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Author:Rev. A Veldman
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Southern River
 West Kelmscott
Title:The opening of the seventh seal brings silence in heaven during which the saints sent up their prayers to God.
Text:Revelation 8:1-6 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading : Rev. 8
Text : Rev. 8, 1-6
Ps. 75 : 1,2,4
Ps. 75 : 6
Hy. 47 : 3
Ps. 94 : 1,2,5,7
Hy. 50 : 2,5,7
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. A Veldman, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Daily via the news media we are informed about all the misery going in this world: catastrophes like earthquakes, flooding, volcanic eruptions, epidemics, and you name it. I also think of many heated conflicts around the globe in which people are killed on a daily basis. One only has to think of the conflict in the Middle East, for example, where Jews and Arabs seem to be unable to live together in peace: con-tinual war. The same applies to the Balkan and many warring factions on the Afri-can continent. Global peace seems to be an unattainable goal.

When considering all this, reading the daily newspaper doesn't give much reason for happiness. Yet, beloved, have you ever given it thought that all those horrible things the news media confront us with on a daily basis: wars here, calamities there - have you ever given it thought that from a scriptural perspective this is God's an-swer to your and my prayer. Daily we pray that God's kingdom may come. I think here of the second petition of the Lord's Prayer, which had the attention last week Sunday afternoon in the sermon. Taking this petition on our lips - according to the explanation of the Heidelberg Catechism - we ask the Lord, "Destroy the works of the devil. Grant that soon the fullness of Thy kingdom may come in which Thou shalt be all in all." This second petition thus is also a prayer for the return of Christ. Come Lord Jesus, Maranatha!

Back to my question now - do you ever give it thought, beloved, that when praying for Christ's return, in fact you also pray for God's judgments upon an unbelieving world, for all the plagues of which we read in the last book of the Bible. It's good to remind ourselves of the fact that this is indeed part of the prayer for the return of Christ, of the prayer for the mighty break-through of God's glorious kingdom. Per-haps then we shudder with fear when we think of this. Yet this should not cause us to stop praying for Christ's return, even if this means an increase of war, calami-ties, etc.

One may ask should we not rather pray for peace, for relief in countries where people die from starvation? Of course, we should! But at the same we should add to such a prayer, that if before the return of Christ things have to become worse, e.g. more wars have to come - we should pray that the Lord may indeed cause these wars to come, in order that they may serve the break-through of God's per-fect peace.

This morning in the preaching I would like to draw your attention in particular to this aspect of the prayer for Christ's return, in order that we are aware of what we pray for and yet do not slacken in this prayer. After all, beloved, you should not forget that slackness from our side in praying for the return of Christ has a delaying effect on the coming of God's kingdom. In a more positive way this means God will use also our prayers to come to His great day. We learn this when we read what happens when the Lamb breaks the last and final seal of the scroll, which He had taken from the right hand of Him who was seated on the throne.

Focusing on the breaking of this last seal, this morning I minister the Word of God to you under the following heading,

Our text shows that
1) heaven is waiting for this prayer
2) Christ is purifying this prayer
3) God is acting upon this prayer

I) A fortnight ago, Brothers & Sisters, when the beginning verses of Revelation 7 had our attention, we heard that the glorified Christ deferred the final opening of the scroll to safeguard the saints on earth. In that sermon I said, the things mentioned in Chapter 7 refer to a kind of interlude, intermezzo, whereby the revelation goes back to before the events referred to in opening of the 6th seal. As regards the 6th seal I mentioned that it differed from the 5 previous seals, since it no longer pictures the judgments of God being repeatedly executed throughout the whole NT period, instead it speaks about God's final judgment, as it will be executed towards the end of his-tory prior to Christ's second coming. That was the 6th seal!

When Chapter 8 tells us now about the opening of the 7th and final seal, one would expect nothing else but a vision of Christ's coming. Yet instead we read how this 7th seal breaks open in seven trumpets or rams' horns, through which the Lord wants to give us still more insight about the time in which we live. What is told by the sounding of these seven rams' horns is not a mere repletion of what we heard in the opening of the seven seals. Neither does it refer to a further delay of Christ's second coming. Instead it pictures the time in which we live from a different point of view. In other words it covers the same period as the opening of the seven seals, but it shows light on this period from a different angle. The same happens later on when the 7th rams' horn is sounded. The sound of this 7th rams' horn brings forth the seven bowls of God's wrath: a picture of God's judgments being poured out upon this earth, but again from a different angle.
So the 7th seal breaks open in the sounding of seven trumpets or rams' horns. Yet before these rams' horns are sounded the apostle John first sees something else, Ch. 8, 1, "." What caused this heavenly silence? All kind of different interpreta-tions have been offered. Some see this silence as a sign of heavenly awe for God's majesty as revealed in the terrible judgments, which are now to follow. These judgments, so it is said, are so terrible, the destruction they cause is so horrifying, that heaven keeps its breath. Yet as regards this interpretation one wonders why the angels and all who are in heaven were not spellbound before. Why they did not hold their breath when the seven seals were opened, which equally gave reason to stand in awe of God's majesty.

