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Question expansion

Seals 1 - 5 are fairly self-explanatory and seem to echo the words of Jesus, e.g.:

Matthew 24:6-8 (Seals 1 - 4)
You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.

Matthew 24:9 (Seal 5)
Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.

Then Seals 6 and 7 seem to tie in to Trumpets 1 - 7, thematically (Seal 6) and structurally (Seal 7).

Is there any textual evidence in Revelation, or a hermeneutic principle related to apocalyptic literature, to support or preclude the idea that the trumpet judgements and bowl judgements are one-and-the same event, or two events (as opposed to 13/14)?

Observational research

I have noticed that:

  • The 6th seal is a synopsis of Trumpets 1 - 6:

Revelation 6:12-14
I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.

  • The 7th seal is the ceremonial giving of the 7 trumpets; nothing specific actually 'happens' when Seal 7 is opened, except a portent of judgement:

Revelation 8:1-5
When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.

  • The bowl judgements are described as a new vision:

Revelation 15:1a
I saw in heaven another great and marvelous sign:... (emphasis mine)

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    There are 7 seals as well. Some people say all 3 sets are different views of the the same events. I don't think so, but I'll see if I can find time to answer this. Sep 13 at 23:29
  • I suspect this Q will attract moderation - but you will find that ‘textual evidence’ can be reasoned in such a way as to support any view [interpretation of Revelation] you like/want.
    – Dave
    Sep 14 at 0:57
  • Hi @Dave, I have moderated my question and provided a bit more meat in terms of my thought processes. I hear what you are saying about 'textual evidence' - but I'm hoping that sound exegesis (which I have attempted, at my (advanced?) lay level) will prevail over supporting a preferred view, with its dangers of reading into the text. Sep 14 at 8:16
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    Hi Ashley, appreciate all your hard work on this question, I think you have identified a good nugget here that's definitely worth examining. It would be beneficial to scope this as tightly as you can - try not to answer your own question too much, and avoid injecting other passages or thoughts, especially when they don't directly relate to your question (about seals 6+7). I agree with others that in many ways Revelation questions do evoke personal opinions, but that's a necessary evil of examining the Apocalypse genre, and shouldn't scare us away from attempting to exegete these texts.
    – Steve Taylor
    Sep 16 at 8:12
  • Thank you so much Steve, I really appreciate your comments! Sep 16 at 19:01
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This will not answer the question but it may provide some guidance.

Notice that there are some significant similarities between the 7 trumpets and 7 bowl-plagues: the object of each is the same order and the reverse of creation in gen 1 as though these are, in some sense, the undoing of creation.

  1. Earth
  2. Sea
  3. Springs of water
  4. Sun moon and stars
  5. darkness (no light)
  6. Waters (Euphrates)
  7. Voices in heaven

However, there are important differences between the 7 trumpets and 7 bowl-plagues - the trumpets tend to be associated with one third of the earth, while the bowl-plagues are associated with the whole earth.

Therefore, I believe they are distinct.

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  • If you have a moment, @Dottard, let me know why you think the question might be closed and I'll gladly moderate! My desire is to glean from the highly qualified and experienced minds on the platform - crit away! :-D Sep 14 at 9:38
  • @AshleyRoberts - the reason these type of prophetic interpretation questions are often (not always) closed is because they depend on one's "prophetic scheme" such as preterist, historicist, futurist, ideal, spiritual, etc. Each of these will give wildly different results and trying is apply them to either historical or future events is beyond the scope of hermeneutics.
    – Dottard
    Sep 14 at 10:25
  • Ah… Yes I hear you. Those prophetic schemes do little more than encourage eisegesis.. Well - hopefully my intent is clear: to glean from people’s knowledge and to bounce exegetical and hermeneutical ideas off expert minds, to arrive at a clearer, textually and (ancient Jewish) culturally informed understanding of the book. Sep 14 at 15:07
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    I disagree that questions like this should be closed for fear that people with different backgrounds and levels of study and training might come to differing conclusions. The angel commanded John to come up so he could learn of what would happen in the future. A futurist should therefore be in a strong position to answer this question but why stop others from presenting their analysis? The purpose of hermeneutics is to help us understand what the text is saying. So, is the text saying that the trumpet and bowl judgments are the same event or not? It's a reasonable and worthy question. Sep 14 at 18:54
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    This is really more the type of discussion we should be having over Meta - I think there is a balance to be had here. First, Revelation questions can quickly get out of hand for all the reasons described. Second, they do tend to lean heavily on personal stances and views - it's easy to imagine an entire SE dedicated to Revelation questions from different angles. But most importantly, Revelation is in-scope for this site, and so long as contributions stay tightly scoped and focus on the text, we should try to avoid closing high-interest questions unnecessarily.
    – Steve Taylor
    Sep 16 at 7:56
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Seal-Trumpet-Bowl Judgments

