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Chapter Eight The Breaking Of The Seventh Seal
Chapter 8 deals with the breaking of the seventh seal, which opens fully the book of title-deed to this world. This roll was put into the hands of the Lord Jesus by the Father after the church, represented by the glorified elders, was seen around the throne in Heaven (5:6-7).
First let me make a few remarks in regard to the structure of the book of the Revelation. The main body of the book is divided into four sevens. There are the letters to the seven churches of Asia; then the seven seals; then the seven trumpets; and farther on the seven vials of the wrath of God. There is something very striking about these last three sevens. First, we have six seals opened, then a parenthesis that takes up chapter seven. In chapter eight, the seventh seal is opened, and the book as a whole is open to view.
This seventh seal includes the seven trumpets. Six trumpets are sounded (8:7-9:21), and again there is a parenthetical portion (10:1-11:14). At the conclusion of this parenthesis the seventh trumpet brings us to the end of all things.
Chronologically, we are as far along when we reach 11:18 as when we reach the great white throne in chapter 20, for the seventh trumpet introduces the world kingdom of our God and His Christ and goes right on to the time when the dead will be judged. So we really have a duplication, in measure, of prophetic truth from this point on. From chapters 4-11 you have truth presented in orderly sequence-a prophetic outline of the things that will take place after the rapture of the church right on to the end of time.
Then, commencing with chapter 12, God seems to turn the roll over so we may view the other side. He gives us a second view of the events, especially in relation to Israel. We have details that bring before us the great actors for good and evil in the last days-the woman clothed with the sun; the man-child, Christ, who is to rule the nations with a rod of iron; Michael, the archangel; the dragon, who is that old serpent the devil; the coming world-confederacy and its blasphemous head; the lamb-like beast (who I believe is the antichrist), who looks like a lamb but speaks like a dragon-the counterfeit of the Lamb of God. There follows a parenthetical portion in chapter 14, which in a very vivid way brings before us the final issues once more.
Then, in chapters 15-16, we have the vials, or bowls, of the wrath of God. Once again we have the same structure that has engaged our attention in connection with the seals and trumpets. We have six bowls and then a parenthesis. In this instance the parenthesis occupies only one verse (16:15). Immediately following this, the seventh bowl of the wrath of God is outpoured bringing us on to the doom of Babylon, described in detail in chapters 17 and 18. Then in chapter 19 we have the Lord’s descent to the earth, accompanied by the armies of Heaven, to establish His millennial kingdom and reign for a thousand years. At the close of this the final judgment takes place. The heavens and the earth as we now know them, with all the works of man, will be destroyed. New heavens and a new earth will be brought in where God will be all in all throughout an eternity of bliss. The wicked-those who have persistently rejected the Lord Jesus Christ, both before and after the cross, and the millennial dispensation of righteousness-all who have rejected the message of God will be cast into the lake of fire.
I have searched the Bible through and through, over and over again, to find one ray of hope for men and women who leave this world rejecting Christ. I have never been able to find it. I have looked into all kinds of theories. I have read hundreds of volumes, some depicting the annihilation of all the wicked dead promising a second chance after death. But in all these books I have never found one statement based on the Word of God, to give the slightest hope to the Christ-rejector. This world is the only place in which God is offering salvation to Christless men. If you refuse the message of His grace now, if you deliberately steel your heart against the convicting power of the Holy Spirit and you die in your sins, you will be Christless for all eternity! I think the most awful picture the Bible gives us of the doom of the lost is in the Epistle of Jude, which forms such a fitting preface to the book of Revelation. He speaks of those who make light of God’s salvation and who follow after unrighteousness, as “wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever” (Jude 1:13). I cannot see the least hope for a Christless soul in that illustration.
When I was a boy in my home in Canada, I remember a period when night after night a blazing comet appeared in the skies. I heard older people say that this particular night wonder had not been seen for something like three hundred years. I asked in amazement where it had been, and for the first time in my young life I came up against the wonder of infinite space. I was told that that comet had been driving on with tremendous velocity millions and millions of miles away from the sun for one hundred and fifty years. One hundred and fifty years ago it had gradually begun to come back toward the sun, and that was why it was then visible. In a few weeks it passed out of sight, to appear to us no more for another three hundred years. I can recall wondering what would happen if that comet went off on a tangent and never came back! This is the appalling picture that Jude presents in the passage referred to. Those who turn the grace of God into lasciviousness, those who despise the boundless mercy He has given through His blessed Son and persist in refusing His goodness, continuing in their sins, will be driven away from the Sun of righteousness into outer darkness. They will move on and on throughout eternity, never to find their way back into the presence of God. He is giving a little space now for repentance, but the day of His grace will be over when He rises to shake terribly the earth. And how are you treating His offer of mercy?