Other commentaries - in fact the majority of them - refer to a calm before the storm, as we read about it in a similar way in some of the OT prophecies, which also speak about a silence before God's final judgment is poured out. I may refer to the prophecies of Habakkuk, Zephaniah, and Zechariah. I also think of Psalm 76, 8 + 9, "." One author referred to this silence as a pause in the music, during which the echoes of the previous tones die away and one is waiting for what is to come. This silence thus marks a transit from one series to another.

During this silence the apostle John sees seven angels standing before God's throne to whom were given seven trumpets or rams' horns. I opt for the word rams' horn, since the trumpet as musical instrument easily makes us think of our trumpet today. Yet the trumpet we read about in our text is more like the OT rams' horn. We read about such rams' horns in Joshua 6, the chapter that informs us about the destruction of Jericho. Also the number seven corresponds which what we read in this chapter, Joshua 6,4, where it says, "and seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark." In Rev. 8 the coming judgment of God thus is pictured according to the pattern of God's judgment upon Jericho. I could also refer to the prophecies of Joel, where the Day of the LORD is an-nounced with the sounding of the trumpet. The prophet Zephaniah speaks about a day of trumpet and alarm. Thus seven angels receive seven trumpets or rams' horns to sound the alarm. Every time God pours out his judgment upon this earth it is like a siren in history.

Yet before the seven angels sound their trumpets first a small liturgy takes place, vss. 3-5. In a similar way as the opening of the seven seals was preceded by the lit-urgy of the 24 elders singing a song a praise to the Lamb who was worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, so also now before the trumpets are sounded first incense is offered on the golden altar before the throne. Later on in the Book of Revelation also the pouring out of the seven bowls will be preceded by a liturgical prelude, Rev. 15.

In Rev. 8 we read, before the angels sound their trumpets, vs. 3, "Another angel ." We heard about the prayer of the saints under the altar in Ch. 6,9. This was the prayer of the martyrs who cried out for justice. Although similar this prayer of Ch. 6,9 is not completely identical with the prayer of the saints mentioned in Rev. 8. For a start our text does not mention in detail what these saints pray for. However it is not difficult to guess, especially when we think of what should be the highest desire in the lives of God's chosen ones. Would not be their deepest longing to have perfect communion with God, the God of their salvation? Would not be the greatest desire of these saints that God's name is glorified? No doubt, this then will also have highest priority in their prayer, "Lord, God, hallowed be Thy Name, Thy kingdom come. May all wickedness be removed from the earth, so that indeed Thy name may receive all honor and glory and Thou shalt be all in all."

Yet, beloved, since God cannot come to full glory without His judgments being poured out upon this wicked world, the prayers of the saints mentioned in our text include also that these judgments may come. Summarizing this means not only the church above, the souls under the altar, prays that these judgments may come, but also the church on earth prays for these judgments, for the vindication of God's glorious cause.

Our text speaks about the prayers of all the saints, i.e. God's children throughout the ages. In other words we should not refer to a special definite period in history during which these prayers were or will be sent up. For this does not match with the words 'all'. In addition, in the same way as it was with respect to the opening of the other seals (apart from the 6th seal) so also with the opening of the 7th seal it refers to a scene covering the entire period of this dispensation. Thus as regards the prayers mentioned we are to give thought to the prayers of the saints who have lived before us and who now have entered into everlasting glory (the souls under the altar) and the prayers of the saints still standing amidst the trials, i.e. the church on earth. Together these saints bring their common need before the Lord, crying out to God, "May Thy kingdom come. Destroy the works of the evil one." Yes, indeed that's what the Lord wants us to pray. Christ Himself taught us so in the Lord's Prayer. The first petitions, He laid on our lips and which should therefore also have priority in our prayer, are: "Hallowed be Thy name, O Lord. Thy king-dom come!" Living in a society, a world, in which God's name is blasphemed more and more, this prayer on the lips of the saints will only grow more powerful, more fervent. It joins in with prayer we read on the last page of the Bible, "Come, Lord Jesus; yea, come quickly."