As implied by the heading, these judgments are progressive:

The Seals are the unveiling of the judgements, the trumpets are the announcements, and the bowls are the final pouring out or "emptying" of the judgments.

They vary in intensity: in the 4th Seal Judgment it says,

“And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.”(Rev. 6:8 KJV)

We see the Judgment affecting 1/4 of the earth.

In Rev. 8:12, we read,

“And the fourth angel sounded, and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars; so as the third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise.”

Now we see the intensity is increased from 1/4 to 1/3, in the previous 3 trumpets, 1/3 of the items announced were affected.

The Bowl Judgments, which are the final outpouring of the Wrath of God, are the most severe, in Rev. 16:3, it says,

“And the second angel poured out his vial upon the sea; and it became as the blood of a dead man: and every living soul died in the sea.”

At this point, no one escapes the judgments of God; they affect everyone in every locality.

There are 2 considerations: the first one is that when the judgment is released, there is no turning back. No where does it say, 'And the judgment was removed....', which means, when the seal is broken, it is broken unto this present day, when the trumpet is sounded, it is sounded unto this present day. And when the bowl is poured out, that's the final pouring out. The second consideration is ....for what reason?

The reason which judgments are unveiled, announced and poured out is for REPENTANCE! In Rev. 9:20 it says,

“And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk:”

God could destroy all of creation in less than a nanosecond; He gives progressively severe judgments so that men would repent. As a whole they don't, but many do, and in Rev. 7:14, when John asks who are those walking in white robes, the angel replies,

“And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

They saw the judgments, and heeded the call to repentance, having "washed their robes"; therefore they are no longer under judgment, but dwell in the Presence of God.

Are the 6th and 7th Seals Different Events?

Yes, the 6th Seal unveils a "Time of Great Darkness" which portents great catasphrophe for men; consequently the images of "the sky rolling up like a scroll", and "every mountain and island removed from it's place" is used.

Since: 1) Judgments are for repentance, and 2) Judgements increase with severity, must concluded that the language used is Figurative, or describing another reality. The prevailing thought that "it must all happen at the End of the Age" falls apart when you consider that 1) Many of these judgments have already been recorded, and 2) If only the people at the very end of the age are called to repentance, what happened to those before the end? The answer to the dilemma is "John was taken up to Heaven", meaning he saw things from a heavenly perspective, not an earthly one. We must see Literal things literally, and Figurative things figuratively.

The Hermeneutic which best outlines this is the Historicist Interpretation, because rather than absurdly bunching all the fullfilments at the beginning of the Church Age(Preterism), or waiting until the very end to absurdly bunch all fulfillment at the very end of the age(Futurism/Dispensationalism) , it best answers the question,"These things which must shortly come to pass" in Rev. 1:1. The scrolls were opened right after Christ was determined to have the authority to open them, and yet their final fulfillment ushers in His Return, which has not happened yet.

Given this understanding, there was a time of delineation between the scrolls and the trumpets; the 6th Seal announced the judgment preceding this time, and then....silence for a 1/2 hour. There is no measurement for time in Heaven, it is the fulfillment of God which determines what happens. He is the Alpha and Omega, He knows the end from the beginning. So the "time" is earth time, measured on Heaven's clock. The "half hour" signifies a brief interlude where earth is given a chance to examine itself, or Heaven rachets up the severity of the judgments.

