Revelation 8 (NRSV)
The Seventh Seal and the Golden Censer
When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.
The sealed scroll was introduced in Revelation 5, and the seals were opened one by one up to the sixth seal in Revelation 6. We waited for the last seal to be opened and the contents of the scroll to be revealed — but then were given a pause with Revelation 7, the revealing of the 144,000 and the great multitude out of the great tribulation. Now the idea of a pause between the sixth and the seventh seal is emphasized by this silence in heaven for about half an hour.
This silence is striking; some have seen it as “breathing space,” or, that the angels are silent so the prayers of the saints can be heard, perhaps even the cry of the martyrs of Revelation 6:9-11. Or perhaps this silence in heaven demonstrates a sober, awestruck silence at the judgments to come, now that the seals are off and the scroll can be opened.
2 And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.
3 Another angel with a golden censer came and stood at the altar; he was given a great quantity of incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar that is 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.
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.
The Seven Trumpets
6 Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets made ready to blow them.
The first six trumpets introduce new convulsions of nature, in judgment upon the wicked (compare the plagues of Egypt). These calamities are not consecutive nor are they to be taken literally. (The New Oxford Annotated Bible)
7 The first angel blew his trumpet, and there came hail and fire, mixed with blood, and they were hurled to the earth; and a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.
1) A plague on vegetation
8 The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea. 9 A third of the sea became blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.
2) A plague on the sea
10 The third angel blew his trumpet, and 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. 11 The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many died from the water, because it was made bitter.
3) A plague on fresh waters
12 The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and 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 was darkened; a third of the day was kept from shining, and likewise the night.
4) A plague on the heavens, and darkness on earth
13 Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew in midheaven, “Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!”
These first four trumpets reveal the severity of God’s judgment. He attacks all the ordinary means of subsistence, such as food and water; and He attacks all the ordinary means of comfort, and knowledge, such as light and the regular rhythm of days.
The first four trumpets also reveal the mercy of God’s judgment; these are partial judgments striking only one-third, and are meant to warn and lead a rebellious world to repentance before the final curtain. For now, God spares more than He smites.
I have long loved the image of prayers rising to the Lord in heaven as the smoke of incense rises. HERE is a song to that effect from Hillsong — “Like Incense.”