A moment ago, Br. & Sr., I said that the deepest longing of God's children, the saints, should be to have perfect communion with God, the God of our salvation. Our greatest desire should be that God's Name is glorified. Yet, as I mentioned it also in a sermon on the first petition a few weeks ago, when examining our own prayer life, I don't think I come to the wrong conclusion when I say that in this re-gard much is lacking with all of us. As regards our personal prayer life the sanctifi-cation of God's glorious Name, and the coming of His kingdom do not always come first. More often than not there are a lot of other things we find much more important to pray for. When we are honest with one another this morning, we all must confess that there is much slackness with all of us when it comes to praying for the mighty break-through of God's glorious kingdom. And yet, beloved, this prayer is necessary. In the introductory remarks of this sermon I said, slackness in praying for the return of Christ has a delaying effect on the coming of God's king-dom. Yes, God will use also our prayer to come to His great day. He is waiting for these prayers. Without this prayer of the church, the silence in heaven cannot give way to the trumpet call of the judgments of God.

II) Is it indeed true, Br. & Sr., that by not praying for the coming of God's king-dom, by not praying for the return of Christ, we actually delay this return? Hasn't God in His eternal counsel already decided the exact time of Christ's coming on the clouds of heaven? God indeed has, but this does not mean that our prayers or lack of prayer is no longer of any significance. It should be noted that also our prayers are part of God's eternal counsel and are thus included in the writings of the scroll mentioned in Rev. 5. Opening the seals of this scroll Christ sends out forces, living forces, in the history of this world, which will bring His glory to completion. He uses the gospel, He employs war, He uses the social contrast be-tween rich and poor. He employs the very power of death, He energizes the outcry of the souls under the altar, He causes the shake-up of the physical universe. He also sends out angels with seven trumpets. Well, beloved, the same can be said about the prayer of the saints. They too are part of this scroll. And so when this scroll is opened these prayers are sent up to God in heaven. Also the measure of these prayers has to become full before Christ can return, full according to the measure of God's decree. Seen from this perspective it is true indeed that without these prayers God can't come to His great and final day.
Let me try to make this clear with another example of Scripture > King Hezekiah . > Well, in a similar way the prayers of the saints are part of God's decree, with-out which God indeed cannot come to His great day.

Yet at the same time it should also be noted that because these prayers are included in the book of God's decree, Christ Himself opening the seals of the scroll will make sure that these prayers are sent up to God in heaven, thus employing them as forces to bring God's glorious kingdom to perfection.
In actual terms this means, beloved, Christ Himself is the author of these prayers. Whenever we pray we pray through the Spirit of Christ. In Rev. 22 it reads, "The Spirit and the Bride say, 'Come'." The Spirit and the Bride, the church. But it is the Spirit who lays these words on the lips of the Bride.
See there, beloved, how the prayers of the saints rise up to heaven, crying out, "Gracious God, Thy kingdom come. Destroy the works of the evil one. Let soon the day arrive that Thou, O God, shalt be all in all." They are sent up to heaven where Christ presents them to His Father together with the sweet incense of His atoning sacrifice. Otherwise God would never hear our prayers, since in them-selves they are imperfect and defiled with sin. But on the altar of incense in heaven they will be purified and made acceptable to God.

God Himself thus works these prayers in us so that in time they are sent up to Him. The church weak in itself thus becomes a mighty power in the execution of God's judgments upon the earth. The continuation of our text makes this quite clear. In vs. 4 it reads, "." The prayer of the saints reaches heaven. The voice of the pray-ing church reaches far. That's why there is silence in heaven. For the prayers of the saints must be heard. Moreover, they are not only heard but they are also answered by God, which brings us to the concluding part of our text, vss. 5 & 6.

III) In vs. 5 we read, "." This, beloved, is God's response to the prayers of the saints. In actual terms this means whenever we hear about earthquakes or other disasters, we should not be surprised, since they are actually part of God's answer to our prayer for the return of Christ. One could call it a preliminary answer. It proves that our prayers are not lost in space, but are indeed answered by God, to-day already.

I'm afraid, Br. & Sr., that more often than not we do not consider it this way. How come? Is the reason perhaps that we do not always pray as we ought to, i.e. in ac-cordance with what God has taught us to pray? Are our prayers perhaps too much centered around ourselves and our earthly needs? Have we perhaps identified our-selves too much with this world? If that is the case, it becomes indeed difficult to see the things spoken about in this last book of the Bible as an answer to our prayer. If Israel had been in league with Egypt, do you think, beloved, that it would have seen the plagues, which were sent upon the land, as an answer to their prayer? Of course not! It would have prayed the Lord to take these judgments away. Well, the same is true today. Whoever is in love with this present world will never be able to understand that the fire taken from the altar in heaven and cast upon the earth is God's answer to the prayers of the saints, the prayer for deliverance.

