The Seventh Trumpet – Revelation 11:15-19

When the seventh trumpet sounds, John hears loud voices in heaven declaring the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of the Lord and his Messiah (Christ), and the Lord’s messiah will “forever and ever.”

Four living beasts, Bamberg Apocalypse Bible

Revelation 11:15 states the kingdom “has come.” Aune says this aorist middle verb (ἐγγένετο, from γίνομαι) functions like a prophetic perfect. The verb “has come” is referring to something that has not happened yet but is so certain it can be spoken of as if it had already happened (Aune 2:638). Wallace would call this a proleptic aorist (GGBB 563). As an analogy, your mother announces, “it is time to eat thanksgiving dinner,” but there are several things that happen before you are sitting at the table eating the meal.

This kingdom belongs to “our Lord and of his Christ.” This is a clear statement the real Lord of this world is God, not any human who claims to be lord of this world. This anticipates the increasingly anti-Roman rhetoric beginning with the two beasts in Revelation 13 and culminating in the great whore of Babylon.

The messiah will rule the Lord’s kingdom. Although the word Χριστός is usually translated Christ, it is important to remember the word translates the Hebrew word usually translated messiah or “anointed one.” For example, in the Septuagint, the Lord’s anointed in Psalm 2:2 is מָשִׁיחַ , (māšîaḥ) is translated as Χριστός, a text applied to Jesus in Acts 4:26). This anointed one may be the king of Israel (David, 2 Sam 22:51) or some person chosen by God for a task (Cyrus the Persian, Isaiah 45:1). By the Second Temple Period, the messiah/Christ was used for the coming representative of God who would restore Israel. For example, Psalm of Solomon 18:6, “May God cleanse Israel for the day of mercy with blessing, for the day of election ⌊when he brings up⌋ his anointed one (LES2). In the Odes of Solomon 29:6-11, the writer believes in the “Lord’s Messiah” and considered him to be the Lord. This messiah will “subdue the thoughts of the gentiles and humble the strength of the mighty.”

This messiah will rule forever (εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων). This is likely an allusion to Daniel 7:14, but the idea God’s kingdom will never end is found elsewhere (Ps 146:10). In the Second Temple period book the Wisdom of Solomon, the righteous will “govern nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord will reign over them forever” (3:8, NRSV). In Joseph and Asenath “the Lord God will reign as king over them for ever and ever” (19:8).

The jubilation of the seventh trumpet stands in contrast to the seventh seal, silence in heaven for about a half hour. I suggested in an earlier post this silence is a form of worship, so the silence of the seventh seal answered by the noisy worship of the twenty-four elders. The seventh seal, trumpet and bowl each refer to the coming of the messiah, the defeat of the kingdom of man, and the beginning of the Kingdom of God.

The Fifth Seal: Martyrs in Heaven – Revelation 6:9-11

When the fifth seal is opened John sees all the souls of those had been slain for the word of God gathered under the altar of God calling out for vengeance.

Souls under the Altar

The altar (θυσιαστήριον) can refer to the altar in the court of the temple used for the daily sacrifices or the altar of incense inside the temple itself (Luke 1:11). But it can also refer to the sacrifice on the altar itself.

Who are these souls under the altar in Revelation 6? Are they just people killed in the tribulation or throughout the history of the church? Revelation refers to people killed for their testimony and their refusal to worship the beast (13:15) or refused his mark (20:4). The souls are under the altar because the resisted the kingdom of the beast. This could refer to all the martyrs for the whole history of the church (an idealist view) or just those who died in the tribulation (a futurist view). Beale suggests their location under the altar “emphasizes the divine protection that has held sway over their “soul” despite even their loss of physical life because of persecution” (Revelation, 392).

The people under the altar call out to God as “Sovereign Lord.” Lord is δεσπότης (despostes), a term that is normally used by a slave addressing their master, although it is used in the LXX 17 times for God. Aune points out it is a “regular Greek translation of two Latin terms for the Roman emperor” (Aune, Revelation 6–16, 407). This is a hint of the identity of the source of the persecution of God’s people in Revelation, the master who rules the world is not the real, “holy and true” master in heaven.

The people crying out are wearing white robes and are standing under the altar of God. To be under the altar is to be covered in the blood of the slain Lamb of God. In the seven letters, the ones who have overcome are given white robes (3:4-5; 18).

