Just finished a course from Israel Bible Center on Revelation. Dr. Ralph Corner brings up an interesting point. What if the Seals, Trumpets and Bowls are not meant to be read as sequential events, ones happening right after another, but as different aspects of the same events, described for different purposes? Since we know the gospel of John, which was written by the same author, is grouped by theme, or topic and is not written in an orderly fashion with respect to time, this is indeed a possibility. John also likes to use a chiastic structure, which involves repetition and the main points being placed in the middle of the argument rather than at the end, where we tend to like it. We see this as well in the book of Revelation, as well as the gospel of John, which makes it just that much harder for us as modern readers, not used to this style, to understand!
So let’s look at what we would expect if the Seals, Trumpets and Bowls described the same events.
First we would expect repetition of the same types of things, and this is what we do see. There is an earthquake in both the seals and the bowl sections, the sun darkens in all three, the moon turns red/ darkens in the seals and trumpets, the stars fall in the seals and trumpets, the mountains move in all sections, the islands move in the seals and the bowls, men seek to hide, mourn etc in all, war occurs in all- in Armageddon , on the great plain which is likely Armageddon and with an army of 200 million, which would only fit into a great open space, likely Armageddon. There is famine occurring in all three sections, as well as pestilence. Hail occurs in the trumpets and the bowl sections, the sea turns to blood in the trumpet and bowl sections, ships and cargo are effected in the trumpet and bowl section and God states it is finished in both the trumpet and bowl sections, which Jesus also states on the cross (something we will explore later, as these events are similar to the judgements as well!).
So there is a lot of similarity of what will happen in each section. Not complete overlap, but if the events are being related to a theme, not everything will be needed to prove each point, so we expect some things to be left out. So what are the themes?
This is actually fairly easy, as Revelations tells us. The theme of the Seals is the Jesus/ God is the owner of the world and He is coming back to reclaim His kingdom! John is therefore telling us that He has the power, authority, ability and the willingness to judge the earth and punish the wicked, but there is also a theme that He does so in a way to drive men to repentance, and that you would have to be very hard hearted to resist.
The next ‘theme’ is the trumpets, which are a Biblical call to war, or announcement, or, in this case, both. The trumpet warns you of what is to come, so we see the events in the trumpets being the cusp of further problems, warning the saints to get ready, hunker down and stand strong, it is going to get bad. There are also promises in each section though, indicating that the saints will be spared some of the worst as they will be sealed. They may not be ‘spared’ as we would like to be spared, singing and dancing unaffected, as we know a great many are martyred, but there will be some protection and great rewards in heaven, so hold fast!
The final section is the bowls. This seems to describe exactly what is going to happen and is the most detailed. There is argument as to whether some of this has already happened in history or not, as we have had wars, and famine etc, but regardless, this is a section that tells us what is to come and it gives greater detail than the first two sections regarding many of the same types of events.
These events also mirror the crucifixion when there was an earthquake, and the sun went dark. Although Jesus wishes to not drink from the cup, we know that He did, and in Revelation we see that this cup, the cup of God’s Wrath is being poured out. It also states in the section on the bowl judgements that ‘it is finished,’ a statement Jesus made on the cross. These crucifixion events appear to be a foreshadowing of the end, when Jesus takes ownership of the world. He is the rightful owner, and suffers and dies for us. Those who believe will join Him in heaven, while those who stubbornly refuse will perish. At the crucifixion, His suffering brings us to Him. In Revelation, our suffering shows us a glimpse of what life apart from our Creator will really be like and begs us not to choose it, though it is ultimately our choice.
My opinion: It is good to know about the events in the book of Revelation and study them well, looking at it from many different perspectives. It is the only book that promises blessings for those who do so. It is however bad to assume you have everything tied up and are sure you know exactly how everything will happen. This is prophecy. If you have ever studied prophecy in the Bible you know that while it is always true, the fulfillment is often not what one would expect. One of my Bible teachers (and it would be nice if I remembered which one so I could give them credit) stated that there were likely groups of disciples from other rabbis studying what the Messiah must look like, sure that they had it right, while Jesus strolled right by, unrecognized by the men. (Women would not be in such a group at this time, but likely some would have done the same if allowed!) So study, discuss, know what it actually says and not what you think it says, and don’t get too tied to any one theory because chances are on some aspect all will be wrong!