«The Apocalypse A Series of Special Lectures on the Revelation of Jesus Christ by J. A. Seiss, D.D. Lecture Seventeenth ...»
A Series of Special Lectures on the Revelation of Jesus Christ
J. A. Seiss, D.D.
SILENCE IN HEAVENITS MEANING AND DURATIONTHE SEVEN ANGELS OF GOD'S PRESENCETHE
HIGHEST CREATED BEINGSECONOMY OF THE HEAVENSTHE SEVEN TRUMPETSSIGNIFICANCE OF
TRUMPETSORIGINALS OF THE ANCIENT RITES"ANOTHER ANGEL"REASONS FOR REGARDING HIM
AS THE SAVIOURWHY THE PRAYERS OF SAINTS ARE HERE OFFEREDTHEIR GREAT BURDENTHEIR
ACCEPTANCETHE POWER OF PRAYERTHE FIRE OF JUDGMENTWHY MEN ARE DAMNEDTHE FIRE
CAST INTO THE EARTHITS EFFECTSA VINDICATION OF THE STUDY OF THESE THINGS.
Rev. 8:15 (Revised Text):
And when he opened the seventh seal, there followed a silence in the heaven, as it were half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand in the presence of God; and to them were given seven trumpets. And another angel came and stood over the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given to him many incenses, that he might offer [them] for [or with] the prayers of all the saints on the altar of gold before the throne. And the smoke of the incenses went up for [or with] the prayers of the saints, out of the hand of the angel, in the presence of God. And the angel took the censer and filled it out of the fire of the altar, and cast into the earth; and there followed thunderings, and lightnings, and voices, and an earthquake.
There has been a somewhat protracted silence in the continuity of these lectures. In breaking that silence this evening, we come upon another silencea silence in heaven. The rapt apostle is still in heaven. What he describes is viewed altogether from a heavenly point of observation. The subject is still the ongoing of the judgment. The roll, which was taken up amid thrills of celestial adoration, is still in the hands of the Lamb. He has broken six of its seals, and the action resulting we have considered. The breaking of the only remaining one, and the most momentous of them all, now comes before us. It will occupy us for some time before it is finally disposed of. Even the seven trumpets and the seven vials come under it. The immediate sequences of the breaking of it, we have in the text, in which we observe
I. A MYSTERIOUS SILENCE IN HEAVEN.
II. SEVEN ANGELS OF THE DIVINE PRESENCE.
III. ANOTHER ANGEL OFFERING THE PRAYERS OF THE SAINTS.To God, then, let us look for grace to understand these things according to the intent of the record, giving praise to His holy Name forever and ever.
When the first seal was broken, a voice like thunder was heard, saying, Go! It was the same at the opening of the three succeeding ones. At the breaking of the fifth, there was a great cry from beneath the altar. And when the sixth was broken, a fearful tremor ran through the whole frame of nature, filling the earth with consternation. But, at the opening of the seventh, not a voice is heard; not a motion is seen; an awful pause ensues, and all heaven is silent. A little while ago everything was ringing with triumphant exultation over the multitude which no man could number, but now silence takes the place of songs, and everything is mute and motionless.
This silence, nevertheless, has made a good deal of noise in the world, especially among commentators. It would be difficult to find another point upon which there have been so many different and discordant voices. Indeed, Hengstenberg gives it as the general rule, that when expositors come to this silence they break out into all sorts of contradictory conjecture. Though the marks of historic continuity are as distinct as it is possible to make them, some take this silence as a full stop to the chain of apocalyptic predictions, and so treat what follows as a mere rehearsal, in another form, of what had preceded. Others regard it as a blank, leaving everything belonging to the seventh seal unrevealed, so that its action can only be known when we come to the immortal life. Some pronounce it a mere poetic invention to heighten the dramatic effect, but having no particular significance. Others treat it as a prophetic symbol of scenes and experiences in the earthly history of man; some, as the suspension of divine wrath in the destruction of Jerusalem; some, as the freedom granted to the Church under the reign of Constantine; some, as the interval of repose enjoyed by Christians between the persecutions by Dioclesian and Galerius in A.D. 311, and the beginning of the civil wars toward the end of the same year; some, as the disappearance of human strivings against God and his Christ; others, as a lull in earthly revolt and persecution, equivalent to a jubilee for the truth among men; others, as the millennium of peace and righteousness to be induced by the triumphs of evangelic effort and the progress of liberty; and yet others, as the everlasting rest of the saints. And yet there is not a word in the record about the Church, nor about the earth. The whole thing is distinctly located "in heaven," and its duration is specifically limited to "about half an hour."
