8:1 When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.
I. Silence is always appropriate when prayers are offered to God.
I can remember as a younger boy a song that was sung at my Great Uncle and Aunt’s Church regularly in their Sunday Morning Liturgy—”The Lord is in His holy Temple.” I looked it up this week on YouTube to help me remember better times in the past. I share it in case you have never heard it sung in worship.
The hymn is based on several Old Testament passages. One obvious one is Habakkuk 2:20 “But the Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.” (KJV)
Habakkuk’s context lets us know that silent worship is not its primary aim.
“The silence of this worship is not just the silence of reverence. It is the silence of acceptance of the judgment of God against the nation for its sins.” (see Bruckner, p. 248; below.)
As much as I like the old hymn, its main thrust is not silent and reverent worship. There is a place for louder praise and adoration. The passage in Habakkuk is one of the Judge of the Nations about to render His verdict and execute judgment on guilty nations. The silence is everyone being told to shut their mouths because the time for defense of actions is over.
So, I do not believe the primary reference to this is from the Old Testament. This reference is from the Jewish practice of the priest offering of incense after the sacrifice. Luke 1:8-9 records this—
8 And it came to pass, that while he [Zecharias] executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his course, 9 according to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense. [ESV; emphasis mine]
While the priest went into the inner sanctuary, all the people prayed outside silently. The incense symbolized the prayers of the people. Psalm 141:2 says—
“Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” (ESV; emphasis mine)
John’s reason for the silence in Revelation 8:1 is based on the practice of the priest entering into the inner sanctuary and offering incense as a symbol of the praying people. This is the entire content of the Seventh Seal! The saints had prayed in Revelation 6:10—
“How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?”
The breaking of the Seventh Seal lets us know that the time for answering those prayers has come! (see Plummer, below.)
II. God is intensely interested in hearing His people’s prayers.
God will hear a desperate praying person. Cry out to God in your need, and it will reach his ear! All else in heaven is halted for a persecuted people’s prayers to be presented before Christ’s mercy seat in heaven. E. M. Bounds states —
God shapes the world by prayer. Prayers are deathless. The lips that uttered them may be closed in death, the heart that felt them may have ceased to beat, but the prayers live before God, and God’s heart is set on them and prayers outlive the lives of those who uttered them; outlive a generation, outlive an age, outlive a world. (see Bounds, p. 2 below).
The answer to our prayer comes in God’s time. When that time arrives, God allows nothing is to interfere.
Before chapter eight, heaven is a loud place. See Revelation 6 —
9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” ESV
III. All else is silenced in heaven for persecuted believers’ prayers to be heard and answered by the Trumpet visions.
Now after a preview of the course of the Age from Christ’s ascension to the Second Coming, in Chapter 6, we expect action and noise to continue. Yet, we have silence. It is not for a minute or two but for half an hour.
After the aside in chapter 7, which reveals the security of the God’s people in the midst of
tribulation, the opening of the seals resumes. We probably expect to see all fury break loose. Instead, there is silence for half an hour (hêmiêron — the accusative of time, which stresses duration). All of heaven is hushed for God’s people’s prayers to be heard and fulfilled.
An ancient Jewish teacher states — “In … heaven are companies of angels of service who sing praises by night, but are silent by day because of the glory of Israel, i.e, that the praises of Israel may be heard in heaven.” (see Charles; Vol. 1, p. 223; below.)
I hope this helps with your understanding of the Seventh Seal in Revelation 8:1. On to the altar and censer next time!
Bounds, E. M. (1920). Purpose in Prayer. Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library. pdf version.
Bruckner, James. Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah (The NIV Application Commentary). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition.
Charles, R. H. (1920). A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John, Part 1. New York, NY: Scribner’s and Sons Publishers.
Hymn “The Lord is in His Holy Temple.” (2016). accessed 10 May 2020 from https://youtu.be/Is50_ySfTNY
Plummer, A. (1909) Revelation in The Pulpit Commentary. New York, NY: Funk and Wagnalls Company.
© 2020 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved