The Seventh Seal - (Revelation 8:1-6)

SYNOPSIS:  The seventh seal ends with the seven angels prepared to sound their trumpets. There is a close link between the seals and the trumpets.

Photo by Tom Barrett on Unsplash
Photo by Tom Barrett on Unsplash
The paragraph describing the seventh seal opening also introduces the next sevenfold series, the seven trumpets. The paragraph is a transition from the seals to the trumpets (Revelation 8:1-6).

The literary structures of the seals and the trumpets include several common features. Both begin before the throne, both include the seven spirits or angels, both feature the “prayers of the saints,” and both include a final judgment scene marked off by “voices, thunder and lightning” (Revelation 6:12-178:511:19).

In both series, the first four events are distinguished from the final three, and both have a literary break between the sixth and seventh events during which saints are prepared for future challenges (the “sealing” of the saints [7:1-21]; the measuring of the temple [11:1-2]).

Transition to the Seven Trumpets (8:1)

(Revelation 8:1) - “And when he opened the seventh seal there came to be silence in heaven, as it were half an hour.”

This verse picks up the narrative from the end of Chapter 6, the day of the wrath of the Lamb.  The return to the series of seal openings indicates that the vision of Chapter 7 is parenthetical.

Up to this point, events in heaven have been noisy; the sudden silence is unexpected. This is not complete silence but the cessation of the “flashes of lightning, thunders and voices,” which resume when an angel casts fire into the earth. When they resume they are in a different order and an “earthquake” is added. The silence suggests that the activity is halted before the throne while the prayers of the saints ascend to God.

The “half-hour of silence” anticipates judgment.  Elsewhere in Revelation, the “hour” refers to the decisive time of judgment. In the Old Testament, silence preceded the Day of the Lord. The first half of the “hour” is set aside so that heaven can receive the prayers of the saints, which set in motion subsequent events (Hab. 2:20, Zephaniah 1:7, Zechariah 2:13).

Silence” alludes to clauses from the book of Zechariah, imagery that has already been used to describe the riders on the four colored horses. Zechariah saw riders traveling throughout the earth that reported that “All the earth is silent.” Yahweh responded by promising to punish the nations that had afflicted Zion and to “build my house and stretch a line over Jerusalem…My cities will yet overflow.” Zechariah later saw a vision of a man holding “a measuring line in his hand” with which “to measure the length and breadth of Jerusalem”; thus, “Jerusalem will be inhabited without walls by reason of the multitude of men and cattle in it” (Revelation 6:1-8, 11:1, Zechariah 1:7-16, 2:1-13)

Yahweh exhorted His people to flee from “the daughter of Babylon” because He was about to judge her. Zechariah called on “all flesh to be silent before Yahweh, for he is roused out of his holy habitation” to execute His judgment (Zechariah 2:13).

This background explains the distinction between the first four and the last three seals, and between the first four and the last three trumpets; the picture of silence before God when He acts for His people. The picture of “measuring” Zion will be used when John “measures” the sanctuary between the sixth and seventh trumpets (Revelation 11:1).

Seven Angels Standing Before God

(Revelation 8:2) - “And I saw the seven angels that stand before God; and seven trumpets were given to them.

The seven angels are possibly identical with the seven angels that also execute the seven bowls of wrath, and with the “seven angels” of the churches of Asia. They are represented by the “seven torches of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.”

Stand” represents a Greek verb in the perfect tense, action completed in the present to emphasize permanence. This is reinforced by the preposition enĊpion or “before,” the same one used for the “seven lamps of fire that burn before the throne” (Revelation 1:43:14:55:6).

The equipping of the angels with trumpets is a result of the opening of the last seal. Only at the end of this paragraph do the seven angels prepare to sound the trumpets. The opening of the last seal sets the series of seven trumpets into motion.

The judgments released against “inhabitants of the earth” were anticipated in the letter to the church at Philadelphia; an “hour of trial” that would arrive to “try them who dwell upon the earth.” This same clause also occurs in the plea of the martyrs under the altar, “how long before you judge and avenge our blood on them who dwell upon the earth?” That plea now receives its answer.

The Angel with the Golden Censer

(Revelation 8:3-4) - “And another angel came and stood over the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given to him much incense, that he should add it to the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar that 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.

The prayers of the saints must be heard before the trumpets can sound, just as the prayers of the saints were heard before the Lamb broke open the seven seals (Revelation 5:8-10). The prayers of God’s people actuated the contents of the sealed scroll.

Two different altars are in view; “the altar” and “the golden altar.” When the fifth seal was opened, John saw the souls of martyrs under the altar of burnt offering, which originally was set up in the outer court of the Tabernacle. The “golden altar” of incense was located before the veil of the Holy of Holies. The action has moved a step closer to the throne of God.