Others find in this silence a mystic connection with Jewish rites, and the silent prayers commonly joined with the incense oblation. This is the more insisted on, as there is a subsequent reference to an incense offering. Even if such a connection could be made out, it is difficult to see what is thereby to be gained for an interpretation. But it cannot be made out. The facts prove that there is no such connection. The Jewish silent prayers occurred while the offering was in the act of being made; but here the silence occurs before the offering, and before ever the angel that makes it appears or takes his station at the altar. Nay, there is a distinct and separate vision intervening between this silence and the offering by the angel. It is also plain that this silence is connected with the breaking of the seal, and is the direct result of that act, whilst the incense offering connects with the series of actions by which the stillness is interrupted. It is impossible, therefore, for this silence to be a part of the ceremony of the offering by the angel, or that it should mean any of the things to which reference has been made. Nor can we but wonder that such wild and farfetched conjectures should ever have found place in men's minds. The language is all simple and plain, and means exactly what is written. There is silence. It is in heaven. It lasts for about half an hour. It is a silence of intense interest and awful expectancy with reference to the results of the breaking of the seventh seal. And this is the whole of it.
We read in Acts of "a great silence," induced by Paul, as he waved his hand to his boisterous accusers, from the stairs of the castle at Jerusalem, and began to speak to them in their sacred tongue. It was the silence of surprise, wonder, and interest to catch what was being said. It is written in the Psalms: "Praise waitsis silentfor thee, O God, in Zion." It was the silence of adoring expectancy waiting for the manifestations of the Divine presence. When Numa was made King of Rome, and the august ceremony had reached the moment that he was to look for the birds by which the gods were expected to foreshow his fate, the priest's hand was laid devoutly on his head, and "an incredible silence reigned among the people." It was the silence of anxious expectation. It was the result of an intense interest and awe, with reference to what the gods had decreed, and were about to reveal, concerning the destiny of their new king. And so here. The LionLamb of God has been engaged breaking the seals of the mysterious roll, which He only was worthy to touch or look upon. Six of those seals had been broken, enacting events of the most stupendous moment. But one more remainedthe last in the seriesand involving the final consummation of the great mystery of God. And as that seal is broken, an interest and awful expectancy rises in the hearts of the celestial orders, which renders them as silent as the grave. All heaven becomes mute and breathless. Saints and angels hush their songs to look and wait for the results. And even the Almighty pauses before the action proceeds.
It is not figurenot symbolnot extravagant rhetoricnot mere poetic delineation of something else. It is historythe literal narration of literal fact;for fact it was to John in the vision. It is the natural expression of the deep sympathy of allglorified existence with the momentousness of the occasiona voiceless utterance more powerful than words, of the yearning awe of heaven at the arrival of the climacteric of the ages, and the forthcoming events which characterize it. Hence a motionless stillness, more awful, and fuller of thrilling import, than that overwhelming wave of adoration which went over the universe of holy beings when the Lamb first took the book.
"As it were half an hour," this solemn stillness lasted. A half hour is not long in itself; but time is longer or shorter according to what is transpiring, or what the circumstances are. Moments of agonizing suspense stretch out into hours and days, in comparison with moments of ordinary life. Two minutes of delay when a man is drowning is an awful period to have to wait. A stoppage of ten minutes between the words I am speaking would be an intolerable interval. When on the margin of the realization of great expectations, or interrupted in the midst of what has been absorbing the intensest interest of the soul, every instant of delay expands into hours, and even ages. And when we consider the circumstances of this casethe world in which this pause occursthe sort of occupations which it interruptsthe kind and number of beings it affectsthe nature of the feelings, interests, and expectations which it holds in suspenseand the awfulness of the stillness itselfthere is everything to make this half hour a thing so tremendous that we may be sure there never was the like before, and never will be again thereafter. Nor is the length of it the least remarkable of its features.
II. After this awful pause, the action of the throne is resumed. A company of angels make their appearance on the heavenly arena. They are seven in number. They are of particular rank and distinction, for not all angels are of the same dignity and office. Paul enumerates "dominions, principalities, and powers" among the celestial orders. Daniel speaks of some chief princes. Paul and Jude refer to archangels. Angelic beings are not, therefore, of one and the same grade. The sons of God, in general, come before him only at appointed times (Job 1:6), but the Savior speaks of some angels who "do always behold the face of the Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 18:10). And the sublime agents which John beheld after the opening of the seventh seal are described as "the seven angels who stand in the presence of God."