In this chapter, John sees four mighty angels virtually hold back the winds of judgment long enough for God to set His seal of protection upon 144,000 select men of Israel.
v.1 When He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.
This period of absolute heavenly silence is one of the most intriguing moments recorded in Revelation. It’s not explained why heaven, which to this point had resounded with voices, all at once becomes decidedly quiet within the space of “about half an hour”, so we dare not comment. But we may have an anti-type in the Old Testament. According to Joshua’s record, when the ancient city of Jericho was about to be overthrown, and the victory for Israel secured, there was period of silence prior to the blasting of trumpets (Josh.6:10, 15, 16).
v.2 And I saw the seven angels that stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets.
Given that John tells us these angels are “the seven angels that stand before God”, purposely distinguishing them from other angels, probably means that they are archangels. The prefix “arch” means “first”, and signifies them as a select host of angels “first” in the angelic hierarchy and with “first access” to God. Two of them are named in the Bible: Michael, who is called “the archangel” (Jude 9), and Gabriel, who identified himself to Zacharias as the one “who stands in the presence of God” (Lu.1:19). So John sees Michael, Gabriel, and five other archangels each given a trumpet to signal and unleash the next series of judgments.
v.3-5 Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. And he was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar that is before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth. And there were noises, thunderings, lightning’s, and an earthquake.
The actions of God speak volumes about the unyielding compassion He holds for His people. With Heaven made ready for judgment, it’s then adequately perfumed with incense, and then inside the silence of Heaven God listens to the prayers of His saints. It’s not until afterward, when those prayers are fully heard, that the symbols of judgment—”noises, thunderings, lightning’s, and an earthquake”—manifest themselves in the cascading fire ablaze with those prayers and thrown from the heavenly altar to the earth. Oh, how prophetic are the words:
“In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried out to my God; He heard my voice from His temple, and my cry came before Him, even to His ears. Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations of the hills also quaked and were shaken, because He was angry. Smoke went up from His nostrils, and devouring fire from His mouth; coals were kindled by it…From the brightness before Him, His thick clouds passed with hailstones and coals of fire. The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered His voice, hailstones and coals of fire” (Ps.18:6-8, 12-13).
v.6-7 So the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound. The first angel sounded: And hail and fire followed, mingled with blood, and they were thrown to the earth; and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.
All seven archangels raise their trumpets in readiness to sound, but they won’t all sound at once. We will see them one by one, in systematic order, each loudly blasting their signal for more intense judgments.
This first trumpet blast ignites a storm of “hail and fire…mingled with blood” that desolates a third of this planet’s trees, along with all of its green grass.
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