************ Sermon on Revelation 8:1-6 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 22, 2008
"The Seven Trumpets and Our Prayers"
We've been waiting for Jesus to open the seventh seal. We watched as Jesus opened the first four seals and the four apocalyptic horsemen went out into all the earth. We watched as Jesus opened the fifth seal and we heard the souls of the Gospel martyrs under heaven's altar. We watched as Jesus opened the sixth seal and saw a great earthquake, a blackened sun, a bloody moon, falling stars, a scrolling sky, shaking mountains; we watched as a terrified humanity tried to hide from the final judgment of God.
At this point we expected Jesus to open the seventh seal. Instead, there was the great intermission of chapter 7 while we waited and waited. It is like the recent hockey playoffs. Detroit was 35 seconds from winning the Stanley Cup in game 5 when Pittsburgh tied the game. The teams went to their locker rooms. First overtime period – no goal. Second overtime period – no goal. Third overtime period – Pittsburgh won the game when it scored after 10 minutes of play. We had to wait two more days and another game before Detroit won the championship. Similarly, we have to wait for Jesus to open the seventh seal.
In today's Scripture reading, we finally see the opening of the seventh seal. The opening of the seventh seal leads to the sounding of seven trumpets. And, as we shall find out, the sounding of the seventh trumpet leads to the devastation of the seven bowls of God's wrath. Do you see the repetition of seven – John's number of fullness and completeness? Do you see the inter-connections? John's message is that God's judgment against those who reject Christ is perfect and total and complete.
I The Seven Trumpets
A "When he opened the seventh seal ..." (Rev 8:1). What seal? The seal on the scroll of destiny. Remember why the scroll needs to be opened? Opening the scroll not only reveals its contents but also sets those contents into motion.
"When he opened the seventh seal ..." (Rev 8:1). Who opened the seal? The Lamb. We already saw Him open the other seals. He is the only One Who can open the seals. Remember how no one else is worthy? But because He is the Lamb Who was slain, He is worthy to take the scroll and to open it.
"When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour" (Rev 8:1). Silence. Hush. Mute. Shhh. What a change. What a dramatic change! Because, before this point, heaven is a noisy place.
Think back to Revelation 4. There is a voice like a trumpet. From the throne of God comes flashes of lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder. Surrounding the throne are four living creatures; day and night they are crying out, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty ..." Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor, and thanks to God, the twenty-four elders fall down and cry out in worship.
Revelation 5: a mighty angel with a loud voice, harps, singing, an angel choir of thousands times ten thousands, every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth singing God's praises.
Revelation 6: a voice like thunder, the cries of the Gospel martyrs under heaven's altar, the rumblings of a great earthquake, the shaking of mountains and islands, the screams of unbelievers who don't want to face God's judgment.
Revelation 7: another angel with a loud voice, a multitude beyond number singing, angels singing.
Do you see what fills heaven for four chapters: noise, movement, music, songs, harps, shouts? But now, in Revelation 8, with the opening of the seventh seal, there is silence. Silence. Absolute silence. Total silence. Complete silence.
Everything that has been going on in heaven suddenly stops. All the noise, all the music, all the movement – it all comes to an end.
How long can you stand the silence? Silence makes us uncomfortable. We have a silent prayer at the start of our worship service and a moment of meditation at the end – but people don't want them to be too long. KRDU broadcasts our sermons. Did you know they edit my sermons? They use a program to take out any pause that is longer than two seconds – dead air on the radio is an absolute no-no. It is a bit unnerving if I stand here and do nothing and say nothing (PAUSE FOR 15 SECONDS). Notice the length of heaven's silence? It lasts for half an hour. Thirty minutes of silence.
B "There was silence in heaven for about half an hour" (Rev 8:1). Why? You know the hush that falls on an audience just before the movie starts or the curtain rises or the ceremony begins? There is silence in heaven because something great is about to happen, something awesome, something awe-ful and dreadful. There is silence in heaven because the great day of wrath has come. There is silence in heaven because of the coming wrath of God and the Lamb (cf Rev 6:16-17).
