[Read this first verse and then just sit down and have 1 minute of silence].
1 When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.
SILENCE IN HEAVEN
Right now, all of us just experienced one minute of silence. And my guess is that we were all at least a bit uncomfortable with that. So just imagine what a half hour of silence in heaven must have been like, especially compared to the jubilant worship that we looked at last week at the end of chapter 7.
So why this silence in heaven? Is it, as Wes Shoemaker suggested on Monday morning, proof that men will arrive in heaven a half hour before women? Or is there another, more significant reason for the silence? In order to answer that question, we need to take a few moments to review the last several weeks of our journey.
You’ll remember that in chapter 5, God is seated on His throne with a scroll in his right hand. That scroll, which is sealed with seven seals, contains God’s plan of judgment and redemption and also serves as His last testament and will. Although John knew the nature of the contents because of the writing on the outside, it is not until all seven seals are removed and the scroll is opened that the contents are completely revealed and the associated actions completed.
We’ve also noted that there is at least some degree of recapitulation or parallelism between the seals, trumpets and bowls. The most convincing evidence of this overlap is the consistency among the descriptions of the seventh in each series which includes peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.
Although there just isn’t any way to diagram the relationships between the seals, trumpets and bowls on a nice neat timeline it does appear that these three series look at the same events from three different perspectives, something like this:
I’m hesitant to even go so far as to use this diagram, but as long as it’s clear that I’m not attempting to show the exact timing of the individual seals, trumpets and bowls in relationship to each other, then perhaps this is of some value. Another way to look at it would be something like this.
So why the silence in heaven when the seventh seal is opened? First of all, it is the fulfillment of several Old Testament prophecies regarding the Day of the Lord. We’ll move from the more general to the specific:
Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord, for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.
Zechariah 2:13 (ESV)
But the Lord is in his holy temple;
let all the earth keep silence before him.
Habakkuk 2:20 (ESV)
Although both of those passages clearly connect silence with the Day of the Lord, they don’t tell us a whole lot about the reason for the silence. But this passage from Zephaniah gives us much deeper insight into the reason for the silence:
Be silent before the Lord God!
For the day of the Lord is near;
the Lord has prepared a sacrifice
and consecrated his guests.
And on the day of the Lord's sacrifice -
“I will punish the officials and the king's sons
and all who array themselves in foreign attire.
On that day I will punish
everyone who leaps over the threshold,
and those who fill their master's house
with violence and fraud.
Zephaniah 1:7-9 (ESV)
The reason for the silence is now clear. God is about to bring the Day of the Lord to its final culmination and pour out His final judgment upon the ungodly. When the seventh seal is opened, God’s plan of judgment and redemption is revealed in full and everyone in heaven – the 24 elders, the four living creatures, the great multitude and all the angels - is rendered silent by what they see. This is the ultimate calm before the storm.
To me, this is further evidence that the seals, trumpets and bowls are not chronological. In a moment, as we examine the first four trumpets, we will see that they are limited and certainly not the kind of final judgment that would render all of heaven silent. So it seems unlikely that the silence that accompanies the opening of the seventh seal could occur prior to the events pictured by these trumpets.
As amazing as the silence in heaven is, what is even more amazing is what gives rise to the unfolding of the Day of the Lord. Once again, just as we saw with the first five seals, we are reminded of…
THE POWER OF PRAYER
Let’s continue reading in verse 2:
2 Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. 3 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, 4 and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. 5 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.
Like we did last week, I’d like for us to look at the big picture here, see how it applies to us and then use those practical applications as a springboard to examine some of the relevant details in the passage.
What does this mean for our prayer life?
Have you ever prayed the way that Jesus taught His disciples to pray and prayed for His kingdom to come? And have you ever wondered what happened to all those prayers, which, from your perspective, appear to be unanswered? Here’s the answer. God has been accumulating them on an altar before His throne. Can you imagine how many billions of such prayers have been prayed since the day that Jesus first taught His followers to pray like that? Seems almost impossible, doesn’t it? But if man can create microchips that can store gigabytes and now even terabytes of information, I don’t think it is difficult at all for an all powerful, all knowing God to store up all the prayers of all the saints before His throne.
This passage illustrates three important principles that we can use to guide our praying.
1) WHO should pray? – All believers
You will note in verse 3 that it is the prayers of “all the saints” that are on the altar before the throne. God accumulates the prayers of every single believer here. There is no distinction between the prayers that come from pastors or elders and those of others. There is no distinction between the prayers of rich believers and poor believers. There is no distinction between the prayers expressed in eloquent language and those consisting of simple words. There is no distinction between the prayers of mature saints and those of baby Christians.
Do you see the significance of that? What it means is that regardless of your background, your heritage, your education, your social status, your position in life – if you have committed your life to Jesus, then your prayers are just as valuable to God as those of anyone else.
