Timeout: Disarray and Trivia in the Trumpets

If you have trouble understanding the trumpets in Revelation, consider this about the fifth trumpet (Revelation 9:1-11):

There is scarcely so uniform an agreement among interpreters concerning any other part of the Apocalypse as respecting the application of the fifth and sixth trumpets, or the first and second woes, to the Saracens (Arabs) and the Turks. It is so obvious that it can scarcely be misunderstood. Instead of a verse or two designating each, the whole of the ninth chapter of the Revelation, equal portions, is occupied with a description of both.

I have taken the quotation from a historicist reading of Revelation in the nineteenth century, under the heading “The Moslem World in Prophecy.” The writer says that 1) most interpreters agree on its meaning; 2) “it is so obvious that it can be scarcely misunderstood”; and 3) the fifth trumpet refers to the Saracens (Muslim Arabs) and the sixth trumpet to the Turks.

Who wrote it? My source is Uriah Smith (1832-1903), for one hundred years the most influential interpreter of Daniel and Revelation in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The statement appears as a quotation in Smith’s Thoughts on Daniel and Revelation. His source, in turn, was Alexander Keith (1792-1880), a Scottish clergyman who wrote copiously on prophecy and whose writings appear in uninterrupted quotations page after page in Smith’s book. The claim to clarity is disarming, showing a family likeness to other writers from that period, including Charles Darwin (science), Karl Marx (philosophy), Sigmund Freud (psychology), and Albert Schweitzer (theology). Lucidity, clarity, specificity, and certainty are characteristics common to all these writers, and Smith is no exception. Those were the days.

But Smith’s interpretation of the fifth trumpet has fallen on hard times. Today, there is no unanimity among interpreters; few will say that its meaning is obvious (I count myself as an exception; I believe the meaning is obvious); and very few agree that the fifth trumpet depicts the rise of Islam and the sixth trumpet the Ottoman Turks. A few holdouts persist, one of whom was the late R. A. Anderson. As late as 1974, he said this in Unfolding the Revelation of the fifth trumpet:

No more descriptive prophecy can be found in all the Bible. The blast of the fifth trumpet was fulfilled in the rise and progress of the Arabs. Arabia has been called ‘the pit of the abyss,’ because of its deserts and empty areas. It was here that Mohammedanism arose and spread like ‘a smoke.’ This false and fanatical faith threatened at one time to obscure the light of the gospel.

In Smith’s interpretation, the seven trumpets describe specific historical events, beginning with the demise of the Roman Empire. Throughout, he relied on Alexander Keith, who was indebted to Edward Gibbon’s inimitable prose. Blast after trumpet blast, Smith offers a succession of historical events.

FIRST TRUMPET: The blast of the first trumpet has its location about the close of the fourth century and onward, and refers to these desolating invasions of the Roman Empire under the Goths.

SECOND TRUMPET: The sounding of the second trumpet evidently relates to the invasion and conquest of Africa, and afterward of Italy, by Gaiseric (Genseric), king of the Vandals. His conquests were for the most part naval, and his triumphs were “as it were a great mountain burning with fire, cast into the sea.”

THIRD TRUMPET: It is here premised that this trumpet has allusion to the desolating wars and furious invasions of Attila, king of the Huns, against the Roman power.

FOURTH TRUMPET: We understand that this trumpet symbolizes the career of Odoacer, the first barbarian ruler of Italy, who was so intimately connected with the downfall of Western Rome. The symbols sun, moon, and stars — for they are undoubtedly here used as symbols — evidently denote the great luminaries of the Roman government, its emperors, senators, and consuls.

FIFTH TRUMPET: The meaning of this term may be learned from the Greek abyssos, which is defined “deep, bottomless, profound,” and may refer to any waste, desolate, and uncultivated place. It is applied to the earth in its original state of chaos (Genesis 1:2). In this instance it may appropriately refer to the unknown wastes of the Arabian desert, from the borders of which issued the hordes of Saracens, like swarms of locusts.