We see this often in the pages of the Old Testament – there is silence before the coming of God's judgment.
(Is 41:1) "Be silent before me, you islands! Let the nations renew their strength! Let them come forward and speak; let us meet together at the place of judgment.
(Amos 8:1-3) This is what the Sovereign LORD showed me: a basket of ripe fruit. (2) "What do you see, Amos?" he asked. "A basket of ripe fruit," I answered. Then the LORD said to me, "The time is ripe for my people Israel; I will spare them no longer. (3) "In that day," declares the Sovereign LORD, "the songs in the temple will turn to wailing. Many, many bodies--flung everywhere! Silence!" (Cf Zech 2:13)
"There was silence in heaven for about half an hour" (Rev 8:1). The coming judgment is so awe-inspiring that angelic beings are reduced to silence; these are beings whose primary reason for existence is to praise God day and night but now they are silent. The coming judgment is so awe-inspiring that Creation itself stops its groaning, its thunder, its earthquakes, its wind, and its tides. The coming judgment is so awe-inspiring that human beings are scared stiff in frozen silence, in dread and fear and trembling.
C "And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets" (Rev 8:2). Seven angels. Who are the seven angels? We see seven angels mentioned earlier in the Revelation. They are the seven angels of the seven churches. They are the angels who, as God's representatives, stand watch over each of the seven churches, guarding and protecting and comforting.
They "stand before God." They are like the attendants before a king who stand ready to do his bidding. The seven angels are ready, at a moment's notice, to do whatever the King of the universe wants them to do.
They "were given seven trumpets." They "were given." That is so significant. They don't grab seven trumpets for themselves. Nor, did the trumpets belong to them. They "were given seven trumpets." Who gave them the trumpets? We have here what we know as a "divine passive" in the Greek. The trumpets were given them by God and from God. The trumpets belong to God and He gave them to the seven angels of the seven churches.
Remember what is about to happen because the seventh seal has been opened by the Lamb? Remember what is about to happen after the half hour of deafening silence? Judgment is about to happen. But before it begins, God gives the seven angels seven trumpets. God gives the trumpets that announce judgment. So, the judgment does not come from the angels – it comes from God. So, the judgment cannot be blamed on the angels – it must be blamed on God. God is clearly the Author of the coming judgment.
How comforting do you think this message must have been to the Christians of Asia Minor? The judgment of God is being announced by the seven angels of the seven churches. The very angels who stand guard over the church are also the agents of God's judgment upon those who hate the church.
D Why were the seven angels given trumpets? We use trumpets in our worship. We have Ron Verhoeven and Brett Leyendekker and Jon Ryan Bushnell up on the stage blowing their horns. We use trumpets as musical instruments. They add to the majesty of our music and song. But the seven angels of Revelation 8 were not given trumpets to play in worship. No, not at all.
In the Ancient World, trumpets were primarily used for sounding a signal. The Ancient World was so handicapped compared to us. There were no cell phones, no two-way radios, no text messaging, no emails. Signals were sent by the blowing of the trumpet. For instance, when Israel traveled through the wilderness, trumpets signaled when to make camp and break camp – how else do you get the message to two million people at the same time? Trumpets were used to call the people together for battle. Trumpets were used to sound a warning. Trumpets were used to signal the coronation of a new king. Trumpets were used to announce the Year of Jubilee.
The seven angels were given seven trumpets. Obviously, some kind of signal is about to be sent. What kind of signal? In the context of the Revelation, it can only be a signal of impending judgment. When we look at the Old Testament, we see trumpets are often used this way – to announce impending judgment.
(Jer 4:5-6) "Announce in Judah and proclaim in Jerusalem and say: 'Sound the trumpet throughout the land!' Cry aloud and say: 'Gather together! Let us flee to the fortified cities!' (6) Raise the signal to go to Zion! Flee for safety without delay! For I am bringing disaster from the north, even terrible destruction." (Cf Jer 6:1-2)Trumpets announce judgment.
