The Seals, the Trumpets and the Bowls

What is the relationship among the seals, trumpets, and bowls? Do they follow one another in sequence, do they overlap or do they follow any sequence at all? This is a question that many have wrestled with and the different answers to this question span all methods of interpretation.

There are three options… ( I should learn by now to say, “at least…”)

  1. They are sequential, just as they appear in Revelation.
  2. The seals, trumpets and bowls conclude at the same point in time, so that each group of seven takes us back to the beginning of the previous seven, describing the same events using different symbols or pictures.
  3. The seven trumpets describe the judgments of the seventh seal, and the seven bowls describe the judgments of the seventh trumpet

I take the view that the events follow chronologically… with the sixth seal of chapter 6, taking us into the period of the outpouring of God’s wrath that is enacted in the trumpet and bowl judgments (6:12-17).

  1. The sixth seal brings us into the period of God’s wrath on the “earthdwellers” who have not been sealed… those who worship the beast — pagans
  2. But, the sixth seal does not cover the second coming of Christ (6:12-17).
  3. The seventh seal introduces the trumpet judgments, which are carried out until the seventh trumpet brings us the bowls. (11:15-18).
  4. The seventh bowl brings us to the consummation and return of Christ.

Once we have that question answered, another arises and that is, “Are the events described in the seals, trumpets and bowls literal or figurative?”

I like the way Alan Johnson frames the discussion in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary on Revelation:

The second problem concerns the literalness of the events described under each trumpet. The important but hard question is not literal versus nonliteral but what did John intend? Some things may need to be understood more literally and others quite symbolically. pg 95

What do you think? How do the seals, trumpets and bowls relate to one another and are the events described literal, figurative or a combination? How did you arrive at your conclusions?

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