The Sixth Trumpet - Rev. Herman Hoeksema
13 And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God,
14 Saying to the sixth angel which had the trumpet, Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates.
15 And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, for to slay the third part of men.
16 And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand: and I heard the number of them.
17 And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone: and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone.
18 By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths.
19 For their power is in their mouth, and in their tails: for their tails were like unto serpents, and had heads, and with them they do hurt.
20 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:
21 Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.
The fifth and sixth trumpet belong together, as is plainly indicated in the text. As we have already remarked, they are separated from the former four trumpets by the plain indication that they are all "woe trumpets." Already before the fifth trumpet sounded, its coming was announced by the eagle which was flying in mid-heaven and which threatened a three-fold woe. And in the twelfth verse of this chapter we are reminded of this fact in the words, "One woe is past; and, behold, there come two woes more hereafter." Besides, there is also difference in contents between the first four trumpets and the last three which is undeniable. The difference consists in this, that the first four all relate to the visible universe outside of man, though influencing the history of man and of nations, while the last three refer directly to the world of man. At the same time it may be remarked that as "woe trumpets" they are more vehement in their element of judgment than the former.
A World Steeped In Iniquity
As to the sixth trumpet, it is of importance that we notice, in the first place, what is the condition of the civilized world at this time. There can be little question about the fact that this sixth trumpet will find its realization more completely in the period of the last hour in the narrower sense of the word, that is, in the period which immediately precedes the time of the last judgment and of the final coming of the Lord. And what is the condition of society at this period? There are two indications in the text which inform us about this state.
In the first place, the close of our text indicates that it is a state of sin and gross iniquity in which the sixth trumpet finds the world. We read in verses 20 and 21: "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: Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts." Of course, that they did not repent of these sins after the plague had been upon the world and one-third of men had been killed certainly indicates that they did commit these sins even before the plague came, and that this condition of society and of the world in general is the cause and the occasion for the blowing of the sixth trumpet.
Notice about this condition, first of all, that it is characteristic of a general violation of the entire law. Of course, this is not meant in the sense that we all and always fall in respect to all the commandments of God; but it is meant in a very special sense of the word. The times of Noah and of Sodom and Gomorrah have returned once more at this period to the world. And what the Lord predicted in regard to the resemblance between these Old Testament periods and the period preceding His second coming has now become realized with this sixth trumpet. The picture of the world here given is indeed a very evil one. In the first place, we are told that the people are worshipping devils; that is, they are acknowledging and placing their confidence in and seeking help and comfort in the spirits of evil who have fallen away from God originally with the prince of darkness. Do not say that this is impossible and inconceivable. For, in the first place, let me remind you of the fact that the sinful world as such is always serving Satan, and that he is their king and leader. And in the second place, remember, as we have stated in the last chapter, the world is actually surrendering itself to those spiritual hosts of wickedness that are in aerial places, against which the people of God are admonished to put on the whole armor of God. And in the third place, take a look in the world, and see whether all such things as Spiritualism, Theosophy, and all kinds of occult and abominable movements and sects are not the literal fulfillment already of this statement that people are worshipping devils. It is their influence that is felt, to which people freely yield. It is their will that is accomplished. It is the worship of devils that is not so far from being literally realized even today. In the second place, we are told that idolatry, the worship of silver and gold and brass and wood and stone, also once more is placed on the foreground. It may very well be that the heathen world in the future will have such an influence on the so-called Christian world that also this will be literally fulfilled. But even besides this possibility, is it not true that the service of Mammon, practical materialism, reliance upon silver and gold, the things of the world, as well as the worship of man, is essentially the same idolatry in a little different form than is here mentioned?
Small wonder, then, that where the first table of the law is thus violated, and men follow the worship of devils, also the second table is entirely trampled under foot. We read of this society sorceries and fornication and thefts abound. This is that murders and not meant as an exception, but as a rather general condition. Men have become murderers. They kill self and others. They have become sorcerers, which indicates, according to the original, that they employ all kinds of poisonous drugs for various purposes. They indulge in fornication, and commit adultery, and satisfy their greed for material things by becoming thieves and robbers on a large scale. Lawlessness, greed, treachery, adulterous lusts and passions, -all the evil passions of men reign supreme at this period.
