Silence in Heaven – Revelation 8:1-5

Sometimes I wonder what we would see if we could somehow materialize our prayers, stick a camera on them, and follow their pathways and effects.  I have no doubts, it would be one of the most interesting, enriching and eye-opening journeys we could ever take.

Just imagine for a minute to see your prayer rise to God, and enter His Holy Temple. Imagine how it would be to see His face as He hears it, and then to hear His commands to His Holy Spirit and angels, and then to watch them sent out to reach to hearts and souls and circumstances and people.

The Bible tells us a lot about how to pray, about the motivation we should have, our heart attitude and such, and also why we should pray; but as far as what happens when we pray, it’s often a mystery. There is however one passage where we see God receiving prayers and acting on them, and it is to me one of the most fascinating and sobering passages in Scripture. In fact, in this passage it is not only one prayer that we see to be received by God, but all the prayers of all the saints. And what we see in response of these prayers is very surprising.

It is found in Revelation 8:1-5, and I invite you to turn there.

Rev 8:1 When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.

Rev 8:2  Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.

Rev 8:3  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,

Rev 8:4  and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.

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.

As we look into this passage this morning, we will look at 3 reasons why our prayers culminate in God’s salvation through judgment, so that we would be would remember the unequaled importance of prayer.

And this is what I want all of us to remember this morning: the ultimate purpose of intercessory prayers is salvation through judgment. A right prayer, made with a rightful heart, who asks for God’s will to be done, will be answered in salvation through judgment.

I. Salvation is Now (1-2)

The first reason why our prayers culminate in salvation through judgment is that salvation is now. The age we live in is an age of salvation. From the Fall of man to this very moment, every revelation of God made through His Word, through His deeds or His Presence have pointed towards His desire to have a relationship with man through salvation and judgment.

When God gave the first promise of the Bible to Adam, promising a victorious seed, this seed would only be victorious because it would crush the serpent’s head.

When Abraham got saved in Genesis 15, when he believed and it was reckoned to him as righteousness, it was only after God had delivered him from the hand of 5 kings who had captured Lot. Abraham placed his faith in God only after He realized and saw that God was a Savior; as He had saved him from his enemies, He could also save him unto eternal life.

When Israel was delivered from Egypt, it was through the judging of the Egyptians with terrible plagues and signs of God’s wrath. During the period of the kings, it was through the judging of Israel’s enemy nations that they witnessed the picture of God’s salvation.

It is also at the death of Christ that we both see perfect salvation and perfect judgment, as through God’s wrath falling on His Son on the cross is reconciliation possible.

End now we get to the end of the age, and the very Lamb of God is about to open to last seal of God’s wrath. And so we read in Revelations 8:1-2

8:1 When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.

8:2 Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.

A world free of sin is a world free of sinners. There is no salvation from sin without a salvation away from sinners. And so here we see the other side of the Lamb of God. On one side He is Savior because He dies for sinners and saves those who repent; on the other side He is Savior because at the end He destroys the sinners that do not repent.

But here is what is interesting. For the first time recorded in History, there is silence in heaven. Think about it just a minute. Think about what would need to stop for silence to take place in heaven.

In Revelation 4:8 we read,

Rev 4:8  And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, « Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come! »

First, praise stops. The prayer of the angels in praise is put to a halt. But think about the other things that are also heard in heaven. What about the groaningsof the Spirit who intercedes for us when we do not know how to pray? What about the prayers of Jesus Christ, at the right hand of God interceding for us?

For thirty minutes, they come to an end. There is silence. No more prayers. (break) The age of salvation comes to an end. Now is the time for judgment.

To some extent, in this passage we see a parallel with the prophet Jeremy. Three times, God told Jeremy to stop praying, because Israel had gone too far and He was going to punish them.

Jer 7:16 « As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with me, for I will not hear you.

Jer 7:20  Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: behold, my anger and my wrath will be poured out on this place, upon man and beast, upon the trees of the field and the fruit of the ground; it will burn and not be quenched. »

There will be a time when salvation will no longer be available. At the end of this age, the doors of heaven will be locked, and the fate of unbelievers will be the unquenchable fire.

But today, right now, heaven is not silent, and praise the Lord we have an advocate, Jesus Christ, who defends us continually against the accuser before the Father, and who intercedes for us.

