The Lamb Breaks the Seventh Seal (Rev 8:1-5)

February 28, 2017 — Leave a comment

I. INTRODUCTION

A. Past Lessons

B. Text of Rev 8:1-5

“1When the Lamb opened the seventh seal there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. 2Then I saw seven angels who had been standing in front of the throne and they were given seven trumpets. 3Then another angel came and stood near the altar holding a golden censer and a large amount of incense was given to him so that he can give the prayers of the many saints on the golden altar. 4Then the smoke of the incense from the prayers of the saints ascended up out of the hand of the angel in front of God’s throne. 5Next the angel took the censer and filled it with the fire from the altar and threw it on the earth. Then there was thunder, noise, lightening, and an earthquake.” (Rev 8:1-5) 1

The Lamb Breaks the Seventh Seal (Rev 8:1-5)

Matthias Gerung: “The Opening of the Seventh Seal and the First Four Sounding Trumpets, Revelation 8:1-13”

II. OPENING SILENCE (8:1-2)

A. The Seventh Seal’s Silence (v. 1)

Καὶ ὅταν ἤνοιξεν τὴν σφραγῖδα τὴν ἑβδόμην, ἐγένετο σιγὴ ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ ὡς ἡμιώριον.

“When the Lamb opened the seventh seal there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” (Rev 8:1)

1. The Sound of Silence

The silence here is unique for the Bible. Here are a few commentators’ views on the silence:

  • “It is like the solemn hush before the bursting of a hurricane. The effect of the pause is to heighten the horror of the next series of God’s judgments, each to be announced by the sounding of a trumpet” (Metzger, Breaking the Code, 62).
  • “Dramatic effect by this profound stillness with no elder or angel speaking, no chorus of praise nor cry of adoration, no thunder from the throne (Swete), but a temporary cessation in the revelations” (Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament).
  • “Silence can be not simply the absence of noise, a temporary and unwelcome piece of boredom, but a profound, still, deep experience in which one can sense aspects of reality which are normally drowned out by chatter and babble . . . the unexpected hush in heaven ought to tell us that something huge, something powerful, something utterly decisive, is now going to happen” (Wright, Revelation for Everyone, 77-78).

The half hour of silence slows down the action and draws attention to the significant events that are about to take place (Mathewson, Revelation: A Handbook on the Greek Text, 106). The silence might also be so the prayers of the people could be heard.

Simon and Garfunkel sang the song, “The Sound of Silence” which also explains how silence can be profound.

Hello darkness, my old friend,
I’ve come to talk with you again,
Because a vision softly creeping,
Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone,
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp,
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking,
People hearing without listening,
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

“Fools” said I,
“You do not know, silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you,
Take my arms that I might reach you”
But my words like silent raindrops fell,
And echoed
In the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning,
In the words that it was forming
And the signs said,
“The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whisper’d in the sounds of silence

I like to think of this silence like the silence of a courtroom verdict. Any movie that includes a courtroom scene involves a jury that renders a verdict. There is dramatic silence until the verdict is read. The most dramatic part of the courtroom scenes are always the silence that occurs between the jury’s deliberation and their announcement of their verdict. Here, the same type of dramatic silence occurs. God is taking back his world and this silence takes place before the trumpets are blown.

2. The Timing of the Seals, Trumpets, and Bowls

The big debate within the book of Revelation is always on the timing of the seals, trumpets, and bowls. Should I say “always?” Yes, because most interpretation issues arise based on the timing of those judgments. Here’s a brief explanation of two different views on the seals, trumpets, and bowls with an explanation for each.

