by Roger McCay
17 July 2022
Sermon Passage: Revelation 8:1-5
Link to Audio Version
When Christians say we are “saved,” what do we mean? Saved from what? In a book by that name (Saved From What?), R.C. Sproul states the answer thus:
When the scriptures tell us that God saves us, that salvation is of the Lord, we tend to forget that salvation is also from the Lord. We need to be saved from God …. What every human being needs to be saved from is God. The last thing in the world an impenitent sinner wants to meet on the other side of the grave is God. But the glory of the gospel is that the One from whom we need to be saved is the very One who saves us. God in saving us saves us from Himself.
Woe unto those who have no savior on the day of wrath. 
How true. Sproul also mentions that one of the biggest problems of unbelief, in the “culture” and in the “church,” is “an unbelief in the wrath of God and in His certain promise of judgment.” In other words there is a lack of fear of the Lord. And don’t miss that he observes that this is both in the “culture” and in the “church.”
As for the church, we look inward, enjoying the blessings of being a believer: saved by grace through faith, the Spirit of God working in our lives, the one-on-one conversations we have with the Lord, the answered prayers, the loving fellowship of the covenant community, the blessings of believers who put their spiritual gifts to good use among the body, and our comfortable security in Christ of life eternal.
But if we really thought about the reality of the Lord’s wrath coming down on the unbelievers with whom we are friends, know casually, or whatever their relationship might be to us, I think Sproul is right to say, “If we believed it, really believed it [that there will be a day of judgment], the energy of our evangelism would increase a hundredfold.”
But you know, even among church-goers, there are those who partake of the blessings of the covenant community, but are not really one of us. The Lord speaks of them as the tares (the weeds), in contrast to the wheat (Matt. 13:24-30). These are the ones who cried “Lord, Lord,” but who Jesus told, “I never knew you” (Matt. 7:21-23). These are those with uncircumcised hearts (Acts 7:51), who enjoy the benefits of the covenant community, but are on the road to hell just as much as the worst profane Jesus-hating person you know.
Which leads us to our passage today, with the seventh seal. Now, I want you to remember, as we look at this, that the prime target of the Lord’s wrath is the people of Israel, the Jews, his covenant people. Their unbelief, apostasy, their persecution of the Christians, their murder of Jesus, and so on, had brought the Lord to the point of destroying them as a nation. They were covenant breakers, subject to the covenant curses, which is a reversal of blessing (see Lev. 26 & Deut. 28). The Lord would break them and obliterate the very center and heart of their religion—Jerusalem and the Temple, come AD 70.
Now, don’t forget, these are people who enjoyed the blessings of the covenant: born to it, raised in it, and had every advantage towards salvation from God. Yet corruption had sunk in deeply (as Jesus pointed out repeatedly during his ministry, calling them to repent). And when it came down to it, they rejected their heritage. They rejected God’s covenant, when they rejected Jesus.
Indeed, they literally called God’s curse down upon themselves: “All the people answered and said, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’” (Matt. 27:25). And, among their many offenses against the Lord, they had the blood of the martyrs on their hands.
But before we get to our passage, let’s review. We first saw the scroll sealed with seven seals in Rev. 5:1, and it was revealed that the Lamb (Jesus) was the only one worthy to break its seals and open the scroll. Too, the scroll signifies a legal document with specific covenantal significance, acting as “a divorce decree” against apostate Judaism (God’s adulterous wife), heralding the execution of the covenant curses (God’s wrath) upon them due to their unfaithfulness. Thus, it definitively announces the end to the Old Covenant under the law, and frees up the inheritors of the Covenant of Grace (the bride of Christ) to experience the fullness of the New Covenant blessings under the gospel.
We also considered the positioning of the seals on the scroll, which were, as Jay Adams put it, “spread in a row across the overlapping edge of the scroll.” This fits because, as he explains, “All seven seals had to be broken before the roll could be opened…. They are preparatory to the action which will take place once the book is opened.” Indeed, as we observed, the seals are preliminaries to the judgments contained in the scroll. They are what Jesus called “the beginning of birth pangs” in his Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24:8), coming prior to the destruction he prophesied would come, fulfilled in AD 70.