I hope we realize the importance of this passage. It is extremely sobering. Salvation ends when prayer ends. It is that direct. Does prayer completely cease after the 30min of silence? Obviously not, but at the opening of the 7th seal, after the time of silence, the only aroma left in the prayers of the saints is that of judgment. After the silence come the trumpets:

8:2 Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them

So they seven trumpets are given, and as they are blown, the world is destroyed.

1st: a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.

2nd: a third of the sea became blood.

3rd: a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water, so it became bitter and people died

4th: a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light might be darkened, and a third of the day might be kept from shining, and likewise a third of the night

Rev 8:13  Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overhead, « Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow! »

5th: a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. hell on earth (true picture), with torture but people cannot die for 5 months.

6th: So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year, were released to kill a third of mankind.

7th: 7 bowls of judgment which are even worst.

Rev 16:17 The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, « It is done! »

Well, the message of the angel saying, “it is done” is real and sobering, because it is one of death and judgment. But Jesus also said those very words when He paid the price for our sins.

Yes, judgment is terrible, but it doesn’t have to be, because Christ already endured it for those who believe. And this is the reason why we should pray.

Listen. This is the age of salvation. God’s purpose for this age is for His salvation to reach out to the ends of the earth. Your spiritual growth is not an end it itself. God saves people so that through their testimony He can continue to be known, so that, as Paul wrote, “as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God” (2 Cor 4:15).

I just finished my thesis on God’s glory last week. And let me tell you something. Every time God reveals His glory, it is to make Himself known, so that people can have a relationship with Him through salvation. In the same way, to give glory to God is to make Him known.

And this is why we must pray. This is why we must pray hard, with perseverance, with passion, with endurance, without ceasing, with discipline, in the Spirit, and with each other. Because you do not want to hear the angel tell your relatives and your friends and your co-workers and one day your children, “it is done!”

No! Christ said those words first, and because of that you want to live hard and pray hard, so that people can know who He is.

II. Salvation is God’s Will (3-4)

First, we saw that prayer culminates in salvation because that’s the age we live in. Salvation is now. One day it will be too late. Secondly we see that our prayers culminate in salvation because it is God’s will.

As we see in the next two verses, the righteous prayers that are heard by God are those who urge for His salvation through judgment:

Rev 8:3  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,

Rev 8:4  and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.

The picture is very unique. After the seven angels are given trumpets, another comes with a censor, which is kind of sophisticated oil lamp which burns with a very strong smell. And so he comes, and his censor is just overloaded with incense. There is much of it, a lot of it, and it just spreads around, and it is the prayers of all the saints.

Now, something very similar had happened just a little earlier. In chapter 5, we’re all familiar with this passage, it’s the one that people read all the time when they introduce a song of worship that talks about heaven, and when John was crying because no one could open the scroll and the Lamb came and opened it; which by the way the scroll is not the Book of Life, but the seven seals of judgment. And so we read in Revelation 5:8,

Rev 5:8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

So in both passages we have prayers that are made for the Lamb to save the world through judgment.

And here is what is most important. The word “all.” To God are offered prayers for salvation through judgment, of all the saints.

Now I don’t know if John is talking about all the saints that are still in the tribulation or all the saints that ever lived, but one thing is for sure: God is answering all these prayers at once in salvation through judgment. And ultimately, that’s because it is at the center of His will.

Do you ever think about what it implies when you pray to God: ‘Let your will be done?’

For sure the will of God involves a lot of small things in life. But here we get the big picture. God’s will is for His children to be saved, which only happens through the destruction of this world and its unrepentant inhabitants.

Like I said, it’s just a very sobering passage. But it’s there to help us realize what is really important.

Trials come and trials go. But if our purpose of prayer is just to get out of what we’re doing, we’re missing the whole point of prayer is for. At the end of the day, you want to pray for what is eternal.

Both my wife and I have had some significant health problems. A few years back, neither of us knew if we would live very long. Those that have been in the church for some time might have seen how Sophia was on a wheel chair a few years ago, having dropped out of school and incapable of doing much. Her migraines were so strong, there is a whole year of her life that she barely remembers. For me I have back problems. When I was a sophomore at Master’s it got so bad that I was averaging 3-4 fours of sleep every night, even with sleeping pills and muscle relaxant. There was so much tension in my back, my brain was continually cramped, and it just kept getting worse. I remember studying for my finals, and it was so hard to focus tears were falling down my cheeks.