In a word, there is a general degradation, and the world is steeped in iniquity, - an entirely different picture here than that which is presented by the philosophers of the world of today, and, in fact, of all times. O, no, the world is not growing worse; it is gradually improving. Such is the gospel that is preached rather generally today. And the time will come when mankind along the lines of gradual development shall have reached the heights of its ambition and the climax of its development. Sin and transgression shall be abolished, and justice and peace and happiness shall reign supreme. But the Word of God tells us a far different story. As was already pointed out, the Lord compares the times of the end to the times which immediately preceded the flood and the destruction of the cities of the plain. And if you ask Paul what the Spirit told him about these latter days, then he will tell you: "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, truce-breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away," (II Timothy 3:1-5). To be sure, this is not a very attractive picture. But remember that it is the Word of God that assures us of all this. And I would rather adhere to the Word of God, which is always true and safe, than to follow the wisdom of men.
I find still another indication of the general and grievous wickedness of the world of that period in the first part of this passage. We read that a voice is heard from the horns of the golden altar which is before God, saying to the angel that had the sixth trumpet that he should go to the river Euphrates, in order to loose the four angels that were bound in that region.
The altar which is here referred to is evidently the same as the one that is mentioned in Chapter 8, verse 3. Also there we read of an altar in connection with the prayers of the saints which were offered together with the incense to God Almighty. Also that altar was a golden one, and also that altar stood before the throne of God and of the Lamb. And the idea of atonement, on the basis of which the prayers of the saints could be offered to God, was pre-eminent in that connection. Here we read that a voice proceeds from the horns of the altar. Both the altar of burnt offering and the altar of incense had horns, four in number. What is the idea of these horns? In Exodus 30:10 we read: "And Aaron shall make an atonement upon the horns of it once in a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonements: once in the year shall he make atonement upon it throughout your generations: it is most holy unto the Lord." And thus we find it more than once in Scripture. The horns were the most sacred part of the altar. Upon them was sprinkled the blood of atonement. And therefore, we are safe in saying that they stood above all for the idea that the blood of atonement was shed.
And now what do we notice? We notice that it is from these same horns, representative of the blood of atonement, that a voice proceeds, calling for a terrible judgment upon the world. It is the voice of the blood of the Lamb that cries for this judgment. And with a view to the wicked world, it indicates that the time has come when the world has trampled under foot and despised the blood of the Savior. It is that blood that now cries for revenge. It has therefore become plain that the world rejects the Christ and despises the blood of atonement. Whatever form of godliness they may have now and have had in the past, they have always stubbornly refused to acknowledge that there is salvation only in the blood of Christ. And now it is this blood that must be revenged and that cries: "Loose the four angels that are bound in the great river Euphrates."
A Terrible Plague
If we would find an answer to the question as to what sort of plague this sixth trumpet brings upon the world, and as to how it is historically realized, we must undoubtedly direct our attention, first of all, to the horses that are pictured in the vision and to their riders.
John receives a vision of an awful and terrible-looking host of cavalry, two hundred million in number and with fearful description. And it is clear that this infernal troop of cavalry is the symbol of the plague that is to come. They form the agents that must accomplish it. True, we read that the four angels that are bound at the great river Euphrates are let loose at the determined hour and day and month and year, in order to kill the third part of men. And from this statement we might receive the impression that they, and not the cavalry, were the direct agents for this destruction. But farther on in the text we read differently. There we find that the plague is realized by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone that proceeds out of the mouth of the infernal horses. And the picture is evidently this, that the angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates exert their influence, as soon as they are allowed, as soon as they are set loose, to set free this tremendous army of horsemen, in order that they may realize the plague. It is, therefore, in the first place, to these horsemen that we have to direct our attention, in order to find the character of the plague.