The phenomena of the seven seals is also multilayered and progressive. However, they do not necessarily represent a strict chronological happening of things (i.e. first this will occur, then this, and so forth). There is an overlapping at times. And there are micro and macro realities—in dimension, time, and space.
And so we came to the first four seals, in ch. 6:1-8, consisting of the four horseman of the Lamb. At the breaking of each of the first four seals, a horseman of the Lamb was called. First, there was “Conquest,” symbolizing Vespasian with his son Titus and the armies of Rome deployed by Nero to Israel in order to conquer the Jews, in AD 67. Second, there was “War,” symbolizing the revolt of the Jews and the civil-war in Palestine, which began in AD 66 and to which Vespasian’s deployment was a response. Further, “War,” may also have included the empire-wide unrest of the Roman civil war that would break out with the events leading up to and after Nero’s suicide, in AD 68. This ultimately, drew Vespasian from Palestine, in AD 69, to secure his crown as emperor, leaving Titus to command the conquering armies in the destruction of Jerusalem. In such a way, Jesus’ Olivet prophecies of “wars and rumors of wars,” in Matt. 24:6-7, were fulfilled, which includes the last two horsemen (the third, which was Famine & Economic Distress and the fourth, being Death & Hades, which symbolized the horrors to come upon the Jewish nation as it was torn apart by the wars, reminiscent of Ezek. 14:21).
At the breaking of the fifth seal, in Rev. 6:9-11, John describes a view into heaven of the souls of the martyrs under the altar before the Lord. He tells of their cry of justice and vengeance against their murderers (with John witnessing this scene circa AD 65). They were also given white robes, which the Lord had promised for those who overcome, the symbolism, being not only of the righteousness that is theirs by the blood of the Lamb, but also a symbol of victory, as they conquered by the Holy Spirit—holding out to the end, faithful to the Lord, in their witness. These martyrs were further told to rest a little longer, implying that it would not be long before their cry for judgment and vengeance was answered. Indeed, from the time of John’s writing what he saw in heaven, it was but a few years before the detonation of the Lord’s wrath would come down upon Jerusalem.
Indeed, because Jerusalem was the epicenter of the murder of the saints, it would be ground zero for the Lord’s wrath. Thus we considered how the Lord would carry out his wrath upon the Land of Israel beginning around AD 66, as the four horsemen were unleashed, culminating in the great city’s destruction, in AD 70, bringing about the violent telos of the Jewish nation (completed at Masada in AD 73). All this would be accompanied with world-wide ripple effects, including the vindication of the persecuted Christians.
Which leads to the breaking of the sixth seal, in Rev. 6:12-17, where the buildup of anticipation of the Lord’s coming wrath reaches its peak, with the sixth seal broken. The birth-pangs (of which Jesus prophesied in his Olivet Discourse) crescendo with a glimpse at the looming wrath (primed for retribution) of him who sits on the throne (the Father) and the Lamb of God (the Son) against the people of the Land of Israel, who hopelessly cry out in terror. And these prophesied events (described using familiar OT prophetic language) would take place right at the end, of the great tribulation, in AD 70.
Then, after the interlude of Rev. 7, we come finally to the seventh seal, in 8:1:
“When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.”
Silence in heaven. Here we find what might be called a dramatic pause for effect. You might remember that Revelation was written to be read aloud to the churches, particularly addressed to the seven churches in Asia. So, consider what’s been going on. There have been continual voices and noises throughout the seals,  but then with the crack of the seventh seal, silence [Crack! …………]. There is a physical reaction to such a thing. You feel it. And the whole affect served to emphasize the awful suspense, the solemnity, the weightiness of what was about to explode upon the Jews and the Land of Israel, God’s wrath. It was a terrible silence, the held breath waiting in awed anticipation, reminiscent of the silence accompanying divine judgment mentioned in the OT, such as in Hab. 2:20 and Zech. 2:13.
This silence lasted for a half hour, which seems to represent the time it took for the actions, in vv. 2-4, to be carried out. And notice the silence carries through the scene, giving weight to the actions.
“Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.”
