Understanding The Apocalypse

Revelation 8:1-6
Chapter 13

Following the sealing of the Remnant of Israel and the vision of multitudes of saved Gentiles, John continues his description of the opening of the seven seals. Six of the seals have been opened as God pours His judgment upon the earth. However, the response when the seventh seal is opened is far different from when the first seal was opened.

I. The Opening of the Seventh Seal

"And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour" (Revelation 8:1).

In Revelation 6:1, John heard the noise of thunder when the first seal was broken, but the opening of the seventh seal brings the exact opposite of thunder. Now there is silence in all of heaven for approximately one-half hour.

Perhaps, this is a clue to understanding how awful the results of opening the seventh seal because the seventh seal contains not just one additional judgment, but seven additional judgments known as the Trumpet Judgments. Were this a time for joy, there would be shouting and praising in heaven, but because there is absolute silence, it must be a time for mourning. Heaven sorrows because the time has come for the Lord to afflict the earth.

The sorrow comes because there is a difference in the seal judgments and the trumpet judgments. Mainly, the seal judgments were the result of God removing His restraint and influence. For the most part, the anguish and horror of the seal judgments are the results of human ambition, hatred, cruelty and improvidence. Possibly, for the first time in world history unregenerate human nature has its unhindered day and consequently, the seal judgments take all peace from the earth.

Because the natural man is a hero-worshiper, the first seal gives humanity a hero, the Antichrist. Because the natural man is also a worshipper of force and believes that "might is right" the second seal gives mankind its fill of blood. The third, fourth and fifth seals are the natural results of war and allegiance to the Antichrist, consisting of oppressive government, famine, death on every front and persecution of God's people. The sixth seal affects the natural order of the Lord's universe. He simply removes His hand from the universe known to man and chaos results.

Again, the seal judgments are the results of the Lord removing His restraint and influence from the earth. Unlike these, the Trumpet Judgments are the supernatural outpouring of God's wrath upon the earth and all of heaven is in mourning, saddened that humanity has come to the place where God has no choice but to judge them.

This time of silence is a slight glimpse into the heart of our Lord. He is not quick to bring judgment. Indeed, "He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).

II. Seven Angels and Seven Trumpets

"And I saw the seven angels who stood before God, and to them were given seven trumpets" (Revelation 8:2).

Here we see seven trumpets are given to seven angels who stand before the throne of God. Their standing before God indicates their holiness and the righteousness of their mission. Their sounding trumpets will bring unparalleled suffering, death and destruction to the earth, but these are righteous judgments, meted upon sinful and unrepentant humanity that rejects the salvation of God.

There is no reason to believe these seven are not true angels. Perhaps, they are of high rank but they are still angels or messengers God has selected to trumpet in His wrath.

However, there is an angel in Revelation 8:3 that somehow seems different from the others because of what he is doing.

III. Another Angel Came

"And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand. And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire from the altar, and cast it upon the earth; and there were voices, and thunderclaps, and lightnings, and an earthquake" (Revelation 8:3-5).
Notice, the "angel" is standing at the golden altar with a golden censer presenting incense and the prayers of the Saints before the throne.

In the Old Testament order, one of the responsibilities of a priest was burning incense upon the altar of incense. The smoke would fill the Temple or the Tabernacle before ascending into heaven. The burning incense was symbolic of worship and prayer and a reminder that intercession to the Lord has the character of sweet smelling incense.

From Old Testament history we know the "angel" in Revelation 8:3, is performing the functions of the high priest as he offers intercessions before God.

Because we also know from Hebrews 4:14, "...we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God," we can be reasonably certain this "angel" is our Lord Jesus, in His office as our Great High Priest.

That Christ would appear as the Angel of Jehovah, is not new to the Scriptures. Genesis 16:7, Exodus 3:2, Numbers 22:22 and Judges 2:1 are just a few examples of our Lord appearing as an angel.

Our text says this sweet odor or "smoke of the incense which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand." This means the prayers of the Saints are offered up as sweet incense by our High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, the prayers of the Saints are received by the Lord God and because they are received by Him, they are answered by Him. This is demonstrated by the filling of the censer with fire from the altar and casting it upon the earth.

The censer was an instrument used to take coals of fire from the altar of burnt offerings, to be carried into the Holy Place where the incense was added. The incense symbolized prayers offered to God and the fire represented His judgments. Therefore, the censer filled with fire and cast to the earth is symbolic of judgment in response to the intercession and prayers of the suffering Saints in the midst of the Tribulation.

Note Revelation 6:9-11,

"And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled."
These are the prayers that will now be answered. The time has finally come for the Lord to avenge the blood of those who were martyred for their faith and to bring judgment upon the inhabitants of the earth for their roles in persecuting Israel. The time for the Saints to rest or wait for justice is finished. It is time for the unrepentant inhabitants of the earth to suffer the full supernatural wrath of God and as a precursor of the awful events that will follow, the censer filled with fire from the altar is cast upon the earth.

"And there were voices, and thunderclaps, and lightnings, and an earthquake."

When the censer is cast to the earth there will be reactions or signs on the earth in the form of thunder, lightnings and an earthquake. These are not man-made phenomena. Rather, nature and the earth itself will tremble at the knowledge of what is about to be unleashed. Never before and never again will humanity see the wrath of God revealed on earth as it will be revealed when the seven trumpets are sounded.

However, the casting of the golden censer to the earth is not the signal for the seven angels who were given the trumpets to sound them. Rather, they are to prepare themselves to sound. Look at Revelation 6:6. "And the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound."

It is interesting that the text says the angels prepared themselves to sound their respective trumpets, rather than simply sounding them. I wonder, how would an angel prepare to sound a trumpet? Would he stand at attention? Would he line up in order of his appearance? I do not know, but I do know there must be some significance to them preparing themselves to sound their trumpets.

It makes sense that the angels will not sound their trumpets until the thunder, lightnings and earthquake taking place on the earth are finished. If this is true, then perhaps the period of preparation to sound the trumpets, that is, the time of the thunder, lightnings and earthquake is the time of final warning and call to repentance for the inhabitants of the earth.

As we have quoted so many times, 2 Peter 3:9 says, "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness, but is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance."

However, we know from Revelation 9:20-21, there are no more people on the earth who are willing to respond in repentance, and so the angels are prepared to sound their trumpets and thereby signal the outpouring of the supernatural wrath of God.

Have you ever wondered if there is a time when the Lord will roll up His welcome mat and cease His patient dealings with humanity? This is it. The time for Grace will finish and the time for judgment will arrive with the sounding of the trumpets.

Sadly, just as there are people today who will put off responding to the call of God until it is too late, there will be billions in the Tribulation who will defy the Lord God and doom themselves to suffering His wrath.

Just as today, when death comes to the person who refuses to trust Christ, it is too late, then, when the trumpets sound, it will be too late.

From "Understanding The Apocalypse"
A book of sermons by Pastor Jim McColloch, Th.M., Th.D.
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