The Seventh Seal
1When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. 2I noticed that the seven angels who stood before God were each given a trumpet.
3 Another angel, who had a gold container for incense, came and stood at the altar. This one was given a lot of incense to offer with the prayers of God's people on the gold altar in front of the throne. 4Then the smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God's people, went up to God from the hand of the angel.
5 After this, the angel filled the incense container with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth. Thunder roared, lightning flashed, and the earth shook.
6 The seven angels now got ready to blow their trumpets.
7 When the first angel blew his trumpet, hail and fire mixed with blood were thrown down on the earth. A third of the earth, a third of the trees, and a third of all green plants were burned.
8When the second angel blew his trumpet, something like a great fiery mountain was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned to blood, 9a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.
10 When the third angel blew his trumpet, a great star fell from heaven. It was burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on a third of the springs of water. 11 The name of the star was Bitter, and a third of the water turned bitter. Many people died because the water was so bitter.
12 When the fourth angel blew his trumpet, a third of the sun, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars were struck. They each lost a third of their light. So during a third of the day there was no light, and a third of the night was also without light.
13Then I looked and saw a lone eagle flying across the sky. It was shouting, “Trouble, trouble, trouble to everyone who lives on earth! The other three angels are now going to blow their trumpets.”
There’s no denying that Revelation is a bit strange. Back in chapter 6 we watched as six seals were broken and evil flooded the world, but the seventh seal never materialized. Have you been wondering about it?
Now at last it’s opened, but instead of the expected destruction, all we have is the sound of silence. Amid the noise of heaven it is as if God asks for the volume to be turned down, just for half an hour, so that he can hear the prayers of the Church on earth. So your prayers and mine really matter. Never doubt that!
John paints a dramatic picture of how it works. Our prayers go up to heaven where an angel is standing with a large mixing bowl. The prayers are mixed with fire and incense and, with a flick of his wrist the angel hurls the mixture back to earth where thunder and lightning break out.
Don’t you just love the imagery of this book? Not only do our prayers matter, God uses them to burn up things that are wrong. We are God’s arsonists. George Herbert calls this “reversed thunder.” (George Herbert, Prayer)
But the seven trumpets are tuning up and we need to listen. The first four bring hail, fire, blood, falling stars, and pollution (compare Exodus:7-11). Then darkness falls, like a cosmic electricity cut. The sequence of destruction is similar to the seals, only worse.
Our passage ends with a lone eagle circling above, proclaiming further trouble on earth. There is worse to come! So, back to our prayers. Remember that whatever darkness may be encircling you today, God will use your prayers to shed rays of light, to bring moments of joy and hope.
Father in Heaven, thank you for the gift of prayer. Please forgive my neglect of it, stir my imagination to see the ways in which you use it, and, Lord, teach me to pray. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.