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Then the fourth angel sounded: And a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them were darkened. A third of the day did not shine, and likewise the night. And I looked, and I heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, “Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!” Revelation 8:12–13.


What we find when the fourth trumpet sounds is the visible church-at-large in a completely fallen state. A third of the sun, moon, and stars were struck resulting in darkness. We know from our study of the Revelation so far that these heavenly bodies represent the word of God in some form. We understand the sun to be the New Testament, the moon to be the Old Testament, and the stars are the ministry sent to guide the church with the light of God’s word.

At about 600 AD apostasy had become so engrained in the visible church and ritual had been substituted for the experience of salvation. So, within the limits of the visible church-at-large there was nothing but darkness. However, notice that the darkness was not total; only thirds had been affected. From this we see God’s judgment on the apostasy that has taken down a portion of the church that professes to be the church of God. Matthew Henry makes five significant points on this darkness:


(1.) Where the gospel comes to a people, and is but coldly received, and has not its proper effects upon their hearts and lives, it is usually followed with dreadful judgments. (2.) God gives warning to men of his judgments before he sends them; he sounds an alarm by the written word, by ministers, by men’s own consciences, and by the signs of the times; so that, if a people be surprised, it is their own fault. (3.) The anger of God against a people makes dreadful work among them; it embitters all their comforts, and makes even life itself bitter and burdensome. (4.) God does not in this world stir up all his wrath, but sets bounds to the most terrible judgments. (5.) Corruptions of doctrine and worship in the church are themselves great judgments, and the usual causes and tokens of other judgments coming on a people.



God looks not just at the moment. At the time of the fourth trumpet God looks back over almost 6 centuries of the gospel during which time He has constantly given warning and alarm as the zeal for truth and righteousness was declining. Now that the visible church-at-large has gone into total apostasy the anger of God is loosed causing a situation where God says, “You do not want the truth so I am taking it away from you.” Without the light of God’s word corruptions of doctrine and worship become entrenched to such a degree that they can never be taken away. However, as Dr. Henry points out, God sets bounds even on the most terrible judgments. Only one-third of the light goes out meaning there is still light. Without going into detail, the light that remained was seen by such men as John Wycliffe and John Huss. Albert Barnes helps us with this comment:


It is not as if the sun, the moon, and the stars were entirely blotted out, for there was still some remaining light: that is, there was a continuance of the existing state of things—as if these heavenly bodies should still give an obscure and partial light. Perhaps it is also intended by the symbol, that there would be light again. The world was not to go into a state of total and permanent night.


Darkening of the Sun, Moon and Stars


Looking back at the fourth seal, we saw this apostate church represented by a pale horse whose rider is Death. The horse was the color of death and its rider was the personification of death. We will also recall in the letter to the church at Thyatira that this rider was called Jezebel. Death follows this dead church-at-large and it was said of Jezebel that she, that is the leaders of the apostate church, causes her followers to commit adultery with her and descend to the depths of Satan.

This Jezebel represents the papacy that arose to take the vast majority of the visible church-at-large out from under the rule of Christ. While the Roman church claims a lineage of popes intact from the person of the Apostle Peter, this is essentially fiction. In reality, the total power of the Bishop of Rome over the church-at-large began with Gregory the Great in 590 AD. It is said that Gregory was the last of the Church Fathers and the first of the medieval popes.[1]

The fourth trumpet says that because of the darkening of the sun, moon, and stars, a third of the day and the night did not shine. When the church abandons the truth of God’s word severe consequences happen to the integrity of that church.

Without sufficient light, the most trivial things become mountains that become dividing points. The Roman Church and the Greek Church, both in the same darkness, found a point of doctrine over which to divide and further destroy the influence of Christianity during the Middle Ages. The Roman Church said the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son; the Greek Church said the Holy Spirit proceeds from only the Father. In 606 AD the division between the Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church took place over this issue and both churches anathematized each other as heretics.

If we use the figure of a 24-hour day to mean the Middle Ages, considering the Roman Church as the day and the Greek Church as the night (or turn them around), both were apostate and did not shine for the entire day of the Middle Ages.