The 18th Century was the equivelent of a seismic event; the American and French Revolutions spelled the end for monarchies and the "Divine Right of Kings". But preceding this time was "The Great Awakening", an unprecidented time of devotion and fervor experienced in Europe and America. Heaven was waiting for an answer from earth; would it follow the arrogance and depravity of the French Revolution, or a "Government of the People" dictated by the sovereignity of God.

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    Thank you very much for your insights. Whilst I differ in some respects, I value the time that you have taken to substantiate your points, thank you! I try to steer away from preterist/futurist/idealist/historicist/spiritualist frameworks, as these invariably lead to eigesis - however, at some point I reckon that a certain.. solidifying occurs in one's thoughts - which in turn affects ones ability to see the text for what it is. Just thoughts in general there, not related to your answer at the end of this comment. Sep 14 at 12:32
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    @AshleyRoberts Since your question called for a Hermeneutic, I answered with one. I agree, a hermeneutic alone will lead you astray from the Truth, because it relies on a formula, rather than the Word itself. The Historicist Hermeneutic is the Worst-it has been used to publically defame and humiliate individuals since it's inception. If one merely examines the Framework, however, and doesn't plug in variables, it best answers the question "Things which must shorly come to pass", because they have been "coming to pass" since the time of the Apostles up to today.
    – Tau
    Sep 20 at 13:20
  • Hi Tau, thank you for your comment, I’m still learning so much - not least of all about what hermeneutics actually is/means! Hopefully I didn’t cause any offence in my confusion… Thanks again! Sep 20 at 13:59
  • If you could elaborate further as to why the historicist approach is a hermeneutic? It feels to me like an interpretative framework, not an interpretative tool.. Herneneutics feels like your interpretative toolbox. In it are things like exegesis, contemporaneous meaning, the meaning of words, the implication of figures of speech like parallelism, etc. Historicism feels like a framework, kinda like approaching the Bible with a contemporary western mindset: approaching it with a historicist perspective. Sep 20 at 17:19
  • @AshleyRoberts Historicist Hermeneutic, like the Preterist, Idealist, Futurist/Dispensational are rightly classified as Hermeneutics; which is an interpretive methodology for understanding the text. They encompass everything you stated regarding the text, through a particular lens: a Historicist "Lens" is one that looks at the text within the window of time that sees fulfillment through Historical Events. In Eschatology, the subject at hand, that "window" is the time from Christ's Ascension to His Glorious Return. Other Hermeneutics limit the interpretation to 70AD, the last 7 years, (cont.)
    – Tau
    Sep 21 at 0:53
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The sixth seal (heavenly signs) and seventh seal (seven trumpets) are different events.

As can be seen in this chart, the Seventh Seal is divided into Seven Trumpets, which in turn is divided into Seven Plagues.

Revelation 17 and 18 describe the resulting effects, and finally in Revelation 19, Christ returns.

A booklet, which describes all of Revelation in detail, contains this chart:

Seven Seals, Trumpets, and PlaguesRevelation: The Mystery Unveiled!, pages 22/23

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  • But the “heavenly signs” are a summary of the first 6 trumpets? And there is no ‘interlocker’ when going from the 7 trumpets to the 7 bowls like there is for seals-to-trumpets? Sep 26 at 16:45
  • @AshleyRoberts, the heavenly signs are the experience of terror that occurs between what just happened (the four horsemen and the great tribulation) and what is about to happen (the 7 trumpet plagues). "And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! “For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”" Sep 26 at 16:54
  • Thanks very much for getting back to me Ray. Sep 26 at 19:53
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The ‘gymnastics’ many perform with these seals, trumpets and bowls is fascinating. But unfortunately after doing these, you then need a crow bar to ‘move’ other ‘bits’ - or at the least, some clever reasoned arguments!

The Trumpets need the the seventh seal to be opened. So are you suggesting that the seals, although numbered, are actually opened in a different order to what John said? Yes you could ‘pad out’ a whole ‘reasoned’ answer, and ‘add’ how scrolls where opened and so on … but [sigh]

Many do this to make ‘bits’ fit. One widely accepted such conceived notion is that the seals ‘mirror’ Mathew 24. Really? I know they ‘sort of’ do in ‘some’ parts, but then comes the gymnastics.

