The Tribulation Timing of the Trumpets and Three Woes

After listening to a number of preachers speak about the trumpets of Revelation already being fulfilled since World War 1, and that we are quickly approaching the sixth which speaks of a great war in the Middle East; Is this possible? Because I always thought of the trumpets happening within the last 3 and half years, and we have not yet seen ‘hail fire, mixed with blood, burning up a third of the trees”, or the star “Wormwood poisoning a third of the planet’s freshwater sources” and if we have, when? Am I missing something?

Concerning the timing of the trumpets, you are very correct. They most certainly begin at the middle of the week, at the time of the sealing of the servants of God (Rev 7:1-3 ff.) and continue to the ‘last’ or 7th trumpet, which is the Lord’s return and the beginning of His millennial reign (Mt 24:31; 1Cor 15:52; Rev 10:7; 11:15 ff.).

A careful comparison of Rev 8:12-13; 9:12-13; Rev 11:11-15 will show that the last three trumpets are the last three woes. This further contradicts the really bizarre notion that the first five trumpets are already past and the 6th is imminent. As you rightly ask, how could the 6th trumpet be the next to sound unless we are already well advanced into the great tribulation? That such a proposal could be made, or seriously entertained, underscores a really dangerous ignorance or misplacement of the events that signal the beginning of the tribulation, that let us know when it is approaching and when we’re in it.

Firstly, we know that the great tribulation cannot start until the necessary preliminary conditions are in place. Breaking the deadly peace arrangement, the Antichrist descends suddenly upon an unsuspecting Israel that is resting in a false sense of security (Isa 28:15, 18; Dan 8:25; 9:27; 11:23-24; 1Thes 5:3). Sweeping away all opposition (Dan 11:31; Rev 13:4), he forcibly enters the rebuilt temple of God which must again stand in Jerusalem (‘the holy place’ in ‘Judea’; Mt 24:15-16; 2Thes 2:4; Rev 11:1-2). He then stops the regular (morning and evening) sacrifice that has been only recently reinstated (Isa 63:18; Dan 8:13-14) and places the abomination that triggers the great tribulation (Dan 11:31; 12:1-2, 11; Mt 24:15-16, 21; 2Thes 2:4). It’s that simple. It was meant to be for our protection.

It is fitting that God would make it plain so that we would not be deceived by false reports and premature excitements to the contrary. There is only one antidote to end times deception: “But take ye heed! Behold; I have foretold you all things” (Mt 24:25: Mk 13:23). And, “Let no man deceive you by any means, for that day shall NOT come, except there come a falling away FIRST, and that man of sin be revealed …” (2Thes 2:3-4).

Jesus does not give all the details that are needful for His people’s knowledge of the end. Rather, He sends His disciples to Daniel’s prophecy to identify and understand the key event that signals the beginning of the tribulation (Mt 24:15-16, 21). If we would only follow His clear command, we would save ourselves a lot of abuse and needless diversion from the false alarms of prophetic speculation. By His interjection, ‘let the reader understand’ (to paraphrase, “pay attention to Daniel!”), Jesus is directing us to search Daniel’s prophecy for this event, and to read with “understanding” (a word that appears with significant frequency all throughout the book).

We find that the abomination that brings the final desolation of Jerusalem is mentioned four times (Dan 8:11; 9:27; 11:31; 12:11). Jesus knew that when we would carefully observe what leads up to this event and mark what follows from it, we would not be so easily mistaken or deceived concerning the time of His return, nor without understanding of the nature and meaning of the tribulation that must immediately precede (Mt 24:29). This should be the beginning point of any study of prophecy, since it is exactly where Jesus tells His disciples to begin, a divine directive that has been far too little emphasized.

Contrary to many prophecy scenarios, the abomination of desolation cannot be separated in time from the stopping of the daily sacrifice. Both are equally 1290 days before the end (Dan 12:11). I agree this would seem obvious, but many false views of prophecy live and thrive by separating the inseparable. For example, some insist that Christ stopped the sacrifice by His death, but move the abomination up another 40 years to 70 A.D or some other more distant place in church history.  Then, contrary to the clearest of evidence from the most simple comparison of scripture with scripture, they boldly proceed to disconnect these inseparable events from Paul’s description of the man of sin who enters the temple of God just shortly before his destruction by Jesus’ return (2Thes 2:1-9). These things cannot be split up and placed at different points in history!

