In Chapter 5, verse 1, we saw a book sealed so that no one could open it. We yearned to know the contents of the book. Finally, we get to see what is inside. In today’s passage, Jesus breaks the final seal, and the book falls open to reveal the judge’s just judgment in response to the testimony of the witnesses (cf. 6:1-7:17).
When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a golden censer; and much incense was given to him, so that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar which 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. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with the fire of the altar, and threw it to the earth; and there followed peals of thunder and sounds and flashes of lightning and an earthquake. And the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound them.
When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.
“All arise,” we hear echo in a modern courtroom. Silence bears down on us as the jury members enter the room. All the jurors but the foreman take their seats, and the foreman announces the verdict followed by the lawful punishment for the crime(s) committed by the defendant. John envisions such an event. The witnesses’ testimonies about the condition of the world have been seen and heard. Christ breaks the final seal on the document that explicates the Father’s divine indictment. All arise. Silence. The ensuing half-hour, which is in this case a description of time pertaining to the vision and not an apocalyptic number, begins as the indictment falls open to be read and ends at the first peel of thunder in verse 5.
And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.
We have already seen the trumpet imagery in John’s Revelation (1:10). The trumpet represents Christ’s declaration. Seven is the number of perfection or completeness. The blasting of the seven trumpets symbolize the fullness of Christ’s declaration upon the wretched world. Throughout Scripture, the blasting of trumpets have signified the declaration of both the Gospel and judgment (deliverance and battle; cf. Exodus 19:13, 16; Numbers 10:10; 29:1; Joshua 6:20; Judges 7:8; Isaiah 27:13; Joel 2:1; Matthew 24:31; 1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; Revelation 4:1). These trumpets symbolize a two-fold truth—salvation and restoration for God’s chosen people and wrath upon those who are not in Christ.
Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a golden censer; and much incense was given to him, so that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar which 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.
Before the trumpets are blasted, the prayers of the saints (cf. 6:9-11) and the testimony of creation (cf. 6:1-17) go up before God. The injustice God sees in the world is added to the prayers of the saints for vindication. God breathes them in, recalls the heartache of His chosen people—heartache caused by ungodly people trapped in the wretched estate of the world. He prepares to judge the world on behalf of His chosen people for His own glory.
Before we read about God’s particular judgments, we need to realize that they are judgments specifically meant to restore justice to the world and vindicate God’s elect people. The judgments of God are not destructive but regenerative. They make all things new, not dead, in line with the Old Testament messianic promises (cf. Isaiah 43:18-19; 65:17:Revelation 21:5). So, God’s elect are not the only ones being regenerated. Through their knowledge of God and prayers, the whole world is being regenerated. That is why we currently pray like Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done” (Matthew 6:10a).
Then the angel took the censer and filled it with the fire of the altar, and threw it to the earth; and there followed peals of thunder and sounds and flashes of lightning and an earthquake.
A fiery censer, containing the prayers of the saints and the testimony of the cherubim, is thrown to the earth by a messenger—possibly another allusion to Christ, for who else has the authority to answer prayer—followed by peels of lightning and rolls of thunder, representing God’s decree and Mosaic Law (cf. 4:5). The earth is symbolically shaken as the angels prepare to blast their trumpets heralding Christ’s just, complete judgment according to His Law. Many interpreters try to shift to a hyper-literal interpretation, inciting readers to think about literal earthquakes, storms, but we would hardly think a giant golden censor is being hurled to the earth that is literally filled with prayers that literally take the form of incense. Their hermeneutic withers. We interpret the text literally, which means John literally saw what he saw and means what he means. It is difficult to interpret these signs as anything other than signs received in a vision that symbolize prophetic truth. When God chose the nation of Israel, He revealed His just judgment in the Law, what Jews refer to as the Torah and scholars call the Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy). His Law is the standard by which God will judge all nations. It is a binding moral law and civil code to which God holds all nations, not only Israel, accountable. If any nation has transgressed God’s Law, and all have (including Israel), they will be judged. Our only hope is to be in Christ, the Messiah, who was a substitutionary atonement for those whom God has chosen for Himself—eschatological Israel.
