At the end of the seventh seal, seven angels prepare to sound their trumpets, unleashing judgment on the “inhabitants of the earth” – Revelation 8:1-6.
The saints have been “sealed,” washed “in the blood of the Lamb,” and brought safely through the “great tribulation.” The full complement of “witnesses” has been numbered and assembled, and the time has arrived for judgment to be rendered against the “inhabitants of the earth” that persecuted the martyrs. Their plea for “vengeance” is about to be answered.
The opening of the “seventh seal” is a transition point to the next sevenfold series – The “seven trumpets.” The “seven seals” and “seven trumpets” include common literary features. Both begin before the “throne,” portray the “prayers of the saints” as “incense,” and envision the final judgment characterized by “voices, thunder and lightning” – (Revelation 6:12-17, 8:5, 11:19).
In both series, the first four events are distinguished from the final three, and both feature a literary break between the sixth and seventh events, where the saints are prepared for future challenges – (the “sealing” of the saints [7:1-17]; the “measuring of the sanctuary” and the “two witnesses” [11:1-15]).
- (Revelation 8:1) – “As soon as he opened the seventh seal, there came to be silence in heaven, as it were, half an hour.”
The return to the opening of the “seven seals” indicates that the vision in chapter 7 was parenthetical. Up to this point, events have been noisy, and the sudden silence is unexpected. However, what is described is not complete silence, but the temporary cessation of the “flashes of lightning, thunders and voices,” which will resume when the angel casts the “coals of fire” onto the earth (verse 5). The “silence” means this activity is halted so the “prayers of the saints” can be heard before the “throne.”
Elsewhere, the period of an “hour” refers to the decisive moment of final judgment. In several Old Testament prophecies, silence preceded the “Day of the Lord.” In the present passage, the first half of the “hour” is reserved so heaven can receive the “prayers of the saints.”
The “silence” alludes to two passages from Zechariah. First, his vision about four different colored horses with riders that traveled throughout the earth and reported that “all the earth is silent.” Later, the prophet saw a vision of a man holding “a measuring line in his hand” with which he “measured the length and breadth of Jerusalem.” Yahweh then exhorted His people to flee from “the daughter of Babylon,” for He was about to judge her, and the prophet summoned “all flesh to be silent before Yahweh, for he is roused out of his holy habitation” to execute His judgment – (Revelation 6:1-8, 11:1, Zechariah 1:7-16, 2:1-13, 6:1-8).
- (Revelation 8:2) – “And I saw the seven angels that stand before God, and there was given to them seven trumpets.”
The “seven angels” may be identical to the “seven angels” assigned to the “seven churches of Asia.” Previously, they were represented by the “seven torches of fire burning before the throne.” Here, they are given “trumpets” when the “seventh seal” is opened, but they only begin to “sound” them after the “prayers of the saints” have ascended before the “throne” – (Revelation 4:5).
The judgments to be released against the “inhabitants of the earth” were anticipated in the letter to the church at Philadelphia. The “hour of trial” would arrive to “try the inhabitants of the earth.” The same clause featured in the plea of the martyrs “underneath the altar” – “How long before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?” That plea is about to be answered.
- (Revelation 8:3-4) – “And another angel came and took his stand at the altar, having a censer of gold. And there was given to him much incense, that he might give it for the prayers of all the saints on the altar of gold that is before the throne. And the smoke of the incense ascended with the prayers of the saints, out of the hand of the angel before God.”
The “prayers of the saints” must be heard before the trumpets sound. Two different “altars” are in view – “The altar” and “the golden altar.” When the “fifth seal” was opened, John saw the martyrs under the altar of burnt offering. In the ancient Tabernacle, this was the place where the priests poured out the remaining blood of sacrificial animals. The “golden altar” of incense was located just beyond the veil that covered the entrance to the “Holy of Holies.”
The “fire of the altar” points to the presence of the two altars. In the Tabernacle, the fire was taken from the altar of burnt offering and used to light the incense on the “golden altar.”
Here, the angel adds a vast amount of incense to the “prayers of all the saints” to ascend with them from the “golden altar.” Now, these prayers are added to the earlier pleas of the martyrs, and the “incense” represents the prayers of “all” the saints (previously, the “golden bowls full of incense” were identified as “the prayers of the saints”), The “golden altar” locates the scene before the “throne,” where the “Lamb” is now opening the “seven seals” in preparation to the opening of the “sealed scroll” itself – (Revelation 5:5-8).
The “sounding” of the trumpets uses imagery from the fall of Jericho when Israel marched around the city as the priests blew their trumpets. Previously, the church was portrayed as Israel assembled in the wilderness for the journey to the Promised Land, with twelve-thousand males “from each of the twelve tribes of Israel.” So likewise, here, the saints are poised to enter and conquer the land, a stage in the drama that will include the overthrew of the “great city, Babylon” – (Revelation 7:1-8, Numbers 1:1-16, Joshua 6:1-27).
On each of the first six days after entering Canaan, the men of Israel marched once around Jericho and were led by seven priests with seven horns. The people kept silent during the first six days – (“You will not shout or let your voice be heard”), and so Israel marched around the city in silence, except for the blast of the trumpets by the priests. On the seventh day, the people marched around the city seven times, the priests blew the seven horns, and the people shouted as one, causing the walls of Jericho to collapse. But in Revelation, it is not Ancient Jericho that falls, but the great city “called Sodom and Egypt,” identified elsewhere as the “great city, Babylon” – (Joshua 6:9-22, Revelation 11:8-19, 16:19).
Previously, the martyrs were told to wait for judgment until the full number of witnesses was assembled. Now, “the prayers of all saints” actualize those anticipated judgments against the “inhabitants of the earth”:
- (Revelation 8:5) – “And the angel at once took the censer and filled it from the fire of the altar and cast onto the earth, and there came to be claps of thunder and voices and flashes of lightning and an earthquake.”
The casting of fire “onto the earth” symbolizes the execution of God’s judgments. The “claps of thunder, voices, flashes of lightning and the earthquake” point to the earlier vision of the “throne,” only now, an earthquake is added to the series. Furthermore, the order of the thunder, “voices,” and lightning are reversed. These same noisy events repeat with slight variations at the end of each sevenfold series – the “seven seals,” the “seven trumpets,” and the “seven bowls of fury” – (Revelation 11:15-19, 16:17-21).
The “thunder, voices, lightning and earthquake” mark the end of the “seven seals” and the commencement of the “seven trumpets.” The added “earthquake” signals an intensification of events, probably in response to “the prayers of all the saints,” and it links the passage to the “sixth seal” with its “great earthquake,” the “seventh trumpet,” and the “seventh bowl of fury” – (Revelation 6:12, 11:13-19, 16:18).
In each sevenfold series, the visual and audible features intensify as the series comes to its conclusion. Since each series ends with a scene of final judgment, they are not presented in chronological sequence, and most likely, run concurrently.
- (Revelation 8:6) – “And the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves that they might sound.”
Thus, the “seventh seal” ends with the “seven angels” prepared to sound their horns. The next four chapters describe how the effects of the “seven trumpets” on the “inhabitants of the earth,” a process that will culminate in the final judgment when the “seventh trumpet” sounds.