The book of Revelation is an apocalyptic letter written by the apostle John. It is a prophetic book showing the important events that happened between the first and second coming of Jesus Christ. It contains cyclic visions which are meant to encourage those who are suffering persecution because of their faith in Jesus Christ.
In particular to this sermon series, we focused on the events that happened during the second cycle period when John was in heaven (Revelation 4-8). The apostle witnessed the opening of the scroll with seven seals. The scroll contains God’s plan in creation as well as in redemption and only the slained lamb was worthy to open them. Jesus Christ is the lamb who died for the sins of God’s people (Revelation 5). He alone is worthy to stand before the throne of God. He is our both judge and king.
So Jesus opened the seals of judgement over all creation. He begins to open the first four seals. They symbolize the four horsemen of the apocalypse: conquest, war, famine, and death. Then in the fifth seal, John shows us the martyrs who died in the faith. We saw how they were consoled and comforted. It reminded us how we need to patient during adversity for God indeed will have the final word on everything. And finally in the sixth seal, the world ended by cosmic catastrophe. The wrath of God terminates life as we know it and everything was brought to its chilling end (Revelation 6).
The seventh seal is next but instead of seeing it opened we given two excursions to encourage us in the midst of this terrifying end. John saw the presence of the 144,000 who were sealed by Holy Spirit and the vision of the Great multitude singing before the throne and the lamb. They are God’s people delivered from sin and death (Revelation 7). This vision guarantees for us the eternal destiny of God’s people. They all belong to God and God receives them in his presence.
So our sermon for this morning continues from here. But instead of closing the vision with the seven seal we will see later on that we are now going to begin again another cycle of events between the first and second coming of Jesus Christ. This third cycle begins with seventh seal and ends with seven trumpets. We will learn its difference and significance later on but for let us divide our preaching into two major divisions: 1) The Great Silence; 2) Introduction to the Seven Trumpets.
Before we begin, let us pray…
The Great Silence
verses 1-5: “When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. 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.”
The opening of the seventh seal was anti-climatic. After the gruesome events that ended the world, we were expecting to transition from creation to new creation. But instead of reading the expected return of Christ, the final judgement, and the new heavens and new earth, we hear a deafening silence in heaven. According to John’s record, the silence lasted for about half an hour (Revelation 8:1). What does the silence symbolize? And what happened after the Great Silence and what does the prayer of the saints symbolize (Revelation 8:2-5)? Are the events related to the trumpets simply a repetition of disastrous events similar to the seals? What is the difference?
Simply put, the Great Silence means the appearing of God himself. This is how the Old Testament pictures the response of creation when the glory of God appears. There are two verses by the prophets worth mentioning. The first comes from Zephaniah which is our Old Testament text this morning and the other from the prophet Zechariah.
Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is near; the Lord has prepared a sacrifice and consecrated his guests (Zephaniah 1:7).
Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord, for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling (Zechariah 2:13).
The whole of creation stands in awe of God. The plan and purposes of God in creation and in redemption finally reveal the glory of God and all creatures submits to his power and wisdom. It is a fitting conclusion that emphasizes the protection of God’s people in the midst of tribulation.
But why did it lasts thirty minutes? Rev. Dr. William Godfrey offers an explanation.
The half an hour symbolizes a shortened period of time. Since a full hour is the expected time unit, then counting half of it means, time has been cut short. But waiting in silence can make it appear as if counting the seconds and even the minutes is too long. However, if consider again the proper perspective of having God present, the wait is indeed short.
This is what the silence for half an hour means. The wait for our Lord’s return may seems so long but in reality, it is short. God appears according to his plan and purposes. And his timing is always perfect as symbolized by the seventh seal.
The opening of the seventh seal closes this theme of the saints waiting for the second coming of Christ. Yes as believers, our journey towards Celestial city believers journey comes with great tribulation but God protects his own and seals them to eternal life. And in the end, we will realize the Lord’s return not delayed but immediate. God rescues in haste.
From here the book picks up theme of the saints waiting for God to immediate rescue and return. The martyr saints in heaven cry out to God: “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).” To answer this question, the visions moves from seals to trumpets.
After the Great Silence, we read from verses 2 to 5 the prayer of the saints symbolized by the a bowl of incense reaching the throne of God in heaven. The golden censer clearly refers to the Old Testament temple language. These are prayers made by God’s people. They were performed before God and the temple language reference guarantees for us they will return void. God hears the cry of his people. He answers their prayers and punishes those who persecute them.
Introduction to the Seven Trumpets
As an introduction, I would like to make several points about the transition from the second cycle to the third cycle periods, the seven seals to the seven trumpets:
- The seven trumpets are God’s call for mankind to repent. The second cycle period focuses on the tribulation of God’s elect but the third cycle centers on the judgement of God to the non-elect. They are the reprobate unbelievers refusing to believe in Christ and repent before God. The trumpet call draws parallel to the judgement of God towards Jericho. The walls of Jericho fell on the seventh day after God’s people circled it seven times with the seven trumpets blown seven priest (Joshua 6). God brought judgement against the enemies of God’s people.
- The plagues contained in the first four trumpets were similar to the ten plagues God delivers against Egypt. God punishes them because they were consider enemies of God’s people (Exodus 11-12). Again the parallel are not exactly the same but the similarities are undeniable. We will discuss them in detail next week but it suffice for us now to say that these trumpets symbolizes in the Old Testament the judgement against the enemies of God and by implication the same is expected here in the book of Revelation.
- Therefore, we can consider the seven trumpets as the third cycle of the same period but from a different perspective. They all still occurred during the first and second coming of Christ but the focus here are the judgement against unbelievers.
Before we leave this subject and continue next week, I would like to also point out what Rev. Dr. William Godfrey mentioned his commentary about the effect of these events between the second cycle and the third cycle.
In the second cycle, the effect of these disastrous events affect one fourth of the earth. Of course, the one fourth is symbolic to saying that only a few were affected (Revelation 6:8). This means the elect were affected but they were not many. Compared to the third cycle. the effect of these events covers one third of the earth (Revelation 8:7-9). Again, these are symbolic numbers but we know one third is greater than one fourth. This means the unbelievers were affected more than the believers.
As Christians, we often view of situation as worse than others. We perceive our own tribulations as more difficult than those who are unbeliever. Often when we see the wicked prosper, we get discouraged and somehow question God for his goodness and faithfulness towards his people. Just like the Psalmist in chapter 73 verses 12-13 who wrote: “Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.” Yet quickly we begin to understand the fate of the wicked and it asks us to reconsider: “But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end (verses 15-16).” This world does not end well for the wicked. And no matter how it looks like now, they will suffer the consequences of their actions. The unbelievers of this world suffers more because of their sin.
We will continue our preaching about the seven trumpets next Lord’s Day.
ZCRC(Imus), God protects his people and delivers them from their sins and even death. He brings us under his care and provides us with encouragement as we journey towards Celestial city. His judgement and timing are perfect. Let us continue to trust him and persevere until the end. Amen.
Rev. Lance Filio is a minister of the Word and Sacraments at Zion Cornerstone Reformed Church (Imus). He finished his Bachelor Degree in Electronics Engineering at Mapua Institute of Technology and He is currently taking his Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) at MINTS. He lives in Taguig City, Philippines with his wife and three children.