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«The Apocalypse A Series of Special Lectures on the Revelation of Jesus Christ by J. A. Seiss, D.D. Lecture Seventeenth ...»

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The Apocalypse

A Series of Special Lectures on the Revelation of Jesus Christ


J. A. Seiss, D.D.

Lecture Seventeenth







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




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."

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