We all read Revelation and wonder, “What exactly are the seven trumpet judgments: hail, fire, scorched earth?” Biblical scholars’ opinions vary. Gill settles into a clear, historicist view; meaning, he sees these judgments as having occurred already for a specific purpose: to destroy the Roman empire (Rome Pagan, as he calls it). The seven vial judgments will ruin the Roman religious system (Rome Papal, as he calls it) (see Gill’s comments on Rev. 8:6). Gill gets specific. The first trumpet occurs in 395 A.D. The fifth trumpet occurs in 612 A.D. with the rise of Islam. We are still under the sixth trumpet judgment, he says (see Gill’s comments on Rev. 7:7; 8:13; and, 11:15).
Gill’s Historical Framework of the Trumpets
Fundamental to Gill’s view is the split of the Roman empire after Constantine’s reign. Emperor Theodosius split the empire between his two sons, Acadius and Honorius, which resulted in an eastern empire (centered in Constantinople) and a western empire (centered in Rome). The first four trumpets attack the western empire through hostile invasions from the Goths, Huns, and Vandals. The fifth and sixth attack the eastern empire through invasions from the Saracens, Mahomet, and the Turks. The western empire was divided into 10 kingdoms in 455 A.D., which, for Gill, will become prominent later with the beast’s 10 horns (Rev. 17:12). Gill lays out this sequence of events in his comments on Revelation 8:6-7, 12.
Gill & the Trumpet Judgments
He says the first trumpet occurred between 395 A.D. and 408 A.D. when the Goths (Germans) invaded Italy and took France and Spain from Emperor Theodosius’ son, Honorius. The “hail,” “fire,” and “blood,” mentioned in Revelation 8:7 is poetic language describing invasion. Gill references Isaiah 28:2 as using such language to describe Assyria’s invasion of Israel in the OT:
Behold, the Lord has one who is mighty and strong; like a storm of hail, a destroying tempest, like a storm of mighty, overflowing waters, he casts down to the earth with his hand.
The “earth” represents the Roman empire. “A third of the trees” refers to people of high rank or nobility, the “green grass” refers to the world’s kingdoms, etc. All this is spelled out in Gill’s comments on Revelation 8:7.
The second trumpet occurred in 410 A.D. or 412 A.D. when Rome was sacked by Gothic king, Alaricus. The “great mountain” refers to Rome. The “third of the sea became blood” refers to Rome’s jurisdictions. The “fish” represent common people and the “ships” represent towns (see Gill’s comments on Rev. 8:8-9).
The third trumpet occurred when the Vandals (also Germans) invaded North Africa. From there, they began to affect Sicily. The “third of the rivers” refer to Roman provinces and the “wormwood” refers to the bitter afflictions from war (see Gill’s comments on Rev. 8:10).
Finally, the fourth trumpet occurred when the Goths, Vandals, Heruli (which were Germans), and Huns (which were eastern Europeans) spread throughout the western empire. Gill says they assisted “the antichrist, to fix and settle his dominion over the kingdoms which rose up out of the empire at this time” (see Gill’s comments on Rev. 8:12). These would be the 10 kingdoms which rose up out of the western empire. This was a dark period of decline in the gospel’s light. At this point, Gill says there is a 135-year gap until the fifth trumpet is blown.
This is a good stopping point to reflect on Gill’s angle concerning prophecy. A little history on the historicist view might help see Gill’s prophetical worldview. As best I could trace it, the seeds of the historicist view were laid when Augustine wrote his famous treatise, City of God, in the early 400’s A.D. He took a spiritualized view of Scripture, and others began to adopt a less literal, more allegorical, interpretation of Scripture. Centuries later, the historicist view was developed, loosely, by Italian theologian, Joachim of Flores (ca. 1135-1202 A.D.). He saw history as categorized into three periods based on the Trinity: (1) the age of the Father = OT times; (2) the age of the Son = NT times; and, (3) the age of the Holy Spirit = a future Christian utopia. From this, theologians began to develop varying views of actual historical events and their relation to prophetical scriptures.
By the time of the Reformation, most of the Reformers were historicists on some level (Luther, Calvin, Knox, Cramner, Tyndale, and others).
They saw the Roman Catholic Church, which was persecuting them violently, as a great force of evil. Likely, it would be hard for them to imagine a force rising that could be more violent to the gospel cause or to gospel ministers, whom they were torturing and beheading. Once the Reformation had its glorious hour, the post-Reformation times set in. John Gill would have entered into ministry during these times. The atrocities of the Roman Catholic Church’s persecutions and the glories of the Reformation they spawned were fresh on Gill’s mind and heart. Naturally, he would adopt many of the views of these Protestant forerunners. He had access to their voluminous literature. We can see how he would adopt their views, almost insipiently, as they were the prevailing view of the times. Indeed, recent history seemed to support the historicist view.
Yet, sometimes it’s good to step outside of our own historical milieu and survey God’s redemptive history. For instance, Gill was so jaded by the Roman Catholic Church’s recent actions that he tended to see everything evil in Scripture as pointing to Rome Pagan and Papal. Yet, if we go back to another historical milieu, the Mosaic era for instance, many of the same events were literal: water to blood, hail, thick darkness, etc. We wonder why he didn’t take a literal approach until or unless the literal approach simply became unfeasible (and, if similar things occurred in Egypt, then a more literal approach at least must be feasible). I am not arguing for a literal interpretation, but other reputable scholars (like Grant Osborne) have.1Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002
It’s no secret I admire Gill and his work. Yet, I wonder if he was too captivated by his own times. Further, I wonder if he allowed those times to seep into the interpretive process. As I’ve said many times, I’ll withhold judgment. Though I have reservations, I still am able to sit back and admire his magnificent contribution to the eschatological discussion.
|1||Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002|