When He Opened the Seventh Seal
June 24th, 1962 @ 10:50 AM
WHEN HE OPENED THE SEVENTH SEAL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-24-62 10:50 a.m.
On the radio, you are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the 11:00 o’clock morning message entitled When He Opened the Seventh Seal. In your program, it is announced that the sermon this morning would be The True Scarlet International; that would have been the sermon had I preached last Monday morning. By Wednesday, I had changed it to another sermon, and by this morning I have changed it still to another one. I have decided to go on preaching through this Book of this Apocalypse. I have decided to go on into the eighth chapter, having preached several sermons in chapter 7. If you would turn your Bible to the last book, the Revelation, chapter 8, the first five verses, you can easily follow the message of the morning hour. It is an exposition of the first five verses of the eighth chapter of the Book of the Revelation.
And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.
And I saw these seven angels which stand before God; and to them 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 is 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.
The first thing noticed and the first thing written, when the Lamb of God opened the last and the seventh seal, is a silence in heaven [Revelation 8:1]. That is unusual because heaven is never silent. It is filled by day and by night and through all of the unending ages, world without end, with the worship and the praise and the adoration of the heavenly hosts offered unto God our Father and unto God our Savior and unto God our Holy Comforter and Keeper. But, at the opening of the seventh seal, all heaven is mute and silent and intense.
You see, when the Lamb opened the first seal, there was heard a voice as of thunder saying: "Come" [Revelation 6:1]. When the Lamb of God opened the second and the third and the fourth seals, that same thunderous voice was heard [Revelation 6:3-8]. When the Lamb opened the fifth seal He heard the cry of those who were martyred for Christ, saw them under the altar, beseeching God for vengeance upon their blood shed in the earth [Revelation 6:9-10]. And when the Lamb of God opened the sixth seal, there was a great tremor throughout all the framework of nature and vast illimitable, indescribable consternation on the earth [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. One dared hardly breathe. All motion in heaven stops. All praise and adoration ceases. There is silence, stillness, a vast indescribable calm [Revelation 8:1].
Why this silence in heaven? It is first, the silence of awe and of intense expectancy. This is the last and formal drama of the great and ultimate mystery of Almighty God. This is the last and ultimate seal. And we can just hear the unspoken intensity and expectancy of the hosts of heaven as they say to themselves, "What now will God do? And what will be the final disposition of His judicial administration in this rebellious and blaspheming world?" It is an intense silence of expectancy. We’re told in the twenty-second chapter of the Book of Acts that Paul stood on the steps of the Tower of Antonio and before a maddening mob clamoring for his life, raised his hand and spake unto them in the Hebrew tongue. And when he did so, the Bible says, and there followed a great silence. [Acts 21:40-22:2].
When Numa was crowned king of Rome, they came to that august moment when they were to look for the birds which the gods – by which the gods would foreshow his destiny. And the priest put his hands devoutly on the head of the crowned king. And the historian says, "And there reigned among the people an incredible silence." All heaven is mute and motionless with expectancy, with awe.
There is a second reason for the silence in heaven: it is a silence of ominous foreboding. Even the Lord God Almighty pauses before the onward rush of this great and final judicial administration. In the first, the second, the third, and the fourth and the fifth and the sixth seals, by war and by famine, by pestilence and by bloodshed, by violence and by storm, one-fourth of all of the inhabitants of the earth have been swept away [Revelation 6:1-8]. And now, as they come to that great last and final seal, what does it mean for all of the inhabitants of this earth? [Revelation 8:1]. It’s a calm before a storm. Haven’t you seen the clouds gathering and lower and the heavens turn black and sheets of lightning fall to this fearful and trembling earth? Then there’s a hush and a quiet and a calm and a leaf hardly moves, and there’s no breeze or wind for a moment. Then the crash of a resounding lightning flash and a thunderous roar and the deluge falls. That’s exactly the silence here. Before the awful sounding of the final judgment trumpets of God, there’s a pause in heaven by the space of about half an hour: interminable, unbearable, though so short. Same kind of a thing as if you saw a drowning child and one minute and a half a minute or an eternity, so it is here the silence and the stillness in heaven, a pause you could ever forget. You can feel, you can touch, its very intensity.
Time is altogether circumstantial and relative; a thousand years sometimes is as a day; and a day sometimes is a thousand years [2 Peter 3:8]. The silence in heaven at the opening of the seventh and the last seal that brings the drama of the Great Tribulation – and after that silence, the first thing the rapt apostle sees is the seven angels who stand in the presence of God to whom were given seven trumpets [Revelation 8:2]. Seven distinct, unusual, select, separate, princes of glory who are described here as "the angels of the presence" [Revelation 8:3]. They are designated the seven angels who stand in the presence of God.