These souls ask God how long he will wait before avenging their deaths. The cry “how long?” appears in the Psalms and Zechariah 1:12. For example, Psalm 6:3, “my soul is greatly troubled, But you, O Lord, how long?” Psalm 13 begins with the words “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” Psalm 74:10, “How long, O God, is the foe to scoff? Is the enemy to revile your name forever?”

The Lord tells them to rest a little longer until the full number of their brothers is complete. This answer can be taken several ways. First, it could refer to the total number of martyrs is reached. This implies God knows how many have been chosen to give their lives. Second, some would take this as a reference to when the last martyr dies, then Christ will return and destroy the kingdom of the Beast. The view of the early church was that God had established a “number” for the martyrs. A third possibility is this refers to the end of suffering on earth in general This may include martyrdom, but some will survive until the end to enter into the kingdom.

The souls call on God to avenge them. This is a common Old Testament theme: God is the avenger of the innocent. The souls under the altar are making a legal complaint to God for justice. Since God is the “just judge,” the martyrs can ask him to give them the justice they deserve by punishing the ones who put them to death.

Psalm 9:13 O Lord, see how my enemies persecute me! Have mercy and lift me up from the gates of death,

Fourth Ezra has a similar theme. In 4 Ezra 4:35-37 the souls of the righteous call out “how long” and look forward to the harvest when they would be rewarded. Like Revelation 6:10, they are told they must wait until “the number of those like yourselves is completed.”

4 Ezra 4:35–37 Did not the souls of the righteous in their chambers ask about these matters, saying, ‘How long are we to remain here? And when will the harvest of our reward come?’ 36 And the archangel Jeremiel answered and said, ‘When the number of those like yourselves is completed; for he has weighed the age in the balance, 37 and measured the times by measure, and numbered the times by number; and he will not move or arouse them until that measure is fulfilled.’ ”

In 1 Enoch 9:10 the ones who have died of blood and oppression bring a lawsuit to the gate of heaven, described as groaning under in the face of their oppression.

1 Enoch 9:10 And now behold, the Holy One will cry, and those who have died will bring their suit up to the gate of heaven. Their groaning has ascended (into heaven), but they could not get out from before the face of the oppression that is being wrought on earth

The fifth seal therefore vividly pictures those who have given their lives resisting the empire and holding on to their testimony for the Lord waiting on the Lord to avenge their deaths. The Lord’s words are comforting, they only need to wait a little while. The Lord will judge rightly between the oppressor and the oppressed and he will punish and reward with justice.

A Rider on a Pale Horse – Revelation 6:7-8

If the natural result of war was famine, the natural result of famine is plague. The fourth horse is a sickly pale color, the color of death. The Greek χλωρός (chloros) is pale greenish gray (BDAG). Although the world is sometimes used for green grass or the flow of water, in medical texts the color is used in contrast to a healthy body, a “sallow” complexion (BrillDAG) or “typical of a corpse” (LN 79.35).

This is the only one of the four horsemen who is given a name: Death, and Hades following behind. Death is personified in Isaiah 25:8, for example. Hosea 13:14 refers to death and the grave as malevolent powers. In the Testament of Abraham16-20 personified Death comes to Abraham in the guise of youth and beauty.

Hades is the god of the underworld, the place of the dead. In the Septuagint, the word Hades is used to translate sheol, a Hebrew word meaning pit which is used for the place of the dead (Psalm 6:5, for example).

The four ways that Death is allowed to kill is drawn from Jeremiah and Ezekiel; this is a standard list of disasters which occurred when Jerusalem fell in 586 B.C. A similar list appears in 4Q171, and David Aune suggests Psalms of Solomon13:2-3, “The arm of the Lord saved us from the sword that passes through, from hunger and the death of sinners. Wicked beasts ran at them.” Dio Cassius describes the Second Jewish revolt in A. D. 135 using similar language (Aune 2:402).

Jeremiah 14:12 Although they fast, I will not listen to their cry; though they offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Instead, I will destroy them with the sword, famine and plague.”

Ezekiel 14:21 “For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: How much worse will it be when I send against Jerusalem my four dreadful judgments—sword and famine and wild beasts and plague—to kill its men and their animals!

