Revelation 8:1-6

It would have essentially contributed to a clear and intelligent apprehension of this passage, as well as of the structure of the entire Book, had the first verse in the present chapter formed the closing one of the preceding; or rather, had it taken a more distinctive place still, by forming the terminating words of the first of the three parallel visions of which the Apocalypse is composed. If we can venture again to use the simile which we have more than once employed in speaking of this portion of Scripture, that is, a prophetic drama in three acts, each act consisting in succession of the vision of the seals, the trumpets, and the vials, then the opening verse would form the conclusion of the first great dramatic scene.

A significant interval takes place, before new figures and personations present themselves to the Apostle-spectator; "There was silence in Heaven for about half an hour." It is the beautiful remark of Victorinus (one of the oldest commentators on the Revelation) upon this half-hour's silence, that it denotes "the beginning of the saints' everlasting rest." The idea is no doubt a sublime one, and more especially taken in connection with the antitypical reference, of which we have previously spoken, to the Feast of Tabernacles—the heavenly feast of rest—the beginning of "the rest which remains for the people of God."

But we think a more natural meaning is that which we have just given, that is, to regard the words as simply marking the pause between the parts in the sacred representation. The Apostle is once more amid the familiar surroundings of Patmos. Stunned, or, to use a phrase of Chrysostom's, "made dizzy," with these revelations, he required a temporary relaxation from the tension of thought and feeling and strong emotion. Just as Zechariah, overpowered and exhausted with the glories of one of his prophetic visions, had sunk into slumber, so that the Angel that talked with him had to come again and "wake him as a man is wakened out of sleep;" or just as John's great Master, when on earth, required such a period of respite and suspension from prolonged bodily and mental toil, to satisfy the requirements of His humanity; so, on that memorable Lord's Day in Patmos there is a break in the imagery, in order that the favored Apostle may enjoy a season of needed rest before the second great act in the apocalyptic drama opens, with its fresh revelations of the mysterious future.

The half-hour's silence being concluded, the curtain anew rises, and a fresh series of visions is unveiled. We are not, however, to suppose that the vision of the seven trumpets and the trumpet-blowing angels (the new section on which we now enter) follows that of the seals chronologically. This could not be. The seven seals conducted us down to the end of the world, to the Day of judgment, and the very threshold of Heaven. If, therefore, the trumpets speak of earthly things, as they unquestionably do (the trees, the seas, the rivers, the lights of Heaven), they can only, under new phases—a new set of symbols with varying representations, traverse the same ground. Indeed we are constrained to regard the seals, the trumpets, the vials, as constituting a triple "equivalent" series of visions—a series not consecutive, but parallel, each embracing seven figures, each complete in itself, each starting from the same point of departure (the commencement of the Christian era), each depicting the various fortunes of the Church, until these culminate in the triumphs of her great Head, the destruction of His adversaries, and the salvation of His people. This parallelism will be found to be accurate and complete.

As the opening of the seventh seal indicated the beginning of heavenly bliss, so the blowing of the seventh trumpet similarly announces the completion of 'the mystery of God,' and is ushered in by a song of thanksgiving—by great voices in Heaven, saying, "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever. . . . And the temple of God was opened in Heaven." And so also is this harmony sustained in the pouring out of the seventh vial; for then we read, "There came a great voice out of the temple of Heaven from the throne, saying, It is done."

Let us proceed, then, in profound reverence, to open this new volume of the great prophecy, and to follow, though with extreme brevity, this new train of revelations. The Apostle, refreshed after his half-hour's silence, is ready for the new invitation, "Come up here." The dull, commonplace scenery of his rocky home once more fades from view, and in a revived heavenly ecstacy, he waits his Savior's summons. Seven angels standing in the presence of God have had seven trumpets put into their hands. And here, too, we have preliminarily to note, that the parallelism and uniformity in the structure of the Apocalypse is still farther preserved. The reader will remember, that previous to the breaking of the seals, there was a sublime opening vision given to the Apostle—a "glorious appearing" of Christ as the Mediator of His Church, under the strangely blended symbolism of the Lion and the Lamb, worshiped by ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands. This formed a magnificent preparation—a grand prologue to the first section of the Book.

There is a similar preparatory vision or theophany before the sounding of the seven trumpets—a similar glorious revelation of the Lord Jesus as the Great King and Head of His Church, to whose Divine will and pleasure these trumpet-angels are all subordinate and subservient; just, as we found, were the avenging angels of the winds in the chapter preceding. As the former preliminary vision was that of the God-man Mediator, and specially of "the Lamb," as pointing to His atoning death and great propitiatory sacrifice, so now it is the same Divine Being, only symbolized as an Angel-priest engaged in the performance of His great intercessory work; standing (not now by the brazen altar of burnt-offering, at whose base we heard the "souls of the martyrs" uttering their cry), but by the golden Altar of incense in the Heavenly Temple. There He is represented as offering in "the golden censer filled with much incense, the prayers of all the saints"—the hundred and forty-four thousand mentioned in the sealing vision—the numerical symbol of completeness, and including, therefore, the entire multitude of the redeemed on earth.

(n. b. The Angel-Intercessor, receiving and offering the prayers of the whole symbolized Church, is clearly beyond the capacity or functions of any mere created angel. Moreover, the priestly symbol is no new figure, but only the reappearing of Christ under the emblem by which He is first presented to us in the opening of the Book. The same observations apply to the imagery regarding "the mighty angel," in the beginning of chapter 10. He is "clothed with a cloud," the invariable emblem of Deity. The "rainbow upon his head," "his face as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire," crying "with a loud voice, as when a lion roars"—all equally identify Him with the majestic Being in the opening chapter, at whose feet John fell as one dead; whose countenance was as the sun shining in its strength, whose feet were like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters.)