Vs. 5 speaks about noises, thundering, lightning, and an earthquake, all signs of the awesome majesty and power of God. In the Book of Revelation, thunder and light-ning always mark an important event connected with the heavenly temple. Well, that's what we also see in our text. God will show His majesty in the judgments, which are now to follow. The seven angels are ready to sound their trumpets, vs. 6.

When the seven trumpets are sounded, beloved, we see some remarkable similari-ties with the opening of the seven seals. This is not surprising since God works ac-cording to well-ordered plan. As to the sevens seals, from previous sermons we learned that the first four seals formed a group apart, distinct from the three other seals that followed. Well, we see the same with the seven trumpets. The first four blasts bring down God's judgment by way of natural disasters upon the four areas of creation, the earth, vs. 7, the sea, vs. 8 & 9, the rivers, vs. 10 & 11, and the stars, vs. 12. There is some similarity here with the plagues by which God judged the land of Egypt. Hail and fire, vs. 7, recall the seventh plague. The turning of a third part of the sea into blood, vs. 8 & 9, is a reminder of the first plague.

The natural disasters mentioned in the verses following our text are more or less preliminary disasters to keep the church awake and to call the world to repentance. Natural disasters we call them: hail, drought, cyclones, etc., which occur now here, then there. Natural disasters, yet Revelation calls them trumpets of God. It's God's answer to the prayers of the saints.

The blast of the first four trumpets must indeed be considered as a last warning from God's side, a summons to repent. A last and final warning, since the plagues mentioned here as yet are not directed against man himself, nor do these plagues destroy the whole cosmos, only a third part. Nevertheless in comparison with the opening of seals there is an intensifying of God's judgment. The rider on the black horse was given power over a fourth of the earth. Now it speaks of a third, whilst when the seven bowls are poured out it will devastate the whole earth. This means when the seven trumpets are sounded the possibility of life still remains for man.

The blasts of the first four trumpets attack the dwelling place of man: the earth, the sea, the rivers, and the stars. Yet with the fifth blast God brings suffering also on man himself, Ch. 9,4. Plagues come on him such as were never known before. Still the aim of these judgments is as yet not absolute destruction, but it calls for repentance instead. However an unbelieving world let not itself be called to repen-tance, they rather seek death than God, destruction rather than forgiveness, Ch. 9,6, "."

When reading all this the question can be asked, where is the comfort? The answer is, beloved, that for the believers the sound of the trumpet is a comforting sound. How you may ask. Let me try to make this clear.

As regards the OT the sounding of the trumpet was a signal not only of war, but the trumpet was sounded also at festal occasions as a sign of triumph. In the first point of the sermon I mentioned Joshua 6, where we read about seven priests bear-ing trumpets of rams' horns. When they sounded these trumpets the walls of Jeri-cho collapsed. God's children could enter the Promised Land. As to the NT, in Mt. 24,31 we read, "And He will send His angels with a great sign of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." In I Thess. 4,16 the apostle Paul writes, "For the Lord himself will de-scend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trum-pet of God." Christ's return thus will be herald by the sounds of trumpets. The blasts of these trumpets are God's response to the prayers of the saints. When these trumpets are sounded God starts punishing the earth: natural disasters first.

Thus whenever we hear about earthquakes, droughts, cyclones, etc., as God's chil-dren of God we should not only think of the devastating effects of these calamities, but it should also sound as music in our ears, music which heralds the great day of Christ's return. That's the comfort we have. As God's children we should not be disturbed by the judgments of Christ, which will come upon this world; judgments which are there already now and which will only increase. Even stronger, they must increase. For the kingdom of God can come in no other way.

Today we live in a society in which lawlessness and immorality seems to reign su-preme, people are lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. Even though some still might hold the form of religion they deny the power of it. Yet, beloved, this will not continue forever. Sin and righteousness must be destroyed. The glory of Christ must be revealed and vindicated. However, this glory can be vindicated only by God's judgments being poured upon this world.

Be not disturbed, therefore. By no means implore God that He may stop bringing His kingdom in the way of judgment. Also, do not love this present world. For all that is in this world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life will pass away. It will not stand in the hour of judgment. Therefore don't set your heart on what this world has to offer, instead long for the return of Christ and bring your prayers in harmony with it. Thus separating ourselves from a sinful world, we pray, "Father, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Beloved, what else is this than praying, "Come Lord Jesus, yea come quickly?"


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. A Veldman, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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(c) Copyright 2001, Rev. A Veldman

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