30 December 2018

The Seventh Seal, Transition to the Seven Trumpets (Rev 8:1-6)

The Temple
The next seven-fold series begins in Revelation 8:2 at the opening of the seventh seal, the Seven Trumpets (Revelation 8:1-6). The paragraph transitions from the series of seals to the Seven Trumpets, which continues through the end of chapter 11.
     The literary structure parallels that of the Seven Seals (4:1-8:1). Both begin before the heavenly throne, include seven spirits or angels, the “prayers of the saints,” and “voices, thunders, and flashes of lightning” (4:1-5:14; 8:1-6).
     In both series, the first four events are distinguished from the final three, and a literary break between the sixth and seventh events during which saints are prepared for future challenges (“sealing” of saints [7:1-21]; measuring of the temple [11:1-2]). Both the seals and trumpets include a final judgment scene marked off by “voices, thunder, and lightning” (6:12-17, 8:5; 11:19).
     There is a correspondence between the first four trumpets and the first four bowls of wrath (Revelation 16:1-10). The first four trumpets impact land, sea, freshwater and heavenly luminaries, the first four bowls target land, sea, rivers, and fountains of waters, and the sun. The catastrophes released by the first four trumpets and the first four bowls use imagery from the plagues of Egypt (9:20, the trumpets are “plagues”).
     There are differences. The trumpets harm a “third” of the earth and sea, while the bowls “complete the wrath of God.” The second trumpet affects a “third” of the sea and its ships (8:8), whereas the second bowl destroys “every living soul, even the things that were in the sea” (16:2). The third trumpet poisons a “third” of the waters (8:10-11), while the third bowl turns all waters into blood (16:3). The fourth trumpet strikes a third of the sun, moon, and stars (8:12), but the fourth bowl affects the whole sun so as “to scorch men with fire” (16:8-9).
(Revelation 8:1) - “And when he opened the seventh seal there came to be silence in heaven, as it were half an hour.”
And when he opened the seventh seal” picks up the narrative from Revelation 6:17; it is the same formula found each time the Lamb opens a seal.  The return to the seal series at this point indicates the visions of chapter 7 are parenthetical.
     Up to this point events in heaven have been noisy; the sudden silence is unexpected. This is not complete silence but of the cessation of the “flashes of lightning, thunders and voices” (4:5), which resume when an angel casts fire into the earth (8:5). When they do resume they are in a different sequence than in Revelation 4:5, and an “earthquake” is added. The silence suggests that activity is halted before the Throne to allow prayers to ascend and be heard.
     The “half-hour of silence” anticipates judgment.  Elsewhere “hour” refers to the decisive time of judgment (3:3; 3:10; 9:15; 11:13; 14:7; 14:15; 18:10; 18:17-19 [“Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come”]). In the Old Testament, silence preceded the Day of the Lord (Hab. 2:20; Zephaniah 1:7; Zechariah 2:13). The first half of the “hour” is set aside so heaven can receive the prayers of the saints. They set in motion the events that follow.
     “Silence” alludes to clauses in Zechariah from which imagery has already been drawn in the first four seals, the riders on four colored horses (Revelation 6:1-8; Zechariah 1:7-16). Zechariah saw riders rode throughout the earth and reported: “all the earth is silent.” Yahweh responded by promising to punish the nations that afflict Zionand to “build my house and stretch a line over Jerusalem…My cities will yet overflow.” Zechariah later saw a vision of a man holding “a measuring line in his hand” with which “to measure the length and breadth of Jerusalem” (Zechariah 2:1-13; Revelation 11:1); thus “Jerusalem will be inhabited without walls by reason of the multitude of men and cattle in it.” Yahweh exhorted His people to flee from “the daughter of Babylon” because He was about to judge her. Zechariah called on “all flesh to be silent before Yahweh, for he is roused out of his holy habitation” to execute His judgment (Zechariah 2:13).
     This background explains in part the distinction between the first four and last three seals, and between the first four and the last three trumpets; the picture of silence before God when He acts for His people. The picture of “measuring” Zion from Zechariah 2:1-13will be used when John “measures” the sanctuary between the sixth and seventh trumpets (Revelation 11:1).
(Revelation 8:2) - “And I saw the seven angels that stand before God; and seven trumpets were given to them.
This group of seven angels is possibly identical with the seven angels that also execute the Seven Bowls of Wrath (cp. 15:1; 16:1), and with the “seven angels” of the churches of Asia (1:20). They are represented by the “seven torches of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God” (4:5).
     “Stand” represents a Greek verb in the perfect tense, action completed in the present to emphasize permanence. This is reinforced by the preposition enĊpion or “before,” the same one for the “seven lamps of fire that burn before the throne” (1:4; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6).
     The equipping of the angels with trumpets results from the opening of the last seal. Only at the end of this paragraph do the seven angels prepare to sound the trumpets, since the opening of the last seal releases the Seven Trumpets.
     The judgments now released against earth-dwellers was anticipated in the letter to the church at Philadelphia; an “hour of trial” would arrive to “try them who dwell upon the earth (3:10). This same clause also occurs in the plea of the martyrs under the altar, “how long before you judge and avenge our blood on them who dwell upon the earth?” (6:10), which now receives its answer.
(Revelation 8:3-4) - “And another angel came and stood over the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given to him much incense, that he should add it to the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar that was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand.
      The prayers of the saints must be heard before the trumpets are blown, just as the saints’ prayers were heard before the Lamb opened the Seven Seals (5:8-l0). The prayers of God’s people actuate the contents of the Scroll.