a) Recapitulation View

  • Summary. This view does not see the events of Revelation being in chronological sequence, meaning, the trumpets do not occur strictly after the seals, and the bowls do not occur strictly after the trumpets. Instead, the events of the seals, trumpets, and bowls overlap each other. In other words, they “recap” the same time frame and overlap each other. For example, according to the recapitulation view the trumpet judgments described in Rev 8:6-11:19 cover the same time as the seal judgments of Rev 6:1-8:5. Similarly, the bowl judgments of Rev 15:5-16:21 cover the same time period of the seals and trumpets. Even though the time period is the same, the events described might be different and describes various things that are going on. Commentators who take this view are; .
  • Strengths. Support for the recapitulation view is seen first in the similarity between the sixth seal judgement and the events that follow the Tribulation in Matt 24:29. This similarity puts the seventh seal’s events near the end of the Tribulation period. Second, the storm events of the seventh seal (Rev 8:5) seem to match the seventh trumpet (Rev 11:19) and seventh bowl (Rev 16:18). Third, in Rev 6:12 the sixth seal causes the sun to become as dark as cloth, but later in Rev 8:12 one-third of the sun is struck with darkness as part of the fourth seal. Therefore, the fourth trumpet cannot come after the sixth seal. Fourth, each seventh seal, trumpet, and bowl gives an indication that the end is near.
  • Weaknesses. Some of the weaknesses of the recapitulation view follow. First, the similarity of Rev 6:12-17 and Matt 24:29 is only a similarity, not an exact parallel. Second, the idea that the end is described as near in each of the seven series does not mean that the end comes exactly at that seventh event. Compared to the thousands and thousands of years that the earth has existed, the different events that occur in the seven years of Tribulation all occur in a time that is near to the end. Third, why would Jesus reveal to John the seven seals, trumpets, and bowls in chronological order if they all covered the same time? Why not describe the first seal, trumpet, and bowl, then describe the second seal, trumpet, and bowl, etc.?

b) Telescopic or Dovetailing View

  • Summary. This is the view which I hold. It sees the seventh seal containing the seven trumpets and the seven bowls, meaning there is a loose chronological unveiling of the seals, trumpets, and bowls. Commentators who take this view are Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 5; and Walvoord, Revelation, 49;
  • Strengths. First, the vision of the angels with trumpets in Rev 8:2 comes after the seventh seal has been opened. Therefore the natural reading is that the angels blow their trumpets after the seven seals have been opened. Second, the trumpet judgements seem to be more severe than the seal judgements, therefore suggesting that the progression through the seven years of tribulation continues. Third, the “Little Apocalypse” of Christ described in Matt 24:1; Mark 13:1; Luke 21:5 are the “birth pains” that the first six seals represent. Therefore the six seals are the signs of the end times, and the trumpets and bowls are the later end times events. Fourth, a survey of the seals, trumpets, and bowls do use some of the same elements of judgment (fire, blood, hail, earthquakes, etc.) but the are each distinct and separate. Fifth, the bowl judgements are called the “last plagues” which indicates that are last in the grouping of judgments.
  • Weaknesses. First, the events of Rev 12-14 include some things that happen before the seven trumpets are blown. Two, some of the events of the seals, trumpets, and bowls do seem to be similar.

B. Seven Angels with Seven Trumpets (v. 2)

Καὶ εἶδον τοὺς ἑπτὰ ἀγγέλους οἳ ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ ἑστήκασιν, καὶ ἐδόθησαν αὐτοῖς ἑπτὰ σάλπιγγες.

“Then I saw seven angels who had been standing in front of the throne and they were given seven trumpets.” (Rev 8:2)

1. The Seven Angels

One element that gets lost in translation is the article that is present in the Greek text. The article in Koine Greek “conceptualizes,” meaning, it takes a part of speech and makes it into a noun, and therefore a concept. One of the ways that it conceptualizes is that it identifies. It is mostly used to “stress the identity of an individual or class or quality” (Wallace, Greek Grammar, 209-210).

Because of the article on “seven angels” some commentators have identified these seven angels as the angels known from Jewish tradition as Uriel, Raphael, Raguel, Michael, Saragqael, Gabriel, and Remiel. This is based on the apocryphal books of Tobit and Enoch:

  • Tobit 12:15, “I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels, who present the prayers of the saints, and who go in and out before the glory of the Holy One” (Lange, Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Apocrypha, 141).
  • Enoch 20, “These are the angels of powers: 2 Uriel, one of the holy angels, who is over the world and the netherworld; 3 Raphael, one of the holy angels, who is over the spirits of men; 4 Raguel, one of the holy angels, who avenges the world of luminaries; 5 Michael, one of the holy angels, who was appointed over the good ones of the people and over the chaos; 6 Sariel, one of the holy angels, who is over the spirits who sin in the spirit; 7 Gabriel, one of the holy angels, who is over paradise and the dragons and Cherubim. These are the seven names of the archangels” (Rick Brannan, The Lexham English Septuagint, Enoch 20:1–7).

