomes the theatre of war. Fleets meet in the shock of battle; the sea is reddened with the blood of the slain; the Roman ensign goes down, dyed in blood; the islands of the sea fall into the hands of the fierce barbarian, and at last, near thirty years after the contest began, their fleets land their armies in Italy, and they rush upon Rome. The city is besieged, falls, and for fourteen days a pitiless barbarian soldiery spare neither age nor sex. The spoil gathered for eight hundred years, from a hundred conquered nations, is carried away and loaded upon the Vandal fleets, and the blasted, scourged, and pillaged Capital is abandoned as unworthy to be held as a permanent possession. Surely these facts correspond to the Second Trumpet vision.
3. The blazing meteor that follows the sound of the third trumpet has been found to imply some mighty leader who suddenly appears and enters upon a baleful work. Is there such a leader? Before A. D. 440, the Romans knew nothing of the Hungarian nation. About that time there suddenly appeared, as a meteor would flash in the sky, a warrior upon the banks of the river Danube, with eight hundred thousand fighting men under his banners. They had come from the depths of Central Asia, marched north of the Euxine Sea through Russia, and now knocked at the river boundary of the Roman Empire. Overcoming opposition to their passage of the Danube, they rushed westward, crossed the river Rhine, and on the river Marne were met in conflict by the hosts of Rome. The historians tell us that the blood of slaughtered heroes made the river run with blood, and that from one hundred and fifty thousand to three hundred thousand bodies of the dead attested the fury of the conflict. Then they desolated the river Rhine to its mouth. Turning southward, on the banks of the river Rhone, the hosts met again in fury. Then, descending from the Alps, the fierce warrior, on the banks of the river Po, contended for the mastery of Italy. Victorious, he marched southward to seize the imperial prize. Unable to contend longer, Rome sent a priestly deputation to ask him to depart. By rich bribes and by work on his superstition they succeeded, and he retired, made Buda, on the river Danube, his capital and founded the Hungarian nation. When he died, his followers turned the waters of the Danube from its course, buried him in its bed, and then let them return to flow over the grave of the hero. Beneath the waters of the river Danube still lie the bones of the star called Wormwood, that fell upon the rivers. The trumpets have blown, three awful blows have been struck, and the weakened empire is ready to fall when the fourth trumpet blows.
4. The fourth trumpet. Read again the 12th verse . We have found that the Goths struck their blow about A. D. 409; the Vandals from the sea about A. D. 422; and Attila upon the rivers about A. D. 440. What follows? We are to seek the fulfillment in the next and final invasion of Rome. It occurred A. D. 476. Odoacer, king of the Heruli, a Northern race, encouraged by the apparent weakness of the falling empire, besieged and took the almost helpless city. Augustulus, the feeble emperor, was hurled down, the Roman Senate that had met for twelve hundred and twenty-eight years, was driven from the Senate chambers, the mighty fabric of the empire fell to the dust, and the great men were humbled never to rise again. Sun, moon, and stars, emperor, princes, and great men, are smitten, lose their power, and cease to give light. Nay, more. There now began the period called by all historians the “Dark Ages.” The fall of Rome introduced the period when, intellectually and spiritually, the day and night were darkened; when the minds of men were blinded, and when the Church, falling gradually into apostasy, gave forth for ages only a feeble light to human souls. Again the correspondence is complete.
THE THIRD PART.–The third part is named each of these four judgments. The first falls on a third part of the earth the second on a third part of the sea, the third on a third part of the rivers, and the fourth on a third part of the sun, moon, and stars. If they were to fall upon a third part of the great Roman world, (1) upon its land provinces, (2) upon its seas, (3) upon its river systems, and (4) upon emperors and rulers (sun, moon and stars), the whole would thus be fulfilled. This is just what took place. During a great part of the period when the events were taking place which are covered by the seven trumpets, the great Roman world was divided into three parts. Gibbon, Chapter LIII., says: “From the age of Charlemagne to that of the Crusades, the world (for I overlook the remote monarchy of China) was occupied and disputed by the three great empires, or nations of the Greeks, the Saracens, and the Franks.” “The three great nations of the world, the Greeks, the Saracens, and the Franks, encountered each other on the plains of Italy.”–Chapter LVI. “Three classes of men during the interval are conspicuous, the Saracens, or Arabians, the Latins or Franks, inhabitants of Western Europe, and the Byzantine Greeks.”–Phil. Inquiries, Part III. These quotations, which might be multiplied, show that during the long period of a thousand years, a period embraced in the fulfillment of the visions of John, the civilized world was divided into three distinct parts, and that these were clearly marked in history. It is upon one of these parts, a third part, the Western third part, called the Latin or Frank part, that all the calamities of the four invasions of Goths, Vandals, Huns, and Heruli fell. It was the Western third part, the Old Roman Empire, which fell forever under their blows.