The Seventh Seal (Revelation 8:1-6)
We are told that when the Lamb had opened the seventh seal there was silence in Heaven for about half an hour. May we not say it is the calm before the coming storm?-the most awful storm that will ever break over this poor world. Some of you have lived in regions where thunderstorms are common. No doubt, you have often noted on a hot summer day the clouds suddenly gathering in the sky, becoming heavier and darker every moment. You have heard the thunder reverberating in the skies, peal after peal with increasing intensity. You have observed the lightning flashes. Then suddenly all became still. There seemed to be not even a breath of wind to move the leaves on the trees. Yet an overcast, threatening sky causes the birds to seek shelter, the cattle to move uneasily, and all nature to become expectant. A few moments pass by. Then vivid flashes of lightning cause us to shrink back. Crash after crash follow, and the windows of the heavens seem to be opened-the storm pouring down in a deluge!
We have something similar to this in Revelation 8:1. We saw in chapters 4 and 5 the saints gathered around the throne of God and of the Lamb. We noted that from the throne proceeded thunder and lightning. As the seals were broken, one after another, judgment followed judgment in quick succession on the poor world from which God had gathered out His beloved people. But even the crashing under the sixth seal is not the climax. In Heaven lies the mystery of God’s dealing with this world and the judgments yet to fall on it. But when the last seal is broken it will be clear what side God takes in all the affairs of earth. He will judge according to the holiness of His character and the righteousness of His throne. The seventh seal, as we have noted before, introduces the final drama of the great tribulation. No wonder there is silence in Heaven for half an hour before that seal is broken!
It is as though all Heaven is waiting in breathless expectation. We seem to hear the questions: What will the Lamb do next? What will be God’s next move toward judging and reclaiming that rebellious world? Verses 2-5 give the answer.
Careful readers of the Bible will connect the seven trumpets with the fall of Jericho. That great city just across the Jordan that barred the progress of the people of Israel into the promised land fell with the blast of God alone. The priests of Israel were given the trumpets of judgment, and for seven days they marched around the city blowing the trumpets. Seven times on the seventh day they did so and at the seventh blast the walls fell down flat. Jericho is a type of this present world in its estrangement from God, and its hatred of God’s people. Jericho fell at the sound of seven trumpets.The world, as you and I know it, is going to fall at the sound of the seven trumpets of doom, blown by these angels of judgment (Joshua 6:0).
The seal is broken, the book is fully unrolled, and the seven angels appear to whom are given seven trumpets. As these angel messengers stand by, waiting one after the other to herald with a trumpet-blast the coming judgments, we are told that another angel came and stood to officiate at the golden altar. He is seen offering incense and therefore is an angel-priest. Who is this angel-priest? I think you will agree that he cannot be a created angel. Scripture never speaks of any created angel offering incense with the prayers of saints to make them acceptable to God. The church of Rome does; but nowhere in the Bible do you get anything of the kind. Throughout the Old Testament the preincarnate Christ is again and again presented as the angel of Jehovah. He was the angel who appeared to Abraham; He was the angel who guided the children of Israel; He was the angel who wrestled with Jacob and put his thigh out of joint by the brook at Peniel; He was the angel who appeared to Moses when the prophet prayed that he might see God; He was the angel who appeared to Joshua to lead the people of Israel against their foes in the land of Canaan; He was the angel of Jehovah again and again revealing Himself throughout the entire dispensation. In the book of Zechariah He is the angel-advocate who stands to plead for Joshua the high priest. So we again find Him in the book of the Revelation presented as an angel-priest who still has a people on earth for whom to plead. They are not members of the church of God, but, as we saw in connection with the fifth seal and chapter 7, they are the hundred and forty-four thousand-a remnant who will be taken out of Israel after the church of God will be called home.
The Word of God is very clear on all this. Romans 11:17 pictures the Gentiles as having been grafted into Israel’s olive tree of promise. And the Holy Ghost goes on in that chapter to make it plain that when the Gentile church becomes apostate, God is going to reject it and turn back to Israel. In the tribulation period they will again be grafted into their own olive tree. They will be the witnessing remnant of that awful time and the Lord Jesus will intercede for them in Heaven as He now does for His church. He will not be indifferent to their sorrows in those days of unparalleled tribulation. He will, as the faithful High Priest, bear His people on His heart and on His shoulders, even as Aaron carried the names of the twelve tribes on the breastplate and on the onyx stones set in gold on the shoulder pieces of his ephod (Exodus 28:6-21). So we see Christ pictured by this angel-priest offering incense at the golden altar in the very presence of God.
In this present time the Jews bewail their desolation, and cry out in anguish of heart year after year, “Woe unto us, for we have no Mediator!” But when their eyes are opened and grace begins to operate in their souls they will know the blessedness of priestly intercession on the part of their once-rejected Messiah, whom they will learn to identify with the angel of the covenant of old. They will search their Bibles; they will doubtless read the book of Hebrews; they will study the four Gospels and will see the truth. They will look on Him whom they pierced and will repent and mourn, as described in Zechariah 12:10. And God will receive Israel and make her His messenger to the nations. We are not surprised, therefore, when we get this look into glory and see the Lord Jesus as the angel-priest.
He has a golden censer. It is blessed to think that Israel will have such an Intercessor in the coming day? We are told that the smoke of the incense is the prayers of the saints-those suffering saints on the earth. The angel took the censer, filled it with the fire of the altar, and emptied it on the earth. Here is the answer to the cry of His afflicted ones down in that scene of tribulation. The prayers went up to the Father, and judgment came down, “and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake” (8:5).