While some commentators take this view, the seven angels likely are not the seven from Jewish tradition for a couple reasons. One, they are missing from the heavenly throne room description of Rev 4-5. Two, an angel distinct from the group of seven offers the prayers up, so there are other angels with special privileges too. Third, relying on extra-biblical evidence for a biblical interpretation of Scripture is a slight stretch in my mind.

It must be said that the article might be pointing out a specific group, but not necessarily the group known from Jewish tradition. Or, one view is that these are the seven angels that oversee the seven churches John is writing his letter to (Rev 1:4; 2-3).

2. Trumpets in the Life of Israelites

Trumpets were used in ceremonial processions (Josh 6:1; 1 Chron 15:24); in assembling people for war, journeys, and special feasts (Num 10:9-10); in warning of the coming day of the Lord (Joel 2:1; Amos 2:2; 3:6); and in announcing the new year (Num 29:1).

III. PRAYERS AND CHAOS (8:3-5)

A. Incense Mixed with Prayers (v. 3)

Καὶ ἄλλος ἄγγελος ἦλθεν καὶ ἐστάθη ἐπὶ τοῦ θυσιαστηρίου ἔχων λιβανωτὸν χρυσοῦν, καὶ ἐδόθη αὐτῷ θυμιάματα πολλά, ἵνα δώσει ταῖς προσευχαῖς τῶν ἁγίων πάντων ἐπὶ τὸ θυσιαστήριον τὸ χρυσοῦν τὸ ἐνώπιον τοῦ θρόνου.

“Then another angel came and stood near the altar holding a golden censer and a large amount of incense was given to him so that he can give the prayers of the many saints on the golden altar.” (Rev 8:3)

1. Censer

The “θυσιαστηριον, censer” is where the incense is burned. BDAG describes it as a “structure on which cultic observances are carried out” (BDAG, 463). In Rev 18:13 the cognate word is used for “frankincense.”

2. Prayers of the Saints

These prayers of the saints are likely the prayers of the saints during the Great Tribulation (Rev 8:4-5; 6:910; 9:13; 14:18).

3. Another Divine Passive

Throughout the book of Revelation I have shown that God is the one giving power and allowing judgment to happen to the earth through a Greek construction called a “divine passive.” A divine passive is again seen here with the incense given to the angel as well as many other examples in the book of Revelation (Rev 6:2, 4, 11; 7:2; 9:1, 3, 5; 11:1, 2; 13:5, 7, 14, 15; 16:8; 19:8; 20:4).

It is a similar type of passive idea if I were to say that when I turned 16 I “got” my license. My license was given to me by the State of California. Everyone knows that there is a governmental authority that must grant a license to someone, so there is no need to say who is.

B. Smoke Mixed with Prayers (v. 4)

καὶ ἀνέβη ὁ καπνὸς τῶν θυμιαμάτων ταῖς προσευχαῖς τῶν ἁγίων ἐκ χειρὸς τοῦ ἀγγέλου ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ.

“Then the smoke of the incense from the prayers of the saints ascended up out of the hand of the angel in front of God’s throne.” (Rev 8:4)

C. Fire Thrown on Eearth (v. 5)

καὶ εἴληφεν ὁ ἄγγελος τὸν λιβανωτὸν καὶ ἐγέμισεν αὐτὸν ἐκ τοῦ πυρὸς τοῦ θυσιαστηρίου καὶ ἔβαλεν εἰς τὴν γῆν, καὶ ἐγένοντο βρονταὶ καὶ φωναὶ καὶ ἀστραπαὶ⸃ καὶ σεισμός.