Frequently members of this church family will come to Dana or to me and ask us to pray for them. And we certainly count it a privilege to do so. But I worry that sometimes those requests for us to pray indicate that people think that our prayers are somehow more powerful or influential with God than their own prayers would be. This passage certainly shows that just isn’t true.
When we pray, God is allowing us the great privilege of co-laboring and co-reigning with Him. Although He certainly doesn’t need them in order to carry out His will, He chooses to allow us to participate in His works through our prayers. Sometimes we see God work immediately, but the more common situation is like what we see here in this chapter where God accumulates the prayers of His saints until some future time. The fact is that no God-honoring prayer is ever lost, wasted or in vain.
I’m convinced that if we would begin to see prayer in that light, rather than as some kind of spiritual exercise or obligation that we engage in so we can check it off our “to do” list, it would radically transform our prayer lives.
2) HOW should we pray? - Persistently
Most activities in life that have value require that we engage in them persistently. When I was younger, I took both piano and flute lessons. But today, other than playing a few simple notes or chords on the piano, I can’t play either one because I haven’t practiced on either of those instruments in quite some time.
If I want to get physically fit, I can’t just go to the gym once a month for a killer workout. I have to engage in exercise on a consistent regular basis.
If I want to become proficient in co-laboring and co-reigning with Jesus through prayer, then I must pray persistently. I can’t just dabble in praying now and then when I feel like it.
Because Jesus understood the need to pray persistently, he told the parable of the persistent widow to His followers:
And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.
Luke 18:1 (ESV)
And Paul makes it clear that persistent prayer is part of God’s will for our lives:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (ESV)
Praying persistently is kind of similar to an exercise program. Most people fail in an exercise program during the first few weeks because they are sore and tired. But for those who can persevere and persist through those first few weeks, they soon start to experience increased strength and higher levels of energy. And that then gives them the motivation to continue on and enjoy what they are doing.
God doesn’t just want us to pray consistently because he wants to add something else to our already busy schedules. But He knows that our own spiritual development requires that we pray persistently. And the more that we pray, the more we get to experience the joy of co-laboring and co-reigning with Jesus and as a result we develop a desire to pray even more.
3) WHAT should we pray? – For God’s kingdom to come
A 2004 Barna survey found that 83% of people claim that they pray outside of church during the week. But I often wonder how much of that praying might be similar to what a writer named Susan Diamond revealed in her recent column titled “When Smart People Pray for Stupid Things”
In Chicago, it’s not often we have good sports news. But, this summer was different. The Black Hawks won the Stanley Cup by beating the Philadelphia Flyers in the NHL play-off series. We traditionally don’t have very good sports teams in our town and after forty-nine years of losing hockey games, we’re enjoying the taste of victory. I’m a very loyal fair-weather fan. I do not pay attention to sports until it’s the final minutes of a very close game where it’s a significant win.
But when I do pay attention, I get nervous, excited and I start to pray. I fully understand that it doesn’t work that way. God doesn’t grant wishes like a good fairy, give presents like Santa Claus, or dole out favors like a Chicago politician. Yet, I still found myself saying over and over last night, “please God, let them score just one more goal.” And how do I think that would work? Aren’t there just as many praying fans in Philadelphia? Wouldn’t God give more weight to the prayers coming from the mom of the Flyer’s goalie than mine? So why do I pray during sporting events?
Let’s face it, we pray for all kinds of things. And that’s not a bad thing. In fact we are commanded to do so:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
Philippians 4:6 (ESV)
We are certainly to pray about everything in our lives – so I guess that even includes our favorite sporting teams. But the real issue is exactly what we are to pray regarding every area of our lives. What this passage in Revelation makes clear is that the prayers that God stores up before the throne are those that are concerned with the coming of His kingdom.
When Jesus responded to His disciples request to teach them to pray, the focus of His answer is found in these words:
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Matthew 6:10 (ESV)
Everything in that model prayer revolves around the coming of God’s kingdom – daily bread, forgiveness of sins, deliverance from temptation and evil. The reason for praying all of those things is that they play a role in the coming of God’s kingdom in our own lives.
So how can I pray for God’s kingdom to come as it relates to the U of A football team? Obviously not by praying for them to score another touchdown or to win the game. None of that has any bearing on the coming of God’s kingdom. But how about praying for the souls of the players, coaches, officials and fans? Or how about praying that I wouldn’t get so obsessed with the game that it would draw my focus away from those things that really matter?
So when we pray, the idea is to view every issue from God’s perspective so that we can see how it might impact the coming of His kingdom, either in our own lives or in the lives of others. Sometimes we might even need to begin our prayer by asking God to reveal to us how this matter might impact the coming of His kingdom and how we need to pray.
I’ve intentionally spent the bulk of our time this morning on this first section because it has so much to teach us that we can apply in a very practical way in our prayer life. I’ll cover the last section of this chapter much more quickly.
THE FIRST FOUR TRUMPETS
Let’s continue reading in verse 6:
6 Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them.
7 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.
8 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. 9 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!”