FIFTH TRUMPET (continued): Like the noxious and even deadly vapors which the winds, particularly from the southwest, diffuse in Arabia, Mahometanism spread from hence its pestilential influence — arose as suddenly and spread as widely as smoke arising out of the pit, the smoke of a great furnace. Such is a suitable symbol of the religion of Mahomet, of itself, or as compared with the pure light of the gospel of Jesus. It was not, like the latter, a light from heaven, but a smoke out of the bottomless pit.

What to say? Smith’s history-telling is lucid, monochromatic, specific, and brimming with certitude. He presents a history lesson to be learned — no ifs, ands, or buts. The exegetical and historical merits are not clouded by caveats or alternative points of view. It is, first, a stellar example of Miles’ Law, named after Rufus Miles (1910-1996), who served in high positions in the US government and taught at Princeton University. Miles’ Law puts it like this, “Where you stand depends on where you sit.”

Uriah Smith sat in Battle Creek, Michigan, and the temporal “where” was the nineteenth century. His point of view assumes common ground with the historical views and prejudices of his time, and his understanding of Revelation differs little from those of Alexander Keith. Smith also sits ensconced in a consensus bubble. There is no need to present an alternative view, to argue for and against, or to win the argument against competing options. Smith assumes that his audiences will acquiesce. They find his exposition in line with the textual evidence and sufficient for their needs.

Second, we see a world of distances. The distance is temporal and spatial. Temporally, four of the trumpets are in the distant past — featuring strange and scary names: Genseric, Alaric, Attila the Hun, and Odoacer. Smith has told it like it is. There is no felt need on the part of the audience to disturb the graves of the fallen. Spatially, the world of the trumpets affords the serenity and comfort of distance. Smith’s rhetoric does not have to reckon with Moslems in Battle Creek (or in New Jersey). He can say derogatory things about Islam without fearing reprisals or a contrary point of view. And he does. Islam occupies the whole of the fifth and sixth trumpet. Smith calls the religion thus depicted “noxious and…deadly vapors,” a “pestilential influence,” and “smoke out of a bottomless pit.” R. A. Anderson chimes in a century later, just before the comfort of distance is no longer possible, calling Islam “that false and fanatical faith.”

Third, we see a bold and rapid leap from the text to application, from the symbol to the historical referent. Few today will consider it responsible exegesis.

New Historicism

The foregoing is “Old Historicism” with respect to the trumpets. Time took a toll; its shelf-life was expiring. At the Theological Seminary at Andrews University, some fifty years ago, a revision took place to what I call “New Historicism.”

In 2012, Angel Manuel Rodriguez, formerly the director of the Biblical Research Institute, wrote an article in Ministry Magazine under the title, “Issues in the Interpretation of the Seven Trumpets of Revelation.” His article grapples with the new reality. Uriah Smith is no longer the only voice in town. The trumpets are Exhibit One in a newly arrived diversity. Rodriguez says that “the most important development in the interpretation of the fifth and sixth trumpets finds in them the rise of secularism and atheism in the Western world and…end-time Babylon.” “Because this is a major departure from the traditional approach, it is necessary to make a few comments about it,” writes Rodriguez. What is the problem, if there is one? It is this: “The question is whether this interpretation remains compatible with the historicist approach.” The view of the trumpets differs rather spectacularly from the views espoused by Uriah Smith. The following is excerpted from Ranko Stefanovic’s commentary:

FIRST TRUMPET: The biblical evidence leads one to conclude that the first trumpet blast portrays the consequences visited upon those who rejected and crucified Jesus and opposed the gospel. In the destruction of the Jewish nation with its capital city Jerusalem in A.D. 70, many of the Jews were ‘burnt up.’

SECOND TRUMPET: Like flames of fire from heaven came Genseric the Vandal, Alaric the Goth, and Attila the Hun, leaving in their wake scenes of ruin, desolation, carnage, and blood, irresistible and destructive as a flaming mountain, the hordes of barbarians fell upon the peoples of Rome (quoted approvingly from Edwin Thiele).

