The 7th Seal and the Golden Censor…..
“When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.”
Here in verse 1 we see “silence in Heaven” portrayed in the span of half an hour. There’s been much debate about what it means. Some declare that this is a pause for the prayers of the saints to rise, since the context of chapter 8 goes on to mention the prayers of the martyrs crying for vindication. Some claim it to be a lack of volunteers and denotes work not yet completed. Others think it is silence preceding a new creation: a new heaven and a new earth. Some say this is a seal with no content in its scroll page. This particular interpretation then would allow that the trumpets and bowls which follow are the actual content of the seventh seal. Others say the silence is God’s rest at number “seven”, while others declare that it denotes suspension of God’s divine revelation. Some even say it’s humanity’s awestruck silence in response to God’s revealing of his sovereign purposes throughout human history. Some say it’s a dramatic pause in the events making the latter events more impressive. I’ve heard tons of random other things offered as suppositions or explanations. But I believe, based on Old Testament references, that it represents God’s judgment. In Old Testament examples, people were silenced before God’s judgment, such as with Aaron in Leviticus 10:1-3, where Aaron’s sons showed dishonor to God and offered unsanctioned worship before Yahweh and were burned alive by God. Moses spoke the judgment, and scripture declares that Aaron was silenced and feared to speak. “Aaron held his peace.” Also we see silence associated with judgment in verses like Psalm 115:17, Isaiah 47:5, or Amos 8:2-3.
The dead do not praise the Lord, nor any who go down into silence.
“Sit in silence, and go into darkness, O’ daughter of the Chaldeans; For you shall no longer be called the Lady of Kingdoms.
“And He said, “Amos, what do you see?” So I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the Lord said to me: “The end has come upon My people Israel; I will not pass by them anymore. And the songs of the temple shall be wailing in that day,” Says the Lord God—
“Many dead bodies everywhere, They shall be thrown out in silence.”
The sixth and seventh of the seals, bowls, and trumpets all denote one thing: The return of the Lord. Six and seven are corresponding to the same moments in the visions.
Although that last suggestion I mentioned of a “dramatic pause” may be basically correct, the significance of the “silence” has to lie in the connotation that it has in the Old Testament and in Jewish writings, which suggests that the seventh seal had, in fact, significant conceptual content. In archaeological finds in Egypt in fairly recent decades, a trash heap of ancient scrolls yielded a scroll intact that was bound by seven seals. What they found was that the pages held by the first six seals had no writing. It was not until they broke the seventh seal that they discovered text, and in that text was a legal document of a living will. What is the seven seal scroll of Revelation representative of? A living will of Christ to reclaim the earth back to Himself. So cultural context is very much a part of the allusions John uses to illustrate his visions of the return and unveiling of Jesus Christ. After the seventh seal, the entire point of the scroll is fully known.
The seventh seal likely moves on the theme of the sixth seal, which portrayed the beginning of the last judgment, by painting a picture of the cosmic inferno and the retreating cries of terror by the ungodly in response to their imminent judgment (Revelation 6:12–17). This has been contrasted in chapter 7 with the portrayal of the sealed saints, whose faith is thereby protected (7:1–8).
No matter how anyone wants to see this, the timing of the silence in heaven is emphatically occurring at the eschaton of Jesus Christ. Within all of the Old Testament imagery, the one major, literal point of the book of Revelation is the imminent return of the King of kings and Lord of lords. Jesus is coming! This is the central message as a call to all generations, from His departure to His literal return, to be holy and set apart. I’m reminded of the Exodus 19 account, where Yahweh commands Moses to tell the people to prepare and “sanctify themselves” for two days, and that He will appear to them on the third day. Jesus ascended two-thousand years ago and will return at the beginning of the the third millennium. “A day is as one-thousand years and one-thousand years as a day unto the Lord……”
Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.
Again, here imagery of the seven archangels receiving seven trumpets to signal judgment, which were viewed as worship instruments in the heavenly temple, and also as a call to war.
“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, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. 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.”
Verses 3-5 denotes the power of prayer. More temple imagery and symbolism. We see incense used here in correlation to the prayers of the saints rising to God. We see this same kind of imagery used in verses like Psalm 141:2, where it says, “May my prayer be before you like incense and my hand lifting like evening sacrifice in the Temple.”
The judgments are intended to be portrayed as vindication for the saints crying out in chapter 6:9-11, and here as well, as their prayers rise like incense before Yahweh. Like in Daniel chapters 9 and 10, kings are merely pawns in the plans of God. Yahweh is King of kings. He is Lord over all. He is in control. Hell answers to Him. Satan seeks permission of Him. Nothing occurs in all of creation that God isn’t aware of. So when saints call to Him, His answer is not always immediate, or when they may want it, but God’s answer always comes for His people. The Israelites cried to God for, at the least a generation, before God delivered them. We see examples like that throughout scriptural history, but God always responds in His timing.