And the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound them.
The book is unveiled as the Mosaic Law (Genesis-Deuteronomy). Only Christ is worthy to pronounce the lawful judgments prescribed in His Law (cf. 5:6-14). Here, we encounter a slight conundrum. Christ, who is the only worthy one, has already been carrying out lawful judgments on the earth as described throughout Scripture. Yet, John describes this symbolic scene after creation, including the saints, has testified about the world’s unjust condition and after Christ already instructed the saints to “wait until the number of martyrs was completed” (6:11; paraphrase). Some people solve the conundrum by eisegeting the text to reference a future seven-year tribulation, but John hasn’t even insinuated such an event up to this point in his revelation. We recall that Revelation is a picture, not a puzzle. In our discussion, we have seen that Jesus’s judgments are perpetual, he waits for nations to complete their iniquities before judging them, and there will be a final judgment in conjunction with His return to the earth at the end of this age. John’s ordering is logical, not necessarily chronological (though , admittedly, it requires some kind of chronology). God promised Abraham that his descendants would inherit Canaan in Genesis 15, but not until the Canaanites’ sin grew to fruition. In Exodus 3:9, God told Moses it was time and He had heard the cry of His people in Egypt, much like He hears the cry of the saints under the altar. Christ has been hearing creation’s testimony, hearing His people’s prayers, and judging the world at the appropriate, just times throughout history. The seven trumpets apply to all of those judgments beginning in Genesis 3 and ending at the final judgement in which Death and Hades are thrown into the Lord’s furnace (20:14-15; cf. 6:8).
Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection precede His worthiness and authority to judge logically, not chronologically—which makes much more sense considering Christ’s eternality and immutability. This is how Christ saves a people for Himself throughout redemptive history under His singular substitutionary sacrifice in the First Century AD. The orders of salvation, God sealing and delivering His people, and damnation, people dying under God’s wrath, are logical and not necessarily chronological. Such is the symbolic blasting of the trumpets in relation to the symbolic breaking of the seals in John’s grand vision. Whereas the seals were accompanied by testimony and not judgment. The trumpets blast to announce God’s explicit judgment upon the ungodly and gospel deliverance of His elect—divine judgment according to God’s Law.
I remember the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in 2010. The response to the oil spill was much like the response to the pandemic in 2020. I remember being in dispensational circles conversing about how one-third of the sea creatures in the gulf were dying as fires rages over one-third of the gulf. I remember people talking about how it might be the beginning of the tribulation and things would only get worse from that point. It was a popular topic on quite a few prophecy watch programs, talking about the beast coming out of the sea and such. People are using the same language to now talk about the novel coronavirus. It’s the beginning of the end; things will only get worse. What if this is just the prelude? The trumpets, though, refer to Christ’s deliverance of His people and judgment against the injustices and unjust ones of the world. It is perpetual and will finally be accomplished at the last judgment. Things didn’t get worse after Deepwater Horizon. Instead, the six-month spill was cleaned up and people became more interested in safety for oil workers and caring for God’s creation. It turned out that the spill was not God’s judgment. It was human error, and God gave people the insight to make the world a better place. The pandemic may be or not God’s wrath. It’s probably simply one of the conditions of the fallen world that God is regenerating. When God does cast His wrath upon the world, He does so to vindicate His elect by judging the unjust—those who have not been justified in Christ since all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. If we are in Christ, we do not have to worry about the wrath of God at any juncture, especially the wrath to come at the end of this age. That is the encouragement John sends to followers of Jesus Christ who are in the tribulation with him (cf. 1:9). If we are in Christ, we receive this encouragement today and continue to pray for God’s will to be done and kingdom come on the earth as it is in heaven.
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