THIRD TRUMPET: If the first two trumpet sounds deal with the fall of the Jewish nation and the Roman Empire responsible for the death of Christ, then the scene of the blowing of the third trumpet has to do with the period of history following the fall of the Roman Empire…often referred to as the Dark Middle Ages.

FOURTH TRUMPET: While the third trumpet scene depicts in symbolic language the consequences of the spiritual decline and apostasy of the medieval Christian church, the fourth trumpet scene portrays the deepening of the prevailing darkness in the world in the period that followed the Dark Ages.

Next, the intellectual revolution of the Age of Enlightenment, or the Age of Reason, that characterized Europe from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries, ended the rule of Christian faith over the Western mind. The new phenomenon rejected traditional religion and led to the outgrowth of rationalism, skepticism, humanism, and liberalism. Its final product was the birth and rise of secularism.

FIFTH TRUMPET: Thus the fifth trumpet refers to the spiritual condition in the secular world and the consequences of such conditions from the eighteenth century to our time.

The oppressive rule of the church was replaced by the atheistic philosophy in various forms, such as deism, relativism, nihilism, nationalism, and communism.

The smoke from the demonic abyss may be observed, for instance, in the various movements within Christianity that are promoting a religion based largely on emotions, which has taken the place of the religion of mind and conduct. Yet this demonic smoke can equally be observed in the widespread New Age movement and the growing activities of Islam.

With respect to historical realities, much has changed from the Old Historicism to the New. The barbarian invasions are reduced from four trumpets to one. Islam, to Uriah Smith “so obvious that it can scarcely be misunderstood,” has barely made the short list, not as the blazing Ottoman Empire of old but in the form of “the growing activities of Islam.” All new is the Dark Ages (the third trumpet), the Age of Enlightenment (fourth trumpet), and secularism (fifth trumpet). What was succinctly political in the old view, is diffusely ideological in the new perspective.

The historicism of this interpretation has acquired an urbane, intellectual flavor that is not found in Smith. To Smith, the world is ending in late Ottoman times, and there is no need to engage the issues of the Age of the Enlightenment. Both Hans LaRondelle and Jon Paulien, forerunners of the Stefanovic commentary, take stock of Revelation’s use of the Old Testament. This is almost absent in Smith, who draws clean, uncomplicated, uncluttered lines from Revelation’s text to history. No less significant (in my view) is LaRondelle’s theological sophistication. He is versed in Christian apologetics in the twentieth century, and he knows the theological tradition. Coming together now in the exposition of the trumpets is the punitive tenor of Exodus and Deuteronomy and the Calvinist tenor of retribution. Let the evidence speak for itself.

The apocalyptic seals, and by extension the trumpets and bowls, are all to be understood as Messianic judgments. The enthroned Christ is the Lord of history, both the Lion of Israel and the Lamb of God (Rev. 5:5, 6). This means that the rejecters of the blood of the Lamb will have to face the “wrath of the Lamb” (Rev. 6:16, 17) (La Rondelle).

The seals reach their climax in the cry for vengeance from the martyrs under the altar. This cry is answered in the judgments of the seven trumpets which fall on those who do not have the seal of God (9:4). Thus, while the seals are church related, the trumpets have to do with those who oppose Christ through their opposition to the gospel. In the trumpets, judgment has begun for the rejecters of the gospel. In order words, the primary focus of the seals is on redemptive judgment, while in the trumpets the primary focus is on punitive judgment (Paulien).

The throwing of fire to the earth is followed by the manifestation of divine wrath in the form of peals of thunder and voices and flashes of lightning and an earthquake. These are the symbols of the appearance of God, much like his appearance on the Mount Sinai with fire, thunder, lightning, and earthquake (Exod. 19:16-19). This phenomenon represents the answer to prayer which God is about to give to his people. He is preparing to bring his righteous judgments and vengeance upon those who viciously harassed and oppressed the faithful (Stefanovic).