And then we may undoubtedly say that they are not real horses. That this is true needs no proof. Their description is such that real horses are out of the question. They are horses with heads as of lions and with serpents' tails. And these tails have heads. And with these tails these horses hurt. In a word, we have here a combination of the horse and the lion and the serpent such as makes it impossible to think of real horses. Besides, we read of them that out of their mouths proceed fire and smoke and brimstone, which also certainly is not true of real horses. And it is through this fire and smoke and brimstone that the plagues, through which one-third part of men are killed, are realized. Nor are they symbols of real cavalry as such. Again, this is contrary to the description that is given of them, especially the fact that they bring the plagues with the fire and smoke and brimstone which proceed out of their mouths. Nor are there any indications in the text that we must understand these horses as symbols of evil spirits. Also this is rather impossible. Of the locusts we read that they came out of the abyss and that an evil angel was their king. Nothing of the kind is mentioned in this passage. Besides, we found that the effect of the locusts was spiritual, since they might not kill men, which is in harmony with the nature of demons. But the effect of this plague is physical, as is indicated by the text when it informs us that a third part of men must be killed. Hence, all that we can say from the outset is this, that these horses and their riders are the symbols of tremendous forces of destruction. With this general statement is in harmony their fierce appearance, as well as the fact that fire and smoke and brimstone proceed out of their mouths. And with this also agrees the fact that they kill a third part of men.
But what destruction is meant here? In order to find an answer to this question we must study the appearance of these horses and their riders. Essential to this is, first of all, the fire and the smoke and the brimstone. They represent the three plagues. We read in verse 18: "By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths." We find, therefore, that three plagues are coming over mankind, - plagues which find their symbols in fire and smoke and brimstone, and which are therefore as closely allied as these three symbols.
Of what is the fire a symbol in the Bible? We find that it symbolizes anger (Psalms 39:3; 57:4; 78:21, etc.), jealousy (Psalm 79:5; Ezekiel 36:5; Zephaniah 1:18), vengeance (Deuteronomy 32:22; Judges 12:1, etc.). And since the passions of anger, of jealousy, and of vengeance in the unholy sense of the word, as evidently they must be taken in the words of our passage, are the root cause of war, we find that fire is also taken time and again in Scripture as the symbol of war. Jeremiah, referring to war, prophesied that Jehovah shall kindle a fire against Jerusalem (Jeremiah 17:27; 21:14). And he prophesies that He shall kindle a fire against Babylon, again referring to war (Jeremiah 15:32). In Lamentations 4:11 we read: "The Lord kindled a fire in Zion, and it hath devoured the foundations thereof." And in Amos 1:4 we are told: "But I will send a fire into the house of Hazael, which shall devour the palaces of Benhadad." If you add to this that the first color of the breastplates of these monstrous horsemen is also that of fire, and add to this that the chief appearance of these monsters is that of the horse, which, as we have seen before, is the symbol of battle and irresistible onslaught, and add to this, thirdly, that the second or red horse, as we have seen in connection with the first four seals, is also the symbol of war, then I dare say the implication is plain that the plague of the sixth trumpet, by which one-third of men are killed, certainly refers to war.
The second symbol that is used in connection with the sixth trumpet is that of smoke. Again we must turn to Scripture in order to find the meaning of it. Of course, first of all, we must take it in connection with the first symbol. It is related to the first. The fire is first; but also the smoke proceeds from the same source, namely, out of the mouths of the lions. And then I would say that the smoke, in connection with the fire, is the symbol of the desolation and destruction, and for that reason of the scarcity and famine, which follow in the wake of war. And this is but its natural result. This too is corroborated by other parts of Scripture. In Isaiah 34:10 we find a description of the desolation that shall come upon Egypt in the words: "The smoke thereof shall go up forever." If the red of the fire is symbolic of the heated passions of war, the blackness of the smoke is indicative of the desolation and hunger that follow war. Thus we find in Lamentations 4:8 that those who shall perish with hunger are described in the following words: "Their visage is blacker than a coal."
And again, in the same Lamentations of the prophet we read that he complains: "Our skin was black like an oven because of the terrible famine." The blackness of the smoke, therefore, is the symbol of the desolation following war. It is indicative of scarcity and famine and of destruction in general. This is corroborated further by the second color in the breastplates of these monsters, corresponding to the smoke that proceeds out of the mouths of the lions. And it is corroborated also by the second main feature of these monster-animals, which is that of the lion, a picture of ravening hunger that can devour anything. Again it is corroborated by the third horse in the first four seals, which is the black horse, and which, as we have seen before, is the symbol of scarcity and want. Hence, also here we are safe in saying that the picture refers rather strikingly to desolation and destruction, to want and famine, as they follow in the wake of war.
