Wednesday, September 1, 2021

34. The Revelation: The Opening of the Seventh Seal (Revelation 8:1-6)


When the Lamb opens the seventh and last seal on the little scroll that is the title deed to the earth (Rev. 5:1), the judgments of the day of the Lord will intensify and expand dramatically.

This final seal contains within it all of the remaining judgments of the time of the great tribulation, including the trumpet and bowl judgments. Though some believe the events of the trumpet and bowl judgments happen simultaneously with those of the sixth seal, it seems better to understand them as telescoping out of each other sequentially. That the seventh seal contains the seven trumpet judgments seems clear, since there is no description of judgment in the seventh seal, but an anticipation of severe judgment followed immediately in the text by the seven trumpet judgments. In a similar manner, the seventh trumpet does not describe a judgment (Rev. 10:7; Rev. 11:15–17), but rather contains the anticipation of heavenly rejoicing over the judgment to come.

The progressive judgments within the seventh seal will take place over an indefinite period of time. The effects of the fifth trumpet, for example, will last for five months (9:10). While the exact timetable for the trumpet and bowl judgments is not revealed, their escalating devastation indicates that they all occur during the last half of the tribulation. Therefore, the seventh seal encompasses all of God’s final wrath up to the return of Christ.



"When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour..." (Rev. 8:1)

When Jesus broke the seventh seal a unique response occurred—silence. A review of the visions up to this point makes it clear that John had heard much noise in heaven. Beginning in Revelation 4, “sounds and peals of thunder” emanated from God’s throne, (verse 5) and “the four living creatures … [did] not cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come’ ” (verse 8). Later John heard a “strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?’ ”, the cries of the martyrs for vengeance (6:9–10), the loud roar of a powerful earthquake (6:12), and an angel who “cried out … saying, ‘Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads’ ” (7:2–3).

But after all that loudness, when the judgment becomes visible on the scroll, both the redeemed and the angels are reduced to silence. They face the reality of the future destruction they see written and answer with the silence of foreboding and awe at what God is about to do.

While eternal heaven has no time, the apostle John, who is seeing the vision, does. Each minute of that half hour of silence must have increased the sense of suspense for John. Heaven, which had resounded with loud praises from the vast crowd of people and angels, became strangely still. The greatest event since the fall is about to take place. All heaven is seen waiting in great expectancy.


"And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them." (Rev. 8:2)

Following the half hour of heaven’s silence, John experienced the seven angels who stand before God. The use of “the” appears to set them apart as a unique group, which some have called the presence angels. The Greek verb translated “stand” indicates that they were in the presence of God and had been there for a time. Scripture describes various ranks and orders of angels, such as cherubim (Genesis 3:24), seraphim (Isaiah 6:2), archangels (1 Thessalonians 4:16; Jude 9), thrones, dominions, rulers, authorities (Colossians 1:16), and powers (Ephesians 6:12). These seven appear to be one such order of high-ranking angels. Gabriel may have been one of them (Luke 1:19).

As John watched, seven trumpets were given to these angels, in preparation for the trumpet judgments that would shortly follow. As they did in the seal judgments (Rev. 6:1, 3, 5, 6, 7) and will in the bowl judgments (Rev. 16:2, 3, 4, 8, 10, 12, 17), angels participate in the trumpet judgments. That involvement is consistent with the teaching of Jesus that angels will play an important role in God’s future judgments (Matthew 13:39–41, 49–50; 16:27; 25:31).

Each of the seven trumpets unleashes a specific judgment of greater intensity than the first six seals, yet not as destructive as the seven bowls (Rev. 16:1–21). The first four trumpets destroy the earth’s ecology (8:6–12), the next two produce demonic destruction of humanity (8:13; 9:1–11, 13–19), and the seventh trumpet introduces the final outpouring of God’s wrath contained in the seven bowl judgments. We will talk about the trumpets more in the coming days.

Having been introduced and given their trumpets, the seven angels did not immediately blow them. They had to wait for other important events to transpire.


"Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a golden censer; and much incense was given to him, so that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand. (Rev. 8:3–4)

John’s attention was drawn from the seven angels with their trumpets to another angel who came and stood at the altar of incense (cf. Rev. 6:9). Some identify him as Christ. However, this is unlikely because: (1) Christ is already identified in the heavenly scene as the Lamb (Rev. 5:6; 6:1; 7:17); (2) Jesus is nowhere identified as an angel in the New Testament; (3) the angel in verse 3 is described as another of the same kind, like those in verse 2; and (4) everywhere He appears in Revelation, Jesus is clearly identified. If He were the One at the altar, it is reasonable to assume that He would be specifically identified.

John notes that “the angel came and stood at the altar.” That altar is the heavenly counterpart to the altar of incense in the temple, which also was made with gold (Exodus 30:3). It was the same golden incense altar seen by Isaiah in his vision (Isaiah 6:6) and by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 10:2). The further description of this altar as “before the throne” assures John’s readers that the altar of incense was the earthly counterpart to this heavenly incense altar. That is evident because the altar of incense in the tabernacle and the temple was the nearest thing to the Holy of Holies where God’s glory dwelt (Exodus 30:6). Consistent with that identification is that the angel held a golden censer, or firepan. In the Old Testament, the priests would twice daily take hot, fiery coals from the brazen altar and transport them into the Holy Place to the incense altar (Exodus 30:7, 8). The angel took the incense symbolizing the multiplied prayers of God’s people (Rev. 5:8; Rev. 6:9–11) that was given to him. Though it does not say who gave the angel the incense, the verb “was given” frequently refers in Revelation to something given by God. This was so that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints already rising from the altar. Those prayers were for Satan to be destroyed, sin to be defeated, their deaths to be avenged (Rev. 6:9–11), and Christ to come. As the angel added his incense to that already burning on the altar, the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand. These are undoubtedly the cries of believers in the great tribulation against their persecutors and all who blaspheme God and Christ in that time.


"Then the angel took the censer and filled it with the fire of the altar, and threw it to the earth; and there followed peals of thunder and sounds and flashes of lightning and an earthquake." (Rev. 8:5)

“The censer … filled with the fire of the altar,” usually linked with the prayers of God’s people, becomes here a symbol of divine wrath. The angel’s act of throwing it to earth reveals that God’s judgment will come in direct response to those prayers. The cumulative effect of the prayers of innumerable righteous men will be very powerful (see James 5:16). The immediate effects of the firestorm of wrath that bursts upon the earth are “peals of thunder and sounds and flashes of lightning and an earthquake,” in direct contrast to the silence (8:1). “Peals of thunder and sounds and flashes of lightning” are associated with the awesome majesty of God’s glorious throne in (Rev. 4:5; 11:19; 16:18; Exodus 19:16–19). No details are given about the earthquake, but it will probably be at least as powerful as the one associated with the sixth seal (Rev. 6:12). We look at the trumpets beginning tomorrow.