For those who read my previous submission (“Revelation’s Trumpets: The Devil is in the Details”), these views are unremarkable. Theologically, they are decidedly mainstream Protestant views with or without recourse to Revelation. The trumpet calamities are “covenant curses,” and they suggest a punitive logic in history. To Rodriguez the novelties pass muster. He says of these and five additional interpretations that the diversity “is tolerable as long as a particular historical fulfillment is in view and the biblical text has been carefully analyzed in order to justify that particular possibility.” He concludes magnanimously that “the views summarized in this paper are all compatible with the historicist method of prophetic interpretation.” And yet there is a red line. “As long as this particular methodology is not undermined, the church should allow for a diversity of interpretations.”

Disarray and Trivia in the Trumpets

To Miles’ Law again, “Where you stand depends on where you sit.” This law also applies to how a trusted Bible scholar at the BRI adjudicates new and old in Seventh-day Adventist approaches to Revelation’s trumpets. His “sacred cow” is historicism, and he is fiercely protective. I will use hyperbole (intentional exaggeration), but the bottom line is that you can say almost anything — you can move from Attila the Hun in the old view to Baruch Spinoza in the new — if you maintain a historicist framework. Such fluidity is possible because of where the interpreter sits: he sits within a Seventh-day Adventist context, and he is spared peer review by non-SDA scholars and readers. He also, surprisingly, sits in a post-modern context unlike Uriah Smith. For the latter, specificity and precision are intrinsic to historicism. In the New Historicism, imprecision and wide-ranging intellectual experimentation are not a problem. The thought that post-modernism salvages historicist readings of the trumpets may seem preposterous, but let it be tried.

The New Historicism is broad and accommodating with respect to what John’s visions meant to include. I have counted ten explicit -isms under the fourth, fifth, and sixth trumpets in what is now the most influential SDA commentary on Revelation: rationalism, skepticism, humanism, liberalism, secularism, deism, relativism, nihilism, nationalism, and communism. Three more are implicit, “movements within Christianity that are promoting a religion based largely on emotions, which has taken the place of the religion of mind and conduct” (“emotionalism”) and the assertion that the demonic smoke “can equally be observed in the widespread New Age movement (‘spiritualism’) and the growing activities of Islam (‘Mohammedanism’).” Gone are the good old days of lucidity, monochrome, and strange political powers. Welcome to the brave new world of complexity, polychrome, and ideological turf battles.

Where does the New Historicism sit? I doubt it sits in Berrien Springs, Michigan. My hunch is that it sits somewhere in the heart of post-war Europe, perhaps in Holland or Belgium, two countries where the preoccupations of the New Historicism were intensely felt, and I imagine these two countries to be points of contact between the old world and the Seminary in Berrien Springs. Biblical exegesis and apologetic priorities have blurred, with new concerns rising to the surface. Despite a list of ten or thirteen undesirable -isms, I wonder about the -isms that did not make the cut. What about colonialism, capitalism, racism, fascism, or male chauvinism? Should they be added to the list? Do they count as bona-fide historicist readings? As a physician, I would like to add childhood leukemia, anorexia nervosa, Alzheimer’s disease, and pancreatic cancer. Why would you not include them?

As a person born in the twentieth century, I insist on including the Holocaust and Hiroshima, if “historicism” is to have any meaning. This could well be my main source of intellectual and emotional distress. LaRondelle was thirteen years old when the deportations of 105,000 Dutch Jews began, most of whom perished at Auschwitz. Was this not enough of a horror to call to mind the imagery of the fifth and sixth trumpet within historicism?

I have put the words “disarray” and “trivia” in my headline. Unlike Rodriguez, I do not think “historicism” will stay credible with the dizzying moves from the Old Historicism of Uriah Smith to the New Historicism of LaRondelle outside the Adventist community. These trumpets give an uncertain sound. I do not propose to resurrect the world of Uriah Smith, but the timeline and proposed events (and ideologies) in the New Historicism are sure signs of disarray. Theologically, the New Historicism stresses a punitive logic in history. I lay that at the doorstep of a European theological tradition with a Calvinist tenor; I consider it a European theological legacy. For trivia, is it possible to move from the horrors of the fifth and sixth trumpets — locusts, scorpions, horses, tails, and tails that have heads — to “a religion based largely on emotions”? Such bizarre, immensely aspirational symbols — and such trite referents! It is possible to do this in the protected space of a reading community, but the result has much more to do with where the reader sits than what the text says.