It was a prelude-vision of glorious comfort to His servant and to the whole Church. Whether in the case of those gigantic persecutions which were more specially symbolized by the subsequent trumpet-soundings, or in the trials and tribulations of individual believers, there was a voice within the veil sending its word of consolation to every desponding spirit, "Simon, Simon, Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith fail not."

The Old Testament incense-offerings are associated with two very different occasions in the services of the Jewish Temple. Solemn and imposing must have been the scene on the great day of Atonement, when the Jewish high priest, divested of his customary gorgeous robes, and dressed in a pure white vestment, stood before the great brazen altar. After the preliminary sin-offerings and burnt-offerings for himself and for the nation had been presented, burning coals were taken by him from the altar and deposited in a golden censer. Carrying with him a handful of sweet incense, he proceeded within the curtain into the Holy of Holies. As he stood in this majestic presence-chamber of Jehovah, he took a portion of it "beaten small," and cast it among the burning embers; the cloud enveloped the mercy-seat, the fumes filling the most Holy Place with grateful odors.

Similarly imposing must have been the scene which is more probably referred to here—the daily offering of the incense by the ministering priest, morning and evening. Standing by the same great brazen altar, and placing, by means of a silver shovel, some live coals in his censer—carrying at the same time a handful of frankincense, he advanced to the Golden altar in front of the veil which separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. The whole of the congregation, during these solemn moments, preserved a profound silence. They remained outside engaged in devout prayer; as we read in connection with the ministration of Zechariah, "he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary and burn incense in the Lord's presence. While the incense was being burned, a great crowd stood outside, praying." The priest on an appointed signal, after laying the censer on the golden altar, cast the incense on the fire, and the fragrant cloud ascended.

By combining these two interesting Temple memories, have we not, in this vision, strikingly brought before us the great Antitypical Priest, standing in the Heavenly Temple, receiving into His golden censer the prayers of His waiting people on earth? Perfuming them with the incense of His adorable merits, the grateful cloud ascends! The petitions of the Church throughout the whole world, individual and aggregate, rise with acceptance before God Almighty.

Let us pause for a moment by this consolatory vision. A vision of comfort it was intended to be for John and for the Church of his day; and it is designed to be so also for us. The Angel-Intercessor revealed in Patmos is "that same Jesus"—the same High Priest who stood in His lowly sacrificial attire beside the altar of burnt-offering on earth. The glowing embers of His own awful sacrifice He has carried within the veil—within the curtained splendor of the true Holy of Holies, and there, He ever lives to make intercession! What an encouragement to prayer! Mark, they are the "prayers of all the saints" which are received into the censer, and incensed with the odor-breathing spices. The prayers not only of those 'strong in faith giving glory to God,' but the prayers also of the lowliest, the humblest, the weakest—the tremulous aspirations of the penitent, the lisping stammerings of infancy; the prayer of the palace amid tiled ceilings and gilded walls; the prayer of the cottage, where the earthen floor is knelt upon, and where the only, although, after all, the noblest altar is that of the lowly heart, and the purest sacrifice that of the broken spirit; the prayer ascending from the time-honoured sanctuary and 'the great congregation;' the prayer rising in the midst of the silent desert, or from the voyager on the lonely sea.

Poor and utterly unworthy as these petitions may be in themselves, they are perfumed by the fragrant merits of the Covenant-Intercessor! They are made acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. His pleading voice is never heard in vain. No variety, or amount of prayer, can bewilder Him. He can receive all, and attend to all, and answer all. The glowing coals in His censer are feeble emblems of the burning love which glows in His heart. Penitence can still go, as of old, to His feet, to pour out in silent tears the tale of sadness. Sorrow can still rush, as of old, with throbbing emotion, and cry out, in His own words as the Prince of Sufferers, "If it be possible let this cup pass." The hand of faith can still touch the hem of His garment, and the voice of faith still utter its cry, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy upon me!"

And as the "all saints" spoken of here, refer, in the first instance, to those who, in the time of John, lived amid trumpet-soundings and vials (times of judgment and persecution), so is this vision specially precious and comforting to all the children of affliction. It is in the season of trial and sorrow Jesus lends most lovingly His ear to hear His people's voice. It is 'songs in the night' He most delights to listen to. It is prayers, if we may so speak, saturated with tears, He loves best to put into His censer. It was the express Divine injunction regarding the daily incense-offering in the Temple-service of which we have spoken, that on the lighting of the lamps 'at evening time,' Aaron was to burn sweet incense on the Golden altar.

Afflicted believers! it is so still. 'At evening time,' when the bright world is shaded—when the flowers have closed their cups—when the song of bird has ceased, and the sun of your earthly bliss has gone down in the western sky—then it is that the lamp of Prayer is kindled in the soul's temple. Yes! just when other lamps that have lighted your pilgrimage pathway are quenched in darkness, prayer lights its lone lamp in the heart's deserted sanctuary. It was amid the darkness of the night, at the brook Jabbok, that Jacob wrestled of old with the angel and prevailed. It is in the soul's dark and lonely and solitary seasons still, that the Church's moral and spiritual wrestlers are crowned with victory, and as princes "have power with God!"