|By: Dr. Robert Thomas; ©2001|
|Robert Thomas looks at the events surrounding the half-hour of silence mentioned in Revelation 8 and suggests several possible meanings for the pause.|
A HALF-HOUR SILENCE IN HEAVEN: WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
We come to the eighth chapter in our study of the Book of Revelation. In chapter 7 we have taken a side-trip to learn about the 144,000 special servants of God and the crowd so large that no one could count how many were in it. We now return to the seal-sequence and the seventh seal that follows the sixth seal at the end of chapter 6. The seventh seal in Revelation 8:1 is next in the chronological sequence of prophetic events signified by the seals: “And when He (the Lamb) opened the seventh seal, there came a silence in heaven for about a half hour.”
The Silence Itself
Suggestions about the meaning of the half-hour silence have included (1) silence at the beginning of the Millennium, (2) a brief cessation in judgment, (3) a temporary suspension of revelations granted to John, (4) a pause in the heavenly praises to allow the prayers of the saints to be heard, and (5) a dramatic pause to symbolize the awe and dread with which the heavenly hosts await the events about to occur. Of these five viewpoints, the last is the most probable in light of the immediate context of chapter 8. The hushed 30- minute expectancy makes the judgments about to be announced more dreaded. The magnitude of human suffering to be announced is about to graduate to a significantly higher level. This cessation of revelatory activity serves notice of that escalation in judgmental activity.
The structure of Revelation becomes a very important issue beginning with the seventh seal, because that point also marks the beginning of the seven-trumpet series. Relating the trumpets to the seventh seal is vital to an understanding of how the Lamb revealed to John the visional portion of the book—Revelation 4:1–22:5. A “recapitulation” view of that structure holds that the seals and trumpets are chronologically simultaneous. A “telescopic” or “dovetailing” viewpoint takes the seven trumpets as composing the seventh seal and hence as chronologically subsequent to the first six seals. The same two viewpoints extend to an analysis of the relationship of the bowl judgments of chapter 16 also, recapitulation taking them as simultaneous with the seals and trumpets and telescoping taking the bowls as comprising the seventh trumpet. Later discussion in our series of articles will devote more attention to the relationship between the trumpets and bowls.
The telescopic view of the book’s structure has stronger evidence in its favor. Immediately following the half-hour silence in 8:1 comes the vision of the angels with their trumpets (8:2). The text assigns no earthly content to the seventh seal except the obvious impression that seven trumpets furnish the content of the seventh seal. The seven angels with trumpets are intimately interwoven with the seventh seal and are an integral part of its action since they are introduced in 8:2 and reintroduced in 8:6.
In addition, the significant increase in intensity of the judgments in the trumpet series compared to the intensity of the first six seals adds confirmation to defining the seventh seal as composed of the seven trumpet judgments. As the seventieth week prophesied by Daniel advances toward its climax with the personal return of Christ, one would expect the outpouring of God’s wrath to become more severe in its consequences for those who rebel against His rule over the earth. This expectation would fit the above conclusion that the trumpet judgments come subsequent to the first six seal judgments.
Additional reasons for adopting the telescopic view of Revelation’s structure relate to the broader context of the book and are too detailed to include in this month’s article, but Excursus 3—“The Structure of the Apocalypse: Recapitulation or Progression?”—at the end of Revelation 8–22 as noted at the end of this article contains a detailed discussion of those reasons.
Sequel to the Silence
John saw seven angels standing before God and receiving seven trumpets at the conclusion of the period of silence (8:2). Another angel with a golden censer arrived and stood at the altar of incense in heaven where God gave him much incense to offer on that altar. The incense was to benefit the prayers of all the saints (8:3). The altar of incense and the prayers of saints in heaven play a large part in setting the stage for the judgment of God against the world in the closing days just before and including the return of Christ to earth. As noted in an earlier study commenting on Revelation 5:8, incense is a symbol for the sweet fragrance of prayer that God enjoys. The saints whose prayers are associated with that fragrance belong to the future period when saints will become objects of the wrath of the false Christ. The persecuted remnant of that day will cry out to God for vindication. They will suffer martyrdom because of their faithfulness to Christ, and appear periodically in Revelation, praying for God’s judgment against His enemies (e.g., Rev. 6:9-11). In crying out for vindication against their persecutors, these saints in heaven are free from any selfish motives that would possibly affect the prayers of mortals on earth if they were to pray such prayers. Their prayers represent the will of God to judge sin and therefore become a part of God’s program in expediting His punishment against mankind. For further details regarding these prayers, see “The Imprecatory Prayers of the Apocalypse” in the section of Revelation 1–7 noted at the close of this article.
Revelation 8:4 notes the rising of the incense before God with the prayers of the saints, but Revelation 8:5 describes angelic action in casting fire from the altar of incense into the earth. The resulting impact on the earth is devastating as the earth suffers the consequences of “peals of thunder and voices and flashes of lightning and an earthquake.” These comprise the “storm theophany” that produce the frightening effects as already described in connection with Revelation 4:5.
Like the half-hour silence of 8:1, the storm theophany anticipates worse sufferings to come for earth’s inhabitants, the symbolical enactment of which will be represented in the seven trumpet judgments. The scene is now set for the seven angels with their seven trumpets to prepare to sound (8:6).
John in describing his visions has now prepared his readers for the next stage in God’s temporal judgment against a rebellious world. Our earlier discussions have shown how the first six seals have portrayed the outpouring of God’s wrath during the first three and a half years of Daniel’s prophetic, seventieth week. We can only conclude that the opening of the seventh seal, which is comprised of the seven trumpet judgments, reveals to us events of the last half of that week, the period of the Great Tribulation described by Jesus as following the Abomination of Desolation (Matt. 24:15, 21; see also Rev. 2:22; 7:14).
God’s holiness is so perfect that He cannot tolerate sin in His creation. He must eventually deal with it, because as the prophet has written, His “eyes are too pure to approve evil” (Hab. 1:13). Revelation gives us a picture of the gradual process He will follow in removing sin from His creation. Of course, any individual has the opportunity to escape this great end-time purging. If he/she places personal trust in Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins, that person will never endure the wrath of God, because Christ accepted that wrath in his/her place. The only sensible course for anyone who has not as yet accepted Christ as substitute is to do so immediately, before God’s wrath begins to fall.
Note: For more details about the seventh seal, the seven trumpets, and the structure of Revelation, see my discussion in Revelation 8–22 (Moody Press, 1995), pages 1-14, 525-543. For more details about the altar of incense and the prayers of the saints, see my discussion in Revelation 1–7 (Moody Press, 1992), pages 517-524. To order either of these volumes, you may contact Grace Books International at (800) GRACE15 or www.gbibooks.com.