The Last Trump
The Day of Judgment is to be announced to the world by the sound of "Gabriel’s Trumpet", the Last Trump! That is still orthodox theology, for little has been done since medieval times to rationalise this vivid symbol of the manner in which God will apprise the nations that their time of rule—or rather, perhaps, misrule—is ended and He is about to intervene in earth’s affairs for the institution of the Age of blessing and of world conversion. It is not yet realised as widely as it should be that the New Testament "Day of Judgment" is not for the purpose solely of passing sentence upon the unregenerate but also, and more importantly, to bring men to a full knowledge of God’s ways and purpose and of the salvation that inheres in Christ, and to afford a full and fair opportunity, in the light of full knowledge and ability, to accept or reject Christ and the life that only He can impart. All that is the work of a period, a long period measured against the scale of human history; "Gabriel’s Trumpet" will continue sounding throughout its duration and not be silent until all of God’s human creatures will have made their free and unfettered choice for good or evil, for life or death.
That the various allusions to the Last Trump in the New Testament are symbols is very generally accepted. This sophisticated Age is hardly likely to be either impressed or terrified by an audible sound from the sky, even if the heavenly messenger should be literally visible up amongst the clouds. The whole thing would be dismissed as a rather ingenious advertising stunt. The Scriptures have something important to tell us about the manner in which the imminence of Divine intervention in earth’s affairs will be made known to mankind and this particular symbolic representation is one of the means.
There are three allusions in the New Testament which are relevant. One, in Rev.11:15‑19, is detailed and constitutes a clear picture of the entire process covered by the "Last Trump"; the others, in 1 Thess.4:16 and 1 Cor.15:52, are casual references intended to be understood in the light of the Revelation passage. The whole is based upon the use of the trumpet in Old Testament narratives as the summons to war, the alarm of approach of an enemy, and in a different sphere, to announce the accession of a king. Cases in point are Jud.3:27, Zeph.1:16, Joel 2:1 and Jer.6:1 where the trumpet is both the signal of approach of the enemy and summons to prepare for battle. Two instances where the accession of a king was made known by the blowing of trumpets are those of Solomon (1 Kings 1:34) and Jehu (2 Kings 9:13). A rather striking usage appears in Isa.27:13 where the prophet says that in the day of Israel’s regathering at the end of the Age "the great trumpet shall be blown" and Israel shall return from the countries of their dispersion to serve the Lord in a cleansed and sanctified Jerusalem. It is obvious that this "great trumpet" is synonymous with the "Last Trump" since this regathering is one of the processes that characterises the period with which that Trump deals.
Coming then to Rev.11:15‑19 (margin—See Schofield & Diaglott) we have the culmination of a series of historical events symbolised by the preceding six trumpets expressed in the words "And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdom* of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever...And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them that destroy (corrupt) the earth...and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail." All this is a vivid picture of a great commotion upon earth indicative of the final stages of human rule and the supersession of that rule by the incoming Divine government which in many other Scripture connections is associated with the Second Advent of Christ. The mind is inevitably taken back to the prophetic visions of the prophet Daniel. In one of the most striking (Daniel chap.7) he sees a procession of ferocious wild animals symbolising the successive great empire powers of this world and their coming into judgment before the Most High; their condemnation and destruction is followed by the appearance of the "Son of Man" who, with his saints, establishes an everlasting kingdom upon earth which shall never pass away. Succeeding revelations (chaps.11 & 12) indicate that the powers of this world do not submit without a struggle but eventually the powers of heaven are victorious and the result is the suppression of all that corrupts the earth and the commencement of the Messianic Age, the purpose of which is to complete the Divine plan for mankind.
All this is not the work of a moment. There is a period of time here envisaged during which the anger of the nations rises to a climax, the world of man disintegrates, and the invading power of heaven becomes more and more evident in the sequence of events. There are "voices in heaven" which proclaim what is happening, voices of those who see what is coming and proclaim it abroad, unheeded at first but listened to at the end. Some of those voices were raised over a century ago; the seventh trumpet has been sounding since then and will go on sounding until what Paul calls "this present evil world" has utterly passed away and been replaced by the "world to come" in which dwelleth righteousness.
The next most significant allusion is that in 1 Thess.4:16 descriptive of the Advent; "the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise–" The trumpet here is associated with resurrection, the resurrection of the Church. This is confirmed by the association of the third allusion, that in 1 Cor.15:51‑52; "We shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed". In these references the trumpet becomes the symbol of the summons to the church, faithful Christians of all generations, past and present, to enter into full union with their Lord in the celestial world through the gate of resurrection. None would take this literally; no trumpet blast can wake the dead; the resurrection and the "change" of the church to celestial conditions is effected by Divine power exerted in the realm of the spirit and there can be no outward evidence of this event in the sight of men upon earth. Nevertheless the trumpet that has been sounding throughout this "End of the Age" period is also an indication that at some time during the sequence of events which comprise the period this great happening takes place, and before the end of that sounding. The same trumpet announces the revelation of the Lord from heaven accompanied by his saints in glorious manifestation (Matt.13:43) and that must obviously follow the stage in this period that witnesses their resurrection to celestial conditions.
The general picture in all this symbolism is that the seventh trumpet announces and heralds the Advent of our Lord as earth’s new king and draws attention to the various aspects of that Advent. This is no sudden single catastrophic event in which He appears instantaneously in all the glory of his regal authority and the powers of earth immediately submit to him. His coming is a progressive one, running parallel with the continuing disintegration of earthly power and marked by the emergence of those factors which are to constitute the salient features of his kingdom when it is established in power and universally accepted. These are the signs of his parousia, his presence, in whatever form that presence has reality–and we do not really know what that form is since it belongs to the world of the spirit and not that of the flesh. The worsening strife and tumult amongst the nations and the increasing inability of ordered government to arrest the forces making for disorder and disruption is one sign. The tottering financial and economic structure, threatening more and more an imminent collapse with all that means for world disaster, is another. The nuclear threat, the more menacing as its possession passes into the hands of younger and more irresponsible powers, is another. World pollution, ever approaching nearer to the point of no return, is another. On the other side of the canvas, the very evident realisation of the prophetic programme in the restoration of the earthly covenant people, Israel, to the land which is to be the focal point of Divine government upon earth, is another, as is the tremendous increase of knowledge and enlightenment both upon the purposes and laws and character of God which has come as a result of Christian Bible study and evangelical effort for more than a century past, and the equally remarkable progress in the understanding of Nature and Nature’s processes over the same period which is laying the foundation for man’s intelligent use of the earth’s resources for his daily life in the Age to come. All this, and somewhere within this same period, the most momentous event of all, even though hidden from human perception, the resurrection of the "dead in Christ" and the change to celestial conditions of those who at this time are "alive and remain", preparatory to their joint union with Christ and association with him in the coming kingdom. This is why many thoughtful Christians, not confined to any one denomination, have seen and proclaimed, that we are now living "in the days of the Son of Man", that, in a manner beyond our capacity to define or visualise in concrete terms, we have already entered into the initial stages of his Second Advent, stages that will become more and more influential in the earth until, as Isaiah (42:4) predicted, "He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law". All these things are elements in the sounding of the Last Trump.