by David Dence
Do you happen to know how many apocalyptic prophecies the Scriptures have given us? Seventeen. That’s right. Five in Daniel and twelve in the book of Revelation. Each of the seventeen prophecies are in chronological order and they fit together perfectly when properly assembled. The books of Daniel and Revelation are all about time and timing. The prophecies in Daniel and Revelation can be compared to a tall wedding cake having seventeen layers. The toothpicks that hold the cake layers together are the prophetic events in each prophecy that connect and align the layers with each other. In other words, dates or events in one layer connect to dates and events in other layers. When all seventeen layers are properly aligned, a glorious story about Jesus and His salvation is the result! The harmony that comes from the sum of all the parts is wonderful to behold.
Some of the seventeen prophecies in Daniel and Revelation have ordinal numbers in them. This feature forces events to occur in chronological order. For example, trumpet four has to occur between trumpets three and five. There is no wiggle room on this point. The same is true for the seven seals and the seven bowls. If the chronological order found in the Word of God cannot be trusted, who then would you trust to tell you God’s intended order. I hope you will ponder the significance of this statement. God Himself has declared the order of events in His Word. Therefore, the seven trumpets cannot occur twice because the seventh trumpet occurs at the close of salvation, when the Ark of the Covenant is shown from Heaven (Revelation 11:19), and these events occur a few weeks before the Second Coming.
Some believe the seven trumpets were one thing at one time and they can be something else in the future. This is impossible. The meaning of the fifth trumpet cannot change with time. The fifth trumpet has a set of specifications that cannot be changed or manipulated. The fifth trumpet only occurs when the specifications given in the fifth trumpet are met. If the fifth trumpet marks the release of the devil and his angels from the spirit realm so that Lucifer can physically masquerade on Earth as Almighty God, how many times can this happen? Moreover, if Lucifer is permitted to kill a third of mankind to set up his theocracy during the sixth trumpet, how many times can this happen? If the sixth seal is the Second Coming, how many times can the sixth seal be broken and the Second Coming take place? How many times can the seven bowls occur? Dual fulfillment and dual interpretation is pure fiction.
Valid rules of interpretation will not permit the fifth trumpet to be interpreted “one way” at one time and interpreted “another way” at another time. When dual interpretation is taken to its logical conclusion, fiction is the result. Claims of dual fulfillment and dual interpretation are beguiling. Once this sophistry invades prophetic study, Bible truth is trampled underfoot because a perfect full-fillment of prophecy cannot be found. Even worse, no one can anticipate a prophetic full-fillment because there is no way to determine what a second fulfillment would look like! Again, there is a simple rule that eliminates this problem. “A full-filling only occurs when the specifications are perfectly met and this includes the given order of the events.”
The Millerite movement was built on a false assumption and it eventually imploded because it forced the Bible to defend a conclusion rather than allowing the Bible to speak for itself. Sometimes the Bible speaks so softly that you must really strain to hear it.
In 1838, Dr. Josiah Litch, a scholarly Methodist minister from Massachusetts, published a 48 page booklet supporting Miller’s prophetic position. Litch had been studying the prophecies for some time when he became aware of the Millerite movement. Litch became involved in the movement and he produced this booklet which brought thousands into the Millerite movement in 1840. Looking through the corridor of history for a fulfillment for each of the seven trumpets, Litch came up with an explanation for the fifth and sixth trumpets that was better and more concise than anything heard before. Litch’s exposition on Revelation 9 fit within the paradigm of 1843 like a hand fits within a glove. Basically, Dr. Litch thought he discovered a time capsule. He translated the five months in Revelation 9:5 to mean 150 years (using a day for a year) and the time period called “an hour, day, month and year” in Revelation 9:16 he translated as 391 years and 15 days. In other words, Dr. Litch believed the fifth and sixth trumpets spanned a total of 541 years and 15 days.
