The Opening of the Seventh Seal
October 18, 2015 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos
We are looking at the seven seal judgments in Revelation and we are now going to look at the seventh seal today. However, before doing that, allow me to put our study in its proper context.
When reading the book of Revelation it is important to remember that this is a unique book of the Bible. You cannot read it like reading the book of Psalms where you could just jump into any psalm and read it independently. By “independently” I mean, you can read any psalm, understand it and enjoy it, even without reading the previous or following psalm. You may also read the book of Proverbs in the same way. That is why you can advise people to read Proverbs following the days in a month. If it’s January 1, read Proverbs 1. January 2, read Proverbs 2, and so on. Of course you cannot do that with most of the books of the Bible, but most especially with the book of Revelation.
You need to be aware that Revelation is prophecy and it is Apocalyptic literature. Because it is prophetic in nature, it is mostly about the future. Because it is apocalyptic, you need to be very careful with the symbols, numbers, sets of ideas, events that happen in heaven or on earth, etc.
In saying this, I don’t mean that you spiritualize this book and disregard any plain sense when reading it. No. You still read this book according to a historical and grammatical principle of interpretation, recognizing figures of speech, but you have to read it more carefully. You have to let the book itself interpret its own symbols. For example Rev 1:20 says,
20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
You need to be aware of the figures of speech. You will, for example, find many comparisons. One illustration is the four living creatures. It says: the first living creature is like
a lion, the second like
an ox, and so on.
It is also important that before you read Revelation that you get some background information. Learn about the “70 weeks” in Daniel chapter 9. It is also essential to read the teachings of Jesus about the end times in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. Add to those also the teaching of Paul about the day of the Lord in 2 Thessalonians chapter 2.
And one more very important thing in reading Revelation is that you have a framework. You need to have a basic structure when you read this book. Be conscious of the structure of the book as you read through Revelation. Let me go into some detail now.
A simple four-part division (or outline) of the book of Revelation is:
- Prologue (1:1-8)
- The things that are now happening (1:9-3:22)
- The things that will happen (4:1-22:5)
- Epilogue (22:6-21)
The two parts between the Prologue and the Epilogue follow the wordings of Revelation 1:19. In the New Living Translation,
“Write down what you have seen—both the things that are now happening and the things that will happen
Turn your attention now to Part 3 of that outline because that is where we are in the big picture. Most of the things that we see in Part 3 will happen during the Tribulation period, the seven-year period of suffering that the world has never seen before as a result of God’s judgments upon rebellious humanity just before Jesus returns. This seven-year period is referred to in the book of Daniel as the last week
of the “70 weeks” that will accomplish God’s purposes for Israel (Dan 9:27).
These divine judgments that will be poured on the earth during the Tribulation Period will come in a series of three sets of seven judgments. First are the seven seal
judgments, next the seven trumpet
judgments, and then finally the seven bowl
judgments. These judgments will come one after the other with growing intensity.
There are some Bible teachers who believe that the events we read about in the seal judgments will again be repeated in the seven trumpet judgments, and then again in the seven bowl judgments. In other words these three sets of judgments are parallel
with each other. They believe that the events of the trumpet and bowl judgments happen simultaneously with those of the seal judgments. (I will not into details so that you wont get confused. It is enough that you know that there are Bible teachers who view the three sets of judgments in that way.)
There are other Bible teachers on the other hand who understand these three sets of judgments to be sequential
. First is the seal
judgments second the trumpet judgments, and then third and finally the bowl judgments.
To be more specific: When you read the seal judgments read it as it is, one seal follows the other chronologically. But when you get to the 7th
seal, remember that that the events of the trumpet
judgments flow out of it. There is no description of judgment in the seventh seal, but as you keep reading the text, you soon encounter the seven trumpet judgments. Then when you get to the seventh trumpet, you again do not see a specific judgment being described as you do in the first six trumpets. As you read on, you will again encounter the bowl judgments because the bowl judgments flow out of seventh trumpet.
Here is a summary of what the book of Revelation teaches about the Seven Seals
- Chapter 4 we see the glorious God seated on the throne and worshiped by heavenly beings.
- Chapter 5 we see God holding in his hand the seven-sealed scroll, and Jesus the Lamb taking this scroll from His hand.