The Final Storm (Revelation 8:7-13)
I cannot explain fully the symbol in verse 7, but I think I can see a hint of the awful time that is awaiting the people of Christendom who have refused the gospel. Do you remember that the grass is used as a symbol of man (Isaiah 40:6)? Grass trampled beneath the foot is the picture of man in his frailty and weakness. What about the tree? It is another picture of man, but rising up in his pride and independence of God. You remember how Nebuchadnezzar is likened to a great tree and how the rulers in Israel were spoken of as great cedars. John the Baptist said, “Now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire” (Matthew 3:10). Grass is man in his weakness, man in his littleness; the tree is man in his dignity, in his greatness, in his independence-man lifting himself up against God. So the first angel’s trumpet distinctly indicates a fiery judgment on that part of the human race that has rejected the gospel now so freely proclaimed. It is an appalling picture, but remember the reality is far worse than the picture!
This is followed in verses 8-9 by another fearful portent. I believe it especially concerns the judgment of the great world-church that has held sway over the consciences of so many people. May I direct your attention to Jeremiah 51:25? There we have the same symbol as is given us in Revelation 8:8-a great mountain cast into the sea. I have already said that every symbol in the book of the Revelation was explained somewhere else in the Bible. In the Old Testament a great mountain burning with fire is the symbol of literal Babylon. In the New Testament this great destroying mountain burning with fire, that is cast into the sea and brought to an end under the judgment of God in this coming day, is evidently spiritual Babylon. Babylon of the Old Testament was the fountainhead of idolatry. Every idolatrous system has had its root in Babylon. Spiritual Babylon is the direct successor of literal Babylon. The direct correlation between the mystic religions of the old Babylon and spiritual Babylon of today is significant. If anyone attempted to make a study of this connection he would be perfectly astonished to find the origin of the ritual services used in “Christian” churches. In the coming day when the second angel’s trumpet sounds, Babylon will be cast into the great sea of the nations. That is, in the day of God’s wrath the false church will be utterly destroyed by the people she once tyrannized. We will learn more of this when we come to chapter 18.
As the third angel sounded his trumpet a great star fell from Heaven (8:10-11). Stars in the prophetic scriptures symbolize religious dignitaries. They that turn many to righteousness are to shine as the stars forever and ever. The symbol is used again and again in the Bible for persons occupying places of importance in the spiritual, or religious world, as we say. Here we have a star symbolizing an apostate leader whose influence over man is so great that when he falls the third part of men are poisoned because of his evil influence.
Who is this star? While I do not want to try to prophesy, let me give you a suggestion. Who occupies the highest place in the church in the minds of millions of professing Christian people? Many would say the pope. What if tomorrow the newspapers came out with a headline like this: “The pope declares that Christianity is all a sham, that religion is just a fraud”? Can you imagine the effect that would have? Tens of thousands who would say, “Well, the man we viewed as the head of the church, as infallible, as the authoritative voice on all matters of a religious nature, has denied it all. Now, whom can we trust, and what can we believe?” I do not say that this will definitely happen. I am just giving you a hint of what might be. Do we not see the same thing on a small scale today? When a professing Christian leader gives up what he has once stood for, it has a tremendous influence for evil on people of lesser influence and lesser knowledge. And after the true church is gone, I gather from this symbol that one of the greatest “lights” in the false system left behind will openly apostatize. His teachings will become as wormwood, poisoning and embittering his deluded followers.
The darkness deepens when the fourth trumpet sounds (12-13). Again I do not attempt to tell you exactly what these verses symbolize. But it is evident that light is being rapidly withdrawn. A third of the sky was struck. A third of the moon and stars were darkened. What does it mean? Well, the Lord Jesus said, “If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness” (Matthew 6:23). “Light obeyed increaseth light-light resisted bringeth night.” Do you know why so many people in Christendom are going into Christian Science, Theosophy, Spiritualism, and the new theology of our times? Do you know why so few people ever get out of these cults? Because of this: They have had the opportunity to receive light from God and they have rejected it. It is written in the Word that “God shall send them strong delusion that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12). When God presents His truth to people, responsibility comes with it. When God presents Christ to them, tremendous responsibility is given to them. If you hear the message and reject Christ, do not be surprised if you are caught in one of these unholy ideas of the present day; and perhaps you will never be delivered from it until you wake up in a lost eternity.
Next the three trumpets yet to follow are introduced in a very solemn way. They are distinguished from the four we have already commented on, as “woe” trumpets. They speak of a more intensified form of judgment than any previously portrayed and will be studied in the next chapter. I only desire now to call your attention to the expression, “the inhabiters of the earth” (8:13). We frequently find a similar term in the book of Revelation, “Them that dwell upon the earth.” The heaviest judgments fall on these people. They are not merely those that live here on earth, but they form a distinctive class. They are the people who have rejected the heavenly calling. When God offered them full and free salvation through the death of His beloved Son, they turned away from Him. They rejected Christ and chose to follow their worldly desires and love of sin, therefore they became “the inhabiters of the earth.”
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Revelation 8". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29