The “fire of the altar” points to the presence of two altars. In the Tabernacle, the fire was taken from the altar of burnt offering to light incense offered on the “golden altar.”  The fire burned constantly on the former, not on the latter.

The Greek clause is not clear; the sense is that the angel added a vast amount of incense to the “prayers of all the saints.” Incense and prayers ascend together from the golden altar. The prayers offered are added to the earlier pleas from the martyrs of the fifth seal; both ascend to God from the “golden altar.” The prayers of Christian saints are added to those of the slain from the Old Covenant. The latter were heard from beneath the altar of burnt-offering. Now, both ascend together from the golden altar.

The incense represents the prayers of the saints; the “golden bowls full of incense” were previously identified as “the prayers of the saints” (Revelation 5:8). The “golden altar before the throne” locates this scene before the heavenly throne (see Revelation 4:1). Other links confirm this (e.g., “voices, thunders, lightning, earthquake”; “prayers of the saints”). The reader is once again before the throne where the Lamb first took possession of the sealed scroll.

The “golden altar” is seen again in Revelation 9:13. The altar of incense was setup before the veil of the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle. Each morning and evening fire from the sacrificial altar lit the incense on the “golden altar” (Exodus 30:34-3837:25-2640:2639:38Numbers 4:11),

The blowing of the seven trumpets borrows imagery from the fall of Jericho in the book of Joshua. Israel marched around the city as the priests blew their trumpets. The church has already been pictured as Israel assembled to enter the Promised Land twelve-thousand males “from each of the twelve tribes of Israel” (Revelation 7:1-8Numbers 1:1-16, Joshua 6:1-27).

As the final “hour” approaches, the church is assembled on the border of another Promised Land, poised to bring down the walls of a great city.  Joshua led Israel with the priests bearing the Ark of the Covenant across the Jordan River, and the twelve men “from each of the tribes of Israel” (Joshua 3:12).

On each of the first six days after entering the land, the men of Israel marched once around the city led by seven priests with the horns of rams. The people kept silent during the first six days (“You will not shout or let your voice be heard”), so Israel marched around Jericho in silence, except for the blast of trumpets by the priests. On the seventh day, Israel marched around the city seven times, the priests blew the seven horns, and the people shouted as one, which brought down the city walls (Joshua 6:9-22).

This background becomes more apparent at the end of the seven trumpets.  Before the seventh angel sounds his trumpet, “At that hour a great earthquake occurred and a tenth of the city fell” (Revelation 11:13).

In Revelation, it is not ancient Jericho but the great city, “spiritually called Sodom and Egypt,” that falls, identified elsewhere as the “great city Babylon.” When the seventh trumpet sounds, “loud voices” are heard, God’s kingdom is consummated, the dead are judged, and the heavenly sanctuary appears with the “Ark of the covenant” (Revelation 11:8-19).

The martyrs under the altar were told to wait until their full number was assembled. Now “the prayers of all saints” actualize the anticipated judgments on the “inhabitants of the earth.” There is no call to wait any longer; all are now gathered to offer prayers on the “golden altar.” God is set to vindicate His saints by unleashing judgments on their persecutors.

Fire Cast into the Earth

(Revelation 8:5) - “And the angel takes the censer; and he filled it with the fire of the altar and cast it upon the earth; and there followed thunders, and voices, and flashes of lightning and an earthquake.”

The angel fills his censer with fire and flings it into the earth to symbolize the execution of God’s judgments. The image of multiple trumpets sounding points to a process of judgment, not to a single event.

The “thunders, voices, flashes of lightning and earthquake” point the reader back to the earlier vision of the throne. An earthquake is now added to the thunders, voices and lightning flashes and the three events are given in reverse order. This set of noisy events occurs at the end of each of the sevenfold series, the seals, the trumpets, and the bowls (Revelation 11:15-1916:17-21).

The reversed sequence marks the end of the seal openings and the commencement of the seven trumpets. The added earthquake signals an intensification in response to “the prayers of all the saints.” The earthquake links the passage to the sixth seal (“great earthquake”), the seventh trumpet, and the seventh bowl of wrath (Revelation 6:12, 11:13-19, 16:18).

In each sevenfold series, the visual and audible features intensify as the end approaches. Since each sequence ends in the final judgment, they are not in chronological sequence and run concurrently.

Seven Angels Prepare to Sound

(Revelation 8:6) - “And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared to sound.”

The seventh seal ends with the seven angels prepared to sound their trumpets. This highlights the close link between the seals and the trumpets. This continues the picture drawn from the overthrow of Jericho when the Israelite priests blew their trumpets, the people shouted, and the city walls fell (Joshua 6:15-16).

Likewise, when the seventh trumpet sounds, a great earthquake will shake end-time Babylon and cause it to fall. Then a great voice will declare, “the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ.”

The next few chapters describe how the “city” is encircled and conquered by the Lamb and his saints, and what part the saints play in its overthrow.

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