4Q171 Col. i (frag. 1 line 26-27) Its [interpretation] concerns the Man of Lies who misdirected many with deceptive words, for they have chosen worthless things and did not lis[ten] to the Interpreter of Knowledge. This is why Col. II (frags. 1 II + 2 + 4Q183 3) they will die by the sword, by hunger and by plague.

Dio Cassius 69.1-2: Five hundred and eighty thousand men were slain in the various raids and battles [i.e., the sword], and the number of those that perished by famine, disease and fire was past finding out. Thus nearly the whole of Judaea was made desolate, a result of which the people had had forewarning before the war. For the tomb of Solomon, which the Jews regard as an object of veneration, fell to pieces of itself and collapsed, and many wolves and hyenas rushed howling into their cities.

Greg Beale suggests the four ways Death is given to kill humans is based on “the covenantal curse formulas of Lev. 26:18–28 and Deut. 32:24–26” (Revelation 383). He does not think there is a logical sequence from the first rider who is bent on conquest to the second (war), third (famine) and the fourth (pestilence). Although recognizing the curses do affect nations, they have “the dual purpose within the covenant community of purifying the faithful and punishing those disloyal to Christ” (384). For Beale, those slain by the plagues are “Christians as ‘slain’ and ‘killed’ (ἀποκτέννεσθαι) ‘because of the testimony that they held’” (386). This view does provide a neat segue into the fifth seal, the martyrs under the altar of God.

However, it seems best to see a general sequence of tribulation and persecution in the four horsemen, not unlike Jesus’s own words in the Olivet Discourse. In Matthew 24 Jesus describes a progression from international strife (wars and rumors of wars) to famine, earthquakes, persecution, and general apocalyptic events (eclipses of the sun and moon, falling stars, shaking of the “powers of heaven”). Revelation 6 follows this same pattern.

A Rider on a Black Horse – Revelation 6:5-6

When the Lamb opens the third seal, a rider on a black horse appears. The meaning of the black horse is famine. The natural result of war is famine, and the third horse is black horse, clearly intended to represent famine.

Scales Revelation Famine was well-known in the Roman Empire in the late first century. In A. D. 90 there was such a glut of wine and lack of grain that Domitian issued an edict forbidding new vineyards and commanding the destruction of half of the present vineyards so the land could be converted to grain production (Aune 2:398-99; Seutonius, Domitian 7.2). Asia Minor protested this edict and it was eventually reverse in A.D. 93.  It is possible John has this edict in mind with the time “do not damage the wine” (Aune does not think it is in the immediate background).

The rider is given set of scales used to measure grain and a voice declares a quart of wheat will cost one denarius. The English “quart” translates χοῖνιξ (chonix), a day’s ration for one person (BDAG). One denarius is about what an average working person could expect to earn for a day’s work. This means someone needs to work a whole day to earn enough to buy food for themselves for that day. If a man is supporting a family, his day’s labor will not feed his wife and children. Normally a denarius would buy as much as eight times the food. (Charles, 1:167; Aune 2:397).

A Roman soldier was issued thirty-two measures of wheat a month. According to Polybius, the standard ration was one “measure” for a man, and three for his horse (6.39.13). Barley is usually the grain given to animals, to feed one’s family with barley would be an indication of poverty.

Famine was an expected hardship in the ancient world. In 2 Kings 7:1 Elisha predicts merchants at the gates of Samaria will sell food at inflated prices: “a seah of fine flour shall be sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley for a shekel.” Although the weight/price is different, the idea is the same. Because of war, Samaria experienced famine and inflated food prices.

Famine is also common in apocalyptic literature. In the second Sibylline Oracle, the writer predicts famine, pestilence and thunderbolts in the final generation.

Sib. Or. 2.20–24 Then there will be bloody precipitation from heaven, but the entire world of innumerable men will kill each other in madness. In the tumult God will impose famines and pestilence and thunderbolts on men who adjudicate without justice.

Later in the same oracle, famine is one of the signs of the end:

Sib. Or. 2.154–157 But whenever this sign appears throughout the world, children born with gray temples from birth, afflictions of men, famines, pestilence, and wars, change of times, lamentations, many tears.

