In the Bible we encounter symbolic dreams as early as the story of Joseph in Genesis 40. You might remember how the butler dreamed of grapes and the baker of bread. Then later, Pharaoh fetched Joseph out of prison to explain his two dreams of cows and corn.
In each case the symbols used in the dream pointed the interpreter to the true subject; for example, a dream about a baker featured bread, and one about a famine featured skinny cows.
We pray too little.
Daniel and Revelation follow that pattern. A vision about the sanctuary (Daniel 8) is presented in sanctuary symbols (ram, goat, horns, “daily”), while one about the history of God’s church (Revelation 2; 3) features churches from Asia Minor. A prophecy climaxing with the seal of God and the resulting silence in heaven (Rev. 4:1–8:1) uses “seals” on a book as its leading metaphor.
The “seven trumpets” of Revelation 8–11 is the largest of the prophecies. Here the history of the fall of the Roman Empire is illustrated by warning blasts from the brass instrument. And why illustrate the fall of the Roman Empire? In Daniel we find the familiar four empires, (Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome) followed by Christ’s kingdom. When Revelation is written, three of those empires are gone, and the last one is already in decline. So the book of Revelation begins logically with God’s judgments on the one remaining empire.
Accordingly, the first four trumpet messages (in chapter 8) foretell the punishment of western Rome by barbarian tribes such as the infamous Vandals. The next two trumpets (Revelation 9) introduce powers that God used to execute judgment on apostate Christianity. The rise of gun powder, artillery, and also of the religious influence of the Muslim fighters are each described.
Our own day is pictured by the final trumpet, the seventh. Here the scope is broadened, and we see that God will punish the world for its opposition to the law of God.1
In our short study today we will look at two key points. First, from the introduction (Rev. 8:2–5) we will observe Christ’s work in the heavenly sanctuary. Then, in the final section of the prophecy (Rev. 11:15–19), we will look at how our choices today will affect our standing when consequences come.
Christ’s Ministry (Rev. 8:2–5)
Another angel comes and is given “much incense.” These sweet smells, offered with “the prayers of all saints,” remind us that we may not come into God’s presence unbidden. This angel is no other than Christ meditating in prayer. It is grace, the sweet smell of Christ’s perfect righteousness, that makes our prayers acceptable to God (Eph. 5:2). If Jesus Himself handles our prayers personally, how is it that we pray so little? If we are bidden to come “boldly” before the throne, why do we do so only casually and occasionally?
In our passage we see the future end of Christ’s work as Mediator. The censer being cast to the earth full of hot coals calls our attention to the reality that someday Jesus will step out of the sanctuary.
By comparing Revelation 8:2–5 and Revelation 11:19 one can see that the history of God’s judgments on earth occurs at the same time as Christ’s ministration in heaven. In other words, while Christ aids His faithful persons here, He simultaneously punishes daring rebellion in the empires that oppress them. These are the two aspects of His work, as Mediator and Judge, highlighted in Revelation 8–11.
The Seventh Trumpet (Rev. 11:15–19)
When the seventh trumpet sounds, Jesus in heaven is given the kingdoms of this world. As He accepts this honor, heaven rejoices that He is about to return to earth to finally take it back.2
When Jesus returns, He will destroy those who by pollution or moral corruption have defaced the planet (cf. Rev. 11:18).
The passage on the seven trumpets concludes with pictures of both the heavenly sanctuary (with the Ten Commandments in the ark) and of God’s punishments on earth in the seven last plagues (compare Rev. 11:19 and Rev. 16:18–21). These are His two works. Soon both will be done.
While Jesus yet urges our prayers before the throne as if He were the one making the request, why would we pray little? While His enemies are being judged, why would we neglect to become His friend?
And if the small book of Revelation devotes a whole chapter to Islam, ought we not to be more purposeful in sharing the teachings of the prophets with our Muslim peers? Perhaps your friends would be more interested than you might guess in knowing that God used the forces of Islam to punish the idolatry and sexual sins that characterized the Holy Roman Empire. And if you can pivot from there to showing how the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation have accurately foretold two millennia of history, you just might have a conversation that settles you in the faith even as it invites others to share your faith. We pray too little. We bury our light under a bushel too naturally. The light and power of Jesus are available through His ministration and through His revelation. These are facts worth pondering.
1. For a verse-by-verse commentary on all seven symbolic messages in this large section of the Bible, see the following sources: Uriah Smith, “The Seven Trumpets,” http://www.e-hope4all.info/media-eng/SevenTrumpets-UriahSmith.pdf; Kenneth Mathews Jr., Revelation Reveals Jesus, vol. 1, pp. 465–496; Eugene Prewitt, “Revelation 8 to 11 and the Seven Trumpets,” BibleDoc .org, http://www.bibledoc.org/revelation-class/revelation-8-to-11-and-the-seven-trumpets/; James White, An Exposition of the Seven Trumpets of Revelation VIII & IX, 3rd ed., rev. and enlarged (Battle Creek, MI: Steam Press, 1875), https://www.whitehorsemedia.com/docs/an_exposition _of_the_seven_trumpets.pdf.
2. For Ellen White’s comments on this section, see “To Those Who Are Receiving the Seal of the Living God,” January 31, 1849, EGW Writings, https://m.egwwritings.org/en/book/509.1.