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The seven trumpets send forth commands from the divine court to bring judgment upon the iron beast foretold by Daniel. The first four trumpets overthrow the Western Roman Empire (and Rome itself) from 410-476 A.D. The last three are Islamic “woes” that overthrow the Eastern Roman Empire (and Constantinople, or New Rome) from 612-1453 A.D.
When Rev. 8:5 describes Gabriel putting coals from the golden altar into the censer and casting fire to the earth, John reveals little but invites us to search the Scriptures to see what this means. From Ezekiel 10:2 we discover that the angel of God decreed destruction upon Jerusalem in a similar manner. Likewise, Ezekiel 9:4 showed how God sealed the saints in Jerusalem before the judgment was decreed, even as John spoke of sealing the 144,000 in Revelation 7 prior to the opening of the seventh seal in Revelation 8.
And so, the latter part of Rev. 8:5 speaks of thunder, lightning, and an earthquake. The thunder and lightning speaks of the voice of God that is heard in the sons of God during that time. The earthquake is the upheaval of Rome. This suggests that God raised up unknown prophets during this time to issue warnings and also to speak the decrees of God into the earth.
These were voices crying in the wilderness, for as we have said, this voice of prophecy was patterned after the Elijah ministry, which prepared the way for the Messiah’s baptism of fire. Broadly speaking, this fiery baptism was designed to purify and cleanse the hearts of men through the action of the Holy Spirit. This was fulfilled at Pentecost and seen clearly in subsequent years in the Acts of the Apostles.
When this same “fire” is cast upon rebellious nations (rather than upon individual people), the results are more dramatic. The baptism of the Holy Spirit can bring internal earthquakes upon individuals, but when it comes upon rebellious nations that refuse to repent and to be cleansed, the “earthquake” can be devastating. Here the “fire” is the judgment of the “fiery law” described in Deut. 33:2 KJV.
Both manifestations of “fire” are seen throughout church history at various times. But it is only at the time of the end, when divine judgment has been meted out against the last beast manifestation, when the great stone Kingdom is ready to grow to fill the whole earth (Dan. 2:35), that the fire cast to the earth will have a more positive effect upon the nations.
Revelation 8:6, 7 says,
6 And the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound them. 7 And the first sounded, and there came hail and fire, mixed with blood, and they were thrown to the earth; and a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.
The earth is the Roman Empire, which is the iron “beast” kingdom of Daniel. A beast is a fleshly nation that is “of the earth” and does not conform to the standard of heaven. In other words, it conducts itself by Darwin’s law of tooth and claw and is motivated by the survival instinct. The trumpets are the warnings of war (Num. 10:9).
Hail is one of God’s weapons of war (Job 38:22, 23), which “shall sweep away the refuge of lies” (Isaiah 28:17). Hail is Truth, which alone can sweep away the lies of men. Trees are men (Deut. 20:19; Mark 8:24). Grass also depicts fleshly people, because “all flesh is grass” (Isaiah 40:6), which Peter interprets in the sense of being mortal (1 Peter 1:23-25).
So when the first angel sounds his trumpet, God sends the hail of Truth and the fire of the Holy Spirit, mixed with blood. If the blood of Christ is rejected, then man’s blood is shed in this time of tribulation. We read that a third of the men were judged by the fiery Law. This is how the Bible interprets its own symbolism.
In 410 A.D. Alaric the Goth took the city of Rome and sacked it for six days. His army removed all of the gold, silver, and gems that they could find and even tortured those they suspected of hiding their treasures. Within a week, the great and wealthy city of Rome was reduced to abject poverty. Gibbon writes of this on page 456, saying,
“The awful catastrophe of Rome filled the astonished empire with grief and terror.”
This directly affected about a third of the Western Roman Empire. Rome was not the only city that Alaric sacked. He sacked most of Italy. All the “grass” was burned, in that this literally affected everyone. There was much starvation as a result of the divine fire upon the land. The Goths ate what they could and destroyed the rest of the food. Alaric then tried to take Sicily as a stepping stone to Africa, but failed, because his divine mandate as the judge of Rome had ended. Gibbon writes about their attempt to take Sicily on page 459,
“Yet as soon as the first division of the Goths had embarked, a sudden tempest arose, which sunk or scattered many of the transports; their courage was daunted by the terrors of a new element; and the whole design was defeated by the premature death of Alaric, which fixed, after a short illness, the fatal term of his conquests.”
In His mercy, God unleashed only the first round of judgments upon the Roman Empire and then stopped it abruptly.