“Next the angel took the censer and filled it with the fire from the altar and threw it on the earth. Then there was thunder, noise, lightening, and an earthquake.” (Rev 8:5)

1. Thunder, Noise, Lightening

Noise or More? “In Rv we have ἀστραπαὶ καὶ φωναὶ καὶ βρονταί (cp. Ex 19:16) 4:5; 8:5; 11:19; 16:18 (are certain other sounds in nature thought of here in addition to thunder, as e.g. the roar of the storm? In Ex 19:16 φωναὶ κ. ἀστραπαί are surely thunder and lightning. But in Ex 9:23, 28; 1 Km 12:18 the mng. of φωναί remains unclear. Cp. also Esth 1:1d φωναί, βρονταί).—Freq. in imagery: of wind sound J 3:8; cp. Ac 2:6. Of thunderclap (1 Km 7:10; GrBar 6:13) Rv 6:1; 14:2c; 19:6c. Of roar of water (Ezk 1:24b) 1:15b; 14:2b; 19:6b. Of whirring of wings (Ezk 1:24a) 9:9a. Of the clatter of chariots 9:9 b (cp. Ezk 3:13; 26:10)” (BDAG, 1071).

2. Thrown to the Earth in Revelation

The book of Revelation has many different items used for judgment “thrown” onto the earth.

  • stars (Rev 6:13; 12:4
  • hail, fire, blood (8:7; 13:13)
  • locusts (9:3)
  • Satan and his angels (12:9, 13)
  • the angel’s sickle of judgment (14:19)
  • bowls of wrath (16:1-2)

IV. BRIEF SURVEY OF THE MINISTRY OF ANGELS

A. Angels as Agents of Earthly Judgments (Pss 79:49)

  • Against Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:13; 24–25)
  • Against opponents of God (Exod 12:23; 2 King 19:35; Pss 35:4–6)
  • Against Israel (Exod 32:35; 2 Sam 24:16–17; 1 Cor 10:10)
  • Against Herod Antipas (Acts 12:18–23)

B. Angels Restrained by God’s Mercy (1 Chron 21:15-16; Gen 18:20-32)

C. Angels and Final Judgment

  • Angels proclaim God’s sovereignty (Rev 12:10–12; 10:1–4; Rev 11:15)
  • Angels announce God’s final invitation (Rev 14:6-7, 19-13; 19:9)
  • Angels hold back the final judgment (Rev 7:1-3)
  • Angels carry out preliminary warning judgments (Re 8:1–13; Re 9:1–16; Re 10:5–7)
  • Angels accompany Jesus Christ when he returns to judge (2 Thess 1:7; cf. Matt 16:27; 25:31; Mark 8:38; 1 Thess 3:13)
  • Angels gather everyone for the final judgment (Mt 13:37–41; cf. Mt 13:49–50; Mt 24:31; Re 14:15–19)
  • Angels announce the final judgment (Re 14:15; see also Re 10:8–11; Re 17:1–3; Re 17:7; Re 17:15; Re 18:1–2; Re 18:4)
  • Angels enact the final judgment (Re 15:1; see also Re 14:16–19; Re 15:6–8; Re 16:1–21; Re 18:21; Re 19:17–18; Re 20:1–3)

D. Angels Are Subject to Judgment (1 Cor 6:3; see also 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6)

E. Announcement, Guidance, and Instruction to Believers

  • Announced the births of Ishmael (Gen 16:11), Isaac (Gen 18:9), Samson (Jdg 13:3), John the Baptist (Luke 1:11), Jesus’ (Luke 1:26-3; Mt 1:20-24)
  • Give revelation (Rev 17:7)
  • Explain mysteries (Rev 17:7)

F. Agents of Answered Prayer

  • Daniel (9:20-23)
  • Acts 12:5-10

G. Guardian Angels (Matt 18:10)

H. Death and Angelic Ministry

  • Moses (Jude 6-9)
  • Lazarus

IV. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION

A. I should pray because my prayers are received.

Back in Matt 6:10 Jesus told his disciples that they should pray that God’s kingdom would come. Earlier in the book of Revelation we read about the martyred saints who prayed that God would avenge their death (Rev 6:9-11). Here, in the opening of the seventh seal we see that God is slowly answering the prayers of his people. Through the seals, trumpets, and bowls the prayers of God’s people are being answered. We too as believers should be assured that our prayers are answered.

B. Angels are not just “comforting friends”

Christian and even secular culture often describes angels as sweet, loving, kind, gentle, and even feminine. Yet the Bible has a very different picture of angels. As we’ve seen here and throughout the book of Revelation, angels play an important role in God’s active judgment of the fallen world.

Notes:

  1. Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own. The Greek text is from NA28.

Christopher L. Scott

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Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor's degree from Fresno Pacific University and master's degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

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