In verse 5, the vision is described as one of the angels taking the golden censor of incense and casting it upon the earth. This is the judgment of God in response to the prayers of the martyred saints for vindication. The time has come for justice for them. Remember, they’re portrayed as beneath the golden altar, because in temple worship, that is where the blood of sacrifices were poured out. He is Faithful!
The Seven Trumpets
“Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them. 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.
The trumpets and bowls allude to the imagery of the judgments on Pharaoh’s Egypt. We see in Revelation with the trumpets and bowls where water turns to blood and wormwood. There is darkness, fiery hail, a locust army….etc. We also have those images in Exodus chapters 7-12….water turning to blood, darkness, fiery hail, locusts…..and so on. The fiery hail in Revelation 8:7 would have turned the minds of John’s audience immediately to Exodus 9:24-26.
“There was hail and fire flashing continually in the midst of the hail, very heavy hail, such as had never been in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation. The hail struck down everything that was in the field in all the land of Egypt, both man and beast. And the hail struck down every plant of the field and broke every tree of the field. Only in the land of Goshen, where the people of Israel were, was there no hail.”
To the ancient near east, hail was regarded as an omen of judgment. Here in Revelation it is depicted as destroying a third of the trees, therefore destroying needed fruit like olives, figs, and grapes, which were widely used in the region. Hail also destroyed the grass and vegetation which would leave cattle, sheep, or goats destitute of grazing food, and that in turn would destroy milks, cheeses, and meats. Famine!! Remember the Black Horseman?
“The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood.”
Here we see this image of a “burning mountain” cast into the sea? Ancient apocalyptic literature would sometimes portray stars as mountains on fire. One ancient Jewish vision of the future spoke of a blazing star falling into the sea and burning it up, which is very similar to what John depicts here. We know that culture heavily influenced the biblical writers and they used imagery from their surroundings to portray points in their messages. I mean, it is obvious that the ancient near eastern cultures believed in a flat earth, which has been obviously disproved, yet the biblical writers wrote as if the earth was flat, and God allowed it. He could have stepped in and said, “No it is not flat”, but He used imperfect people to compile His Word. So, it is obvious that John pulled from scriptural allusion far preceding his era, to try to paint a word picture of the four major visions he received unveiling Jesus Christ as Yahweh in this book, and the imminence of His return.
This passage depicts judgment on a kingdom, likely spiritual Babylon, the great Whore. Fire denotes judgment or trial. Babylon is depicted as the unfaithful whore, and the New Jerusalem symbolizes the faithful Bride of Christ. Like the marks on the foreheads that we saw in chapters six and seven, here the terms “whore and bride” also denote to whom a person was loyal, whether committing adultery with the beast system, or as having a pure heart toward Yahweh in obedience. Babylon is referred to as a mountain in Jeremiah 51:25, “I am against you, O destroying mountain … and I will make you a burned out mountain”… and in 1 Enoch 18:13 the fallen angels are referred to as “stars like great burning mountains”. So this judgment is in reference to spiritual Babylon and its spiritual rulers. It is judgment of the evil kingdom; the Beast. In Revelation 18:21, an angel takes up a great millstone and casts it into the sea. He explains the imagery of his actions, saying, “Thus will Babylon, the great city, be thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer.” In Jeremiah 51:63-64, we read this:
“When you finish reading this book, tie a stone to it and cast it into the midst of the Euphrates, and say, ‘Thus shall Babylon sink, to rise no more, because of the disaster that I am bringing upon her, and they shall become exhausted.’ Thus far are the words of Jeremiah.”
The symbolism is a parallel of the image of the burning mountain cast to the sea. It is the wrath of God on fallen, rebellious humanity who rejected the love of the Truth, Christ Jesus.
We have water turning to blood in verse 8 as well….. (It points the early church audience to the images of Exodus!)
“A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.”
Here, a third part of marine life dies. In antiquity, people depended more on fish for protein than meat from farm animals or wild beasts, so the loss of that resource is being shown here to depict, again a shortage of food and other things (famine). This imagery repeats in Revelation 16:3-4 with the images of the bowls of wrath. Why? Because the trumpets, seals, and bowls are one and the same; three different analogical depictions of the same events. For every seal depicted, there is a corresponding trumpet and bowl. So, as stated in prior chapter blogs, there are in essence seven metaphorical events denoted, not twenty-one. In this apocalypse narrative, when a seal is broken, a corresponding trumpet sounds, and a bowl is poured out simultaneously. Remember: the book of Revelation, like all Jewish writing is NOT linear.