In the fifteenth chapter of the Revelation, you have seven angels to whom are given the seven bowls of the vials of the wrath of the Almighty. But they are just seven angels [Revelation 15:1-8]. This article is distinct and emphatic, "The-the seven angels of the presence." You have it translated here "who stand before God," enōpion, "seven angels who stand – enōpion – in the presence of the Lord God" [Revelation 8:2].
There are ranks of angelic preference and administration and creation. Paul names some of those ranks of the angels of the hosts of heaven. Some of them principalities, dominions, powers. The prophet Daniel spoke of the princes among some of those angelic hosts [Daniel 10:13]. Paul and Jude refer to archangels in glory [1 Corinthians 4:9; Jude 9]: so these seven distinct, select personages, a septemvirate of vice-regents of the administrative justice of God in the earth – these seven distinct angels, "the angels of the presence." Do you remember the first chapter of the Book of Luke? Gabriel, who stood on the right side of the altar of incense, said: "I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God" [Luke 1:19].
And to those seven distinct, highly favored, marvelous, celestial arch-regents of the Almighty, there is given seven trumpets: to each one a trumpet [Revelation 8:2]. Why a trumpet? Because it is the most used of all of the instruments of the Holy Scriptures and portrays the life of the people in the presence of God. If there is a war declared, there is the blowing of the trumpet. Do you remember in the fourth chapter of the Book of Jeremiah? He cries: "O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war!" [Jeremiah 4:19]. In the great convocations of the people, there was the sounding of the trumpet. All of the great festival days of the Lord were introduced by the sound of the trumpet. But there is the year of the Jubilee. In the crowning of a king, there was the sounding of the trumpet [Exodus 19:18]. In the awful descent of the presence of God on Mount Sinai, there was a voice as of a trumpet sounding, and the people feared because of the awfulness of the sounding of the trumpet. And when the cities of the ungodly fell as at Jericho, it was at the sounding of the seventh trumpet [Joshua 6:20]. Therefore, I can expect in the judicial administration of God in this earth that those seven angels with those seven trumpets shall bring the full meaning of their heralding and their sounding as I read it in the Word of God [Revelation 8:2].
There is a trumpet sound of war; then I am to expect war, even the last great battle of the Lord God Almighty. If there is a trumpet that sounds the convocation of the people, then I am to expect the great concourse of God’s people gathered together in His name. If there is a sounding of a trumpet for the crowning of a king, then I am to expect the crowning of the greater Son of David as the Lord God of heaven and earth. And if there is a sounding of the trumpet describing the fall of the cities of the ungodly, then I am to expect the fall of the great city of Babylon – these seven angels in whose hands are placed the seven trumpets of the last and final judgment of the Almighty [Revelation 8:2].
Then follows an interlude, an interposition, an intermission: those seven angels as they stand in the presence of God begin to sound in verse 6 [Revelation 8:6-7], but in between there is an interlude. "And another angel came," while those seven stand ready to herald a judgment of visitation of God, while those seven stand:
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 is before the throne.
And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the hand of the angel.
What an unusual thing. Who is this angel? And "another angel" [Revelation 8:3]. I have found four times in the Apocalypse where that nomenclature is used, always with reference to a mighty indescribably glorious personality in heaven. For example, in the seventh chapter and the second verse, "I saw another angel, "same language, "I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God." And he seals the one hundred forty-four thousand [Revelation 7:2-8]. In the tenth chapter and the first verse, same thing, "I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow upon his head, and his face were as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire" [Revelation 10:1]. And another time is in the eighteenth chapter of the Revelation, first verse, "And after these things, I saw another angel," same wording, "come down from heaven having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory" [Revelation 18:1]. And this angel stands at the altar, and in his hand is the golden censer which alone belong to the priests [Revelation 8:3-5]. Because of these inscriptions and because of the priestly ministry here, so many, many students of the Book say this is the Angel of Jehovah, which in the Old Testament, is the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus Christ.
I have no objection at all to that identification, that this holy Angel is none other than Christ Himself. Just this observation, that everywhere in the Apocalypse that our Lord appears, He is distinctly designated. In the first chapter, He is called the Son of Man [Revelation 1:13], and there is a description of Him with the keys of life and of death in His hands [Revelation 1:18]. In the fifth chapter of the Revelation, He is called the "Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David" [Revelation 5:5]. Further on in that same chapter, He is described as "a Lamb as It had been slain" [Revelation 5:6]. And in the nineteenth chapter of the Revelation, when He comes in power and in triumph and in glory, He is called "The Word of God" [Revelation 19:13], always distinctly designated.
