When He Opened the Seventh Seal

Revelation

When He Opened the Seventh Seal

June 24th, 1962 @ 8:15 AM

Revelation 8:1-5

And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour. And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets. And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand. And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake.
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WHEN HE OPENED THE SEVENTH SEAL

Dr. W. A. Criswell

Revelation 8:1-5

6-24-62    8:15 a.m.

 

On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the early morning message entitled And When He Opened the Seventh Seal.  The sermon that is announced in your program was, I am sure, taken by our music leader, who will be here in a few minutes for the second service; he is coming in from Houston.  It is entitled The True Red International.  And had I been preaching last Monday I would have preached on that subject.  Had I been preaching Wednesday I would have preached on still another subject.  But now that Sunday has come I am preaching on still another one.  I have changed it twice this week.  I have decided to go on in these expository sermons on the Book of the Revelation.  So if you will turn to the eighth chapter of the Revelation you can follow the message easily.  Revelation, chapter 8, the first 5 verses:

 

And when He had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.

And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets.

And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.

And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand.

And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake.

[Revelation 8:1-5]

 

The first thing that is noticed when the rapt apostle sees the Lamb of God open the seventh and the last seal; the first thing that is noticed is a silence in heaven [Revelation 8:1].  That was noticeable because heaven is not silent; it resounds day and night, the Scriptures say, and world without end with the praises and the adoration and the worship of all the heavenly hosts praising God our Father, praising God our Savior, praising God our Holy Comforter and Keeper.  And this silence in heaven is unusual and impressive.

When the Lamb opened the first seal, there was heard a thunderous voice, saying, "Come" [Revelation 6:1].  When He opened the second seal and the third seal and the fourth seal, there was heard that same thunderous voice [Revelation 6:3-7].  When He opened the fifth seal, He heard the cry of those who were martyred for Christ, whose souls cried to God from under the altar for vengeance for their blood spilled by those still in the earth [Revelation 6:9-10].  When the sixth seal was opened, there was a tremor that shook the frame of all creation, filled this entire earth with consternation [Revelation 6:12-17].  But when the Lamb of God opens the seventh and the last seal, there is a silence that could be felt.  Every voice in heaven was hushed in mute silence; everything came to a dead standstill.  What is this silence?  "And when He had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven" [Revelation 8:1].

It is first the silence of intensest awe and expectancy.  For this reveals the final consummation of the mystery of God.  This is the seventh and the last seal, and the remainder of the book, almost all of it, concerns the opening of this seal [Revelation 8:1], the blowing of the seven trumpets [Revelation 8:2-9:21, 11:15-19], the pouring out of the seven bowls [Revelation 16:1-21].  And as the Lamb of God breaks this final and last seal, we come to the last drama of God’s judicial administration in the earth, and it is approached with great expectancy and intensity.  We could almost hear their hearts beat as inwardly they breathlessly say, "And now what will God do?  And what will be the final judgment upon these who are rebellious in the earth?"

Then it is a silence of, it is a silence of a fear and of dread and of ominous foreboding.  Even the Lord God Himself pauses before this great ultimate judgment which is poured out from heaven upon the earth [Revelation 8:1].  It is the same kind of a silence as proceeds that final lightning crash that fills the earth with thunder and the deluge falls.  Haven’t you time and again seen the clouds dark in the heavens, and the lightning flash, and the thunder roar as the storm approaches?  Then for a moment there’ll be a hush, and a quiet, not a leaf will stir, the wind dies down, there is a great calm; then it is broken by the crash of a thunderous roar, and the heavy rains begin to fall.  That’s an identical thing as happens here; it is a calm before the storm.  There’s a deathless stillness.  And it says here that it lasts about half an hour [Revelation 8:1].  Whether that’s long or short depends upon the circumstances.  If your child were drowning, a delay of a minute and a half would be an eternity.  It all depends.  God says in one of His passages in Peter that "A thousand years is as a day," and then again, "a day is as a thousand years" [2 Peter 3:8].  Now, let’s just look at this this morning.

Suppose I stop right now.  Did you know if I were to stop for a minute between my words here, speaking, it’d be intolerable and unbearable.  And on the radio everybody immediately turns it off.  Just a little while, just a little while and it is long.  Well, that’s the situation here.  In the intensity of these judgments, and the revelation of God, and the administration of the Lord in heaven and in earth, for thirty minutes this anxious expectancy and this ominous silence.

You remember when the apostle Paul spoke on the steps of the Tower of Antonio?  He raised his hand, and as he spake in the voice of the Hebrew language, the Bible says, "and there was a great silence" [Acts 21:40].  In history, when Numa was crowned king of Rome, they came to that final moment when the priest put his hands devoutly upon the head of the king; and the people and all were waiting for the birds to foretell the destiny of their monarch.  And the historian said, "And there was an incredible silence that reigned among the people," that’s this here.  "And when He had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour" [Revelation 8:1], intensest awe and expectancy, and an ominous foreboding of God’s final judgment in the earth.

Then the next verse: "And I saw the seven angels which stand before God; and to them were given seven trumpets" [Revelation 8:2].  As the seal is broken, and after that hush of amazed wonder and astonishment for half an hour, then there first appears the seven present angels of God to whom were given, each one, a trumpet.  Who are these seven presence angels? [Acts 8:2].  Just all we know, just this: there are orders in heaven, the heavenly host of God is in serried ranks.

The apostle Paul, for example, will speak of their orders: "dominions, powers, principalities in the heavenlies" [Colossians 1:16].  The prophet Daniel will speak of the chief princes among the angels of glory [Daniel 10:13].  The apostle Paul and Jude will refer to archangels [1 Thessalonians 4:16; Jude 9].  These are seven distinct select separated personages among the great mighty hosts of glory.  For example, they are called "the," and that article is very significant and impressive; "The seven angels who stand in the presence of God" [Revelation 8:2].  And that "in the presence of God," you have it translated here "before," enōpion, "in the presence of."  Look, in the first chapter of Luke, Gabriel said, "I am Gabriel who stand in the presence of God" [Luke 1:19].  I know these are distinct, again, because in the fifteenth chapter of the Revelation there are seven angels that appear to whom are given the bowls that pour out the wrath of God in the earth; but they’re just seven angels.  These seven angels are a septemvirate of arch regents, who have the final administration of the judicial judgment of God in this earth [Revelation 15:1-8].  And when they are done, the kingdom has come, and the great consummation of the age has come down from God out of heaven.  These are seven select unusual personages who stand in the very presence of the Lord God Almighty.

And each one of these angels is given a trumpet [Revelation 8:2].  Why a trumpet?  Because in the Scriptures, in the Old Testament, the trumpet is the most referred to of all of the instruments of the Bible and was most significantly used in the story of God’s people.  At the blowing of the trumpet there was war.  You remember Jeremiah says, in the fourth chapter of his book, "O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, and the alarm of war" [Jeremiah 4:19].  At the blowing of the trumpet there was war.  At the blowing of the trumpet there was a great convocation of the people.  At the blowing of the trumpet the feasts of Israel were introduced, such as the great diamond Feast of the Jubilee [Leviticus 25:9].  At the blowing of the trumpet the kings were anointed, and their kingdom was proclaimed, and their royal persons were presented to the nation.  At the blowing of the trumpet God came down on Mount Sinai and shook this earth till it quaked [Exodus 19:16-18].  At the blowing of the trumpet, at the blowing of the seven trumpets, at the seventh blast of the seven trumpets the cities of the ungodly fell down, such as Jericho [Joshua 6:20].

Now they are seven in number, as you already know, representing the fullness, the completeness of the administration of God.  So, if there is a trumpet that blows of war, there shall be war; even the great battle of the day of the almighty God.  If there is a trumpet of convocation, then you’re going to see great concourses of people brought together.  If there is a trumpet announcing the crowning of a king, then there’ll be a crowning of the great Son of David, the Lord of the whole earth.  If there is a trumpet that sounds as the presence of God comes down, then you’re going to see the world tremble before the presence of Almighty God.  And if there is a trumpet that sounds bringing the fall of the ungodly in the wicked cities in this earth, then you’re going to have the trumpet sound, you’re going to see a great Babylon fall into the dust of the ground.  "The seven angels who stand in the presence of God, and to them were given seven trumpets" [Revelation 8:2].

Then there is an unusual interlude.  You would suppose that the angels who have these trumpets would begin their administrations of judgment in the earth.  No, they do not until verse 6 [Revelation 8:6].  We shall speak of that next Lord’s Day morning.  There’s an interlude here, and an unusual one.  I read it:

 

And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.

