The Messianic Judgments, 6:1-16:21
1. The judgment of the seven seals, 6:1-8:5
v] The opening of the seventh sealSynopsis
When the Lamb opens the seventh seal, there is silence in heaven as John witnesses the preparations for the judgment of the seven trumpets. First he sees an angel with a golden censer from which the prayers of God's people waft upward before a golden altar which is situated before the throne of God. Then he sees the angel fill the censer with fire from the altar and cast it upon the earth with thunder, lightning and earthquake.
The kingdom is at hand, the Great Day of the Lord, the day of judgment is upon us, and our God is about to answer the prayer, "Thy kingdom come."
i] Context: See 6:1-8.
ii] Background: See 1:1-8
iii] Structure: The opening of the seventh seal:
The seventh seal is opened, v1:
"there was silence in heaven."
The seven angels receive their trumpets, v2;
The angel and his golden censer, v3-4:
"the smoke of the incense .... the prayers of all God's people."
The censer is cast upon the earth, v5:
"there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake."
The opening of the seventh seal reveals the next seven judgments. The judgments of the seven trumpets are not sequential, they do not follow the judgments of the seven seals in linear time, but rather give us another way to look at the Great Day of the Lord, the Day of God's Wrath. So, the seven trumpets are a replay of the day of judgment from another angle.
The opening of the six seals has confronted us with different aspects of the day of judgment, but on the opening of the seventh seal we are transported back to a minute before midnight, to that moment of silence before the outpouring of judgment, that time when believers on earth are still praying "Thy kingdom come" / "Come Lord Jesus." But now, the prayers offered before the heavenly altar of God's divine grace are accepted. So, the time has come for fire to consume the earth with thunder, lightning and earthquake.
There was silence in heaven: Again we have another example of apocalyptic symbolism which has prompted endless interpretations. Osborne presents an excellent summary of the many attempts to draw out John's intended meaning. He suggests, among other things, that heaven went quiet so that God could hear the prayers of his people (so God is hard of hearing?). I sympathize with those who despair of drawing any significance from this silence and simply argue that it is nothing more than a dramatic pause - fair enough! In the flow of the narrative it certainly has a transitional function, a breathless anticipation of further revelations, so Bauckham, but I am inclined to the idea that what we have here is the still before the storm, the silence before creation, the hush before divine action, Ex.14:14, 1Sam.12:16, the quiet before the eschaton (2Esd.7:30).
Text - 8:1
The opening of the seventh seal, v1-5: i] The seventh seal is opened, v1. There is silence before God's last word, namely, the sounding of the seven trumpets = judgment.
kai "-" - and. Transitional. Again John has used kai instead of de to indicate a step in the narrative.
oJtan + ind. "When" - when [he opened the seventh seal]. Usually followed by a subjunctive to express an indefinite temporal clause, "whenever ......", but here obviously the intention is definite. Variant oJte + ind., "when", exists, but obviously an attempt to correct the grammar. "Finally, the Lamb opened the seventh seal."
en + dat. "in [heaven]" - [there was silence] in [heaven]. Local, expressing space.
wJV "for about [half an hour]" - about [half an hour]. Here used to express approximation. Note wJrion, "hour", carries the prefix hJmi = "half".
ii] The seven angels receive their trumpets, v2. The number seven is significant in apocalyptic literature, and the use of trumpets to announce judgment has OT precedence, eg. the destruction of Jericho, Josh.6:1-27. The use of trumpets to herald the end is also found in the NT, Matt.24:31.
kai eidon "and I saw" - Indicating a step in the narrative; the next vision, "Next I saw ...."
touV eJta aggelouV "the seven angels" - [and i saw] the seven angels [who stood before god]. Being anaphoric (with an article) seems to indicate a specific group of seven is in mind. Are they the seven angels of the churches? Maybe they are the seven agents of God's judgment, in which case they are archangels, standing before God in a place of special honor. Note that the verb esthkasin, "they have stood", is perfect, probably for durative effect, "they were standing." The verb "to stand" often takes a perfect.
enwpion + gen. "before [God]" - Spacial. Standing before God = "they were attending God."
autoiV dat. pro. "[seven trumpets were given] to them. [and there was given] to them [seven trumpets]. Dative of indirect object.
iii] The angel and his golden censer, v3-4. Another angel, not one of the seven, steps forward and offers up a smoking censor at the golden altar before the throne of God, with the cloud of white smoke issuing from the censor representing the prayers of the people. It is unclear what "altar" John has in mind; is it the brazen altar of burnt-offerings in the outer court of the Temple, or the golden altar of incense within the Tabernacle? The incense (probably the white smoke), is likely to represent the prayers of the people, but whatever the link between the incense and the prayers, the prayers are what matters, even though they are undefined. The prayers are possibly for vindication, cf., 8:3f, but John may just assume, given the context, that we would understand that they are "come Lord Jesus" / "thy kingdom come." These prayers amount to polla, "a vast quantity." They are "given" to the angel, probably in the sense of "entrusted" to him, with the intention that they should be offered (edoqhsan, "were given") at the golden altar before the throne of God - "the throne" being the seat of divine authority. Of course, what we have here is apocalyptic imagery, so we are not being told that a believer's prayers to Jesus require an intermediary.