No. Get your interpretation ‘right’ - and they all fit. My recommendation is be careful of following the ‘popular line’ of thinking. Listen to all the outlines. But beware and ensure you don’t just ‘fall’ for the first convincing, well articulated ‘right sounding’ explanation you hear.

Hint - the ‘seals’ are images, or what John ‘sees’ in the spiritual realm. The (first 4) trumpets are events that happen in the ‘physical realm’ (earth). What ‘happens’ in the spiritual ‘realm’ does not (always) instantly ‘manifest’ in the physical realm.

Hint 2 - read carefully! Example the second seal talks about ‘peace’ being removed. Like there has been peace prior to its opening? Many ‘equate’ (aka twist this around) to mean ‘war’. No! You need to ‘think’ - what peace has been removed? There is an answer - and - it makes sense, a lot of sense, unlike the ‘traditional interpretations’. …. etc.

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    The earth has experienced in general more peace than war. The second seal announces a change in that peace will be taken from the earth removing what the angels announced when Jesus came the first time. War will soon increase on a scale the world has never seen before. What is the purpose of peace being removed? " To make people kill each other". I am convinced that time will show that Revelation is reliable prophecy to be taken literally. Sep 26 at 3:11
  • Thanks so much for your input Dave, agreed on the importance of not squeezing to fit. So the bit in my question expansion about mirroring Matt 24 / Mk 13 / Lk (17&) 21 was as far as I would go. My own ‘open conviction’ is similar to that expressed by yourself and Martin, namely that unless there is reason to assume the descriptions are symbolic and need “decoding” (the horsemen; the dragon etc.) that they should be taken as mythic realism (e.g. the flaming mountain, the massive earthquake, the darkened sky, the cancerous sores, the claps of thunder etc). I’ll say more in an own answer.. Sep 26 at 5:08
  • Thank you Dave for your second “hint”, to read carefully! This affirms what I instinctively felt - that the answer is sometimes in the detail - but the constant overview-style presentations of Revelation (perfectly understandable, given limited teaching time) never explore the detail. One is left wondering (unconsciously, sometimes), if homing in on a clue here or a phrase there might be taking things too far.. Sep 26 at 5:16
  • I feel that the analogy of puzzle pieces has much merit: there are the easy pieces (corners). Edges are also fairly basic. The pieces that are, say, 95% sky but just a hint of something else are like the verses that unlock references to other passages and help you place the 100% sky pieces. Above all, a piece MUST fit cleanly. Etc etc. 😎 Sep 26 at 5:20
  • @Martin Hemsley This is the problem - reading the Word - and then reasoning it out. That is,the problem is the ‘reasoning’. There has never been peace (as in ‘from wars’) on earth - never! - so how can opening a ‘seal’ take it? No, the ‘peace’ that’s removed is the ‘peace’ that was given in Luke 2:14 - that is, the ‘peace’ between heaven and earth! … and there is a clear, simple explanation for all the seals, ones that make sense, and don’t need lengthy apologetic explanation!
    – Dave
    Sep 26 at 19:52
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There is definitely a relationship between the trumpets and the bowls and certainly, at least in some cases, even the seals. A previous answer talked about a progression and intensification. There is a huge difference between 1/3 of something being destroyed and 100 %. An important hermeneutical principle is to not force a figurative interpretation upon something which can be interpreted literally. Too many people rush to explain away Revelation as figurative perhaps because the literal interpretation is too horrifying to contemplate. Here is an example of the relationship between the three sets of judgments. The 5th seal, for example, describes the martyrs praying for vengeance and the 5th trumpet announces the demonic torturing of those who don’t have God’s seal. The 5th bowl brings about darkness, pain, and sores upon all those in the kingdom of the beast. The reason there is a difference between the trumpets and the bowls is that the saints are still on earth during the trumpet judgments. The bowls of wrath are poured out on the earth after the rapture in Revelation 14 and judgment on the earth is more devastating and complete. Understanding this can help you interpret Revelation and the future predictions more accurately. People often confuse the 6th trumpet with the 6th bowl. The 200 million man army that kills 1/3 of the earth is different from Armageddon when all the armies that come against Christ are wiped out.

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