This fifth article in the series on the Apocalypse details the events associated with the seven trumpets in Revelation chapters 8 and 9 and shows their relevance to today.

First trumpet

Revelation 8:7 “The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.”

395–410 Invasion of the Visigoths and under Alaric

In fact it is arguable that the first trumpet started to be blown during the reign of the emperor Valens from 364 – 378. During his reign came the first serious challenge from the Goths, and they succeeded in defeating Valens at the battle of Hadrianople in 378. By 400 the Goths had crossed the Danube and proceeded to conquer Illyricum (modern Yugoslavia, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania etc). During the next ten years they repeatedly entered Italy, and by 410 had besieged Rome three times. Interestingly, the western migration of the Goths was in part triggered by unusually severe winter weather in their territory to the north of the Black Sea. This was not the first or the last time that God has used the weather to bring about His purposes with the nations of the earth. Another significant marker of Rome’s decline under the first trumpet was the abandonment of Britain by the Roman legions in 410.

Second trumpet

Revelation 8:8,9 “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.”

429–477 Invasions of Genseric and the Vandals

As the text implies this judgment affected a maritime area of the Empire. The Vandals attacked through Spain and conquered North Africa, the coastal strip that formed the African element of Rome’s Empire. So it was a different “third” of the empire that was affected, as foretold.

Third trumpet

Revelation 8:10,11 “The third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters; And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.”

433–453 Attila and the Huns

Note that the third trumpet begins to sound whilst the second is still sounding. Attila is ironically known to history as “the scourge of God”. Although unbeknown to most historians he was indeed fulfilling the purposes of the Almighty. Whilst Attila did not establish any lasting conquest of the Empire, he thoroughly weakened it by repeated incursions over a twenty year period and by the need of the Eastern Empire to resist his threats. Once again Rome was besieged and would have been sacked by Attila had not Pope Leo the Great persuaded him to abandon this intention.

The Campaigns of Attila and the Huns[1]

Gibbon has an interesting discussion on the back- ground and history of the Huns in which he shows that they originated in Asia and had earlier challenged China. It was this threat that led to the building of the Great Wall of China. As Chinese power grew so the Huns were forced westward, eventually fulfilling the Divine design of contributing to the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Traditional Christadelphian views of prophecy have sometimes been questioned on the grounds that they do not take into account the great power and vast populations of nations like China. But here is an example of the way in which God used this great power to work His purpose in Europe and the Middle East, those areas which have always been the focus of His work amongst the nations. He is, and always has been in charge of all nations in their relations to each other.

Fourth trumpet

Revelation 8:12 “The fourth angel sounded, and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars; so as the third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise.”

476–550 Odoacer the Ostrogoth conquers Rome

476 marked the end of the Western Empire. In less than a century from Yahweh beginning to answer prayers of the saints in response to persecution and the trinitarian apostasy the empire of the west had fallen. The Ostrogothic Empire lasted for around seventy years after Rome fell.

The Ostrogothic Empire[2]

The extent of that empire and other barbarian rulers was considerable. The Eastern Emperor Justinian was able to reconquer some of the losses including Italy, in the 6th century, through the military brilliance of his general Belisarius, but the reconquest was brief. By 568 the Lombards had taken Italy except for a small portion of territory around Ravenna in the north. The Visigoths had reconquered Spain by 624, and by 700 had finally taken North Africa by the Arabs. Ironically the testimony of many historians is that Justinian neglected and weakened the east by putting so much effort into the reconquest of part of the west. This served to facilitate the work of the 5th and 6th trumpets.

The symbology of verse 12 is appropriate to the end of a portion of the empire. Repeatedly in Scripture the sun, moon and stars represent the political authorities of various powers. The darkening of these heavenly bodies indicates their demise. The identity is determined by the context. In the following passages the symbol is used of Babylon (for context see Isa 13:1), Egypt (for context see Ezek 32:7,8) and Israel (for context see Luke 21:24) respectively.

“For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine” (Isa 13:10).

“When I shall put thee out, I will cover the heaven, and make the stars thereof dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light” (Ezek 32:7).

“There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring” (Luke 21:25).

Thus ended the might of ancient Rome in Western Europe. But there were further judgments to come. “I beheld, and heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabiters of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which are yet to sound” (Rev 8:13).

