Third-Last Sunday of the Church Year
“The Trumpet of God”
Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
St. Matthew 25.15-28; 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18
10 November 2019
+ In the Name of Jesus +
“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry to command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.” (1 Thess. 4.16)
In ancient times, the trumpet was made of iron or bronze, the mouthpiece of animal horn. At the end the long pipe broadens out. This trumpet was not much used as a musical instrument; its main task was to give signals.
Trumpet signals were given to prepare for battle and to attack, to signal a retreat, to end the battle, to gather the scattered, and to signal the march back to camp after battle. For the ancient Roman armies, the ancient Jewish historian Josephus says that “the trumpet gives the signal for sleeping and watching and getting up. Nothing is done without a command [of the trumpet].”
There were other uses for the trumpet call. Shepherds gathered their flocks by trumpet signals, the herald silenced the people by a trumpet at the beginning of a trial or at the entrance of royalty. A trumpet also ordered silence before prayer, and summoned the people to sacrifices at the various temples in the Roman world.
In Palestine the horn is also an important instrument in war. On the borders guards were posted who warned the inhabitants of threatened danger with the sound of the horn. Horn signals summoned the young men to the holy war in Judges and 1 Samuel. “But the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet.” (Judges 6.34)
The trumpet call had religious significance for the Israelites. God was invoked by the sounding of the horn. Thus the sounding of the trumpets before battle is often mentioned along with prayer: “They cried unto the Lord, and the priests sounded with the trumpets.” (2 Chr. 13:14) And of course, the horns sounded at God’s command to accompany the Ark of the Covenant in procession around, and eventually to bring down, the walls of Jericho. (Joshua 6)
Then there was Israel’s regular use of the trumpet in worship and at feasts. At the time of Jesus, on ordinary days there were at least 21 trumpet blasts in the temple, and more on special occasions, though never more than 48. Three blasts were sounded in the morning when the temple gates were opened, nine at the morning sacrifice, nine at the evening sacrifice. At the morning sacrifice the Levites gave the signal for the choir of Levites to strike up, and during intervals in the singing the trumpets sounded again. When they did so, the people prostrated themselves in worship, and one was not to enter the place of worship once the trumpet of assembly had been blown. Trumpet blasts were also part of the yearly feasts of Tabernacles, Jubilees, to signal the New Year, and to signal when the lambs were slaughtered at Passover. A three-fold blast told everyone in Jerusalem when the Sabbath had commenced each week.
Why this significance for Israel and her trumpets? In Exodus 19, at the foundational event where God made His covenant with the people, giving them the Ten Commandments from behind the fire, cloud, and thick smoke on the mountain, there was the sound of a loud trumpet blast that accompanies the divine theophany at Mount Sinai. The whole event at Sinai struck great fear of God in the people, and no wonder, as Moses writes: “The voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder. Moses spake, and God answered him by a loud voice.” “These words the Lord spake unto all your assembly in the mount out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice.” (Dt. 5.22) The trumpet sounded at the giving of the Law to make all fearful of God – that we might fear His wrath and not do anything against His commandments.
“Blow a trumpet in Zion… for the day of the Lord is coming near,” says the prophet Joel. The day of the Lord is near, and its sound is bitter says the prophet Zephaniah, a day of wrath, distress, anguish, gloom, ruin, and darkness, a day of the trumpet blast and battle cry against mankind, “because they have sinned against the Lord.” (1:14-17)
But the trumpet call will not just signal judgement over sin at the Last Day, there comes also the salvation of God’s people. The trumpet sound proclaims the beginning of the age of salvation: “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpet shall be blown,” says Isaiah (27:13). God Himself shall blow the horn and bring about the saving of His flock on that great day, says Zechariah (9:14)
The dead, too, are raised to the sound of the horn. One ancient Jewish rabbi preached this about the resurrection: “God will take a great horn in his hand… He will blow it and its note will go from one end of the earth to the other. At the first blast the whole earth shakes; at the second the dust is sifted out; at the third the bones are brought together; at the fourth the limbs are warmed; at the fifth their skin is put on; at the sixth the spirits and souls enter their bodies; at the seventh they come to life and stand on their feet in their clothes, as it is said (by the prophet Zechariah): The almighty Yahweh will blow the horn.”
So it is no wonder that our Lord Himself tells us at the end of and right after our Gospel reading today:
For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man… Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (Mt. 24:27–31)
And we’ve heard the Apostle Paul’s word on the Last Day today:
“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry to command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4.16-17, ESV)
And again at 1 Corinthians 15:
Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. (1 Co 15:51–53)
We read these two passages from the apostle Paul when we commit the body of a deceased Christian into the grave at the cemetery. For we have our Lord’s promise, that when this trumpet shall sound, the army of angels will come and the King of Kings, the Lord Jesus, will appear, and for those who believe on His name, who are His elect, all things change to the good. Death will be done with and that battle will be at last over.
In a sense, the trumpet of God has actually already been sounding. God has always been at work, has always been playing His resurrection song. We just have not been privileged to hear it in its full and pure and brilliant and beautiful sound yet. It blared forth on the dawn of creation, when the Lord breathed out the breath of life, and all the angel hosts first sang their great “Holy, Holy, Holy” around the very throne of God. It blasted forth over the Bethlehem countryside as the angel hosts sang their great “Glory to God in the Highest.” It crescendoed over the hills of Jerusalem and to the ends of the earth on Good Friday and Easter Day, with the “Alleluias” and “Worthy is the Lamb” of the angels rending the veil of the temple, and shaking the earth to open all men’s graves, just as our Lord Jesus’ grave is opened and empty. (M. Franzmann, Ha! Ha! Among the Trumpets, paraphrased, p.4)
It may seem like all we see is death and decay all around. It may seem like everything is about to collapse, as the princes of this earth, those false-christs and false prophets rise and fall, and abominations desecrate God’s holy people. It may seem like the end of this temporal world is near, and it may very well be. It may seem we hear Sinai’s trumpet of Law and Judgment.
But all is not lost. The God who sounds that Resurrection Trumpet has claimed you and me. We breathe in Easter air. The fight may be fierce yet, the warfare long, but steals on the ear the distant trumpet song! The trumpet of God has sounded and is sounding – victory is yours. The story did not end with our Lord’s death, resurrection, and ascension two thousand years ago. The trumpet of God we hear for now – the very Gospel given in Word and Sacrament – calls and gathers you even now, your hearts are made brave again, your arms are made strong to go back out, to face the worst that this world and its ruler can throw at you.
You are the elect of God to be gathered by the holy angels at the final trumpet call. You will be brought safely into the happy harbor of the saints. The trumpet of God will sound forth in its full brilliance, and you will continue to sing with all the saints in glory the resurrection song, and you will stand in triumph on your grave. The Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will be there with you in full, clear, and beautiful view.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of + the Sons, and of the Holy Spirit +