Trumpets were used for various purposes in the OT, such as calls to worship, and so forth. A particular time of sounding, consistent with the context of Rev. 8, is the sounding of the trumpet at the time of a coming of the Lord—called a theophany. So, considering the theophany that follows in v. 5, and with the sounding of the trumpets from there, Milton S. Terry observes:
The Trumpet is first found in the Old Testament story of the descent of God upon Mount Sinai and the giving of the Law. This is what theologians call a theophany, or visible manifestation of the glory of God; there were fire and thunder and lightning and smoke and the continual pealing of the Trumpet.
And you may remember the seven trumpets that sounded before the people’s shout, heralding God’s bringing down the walls of Jericho (Josh. 6). As Milton suggests, this whole section of trumpets, as we continue through chs. 8-11, hearken back to that event:
Those trumpets sounded the doom of the first great Canaanitish city which stood in the way of the conquest of the promised land; these sound the doom of “the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt” (11:8, 13) and which stood in the way of the free progress of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.
That “great city” was Jerusalem, and “Jerusalem and her temple, then in bondage with her children,” must give way before “the Jerusalem that is above and free” (Gal. 4:25-26).”
So, who were these seven angels to whom the trumpets were given? There is a bit of speculation on this part. Perhaps they are, as some, like Grant R. Osborne, suggest, “the seven angels of Jewish apocalyptic tradition who present the prayers of the saints before the throne (Tob. 12:15) and who are named in 1 Enoch 20.2-8 (Uriel, Raphael, Raguel, Michael, Saraqa’el, Gabriel, and Remiel).” But here, in Rev. 8, they are nameless, so we don’t really know.
Thus, vv. 3-4:
3 And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, 4 and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.
This action by the angel was an act of worship and is reminiscent to certain actions of the priests during daily temple worship, where the chief officiating priest would light the incense before the Most Holy Place. At which time, as Alfred Edersheim, in his book, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services, explains, “‘the whole multitude of the people without’ [would withdraw] from the inner court, and [fall] down before the Lord, spreading their hands in silent prayer.”
It is this most solemn period, when throughout the vast Temple buildings deep silence rested on the worshipping multitude, while within the sanctuary itself the priest laid the incense on the golden altar, and the cloud of ‘odours’ (Rev 5:8) rose up before the Lord, which serves as the image of heavenly things … (Rev 8:1, 3, 4).
And these similarities makes sense, as earthly worship is a reflection of heavenly worship, along the lines of the “copies of the heavenly originals,” mentioned in Heb. 9:23.
And during this time of worship in heaven, in the silence after the breaking of the seventh seal, the smoke of the incense rose up before God. And with the smoke of the incense were “the prayers of the saints,” as it rose up from the altar before the Lord on his throne. These prayers hearken to the fifth seal, which were prayers of imprecation—calls for justice and vengeance. The Lord heard these prayers, and he answered them, beginning with Rev. 8:5:
“Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.”
Thus we have the inauguration of the Lord’s coming in wrath upon the Land of Israel and Jerusalem. Filling the censor with holy fire from the altar of the Lord in heaven, the angel cast it upon the Land, heralding the Lord coming in vengeance. And the silence was broken with “peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake,” which was a theophany of the Lord, as he manifested his presence upon the earth (phenomena which can be traced back to the Lord’s coming down upon Sinai, in Ex. 19:16).
Now, there is an interesting account, in The Wars of the Jews, about a time of such phenomena. Josephus records that in the civil war, before the Romans besieged Jerusalem, there was a particular incident between the Idumeans (who were the Edomites) and the Jews. The Idumeans had been called by the Zealots to come aid them in their war against supposed Roman sympathizers. But when the Idumeans arrived (numbering about 20,000), they found the gates shut against then. So, they made camp.
Then, as Josephus reports:
There broke out a prodigious storm in the night, with the utmost violence, and very strong winds, with the largest showers of rain, with continual lightnings, terrible thunderings, and amazing concussions and bellowings of the earth, that was in an earthquake. These things were a manifest indication that some destruction was coming upon men, when the system of the world was put into this disorder; and anyone would guess that these wonders foreshowed some grand calamities that were coming.