(Joel 2:1) Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming. It is close at hand ...
Do you remember the city of Jericho in Joshua 6? This was the first city the people of Israel came across when they entered the Promised Land. Remember what God commanded the people to do? Once a day, for six days, the Israelite army marched around Jericho; with them was one set of priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant; with them was another set of priests blowing trumpets. On the seventh day, the Israelite army marched around the city seven times. On the seventh time, the priests sounded their trumpets, the people shouted, and the walls of Jericho collapsed. Trumpets announce judgment!
Now, I want you to note the similarities between Joshua 6 and Revelation 8. In Joshua 6, there were seven priests blowing seven trumpets; in Revelation 8, there are seven angels blowing seven trumpets. In Joshua 6, we see the Ark of the Covenant; in Revelation 11 – this is still part of the trumpet judgments – we suddenly see the Ark of the Covenant. In Joshua, it is Jericho that must fall before the people can enter the Promised Land; in Revelation, it is Babylon the Great that must fall before God's people can enter their permanent home in the New Jerusalem. Trumpets announce judgment!
E But now I am maybe getting you confused. Doesn't the opening of the seven seals announce judgment? How, then, can the seven trumpets also announce judgments? What can possibly be left to judge after the opening of the seven seals? Or, to put it another way, what is the connection between the seven seal judgments and the seven trumpet judgments and the seven bowl judgments?
Follow me here, this is very important. How much of the earth is affected by the seal judgments? One quarter of the earth (Rev 6:8). How much of the earth is affected by the trumpet judgments? One third of the earth (Rev 8:7). How much of the earth is affected by the bowl judgments? Every unbeliever is punished (Rev 16:2). Do you see the intensification? Do you see the progression in judgment? From one quarter, to one third, to all?
Why this progression? Why this intensification? Well, let me ask another question. What happened after the seal judgments? What happened after the trumpet judgments? Nothing. No repentance. No conversion. No sorrow. No shame. No admission of guilt. None of this. God intensifies His judgments because unbelievers are not repenting and He wants them to repent and believe in Jesus. God is so patient and long-suffering but He finally reaches the point when He exercises His judgment upon all of the earth.
Right now, today, the judgment of God is being visited upon all those who reject His salvation in Jesus Christ. If you are one of these unbelievers, the trumpet judgments should and will fill you with fear and trembling. God wants you to repent. He wants you to believe. He wants you to be saved. But if you don't, what awaits you are the seven seal judgments, the seven trumpet judgments, and the seven bowl judgments.
II The Prayers of the Saints
A You might wonder, where are the saints in all of this judgment? What is going on with the saints as one-by-one the seven seals are opened? What is going on with the saints as one-by-one the seven trumpets are blown? What is going on with the saints as one-by-one the seven bowls are poured out upon the earth?
What is going on with the saints? They are praying. They are praying for victory. They are praying for God's final judgment to come. They are praying for God to be all-in-all. They are praying for every knee to bow and every tongue to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. They are praying for the coming of the Kingdom in all its power and glory. We heard this prayer at the opening of the fifth seal:
(Rev 6:10) "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?"
John gives us another glimpse of this prayer in Revelation 8. Look at verse 3. "Another angel ..." That is, an angel who is not one of the seven angels. "Had a golden censer." In place of that word "censer," think "shovel," something used to carry the burning coals of a altar.
"He was given much incense to offer ..." "Was given." Do you hear that phrase again? That is so significant. He didn't offer his own incense. He "was given much incense." Who gave him the incense? This is a divine passive again. The incense, like the trumpets, was given by God and from God. The incense belongs to God and He gave it to the angel to offer as a fragrant sacrifice.
None of this makes any sense unless you know Old Testament Temple and Tabernacle practices. Inside the Tabernacle and Temple were two special rooms: the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. The two rooms were separated by a double curtain. Inside the Holy of Holies was the Ark of the Covenant – the throne of God on earth. Inside the Holy Place was the altar of incense. Once a year, as a representative of the people, the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. But every morning and every evening, as a representative of the people, a priest would enter into the Holy Place and pour a large quantity of incense over the burning coals on the altar. A fragrant cloud of smoke would then ascend heavenward. Meanwhile, the people gathered outside, smelling the fragrant incense, would bow down and add their prayers to the ascending cloud of incense.
