VIII. A GENERAL WORD CONCERNING THE SEALS,
THE TRUMPETS, AND THE BOWLS
The seals are unveiled in secret, while the trumpets are sounded in the open. In the Old Testament, the blowing of the trumpet was a solemn occasion. Hence, this book is also quite solemn. (Revelation 1:10 and 4:1 say, "like a trumpet.") The seventh seal produces the seven trumpets, while the seventh trumpet includes the seven bowls. The seven trumpets that come out of the seventh seal are sequential and extend over a period of time. For example, the fifth trumpet lasts for five months (9:5), while the sixth trumpet lasts for at least thirteen months. Furthermore, Revelation 10:7 and 11:2-3 together show that the seventh trumpet lasts for about three and a half years. According to 11:15, after the seventh trumpet is sounded, the kingdom of Christ will come. The seven bowls included in the seventh trumpet equal the seventh trumpet. The time for the pouring out of the seven bowls is the time for the blowing of the seventh trumpet. This is unlike the seven trumpets included in the seventh seal, which extend over a period of time. When the seventh trumpet is sounded, there will be very little time left. To facilitate our understanding, we have the following chart:
The opening of the seven seals takes approximately two thousand years. But one can only see what is written in the scroll after the seventh seal is opened. The seventh seal includes the seven trumpets. When the first through the sixth trumpets have sounded, one still cannot see what is written in the scroll. It is only at the time of the seventh trumpet that the scroll is opened. When the seventh trumpet is over, the kingdom will begin. By then we will see the new covenant and the blessings God has prepared on earth (Jer. 31:31-34; 33:14-15).
The seals extend over a period of time, and the trumpets also extend over a period of time. However, there is a difference between the trumpets and the seals. The seals will damage one fourth of the earth (Rev. 6:8), while the trumpets will damage one third of the earth (8:7).
The beginning of the seventh trumpet is the beginning of the first bowl. The end of the seventh trumpet is the end of the seventh bowl. Moreover, this trumpet will last for at least three and a half years. Revelation 10:7 corresponds with Romans 16:25-26, and Revelation 11:15 is at the end of the seventh trumpet, when the kingdom is about to come. In between these two verses are three and a half years. Revelation 11:3 mentions three and a half years (42 months, 1260 days). Revelation 12:6 and 14 also mention three and a half years (1260 days and "a time and times and half a time"). In Revelation 11:7 the completion of the two witnesses’ tesitimony will come after a period of time. We can say that the seventh seal "begets" the seven trumpets, while the seventh trumpet includes the seven bowls. The seven bowls describe the condition of the seventh trumpet.
If we compare "Your wrath" in Revelation 11:15-18 with "the fury of God" in Revelation 15:1, we can see that the seven bowls are the fury of God.
The seals are opened in heaven in secret, while the trumpets are sounded on earth and are heard by everyone. The bowls are physical and are not a mere sound. The opening of the seals is the judgment in the dispensation of grace. Only the believers know where these things such as famine, earthquake, and swords originate. They are not known to the unbelievers. Hence, they are hidden. The sounding of the trumpets signifies a change of dispensation; the dispensation of the gospel has ended. Chapter seven is on the sealing of the Israelites and the rapture of the overcoming believers. Chapter eight is a declaration of war. The trumpets convey the sense of announcement, while the bowls signify wrath. In the Old Testament, there is the "cup of wrath." But here, the bowl of wrath is stronger than the cup of wrath.
From the following arguments we can see that the tribulations of the seven trumpets are real tribulations:
(1) The book of Revelation is not a book of signs.
(2) The sounding of the trumpets is audible and is not hidden. Whatever is sounded is what they signify. (At the sounding of the last trumpet, there is resurrection. Resurrection is miraculous. Of course, the first to the sixth trumpets are also miraculous.)
(3) The seventh trumpet brings God’s judgment to men.
(4) All the prophecies in the Old Testament, whether concerning judgment or the coming of the Lord, are to be interpreted literally. Why then should it be different in the New Testament? Since the ten plagues in Exodus were literal, why should the tribulations in Revelation not be interpreted literally?
(5) By Revelation 7 the age of the church is over, and God has returned to the position of the Old Testament. Of course, as such, all the judgments have to be interpreted literally. Micah 7:15 says that God will execute judgment like He did in Egypt, only it will be a greater judgment (Isa. 11:15-16). Moreover, Jeremiah 23:7 and 8 say that God will execute a deliverance greater than that in Egypt. It therefore follows that the tribulations will be greater than those at the time of the exodus from Egypt.
(6) The "marvels" prophesied in Exodus 34:10 will be fulfilled at the time of the sounding of the seven trumpets.
(7) The "great and persistent plagues" mentioned in Deuteronomy 28:59 are all "extraordinary." God’s judgments are always carried out through miracles.
(8) The Lord said that the day of the Son of Man will be like the days of Noah and of Lot (Luke 17:26-28). At the time of Noah, God opened up the window of heaven and poured down rain. At the time of Lot, God sent fire from heaven. These were miraculous judgments.
(9) God has to show men that He is Jehovah. In men’s eyes, many calamities are only changes in nature. But to turn water into blood, and to turn only one third of it, proves that it is not a common change in nature. Rather, it has to be an act of God. Man is saturated with sin, and God has to come in to judge.
The "great tribulation" in Matthew 24:21-28 concerns the Israelites. It is the persecution of Antichrist on the Israelites. The earliest this persecution will start is at the sounding of the fifth trumpet (Rev. 9:1-11). Actually, it starts at the seventh trumpet because only then do the events concerning Antichrist begin to transpire (10:7; 11:2; 12:12; 13:1-18).
The "hour of trial" in Revelation 3:10 is for the whole world, while the "great tribulation" in Matthew 24:21-28 is for the Jews. The "hour of trial" of Revelation 3:10 begins from the time of the first trumpet, while the "great tribulation" of Matthew 24:21-28 will start, at the earliest, with the sounding of the fifth trumpet. Strictly speaking, it will start with the sounding of the seventh trumpet; otherwise, the world would persecute the Israelites (those who belong to God) even more.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 16: Study on Revelation, Chapter 5, by Watchman Nee)