Judgments on the Eastern Roman Empire

Justininian’s temporary reconquests have been noted above, but the fate of the Eastern Empire had been foretold and the beginning of that end was now at hand. “Justinian’s conquests were fleeting and in the years succeeding his reign Byzantium was never at peace. By the Ninth Century the Moslems had overrun much of the territory and had established extensive domains in the Holy Land, an event which led directly to the sack of Constantinople by the Latins during the First Crusade. Eventually, an overwhelming desire to conquer Constantinople filled the Moslems, and the city finally fell to them in 1453 after a forty day siege—one of the most extensive sieges ever raised in Medieval times.”[3] Such is the summary of the period occupied by the 5th and 6th trumpets by the editor of the abridged Gibbon; a very apt summary for our purposes here.

The rise of Islam began in the 7th century, a century and half after the Western Empire had fallen. Not only did the judgments on the east begin later, they took longer to complete, covering more than 800 years. Why was this? The basic reason for the judgments was the same; apostasy from the true gospel and the worship of idols. Thus the role of the locusts under the 5th trumpet is described, “It was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads” (Rev. 9:4). They were directed against those who had not the seal of God. It would therefore appear that apostasy was slower to develop in the East. Certainly the trinitarian doctrine originated in the West, and also the worship of the Bishop of Rome, so objectionable to Yahweh, was seen primarily in the West. The East was slower to follow these ways, and its judgments were delayed, and prolonged, giving opportunity for repentance.

Fifth Trumpet

The chronology of this trumpet covered a total of 300 years. This is indicated by the two-fold reference to “five months”. “To them [the locusts] it was given that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months: and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when he striketh a man. And they had tails like unto scorpions, and there were stings in their tails: and their power was to hurt men five months” (Rev 9:5,10). A month is thirty days. Using a day for a year, five months is 150 years. But since the period is repeated it indicates a total of 300 years but split into two equal halves of 150 years. The total period may be dated as follows:

622—flight of Mahomet from Mecca to Medina; Islam proclaimed as the true religion; the start of Islam as a major force to 922

Or

632—death of Mahomet; Arabs set out to spread the new religion of Islam to 932—end of Saracen wars against Eastern Empire.

The first 150 years comprised rapid Arab and Islamic expansion into the territory of the Eastern Empire, although this was slowed dramatically in 732 with the defeat of the Arabs by Charles Martel, King of the Franks.

The spread of Islam[4]

By the end of this 150-year period the Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire had been reduced to a mere rump of its former self. The Middle East, North Africa, as well as Spain were now in Arab hands.

The second 150 years actually witnessed a slow decline in Arab power in parts of Spain and Thrace, though the Middle East and North Africa was still held. The Times Atlas of European History summarises the period thus in relation to the Arabs. “In the Arab world, while the Umayyad emir Abd al’Rahman and his descendants ruled in Spain from 756, at the other end of the Mediterranean the Abbasids held sway in the Middle East well into the 9th century, though a diminution of their power was becoming evident, while the Arabs were active as a maritime power for the first time throughout the Mediterranean.”[5] This however was the period of the Saracen wars against the Eastern Empire.

Note that the terms of the prophecy were that the locusts or Arabs were to torment and hurt (Rev 9:5,10) the Eastern Empire, but not to destroy it.

We do not have space to discuss in detail the identification of the symbols in Revelation 9 with the Arab Islamic powers. Brief notes on a few key points will however largely establish the case. “The fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit. And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit” (Rev 9:1,2).

The “star” is, we believe, Mahomet. The symbol is used elsewhere of a great leader. “I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth” (Num 24:17). The “key” represents the authority given by God to establish a kingdom to further His purpose. (Compare—“The key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open” (Isa 22:22). The “bottomless pit” is Arabia, adjacent to the most low-lying area on earth. And the “sun [being] darkened” refers to the decline in power and extent of the Eastern Empire.

Possibly most telling of all is the symbol of the locust. “There came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth: and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power. And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads” (Rev 9:3–4). These are clearly symbolic since literal locusts eat almost any “green thing” and do not hurt men, quite the opposite of the role of these locusts. The locust was the heraldic symbol of the Saracens, who figured largely in the second 150-year period. Also, although the New Testament was written in Greek it is worth noting that the Hebrew word for “locust” is arbeh; probably close to our “arab”. Note also the appropriateness of the symbol. Locusts are active for five months in the year, from late May to early October. Thus the symbol refers to two periods of five months.

