Jesus Wins! – Part 17: The Sounds of Silence

// Jesus Wins! – Part 17: The Sounds of Silence

 Jesus Wins! – Part 17: The Sounds of Silence

 

Rev. 8

8 When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.

Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them.

The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the earth. And a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.

The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.

10 The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. 11 The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter.

12 The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light might be darkened, and a third of the day might be kept from shining, and likewise a third of the night.

13 Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overhead, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!”[1]

8:1 is a continuation of the scene of final judgment begun in chapter 6:15-17. Jesus’ breaking open the 7th seal can seem like some strange anti-climax. Following devastating judgment on the earth-dwellers and an interlude where John hears of the numbering and sealing of earthly believers arranged for battle but looks to see an uncountable number of completed saints in heaven, you might think the 7th seal will be a stunning visual picture. But the Lion-Lamb breaks the seventh seal and: nothing; there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.[2] Silence is not something you are I are used to in our electronic age. There is noise everywhere. But in heaven, the 7th seal brings complete silence. It seems anti-climactic until you see the colors of the Old Testament painted into this chapter of silence followed by four trumpet blasts.

Maybe you’ve been to a musical concert and experienced the briefest moment of silence as the final note echoes through the auditorium. People are so moved, they wait to applaud until the last vibrations of sound have spent themselves. During his time in heaven, John has heard the voice of the Father, the voice of the Lion-Lamb, the voices of the elders, and the voices of the angels. He has heard commands and he has heard explanations and he has heard the heavenly choir sing new songs of praise for their redemption. But now, he hears only the sound of silence. Even the four trumpets he will hear in this chapter are comparable to the sounds of silence.

THE SILENCE

How can trumpets be sounds of “silence”? Because the OT associates silence with divine judgment just as the sounds of the trumpets are also notices of divine judgment. “Those who persecute God’s people are judged by God and consequently sit in silence in Sheol (Ps. 31:17). …Babylon and Israel are silent because of God’s judgment against them (Isa. 47:5; Ezek. 27:32; Amos 8:2–3; Lam. 2:10–11 … [There is future hope in the promise that] ‘the wicked are silenced in darkness’ because ‘the Lord will judge the ends of the earth’” (1 Sam. 2:9–10).Especially relevant are Hab. 2:20 and Zech. 2:13, in which the Lord is pictured as being in “his holy temple” in heaven from which he executes judgment on the ungodly ….”[3]

Habakkuk 2:20 says, “But the Lord is in his holy temple; /let all the earth keep silence before him.[4] Zech. 2:13 commands, “Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord, for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.” [5] God’s final judgment on the idol-worshipping earth-dwellers revealed in the 6th seal is SO awesome, so complete, so swift, and so terrible that men and angels fall utterly silent. God’s glory is SO clearly displayed in his final judgment of the earth-dwellers and their idols that even the perfected saints of the Church Triumphant and the angels are dumbstruck.

The silence in heaven is not boring or anticlimactic; the silence is full of speechless awe and wonder. This broken 7th seal is the only proper response to the great and terrible Day of the Lord. God’s sealing and final salvation of the saints bring new songs of worship. But God’s holy judgment of the earth-dwellers and their idols brings total silence. Hell is full of the unmediated, unending, burning glory of God in all his wrath against hideous creatures that on earth once reflected some small portion of God’s image, but now are dark, silent, inwardly-focused things utterly given over to their own sins without the slightest sense of guilt or shame. That should give us pause: the lostness of the lost and their final destiny is so horrible it brings total silence in heaven.

What does God call his people on earth? In these chapters, he calls them his servants. Elsewhere we are called witnesses. How do we serve? We bear witness to God through worshipping him alone rather than the idols of the earth-dwellers. We share the gospel with the walking dead that some might escape that hideous end that brings silence in heaven.

THE SOUNDS

The first sound we hear in heaven after the silence is the sound of prayers. Actually, we don’t so much “hear” it as we see a picture of the prayers of the saints who cried out from under the altar (6:10) mingled with the prayers of suffering saints on earth. We know, then, that this scene has shifted back to before the final judgment of the 6th seal because there are still saints on the earth crying out to God in prayer. This is a literary device John uses to show us the trumpets are another camera angle of the very same themes of blessing and judgment displayed in the breaking of the seven seals. John intermingles the seals and trumpets in these verses.

But it also shows us something about how God uses our prayers. He allows us to participate in the coming of his Kingdom by fighting a holy war of prayer. The saints are praying:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread, 12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [6]

God’s response to the prayers of his people is to hurl fire (judgments) upon the earth. Rev. 8:3–4 shows that God’s verdict is a response to the saints’ prayer for final judgment, and verse 5 would be the execution of that verdict in hurling fire upon the earth.[7] Prayer is the overcomer’s primary means of victory. It’s also crucial to both private and public worship. Revelation’s imagery resembles the earthly order of Jewish temple worship: “(1) trimming of the seven lamps (Revelation 1–3), (2) slaying of the sacrificial lamb (Rev. 5:6), (3) pouring of the sacrificial blood at the base of the altar (Rev. 6:9), (4) offering of incense, during a time of silence and prayer (so Luke 1:10; cf. Rev. 8:1, 4–5), (5) the burnt offering and drink offering (Rev. 16:1) together with the sounding of trumpets (Rev. 8:6), and (6) singing of psalms (19:1–8).”[8] So, worship and prayer are the means of our holy war against the earth-dwellers on behalf of God’s kingdom.