And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand.

And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire from off the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake.

[Revelation 8:3-5]

 

What an unusual interlude.  Who is this "and another angel came"? [Revelation 8:3].   Those seven presence angels standing there, each with his trumpet, God’s administers of judgment in the earth [Revelation 8:2], then "another angel."  How often he appears in the Revelation; he may be oftener than I have, but I’ve noticed his presence four times.  In chapter 7, "I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God, having the power of the bestowing of the Holy Spirit in his hands; and he sealed that one hundred forty-four thousand" [Revelation 7:2-8]; there he’s mentioned.  He is mentioned in chapter 10, verse 1, "And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire" [Revelation 10:1].  And he’s mentioned again in the eighteenth chapter of the Revelation: "After these things I saw another angel," always referred to in the same nomenclature, "another angel." "After these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory" [Revelation 18:1].  And then, of course, in the text here: "And another angel came and stood at the altar" [Revelation 8:3].  First, he’s at the altar of burning, the great brazen altar in the court.  Then he stands at the golden altar of prayer, of incense.  Then he returns to the brazen altar of burnt offering [Revelation 8:3-5].

Practically all of your scholars of a certain kind will identify this angel as the Angel Jehovah, the Angel of the face, of the Presence, the Angel of the name of God, the Angel Jehovah of the Old Testament; which of course would be the Lord Jesus Christ.  And his high priestly ministry here, with the censer, before the altar, of course all of that is only a ministry of a priest.  They say that is conclusive that this "other angel" and "another angel" is our Lord.  Well fine, fine.  I would have no objection to it.

My only comment is this: every time the Lord appears in the pages of the New Testament, He is clearly identified.  And every time He appears in the Revelation, it is no different: He is plainly identified.  For example, in the first chapter of the Revelation, He is called "the Son of Man" [Revelation 1:13], then He is described: He has the keys of life and of death, of the grave and of hell [Revelation 1:18].  Then in the fifth chapter of the Revelation, He is called there "the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David" [Revelation 5:5].  And in the same chapter, He is called "the Lamb slain, a Lamb as it had been slain" [Revelation 5:6].  And then in the nineteenth chapter of the Revelation, He is called, as He appears, He is called "The Word of God" [Revelation 19:13].  Wherever the Lord appears in the Revelation, He will be plainly and distinctly identified.  In my own judgment, I do not think this angel is the Lord [Revelation 8:3].  So I call him "an angel priest."  This mighty, and glorious, and iridescent, and wonderful angel who may be our Lord, I call him an angel-priest.

And he stands before the brazen altar, the altar of burnt sacrifice [Revelation 8:3].  Six times that brazen altar is mentioned in the Revelation; and twice the golden altar of incense, of prayer.  Now if you’ve been attending these services, all of that is very clear to your mind.  Outside in the court was the great brazen altar where the sacrifices were offered unto God [Exodus 27:1-8].  On the inside, in the Holy of Holies, before the veil, there was the golden altar of prayer, the golden altar of incense [Exodus 30:1-10].  Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest went in and he covered the four horns, he sprinkled the four horns of that golden altar of incense with blood; the witness of death and judgment upon sin [Leviticus 16:18-19].  Then every day at the time of the morning sacrifice and at the time of the evening sacrifice, the priest went in and offered incense on the golden altar of prayer, as the people outside interceded before God [Exodus 30:7-8].  And the priest would always take a censer and fill it with the fire, the coals from off of the brazen altar outside, and going inside, he would take that fire from his censer and pour it out on the golden altar and pour censer on the fires that burned.  And, as the smoke ascended, so the prayers of the people went up to the presence of God.

That is what you have here in this passage.  He appears there, standing at the brazen altar, and he fills his censer with fire, with the coals from off of the altar.  Then he takes it with the prayers of all saints, upon the golden altar inside [Revelation 8:3-5].  What that means is this: the incense from the burning of the fire from the great brazen altar is the sacrifice of our Lord, the worth and the merit of His life, of His compassion, of His grace, of His love, of His death, of His resurrection, of His high priestly intercession in heaven.  And this priest angel adds to our prayers the merit and the worth of the life and the sacrifice of our Lord.  For you see, however perfect we might strive to be, even in our highest spiritual devotions, even in our prayers to God, there’s always the element of lack and of need and of want in everything we do, even in our praying.  And this angel priest adds to our supplications the perfection and the beauty, the savor, the sweet savor of the Lord Jesus Christ, His merit, His grace.  And do you notice?  He offers it with the prayers of "all saints," all saints [Revelation 8:3].  When time was young, God’s people prayed; as Abel did [Genesis 4:4, 10].  And the prayers yesterday, and the prayers of our people today, all of them throughout the centuries and the millenniums, all of them are brought up before God, and to them is added the incense of the atoning death and sacrifice of Christ, from the altar, from the cross, from the judgment of God that fell upon Him [Revelation 8:3].