Many of the false systems of prophecy can only be sustained by either separating the sacrifice from the abomination by either decades or centuries, or by spiritualizing one or both. Invariably, the temple must also be spiritualized, so that the temple that Paul mentions in 2Thes 2:4 (see also John’s reference in Rev 11:1-2) is usually considered to be representative of world Christendom. It is disconnected entirely from the temple mentioned by Jesus in His Olivet prophecy (Mt 24:15). And yet, both Jesus and Paul are clearly citing the words of Daniel to describe the same man who enters and defiles the temple of God to begin the unequaled tribulation (Dan 11:31, 36-37; 12:1, 11 with Mt 24:15-16, 21; 2Thes 2:3-4, 8).

What temple and where? How could Paul, without further qualification, have expected the Thessalonians to imagine any other ‘temple of God’ than the one that was standing in Jerusalem as a wonder of the ancient world when Paul was writing his epistle? What powerful presuppositions must be at play for interpreters to insist that Paul’s reference to the temple of God in 2Thess 2:4 is an entirely different kind of temple, separate in time, meaning, and location from the temple that Jesus refers to in Mt 24:15-16. This is especially awkward when both passages are so manifestly speaking of the same event that signals the great apostasy and and final tribulation.

If we will carefully compare Paul’s wording in 2Thes 2:4 with the identical language of Daniel’s prophecy in Dan 11:36-37, it cannot be missed that the same person is in view. It should be obvious that this is the same man who places the abomination of desolation only five verses earlier in Dan 11:31, the event which Jesus references using precisely the same language in Mt 24:15.

Notice too that Rev 12:7-14 puts the ‘short time’ of Satan’s rage as following immediately upon Michael’s heavenly victory over Satan. This is exactly what we see in Dan 12:1-2. Michael stands up and then begins the unequaled trouble (Jacob’s trouble; Jer 30:7) that ends with the deliverance of Daniel’s people and the resurrection. In such a context, it would be a violence against plain language to separate these events, whether by decades or centuries. No, the abomination is placed at the same time the sacrifice is removed in the middle of Daniel’s 70th week, precisely 1290 days before “the end”, i.e., the end that accomplishes the final salvation of Israel in connection with the resurrection (Dan 9:27; 12:1-2, 11-13). That end! The text could hardly be plainer, and if a plain reading of plain language is not a sufficient ground for interpretation, then the sky’s the limit!

With the temple spiritualized to stand for the church, the man of sin becomes a symbol for either a long line of Roman emperors or more commonly, the succession of popes, spanning, not a short period of approximately 3 1/2 years, but many centuries, as each of the days of Daniel’s half week (1260, 1290, 1335; Dn 9:27; 12:11-12; Rev 11:3, 12:6) is understood to represent a year. This is the presupposition of the so-called ‘historicist’ interpretation that has been the dominant view since the Reformation until modern times and remains prevalent today among both Reformed and Seventh Day Adventists.

In this view, the sacrifice of Dan 12:11 is either put in the past or spiritualized. It cannot conceivably refer to a literal sacrifice that is being offered in a literal Jewish temple in a Jewish Jerusalem that will be stopped by the Antichrist just 3 1/2 literal years before the end. Why? Because this would require a prophetically significant reconstitution of the Jewish nation, such as we see before our eyes.

(Note: The so-called ‘year day theory’ has been a principal cause of most of the failed dates for Christ’s return, most notably Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists).

The end result of all is to transfer prophecy out of its original Jewish context into a more symbolic and spiritualized fulfillment in the church. The rule seems to be (I’ve heard it stated) that the original and literal Jewish context must be abandoned if any progress is to be made in prophetic interpretation.

It is the separating of what God has joined that brings all the error and confusion. Keep these few events together and in their manifest relationship and alignment, and you’ll be much better prepared to detect any deviations from the basic criterion (plum line) that Jesus gives in His Olivet prophecy as safeguard against deception.

Failure to hold these inextricable parts together has led to many disappointed expectations that have notoriously discredited prophecy all throughout the history of the church. The net result is to create what I like to call, the ‘wolf! wolf! syndrome’ that has led many to conclude that nothing definite or certain can or ‘should’ be known concerning the time of the Lord’s return, whether now or at some point in the future. In this way, many have been diverted from the specific instruction that Jesus presents as His provision against a deception that will particularly concern the time and manner of His return (see Mt 24:23-29; Mk 13:21-23; 2Thes 2:3). The urgency of the language that both Jesus and Paul uses to warn and correct of any deviation from this basic criteria may prove much more decisive when the time comes than we can presently conceive.

Recently I was sent something from a youtube clip of the Jim Bakker show where someone was on declaring that “we missed the 5th trumpet.” But as I mentioned, a careful comparison of Rev 8:12-13; 9:12-13 with Rev 11:11-14, in their contexts, should put beyond question that the 5th trumpet is the first woe. The 6th trumpet which is also the second woe coincides with the great earthquake that attends the ascension of the two witnesses. Manifestly, this is close to the end of the tribulation. Then, with the passing of the second woe in the aftermath of the ascension of the witnesses (Rev 11:14), announcement is made that the third woe is coming quickly. According to Rev 8:13 with Rev 9:12, the third woe is manifestly the 7th trumpet that finishes the mystery of God with the Lord’s return to judge the wicked and reward the righteous (Rev 10:7; 11:15-18).

The tribulation is sufficiently defined that no believer who regards the plain meaning of scripture can miss it. I believe a clear case can be made from scripture that all 7 of the trumpets are within the last 3 1/2 years, but what is clear beyond any reasonable dispute is the impossibility that we missed five trumpets so that only one more remains between us and Christ’s return at the 7th trump. That such a ludicrous proposal could get to first base is sad commentary on how vulnerable we are to deceptions of a much more serious nature.

As for the ever present threat of upheavals and disasters and judgment upon nations, Jesus says we are not to be troubled (in the sense of distracted or moved off course; compare 2Thes 2:2). Regardless of what we see, until we have seen the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet; the end is not yet! This is very important, as apocalyptic enthusiasm will grow ever more distracting and misleading with premature announcements of an imminent end. By such false alarms, the really significant events that do indeed mark the time with clarity and final certainty are lightly regarded or dismissed. Thus it is that despite the most prolific and visible display of prophecy in human history, that day is able to come upon the world completely unawares. That’s amazing; but it also removes all excuse.

It is a sobering paradox that despite the great clarity of at least the most important sign events that Jesus gives, the angelic messenger can say to Daniel, “the wicked shall do wickedly and none of the wicked shall understand” (Dan 12:10). That is very sobering. How else could such manifest fulfillment overtake the world as a thief?

Finally, I think the great question is what does all of this confusion mean? Why are things as they are? I believe the answer lies in what the Lord did at His first coming. Concealed within the prophetic writings was a mystery that was not to be revealed until the appointed time (Mk 5:43; 8:30; 9:9; 1Cor 2:7-8; Ro 16:25-26; 1Pet 1:10-12). All things were indeed foretold, albeit in such a way that for some, it would be a trap and snare, a stone of stumbling and rock of offense (Isa 8:14-18; Lk 2:34-35), designed by God to elude carnal confidence, while for babes, God Himself would undertake to reveal His hidden wisdom, ordained to their glory (Mt 11:25-26; Jn 15:15; 1Cor 2:7; Rev 10:7 with Amos 3:7).

All things were being tested by the mystery that confronted the nation in the person of Jesus. It will be so again at the end. God intends that the world be confronted with a mystery that is designed to test and search the depths of every heart. By their nature, the prophetic scriptures are designed to elude the pride of human self reliance, not because they are difficult or clouded in mystery; quite the contrary, they are plain and simple to the plain and simple. That is to say, they are clear and transparent to plain persons of simple trust who have been emptied of their own self sufficiency to know anything of themselves. Such find their only hope in a trembling dependency on the Holy Spirit, and in the reliability God’s plain use of plain words for plain, everyday people. Everything will try to move us from the simplicity and clarity of what Jesus gave us to protect us from the subtleties of well meaning religious zeal, “But take heed; see, I have told you all things beforehand. Therefore, if they say to you … (any deviation) … believe it not!”

Filed under
Avoiding False Alarms, Daniel, Matthew, Revelation, The Day of the Lord
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