This is the beginning of the wrath of God of which we have been saved from. We are not appointed to wrath but to obtain salvation. Whatever one happens to believe about the rapture, this does not belong to us but to those who refuse the truth of gospel. We shall see that these trumpet judgments unlike the seven seals that preceded them are coming directly from heaven onto this earth. The seven seals were characterized as coming from the wrath of man. We see in the first six verses the trumpet judgments are introduced. They come out of the seventh seal just as the seven bowl judgments come out of the seventh trumpet. God is progressing toward the return of Christ of which was just celebrated at the end of the last chapter. God through the trumpet judgments is preparing the way of the Lord and making every crooked way straight. He is also, as we shall see, hardens the hearts of this sinful world.
First, we see in the first verse the awe of silence. “And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.” The celebration has ended and now enters a moment of suspense. The celebration has given way to the commencement ceremony. The seventh seal is loosed and the book is now ready to be opened. Remember that Christ the Lamb is the one that was worthy to open this book and all that proceeds from it comes from the act of Christ and the before ordained decrees of God which He alone is able to know and communicate. So the book is now opened with the loosing of the last seal and the ceremony begins. There is a hush of silence in heaven. The silence was the direct result of the opening of the seventh seal. So what is the significance of the silence? With silence is expectation, that is a given. It is a silence in which recognizes the position and presence of God as He is in the temple, as seen in the next few verses, ready to judge the idolatrous earth. “Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise, it shall teach! Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in the midst of it. But the LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him” (Hab. 2:19, 20). This therefore is the alarm that the great day of wrath is now here and there is a silence of respect and awe at the God that judges the earth. “Be silent, O all flesh, before the LORD: for he is raised up out of his holy habitation” (Zech. 2:13). The silence is for a prolonged period. It is not for a moment but for thirty minutes there was not a sound made. Consider the reason for the silence. We have prayed for two thousand years for the kingdom to come. This silence is truly a majestic awe to the answer of prayer. The command of the Psalm was for us to be still and know that He is God and here all of heaven is still as God prepares to make Himself known. So there is excitement, amazement, expectation, reverence, and awe found in this silence.
Secondly, we see the service of angels. “And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets.” This verse needs no deep commentary. There are seven angels of God that stood before God and were given the job of being heralds for the judgments that are to come. The angels of God are ministers of judgment. From the sounding of those seven trumpets will come the seven sore judgments of God upon this earth.
Thirdly, we have the imprecation of prayer. “And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand. And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake.” There is another angel that comes here; presumably the same angel that instructed the four angels in the previous chapter (Rev. 7:2). His role appears to be directing worship as we have seen the role of the angels do in the fourth and fifth chapter. This angel has a mission. He approaches the altar in heaven. He came and stood there by that altar. The temple on earth was made after the pattern of things in heaven. The altar of incense was within the veil in the holy place. So we see the reality of the pattern in heaven here. The angel is here bringing the element of prayer in a graphic way to the proceeding. When he approached the altar he had a censer ready to load it with incense. It was to be no small amount of incense but much incense. So this angel was demonstrating the role of a priest offering up incense before the veil of the temple. So he is here bringing the incense before God upon the altar of incense. The incense could here mean to represent the intercession of Christ or the Holy Spirit in prayer that added power and efficacy to the prayer of the saints. Jamieson stated this: “The angel does not provide the incense; it is given to him by Christ, whose meritorious obedience and death are the incense, rendering the saints’ prayers well pleasing to God. It is not the saints who give the angel the incense; nor are their prayers identified with the incense; nor do they offer their prayers to him. Christ alone is the Mediator through whom, and to whom, prayer is to be offered…. Christ’s merits alone can thus incense our prayers….” Christ and His Spirit are our sweet smelling savor that makes our prayers acceptable before God. Henry added this: “The prayers of the saints themselves stand in need of the incense and intercession of Christ to make them acceptable and effectual, and there is provision made by Christ for that purpose; he has his incense, his censer, and his altar; he is all himself to his people.” It is said that he approached the golden alter (that is the place where incense was to be offered and was to offer the incense with the “prayers of all saints.” There are common prayers that all saints make or have made throughout history. We remember that the saint is anyone who has been sanctified or set apart by God for salvation. Do not try to use this test to teach some false doctrine that we should pray to the saints for our text does not contain any such declaration. The saints are praying or have prayed but are not prayed to. All who are saved have prayed and longed for the kingdom of God to come. They have prayed and longed for the final defeat of sin and suffering which they groaned under. They have prayed for the defeat of the enemy and the glorification of Christ. Those prayers were never dismissed by God but have been kept in store and here are brought again to the memory of God by the ceremonial act of this angel. When the angel offered it on the altar of incense the smoke of the incense carried the prayers of the saints before God. Jamieson rightly said that And then we have the answer to our prayers. Some of these answers have been delayed for thousands of years but here they are answered with fire. The angel “took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake.” Never doubt the power of prayer because the judgment of this earth will begin with our prayers. The angel took fire from the altar. This is not the altar of incense but the brazen altar where sin was judged by sacrifice daily. Jamieson et al stated that “the hot coals off the altar cast on the earth, symbolize God’s fiery judgments about to descend on the Church’s foes in answer to the saints’ incense-perfumed prayers which have just ascended before God, and those of the martyrs. How marvellous the power of the saints’ prayers!” The fire never went out of that altar and from that altar the angel took fire and filled the censer and cast it to the earth. And upon earth we see the power of answered prayer displayed in voices, and thundering, and lightening, and earthquake. The prayers of the saints shook the very earth. It is the high praises of the saints that will execute vengeance on this world. (Ps. 149). Matthew Henry stated this: “These prayers that were thus accepted in heaven produced great changes upon earth in return to them; the same angel that in his censer offered up the prayers of the saints in the same censer took of the fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth, and this presently caused strange commotions, voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake; these were the answers God gave to the prayers of the saints, and tokens of his anger against the world and that he would do great things to avenge himself and his people of their enemies; and now, all things being thus prepared, the angels discharge their duty.”
Lastly, we see the preparation of judgment. All of this led to the trumpets. “And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.” Now that the earth was made to shake by the prayer of the saints the angels made ready for the sounding of alarm which would bring the wrath of God to pass. Up until this moment the winds have been withheld by the angels as seen in the last chapter but they are now ready to be released. Johnson stated that “The trumpet is used to give a signal. Usually it implied the march or charge of armies. See Joel 2:1, 15; Jer. 4:5; Ezek. 33:1-6.” The trumpets are ready to blow the vessels are ready to be broken and the army of the Lord God of Gideon is ready to conquer.