Where to Sit

You will no doubt say that I cannot escape from the clutches of Miles’ Law any more than my historicist forbears and mentors. Is not the evolution from Old to New in the historicist paradigm proof of Miles’ Law? Must not my proposal reflect where I sit?

I acknowledge that I sit resolutely in a post-Holocaust world. Interpretations of the first trumpet invokes a punitive logic to the fall of Jerusalem and the fate of the Jews in the first and second century. It will not work to invoke that logic for the most searing event of the twentieth.

But that is not where I propose to sit. I propose to heed the summons to “come up here” at the beginning of the sequence of the seven seals (4:1). Look around — see if you can find an empty seat. There should be some because interpreters of Revelation tend to stay earth-bound, whether preterists, historicists, or futurists. The best seat is not somewhere on the timeline of history, either in Ottoman times or in the Secular Age, or somewhere in earthly space, like Battle Creek or Amsterdam. The best seat is inside the text of Revelation.

Now that we have found an empty seat — look around again.

Look at the One sitting on the throne and the scroll sealed with seven seals.

Notice the unease over the sealed scroll.

Feel the tension — the crisis in the heavenly council.

Hear the wailing of John in a nearby seat, sobbing inconsolably.

Look now at the One who has what it takes to take the scroll and break the seals — he looks like a Lamb that was killed with violence.

Look at the faces of those who have been sitting there for a long time, all the way back to when “war broke out in heaven.” What do they seem to think when the seven trumpets sound?

What do they think when they hear and see this in the sixth trumpet?

The heads of the horses were like lions’ heads, and fire and smoke and sulfur came out of their mouths (9:17).

A third of mankind was killed by these three plagues, by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone, which proceeded out of their mouths (9:18).

For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails; their tails are like serpents, having heads; and with them they inflict harm (9:19).

Do the seasoned members of the heavenly council connect the dots? Do they hear the echoes of God’s description of Leviathan in his speech to Job? Surely they do.

Its sneezes flash forth light, and its eyes are like the eyelids of the dawn. From its mouth go flaming torches; sparks of fire leap out. Out of its nostrils comes smoke, as from a boiling pot and burning rushes. Its breath kindles coals, and a flame comes out of its mouth (Job 41:18-21).

Do they also connect the dots — not only to the historical event that killed “a third of mankind” in the sixth trumpet — but to that day in the primordial world that took such a devastating toll on heaven?

His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth (Revelation 12:4).

Miles’ Law applies — it is true that “where you stand depends on where you sit.” If we sit inside the text of Revelation, up there, somewhere in the stands of the heavenly council, a stone’s throw from where the cosmic conflict began, we shall stand in relation to the message of the trumpets in a less vulnerable spot than the monochrome musings of the Old Historicism or the polychrome imaginations of the New. I will close with a rewrite of Uriah Smith’s take on the fifth trumpet, written from where I sit on the rearmost spectators’ row in the heavenly council.

There is no agreement among interpreters concerning the fifth and sixth trumpets, and yet it is so obvious that it can scarcely be misunderstood. Instead of a verse or two, the whole of the ninth chapter of the Revelation — the darkness, the locusts, the scorpions, the horses, the tails, the heads, and the mouth — is occupied with him.

I looked at the councilors from where I sat. They had goosebumps. Their faces were ashen. They knew full well what they had heard and seen.

Further Reading:

Revelation: For Re-Readers Only, January 5, 2019

Apokalypsis, January 8, 2019

Revelation and the Neighborhood, January 14, 2019

Timeout: Revelation and the Crisis of Historicism, January 18, 2019

Crisis in the Heavenly Council, January 21, 2019

Timeout: Cosmic Conflict vs. Historicism, January 25, 2019

Silence in Heaven — for about Half an Hour, January 28, 2019

Timeout: From Daniel to Revelation, February 1, 2019

Revelation 7: The 144,000 and the 233,000, February 4, 2019

Timeout: Storm Clouds over Historicism, February 7, 2019

Revelation’s Trumpets: The Devil is in the Details, February 11, 2019

Sigve K. Tonstad is Research Professor of Biblical Interpretation at Loma Linda University.