These first four trumpets describe God’s judgment on the earth. Unfortunately, many of us tend to focus on how God is going to carry all this out rather than on what we need to learn and apply to our own lives. Some claim this is all just a description of natural phenomena like nuclear war, asteroids, meteors, pollution, and even the Gulf oil spill.
Writing in the June 4, 2010 edition of Newsweek magazine, Lisa Miller described how some Christians have tried to portray the Gulf oil spill as the fulfillment of the second and third trumpets:
Now blogs on the Christian fringe are abuzz with possibility that the oil spill is the realization of Revelation 8:8–11. “The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea. 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 … A third of the waters became wormwood, and many died from the water, because it was made bitter.” According to Revelation, in other words, something terrible happens to the world’s water, a punishment to those of insufficient faith.
Frankly, there is just no way to know if these trumpets represent natural events or some supernatural work of God, but here is what we can know for sure:
What we learn from the four trumpets:
1) God is sovereign
Regardless of how God accomplishes these events, they are clearly under His sovereign control. This is not, as some would claim it to be, just nature run amok or “Mother Nature” getting back at mankind.
2) Anything that we rely upon other than God will be destroyed
In a sense, what we see here is God bringing judgment on that which He created in the first place. For reasons that we’ll address in a moment, these first four trumpets are directed against the earth, sea, waters and heavenly bodies and not directly against mankind. Obviously all of mankind, including Christ followers, is going to be impacted by these events, but the judgment, at least at this point, is not focused on humans themselves.
So why would God turn against that which He created in the first place? It is because man has chosen to worship the created rather than the Creator. We see that all around us today, and unfortunately it’s not just limited to non-Christians. We have people who won’t leave the house each day until they worship the stars when they read their horoscopes. We have those who worship the earth itself by placing crystals in carefully chosen locations throughout their homes, cars and workplaces. We even have those who worship the grass and the trees.
Paul described that kind of idolatry in Romans 1:
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!
Romans 1:24, 25 (ESV)
According to Romans 1, those who have chosen to worship the creation rather than the Creator are already experiencing God’s wrath to a degree because God has given them over to the consequences of the behavior that results from that mindset. But one day God is going to put an end to that kind of idolatry by destroying all the things that people rely upon and worship other than God Himself.
So the question that we all need to answer honestly this morning is this: What am I worshipping and relying upon in my life? Am I engaging in idolatry by hanging on to the creation rather than the Creator? Or am I truly clinging to Jesus? Only one of those – Jesus – is going to remain forever.
3) God’s judgment is also an opportunity for grace
Throughout the Old Testament prophets and Revelation, we have consistently seen this connection between judgment and grace. So we shouldn’t be surprised that the words of Jesus while He was here on earth expressed that some truth. These two passages, both from the gospel of Luke, show both aspects of His ministry:
I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!
Luke 12:49 (ESV)
For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.
Luke 19:10 (ESV)
On one hand, Jesus came to bring fire, a picture of judgment. But he also came to extend grace by seeking and saving the lost.
The trumpets are a wonderful illustration of this principle. First, as we’ve already seen, these events are not focused directly upon mankind, but rather on God’s creation. That in itself is a picture of God’s mercy and of Him extending His grace to mankind. Although mankind deserves complete and total judgment, God begins by destroying that which He has created.
And even that destruction is not complete. Only a third of the earth, a third of the seas, a third of the waters and a third of the light from the heavenly bodies are affected. Although that will obviously have a tremendous impact on all of mankind and cause incredible hardship, it also provides an opportunity for people to see God’s hand in these events and to repent and experience God’s grace.
Perhaps this morning you are going through some kind of hardship or difficulty in your life. If you’ve never committed your life to Jesus, then that is an opportunity for you to experience His grace. It may very well be that God, in His sovereignty, has brought those circumstances into your life so that you will turn to Him and seek His grace. If that is the case, then I would love to talk to you more about how you can commit your life to Jesus and experience that grace. Just see me or one of the elders after the service or complete the Care Card on the flap of the bulletin and place it in the offering plate at the end of the service and someone will contact you this week to discuss that process further.
But even if you are a believer, the trials that you might be facing now are also an opportunity for you to further experience God’s grace. Most of us are probably familiar with Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”. We don’t really know exactly what it was, but Paul prayed three times for God to remove it from his life. Paul relates both God’s answer to that prayer and his response:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
2 Corinthians 12:9 (ESV)
I know that some of you come here this morning in the midst of some very difficult circumstances in your life. And my prayer for you this morning is that you will view those hardships as an opportunity to draw even closer to Jesus and to experience the sufficiency of His grace. He has promised that His grace is sufficient for us, no matter what we might be going through.
When we pray for God’s kingdom to come, God hears those prayers and stores them on the altar before His throne so that we can be His co-laborers in the process of ushering in that kingdom. Although that process will bring judgment upon the ungodly, it will also extend the invitation to experience God’s grace.
Won’t you join me in that prayer?