aggeloV (oV) "[another] angel" - [another] angel [came and stood at the altar]. Nominative subject of the verbs "to come" and "to stand." He is "another angel" in that he is not one of the seven. In that he conveys the prayers of God's people, he may be one of the angels of the seven churches, but John does not specify who he is. Note that the verb "to stand" is passive, probably best classified as medial-passive, given its function in the clause.
ecwn (ecw) "who had [a golden censer]" - having [a golden censer]. The participle is best taken as adjectival, attributive, limiting "angel", as NIV, but note 1:16.
autw/ dat. pro. "he [was given much incense]" - [and there was given] to him [much incense]. Dative of indirect object.
iJna + fut. "to [offer]" - that [he will give]. Introducing a final clause expressing purpose. We would expect iJna + subj., but again John uses the future indicative instead of a subjunctive.
taiV proseucaiV (h) dat. "with the prayers" - to the prayers [of all the saints at the golden altar before the throne]. The sense of the dative is unclear, and this because the imagery is unclear. The angel has a censor / thurible which has "much incense"; is that "much incense in it", in the sense of burning charcoal with waxes, spices and herbs smoldering on top, or "much incense billowing from it", in the sense of the clouds of incense / white smoke coming out of it? And somehow this is related to the prayers of twn aJgiwn, "the holy / saints." Although unclear, it seems likely that the white smoke billowing from the censor represents the prayers of the people, so the angel is presenting the prayers of the saints to God. If this is the case then the dative is adverbial, association / accompaniment, as NIV, so Mathewson; "much incense, in accompaniment with the prayers of all the saints." Smalley suggests it is temporal ("offered simultaneously"), and Osborne that it is interest / advantage. It is likely that association here moves toward representation, so the sense is something like "An angel, entrusted with a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He took the censer, with its billowing clouds of incense representing the prayers of the people, and offered it at the altar in front of the throne."
twn aJgiwn gen. adj. "of [all] God's people" - of [all] the saints. The adjective serves as a substantive, the genitive usually treated as verbal, subjective, "the prayers offered up by all the saints."
epi + acc. "on [the golden altar]" - This preposition is spacial, commonly used in the Revelation with the sense "on, upon", but it is not overly clear what the angel is doing with the censer. The angel has the censer, and incense "was given (entrusted??) to him" "that he may (will) give (offer??)" epi "the golden altar before the throne." Given v4, the spacial sense is probably "at"; "that he may offer ...... at the golden altar."
John adds some extra details to make sure that the vision is clear to the reader. The angel is standing at the altar in front of the throne, holding a censer, out of which billows clouds of incense, clouds that represents the prayers of God's people.
twn qumimatwn (a atoV) gen. "[the smoke] of the incense" - [and the smoke] of the incenses [ascended with the prayers of the saints]. The genitive is possibly ablative, source / origin, but more likely attributive, limiting "smoke", "incenses smoke", or as we would say, "incense".
taiV proseucaiV (h) dat. "together with the prayers" - The dative, as for v3. "Smoke billowed up from the incensed-laced prayers of the holy ones", Peterson.
twn aJgiwn gen. adj. "of God's people" - of the saints. As in v3.
ek + gen. "from [the angel's hand]" - out of [hand of the angel before god]. Expressing source / origin. Short talk; "the smoke of the incenses, with (representing) the prayers of the saints, ascended out of the censor which was in the hand of the angel who stood at the altar before the throne of God."
iv] The censer is cast upon the earth, v5. If the prayers of the people are "come Lord Jesus" then God answers the prayers and commands the angel to initiate the Great Day of the Lord, the Day of God's Wrath, the day of judgment, so Beale, .... cf., Ezk.1:12-13, 10:2-7. This is visualized in the angel filling his censer with fire from the altar and casting it upon the earth. The usual symbols of divine judgment accompany the fire - thunder, lightning and earthquake. One wonders whether John links the libanwton, "censer", with the golden fialaV, "bowls", filled with the wrath of God, 15:7. If he wanted to make the link he would have used the same word, but of course, they are all linked in time terms in that John's visions are of the day of judgment, the day of God's wrath. The visions replay different aspects of the one event - "the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe." Osborne argues that 8:2f is all about the trumpet judgments with v1, the opening of the seven seals, revealing the judgments of the seven trumpets. This is surely right, but its all one in the same, namely, the day of judgment, a day that is now, realized, although from where we stand we only feel its vibrations, its inauguration, its not yet.
kai "then" - and. Used instead of de to indicate a step in the narrative.
eilhfen (lambanw) perf. "[the angel] took [the censer]" - Osborne suggests that the perfect is being used for an aorist, but Mathewson argues it is used to emphasize aspect, indicating "the state of the angel in preparation for pouring out the bowl judgments." In the latter part of the 1st. century, perfective aspect (punctiliar, completed action) was sometimes expressed by the perfect tense instead of an aorist.
ek + gen. "from" - [and filled it] from [the fire of the altar]. Expressing source / origin.
tou qusiasthriou (on) gen. "the altar" - of the altar. The genitive is adjectival, idiomatic / local; "the fire which is located / burning on the altar."
eiV + acc. "[hurled it] on [the earth]" - [and threw] to, into [the earth, and there were thunders and sounds and lightning and an earthquake]. With regard seismoV, "earthquake", it is missing in the nature theophany in 4:5, but present here and in 11:19 and 16:18. It may be missing in 4:5 because earthquakes are particularly related to divine judgment.