Now, the Jews made note of these portents, and considered that the Lord was acting “as a general” for them. But in fact, it was quite the opposite. They expected blessing, but what came upon them was the curse in the form of God’s wrath—in this case the second horseman (War).
The portents took place the night that the Idumeans (the Edomites) first besieged the city. But they were quickly let into the city by the Zealots. From there, the Idumeans and the Zealots slaughtered some 8,500 people in the Temple and then multitudes more as they plundered the city and killed all they came across. Once the Idumeans left to return home (with the Temple and city still intact), the Zealots continued on slaughtering in their civil war. Indeed, Vespasian, seeing the brutality of the civil war, delayed the Roman siege of Jerusalem, saying, “the Jews are vexed to pieces every day by their civil wars and dissensions, and are under greater misfortunes than, if they were once taken, could be inflicted on them by us.”
But the first horseman (the Conqueror) would have his time with Jerusalem, in short order, having been about his business throughout the Land of Israel, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, in AD 70.
The Lord, in heaven, heard the prayers of the saints, and the prayers returned to earth as fire upon the Land and the Jews. Deut. 4:23-24:
23 Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which he made with you … 24 For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.
Do we hear the warning in this? Do you hear the wake-up call of the seals and the reversal of blessing they unleash?
My friends, God’s covenant people have historically consisted of both believers and unbelievers intermixed together. We see it throughout the Bible and it remains true now in the church. Which are you?
Now, I’m talking to churchgoers and people who consider themselves connected with the church, part of the body. Look deep down inside and consider your life—examine yourself. Are you a true believer? Here are some signs to know one way or another—and note that none of us perfectly embody these things, but true Christians are consistent in them.
– Do you love Jesus? All true Christians do (Jn. 14:21-24; Mark 12:30).
– Is your primary identity in Jesus Christ? This is a defining trait of a Christian (Gal. 2:20).
– Do you strive to follow Jesus in obedience to him, as his disciple? This is the life motivation of a true Christian (Mark 8:34; Jn. 14:15).
– Do you see evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in your life—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? This fruit is a manifestation of God’s presence in the born-again life of a Christian (Gal. 5:23)—no fruit, then no indwelt Spirit of God.
We could go on, but these questions suffice. If you answer “no” to these questions, then you likely are not a Christian. And if you answered “no” to one or two of them, then you might want to think about that, and figure out why. Again, none of us is perfect in these things, but true Christians are consistent in them, to the end.
Beloved, God’s wrath is not only against the frank unbelievers; it is mightily against those who take advantage of his covenant blessings, but have no true faith in Jesus Christ. If you are one of these, in repentance of your sins, turn your life over to Jesus, and trust him with it. Follow Jesus in faith, as Lord, and be saved from the wrath of God. And for my fellow Christians, brothers and sisters, remember that your prayers are not in vain.
Since the Lord is a consuming fire, we must repent our sins in faith.
 R. C. Sproul, Saved From What? (Sanford, FL: Ligonier Ministries, 2021), 15-16.
 Ibid., 13
 Cf. Kenneth L. Gentry Jr., Navigating the Book of Revelation: Special Studies on Important Issues, 2nd ed. (Fountain Inn, SC: GoodBirth Ministries, 2010), 45ff. Also, Kenneth L. Gentry Jr., The Book of Revelation Made Easy (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision Press, 2019), 50.
 Jay Adams, The Time is at Hand (Woodruff, SC: Timeless Texts, 2000), 62.
 Cf. Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Survey of the Book of Revelation, Video Series (Chesnee SC: Victorious Hope Publishing, 2012), DVD 4, lesson 9.
 Cf. Rev. 6:1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12, 16.
 Milton S. Terry, The Apocalypse of John, ed. Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. and Jay Rogers (Chesnee, SC: Victorious Hope Publishing, 2021; originally pub. 1898), 105.
 Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 342.
 Also cf. Lev. 16:13-14; Luke 1:10, 21.
 Alfred Edershein, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services, (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library), 87-88. The book can be downloaded in at https://ccel.org/ccel/edersheim/temple/temple (accessed 15 July 2022).
 Flavius Josephus, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987), 678. (The Jewish War, IV.4.5)
 Flavius Josephus, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987), 682. (The Jewish War, IV.6.2)