- Chapter 6 we see Jesus opening the six seals, one after another, implementing the judgments that are written on the scroll. (This chapter closes with the sixth seal judgment and sinful humanity in great panic calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”)
- The seventh seal does not immediately follow the sixth seal. Instead, there is an interlude (or a pause) between 6th seal and 7th seal. Chapter 7 is an interlude that answers the question in the previous chapter, “Who can stand when the wrath of God and of the Lamb is poured on the earth?” (This chapter shows us the two groups of people who can and will stand God’s wrath. The first group is composed of the 144,000 elect Israelites, and the second group is the innumerable saints who will be saved during the Tribulation period.)
- In Chapter 8, the Lord Jesus opens the seventh seal. Not everything there is to know about the 7th seal is found in chapter 8. The 7th seal contains within it all of the remaining judgments that we will encounter in the rest of the Revelation, which include the trumpet and bowl judgments. All of these judgments included in the 7th seal will happen during the Great Tribulation, which is the last 3 ½ years of the 7-year Tribulation just before the second coming of Christ.
Today, we are going to begin to look at the 7th
seal. As I said, not everything we can know about the seventh seal can be found in chapter 8. You will have to read chapters 8-18 to know what the 7th
Today we are just going to look at the first thing that happens when the 7th
seal is opened, which is the Setting of the Trumpet judgments
The Setting of the Trumpet Judgments (8:1–6)
At the opening the 7th seal, the first thing that we see is the setting of the trumpet judgments. Or to put it differently, we have here five things that happen in preparation for the seven trumpets:
- First, there is silence in heaven for about half an hour (8:1)
- Next, seven trumpets are given to the seven angels who stand before God (8:2)
- Then another angel comes and is given incense to associate with the prayers of the saints (8:3-4)
- Next, the angel fills the censer with fire from the altar and throws it on the earth (8:5).
- The seven angels prepare to blow the seven trumpets (8:6)
Now into the details.
When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour (8:1)
- Silence in heaven.
When Jesus broke the seventh seal a unique response occurred—silence. A review of the visions up to this point makes it clear that John had heard much noise in heaven. Beginning in Revelation 4:5, “rumblings and peals of thunder” came from God’s throne. And then we hear four living creatures, 24 elders, and innumerable angels who surround God's throne continually worshiping God and the Lamb with a loud voice in chapter 4 and 5. After this, when the first four seals were opened, John heard every living creature say, "Come." Later he heard the cries of the martyrs for vengeance in 6:9–10. And then in chapter 7, John heard a great multitude from every nation worshiping God in a loud voice.
But after all those loud sounds, when the seventh seal is broken, all of heaven and all who were in it, go absolutely silent. It is a dramatic pause to symbolize the awe and dread with which the heavenly hosts await the events about to happen according to what was written in the scroll.
This kind of silence is the kind of response God wants His people to express in reverence for Him and awesome expectation of His judgment. For example:
- Zeph 1:7 Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is near.
- Zech 2:13 Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord, for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling
The silence prepares for what is to come in 8:2ff. The greatest event since the fall is about to take place. All heaven is seen waiting in great expectancy.
The "silence in heaven" lasts "for about half an hour." While eternal heaven has no time, the apostle John, who is seeing the vision, experiences it. Each minute of that half hour of silence must have increased the sense of suspense for John.
Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.
- Seven Angels are given seven trumpets (8:2)
Following the half hour of heaven’s silence, John saw the seven angels who stand before God. The use of “the” appears to set them apart as a unique group, which some have called them "Angels of the Presence." In Jewish tradition, some have identified these seven angels as Uriel, Raphael, Michael, Saraqael, Gabriel, and Remiel. The only angel in that list who can be supported biblically is Gabriel. In Luke 1:19 Gabriel speaks to Zechariah, the father of the unborn John the Baptist, and he said, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.”
As John watched these seven angels, seven trumpets were given to them
in preparation for the trumpet judgments that would shortly follow (chs. 8-11).
In OT times the trumpet served to announce important events and give signals in time of war. In Revelation, trumpets primarily announce the arrival of the divine judgments that will be poured on the rebellious world in the Day of the Lord.
The seven trumpets of Rev 8-9 and 11:15-18 will unleash a series of plagues more severe than the first six seals, but not as destructive as the final bowl judgments will be (16:1–21).