When the flaming coals hit the earth in response to the saints’ prayers for God’s kingdom to come, God’s ultimate response is the final judgment, the great day of the wrath of Him who sits on the throne and the Lamb. This scene is the Last Judgment described again because the fire results in “thunders, sounds, lightnings, and quaking,” which is almost identical to the description of the last judgment in 11:19 and 16:18. This fourfold chain of cosmic disturbance is found in the OT, where it also refers to divine judgment (e.g., esp. Exod. 19:16, as well as v 18; Ps. 77:18–19; Isa. 29:6; Esth. 1:1d LXX; cf. Ps. 18:7–13).[9]

The breaking of the seals in chapters 6 and 7 primarily focus upon the suffering God’s witnesses must endure along with the earth-dwellers. Though they must go through the same wars, famines, illnesses, and all other tribulations, for them it is not judgment but training in Step One (“It’s all about Jesus!”). For earth-dwellers, the first 5 seals are partial judgments that point to the great and terrible Day of the Lord pictured in the 6th seal. The seals show the Church she must and shall suffer on earth for the sake of Jesus’ name, but she is eternally secure, and her citizenship is in heaven.

Plagues

The 7 trumpets tell the very same story as the 7 seals but from a different camera angle. You can think of Revelation as a symphony and the 7 seals, 7 trumpets, and 7 bowels as variations on the themes of judgment and blessing; they use the refrains of the Old Testament to show Messiah as the fulfillment of all its types, shadows, and prophecies. The 7 trumpets weave together the melodies of the Egyptian plagues from the book of Exodus with the fall of Jericho from the book of Joshua. The 7 seals show restraint of ongoing judgments for the sake of God’s people. The 7 trumpets show the victory of God’s judgment on the idol-worshipping earth-dwellers. The 7 bowls depict the wrath of God’s judgment, following which comes God’s shout from his throne, “It is done!” (16:17).[10] Each picture increases in intensity.

One of the predominant colors of John’s palate as he recreates for us this vision of 7 angels blowing 7 trumpets is from the 7 trumpet-blowing priests at the fall of Jericho beginning in Joshua 6. The other major color in this painting is drawn from the plagues of Egypt described in Exodus 7-10 where there were plagues of fire and hail, water turning blood red, dead fish, darkness on the land, and locusts. These are the plagues of the first 4 trumpets we find in Revelation 8. They give us a clue as to the reason these trumpets blow.

God’s overall intention in the plagues was to harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he would not release Israel (Exod. 4:21) and to give himself the opportunity to perform his plague signs (Exod. 7:3; 10:1–2) for the sake of displaying his glory. These signs were not intended to coerce Pharaoh into releasing Israel but primarily to demonstrate Yahweh’s incomparable omnipotence and power over the Egyptian demon-idols (Exod. 7:5, 17; 8:10, 22; 9:16, 29; 10:1–2). God continued to harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he could multiply his signs. Otherwise, Pharaoh would have let Israel go, and God would not have had occasion to demonstrate his omnipotence. The exodus plagues also showed the hardness of heart in Pharaoh and most of the Egyptians. The plagues are also judgments executed against the Egyptians for their hardness of heart, for their idolatry, and for persecuting God’s people.[11]

The 7 seals showed God using his suffering saints as worshipping witnesses who not only glorified God in their tribulations but also held out the gospel to the lost and dying. They participated in sealing God’s full number of the elect. But the 7 trumpets show God’s acts not primarily as warnings to the lost but as judgment on hard-hearted idolaters. The earth-dwellers, in turn, harden their hearts even more toward the Gospel just as Pharaoh did. What we see from the broken seals to the blasting trumpets, to the poured-out bowls is an increasingly-intense picture of God’s judgment upon the earth-dwellers that culminates in the Last Judgment.

Walls Come a Tumblin’ Down

The second major color with which John paints the picture of the trumpets comes from Joshua 6:1-27 when the people of God marched around the walls of that great city of earth-dwellers, once every day for six days with the Ark of the Covenant and 7 priests blowing 7 ram’s horn trumpets. Like the Tower of Babel was and the city of Babylon would later be, Jericho was symbolic of the entire world order of idol-worshipping people opposed to the One True God and His earthly witnesses.