The third symbol, finally, which is representative of this particular plague is the brimstone, or sulphur, that proceeds out of the mouths of these monsters. Also here we may remark that this last plague must again have some connection with the former two, and, in fact, that there must be some kind of causal relationship between them and this particular plague. Hence, the suggestion is not far-fetched at all that we have here the picture of all kinds of pestilences as they naturally follow in the wake of war and desolation and hunger. This suggestion is confirmed, in the first place, by the nature of the sulphur, which suggests poisoning because of its gasses. But also in the Word of God we find the same meaning. Rather generally we find sulphur as a symbol of desolation in Deuteronomy 29:23, where the desolation that shall come over the land of Israel is described as follows: "The whole land thereof is brimstone, and salt, and a burning, that it is not sown, nor beareth, nor any grass groweth therein." But more clearly we find a description of this in Ezekiel 38:22: "And I will plead against him with pestilence and with blood; and I will rain upon him, and upon his bands, and upon the many people that were with him, an overflowing rain, and great hailstones, fire, and brimstone." This is prophesied in connection with Gog and Magog, and therefore in a somewhat similar connection as in our passage of Revelation. Most naturally in this passage of Ezekiel the brimstone stands as a symbol of the pestilence. Again I find this corroborated by the third color in the breastplate of this cavalry, which is also that of brimstone. Confirmed it is, also, by the last feature in the appearance of these monsters, namely, that of the sneaky and subtle serpent, which attacks unawares, so that no one notices him, like the pestilence. These serpents are found in the tails of the horses. And lastly, I find this corroborated by the last horse in the first four seals. That last horse presents the same color as the brimstone, namely, that of a pale green. And the name of that last horse is Death, mowing away one-fourth part of men by all kinds of means, also by the pestilence. And therefore I feel rather safe in maintaining that in this last plague we have the symbol of the noisome pestilence. All these taken together, as they are symbolized by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone, as well as by the horse and the lion and the serpent, as they show their resemblance to the second, third, and fourth horses of the first four seals, lead us to the conclusion that the plagues here pictured are those of war and famine and pestilence. These three cannot be separated. The one follows from the other. And in their inner connection they are here pictured as being together one awful monster, with the shape of a horse, a lion's head, and the tail of a serpent, while from these monsters proceed the fire and the smoke and the brimstone. Upon this wicked world, steeped in sin, an awful war shall break forth, carrying hunger and desolation and pestilence in its wake.
But, so we ask further: what is the special nature of this war, and what is its special occasion? For that this is not a war like other wars, but different in its nature and scope, is plainly indicated in the fact that by these three one-third of men are killed. That is, as we have explained, more than in any other, ordinary war are killed. Ordinarily only one-fourth of men are killed by war and hunger and all kinds of diseases. But at the time of this war this will be increased to one-third. And therefore we have here a war of special proportions at least.
In order to understand this, let me call your attention to the fact that in the history of the world, with its wars and progress, the main occurrences have been played on a very small part of the world's stage. From Israel this history proceeded to Assyria, from Assyria to Babylonia, from Babylonia to Persia, from Persia to Greece, from Greece to Rome, from the Roman Empire to the nations of Europe and America. Always following a westerly direction, the history of the world has limited itself to only some of the nations of the world. And still there is a large part of men that have never yet played a part in its history although in late years they already appear on its stage. There is the yellow race, which evidently is just beginning to wake up to an important extent. And there are the nations that are living at the four corners of the earth, outside of the pale of civilization, and which in Scripture are known as Gog and Magog. If this relation is clear, then you are prepared to understand our contention that here in the sixth trumpet we have the first indication of the waking up of these other nations. For our text pictures to us, according to our deepest conviction, a war which is caused by the inroads of these numberless nations into the so-called civilized and Christian nations.
In proof of this contention I point, in the first place, to the mention that is here made of the great river Euphrates. The Euphrates is one of the greatest rivers in western Asia. But the question is here: what is the significance, and why is it mentioned in this connection?