The first four trumpets will destroy the earth, the trees, the sea, rivers, and springs, and sky (8:7–12), but the damage will be limited to “a third.” The next two trumpet judgments will involve demonic destruction of humanity (9:1–21). The seventh trumpet introduces the final outpouring of God’s wrath contained in the seven bowl judgments (15:1-16:21).
Having been introduced and given their trumpets, the seven angels did not immediately blow them. They had to wait for the actions of another angel. We read this in 8:3-4.
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,
- An angel is given much incense to reinforce the prayers of the saints (8:3-4)
John’s attention was drawn from the seven angels with their trumpets to another angel who came and stood at the altar of incense (cf. 6:9). Although some identify him as Christ, the angel in verse 3 is described as "another angel."
The word "another" comes from allos,
meaning "another of the same kind." So this is an angel of the same kind as the other angels.
John notes that this angel "came and stood at the altar.” That altar is the heavenly counterpart to the altar of incense in the tabernacle and the temple, which also was made with gold (Ex 30:3; cf. Rev 8:3). This may have been the same altar Isaiah saw in his vision (Isaiah 6:6). [Heb 8:2; 9:11,12,24 show that in heaven we will find the greater and more perfect tabernacle, of which the tabernacle on earth is just a copy].
A further description of this altar is that it is “before the throne.” The altar of incense was the furniture in the tabernacle and the temple that was nearest to the Holy of Holies where God’s glory dwelt (Exodus 30:6). This picture of the altar just before the throne of God is perhaps an assurance to John’s readers that the prayers of the saints are near to God.
The angel held a golden censer. A censer is a firepan that is used to hold live charcoal for the burning of incense. In the Old Testament, the priests would twice daily take burning coals from the bronze altar located in the tabernacle courtyard and transport them into the altar of incense within the Holy Place (Exodus 30:7, 8). The priest would then pour incense on the burning coals that was in the firepan. The meeting of the incense and the hot coals produced the fragrant cloud of smoke. The ascending smoke from altar of incense served as a reminder that intercessory prayer is like sweet perfume before the Lord.
The angel was "given much incense" to accompany the prayers of the saints already rising from the altar. According to Rev 5:8 each of the 24 elders held golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. The angel who was given much incense will combine his incense with the prayers of the saints. This will result in the volume of aromatic smoke increasing greatly. This act of the angel may signify that the prayers of saints were reinforced and made more acceptable to God.
The prayers mentioned here in this portion of the book of Revelation do not refer to the prayers of all believers throughout history. These are the cries of believers in the Tribulation period against their persecutors and all who blaspheme God and Christ in that time (6:9-10). Those prayers included pleas for Satan to be destroyed, sin to be defeated, their deaths to be avenged, and Christ to come.
and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.
The rising of the smoke of the incense together with the prayers of the saints before God denotes God's acceptance of the prayers of the saints. Because of the ripeness of the season in the divine purpose, the unanswered prayers of the martyrs before the altar in Rev 6:9-11 (the 5th seal) now receive an immediate reply.
Then the angel took the censer and filled it with the fire of the altar, and threw it to the earth,
- The angel throws fire to the earth (8:5)
After this the angel fills the censer with fire coming from the altar and threw it to the earth. The censer, which is usually linked with the prayers of God’s people, becomes here a symbol of divine wrath.
Fire is a frequent symbol for divine torment of the wicked. The hurling of the fire into the earth recalls the saints' question in Rev. 6:10, "How long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?"
Note that the throwing of fire to the earth immediately follows the smoke that rose before God. This reveals that God’s judgment will come in direct response to prayers of these saints in the Tribulation.
The immediate effects of the action of the angel of throwing fire upon the earth are “peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake
This phrase, “peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning,”
is mentioned four times in Revelation and it intensifies with each use:
- It is mentioned first in 4:5 coming from God's throne, no earthquake.
- Next it is used in 8:5 during the opening of the 7th seal. There, an earthquake is mentioned.
- Next, it is used in 11:19 during the 7th trumpet. It includes earthquake and heavy hail.
- And finally it is used in 16:18–21 during the 7th bowl judgment and it includes a great earthquake and great hailstones.