The stunned people tried to find a reason for this divine judgment. The pagans said it was because Rome had forsaken its traditional gods. The Church was put into the odd position of explaining how this might happen to a “Christian” city. This traumatic event occurred just 30 years after the emperor Theodosius made Christianity the state religion in 380 A.D. and 15 years after paganism had been made illegal.
Alaric destroyed the Christian myth that Rome—now a Christian city—was an eternal city that God would never allow to be overthrown. The next year (411) Augustine, bishop of Hippo in North Africa, wrote his famous City of God, explaining that Rome was not the New Jerusalem. The “city of God” was a spiritual city. In other words, since Rome was not the New Jerusalem, the sack of Rome was unrelated to the New Jerusalem. Like Jerusalem, Rome too could come under divine judgment—and for the same reasons as stated in Scripture.
While his basic premise was certainly true, the inescapable truth was that God had allowed a third of this Christian Empire to come under divine judgment. This could be explained only by apostasy and sin in the religion itself. This is the clear message of the book of Revelation. Yet the Church did not repent, for it did not know how to repent. The leaders did not understand that they were fulfilling the prophetic types of the Old Testament King Saul, the father of Christian Denominationalism. The problem with Saul was that the people desired to be ruled by men, rather than by God directly (1 Sam. 8:7). Through the papal claims, the church had rejected the rule of Christ.
Many have written about the rise of corruption in the Church, particularly beginning in the fourth century. I too have written of this in my book, Lessons from Church History. While studying this, I wondered what the primary factor was (in the sight of God) that brought about the divine judgment. Passages like Rev. 9:21 gives us a clue:
21 and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts.
These are the outward manifestations of the deeper “heart” of the problem. The Church under Pentecost was the fulfillment of King Saul, the first king of Israel. He was crowned on the day of “wheat harvest” (1 Sam.12:17), which was the day later called Pentecost. We have written extensively on that topic already in other writings. But this means that Saul was a type of the Church in the Pentecostal Age (“church age”).
When we study the story of King Saul, we find that God gave him authority for 40 years. He abused that authority by oppressing the people. He used that authority for his own gain and was willing to kill (David and others) to maintain power. Saul did not rule by love, but by fear. He was supposed to be the steward of God’s throne, but he usurped it as if it were his own. The result was that he ruled as other men ruled, and so, like King Nebuchadnezzar in Dan. 4:33, he was given the heart of a beast.
After Saul died, David began to rule Israel. David’s name means “love.” David was a type of overcomer who ruled by divine love after Saul’s time of authority came to an end. Meanwhile, David was trained by Saul, for David learned from Saul how NOT to rule. David also learned how to overcome evil with good (Rom.12:21). He learned also the principle in Matt. 5:38, 39,
38 You have heard it was said, ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,’ 39 but I say to you, do not resist him who is evil; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also.
The story of Saul and David are prophecies of the Church and the overcomers and their respective kingdoms. The Church in the first few centuries endured persecution and did not make any attempt to overthrow the Roman government. They followed Jesus’ instructions. There were numerous martyrs, people who were willing to die—not only for Jesus Christ, but also for their enemies. They followed Jesus’ example, for we read in Rom. 5:8-10 that few men would even die for their friends, but Christ died for the “ungodly” and for His “enemies.”
The Roman government was the Christian’s “enemy.” The Christians knew this, and they were willing to die for the sake of their enemies in order to manifest the love of God to them. And so whenever Christians died, more Romans came to admire them and to convert to Christ. This was how Christianity conquered Rome—by love, not by hatred or vengeance. The price was high, but it was well worth it.
However, as the Church received authority, it lost its first love. Christian zeal was soon turned into fanaticism. They still did not mind being martyrs, but now they saw it only in terms of defending the faith with the sword and dying for Christ in battle against the enemies. No longer were the Christians willing to give their lives for the pagans, heretics, or Jews. In fact, they preferred to oppress or kill the “enemies of Christ,” rather than die for them. So they increasingly made life difficult for the pagans, heretics, and Jews to “encourage” them to convert, even as pagan Rome, in earlier times, had tried to do with the Christians.
And so many pagans and other unbelievers did join the Christian religion, but with the wrong motive. They joined out of fear, ambition, or simply to find employment. The Christians presented Christ as a God to be feared, not loved. Pagans had to renounce one religion and join another. When they did so, they joined the religion, but they did not necessarily become members of the body of Christ. It simply brought paganism under the authority of the Church. This was the root of the problem and the primary reason for the divine judgment upon the Christian Empire.