Based on the time span, Dr. Litch concluded the fifth trumpet marked the rise of Othman, a Moslem commander who founded the Ottoman Empire. Litch calculated the five months mentioned in Revelation 9:5 began on July 27, 1299 when Othman began to assault (torment) the Greeks and the 150 years (using a day for a year) of torment ended when Constantine was crowned at Sparta in 1449. (This Constantine is not to be confused with the Constantine who ruled over Rome during the fourth century A.D.) Shortly after Constantine was crowned, Constantinople fell to the Moslems and according to Litch, the Ottoman Empire ruled over the Greeks for 391 years and 15 days. Litch concluded in 1838 that the Ottoman Empire would fall two years later, specifically on August 11, 1840. Litch’s prophetic position was hot news! It was widely published throughout New England and everyone waited anxiously to see what would happen. “At the very time specified,” Ellen White wrote in 1888, “Turkey, through her ambassadors, accepted the protection of the allied powers of Europe, and thus placed herself under the control Christian nations.” The Millerites were overjoyed. Their prophetic interpretation was on track. The Ottoman Empire appeared to have fallen and their joy increased as hundreds of new converts swelled the Millerite movement. Seeing was believing. The end of the world was less than four years away!
Three Tragic Outcomes
There are three tragic outcomes in this story. First, Jesus did not come in 1843 (the date was later changed to the Spring of 1844 and changed again to October 22, 1844) and this was a bitter disappointment for thousands of Millerites – the disappointment was so deep that many abandoned their faith in Jesus altogether. Second, history reveals that the Ottoman Empire did not fall on August 11, 1840 as Litch predicted. Consequently, anyone still clinging to Litch’s interpretation on the fifth and sixth trumpets is trusting in a meaningless interpretation. Third, by 1850 many Protestant churches in the United States abandoned the study of Daniel and Revelation altogether because Miller’s fiasco had proven that a historical approach to prophecy could not be trusted.
The Millerites reaped a bitter harvest because they (unwittingly) forced the Bible to support their conclusions. Ironically, history is about to be repeated. Millions of Evangelical Christians today are forcing the Bible to support their prophetic conclusions and they will be bitterly disappointed when they discover that there is no pretribulation rapture and no way to escape the destruction of the seven trumpets. On the other hand, millions of Christians who hold to a historical interpretation of prophecy will also be bitterly disappointed when they discover there is no escape from the seven trumpets! In both cases, the result will be the same – an overwhelming disappointment and spiritual bitterness.
In 1873 (35 years later), Dr. Litch published a book titled, A Complete Harmony of Daniel and the Apocalypse (published by Claxton, Remsen & Haffelfinger, Philadelphia) and to his credit, he indicated that his previous view on the seven trumpets had been unfounded. After the failures of 1843 and 1844, he went back to the Bible to see where he went wrong. Upon deeper study he became convinced that the seven trumpets would be seven future events (including a meteoric firestorm that burns up a third of the trees and all the green grass, and two civilization-threatening asteroid impacts). Litch concluded the seven trumpets will take place just before the Second Coming.
Some SDA scholars have recognized that Litch’s August 11, 1840 date is meaningless. Mervyn Maxwell is among them.
I have asked many pastors and scholars about their understanding of the seven trumpets. Usually, they brush aside the importance of the topic with one of two arguments. First, they often say the trumpets are in the past and are not essential to our salvation. Some may say that a dual fulfillment is possible. This seems to open the door for further Bible study. The dual fulfillment argument allows staunch members to hold to their historical view, but also allows progressive members to embrace another view. (Ironically, the Catholic Church did the same thing at the turn of the 16th century by offering the preterist and futurist views of prophecy simultaneously.) But dual fulfillment is impossible. Multiple interpretations make putty out of the “more sure word of prophecy.” Let me be clear, the intended meaning of a passage does not change with time and a fulfillment only occurs when all of the specifications are perfectly full-filled.