Comparing the passages that mention "peals of thunder, rumblings and flashes of lightning," we find that often times these are mentioned as happening in heaven, while the earthquake and hailstones happen on earth. It seems that during the latter half of Tribulation period or the Great Tribulation, earthquakes are going to be a common occurrence becoming more and more intense each time.
Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them.
- The seven angels prepare to blow the seven trumpets (8:6)
To close this section, the seven angels reappear and prepare to sound the seven trumpets.
From Robert Rayburn
I want to close by focusing on the ... remarkable thing that is said in the course of this transition from the seals to the trumpets: namely that events on earth are prompted, even caused by the prayers of the church and that, in particular, the judgment of the world comes from heaven in answer to the church’s prayers.
We have already seen the martyred church in heaven praying for her vindication in chapter 6 verses 9-11. The saints, we read there, prayed that the Lord would “judge the inhabitants of the earth” and here in 8:3-5 the picture is the same. The saints pray and judgment is hurled down from heaven to earth.
Now there are some things to observe about this prayer and its effects…
First, this is not the prayer that most of us pray most of the time. [O]ur prayer is usually private and personal in its character and motivation. Much of it is this-worldly in its interest and perspective. We pray to commune with the Lord; we pray for the forgiveness of our sins; and we pray to grow in grace. We pray for provisions of one sort or another for ourselves or those we love. …
But here we are speaking of “the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar.” We have the saints praying together in the parallel passage in 6:10. And the prayer here is for the vindication of the people of God and the judgment of God’s enemies. It is prayer for the coming of the kingdom and the defeat of the enemies of Jesus Christ.
It is such prayer as Jesus himself must usually have prayed. After all, he had few earthly concerns yet he prayed constantly and at great length. To gain time for his prayers he had to lose precious hours of sleep. The late night and the very early morning heard him at prayer when everyone else was asleep. What did he pray for? He prayed for the coming of the kingdom. He prayed for the conversion of the lost. He prayed for his disciples that they might grow into a force strong enough to win battles for his kingdom.
The examples of His prayers that are given to us in the Gospels are almost all prayers of this type: prayers for the vindication of the faithful, prayers for their usefulness in the world, and prayers for the progress of the kingdom of God and the salvation of the world.
The church is to pray that way as well. And when we do, we read here in Revelation 8:3-5, the kingdom of God advances in the world and the kingdom of the Evil One retreats.
We pray prayers of this type … whenever we pray and in whatever way we pray “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We pray such a prayer when we pray, “Maranatha,” “O Lord, come!” We go to war when we enter this house to pray together for the kingdom of God. We are praying for the vindication of the Lord’s truth, for the conquest of the Lord’s enemies. And, of course, we cannot pray for the Lord’s return without praying for what we know full well will accompany that return: the judgment of the wicked and the destruction of the enemies of God.
Of course, it is precisely here that we face the most intense challenge to our confidence in prayer and our obedience in prayer. How can it be that our prayers have such dramatic effect in and upon the world as is described here? The world either mocks prayer as a superstitious practice of no real consequence in the world, or, much more often, it transforms prayer into a sentimental exercise in wishful thinking.
People in general do not think of prayer as an actual instrument of divine judgment and of the vindication of God’s truth in the world. But Christians are to think of prayer in precisely these terms, particularly the prayer they pray together in the house of God. But that prayer is a supremely spiritual exercise and the more spiritual any act is, the more any act is an act of faith, the harder it is for us to do it and to do it confidently. Christians have to take the power of this prayer on faith. … We must believe that prayer has this place in the history of divine judgment and we do believe it because the Scripture teaches it.
I remember when the Soviet Union came apart in 1988 thinking that the prayer meeting which Florence and I attended in Aberdeen, Scotland had something to do with that. Those saints had prayed every Saturday night for 40 years for the destruction of the iron curtain; for the destruction of the communist state that prevented the Gospel from being proclaimed to millions upon millions of human beings. And what drama they and other faithful Christians caused in the world as one of the world’s most powerful nations staggered and then fell: thunder, lightning, and earthquake brought it down. A result hardly anyone had foreseen or even imagined until it happened.
"The interaction between the sovereignty of God and the prayers of His people is part of the ultimate mystery of existence. The saints pray for justice and their prayers play a part, but it is God's business to determine the time and nature of actions against their persecutors." (Robert Thomas).