But here and these other passages, the word is used "another angel" [Revelation 8:3]. So to me, this is an angel-priest, and we could just call him that – this "angel-priest." While those seven select angels of God with their trumpet judgments ready to sound, there appears this angel-priest, and he’s standing at the great burnt offering of sacrifice. Both altars are mentioned here in this verse. The other angel was standing at the altar and with his golden censer filled with the fire from off of the altar, and pouring on it incense, he offers it at the golden altar before the throne [Revelation 8:3].
All of you who have been with us as we have been preaching through the Bible these many, many years, are very familiar with that scene. Outside in the court is the great brazen altar of sacrifice, the fire upon which never died by day and by night, and in which all the sacrifices were offered up unto God. And on the inside, in the Holy of Holies, before the veil, was the golden altar of incense with its four horns, one at each corner. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest with blood shed of the victim offered on the sacrificial altar, went inside and sprinkled the blood of justice and of judgment and of death, the witness of atonement for sin on the four horns of that golden altar [Leviticus 16:18]. And then twice a day throughout the year at the time of the morning sacrifice and at the time of the evening sacrifice, the priests went in and offered incense while the people prayed outside [Exodus 30:7-8].
Remember the story of Zacharias? That was his turn, once in a lifetime, to go into the Holy of Holies and there to offer incense on the golden altar of prayer while the people outside waited in intercession before God [Luke 1:8-10]. And on the right side of that golden altar [Luke 1:11], Gabriel stood. "I am Gabriel who stands in the presence of God" [Luke 1:19]. These are the two altars. The brazen altar is mentioned six times in the Apocalypse, the golden altar is mentioned twice.
So this angel comes and He stands at the brazen altar of sacrifice and filling His incense censer with the fire and the coals from off the altar, He stands in the Holy Place, putting incense on the holy fires. And the Scriptures say here that He offers the incense with the prayers of all of the saints [Revelation 8:4]. The imagery and the meaning of that is everlastingly celestial and heavenly and blessed. The prayers of all God’s people are forwarded and they are perfected. And they are made beautiful and acceptable to heaven by the merit, and the worth, and the virtue of the life, and the sacrifice, and the resurrection, and the intercession of our glorious High Priest in glory.
However we may be, and maybe strive to be perfect in our worship to God, even our prayers have in them imperfection. They are not said right, they’re not offered right there is imperfection about all that we do in the presence of God even in our finest, highest hours of worship and intercession. And this angel-priest adds to our prayers, the incense, the sweet savoring of the merit and the life and the virtue of Christ. And do you notice he offers the incense with the prayers of all God’s saints? [Revelation 8:3]. All of them, the prayers of God’s saints, yesterday, and today, and until this time shall close, no prayer is ever lost. It is kept before God. Whether the prayer was uttered when time was young or whether behind a door closed so nobody could ever know or see, all of them are kept before God. And to them is added the merit and the virtue and the grace of our blessed Lord Christ.
Now, why interpose this passage here? [Revelation 8:3]. For two reasons: first, the great and final judgment of this earth is in answer to the prayers of God’s people. What is the high, holy intercession? What is the spiritual appeal of God’s saints through all of the ages? It is the prayer that God placed on the lips and in the heart of His people, "Thy kingdom come and Thy will be done in this earth, as it is in heaven" [Matthew 6:10]. And the time has now come for that prayer uttered by God’s people through the millenniums, that time has come for God to answer that prayer of His people. And that’s why at this point, when those prayers are finally to be answered, that God has brought before Him the remembrance of all of those intercessions through the ages [Revelation 8:3]. The time has come when God shall cast out Satan, shall dethrone the usurper, shall judge sin and iniquity and death and hell and the grave, forever. The time is come when God’s kingdom shall be established in the earth [Revelation 11:15]. And at that time, God has brought before Him the remembrance of all of the prayers of His saints through the ages. "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done" [Matthew 6:10].
Some people think meanly of the prayers of God’s humble children. Like the cry in Job, "What does it profit a man if he prays to the Almighty?" [Job 21:15], they say. But God says that these prayers move heaven! They hurl into action the princes of glory. They are the means by which justice is administered in the earth, and they are the astonishment of all creation! And before that final denouement comes and that final judgment falls and that final and ultimate kingdom of God is established, there are brought before the Lord the remembrance of all of the prayers of all of His children [Revelation 8:3]. I spoke of that when I was preaching the fifth chapter of the Revelation when he saw the vision of the Lamb slain; and the four cherubim and the four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a golden bowl and in it the incense which is the prayers of all God’s people; they’re all treasured in golden bowls in glory, the prayers of His people [Revelation 5:6-8].