Main photo by Stephanie LeBlanc on Unsplash. In-line images courtesy of Wellcome Collection (public domain).

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9410
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Which view offers the most hope and assurance? The messages in Revelation are clearer than the identity of certain symbols and these messages shine above the problems associated with any particular interpretive point of view.

Thank you, Sigve, for having the courage and conviction to take a critical perspective on historicism. Your criticism of the taken-for-granted approach to acopalytic biblical literature in the SDA community is overdue. The irony of the ‘New’ vs. ‘Old’ historicism is that they both belie the necessity of a contingent interpretation of the so-called selv-evident ‘pillars’ of ‘Truth’.


As a teenager I was terrified by Revelation. now an old man, I find great assurance. He that John saw walking among the seven candle sticks is the one depicted in Rev 4 and 5.and the One descending as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. So I find Revelation as the full picture of Amazing Grace in a very wicked world and its fate.

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Tom, I remember you from LLU and appreciate your interest in Bible. You mentioned the One walking among the candlesticks. I think most people misunderstand, wonder what you think of this–

The Revelation that Christ gave to John, was not of Himself, but of “one like unto the Son of man…girt about the paps with a golden girdle.” Rev 1:13, KJV. The Greek word for paps is mastos, female breast. She is “in the midst of seven candle-sticks”–the seven churches in verse 20.

She tells Laodicea, You are…blind. Men usually recognize a woman by her breasts but Laodicea does not see who is knocking at the door.

As the US moves toward gender-confusion, it is important to get this right, because Christ said, “All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven.” Matt 12:31.

Who is She? We understand God as our heavenly Father from our Lord’s prayer, but we overlook our heavenly Mother. Paul says, “Jerusalem which is above is the Mother of us all.” Gal 4:26.

A city cannot be a mother–that’s Her name! Christ is Their only begotten Son, but we overlook Their Daughter–the Daughter of Jerusalem. In Isaiah 37:22, 23; 2Kings 19:21,22, She was “blasphemed”–a sin of speaking against God. She proved Her deity that night 185,000 Assyrians were slain!

Christ is the only begotten Son; She is the only begotten Daughter. Song of Songs 6:9. She is Christ’s Sister, brought up with Him, Proverbs 8:1,30. She is also seen to be “my sister, my love, my dove,” Song of Songs 5:2. She as the Spirit took the form of a dove at His baptism, anointing Him for His ministry. John 1:32.

Earthly relationships recognize a line of authority from father and mother to their children. This holds true in Scripture as well. The Godhead is not "co-equal"–"the head of Christ is God," 1Corinthians 11:3.

Paul who wrote half the New Testament said we can understand the Godhead from the things that are made, Rom 1:20. We find how this is so in Gen 1:26,27 & 5:1,2. Five times it says we are made in Their likeness and image; twice it says “male and female.” Seven is the numerical signature of God.

Little children can understand they are like daddy and mommy. Theologians either don’t want to believe it or they have overlooked facts. “All roads lead to Rome,” but we should turn and go in the opposite direction.

We saw that Revelation began by revealing ‘One like unto the Son of man.’ It ends with an invitation to a wedding. “The Spirit and the Bride say come.” Rev 22:17.

But the “and” is translated from the Greek with an epexegetical kai. It means, “that is so say.” We look again. “the Spirit, that is to say the Bride…”

Perhaps we should see the New Jerusalem ‘coming down as a bride’ as Christ’s wedding gift to Her–“My Sister, My Love, My Dove, My Undefiled.” S.S. 5:2.

They loved each other from eternity as They grew up together, Prov 8:1,30. But they put their marriage on hold when man was lost in sin. Together They have worked for our redemption–He intercedes in heaven, and She taking the form of the Spirit to in the hearts of all who invite Christ into their lives, Rev 3:20.