You might recall this upside-down-looking procession – Israel’s army simply marching around the walls once every day. How curious the City of Man must have found that sight. How they must have taunted and jeered from high atop their impenetrable walls at this crazy parade. Their hearts were hard; they had not a shred of fear because they were completely secure. But on the 7th day, the army of Israel marched around the City of Man 7 times. The 7 priests blew their 7 trumpets and They gave a great shout:

and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they captured the city. 21 Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword. [12]

It’s no coincidence when we come to Revelation 11:15 and following, when the last trumpet is sounded, we see again the final judgment pictured as the collapse of the City of Man with flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail. [13] We also see God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple.[14] The 7th trumpet sounds, the city of man collapses, and the ark of the covenant is revealed. These trumpets are the fulfillment of the type and shadow of God’s wrath against idol-worshippers portrayed in Jericho so long ago.

Both in the OT and in Revelation, God sounds a trumpet to call his witnesses to a holy war. In the Bible, God’s people show up numbered and arrayed for battle. But it is God himself who brings the extraordinary power that destroys his enemies. We show up for battle, but God does the fighting and brings the victory. Isaiah 59 and Ephesians 6:10-20 describe how God’s witnesses fit themselves for holy war with the whole armor of God: belts of truth, breastplates of righteousness, the gospel of peace as combat boots, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the Bible as the sword of the Spirit, and prayer at all times.

What do God’s warrior witnesses, arrayed for holy, war do? They stand against the schemes of the devil.[15] Remember in 8:8 John sees a great mountain thrown into the sea? The bible uses mountains as metaphors for great cities and kingdoms (Rev. 14:1; 17:9; 21:10; Jer. 51:25, 27, 63-64) Both Revelation and Jeremiah depict the ultimate City of Man, Babylon, as a mountain that God will cast down. We stand in worship and witness with prayers that rise as incense to God. But God himself fights with the plagues of judgment that harden earth-dwelling hearts even as his people bear witness to pre-believers (like Rahab the prostitute of Jericho and her family).

What is the fundamental difference between the earth-dwellers and you and me and all God’s witnesses on earth? Earth-dwellers worship idols. They believe their primary goal is to pursue their own happiness, often at any cost. “You have to take care of you,” they counsel. “You deserve the freedom to be happy. You have a fundamental right to the pursuit of your own pleasure.” The idols they worship, be it Mother Earth, The Universe, Buddha, secular science, or any other thing, person, or idea all boil down to “whatever makes me happy.” It’s the fruit the dragon offered Adam and Eve in the Garden of the Lord. “Eat this sacramental meal with me and find your own bliss.

When my goal is to feel good about myself, to feel happy, I’m unsatisfied with Jesus and His imputed worthiness. I want some worthiness of my own, so I can feel good about myself.  The only believer who treasures Jesus and His imputed worthiness is the believer who has NO worthiness of his own, especially the believer who once had great worthiness, then lost everything. Sometimes, in moments of gospel sanity, I become that guy who has only Jesus’ worthiness and joy.

People always choose comfort and control when given the option. It’s a deeply-ingrained part of our Old Adam. But personal happiness and personal worthiness and personal comfort and control of my own destiny are NOT the chief end for citizens of God’s Kingdom. Jesus-dependence is the goal. See Step One. God commands us to choose trust over our own kingdoms of me.

To believers, trials come so that we may choose trust. To earth dwellers, tribulations come to reveal their heard hearts and God’s glory. No matter how much the One True God disrupts their own bliss with his plagues of judgment upon the earth or in their own personal lives, they continue to harden their hearts. After the 6th trumpet blows in 9:20-21, we read:

20 The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, 21 nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts. [16]

You can choose to live like an earth-dweller and seek your own personal happiness while you can, or you can hear see and understand these pictures of judgment that fall upon those hard-hearted souls who live defiantly in their own “kingdoms of me.” Like Rahab the prostitute and her family from Jericho, some are given ears to hear and are saved out of the City of Man that will be cast down.

But those who continue to harden their hearts to God and his Word will find such utter annihilation of their idols of personal happiness, there will be only terror the Day of the wrath of him who sits on the throne and the wrath of the Lion-Lamb falls. And it must and shall be so horrible and so terrifying and so swift and so complete that even the heavenly city will fall completely silent when the bitter foaming cup of the wine of the wrath of God is poured out upon the City of Man.

We beg you to come, flee to the perfect righteousness of the Lamb freely offered and to his sacrificial blood that washes us white with sinlessness. Turn from your bitter pursuit of personal happiness to his rest and his joy.

 The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.[17]

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Re 8:1–13.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Re 8:1.

[3] Beale, 446–447.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Hab 2:20.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Zec 2:13.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Mt 6:9–13.

[7] Beale, 452.

[8] Id.

[9] Id., 457–458.

[10] Phillips, 266.

[11] Beale, 465.

[12] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Jos 6:20–21.

[13] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Re 11:19.

[14] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Re 11:19.

[15] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Eph 6:11.

[16] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Re 9:20–21.

[17] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Re 22:17.

By | 2018-03-18T22:08:30+00:00 March 18th, 2018|blog|0 Comments

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