Multiple Final Judgments in Revelation?

SYNOPSIS:  The three sevenfold series of Revelation all conclude with a final judgment scene.

Lightning over Warsaw - Photo by Krzysztof Kotkowicz on Unsplash
Final judgment scenes occur several times in the book of Revelation. For example, each of the sevenfold series of judgments, the seven seals, trumpets and bowls of wrath, ends in a final judgment scene, along with terrestrial and celestial upheaval (Revelation 6:12-1711:15-1916:17-21).

This becomes problematic if the book’s chapters are laid out in chronological order; logically, it would lead to a conclusion that the future holds multiple “final” judgments. If the book is not in a strictly chronological sequence, then the several judgment scenes point to the same final event, though perhaps presented from different aspects.

Chapter 6 of Revelation describes what happens when the Lamb breaks open the first six seals. The first four seal openings release four horsemen with limited judgments to harm “a fourth part of the earth.” The fifth seal reveals the souls of martyrs kept safe under the “altar” (Revelation 6:1-11).

The sixth seal opening produces “a great earthquake…the sun became black as sackcloth of hair and the full moon as blood” - Terrestrial and celestial upheaval. This image presents nothing less than the Day of the Lord, the time of the wrath of God’ and the Lamb. That day is marked by “a great earthquakeevery mountain and island were moved out of their place.”

The last description includes verbal parallels to the “Great White Throne of Judgment” when John “saw a great white throne and him who sat upon it; from his face the earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them” - (Revelation 20:11-18).

When the sixth seal was opened by the “Lamb,” all men cowered in fear and sought to hide under the mountains and rocks - “The sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the coming of the great and awful Day of Yahweh” (Joel 2:30-32Isaiah 2:10-22).

In fear, men from every social and economic class cried out - “The great day of their wrath is come and who is able to stand!?” This last clause alludes to Joel 2:11 - “It is the great is the day of Yahweh and awful exceedingly - Who then shall endure it?”

Thus, the Seven Seals culminate in the “Day of the Lord,” a time of judgment and universal upheaval. Similarly, the transition from the series of Seven Seals to the Seven Trumpets is marked by “voices, thunders, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.” (Revelation 8:1-6).

Volcanic Eruption, Hilo, Photo by Mandy Beerley on Unsplash
Mandy Beerley on Unsplash

Next, seven angels sound the Seven Trumpets. The first four impact the natural order and commerce - Vegetation, oceans, freshwater supplies, and the darkening of sun, moon, and stars. The last three trumpets are distinguished from the first four by the voice of a “flying eagle” that warns of three imminent “woes” about to befall the “inhabitants of the earth” (Revelation 8:7-9:21).

An "interlude" occurs between the sixth and seventh trumpets during which the sanctuary is measured, and the “Two Witnesses” prophesy and are killed (Revelation 10:1-11:14).

When the seventh trumpet sounds, loud voices in heaven declare, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign unto the ages of ages.” As with the sixth seal, God and the “Lamb” appear together at the climax of the series, and the twenty-four elders thank and praise the One “Who is and He who was, because he has…become king.”

In the prologue of Revelation, God was the one “Who is and Who was and Who is coming.” However, when the seventh trumpet sounds the last clause, “He who is coming” is dropped. This is because He has arrived when this trumpet sounds. The “kingdom of God” is consummated and the Lord is declared king over all things. It is time for the righteous dead to be “vindicated and given their reward,” but the wicked that were “despoiling the earth” are themselves “despoiled.”

What is described in the seventh trumpet is not an interim stage in a long series of events that precede the end of the age. The sevenfold series of trumpets closes like the previous series of seven seals - With “flashes of lightning and thunder and voices, and an earthquake and great hail.”

  • (Revelation 16:17-21) - “And the seventh poured out his bowl upon the air. And there came forth a loud voice out of the sanctuary from the throne saying, ‘It is Accomplished!’ And there came to be lightning and voices and thunders; and a great earthquake took place such as had never taken place since men came to be on the earth, such a mighty earthquake so great; and the great city became divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell; and Babylon the Great was brought into remembrance before God to give to her the cup of the wine of the wrath of his anger; and every island fled, and mountains were not found. And GREAT HAIL as talents COME DOWN out of heaven upon mankind; and men blasphemed God by reason of the plague of hail because the plague thereof was exceeding great.”

The Seven Bowls of Wrath are labeled the “last plagues” in which the “wrath of God was concluded.” Seven angels were commanded to “pour out the Seven Bowls of the wrath of God unto the earth.”  The first three contained plagues that harm the earth, sea, and the freshwaters of the earth. An angel declared, “Righteous are you He Who is and He Who was” (Revelation 15:1, 16:5-7).

Hurricane - Photo by Shashank Sahay on Unsplash
Shashank Sahay on Unsplash

The fourth bowl of wrath impacted the sun. This parallels the sounding of the fourth trumpet that caused the “sun to be smitten.” The fifth bowl was poured out on the “throne of the Beast” and brought darkness to its realm.  This effect parallels the smoke that “darkened the sun” in the fifth trumpet (Revelation 8:12, 9:2).

The sixth bowl of wrath dried up the “great river Euphrates” so the “kings of the east” could invade, just as the sixth trumpet loosed four angels from the “great river Euphrates” to torment humanity. Three demonic spirits are released to gather the “kings of the whole habitable earth to the battle of the great day of God the Almighty,” Armageddon (Revelation 9:13-15).

Unlike the Seven Seals and Seven Trumpets, there is no “interlude” between the sixth and seventh bowls of wrath, events proceed rapidly to their inevitable end.

The seventh bowl of wrath was poured out and a voice proclaimed - “It has come to pass.” Babylon and all the cities of the earth fell. This last bowl produced “flashes of lightning, voices, thunders and a great earthquakeevery island fled away and no mountains were found.” These effects are like those of the sixth seal. The reference to a “great hail” parallels the seventh trumpet with its addition of “great hail” (Revelation 16:17).

Satan is released at the end of the “thousand years” and he “gathers together the nations to the battle,” Gog and Magog (Ezekiel 38:1). The Satanic army “surrounds the camp of the saints and the beloved city.” No actual battle takes place. As soon as the saints are encircled, “Fire out of heaven comes down and devours” the forces of Satan, then he is “cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where both the Beast and the False Prophet are” (Ezekiel 38:1-4, Revelation 19:17-2120:8-10).

The overthrow of Satan is followed by the “Great White Throne of Judgment.” Before the One Sitting on the White Throne, “The earth fled and heaven, and place for them was not found.” The books are opened and the “dead were judged out of the things written in the books.”  At this time, “Death and Hades are cast into the lake of fire,” which is the “second death.”  Anyone whose name is not written in the book of life is cast into the “lake of fire” (Revelation 6:1416:2020:11-15).

There are too many verbal and conceptual links between the several “final” judgment scenes in the book of Revelation to be coincidental. All three sevenfold series climax in a final judgment scene. The Seven Seals and Seven Trumpets both culminate in the destruction of the wicked and the final vindication of the righteous.  The Seven Trumpets, the Seven Bowls of Wrath, and the release of Satan at the end of the “thousand years” all result in a final climactic battle between the forces of Evil and the Lamb followed by the final judgment.

There is one final judgment in Revelation, not several.  The series of Seven Seals, Seven Trumpets, and the Seven Bowls of Wrath are not consecutive but, on some level, concurrent. Reading the book as a sequence of events laid out in chronological order does not do justice to the material and causes numerous difficulties.

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