“A third of the ships destroyed” denotes the loss of commerce, resources, and commodities through things such as transport of trade, the loss of fishing, and the loss of wages. More of the same imagery denoting hard times befalling mankind prior to the coming of the day of the Lord. I like how a scholar friend of mine put the end times in perspective. He stated, “John says he was a companion in tribulation, all the way back then….so the point of tribulation is that it has to include all saints. Tribulation has been, and always will be enforced by the world on the people of God, while God brings tribulation on the world and not the saints.” What he is saying is that the images of apocalyptic literature aren’t necessarily about a certain era in time, (i.e. “future”), but rather points all believers from the time Christ left earth until He returns to a call to preparedness and holy living. The focus of the message is in our individual here-and-now lives, not to look for hooky spooky sci-fi events to come. The book of Revelation is symbolic of an ongoing struggle to obtain eternal life in the face of the world’s temptation and persecution. It cries out for us to be faithful no matter the situations that arise.
“The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter.”
Again verses 10 and 11 give allusion to ancient near eastern cultural views of burning stars falling into the earth’s water supplies and making it desolate of its life yielding properties and accessibility for drinking. The famine motif continues, and this continues to evoke thoughts alluding to Exodus 7, but specifically Exodus 7:19
“And the Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt, over their rivers, their canals, and their ponds, and all their pools of water, so that they may become blood, and there shall be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, even in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone.’”
Following the pattern of Revelation’s apocalyptic allusions we see, not a burning mountain, as in the previous trumpet, but a “star” blazing to the earth. Stars represent angels in the apocalyptic writings, and more specifically here in Revelation. And fire represents, in this present chapter context, judgment by famine. This verse depicts the judgment on heavenly beings (angelic gods) who ruled over a corrupt kingdom (spiritual Babylon), which is akin to the Beast, or idolatrous world system. Isaiah 14:12-15 clarifies this in regards to stating that the king of Babylon and his nation was fallen because its guardian angel, “the star of the morning” has “fallen from heaven.”
“Wormwood”? That sounds like a scent that comes as a fragrance in one of those old Stetson or Old Spice cologne sets your grandma gave you for Christmas back in high school! Haha!! Wormwood is actually a bitter herb, and if water is contaminated with it, and it is drunk over a long period of time, it becomes deadly, like a slow poisoning. The entire allusion again comes from the Old Testament. Shocker, huh?!? We see from where John pulls this image in…
“..therefore thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: “Behold, I will feed them, this people, with wormwood, and give them water of gall to drink.
“Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts concerning the prophets:
‘Behold, I will feed them with wormwood,
And make them drink the water of gall;
For from the prophets of Jerusalem
Profaneness has gone out into all the land.’ ”
The use of the term “wormwood” in Jeremiah is metaphorical for the bitterness of suffering due to judgment. Notice that a false message was going forth from those professing to be prophets. In our day, that is the false church depicted also in Revelation as the False Prophet, and Land Beast; a false church with a false gospel. Pay attention! Even though we continuously see these judgments of God depicted in the apocalyptic narrative, the heart of Yahweh is inflicting these on those who oppose His Son in hopes of bringing repentance on all who would turn to Him. In essence, it is still God’s mercy. But there is a final day where opportunity is taken away, and final wrath is poured out, sealing eternity for all on both sides. Revelation imagery depicts, as we will see in future chapter studies, that the defiant at His appearing look up to the heavens and curse God, rather than being willing to repent. People hate truth, especially the false church!
The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light might be darkened, and a third of the day might be kept from shining, and likewise a third of the night.
Darkness here, and again in chapter 16, where people in the vision gnawed their tongues in agony. This evokes images of Exodus 10:22 where Moses stretches out his hand to the sky and darkness covered all of Egypt for three days.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, darkness which may even be felt.” So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. They did not see one another; nor did anyone rise from his place for three days. But all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings.”
Exodus described that as a “darkness that could be felt.” These images are not talking about darkness from a literal astronomy standpoint, as if the a third of the stars, sun, and moon go out. It is depicting an experience-based narrative from the perspective of those on the earth, as if those things occurred.
In early Jewish writings, like the Book of Wisdom, the darkness is shown to have been believed to be a theological metaphor. God is in essence removing their gods of the luminaries and giving a partial look at the eternal darkness awaiting them for their idolatrous acts. Jesus spoke of outer darkness and weeping and gnashing of teeth, which is final judgment. It is visionary imagery.
Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overhead, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!”
Eagles were viewed by Greeks and Romans as omens. Roman legions carried silver eagles to symbolize their legions and armies. The Roman flag sported the image of an eagle. Vultures in that day were accredited as a type of eagle, and so could be included here as well. Vultures devoured flesh after battles, and this was the common depiction of battle scenes. In the Old Testament, this was an image of judgment. But here in this chapter, it is a heavenly messenger of judgment crying “woe, woe, woe”, alluding to the three judgments yet to come in chapter 9……