1 When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. 2 Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. 3 And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, 4 and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. 5 Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.
6 Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them.
7 The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the earth. And a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up. – Revelation 8:1-7 ESV
As we stated earlier, chapter seven appears to act as a parenthesis between the opening of the sixth and seventh seal. John was introduced to the 144,000 Jews on earth and the countless number of martyred saints in heaven, the victims of persecution and death at the hands of the Antichrist. Now, John’s attention, and ours, is returned to the seals. There is yet one final seal to be opened by the Lamb, and this one will be unique. While it will bring yet more judgments upon the earth, they will come with an intensity as yet unseen. And they will come in the form of seven bowls of judgment that will be poured out in rapid succession on the earth and its inhabitants.
As Jesus opens the seventh seal, John notes that there is silence in the throne room for a 30-minute period. While this may not sound like a very long time, it is essential that we remember all the references to sounds and singing that John has recorded up to this point. His vision of heaven has been replete with sounds of all kinds. He had heard God Himself speaking.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” – Revelation 1:8 ESV
John had also heard a loud voice that sounded like a trumpet, saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea” (Revelation 1:11 ESV). John had also had the distinct privilege and responsibility of writing down the words of Jesus, spoken to the seven churches.
Chapter four introduced even more sounds to John’s ears as he heard “rumblings and peals of thunder” (Revelation 4:5 ESV), and the voices of the four creatures around the throne of God as they shouted, ““Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8 ESV). John made note that these creatures, whoever they are, never cease shouting their praise, day or night. It is non-ending and never-ceasing. And it is accompanied by the 24 elders who throw their crowns before the throne of God, shouting:
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.” – Revelation 4:11 ESV
In chapter five, John recorded hearing the four creatures and the 24 elders singing a “new song.” And they were joined with “myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands” of angels and “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea” as they sang praises to God and the Lamb who was slain.
So what’s the point? It’s that the 30-minutes of complete silence would have been deafening to John’s ears. It would have been like a football stadium filled with excited fans before the start of a game, who are asked to pause for 15 seconds of silence. The difference in the noise level would be shocking to the senses. And that is how this must have impacted John. The opening of the seventh seal was going to be a game-changer and everyone in the throne room of heaven seemed to recognize that this was the beginning of the end. It is the proverbial silence before the storm. The prophet Zephaniah spoke of this coming day.
7 Be silent before the Lord God!
For the day of the Lord is near;
the Lord has prepared a sacrifice
and consecrated his guests.
8 And on the day of the Lord‘s sacrifice—
“I will punish the officials and the king’s sons
and all who array themselves in foreign attire. – Zephaniah 18:7-8 ESV
After the 30 minutes of silence, seven angels are given seven trumpets, and an eighth angel was given “a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne” (Revelation 8:3 ESV). We are not told who these angels are, but they obviously have authority given to them by God. They are created beings God has designated to play significant roles in His sovereign plan for the judgment of the world. The eighth angel appears to fulfill the role of a priest, offering holy incense before the altar of God. He holds a censer full of burning coals, to which he adds incense and the prayers of the saints. This would appear to be a reference to the prayers of all those on earth who had come to faith in Christ, but who were suffering at the hands of the Antichrist. They are praying for God’s protection and deliverance, much like the saints underneath the alter in chapter six had done.
“O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” – Revelation 6:10 ESV
The persecuted saints back on earth are crying out for justice to be done. They are out to God to redeem and rescue them. And the smoke and aroma from these prayers mixed with incense, rose up before God. Then the angel took the coals from the altar, placed them in his golden censer and cast them down to earth. These coals symbolize the judgment of God and that judgment has a reason behind it: The persecution of the saints. Their prayers and pleas, mixed with tears, are mingled with the fiery coals, and cast down on the earth and its inhabitants. And John records that ,immediately, “there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake” (Revelation 8:5 ESV). What a contrast to the 30 minutes of silence that opened up this chapter. The storm was coming. The judgment of God was falling in all its holy intensity.
Once again, John records a moment of tension-filled anticipation as the seven angels, holding the seven trumpets, prepare to blow them. All throughout the Scriptures, trumpets are used as instruments to proclaim coming judgment or as a call to worship. They were blown to assemble troops for battle. They were loud and distinct, impossible to ignore, and unmistakable in their purpose. This scene in Revelation is very similar to that found in the book of Exodus when God appeared before the people of Israel from Mount Sinai.
On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. – Exodus 19:16 ESV
John, as a Jew, was very familiar with the trumpet call and he would have anticipated that something highly significant was about to happen. And, one at a time, the angels begin to blow their trumpets, each representing a distinct aspect of God’s judgment on the earth. John records that as soon as the angel blew his trumpet, “hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the earth” (Revelation 8:7 ESV). With the opening of the seventh seal, a whole new wave of judgments began. The intensity of God’s wrath was increasing exponentially. We know from Ezekiel 5:2 and Zechariah 13:8-9, that this event is going to have devastating consequences. John reports that “a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up” (Revelation 8:7 ESV). While this appears to be a judgment on the planet itself, the effects of this kind of destruction of nature will have dire consequences on those living at that time. It will devastate agricultural production and completely destroy forests on the earth. The fires that result from this judgment will most likely spread, taking human life with them.
As we will see with the unfolding of the rest of the trumpet judgments, there are going to be a great many similarities between these plagues and those that fell on the nation of Egypt, as recorded in the Old Testament. God is going to bring hail, turn water into blood, darken the sun and moon, unleash pestilence and cause the death of many. It will be far greater than anything the world has ever seen or endured. And the supernatural description of these events let us know that they are from God. While we can spend time trying to apply natural explanations to these events, it seems clear that they are intended to display the sovereign power of God. He has authority over nature and is able to do signs and wonders that defy explanation and stretch the limits of human reason. We are not intended to understand all that John describes. We will never be able to fully explain how these seemingly impossible judgments happen. But for a God who created the entire universe in a literal six-day span of time, none of this will too difficult for Him to do. We need to recall the words of Jesus, spoken about His heavenly Father:
“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” – Matthew 19:26 ESV
And it’s at moments like this, when faced with what appears to be the impossible, that we need to recall the comforting words spoken by God to Abraham, concerning His ability to keep His promise to give Abraham a son in his old age:
“Is anything too hard for the LORD?” – Genesis 18:14 ESV
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.