Summary: The last trumpet signals the beginning of the judgment of the world, the flip side of the redemption purchased on the cross.
Trumpets grab your attention, don’t they. When we can talk Elaine into warming up her lips and accompanying the choir on her trumpet, you can practically feel the temperature rise here in the sanctuary. And the suspense has been mounting steadily since the first seal was opened. The watchers - angels and saints and John and the readers of his book - are already on the edge of their seats. The intermission between the sixth and seventh trumpets has come to an end, the scene has shifted back to the heavenly stage, and the seventh angel lets loose with the final fanfare.
This isn’t the first time the text has come at an interesting time. Remember that we opened the first seal the week the Iraqi war started? We watched on Palm Sunday as the 12 tribes of Israel were ushered into the Presence. And here we are for the crowning of the King on Ascension Sunday. Coincidence? Well, maybe, but what I think it means is that if you look at events in the right way, you can always see God’s hand in them. Jesus ascended into heaven some 2,000 years ago, and as we noted last week we down here are still in the intermission, the age of witness. All we have to do is look around us to know for certain that Jesus does not yet reign over all the earth.
What this passage tells us, among other things, is that even though we do not yet see the results of Jesus’ final victory, it has in fact already happened. “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah.” [v. 15b]
But what else does it tell us?
“God's temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen... [v. 19] This is the first time anyone has seen the ark of the covenant since Babylon destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC. What’s the significance? I think there are two points to keep in mind.
The first point is that the covenant that God made with his people at Mt. Sinai is still in effect. Back in those days, when two warring nations finally signed a peace treaty, the ensuing document was then deposited before the local deity in the temple, inviting the avenging curses mentioned in the covenant if it were broken. And so one of the things this underlines is the fact that the people were warned of the consequences of disobeying the covenant right from the start, and have no one to blame but themselves if they now find themselves on the wrong side of history.
At the end of the 40 years the Israelites spent wandering in the wilderness, Moses gathers the people together to renew the covenant. “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today”, he says, “that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live. [De 30:19] But he knows what they are like. Moses already knows that they are going to disobey. He tells them: “You have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes... But to this day the LORD has not given you a mind to understand, or eyes to see, or ears to hear.” [De 29:2,4] Moses goes on, “It may be that there is among you a man or woman ... whose heart is already turning away from the LORD our God ... All who hear the words of this oath and bless themselves, thinking in their hearts, "We are safe even though we go our own stubborn ways"... the LORD will be unwilling to pardon them... All the curses written in this
book will descend on them. [De 29:18-20]
This covenant has not been repealed. It applies to the new Israel - the church - as well as to the old. The same blessings will come to those who are faithful, the same judgments to the ones who are not. Do you think that there might be people in the church who, like Moses’ hearers, were outwardly agreeing to the terms of the treaty, but inwardly aren’t with the program at all? I think there might be. I think people haven’t changed a whole lot from that day to this. The other thing to remember is that God has not changed, either.
A lot of people - from the first century to the present - see a real change in God’s character between the Old Testament and the New, pointing to the bloody conquest of Canaan by the Israelites and the stern warnings of judgment from the prophets, and contrasting that with the love of God displayed in Jesus Christ. We have become so accustomed to that God of love that many of us forget that Jesus himself also spoke of a time of judgment, when those who turn their backs on God’s offer of life will be shut out from his grace forever. Of course there are the traditional hell-fire and brimstone sermons made famous in the tent revival circuit, but most Presbyterians - including me - are not comfortable with that