The Seven Trumpets in Adventism
A recent Sabbath School Quarterly—The Book of Revelation—caused quite a bit of discussion in the church, because among other things it presented an interpretation of the seven trumpets in Revelation 8 and 9 that was completely different from the traditional understanding of these chapters. The traditional Adventist interpretation of the fifth and sixth trumpets with the Muslims and Turks was the standard interpretation of Bible scholars in the 18th and 19th centuries— Among them, John Wesley, Edward Irving, and Henry Drummond. In America as well as in Europe, expositors usually saw in the first four trumpets the barbarian invasions of the Roman Empire (Goths, Vandals, Huns, and the fall of Rome in A.D. 476) and in the fifth and sixth the Saracens (another name for Muslims) and Turks. Thus, it is not surprising that the Millerites, especially Josiah Litch, did the same. They had behind them centuries of exposition representing many faiths and nationalities.
For Josiah Litch, the “fallen Star” in Revelation 9:1 was Mohammed, and the symbolic “locusts” (vs. 3) the Muslim horsemen. The “five months” (vs. 5)1 of torment were for him 150 years, which referred to the period of the Turkish torment of the Greeks from 1299 to 1449. All of this had, of course, been previously presented again and again by others.
The symbolic “hour and day and month and year” under the sixth trumpet (Rev. 9:15, NKJV) was widely acknowledged as representing 391 years and 15 days. Adding this time period to 1449 brought Litch to August 1840,2 when the Sultan in Constantinople, he believed, would voluntarily surrender his independence into the hands of the Christian powers. When at the predicted time, Turkey, through her ambassadors, accepted the protection of the allied powers of Europe, and thus placed herself under the control of Christian nations, multitudes were convinced of the correctness of the principles of prophetic interpretation adopted by Miller and his associates.
Not surprisingly, Uriah Smith in 1867 in his book Thoughts, Critical and Practical, on the Book of Revelation introduced this interpretation of the trumpets into the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It became the standard interpretation of the trumpets in Revelation in the church until recent times. Many members around the world still hold this view and believe that any deviation from it constitutes an apostasy from the faith.
Beginning with Louis Were in Australia in the 1940s3 and continued by Hans K. LaRondelle,4 Jon Paulien,5 and Ranko Stefanovic,6 the focus in the interpretation of the trumpets shifted from political and military events to spiritual aspects of the great controversy between Christ and Satan. Stefanovic, the author of the recent Sabbath school quarterly, presented this scenario in the lessons and in more detail in his book on Revelation. Instead of military invasions and battles, he emphasizes the spiritual battles in the context of the Great Controversy. The first trumpet is seen as God’s judgment on the Jews in A.D. 70, who were the first nation to persecute the Christians. The second trumpet heralds God’s judgment on Rome in the fifth century A.D.; Rome was the second nation to persecute the Christians. The third trumpet portrays the apostasy of the Christian Church in the medieval period. The fourth trumpet describes “the temporal darkening of the spiritual sources of the true light, namely, the Bible gospel, under the prevailing influence of secularism,”7 following the Dark Ages. The fifth trumpet, according to Stefanovic, “refers to the spiritual condition in the secular world and the consequences of such conditions from the eighteenth century to our time.”8 And the sixth trumpet “portrays the preparation for the battle of Armageddon, which is described later in the book (Rev. 16:12–16).”9
The lesson quarterly was heavily criticized by some because it seems to contradict Ellen G. White’s statement in The Great Controversy, where she wrote: “In the year 1840 another remarkable fulfillment of prophecy excited widespread interest. Two years before, Josiah Litch, one of the leading ministers preaching the second advent, published an exposition of Revelation 9, predicting the fall of the Ottoman Empire. . . . At the very time specified, Turkey, through her ambassadors, accepted the protection of the allied powers of Europe, and thus placed herself under the control of Christian nations. The event exactly fulfilled the prediction.”10 This is the only place in her writings where Ellen G. White refers to the trumpets in Revelation 9. Robert W. Olson, the former director of the Ellen G. White Estate, in his booklet “101 Questions on the Sanctuary and on Ellen White” questioned whether she really supported Litch or whether what she wrote is simply part of her description of the Millerite movement. He wrote: “If Ellen White, in The Great Controversy, pp. 334–335, means that John the Revelator’s prophecy was fulfilled on August 11, 1840, she would be giving support to Litch’s interpretation of Revelation 9:15. If she simply means that Josiah Litch’s prediction was fulfilled, then she is not necessarily supporting Litch’s interpretation of the text.”11 In other words, if she was simply recording what happened, she was not supporting Litch. Ángel Rodriguez correctly observed, “the fact that she never again mentions 1840 as a year when a biblical prophecy was fulfilled should make us cautious on how we use this single statement.”12
Heidi Heiks in his book Satan’s Counterfeit Prophecy has assembled a large amount of historical material showing that the traditional interpretation of the fifth and sixth trumpets in Revelation 9 is exegetically and historically not defensible. The assumed dates for the beginning and ending of the 150 and 391 years are not confirmed by historical events. For example, the Battle of Bapheus, which for Litch was the beginning date of the 150 years, did not take place on July 27, 1299, as Litch assumed, but three years later on July 27, 1302.13 At the 1919 Bible Conference, a committee concluded that it could not begin the 150 years on July 27, 1299, because “the date itself could not be established.”14 Furthermore, Litch did not take note of the 10 days that were deleted when the Julian calendar was changed to the Gregorian calendar in 1582. Thus, the date August 11, 1840, does not fit the prophecy.
The trumpets in Revelation 8 and 9 have produced two competing interpretations in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It behooves us to diligently study these chapters to see which interpretation is exegetically sound and has the support of history. Ellen G. White advised: “The fact that certain doctrines have been held as truth for many years by our people, is not a proof that our ideas are infallible. Age will not make error into truth, and truth can afford to be fair.”15