Now in these concluding moments I want to speak a word about why this interlude here [Revelation 8:1].  Why this strange appearance of this priest angel here before the final judgments of God? [Revelation 8:3].  All right, there are two reasons for it.  First, the time has come in this seventh seal [Revelation 8:1], the time has come when God shall answer all of the prayers of His saints through the ages.  What is the prayer of God’s people in their holiest and highest intercession?  It is the prayer that Christ placed on our lips and in our hearts: "O God, Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven" [Matthew 6:10].  And the time has come for those prayers to be answered.  Therefore God brings the prayers of all of His saints into remembrance now that the hour has come for their ultimate and final answer [Revelation 8:3].  The day has arrived, says God, when Satan will be cast out, when iniquity will be dethroned, when God’s kingdom shall come, and Christ shall reign superlative, supernal, supreme, forever and forever [Revelation 11:15].  And when that hour of judgment comes, God brings before Him the remembrance of all the supplications of all of His people through the centuries.

You had that same and identical thing in the fifth chapter of the Revelation, when he saw the Lamb as it had been slain: "And there bowed down before Him the four cherubim, and the four and twenty elders, all of them having a golden bowl full of the prayers of the saints" [Revelation 5:6-8].  Not a one is ever forgotten!  The humblest prayer of God’s humblest saint is treasure in a golden bowl in heaven.  And at that ultimate and final time, all of it will be brought into the remembrance of the Lord God.  You know there are some who think meanly of the prayers of God’s children?  Like the cry in Job, "What does it profit a man if he pray to the Almighty?" [Job 21:15].  But it is prayer, it is prayer, the Book says here, it is prayer that moves the Son of God; it is prayer that moves the Almighty on His throne; it is prayer that moves the angels into administrative judicial action; it is prayer that astonishes and judges this earth.

I have a poem here – I wish I had time to read it; I’ll try to put it in the Reminder so you can – on the power and the meaning of the humblest prayer.

 

There’s a power which man can wield

When mortal aid is vain,

That eye, that [arm], that love to reach,

That listening ear to gain.

 

That power is prayer, which soars on high

Through Jesus to the throne,

And moves the hand that moves the world

To bring salvation down.

["There Is an Eye That Never Sleeps"; James C. Wallace]

 

All the prayers, that’s what the Book says, of all the saints are brought up into the remembrance of God [Revelation 8:3-4].

All right the second reason why this interlude [Revelation 8:1]: these judgments fall, and that kingdom comes, and iniquity is cast out, and this judgment day arrives in connection with the prayers of God’s people.  This is an astonishing thing.  "And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire from off that altar, and cast it into the earth" [Revelation 8:5].  And then follows the formula of catastrophe and judgment: "voices, and thundering, and lightnings, and earthquake," and the seven angels immediately begin to sound [Revelation 8:5-6].  Do you see that?  First, that angel fills his censer with fire from off the altar [Revelation 8:5]; the sacrifice of Christ, where God paid the debt for our sins.  And he takes his filled censer with that fire, that fury, that flame that fell upon Christ, and he adds to it the incense of the merit of our blessed Lord, and there on the golden altar, he offers it up unto God; all of our prayers, and our hopes, and our dreams, and our intercessions, and our tears, and our cries, and our longings, all of it offered up unto God [Revelation 8:3-4].  Then he comes back with that same censer and he fills it with that same ingredient, and he flings it out into the earth in awful judgment that shall scorch and burn to the lowest hell [Revelation 8:5].  Ah!  What an amazing and unbelievable thing!  The same censer, the same angel, the same ingredients, only this time turned downward and cast in fury and in judgment upon the earth [Revelation 8:5].  Do you see that?