In the third Sibylline Oracle “a sign to mortals of sword, famine, and death” (Sib.Or. 3.335) combines several of the images found in the four horsemen of Revelation 6. See also 3.317; 3.476).  in fact, famine is mentioned often in the Oracles as a sign of God’s punishment. So too 4 Ezra 15:5, the Lord says ““I bring evils upon the world, the sword and famine and death and destruction.” In 4 Ezra 16:21, “the calamities shall spring up on the earth—the sword, famine, and great confusion.”  In 2 Baruch 27.6 famine and drought are included as the appointed calamities before the coming of the messiah (cf., 2 Baruch 62:4).  The Apocalypse of Abraham 30.5 lists pestilence and famine among the “plagues on the heathens.”

The irony of this famine is that the luxury items, the “oil and wine” are not in short supply.  These things are plentiful, but the people cannot afford them since them must spend all their money on the day’s bread.

Greg Beale suggests the inflated prices for food has Christians specifically in mind (Revelation, 381). He argued the second horse was not war in general but rather persecution of Christians. So too the third horse refers to the economic difficulties faced by Christians suggested by Revelation 2:9. In addition, those who do not receive the mark of the beast will not be permitted to buy and sell, forcing them the pay inflated prices outside of the price-contrlled agora.

While it is clear the book of Revelation describes the economic effect of loyalty to Jesus (they cannot buy or sell, they hunger and thirst), to limit this famine to Christians does not do justice to the scope of the first four seals. The first rider is bent on conquest, which results in war; continual wars result in famine. Food shortages in the Roman world were not limited to Christians.

A Rider on a Red Horse – Revelation 6:3-4

As the Lamb opened the second seal, one of the four living creatures called to the second horse. This horse is red, a color that is normally associated with war. The word for red here is actually the word associated with fire (πυρρός), hence the NIV’s “fiery red.” This is the same word which will describe the dragon on Revelation 12:3. Revelation 6:3 uses a divine passive: the rider was given a large sword.”

Although it seems clear this rider represents war, it is less clear what kind of war is intended. If the first rider is the antichrist, the natural result of an emperor bent on conquest is constant war. In fact, Jesus predicted there would be “wars and rumors of wars” as part of the birth pangs leading up to his second coming. For most interpreters, the red house represents “international and civil strife” (Charles, 164).

In the context of the first century, this is a reversal of Pax Romana. While the Peace of Rome was not a universal peace, it did mean that the Romans maintained peace and prosperity throughout the Empire. That the rider as a great sword may allude to Rome since in the Roman Empire, only the Emperor was allowed to ride with a sword (Aune, 2:396; Dio Cassius, 42.27.2).

When peace is taken from the earth, people will slay one another. The verb (σφάζω) is associated with violence and murder; it is a vivid word meaning “to slaughter, either animals or persons; in contexts referring to persons, the implication is of violence and mercilessness” (LN 20.72). In Revelation 5:6 the same verb is used to describe the Lamb standing “as though it had been slain.” Greg Beale says “is used by John without exception to refer to the death of Christ or his followers” (The Book of Revelation, 379). Beale does notice Revelation 13:3, one of the heads “seemed to have a mortal wound” (ESV), using the perfect passive participle of σφάζω. But since this is a parody of the death of Jesus, he considered it in the same category.

A problem for the view the red horse represents persecution of the followers of Jesus is the reference to people slaying one another. If the slaughter is persecution of the Lamb’s followers, then it is hard to see how they would attack one another.

In the Animal Apocalypse the writer says one of the fallen angels using a sword against the other animals and they attack one another:

1 Enoch 88.1-2 I then saw one of those four who had come out earlier seizing that first star, binding his hands and feet, and throwing him into an abyss—this abyss was narrow and deep, empty and dark. 2 Also one of them drew a sword and gave it to those elephants, camels, and donkeys; then they began to attack one another, and on account of them the whole earth was quaking.

Notice the animals attack one another. Later, the writer says “a great sword was given to the sheep” who then used it against all the other beasts of the field in order to kill them (1 Enoch 90.19).

This rider on a red horse therefore builds on the metaphor the first rider. Prior to the time when God intervenes in history to rescue his people, there will be continual civil strife, “wars and rumors of wars.” What is important here is the appearance of peace in the Roman Empire in the first century is an illusion. John is predicting the breakdown of peace as human empires strive against one another.