     Two different altars are in view; “the altar” and “the golden altar.” When the fifth seal was opened John saw the souls of martyrs under the altar of burnt offering, which originally was set up in the outer court of the Tabernacle. The “golden altar” of incense was located before the veil of the Holy of Holies in the inner sanctuary. The action has moved a step closer to the presence and throne of God.
     The “fire of the altar” points to the presence of two altars. In the Tabernacle. the fire was taken from the altar of burnt offering to light incense offered on the “golden altar.”  A fire burned constantly on the former but not on the latter.
     The Greek clause is not clear; the sense is that the angel added a vast amount of incense to the “prayers of all the saints.” Incense and prayers ascend together from the golden altar. The prayers offered are added to the earlier pleas from the fifth seal; both ascend together to God from the “golden altar.”
     The prayers of Christian saints are added to those of the slain from the Old Covenant (6:9-11). The latter was heard from beneath the altar of burnt-offering. Both now ascend together from the golden altar.
     The incense represents the prayers of the saints; the “golden bowls full of incense” were previously identified as “the prayers of the saints” (Revelation 5:8). The “golden altar before the throne” locates this scene before the heavenly throne (see Revelation 4:1). Other links confirm this (e.g., “voices, thunders, lightning, earthquake” [4:5]; “prayers of the saints” [5:8]). The reader is once again before the divine throne where the Lamb first took the Sealed Scroll and began to open its seals.
     The “golden altar” is seen again in Revelation 9:13. The altar of incense was set up before the veil of the Holy of Holies in the wilderness (Exodus 30:34-38; 37:25-26; 40:26; 39:38; Numbers 4:11). Each morning and evening fire from the sacrificial altar was used to light the incense on the “golden altar.”
     The blowing of the Seven Trumpets borrows imagery from Joshua 6:1-27, the fall of Jericho. Israel marched around the city as the priests blew their trumpets. The church has already been pictured as Israel assembled for battle with twelve-thousand adult males “from each of the twelve tribes of Israel” (Revelation 7:1-8; Numbers 1:1-16).
     As the final “hour” approaches, the church is assembled on the border of another Promised Land poised to bring down the walls of a great city.  Joshua led Israel, priests bearing the Ark of the Covenant, and twelve men “from each of the tribes of Israel” across the Jordan River (Joshua 3:12). The land was occupied by hostile nations and Israel’s first act was to overthrow Jericho. This occurred over seven days.
     On each of the first six days, the men of war marched once around the city led by seven priests with rams’ horns. The people kept silent during the first six days (“You will not shout or let your voice be heard”), so Israel marched around Jericho in silence, except for the blast of trumpets by the priests (Joshua 6:9-10). On the seventh day she marched around the city seven times, the priests blew the seven horns and the people shouted as one, which brought down the city’s walls (Joshua 6:11-22).
     This background becomes more apparent at the end of the Seven Trumpets.  Before the seventh angel sounds his trumpet “at that hour a great earthquake occurred and a tenth of the city fell” (Revelation 11:13).
     In Revelation, it is not ancient Jericho but the great city “spiritually called Sodom and Egypt that falls (11:8), identified elsewhere as the “great city Babylon” (14:8; 16:19; 17:5). When the seventh trumpet sounds “loud voices” are heard, God’s kingdom is consummated, the dead are judged, and the heavenly sanctuary appears with the “Ark of the covenant” (11:15-19).
     The martyrs under the altar were told to wait until their full number was assembled. Now “the prayers of all saints” actualize the anticipated judgments on the unrighteous that dwell on the earth. There is no call to wait any longer; all are now assembled to offer prayers on the “golden altar.” God is set to vindicate His saints by unleashing judgments on their persecutors.
(Revelation 8:5) - “And the angel takes the censer; and he filled it with the fire of the altar, and cast it upon the earth; and there followed thunders, and voices, and flashes of lightning and an earthquake.”
      The angel fills his censer with fire and flings it into the earth to symbolize the execution of God’s judgments. The image of multiple trumpets sounding points to a process of judgment, not to a single event.
     The “thunders, voices, flashes of lightning and earthquake” point the reader back to the earlier vision of the throne. An earthquake is now added to the thunder, voices and lightning flashes. The three events are here given in reverse order (cp. 4:5). This set of noisy events occurs at the end of each of the sevenfold series, seals, trumpets and bowls (11:15-19; 16:17-21). This suggests each sevenfold series concludes at the same endpoint.
     The reversal of sequence in the thunders, voices, and lightning marks the end of the seal openings and the start of the trumpets. The added earthquake signals intensification in response to “the prayers of all the saints.” The earthquake links the passage to the sixth seal (6:12– “great earthquake”), the seventh trumpet (11:13-19), and the seventh bowl of wrath (16:18).
     In each sevenfold series, the visual and audible features intensify as the end approaches. Since each series ends with final judgment and irruption of the creation, they are not in chronological sequence and probably run concurrently.
(Revelation 8:6) - “And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared to sound.”
The seventh seal ends with the seven angels prepared to sound their trumpets. This highlights the close link between the seals and the trumpets. This continues the picture drawn from ancient Israel’s overthrow of Jericho when the priests blew their trumpets, the people shouted and the city walls fell (Joshua 6:15-16).
     Likewise, when the seventh trumpet sounds, a great earthquake will shake end-time Babylon and cause its falls. Then a great voice will declare, “the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ.”
    The next few chapters describe how the “city” is encircled and conquered by the Lamb and his saints, and what part the saints play in its overthrow.

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