“When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence throughout heaven for about half an hour” (Rev. 8:1).
How extraordinary. Millions of angels, twenty-four elders, four living beings, and “a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb” joined together in complete silence (Rev. 5:11; 7:9).
What was it about Jesus breaking the seventh seal that caused this astonishing reaction? At the breaking of this seal “the seven angels who stand before God were given seven trumpets” (Rev. 8:2). And with these trumpets the second phase of the long-promised judgment of sin commences.
Is it any wonder that Heaven grew still and silent? What was about to unfold was worthy of total silence.
The land, plant life, and water take the initial blows of this judgment of sin. As the first trumpet sounds, one-third of the earth is set on fire, causing one-third of the trees to burn and all of the grass. As the second trumpet sounds, one-third of the water in the oceans turns to blood, destroying one-third of the ships on the sea and causing one-third of all sea life to die. The third trumpet sounds, and one-third of the water in all of the rivers and springs becomes so bitter that drinking it leads to death. The fourth trumpet sounds, and one-third of the sun, moon, and stars turn dark, causing the light of day and night to diminish significantly. God’s gifts making up the natural world, one dependent upon the other, become drastically altered. The stability, which people have counted on since creation, is gone—wreaking havoc on food, water, and climate.
Human devastation commingles with this ecological disaster. The fifth trumpet sounds, and people are tortured so severely by evil forces that they long to die. And with the sounding of the sixth trumpet, plagues are released, killing one-third of all remaining people. The results of God loosening His restraint on evil in this world are too terrible to fully grasp.
As the image brought about by the sixth trumpet fades away, complete and total silence seems an appropriate response. There comes a time when depth of emotion allows for nothing else. Whether or not we believe that every word of Revelation regarding God’s judgment of sin is to be taken literally, there are enough other Scriptures, including Jesus’ own words, which tell of a time of final judgment of sin and the eternal consequences of not choosing to repent. As we contemplate the words of judgment in Revelation, we, too, may feel emotion so great that it leaves us silent.
We may feel horrified by the destruction and suffering. Our hearts may shrink back from so much pain and sorrow. We may long for it to be avoided, for those being judged to have another chance. These longings would seem to match God’s. Before the seventh, and last, trumpet is blown, there is a time lapse that gives those who have survived this period of judgment and punishment an opportunity to turn to God and away from what is causing their destruction. Will they?
In this case, the answer is “no.” “The people who did not die in these plagues still refused to turn from their evil deeds. And they did not repent…” (Rev. 9:20-21). Those few words sum up the greatest tragedy ever to face humanity. And yet their refusal should not destroy the hope that those who come before these people will answer “yes” to God’s offer of salvation.
It may seem strange to talk about a sense of hope after devastation of this kind, but we discover even in these scenes of judgment that God will show mercy to those who turn to Him. Just as there are many passages of Scripture telling of God’s judgment of sin, there are many passages telling of His mercy to any who call out to Him. The horrors of God’s promised judgment of sin and the beauty of His promised mercy should move us to share our reason for hope with those who need to hear it.
There is even reason to feel gratitude as we contemplate these scenes of judgment, for we know that with the final judgment of sin comes the destruction of its power. Until that time, we live in a world reeling from the effects of sin that are not yet judged and punished. But we also live with God’s promise that the Holy Spirit will be with us, giving us the strength and comfort we need to cope. We need not fear what life has for us today or in the future, not even a future as described in these passages, for “Salvation comes from our God on the throne and from the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:10).
As children of God, we have reason to rejoice that when sin’s destruction is brought to a close by God, there will be a new earth, and we will be a new people, where “He who sits on the throne will live among them and shelter them…. For the Lamb who stands in front of the throne will be their Shepherd. He will lead them to the springs of life-giving water. And God will wipe away all their tears” (Rev. 7:15,17).
The days leading up to that day will indeed be difficult ones, marked by many tears. But there is a new day coming, and what a day it will be!
© 2010 Arlina Yates