Sixth Trumpet

“The sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, Saying to the sixth angel which had the trumpet, Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates. 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” (Rev 9:13–15).

The next trumpet to be blown heralded the end of the Eastern Empire. It was accomplished by successive incursions of four Asian and Turkish powers, represented by the four angels. These were the Seljuks, Mongols, Tartars and Ottomans. Of the last of these, who were to conquer Constantinople, The Times Atlas states: “The Ottoman Empire was the most dynamic military power in Europe, western Asia and North Africa in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries.”[6]

Successively over a period of just over 391 years these forces finally conquered the seat of the Eastern Emperors. The period is specified in verse 15. Taking the elements in reverse order, using the day for a year method:

A year = 360 (symbolic) days = 360 (literal) years

A month = 30 (symbolic) days = 30 years

A day = 1 year

An hour = 1/12th of a (symbolic) day = 1 month Total = 391 years and one month.

In 1062 Togrul Beg, grandson of Seljuk, married the Caliph’s daughter. He died shortly after in the same year and was succeeded by Alp Arslan who led the first Turkish cavalry across the Euphrates against the Eastern Roman Empire. This began the 391 years and one month period, which ended on the 29 May 1453. But the European descendants of the Romans did not even now repent of their apostasy, although almost 1000 years of Divine trumpet judgments was brought to a close in 1453. “The rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk: Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts” (Rev 9:20–21). Initially this lack of repentance was manifested in the Crusades as so-called christians tried, vainly, to recover the Holy Land from the Turks. That was not to happen until the other prophetic time periods had run their course. For example, Islam began its serious push against the Roman Byzantine power in 657. Add to this the 1260 day-years of Daniel 12:7, and we arrive at 1917, when the Ottoman Turk was finally removed from Palestine. That is another study. But we note its relevance here in that it marks a key point in the drying up of the Euphrates (Rev 16:12). That process is still going on, and will continue until Russia, Eastern Rome’s political successor, retakes Constantinople in our day. This drying up process is the reversal of the historical and angelically controlled process unleashed by the four angelic powers of the Euphrates in Revelation 9:14.

The Relevance to us of the Trumpet Judgments

Because repentance did not follow the six trumpet judgments, a 7th trumpet was blown, within which are contained all the vial judgments up to the establishment of the Kingdom. There is thus a link between those far off days and our own in the prophetic scheme; a link made very pertinent by events in 1999.

The first four trumpets brought down the Western Roman Empire. It was succeeded in part by barbarian kingdoms, but also in part by the rising power of the Papacy, which thereafter was a major force in Europe.

The Eastern Roman Empire was brought down by a combination of various Islamic powers, primarily Arabic and Turkish. In Constantinople the Christian apostasy eventually followed not Rome, but what has come down to us as the various branches of the Eastern Orthodox church. The east/west split in the church occurred in the 9th century. Broadly this coincided with the growing power and independence of the Kievan Rus, the origin of modern Russia. Its rulers converted to Christianity in 987.

Thus, during the demise of the old Roman Empire, Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Islam came into conflict. In the last 150 years nowhere has that conflict been more obvious than in the Balkans. The Crimean war and its aftermath and the First World War are prime examples. And now once again we see this potent religious and ethnic mix causing suffering and war in the Balkans. The Kosovans are followers of Islam. The Serbs are Eastern Orthodox Christians. The Roman-Catholic directed European Union in part leads NATO. The European Union sees itself as a revival of the Holy Roman Empire and as such fulfilling historical destiny. The editor of the abridged Gibbon wrote in his conclusion, “The concept of the Roman Emperor embodied in the Holy Roman Emperor was a tradition that continued through the ages. It was the dream of Charlemagne… it was one that inspired the passions of Napoleon and Kaiser Wilhelm—and remains the ideal for all who aspire to power on a similar scale.”[7] Moscow has long seen itself as the “third Rome”. And these powers, through their proxies, are now reversing the advances of Islam of long ago, completing the drying up of the Euphrates, and preparing the way of the Kings of the Sun’s rising. How careful we should be to be ready each day to meet the Master at his return; the prophetic scheme is almost complete, its course almost run. “Even so, come Lord Jesus”.

References

[1] Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire page 220

[2] Ibid page 235

[3] Ibid page 243

[4] The Times Atlas of European History; 2nd edition, 1998, page 56

[5] Ibid page 60

[6] Ibid page 96

[7] Gibbon, cited above, page 243