Seventh Seal

SYNOPSIS:  The seventh seal ends with the seven angels prepared to sound their trumpets – Revelation 8:1-6.

Quiet Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash
Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash
The paragraph describing the seventh seal also introduces the next sevenfold series, the Seven Trumpets. It serves to transition the narrative from the Seven Seals to the series of Seven Trumpets. Before the Seven Trumpets may sound, the prayers of the saints must be heard (Revelation 8:1-6).

The literary structure of both the series of seals and the trumpets includes several common features. Both begin before the Throne, both include the “Seven Spirits,” both portray the “prayers of the saints,” and both include a final judgment scene characterized by “voices, thunder and lightning” (Revelation 6:12-178:511:19).

In both sevenfold 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 the saints are prepared for future challenges (the “sealing” of the saints [7:1-17]; the “measuring of the sanctuary” and the “Two Witnesses” [11:1-15]).

Transition to the Seven Trumpets

(Revelation 8:1) - “And, as soon as 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 opening of the sixth sealthe day of the “wrath of the Lamb.”  The return to the process of opening the Seven Seals indicates the vision in Chapter 7 was parenthetical.

Thunderstorm - Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash
Up to this point, events in heaven have been noisy. The sudden silence is unexpected. This is not complete silence but, instead, the cessation of the “flashes of lightning, thunders and voices,” phenomena that resume after Verse 5 when an angel casts coals of fire onto the earth. When they resume, they are listed in a different order than previously in Chapter 4; additionally, an “earthquake” is added to them. The “silence” suggests that activity is halted before the Throne while the prayers of the saints ascend from the altar to be heard by God.

The “half-hour of silence” anticipates impending judgment.  Elsewhere in the book of Revelation, the period of an “hour” refers to the decisive moment of final judgment at the end of the age. In several Old Testament prophecies, silence was to precede the “Day of the Lord.” In the present passage, the first half of the “hour” is set aside so heaven can receive the prayers of the saints. It is their pleas that cause the Seven Trumpets to sound.

The word “silence” alludes to clauses from the book of Zechariah, passages used previously to describe the four colored horses of the first four seals. The prophet Zechariah saw riders traveling throughout the earth. They reported - “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.”

Later, Zechariah 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 6:1-811:1Zechariah 1:7-16, 2:1-13, 6:1-8)

Yahweh exhorted His people to flee from “the daughter of Babylon,” for 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).

Seven Angels Standing Before God

(Revelation 8:2) - “And I saw the seven messengers which, before God do stand; and there were given unto them seven trumpets.

Possibly, the seven angels are identical with the seven angels that will pour out the Seven Bowls of wrath, and with the “seven angels” or “messengers” 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” (Revelation 1:4-5, 1:20).

(Revelation 4:5) – “And out of the throne are coming forth lightnings, and voices, and thunderings; and [there are] seven torches of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.

Do stand.” The term translates a Greek verb in the perfect tense; that is, action completed in the past with continuing results in the present. Here, it emphasizes permanence. This idea is reinforced by the preposition enĊpion or “before,” the same one used earlier with 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 seventh seal. Only at the end of this paragraph do the seven angels prepare to sound the Seven Trumpets.

The judgments released upon the “inhabitants of the earth” were anticipated in the letter to the church at Philadelphia - An “hour of trial” would arrive to “try them who dwell upon the earth.” The same clause occurred again 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 is about to receive its answer.

The Angel with the Golden Censer

(Revelation 8:3-4) - “And another messenger came and took his stand at the altar, having a censer of gold: and there was given unto him much incense, that he might give [it] unto the prayers of all the saints, upon the altar of gold that is before the throne. And the smoke of the incense went up with the prayers of the saints, out of the hand of the messenger before God.

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 began to break open the Seven Seals (Revelation 5:8-10).

The Tabernacle - clipart.christiansunite.com
In the passage, two different “altars” are in view - “The altar” and “the golden altar.” When the fifth seal was opened, John saw the souls of the martyrs “underneath” the altar of burnt offering where the blood of animal sacrifices was poured out, the one located in the outer court of the Tabernacle. The “golden altar” of incense was in the “holy place” or sanctuary proper and placed just outside the veil that covered the entrance into the “Holy of Holies.” Thus, in the vision, the action has moved a step closer to the Throne of God.

The “fire of the altar” points to the presence of the two altars. In the Tabernacle, the fire was taken from the altar of burnt offering to light incense that was offered on the “golden altar.”  Fire burned constantly on the former, not 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 from the fifth seal; both ascend together to God from the “golden altar.”

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

The “golden altar” is seen again in Chapter 9 of the book. In the ancient Tabernacle of Israel, the altar of incense was placed before the veil of the “Holy of Holies”. Each morning and evening, fire from the sacrificial altar lit the incense on the “golden altar” to ascend by smoke to Yahweh (Revelation 9:13Exodus 30:34-3837:25-2640:26).

The sounding of the Seven Trumpets borrows imagery from the fall of Jericho recorded in the book of Joshua. Israel marched around the city as the priests blew their trumpets. Previously, the church was portrayed as Israel assembled to journey to the Promised Land, with 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 another “great city.”  Joshua led Israel with the priests who carried 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 of Canaan, the men of Israel marched once around Jericho while led by seven priests carrying horns. 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, causing the walls of the city to collapse (Joshua 6:9-22).

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

In the book of Revelation, it is not ancient Jericho but, instead, the great city called Sodom and Egypt that falls, elsewhere identified 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 along with the “Ark of the covenant” (Revelation 11:8-19).

The martyrs under the altar were told to wait for the full number of witnesses to be 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; the prayers of all the saints are offered on the “golden altar.” God is set to vindicate His saints by unleashing whatever the Seven Trumpets represent on the “inhabitants of the earth.”

Fire Cast into the Earth

(Revelation 8:5) - “And the messenger at once took the censer and filled it from the fire of the altar, and cast unto the earth; and there came to be thunderings, and voices, and lightnings, and an earthquake.

The angel fills his censer with fire and flings it onto 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 to the earlier vision of the Throne. An earthquake is added to the series of thunders, voices, and lightning flashes. Here, the three phenomena are given in reverse order from the vision of the Throne. These noisy events occur 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 Seven Seal openings and the commencement of the Seven Trumpets. The added earthquake signals an intensification of things 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 series ends in a scene of final judgment, they are not in chronological sequence and, quite possibly, run concurrently.

Seven Angels Prepare to Sound

(Revelation 8:6) - “And the seven messengers who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves, that they might sound.

Thus, the seventh seal ends with the seven angels prepared to sound the Seven Trumpets. This continues the picture drawn from the overthrow of Jericho when the priests blew their trumpets, the people shouted, and the city walls fell. Likewise, when the seventh trumpet sounds, a great earthquake will shake end-time Babylon and cause the “great city” to fall. At that moment, a great voice will declare, “the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ” (Joshua 6:15-16, Revelation11:15-19).

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

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