Before we read Revelation 8:1-5, I want us to take a moment to remember what we prayed a few minutes earlier. It's what we pray together every Sunday. Thy Kingdom Come…Thy Will Be Done…On Earth As It Is In Heaven. Thy Kingdom Come - Thy Kingdom Come. Keep that in mind.
Here's Revelation 8:1-5:
When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. 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, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. 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.
The first thing we notice is the silent pause at verse one. When the seventh seal is opened, an expansive hush settles over the worshiping action of heaven. It's almost as if all of heaven is holding its breath. Something huge is about to happen.
When the Lamb opens the last seal, the seventh seal, all those in heaven know what's about to happen. It means the end has come. The final judgment is about to be unleashed. There are no more seals. Up until the seventh seal, every scene John has described has been filled with noise. Loud noise. Shouts. Musical instruments. Singing. God clearly loves noise. Interesting that in "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," the Grinch didn't like all the noise, noise, noise, noise. A little Biblical/theological insight into the modern Christmas parable. Anyway, God clearly loves noise. Four living beings have been praising Him. Twenty-four elders have been singing His praise. There have been harps and thunder and praying martyrs under the table and singing saints. Plus there has been the invitational refrain of the angels to John, saying, "Come." There has been great and wonderful noise in heaven.
But then, in verse one, it comes to a crashing halt. Every bit of sound
evaporates. Some have called it a dramatic pause. This is the calm before the storm. Judgment is about to come crashing down upon the earth and its inhabitants.
Chapter eight is the response to the question from the last verse of chapter six - for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?
Who can stand?
If you are a devoted follower of Jesus Christ, you have been marked with the seal of God. No matter what happens, you will stand. No matter what you experience or go through, you will stand. You might not escape trial or tribulation, but you will escape the wrath of God.
So here we are. Paused for an important moment, as Jesus Christ, the Lamb who was slain, opens the seventh seal. He has already opened the first six. It is Jesus who oversees history and its final unfolding. His death on the cross ransomed us from the penalty for sin, which is the wrath of God. In other words, what happened on the cross was the key to history. It unlocked the future unfolding of God's plan. The Lamb who was slain has been given the right to save those whose names have been written in the Lamb's Book of Life from the wrath to come. The Lamb who was slain is the Lamb who saves.
In order to get us to the seventh seal, let's see where we've been with the first six:
The First Seal reveals a white horse riding out to conquer, which we saw as military conquest.
The Second Seal reveals a red horse who takes away peace, which we saw as internal strife.
The Third Seal reveals a black horse, which we saw as famine. A loaf of bread cost a day's wages.
The Fourth Seal reveals a pale horse, looking like death, which we saw as pestilence and wild beasts.
The Fifth Seal reveals Christian martyrs crying out for vindication.
The Sixth Seal reveals the end is near, as the enemies of God are
trying to hide from God's wrath.
So here we are. The properties of the seventh seal are about to be unleashed. The silence is deafening. Some have speculated a compelling reason for the silence; so that God can receive with great clarity the prayers of the saints asking for vindication. During this silence God is listening to the prayers of His people. It is a powerful moment. And so, the wrath of God is unleashed.
Look at verses three and four again:
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, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.
No prayer goes unheard. You might not get the answer you want or think you need, but every prayer prayed in the name of Jesus reaches the altar of God. And every prayer that aligns with God's sovereign will does not go unanswered. That's where we're at here in chapter eight.
Remember our corporate prayer…Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done. The prayers of the saints, mingled with the incense, makes a fragrant offering to God. I love how Paul reflects on the offering Christ made for us:
And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
- Ephesians 5:2
There is precedent for how God receives our worship. Here, in Revelation 8:3-4, there is something sacrificial about genuine prayer. The prayers of God's people become part of the unveiling of the contents of the seventh seal.
I love how an early saying of the church is tied to these prayers for the vindication of the Lord's faithful. In 1 Corinthians 16:22, we read, "If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come!" Apparently, it was common among the first generation of believers to proclaim, "Maranatha." This means, "Our Lord, come." Or, "Come, Lord Jesus." Either way, they encouraged one another with a prayer for Jesus' return. These, and many other kinds of prayers, give us this moment in Revelation 8. They rise up as a fragrant prayer to God to fulfill His promise of vindication for the faithful.
We're going to end today at verse five. This is the pivotal point as the opening of the seventh seal leads to the seven trumpets. The first six of those trumpets will bring nothing but pain for those who are in open rebellion against the grace and mercy of God. These will not be good things. But if you're sealed with the mark as a chosen one of God, the only trumpet that will matter is the seventh. This will be the trumpet of victory.
There's a big take away from the first part of chapter eight. It's something you might want to write down:
OUR PRAYERS MEAN SOMETHING.
Never cease in praying. Here, as the saints of God pray for His will to be done, those prayers are combined with the fragrant heavenly offering to God. Maranatha…come, Lord Jesus. The seventh seal is opened, the prayers go up to God, and finally, the question is answered. Who can stand? And as we'll see next week, those called by God to be His followers will stand. The faithful people of God will stand.
Here's the last thing you might want to write down:
WE FERVENTLY PRAY FOR GOD TO ACCOMPLISH HIS GREAT PURPOSE OF JUDGMENT AND REDEMPTION.
Father, we thank You for your promise that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. You have promised us that we shall not perish but have everlasting life because of Christ. As we come to His table, to remember His death, fill our hearts with gratitude and give us a new and fresh desire to live lives that honor His sacrifice. Give us lives of praise and exaltation of the One who died that we might live. Amen.