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REVELATION OF ST. JOHN THE DIVINE - Chapter 8 - Verse 1

 

CHAPTER VIII

 

ANALYSIS OF THE CHAPTER

ONE seal of the mysterious roll Re 5:1 remains to be broken —six having already disclosed the contents of the volume relating to the future. It was natural that the opening of the seventh, and the last, should be attended with circumstances of peculiar solemnity, as being all that remained in this volume to be unfolded, and as the events thus far had been evidently preparatory to some great catastrophe. It would have been natural to expect that, like the six former, this seal would have been opened at once, and would have disclosed all that was to happen at one view. But, instead of that, the opening of this seal is followed by a series of events, seven also in number, which succeed each other, represented by new symbols—the blowing of as many successive trumpets. These circumstances retard the course of the action, and fix the mind on a new order of events— events which could be appropriately grouped together, and which, for some reason, might be thus more appropriately represented than they could be in so many successive seals. What was the reason of this arrangement will be more readily seen on an examination of the particular events referred to in the successive trumpet-blasts.

The points in the chapter are the following:

(1.) The opening of the seventh seal, Re 8:1. This is attended, not with an immediate exhibition of the events which are to occur, as in the case of the former seals, but with a solemn silence in heaven for the space of half an hour. The reason of this silence, apparently, is found in the solemn nature of the events which are anticipated. At the opening of the sixth seal (Re 6:12, seq.) the grand catastrophe of the world's history seemed about to occur. This had been suspended for a time as if by the power of angels holding the winds and the storm, (Re 7) and now it was natural to expect that there would be a series of overwhelming calamities.

In view of these apprehended terrors, the inhabitants of heaven are represented as standing in awful silence, as if anticipating and apprehending what was to occur. This circumstance adds much to the interest of the scene, and is a forcible illustration of the position which the mind naturally assumes in the anticipation of dreaded events. Silence—solemn and awful silence —is the natural state of the mind under such circumstances. In accordance with this expectation of what was to come, a series of new representations is introduced, adapted to prepare the mind for the fearful disclosures which are yet to be made.

(2.) Seven angels appear, on the opening of the seal, to whom are given seven trumpets, as if they were appointed to perform an important part in introducing the series of events which was to follow, Re 8:2.

(3.) As a still farther preparation, another angel is introduced, standing at the altar with a golden censer, Re 8:3-5. He is represented as engaged in a solemn act of worship, offering incense and the prayers of the saints before the throne. This unusual representation seems to be designed to denote that some extraordinary events were to occur, making it proper that incense should ascend, and prayer be offered to deprecate the wrath of God. After the offering of the incense, and the prayers, the angel takes the censer and casts it to the earth; and the effect is that there are voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake. All these would seem to be symbolical of the fearful events which are to follow. The silence; the incense-offering; the prayers; the fearful agitations produced by the casting of the censer upon the earth, as if the prayer was not heard, and as if the offering of the incense did not avail to turn away the impending wrath,—all are appropriate symbols to introduce the series of fearful calamities which were coming upon the world on the sounding of the trumpets.

(4.) The first angel sounds, Re 8:7. Hail and fire follow, mingled with blood. The third part of the trees and of the green grass—that is, of the vegetable world—is consumed.

(5.) The second angel sounds, Re 8:8,9. A great burning mountain is cast into the sea, and the third part of the sea becomes blood, and a third part of all that is in the sea—fishes and ships—is destroyed.

(6.) The third angel sounds, Re 8:10,11. A great star, burning like a lamp, falls from heaven upon a third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters, and the waters become bitter, and multitudes of people die from drinking the waters.

(7.) The fourth angel sounds, Re 8:12. The calamity falls on the sources of light—the sun, the moon, and the stars—and the third part of the light is extinguished, and for the third part of the day there is no light, and for the third part of the night also there is no light.