I find that Scripture pictures this river as the eastern boundary of the land promised to the children of Israel in Genesis 15:18. There we read that Abraham received the promise: "Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates." And again, in Deuteronomy 1:7 we read that the children of Israel received the command: "Turn you, and take your journey, and go to the mount of the Amorites, and unto all the places nigh thereunto, in the plain, in the hills, and in the vale, and in the south, and by the sea side, to the land of the Canaanites, and unto Lebanon, unto the great river, the river Euphrates." The same we read in Deuteronomy 11:24 and in Joshua 1:4. We find that this promise was realized in the time of Solomon, for of him we read that he ruled over all the kingdoms from the river (that is, Euphrates) unto the land of the Philistines (I Kings 4:21). It was upon that river that Babylon was situated, according to Scripture. And it is in that river that the book that prophesied the destruction of Babylon, written by Jeremiah, was sunk. And therefore I find that the river Euphrates is the ideal and real boundary-line between the outward kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness, and therefore the symbol of the boundary-line between the Christian and the heathen nations, between the so-called civilized world and Gog and Magog.
It is at this river that the four angels are bound. The purpose of these four angels is evidently to seduce the nations of Gog and Magog, and inspire them to war with the Christian world. But they are bound. It is the decree of the Almighty, and therefore the will of Christ, that has bound them, so that they cannot influence these nations as yet. For they are bound unto the exact year and month and day and hour. That hour is evidently historically determined by the completion of the preaching of the gospel also to these nations, and, on the other hand, by the fulness of the measure of iniquity of the so-called Christian nations. That hour has now come, according to the passage. For the blood of atonement cried from between the horns of the altar, and the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates are let loose. These four angels, whose very number indicates that we are to have a world war as we never saw before, when they are liberated, now turn themselves upon the nations of the east and seduce them to do battle against the Christian world. Hence, when they are let loose, the woes of war and famine and desolation and pestilence flood the world, rising from the east and coming from the direction of the Euphrates upon the entire world.
Finally, this entire view is corroborated by the character of the sixth vial. There is a plain correspondence, as we shall see when we are discussing this vial, between the six trumpets and the six vials which are yet to follow. And the sixth vial, which corresponds to this sixth trumpet, informs us: "And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared." Here it is plainly told us what it will finally mean when the river Euphrates is dried up, when it shall no more serve as a boundary-line between the nations of the so-called Christian world and Gog and Magog. Then the kings of the east shall come and flood the whole Christian world, and the end of destruction is near.
In brief, therefore, we have here the picture of a war that is still to come, in which not only the Christian but also the heathen world shall be involved, and the outcome of which shall be that one-third of men, that is, more than ever before, shall be killed. Faint indications of this we have in history when the nations of the east at the time of the destruction of the Roman Empire rise against it and flood Europe. And more definite indications of this war that is prophesied in the Book of Revelation we have in our own time. Nevertheless, the full realization also of this trumpet is still in the future. Also this second woe we must still expect.
The World Left Hopelessly Hardened
We read in the text: "And they repented not." We might think that such severe judgments would break the hearts of these idolaters and murderers and thieves. One-third of men are killed; and no doubt also the rest of men are touched and hurt by the famine and especially by the pestilence. Think of the desolation and the woe and the sorrow and the grief and the suffering this sixth trumpet will cause for the remaining two-thirds that are still alive! All the more we would think that they should repent because it has been so plainly foretold in Scripture that these things come, and come as a revenge of the blood of Christ which is trampled under foot and a judgment upon the iniquity of the world. But no, they repented not. They are hardened. Even as Pharaoh repented not when plague after plague so plainly came from the hand of Jehovah, but continued till his judgment was complete, so also the wicked world at the end of time will not repent until their destruction is finished. We must expect also this feature. You must expect disappointment if you imagine that judgment will do what the gospel could not accomplish. In the midst of judgment the hearts will become more hardened and embittered, and people will continue in their sins. Their end will be in the pool that burneth with fire and brimstone.
Hence, the great lesson for the people of God contained in this particular passage is this: turn away from such! Have nothing to do with the world that tramples under foot the blood of Christ, except in as far as you are called to be the light of the world and to spread the testimony of the gospel. Have no communion with their idolatry and murders and thefts and fornication. Then it may be that the bitterness of the world will seek revenge upon you for a time. It may be that you will have to bear their contempt, their hatred, and their persecution. Nevertheless, there is no danger whatsoever. The people of God are sealed. And therefore you should not fear those that can .kill the body and cannot touch the soul. But much rather fear Him who ruleth over all and who can condemn both soul and body in hell.
Be not afraid! In the world ye shall have tribulation, saith the Lord; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. In the darkest night the eternal morning of glory shall surely dawn, and the faithful shall receive the crown of glory.