By God’s grace as you can see we’re both doing better now, although we still have issues, but often people would tell us that they were praying for our healing, Obviously it is not a bad thing, and we praise the Lord for good days when we have them, but ultimately you don’t know if God is going to heal someone or not, nor if that’s what brings Him the most glory. It’s good to pray for health, but if we forget the eternal value of things, our prayers simply do not reach their full potential.

Pastor Steve tells me all the time: why do believers pray so hard to keep Christians out of heaven, and so little to bring sinners out of hell?

If you really want your prayers to have an eternal impact, pray for God’s will. Pray for the lost, and pray that He would grow you and the believers around you to shine brighter so that more people would get saved.

Pray that your life would make God known, so that either through you, or someone that you have an impact on, people might get saved.

The reason why so many of our Christian lives become dull and unexciting is because of our lack of vision to reach the lost. But be a man or a woman who is driven by the great commission, and you will have a vision big like the world, and a vibrant prayer life. Take that out, you’ll grow complacent, stuck in a rut, doing the same thing week after week after week and miss out on the great things that God is doing around you. You’ll go to church because that’s the right thing to do and because your best friends are there, and you might even serve there faithfully, but without necessarily laying down treasures in heaven and preparing that eternal crown of glory.

III. Salvation is Christ’s Coming

First, we must pray because salvation is now, and second because salvation is God’s will. Third, we must pray because salvation is Christ’s Coming.

This we see in the next verse:

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.

So we see the angel who is done with his censer, and he throws it on the earth, and it brings thunder and flashes of lightning and an earthquake.

Now, you might say, why do you equate thunder and flashes of lightning t Christ’s coming? Well, because outside of prophecy, thunder and lightning and earthquake are the symbols of theophanies, when God shows up in glory. That’s what happened at Sinai, when God appeared in the dark cloud,

Exo 19:16  On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled.

Exo 19:17  Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain.

Exo 19:18  Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly.

Exo 19:19  And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder.

But let me tell you something. The cloud was not the Father. The cloud was Christ.

Joh 1:18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

The Father is never seen in Scripture, only the Son is. Every theophany is a Christology. When Christ came on earth he took on flesh, to be accessible, but at end of His ministry, He prayed God « Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (John 17:1)

Luk 21:27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.

The “cloud” on which Christ will come down is not a comfy sofa that He rides on. It is the fearsome cloud of God’s Shekinah. It symbolizes the very presence and glory of God.

In fact the exact same phrasing in Revelation 8:5 is found in Revelation 11:19 which states:

Rev 11:19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.

The reason why all these phenomena happen is because the Temple of God is open, and the world is not ready. The glory is not meant to be destructive, but without the atoning blood of Christ, no sinner can endure it. What we see in Revelation is the Day of the Lord, the coming of Christ on earth in His full glory, and He comes to bring the glory of God on earth, and it becomes destruction because the world is unrepentant.

Zep 1:7  Be silent before the Lord GOD! For the day of the LORD is near; the LORD has prepared a sacrifice and consecrated his guests.

Zep 1:14  The great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter; the mighty man cries aloud there.

Zep 1:15  A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness,

Zep 1:16  a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements.

So to return to our passage, this is what happens. The angel takes some fire which comes from the altar of God where the prayers of the saints are burnt, and then as he throws that fire on earth, Christ shows up in the midst of it in judgment and destruction.

Like I said, to me this is one of the most sobering passages of all Scripture, not only because of the description of the Great Tribulation, but because it shows that God answers our prayers in ways that we would never dare to express them.

But ultimately, praying in God’s will is to pray for the salvation of the world through judgment, and for the return of Jesus Christ who is the true Savior not only because of the cross, but also because of the fire that He brings.

But here is what is important. The Temple of Israel was made as a copy of that in heaven, as a shadow of it. In Israel’s Temple, twice as day would the priests use a censer, both morning and evening, to carry hot fiery coals from the brazen alter where the sacrifices were offered and transport them to the Holy Place. As of now, the angel-priest still has his censer and has not thrown it on the earth with fire. As of now, our prayers are offered daily to God, and their aroma is always before His throne.

The need for prayer is urgent. Prayer is what unfolds the will of God: salvation through judgment.