A lot of the teachings that influenced my early Christian life presented the book of Revelation as a mostly chronological account of future events, terrible judgements on the earth, that the church weren’t expected to experience personally because we would be removed from earth beforehand.
This removal occurred through an event known as “The Rapture”, a snatching up of believers from the earth to be with Jesus. While many Christians wouldn’t disagree about the expectation of some version of this future event, there is a deal of disagreement about when it will happen.
My introduction to “The Rapture” was through a pre-tribulation mindset, meaning as I said above, that believers would be taken from the earth prior to the terrible events described through much of the book of Revelation, a period defined as “The Tribulation”, or “the Great Tribulation”.
I don’t recall when or why I started to question that common belief, maybe it was a realisation that throughout Christian history, believers have already experienced extreme persecution and suffering, so why should my generation be different (the rapture was always expected to happen at any time, within my own lifetime)?
I decided to see what scripture said. It was the first time I’d actually undertaken a search of the scriptures for myself, to check what I’d been taught.
I found that some parts of Revelation are strictly chronological, but a lot of it isn’t. I also found it brought to light problems with what I’d been taught.
In this post I want to look very briefly at what I see as the most clearly chronological parts: the progression of God’s final judgements released from Heaven, onto the earth, depicted through the opening of 7 seals, the blowing of 7 trumpets and the emptying of 7 bowls.
I’m not going to look in specific detail at each judgement. I want to address the general issue of how those seals, trumpets and bowls relate to each other. I can only hope that readers will carefully consider what I say below, and check it with scripture (and let me know if I’ve overlooked or misunderstood something).
Those earlier teachings tended to draw a strict, straight line of 7 seals followed by 7 trumpets, followed by 7 bowls. Since then I’ve come across other ideas but could never see the validity or the logic of their arguments.
So what did my own study suggest to me?
When each of the first six seals are opened, it leads to some kind of event happening on earth, but at first reading, the seventh doesn’t seem to do anything like the previous six, there seems to be no effect on the earth:
“When He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour”…
However, as we read on it can be seen that the opening of that seal ushers in the Trumpet judgements, which DO result in judgements upon the earth.
“And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets… So the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.”
I believe that the biblical text describes the opening of the seventh seal as releasing the following trumpet judgements.
Like the first six seals, the first six Trumpets result in various catastrophic judgements on the earth, and then (like the last seal) the seventh trumpet seems different. There appears to be no specific, separate judgement released by its sounding, instead “there were loud voices in heaven” – (note the contrast between these loud voices in heaven with the silence in heaven after the seventh seal).
Those voices announce that: “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!”
After a lengthy interlude the bowl judgements are described. Just as I suggested that the result of the seventh seal is the ushering in of the seven Trumpets, I’d suggest that the blowing of the seventh trumpet brings about the ensuing bowl judgments.
In very simplified terms, I see that the trumpet judgements are the result of the seventh seal being opened, and likewise, the bowl judgements are the result of the seventh trumpet being sounded (and by progressive association, the bowls are also linked with the opening of seventh seal).
The following chart is something I drew up over 30 years ago. At the time my ideas were still being shaped by some of the terminology I’d picked up through those popular teachings of the time; such as “The Great Tribulation”. I’d now suggest that term, as well as the other label “The Wrath of God” be ignored on this illustration. I not only find them irrelevant, they potentially mislead. I include the diagram for it’s overview of the seals, trumpets and bowls, rather than the smaller details.
Following is a rough diagram I drew up more recently as a simplified illustration. What this diagram shows that isn’t evident in the above, is that the final completion of all of the seals, trumpets and bowls, coincide at the same point in time: at the return of Jesus, represented by the final vertical line.
I recall I once described aspects of these judgements as resembling those Russian dolls that stack within each other, with the Bowls being stacked within the last trumpet, and the seven trumpets being stacked within the last of the seals.
However that illustration was denounced by one reader, because (he said) the word doll comes from the word idol, and therefore my use of it bordered on the demonic.
Someone might ask what the point of this speculation may be – does it really matter?
Maybe not to you or to others, but it helped me make sense of something.
And here we come back to the topic of the previous post and its darkened sun, blood moon and falling stars. That event is described in Revelation as the result of the opening of the sixth seal, clearly long before the majority of the expected “Great Tribulation” events promoted by those teachings I’d previously believed; and yet Jesus had stated that this would happen “immediately after the tribulation of those days“, soon to be FOLLOWED by the sending forth of His angels with a great trumpet “and they will gather together His elect from the four winds from one end of the sky to the other”.
Compare this to: “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”
And with this: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.”
[note: these possibly/probably coincide with that last vertical line in the second illustration above]
At the least, I think what I’ve written about above well and truly blows a lot of traditional teaching of the rapture and “The Great Tribulation” out of the water. The timing required for those teachings isn’t backed by what scripture says.
But more than that, it helps me make sense of the timing of the Lord’s return, and the gathering of His saints, revealed in those other parts of scripture quoted above.
In the traditional teachings I’d previously held, there seemed to be a significant gap between the events of the sixth seal (dark sun, blood moon, falling stars) and the blowing of the seventh trumpet (rising of the dead and the catching up of those still alive) – and what about the post-last trumpet bowl judgements? – but when I recognised the above described relationships between the seals, trumpets and bowls, the perceived disconnect seemed to be mostly resolved .