Question: "Is the last trumpet of 1 Thessalonians 4 the same as the seventh trumpet of Revelation?"
Answer: Those who hold to a midtribulation rapture teach that the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15 and the last trumpet of 1 Corinthians 15:52 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16 are identical. Those who teach a pretribulation rapture identify them as separate events. What difference does it make, and how can we know the truth?
Why does it matter whether or not the trumpets are the same? God has given us His Word as the revelation of His plan of redemption, and that plan covers everything from creation to the new creation. Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.” There are many things that God has chosen to reveal to us, and it is important for us to understand them so that we can obey Him. We don’t always understand why He does things, but we are called to trust Him for the parts we don’t understand and to study to understand the rest. As we look at the texts about these trumpets, it becomes clear that they are part of a chronology that God has given us of events in the last days. Whether or not we are still living when those events come to pass, they involve us, so we ought to know what God has revealed to us.
The book of Revelation has sometimes been viewed as a book of mystery, yet the title itself implies something brought out of hiding. More specifically, it is “the revelation of Jesus Christ . . . to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass” (Revelation 1:1). God wants us to know what is going to happen, so we can be prepared, and to help us in calling others to repentance. Beginning in chapter 6, we are given a chronological record of things that will happen in the last days. There is a series of seven seals, then a series of seven trumpets, then a series of seven bowls of wrath. We read in Revelation 11:15, “And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.’” In the context, this seems to come around the middle of the tribulation period.
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul is writing to believers concerning the transition from this life to eternal life. Our mortal bodies will be transformed into immortal, incorruptible bodies, prepared for the eternal kingdom of God. Verse 52 says, “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.” Paul addresses the same subject to the Thessalonians, and specifically connects it with the rapture of the church. “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17).
There is no question that God has revealed these things to us and that He intends for us to be encouraged and instructed by them. The question is whether these trumpets are the same. If they are the same, then the rapture of the church happens in the middle of the tribulation period, and saints need to be prepared to endure those trials. If they are not the same, then we need to know when the last trump will sound, so that we can be prepared for it.
It is clear that the first two passages (Corinthians and Thessalonians) fit together, but the third doesn’t appear to have any correlation in either the events described or the intended results. The argument connecting them has to depend on the meaning of the word last in 1 Corinthians 15:52. The Greek word eschatos can mean either “last in point of time” or “last in point of sequence.” This trumpet sounds before the wrath of God descends, yet Revelation 6:17 speaks of the wrath of the Lamb as having come, and the seventh trumpet doesn’t sound until Revelation 11:15. The trumpet of 1 Thessalonians is given in a moment, whereas Revelation 10:7 indicates that the seventh trumpet will be sounded for a number of days. Even though the seventh trumpet is the last one described in Revelation, Matthew 24:31 indicates there is yet another trumpet which will sound “after the tribulation of those days,” when Christ returns to the earth, which parallels with Revelation 19.
If the “last trumpet” of 1 Corinthians 15 is not the same as the seventh trumpet, then what was Paul referring to? Both 1 Thessalonians and 1 Corinthians were written long before John wrote Revelation, so Paul’s readers would have no knowledge of the seven trumpets of Revelation. Paul intended for them to understand what he was writing about, so we need to look elsewhere for clarification. Paul’s writing was distinctly in reference to the church and the closing of the church age at the rapture. Throughout Scripture, trumpets were used as signals to gather people, to set armies on the move, and as part of the worship of God. The trumpet that summons the church is called “the trump of God,” while those in Revelation are angelic trumpets. Since it is a summoning trumpet, we can look to the Old Testament for further understanding. Numbers 10 gives instruction to Israel about the use of trumpets to call an assembly of the people and to set them in motion. The first trumpet blast (v. 4) called the leaders together, while a continual blowing was an alarm for the people. A series of trumpet blasts was the signal for each group of tribes to begin their journey, and the last blast indicated the movement of the last group in the camp. Similarly, 1 Corinthians 15:23 speaks of different orders, or ranks, in the resurrection: “Every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming.” Further, 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17 divides Christ’s own into two groups—the dead in Christ and those who are alive and remain.
So, if the trumpet is the call for saints to assemble and journey to heaven, what does that mean for us? Jesus said that no one knows when the Day of the Lord will begin (Matthew 24:36), and 1 Thessalonians 5:2 describes it as coming as a thief in the night, without warning. In 1 Corinthians 15:58, we are told to be “steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” Just like the Israelites in the wilderness, we do not know when the trumpet will sound, so we are to be always ready. While we may not know the day or hour, we have been given enough information to know it can happen at any moment. We are to be ready, putting on the armor of God, because we have been appointed to receive salvation through Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:8–9).