While the visible church-at-large was totally apostate, there was still some light of God’s word that was shining. During the mediaeval age several separatist and independent groups emerged, such as the Cathari, the Beguines, and the Waldenses. These were populations in Europe that rebelled against the authority of the pope and the corruption of the bishops and priests. These groups had views on the gospel that reached back to a purer church, although in cases there were some unique and even heretical understandings of doctrine and practice. However, even with some oddities, they were far closer to the truth of God’s word than the apostate church. For this they were sorely persecuted.


Immorality of the Fallen Church


The Jezebel nature of the papacy and its priesthood is said to seduce people to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. The Roman Church had far more influence in Europe and expanded its influence much further than did the Orthodox Church. While both have their Jezebel elements, those elements are more obvious and pervasive in the Roman Church.

The sexual immorality attributed to this Jezebel ministry in the letter to Thyatira represents the spiritual corruption of the apostate church. In the gospels Jesus taught that sexual immorality violates and breaks the marriage bond. (Matthew 19:9) The church is the bride of Christ. A false gospel has the same effect on the bond between Christ and the church as adultery has on a marriage.


I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I betrothed you to Christ to present you as a pure bride to her one husband. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if some one comes and preaches another Jesus than the one we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you submit to it readily enough. (2 Corinthians 11:2–4, RSV)


Jesus is the legal head of His church and the husband of His bride, the church. Fornication occurred when the Bishop of Rome was declared the Universal Pope, Vicar of Christ and effectively took the visible church away from its true husband. Shaff writes of the morals of the clergy at this time: “Clerical immorality reached the lowest depth in the tenth and eleventh centuries, when Rome was a sink of iniquity, and the popes themselves set the worst example.”[2] The gospel had become completely lost in the ministry of the church and was replaced by:

1.         The mass as the repetition of the sacrifice of Christ for sins of both the living and the dead.

2.         The sermon became the reading of writings of the church fathers. Even this was often neglected. Shaff comments on the quality of the preaching: “The great majority of priests were too ignorant to prepare a sermon, and barely understood the Latin liturgical forms.”[3]

3.         The seven sacraments: baptism, the Eucharist, confirmation, penance, marriage, ordination, and extreme unction.

4.         The worship of saints

5.         The worship of images and relics.

During this time the visible church ceased to be Christian and became pagan draped in the rags of nominal Christian trappings. The sun, moon and stars were darkened. No light shined in the day and in the night—the Roman Church and the Orthodox Church. It is tragic that without the light of God’s word people just become religious and do not realize the salvation that God makes possible through Jesus Christ. We cannot say that no one was saved during the Middle Ages, but real salvation was scarce. There are notable examples of people that were truly born again but for the most part they were persecuted and put to death.


The “Woe” Means Hoper for the People of God


As dark a picture that is sounded by the fourth trumpet, its final notes give hope to God’s people during this time.


And I looked, and I heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, “Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!” (Revelation 8:13)


The angels of the church, the stars that were not shining, are challenged by an angel that cries out to the church. This angel obviously represents a reformation that was percolating within the corruption of the visible church. This angel represents men such as John Wycliffe and John Huss who translated the Bible into their native languages and preached and wrote tracts on the real gospel.  They died before the actual Reformation but their work stirred people and prepared them for the Reformation that did come. Their work is described as “Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth.” The remaining blasts of the next three angels will expose this earthly church and call out God’s people to the true gospel of salvation from sin.


The Why


WHY did a church built by Jesus with the promise that the gates of hell would not prevail against it fall so deeply into apostasy from which it would never recover?

The first trumpet reminded us that the success of the conquering church is the commitment to follow its head and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, regardless of the cost. They quit following Jesus.

The second trumpet warned us of the danger of success in the battle against error. We can become too confident in our religious and church abilities and start following ourselves instead of Christ. They saw themselves as the only ones that are right.

The third trumpet warns us not to change the gospel message of salvation from sin and the holy life. When people do not hear of repentance and faith in Christ they become bitter because they have religion without salvation.

And the fourth trumpet warns us against a ministry with no light of the gospel. Such a ministry marries people to a false Christ and leads them into idolatry and spiritual fornication.

But we also see that Christ works against apostasy and in time restores the true bride of Christ, His church. Even in this last time of the seventh seal with all the spiritual corruption that surrounds us we have the hope that Christ will again restore the visible bride of Christ and prepare us for His second coming.

[1] Schaff,  History of the Christian Church, Vol. VI, p. 769.

[2] Ibid, p. 331.

[3] Ibid, p. 400.