Judgment is nothing other, damnation is nothing other, perdition is nothing other, than love spurned, grace rejected, mercy refused, salvation made light of, the same thing.  "We are," Paul said, "the sweet savor of Christ . . . death unto death to those who refuse; life unto life to those who believe" [2 Corinthians 2:15-16].  The same censer, the same angel, the same fire from the same altar that bears unto God the souls of those who lean upon Him and trust in Him, and that same thing, the damnation and the perdition of those who spurn and refuse the overtures of His grace and His mercy.  And he took that censer and filled it with fire from off that altar and flung it into the earth [Revelation 8:5].  That’s why I had you read the passage:

 

For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the gospel truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,

But a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation that shall devour the adversaries.

He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses.

Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, who hath done despite to the Spirit of grace, who hath counted the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified an unholy thing.

For we know Him who have said, Vengeance belongeth unto Me, I will recompense, saith the Lord.

[Hebrews 10:26-30]

 

And again, "The Lord shall judge His people.  It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God [Hebrews 10:30-31]; for our God is a consuming fire" [Hebrews 12:29].   And he took that same censer and filled it with fire from off of that same altar, and he flung it into the earth [Revelation 8:5].  And there did the burning of God judge a rebellious and apostate world.

"O God, O God, how awful, how awful to stand in Thy presence, to look upon Thy cross, to name the name of Thy Son; O Lord, in humility, in repentance, in reverence, Lord let me bow, let me confess my sins, let me ask forgiveness.  And in the name of the almighty Son of God, Lord, forgive me, remember me, save me."

Now we must sing our song.  And while we sing it, somebody you, this morning, give his heart to Jesus.  Somebody you, put his life in the fellowship of our church; a family to come or just one while we sing this song, on the first note of its first stanza, immediately come, immediately come, while we stand and while we sing.

WHEN HE OPENED THE SEVENTH SEAL

Dr. W. A. Criswell

Revelation 8:1-5

6-24-62

 

I.          Silence in heaven

A.  Notice it is the first thing described – unusual for heaven to be silent

1.  When first, second, third and fourth seals were broken, a voice like thunder was heard, "Come"

2.  When fifth seal was broken, there was a great cry from beneath the altar

3.  When the sixth seal was broken, there was a fearful tremor throughout the whole frame of nature

4.  But at opening of the seventh seal there was a silence that could be felt

B.  What kind of silence is this?

1.  Awe, intense expectancy(Acts 22:2)

2.  Ominous foreboding

a. Even the Almighty pauses before the action of judgment proceeds

b. Half an hour(Revelation 8:1)

 

II.         The seven angels of the divine presence(Revelation 8:2)

A.  Seven distinct princes of glory described as "the angels of the presence"

1.  There are orders and ranks of angelic hosts (Ephesians 3:10, Luke 1:19)

B.  They are given seven trumpets

1.  Instrument most used in Scriptures; portrays the life of the people

a. Declarations of war (Jeremiah 4:19)

b. Convocation of the people (Numbers 8)

c. Proclaiming great festivals, jubilees

d. Crowning a king

e. Manifestation of the terrible majesty of God(Exodus 19:16, Amos 3:6)

f. Outcome of the ungodly(Joshua 6:15-16)

2.  The seven trumpets of the last and final judgment of the Almighty

C.  While the seven stand ready, "another angel" appears (Revelation 8:3-4)

1.  Nomenclature used four times in the Apocalypse – used with reference to a mighty, indescribably glorious personality in heaven(Revelation 7:2, 10:1, 18:1)

2.  Many say this is the Angel of Jehovah, which in Old Testament is the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus

a. However, everywhere in the Apocalypse Christ appears He is distinctly designated(Revelation 1, 5, 19)

3.  He stands at the altar of sacrifice – an "angel-priest"

a. He offers the incense with the prayers of all the saints

i. The prayers of God’s people are forwarded and perfected, made acceptable by the merit of the sacrifice of our High Priest

 

III.        Why this scene interposed here, with appearance of the angel-priest?

A.  The fullness of time has come for the answer to these prayers – "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done"

B.  The final judgments of God are in direct connection with these prayers(Revelation 8:5-7)

1.  Same censer which bore the merit of Christ now filled with flames of judgment to be cast out to an apostate world

2.  Judgment is God’s grace and mercy despised, rejected, cast out and refused(Hebrews 10:26-31)

a. It is life for those who turn and believe(Ezekiel 33:11)