The Seventh Seal and the Golden Censer
Rev. 8:1 - “And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.” This is a startling statement. It was the awesomeness of the opening of the seventh seal that caused the hosts of heaven to pause in silence, for they had received a panoramic view. The judgment of the six seals in Rev. 6 was terrible in their content, but with the blowing of the trumpets, the judgment increases in intensity.
If I may direct your thoughts for a moment, to the judgment given through the pouring out of the seven bowls: there is a definite progression in the intensity of the judgments. This knowledge brings “silence in heaven for half an hour.” Rev. 5:4-5 shows us that Heaven is a happy place. The angels, the four living creatures, the 24 elders (whom many believe to be the church) - everyone in heaven, whom we have seen there, is rejoicing in jubilation, but now they are silent. It seems as if heaven gasps in horror at the prospect of such judgment about to fall on mankind.
After the judgment of the six seals, one would have thought that mankind would have repented. But, no, seal six repented not. Why don’t men and women repent today? How easy it is to do so (see John 5:24). “God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked.” “He is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance,” (2 Peter 3:9).
Rev. 8:2-6 - Seven high-ranking angels were given seven trumpets. As each angel sounded his trumpet, certain judgments fell on the earth. In Rev. 8:3, another angel came – in all probability Christ, Himself. He had a golden censer. The incense would represent the sweet savor of His life and work. This, He was to offer with the prayers of the saints. In Rev. 8:4, the smoke of the incense was mingled with the prayers of the saints; that is the prayers of the saints in tribulation, which ascended to God. A picture of Christ as our High Priest: “To all our prayers and praises, Christ adds His sweet perfume.”
In Rev. 8:5, the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar. This is very interesting, because this censer filled with fire was cast into the earth. The censer is used as a clear symbol of judgment, apparently in response to the intercessory prayers of the suffering saints in the midst of the great tribulation. When the contents of the censer reached the earth, there were voices, thundering, lightening, and an earthquake. “Coming events cast their shadows beforehand.”
The Judgment of the First Trumpet
Rev. 8:7 - This judgment was directed particularly on the trees and grass. The third part of the trees was burned up as well as all of the grass (wheat, oats, etc). We interpret this in the literal sense. See Exodus 9:18-26. Though this judgment is particularly directed against the planet’s vegetation, hail will fall, fire will run along the ground, and there will certainly be great bloodshed mixed with blood.
The Judgment of the Second Trumpet
Rev. 8:8-9 - The second judgment fell on the sea, the things that live in the sea, and the ships that sail on the sea. This huge object that fell from the heavens appeared like a great mountain to John. Imagine the terrible catastrophe as this huge burning mass plunges into the sea and destroys 1/3 of all life in it and 1/3 of all ships (think of the chemical reactions, a tidal wave, etc.). The sea became red by the blood of dead naval concentrations. The way I see this, at the moment, is that all life and ships in the area closest to the point of impact of this burning mass will be destroyed and will amount to 1/3 of the life and ships.
The Judgment of the Third Trumpet
Rev. 8:10-11 - Once again, notice the language of comparison. “The great star was burning like a torch.” This star seems to be a heavenly body from outer space. When this mass reaches the earth’s atmosphere, it will burn like a torch. It is possible that as this great object reaches the earth’s atmosphere, it will disintegrate and become like dust and fall on the rivers and fresh water sources. As a result of this, many people will die from drinking the contaminated and bitter waters. [Reflect on: the contaminated water – sin – “the living water” - The waters of Marah were made sweet by casting in the tree]
The Judgment of the Fourth Trumpet
Rev. 8:12 - With the sounding of the fourth trumpet the sun, moon, and stars are affected. As a point of interest, contrast the first three judgments with this one. The first three have to do with the land, sea, rivers, and fountains of waters respectively. The fourth judgment has to do with the heavens themselves. A third part of the sun, moon, and stars are darkened. Some think that the light of these heavenly bodies will be decreased by one third. The daylight hours will not be so bright. The night will be even darker. Others think that the day will be shortened from 24 hours to 16 hours. Mankind is totally dependent on the sun for light and life. Vegetation is also dependent on this. It seems as if God will change the functions of nature; this will have a tremendous effect on all life on this planet.
In Luke 21:25-26, our Lord speaking of the great tribulation says, “And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming upon the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be spoken.” The judgments of the four trumpets will fall one night after another. Judgment has been poured out on the trees, grass, marine life, shipping, fresh water, and heavenly bodies. The picture up to this moment is: land & sea. Food is destroyed, its distribution is completely crippled, the water supply is limited, and the production of life is hampered. As fearful as those judgments will be, they are only the beginning of God’s dealing with the earth. This is indicated by the announcement of “the three wars” which are to follow.
Rev. 8:13 - This verse describes an angel flying through the air crying, “Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth.” The first four trumpets were directed toward the earth’s ecology, but the last three are against man. God appears to be putting more pressure on man to repent and turn to Jesus for salvation. The word woe, according to Webster, means sorrow, calamity, and affliction. If only men would repent, these judgments would not be necessary. But also, the indications are that instead of repenting, men become greater rebels than ever before. (See Matthew 11: Woe unto thee Chorazin, woe unto thee Capernaum, etc.)
God’s Grace and God’s Judgment – [Describe] No greater contrast can be found than the contrast between God’s love and God’s wrath. This contrast is presented in a single verse. Take John 3:36 as an example: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life, and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” The contrast here is obvious. If you have received Christ as your Savior then you have nothing to fear. You have everlasting life. But, if you neglect or reject God’s provision for your sin penalty, you will experience the wrath of God for eternity in the lake of fire. [Describe eternity, Luke 16]
In our own day, we see God’s love displayed toward mankind. We also see His long-suffering and mercy. Since the crucifixion 2000 years ago, God has been waiting patiently for men to receive Christ as Savior. “He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9.
The day will come when God will no longer be able to hold back His wrath against unbelievers. “My Spirit shall not always strive with man.” It seems to me that in the seal judgments and the first four trumpet judgments, while God is certainly punishing rebellious man, His punishment is mixed with mercy. These judgments will be poured upon the earth in an effort to bring man to Himself. They will be in the form of a warning.