“The Spirit also helps our infirmities…making intercession for us” Rom 8:26 NKJ. She was speaking through Christ when She said, “I will not leave you orphanos, I will come to you.” John 14:18. We would have been lost if She had gone to heaven with Christ, but She would not leave us orphans in this sinful world.

So when the wedding begins in heaven, will we be there, ready to give Them our worship–worth ship that is fully due? This is the greatest story ever or never told. Will we share it, or will we be in a gender-confused Babylon calling Her He? Christ said blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven! Matt 12:31.

You may email direct, or I might not see , Ruhling7@juno.com

If I read the Trumpets right–rather than God attacking and punishing the earth for its sins and rejection of the Messiah–it’s the citizens and forces of earth that are attacking God and the Hebrew-Christian faith. Twisting it, abusing it and finding every possible way to wage war on the earth. It fits the picture of a lamb with an appearance of having been slain, bruised and bleeding. Bearly alive, after surviving the seals and trumpets.

This is shocking. It shows the meek and pacifistic side of heaven in its inability to wage hand to hand combat with the enemy. Heaven often sustains significant losses.

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Sigve, another very lucid expose of the failures of Historicism. I would love to read your commentary when it emerges? Can we have a hint towards this?

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This entire picture, sitting in those high bleachers, gave me goosebumps. When truth resonates, it overwhelms. Thank you.


Frank…I agree. For the life of me, I cannot figure out how anyone can seriously think the seals and the trumpets should be interpreted as God whacking His new Christian church with OT covenant curses. Hardly seems like a good teamwork approach to spreading the gospel, which is our job, right?

But what disturbs me the most, as I read this piece, was the less than studious or exegetical approach to interpreting the book of Revelation our church has taken over the years since Uriah Smith wrote his book…and how he appears to have simply modeled his writings after interpretations which were popular in the day. I guess I never knew this, and I find myself appalled. Even as someone who is not a biblical scholar, I can see obvious flaws in every page of the quarterly, which is filled with cliche after cliche. And the adult Sabbath School class I teach is in a catatonic state over my suggestions that we look more closely at the scripture itself.

When I suggested a couple of weeks ago that perhaps the rider of the white horse was not Jesus, one of the class members said in aghast, “But that would mess everything up”. And when I inquired exactly ‘what’ things would be messed up, he was speechless.

Maybe the real interpretation of the ‘lukewarmness’ of Laodicea is not so much a reflection of the laity, but the attitude of the church leadership with their apparent disinterest in seeking a real and relevant understanding of the book of Revelation and what it means to those of us who are living in-between the first and second Advent.


“Ranko Stefanovic’s commentary: FIRST TRUMPET: The biblical evidence leads one to conclude that the first trumpet blast portrays the consequences visited upon those who rejected and crucified Jesus and opposed the gospel. In the destruction of the Jewish nation with its capital city Jerusalem in A.D. 70, many of the Jews were ‘burnt up.’”

Jesus taught us to love our enemies, pray for them and do them good. Yet Stefanovic teaches that God blasted His enemies --killing over a million Jews (men, women and children) in 70 AD. Why? Because they disrespect and rejected Jesus. Then if that is not enough, God found new ways to punish the earth–he sent Islam.

Something is not right with this picture. Believers are required not retaliate when abused (persecuted), not even to be angry with an abuser or call them a fool. Yet God can freely blast humanity with all sorts of punishments (trumpets), even permitting believers who trust in him, to lose their lives, in the midst of God’s judgments. Does this make sense?

The opening of the seals shows a lamb (a defenseless animal, not able to even bit the wolf) bruised and beaten up, looking as if dead. As the sword went through believers who would not convert–the Lamb also received the blow. Again and again. In the end the conflict with evil was almost too much, even for God. No wonder John wept.

Evil is defeated by goodness. Not by using the same methods evil used–the bloody sword. Not by devestaving trumpets sent to punish the earth.


Yes…the lesson author’s approach seems like a misconstrual of how God will fulfill the Plan of Salvation. And don’t forget that while the angel told John in chapt. 4:1 that he would be shown what would happen in the future, the destruction of Jerusalem was at least 20 years before John wrote the book of Revelation.