(8.) At this stage of things, after the sounding of the four trumpets, there is a pause, and an angel flies through the midst of heaven, thrice crying woe, by reason of the remaining trumpets which are to sound, Re 8:13. Here would seem to be some natural interval, or something which would separate the events which had occurred from those which were to follow. These four, from some cause, are grouped together, and are distinguished from those which are to follow—as if the latter appertained to a new class of events, though under the same general group introduced by the opening of the seventh seal.

A few general remarks are naturally suggested by the analysis of the chapter, which may aid us in its exposition and application.

(a) These events, in their order, undoubtedly succeed those which are referred to under the opening of the first six seals. They are a continuation of the series which is to occur in the history of the world. It has been supposed by some that the events here symbolized are substantially the same as those already referred to under the first six seals, or that, at the opening of the sixth seal, there is a catastrophe; and, one series being there concluded, the writer, by a new set of symbols, goes back to the same point of time, and passes over the same period by a new and parallel set of symbols. But this is manifestly contrary to the whole design. At the first, (Re 5:1,) a volume was exhibited sealed with seven seals, the unrolling of which would manifestly develope successive events, and the whole of which would embrace all the events which were to be disclosed. When all these seven seals were broken, and the contents of that volume were disclosed, there might indeed be another set of symbols going over the same ground with another design, or giving a representation of future events in some other point of view; but clearly the series should not be broken until the whole seven seals are opened, nor should it be supposed that there is, in the opening of the same volume, an arresting of the course of events, in order to go back again to the same beginning. The representation in this series of symbols is like drawing out a telescope. A telescope might be divided into seven parts, as well as into the usual number, and the drawing out of the seventh part, for example, might be regarded as a representation of the opening of the seventh seal. But the seventh part, instead of being one unbroken piece like the other six, might be so constructed as to be subdivided into seven minor parts, each representing a smaller portion of the seventh part. In such a case, the drawing out of the seventh division would succeed that of the others, and would be designed to represent a subsequent order of events.

(b) There was some reason, manifestly, why these seven last events, or the series represented by the seven trumpets, should be grouped together as coming under the same general classification. They were sufficiently distinct to make it proper to represent them by different symbols, and yet they had so much of the same general character as to make it proper to group them together. If this had not been so, it would have been proper to represent them by a succession of seals extending to thirteen in number, instead of representing six seals in succession, and then, under the seventh, a new series extending also to the number seven, In the fulfilment, it will be proper to look for some events which have some such natural connexion and bearing that, for some reason, they can be classed together, and yet so distinct that, under the same general symbol of the seal, they can be represented under the particular symbol of the trumpets.

(c) For some reason, there was a further distinction between the events represented by the first four trumpets, and those which were to follow. There was some reason why they should be more particularly grouped together, and placed in close connexion, and why there should be an interval (Re 8:13) before the other trumpet should sound. In the fulfilment of this, we should naturally look for such an order of events as would be designated by four successive symbols, and then for such a change, in some respects, as to make an interval proper, and a proclamation of woe, before the sounding of the other three, Re 8:13. Then it would be natural to look for such events as could properly be grouped under the three remaining symbols—the three succeeding trumpets.

(d) It is natural, as already intimated, to suppose that the entire group would extend, in some general manner at least, to the consummation of all things; or that there would be, under the last One, a reference to the consummation of all things—the end of the world. The reason for this has already been given, that the apostle saw a volume Re 5:1 which contained a sealed account of the future, and it is natural to suppose that there would be a reference to the great leading events which were to occur in the history of the church and of the world. This natural anticipation is confirmed by the events disclosed under the sounding of the seventh trumpet, Re 11:15, seq. "And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are becoming the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever. And the four and twenty elders, which sat before God on their seats, fell upon their faces, and worshipped God, saying, We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come; because thou hast taken thy great power, and hast reigned," etc. At all events, this would lead us on to the final triumph of Christianity—-to the introduction of the millennium of glory—to the period when the Son of God should reign on the earth, After that, (Re 11:19, seq.,) a new series of visions commences, disclosing, through the same periods of history, a new view of the church to the time also of its final triumph:—the church internally; the rise of Antichrist, and the effect of the rise of this formidable power, See the Analysis of the Book, part fifth.

