(You might want to start by reading Revelation 8.1-5)
Reflecting on the text
With the breaking of the seventh seal we would expect the end.
Instead we get silence.
For thirty minutes, no one in heaven says a word. Not God. Not the angels. Not the elders. Not the living creatures. No one.
No songs. No speeches. No declarations. No pleas for vindication.Nothing.
Strange, isn’t it?
I’m tempted to leave the rest of the page blank, just to help you experience how weird it would be to get silence when what you expect is more explanation.
The hearers all expect more explanation, more noise, more celebration, maybe even the climactic end of the story. But instead they get silence.
There are two questions I want to ask about this silence.
First question: What does this silence reveal about how we should read the book of Revelation?
Second question: What does this silence reveal about what it means to be children of God?
I know, I know, the second one sounds more important (and it is), but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
What does this silence reveal about how to read the book of Revelation? When we ask this, we are asking a question about the structure of the book. I don’t know if you’ve read ahead, but there is a definite structure to these middle portions of Revelation.
John relates these “judgments” to us in the form of three sevens: seals (6-8.1), trumpets (8.2-11), and bowls (16). We can also see that the seals and trumpets are laid out similarly—both are split into two sections: four and three. We can also detect a pattern in the way John interrupts himself. He makes extensive use of dramatic pauses, as well as moving from one vision to another to keep his hearers on their toes.
So what does all this mean?
Some would say they are chronological. In this view the judgments of the trumpets follow those associated with the seals. (Something like this is typical of people who look to Revelation as an unfolding of current events.)
But this obviously does not work. If we were dealing with a literal chronology, 6.12-14 would signal not only the end of the book, but also the end of the entire world.
So what are we supposed to think? What are we supposed to do? The answer is that John is presenting his visions in cycles. On the one hand, he is repeating himself, but on the other hand, he adds new dimensions as he goes.
The best way to explain this is by thinking about the theater. Sometimes in movies we are taken through the same scene more than once, each time from a different angle. Perhaps we see the scene from a different person’s eyes, through whose fresh perspective the director alerts us to elements we would have failed to notice on first viewing. It’s like the scene in the Harry Potter movie when Hagrid’s animal friend is to be executed. We are taken through the scene once, and then, due to Hermanie’s brilliance and some time-bending, we are taken through the same scene a second time, only this time the events are filled out with new details that offer new insight into what is actually taking place. That is something very much like what John is doing with these visions of seals, trumpets, and bowls.
The technical word for this tactic in literature is recapitulation. John is telling a story from start to finish, and then recircling back to the start to tell it again. (If this doesn’t make sense, don’t worry; it will become clearer as we go.)
Living what we learn
Now to our second question: What does this silence reveal to us about what it means to be children of God?
The answer is fairly simple, but it has profound implications.
Reread Revelation 8.1-5. What happens during this silence? What does the angel bring before God?
That’s right, prayers.
Lots of prayers. Our prayers, in fact.
Think about that for a minute. God demands silence in heaven so he can hear what we are praying. Think also about the fact that our prayers are described as incense being raised to God and placed on an altar in his presence. Now stop thinking and pray!