Then there’s a second reason why the interposition of this little scene here before the angels sound the trumpets [Revelation 8:3-5], and that is this: God is revealing to us, God is showing to us that judgment, that justice, that the administrative work of heaven is the other side of faith, and love, and hope, and belief, and trust, and intercession, and pleading unto God. For look!
And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire from off the altar, and flung it into the earth –
then follows that quatrain, this formula of catastrophe –
And there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake,and the scorching of this earth
And the visitation of the judgments of the Lord God Almighty.
What a thing, what a scene! Do you see it? This angel-priest takes his golden censer and he fills it with fire from off the altar [Revelation 8:3]. That altar is the judgment of God, the righteousness of God, the holiness of God as it burns against sin. And there the victim is offered and the sacrifice is offered, making atonement for the sins of the people. And the angel-priest fills his censer with a fire from off that altar of brass, of judgment. And he takes his censer, filled with fire from off the altar, and he goes into the holy place. And there he pours on top of that fire, those coals that flame and burn, the incense, the savor of the merit and the worth of Christ [Revelation 8:3-4]. And it is offered unto God: the holiness, and the devotion, and the love, and the hope, and the prayers, and the intercession, and the longing of God’s people ascending up into glory.
Then that same angel-priest comes back to the same altar. His now emptied censer that he emptied on the golden altar of prayer – his now emptied censer, he fills again with the fire from the coals off the altar of brass [Revelation 8:5]. But this time he flings it down into the earth and it scorches and it burns and it consumes: the same censer, the same fire, the same ingredients [Revelation 8:5]. What is judgment? What is damnation? What is perdition? Look on the inside of that golden censer, for damnation and judgment and perdition and the wrath and judgment of Almighty God is nothing other than all of the graces that ascended unto God on the golden altar, turned downward and flung earthward; despised, tread upon. Look inside of that golden censer, there is love; the love of the saints ascending up unto God – the love of God spurned and displaced in the earth.
Look in that golden censer. There is grace, and mercy, and forgiveness, and salvation on the golden altar of prayer, and faith, and commitment, and belief, offered up, ascending unto God. But now, flung down into the scorching earth mercy, and love, and grace, and salvation, and forgiveness, rejected and spurned and made light of. That’s all judgment is: God’s grace and God’s mercy despised, rejected, cast out, refused.
As Paul says:, "If you preach the gospel of the Son of God, we are the savor of Christ, life unto life, to them that believe; death unto death unto them that reject" [2 Corinthians 2:15-16]. And that’s why I had you read the passage this morning from the tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews:
For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the gospel truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin,
But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and of fiery indignation that shall devour the adversaries.
He that despises Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses.
Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who has trodden underfoot the Son of God, who have counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite to the Spirit of grace?
For we know Him who hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto Me, I will recompense, saith the Lord.
And again, the Lord shall judge His people. It is a fearful thing to fall in the hands of the living God.
For our God is a consuming fire.
[Hebrews 10:26-31, 12:29]
"And he took the censer, and filled it with fire from off the altar, and flung it into the earth" [Revelation 8:5], and there follows after – as we preach beginning in the sermon next Sunday morning – and there follows after the judgment of God upon a gainsaying and apostasizing, a blaspheming, a rejecting and an unbelieving earth.
Oh, God, my soul trembles! My soul trembles. It is life – this Lord Jesus, His death, His resurrection, His intercession – it is life for those who turn and believe. It is judgment, it is death, it is perdition, it is damnation for those who say "No!" to the Spirit of grace and who spurn God’s overtures of mercy.
"Oh, Oh!" said the prophet of Old:
Why will ye die? Turn ye. Turn ye, for why will ye die?
As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the people.
Turn ye, turn ye, for why will ye die?
And as the song we sometimes sing:
When the cleansing cross,
When the fountain of blessing,
When the Spirit of God,
When the loving favor of Jesus is so nearby,
Why, O why will ye die?
Why would a man choose to be lost when God’s grace and mercy are his for the taking, when it’s rejection is death, now and forever? Why we preach, why we pray, why we sing, why we make appeal, why we pray that you might turn and be saved. While our people are pray now, while our people sing now, and while the Holy Spirit makes appeal to your heart now, come, come. "Here I am, preacher, I give you my hand. I give my heart to God."
Out of that balcony down one of these stairways, "Here I am and here I come." On this lower floor, into the aisle and to the front, a couple you, a family you, one, somebody you, while we sing the appeal, on its first note, step out to God for Christ, with us. Do it now. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.