Ellen White may have believed the seven trumpets are yet future based on a quote from her book written in 1890, Selected Messages Volume III, page 426. This quote says, “Solemn events before us are yet to transpire. Trumpet after trumpet is to be sounded; vial after vial poured out one after another upon the inhabitants of the earth.”
She could have been referring to the seven trumpets since “vial after vial” is a reference to the seven last plagues which occur right after the trumpets.
Thanks to the ever increasing light God is shedding on His sure word of prophecy, we now have a much better understanding of the trumpets. Are you willing to learn or is your mind already made up?
If you and I are not agreed on a particular prophecy, it may be because either you or I or both of us are missing some critical information. The trouble is, we may not know what information we are missing. We may think we know it all. God help us to be humble learners, earnestly seeking after truth. How much is the truth worth to you? How much are you willing to pay for it? Would you even recognize the truth if you saw it?
Just two weeks ago a worker at a UPS distribution facility succumbed to temptation and stole a diamond. The next day he traded it for twenty dollars worth of marijuana. The dealer then took it to a pawn shop and discovered it was worth $160,000.00! Swine do not see the value of pearls or gems. Understanding the truth about the trumpets is of more value than you can imagine. The trumpets are the very scaffolding on which all closing events hang. Ignore the trumpets and your pile of closing events is a jumble. The only way to understand the timing of the Sunday law, for instance, is to understand its relationship to the trumpets. How valuable is that?!
- The Ottoman Empire Did Not Fall in 1840
Turkey remains a sovereign nation to this day. History does not indicate that the Ottoman Empire fell on August 11, 1840 and it is no surprise that historians do not regard August 11, 1840 as having any significance in Turkish history.
- Faulty Understanding of the Greek Language
Dr. Litch reached the August 11, 1840 date through a faulty translation of Scripture. The KJV says: “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.” (Revelation 9:15) Dr. Litch applied the day/year principle to this verse and derived 391 years and 15 days out of the hour, day, month, and year mentioned. The translation should read: “And the four angels who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year were released to kill a third of mankind.” Greek scholars around the world (who have no position to defend one way or another) widely agree that the syntax of Revelation 9:15 points to a specific point in time and is therefore punctiliar. The phrase should not be regarded as the sum of chronological units of time. (See the NIV, NEB, NEV, RSV, and ASV.) In other words, the sixth trumpet says nothing about 391 years and 15 days.
- August 11, 1840 Is the Wrong Date
The final problem with the August 11, 1840 date is that Dr. Litch failed to adjust his 391 year, 15 day prophecy according to a change in the calendar which occurred in October, 1582. Pope Gregory XIII removed ten days from the Julian Calendar that year to reset the Julian Calendar with respect to the Sun. Therefore, Dr. Litch’s August 11, 1840 date should have been adjusted to August 21, 1840 and absolutely nothing of historical consequence occurred on that date.
Well-meaning folks may promote the illusion of dual fulfillments, but multiple interpretations only harms and further obscures the truth. Why not let the Bible speak for itself? I have no doubts that Miller, Litch, and White did their best to understand God’s truth and if they were alive today, I believe they would eagerly update their thinking. Previous generations could not know all that we know today because man’s understanding of God’s truth is progressive. To reach the intended meaning of apocalyptic prophecy, we have to use valid rules of interpretation.
We have detailed what the sixth trumpet is not. This is only half the study. If you are honest and humble enough to acknowledge the above problems with the historic view, perhaps we can now move forward with what the Bible actually teaches about the sixth trumpet. How badly do you want to know? How good are you at sorting out truth from error? If you intend to use Ellen White as the final arbiter of prophecy, you have a rough road ahead of you. I know. I have been down that road. Are you ready to let the Holy Spirit lead you a little higher in your prophetic understanding than He lead dear Sister Ellen? Does that thought frighten you? May I pray for you? Time is running out, my friend, and you have lots to learn. Being thrust into the time of trouble with your limited knowledge could be unsettling.