Doesn't this sound beautiful? The priest offers incense and the people pray. But where did this practice come from? Was this the liturgical invention of a creative priest? Did a worship committee propose this to Moses? Was this a spontaneous development on the part of the people? No, no, no. Of course not. Expressions of worship are never something left to the imaginings of man. We don't get to decide how we want to worship. Because God tells us how to worship. What the priest did in the Holy Place and what the people did on the outside were all according to God's command. This was part of God's design for His worship.
So, why was fragrant incense offered to God every morning and every evening as the people prayed? To show the people, to tell the people, that their prayers were as pleasing to God as the fragrance of the incense was pleasing to the nostrils.
Behind Revelation 8:3, we are to see the Temple and Tabernacle practices of offering incense every morning and evening as the people pray:
(Rev 8:3) Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne.The angel is like the priest. Like the priest, he offers incense as the people pray. But notice, the angel is "before the throne." In heaven there is no double curtain separating the throne of God from the altar of incense.
Then what happens? Notice what John says in the Revelation. He writes:
(Rev 8:4) The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel's hand.The smoke goes up to God's presence. The prayers go up to God's presence. "Together." That means at the same time. That means to the same place. That also means the incense adds to the prayers, beautifies the prayers, enhances the prayers, and makes them pleasing to God.
Think of what John is saying: the prayers of the saints of Asia Minor for justice and judgment are pleasing to God. The prayers are pleasing because God makes them pleasing – don't forget, He is the One Who supplies the incense.
Why does God make the prayers of His people acceptable and pleasing? Because God want to answer those prayers. He wants to answer prayers for justice and judgment. He wants to answer prayers for vindication. He wants to answer prayers for the coming of the Kingdom. He wants to answer prayers for every knee bending before Christ.
B Now, compare verse 2 to verse 6. In verse 2, seven angels were given seven trumpets. In verse 6, the seven angels prepared to sound the seven trumpets; this means the angels were all lined up, the mouth pieces were warmed up, lips were licked, each of them took a deep breath, the trumpets were in their hands and lifted to their lips. All was now ready for the angels to sound the trumpets.
In verse 2 the angels were given the trumpets. In verse 6 they were ready to blow the trumpets. What happened? What changed between verse 2 and verse 6. What happened, what changed, was the prayers of the saints.
Get this. God's people pray and God responds. But, don't forget, God is the One Who makes the prayers pleasing in His sight. It is God Who makes the prayers powerful and effective.
My brothers and sisters, I want you to see the connection here between the prayers and the trumpets. The trumpets of judgment cannot sound until the prayers of the saints reach heaven. Don't forget who these saints are. These are the saints who are suffering, who are persecuted, who have lost their jobs and homes and businesses, who are in jail, who are beaten. John is telling them their prayers are pleasing to God and their prayers are powerful and effective. How effective? The trumpet judgments do not begin, the trumpet judgments cannot begin, until or unless God's people pray. But when they pray, the trumpets sound forth and the unbelieving – who are their tormenters on this earth – will be running and hiding from the wrath of God and the Lamb.
Incense goes up. Prayers go up. Then what happens? Listen to what John says:
(Rev 8:5) Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.See the answer in response to prayer?
How often do you pray, congregation, for the Kingdom to come in all its glory? How often do you pray for justice and judgment in this mixed up, broken down, crooked world? How often do you pray that Jesus will come again in all His glory to judge the living and the dead?
Don't throw up you hands as if there is nothing you can do. Don't surrender to Satan. Instead, pray. Pray with all the saints. Pray, knowing your prayers are pleasing and powerful.
The seventh seal is finally opened. What do we see? We see the prayers of God's saints for justice. And, because of those prayers we see seven angels about to blow the seven trumpets of judgment.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page