Verse 1. And when he had opened the seventh seal. See Barnes "Re 5:1".

 

There was silence in heaven. The whole scene of the vision is laid in heaven, (chapter 4) and John represents things as they seem to be passing there. The meaning here is, that on the opening of this seal, instead of voices, thunderings, tempests, as perhaps was expected from the character of the sixth seal, (Re 6:12, seq.,) and which seemed only to have been suspended for a time, (chapter 7) there was an awful stillness, as if all heaven was reverently waiting for the development. Of course, this is a symbolical representation, and is designed not to represent a pause in the events themselves, but only the impressive and fearful nature of the events which are now to be disclosed.

About the space of half an hour. He did not profess to designate the time exactly. It was a brief period—yet a period which in such circumstances would appear to be long—about half an hour. The word here used—hmiwrion—does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. It is correctly rendered half an hour; and as the day was divided into twelve parts from the rising to the setting of the sun, the time designated would not vary much from half an hour with us. Of course, therefore, this denotes a brief period. In a state, however, of anxious suspense, the moments would seem to move slowly; and to see the exact force of this, we are to reflect on the scenes represented—the successive opening of seals disclosing most important events—increasing in interest as each new one was opened; the course of events which seemed to be leading to the consummation of all things, arrested after the opening of the sixth seal; and now the last in the series to be opened, disclosing what the affairs of the world would be at the consummation of all things. John looks on this; and in this state of suspense, the half hour may have seemed an age—We are not, of course, to suppose that the silence in heaven is produced by the character of the events which are now to follow for they are as yet unknown. It is caused by what, from the nature of the previous disclosures, was naturally apprehended, and by the fact that this is the last of the series—the finishing of the mysterious volume. This seems to me to be the obvious interpretation of this passage, though there has been here, as in other parts of the book of Revelation, a great variety of opinion as to the meaning. Those who suppose that the whole book consists of a triple series of visions designed to prefigure future events, parallel with each other, and each leading to the consummation of all things—the series embracing the seals, the trumpets, and the vials, each seven in number—regard this as the proper ending of the first of this series, and suppose that we have on the opening of the seventh seal the beginning of a new symbolical representation, going, over the same ground, under the representations of the trumpets in a new aspect or point of view. Eichhorn and Rosenmuller suppose that the silence introduced by the apostle is merely for effect, and that, therefore, it is without any special signification. Grotius applies the whole representation to the destruction of Jerusalem, and supposes that the silence in heaven refers to the restraining of the winds referred to in Re 7:1—the wrath in respect to the city, which was now suspended for a short time. Professor Stuart also refers it to the destruction of Jerusalem, and supposes that the seven trumpets refer to seven gradations in the series of judgments that were coming upon the persecutors of the church. Mr. Daubuz regards the silence here referred to as a symbol of the liberty granted to the church in the time of Constantine; Vitringa interprets it of the peace of the millennium which is to succeed the overthrow of the beast and the false prophet; Dean Woodhouse and Mr. Cunninghame regard it as the termination of the series of events which the former seals denote, and the commencement of a new train of revelations; Mr. Elliott, as the suspension of the winds during the sealing of the servants of God; Mr. Lord, as the period of repose which intervened between the close of the persecution by Diocletian and Galerius, in 311, and the commencement, near the close of that year, of the civil wars by which Constantine the Great was elevated to the imperial throne. It will be seen at once how arbitrary and unsatisfactory most of those interpretations are, and how far from harmony expositors have been as to the meaning of this symbol. The most simple and obvious interpretation is likely to be the true one; and that is, as above suggested, that it refers to silence in heaven as expressive of the fearful anticipation felt on opening the last seal that was to close the series, and to wind up the affairs of the church and the world. Nothing would be more natural than such a state of solemn awe on such an occasion; nothing would introduce the opening of the seal in a more impressive manner; nothing would more naturally express the anxiety of the church, the probable feelings of the pious on the opening of these successive seals, than the representation that incense, accompanied with their prayers, was continually offered in heaven.

{a} "seal" re 5:1

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