The 7 trumpets are totally contained in the 6th seal…this is when all hell breaks loose and Satan’s true character is revealed fully. This is what he does when he is left to his own devices I wonder if the half hour of silence in heaven isn’t like the pause at the very top of the roller-coaster ride…right before your breath gets taken away.

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what an interesting, but funny thought. I love roller coasters, but I don’t keep quiet at the highest point, I yell out a lot!!! I start asking myself why did I do this? I start laughing, and sometimes I close my eyes. But you could be right, maybe thats what the silence is. But where would you see the seventh seal?

Thank you for work in distilling these thoughts on revelation within our community. The more I think about other ways of seeing revelation, the more I am encouraged. We need to find a way of reading revelation that brings us closer to the world we live in and closer to the God who lives amongst us. When we push against punitive logic we are telling ourselves in the same moment how to respond to evil done against us. So I prefer to read revelation in this way than in a way that requires me to carry a history book and to memorise dates and philosophies. this reading allows a non-scholar to also share with confidence not not arrogance or judgement.

I watch God’s Prophetic Surprises on youtube. Dan Smith plainly stated that he could not see what he was meant to see in the trumpets, from the time he was in seminary. I think that is true for many of us around the world, what the church wants people to see in the trumpets many can not see, so we are told whats in there and it never does stick because its hard to see the emperor’s new clothes.


Many scholars do support an early date for Revelation… before the destruction of Jerusalem. This was an older view that lost ground and is now gaining traction again, at least with some. Just a bit of a different idea.

Along with this, some see the harlot on the beast as a reference to Jerusalem, and also as the great city called Sodom, where our Lord was crucified. The former is in line with the OT imagery of unfaithful Israel as an adulterous woman or prostitute. No Gentile nation is ever called this. Only Israel, when they were unfaithful to the covenant relationship with God. The latter is a more literal reference to where Jesus was crucified. it wasn’t in Rome, nor was it by the papacy. It was outside the gates of Jerusalem. It’s a pretty heavy comparison.

Additionally, the harlot riding the beast ends up being attacked and devoured by it. Jerusalem and its leaders rode Roman political power to crucify Jesus, and to then put pressure on and persecute his followers, the fledgling church. However, by AD 66-70, in the midst of Jewish rebellion, Rome turned on Jerusalem and burned the temple to the ground, and destroyed the city. This would have been a timely and relevant message that John was delivering to the seven congregations, who faced pressure from both Rome and the synagogue down the street. It also fits this imagery in the book.

Could one say that what was reaped had been sown, and refer to it as consequences of rejecting God and his Messiah, and ostensibly covenant relationship? Jesus himself speaks about such results in the gospels for those who rejected him and his gospel of the kingdom. To reject the lifegiver is to reject life itself.




Remember that what the editors of the lesson quarterly do with the author’s manuscript may not reflect what the author originally wrote.

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Thank you Dr. Tonstad. Your understanding of the text is that of an artist and poet. Metaphors are neither or false; rather their strength is in what they evoke. Concluding with the view from a seat in the heavenly council and drawing our attention to the passages in Job of Leviathan was a masterpiece of poetic imagination.


Read: Metaphors are neither true nor false, rather they evoke.


Exactly! Would the original target audiences see history in advance as this book is read to them?
Are they going to recognize someone with a sword for a tongue as the Lamb of God? Are any two people in any age going to take the same message home with them?

How many would say, “How about that? The pope is going to lure people into receiving the mark of the beast!”


The information about those modifications was published elsewhere and from my observation, principally had to do with a more excoriated picture of the papacy, as well as references to the Trinity. I don’t believe the lesson author was modified significantly in relation to the 7 Trumpets lesson.

It would seem that Jesus’ 2nd coming is what happens right after the 7th seal is opened. Rev. 10:6b-7 says “…God will wait no longer. But when the 7th angel blows his trumpet, God’s mysterious plan will be fulfilled. It will happen just as he announced it to his servants the prophets.” NLT Also, Rev. 11:15-19 elaborates on the theme.