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The opening of the seventh Seal, and the commission
to the Angels with the seven Trumpets.
CHAP. viii. ver. 1--5.
1 And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.
2 And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets.
3 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.
4 And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand.
5 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.
The opening of each of the preceding seals had been followed immediately by some significant action, accompanied by explanatory voices. Nothing of this sort now occurs.
An awful silence suspends the gratification of curiosity. After this solemn pause, preparation is made for another exhibition. The seven angels stand forth, and receive seven trumpets.
This silence has been supposed to express, or allude to, that custom of holy worship among the Jews, in which they accompanied the offering of incense in the temple with their silent prayers. But this silence precedes the offering of incense, and occurs even before the officiating angel is stationed at the altar. And there is also an intervening action; the angels are presented with their trumpets.
Bishop Newton understands the silence to express a pause or interval between the foregoing and succeeding visions, to prepare the mind forsignal events; and
may we not add, to prepare us for a change in the mode of exhibition and series of the events, which will be found to be no longer the same? The seventh seal has nothing appropriately its own, but introduces the seven trumpets, which will be seen to prefigure seven periods of ecclesiastical history, and it makes way for them by a preparatory scene, which seems intended to lead to a right conception of their tendency.
Some commentators, following the Jewish writers, have supposed and enumerated seven principal angels here employed, but there is no sufficient authority for this. (See Tobit xii. 15, with Jortin's remarks; Eccl. Hist. i. 113; Gray's Key to the Old Testament, art. Tobit; Mosheim's Eccl. Hist. i. 176.) On the number of angels now employed, we may remark, that their being changed from four to seven, seems to portend a new scene of visions, and not a continuation of those under the six seals.'
Ver. 3, 4. And another angel came and stood at the altar, &c.] Upon this golden altar, called also the altar of incense, standing before the seat of the divine glory in the temple under the law, no strange priest was allowed to officiate; but the legally appointed incense offered thereon by the legal priests, was accepted as an atonement for the people, who accompanied the offering with their prayers, (Num. xvi; Luke i. 9, 10, 21.) This angel therefore may seem to represent a lawful priest, and the incense added to the prayers a mode of worship whereby to approach God, (see note, ch. v. 8,) most probably the Christian, for it is given from heaven, to accoinpany the prayers of the saints, who are indubitably Christians, and “ ascending before God,” must be supposed acceptable to him. (Compare Acts x. 4, EVWTLOV TOV Osov.) On this account, the angel las, by some commentators, been supposed to represent the Lord Jesus, the great Christian highpriest. But in opposition to this notion it must be observed, that the angel does not appear with any of our Lord's attributes. He is described simply as “ another angel.” And as the lot to burn incense, under the law, was not appropriated to the highpriest, but committed without distinction to the priests of the twenty-four courses; so we may see reason to imagine that this angel may represent the Christian priesthood in general, as exercised in legal subordination to the Lord Jesus, the great high priest.
1 Some writers, and among them Vitringa, have supposed the silence in Heaven to express a continuance of that happy state of the Christian Church on earth, which they have understood to be represented at the close of the sixth seal and seventh chapter. But this silence is in heaven, which, throughout the scenery and visions of the trumpets, now succeeding, is kept wholly distinct from the earth, as will be seen in the sequel.
This religion is of heavenly origin; and the smoke of its incense, that is, its worship, ascends from the bands of its appointed priests, acceptable to God.
Ver. 5. 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.] Much learned discussion has been employed to determine the import of the word dißavwroc, and also to show from which altar, and how, and when, the fire was obtained by the angel. But all that is needful to be known respecting this action, seems sufficiently apparent; namely, that the angel, having finished the offering of incense,“ upon the golden altar before the throne,” takes the censer, vial, or patera, whichever it may be, in which the incense had been placed, and fills it ek tou Trupoc, from, or with, the fire of the altar, and then casts the contents to the earth. The scene of this action is in Heaven, before the heavenly throne, as described in chapter the fourth. The earth from which St. John had been called up by an heavenly voice in the first verse of that chapter, was in sight below; (as will further appear in the following visions ;) and the contents of the censer (whether with it or without it seems not material) are cast down to the earth. But what were these contents ? Answ. Either the incense burning with the fire, if any of the “ much incense” remained unconsumed ; or the burning coals only. But the incense thus burning means (as before was observed) the Christian worship and religion, pure and heavenly in its origin and nature, but sent down to earth, and mixing with the passions and worldly projects of sinful men, produces signal commotions, expressed in prophetical language by“ voices, thunderings, lightnings, earthquake. Or if it be, as perhaps it may, that the fire alone is cast to the earth, (the incense being exhausted,) the interpretation will be nearly the same; for our Lord has declared, in the same kind of figurative language, that in sending forth his holy religion to the earth, he had cast fire thereon ; πυρ ηλθον βαλειν εις την γην, Luke xii. 49. It is the very same expression ; and this fire he afterwards explains to signify divisions and contention. (See Grotius and Whitby in loc.) Thus, in the representation before us, the Christian religion begins in peace and pure incense, (Mal. i. 11,) rendered effectual by the Saviour's atonement, and, accompanying the devout prayers of the Church, is offered purely for a time; till mingling with human corruptions, it becomes the instrument of discord and violence. This is only a general and preluding view of the subject. The heresies, divisions, and commotions, which, under the name of Christianity, miserably afflicted the Christian world, and almost banished from it true religion, are to be more especially depicted in the sequel of this seal.
The significant action now exhibited, prepares us for the kind of history which is to follow ; which we may reasonably expect to be that of the Christian religion thus producing commotions upon the earth.
Some annotators have considered the fire thus cast to the earth to signify the vengeance of the Almighty on the Roman empire; and they have attempted to support this exposition by a passage in the tenth chapter of Ezekiel, ver. 2, where the angel is divinely commanded to go in, and take coals of fire from between the cherubim, and scatter them over Jerusalem. But in comparing these two passages, we find an essential difference in the operations described. The scenery in both visions is heavenly: there is in both a throne, and the presence of the Almighty surrounded by his cherubim. But in Ezekiel, where the scene is moveable, and not stationary, as in the Apocalypse, there is no altar before the throne, and the angel is there commanded to go in between the cherubim, that is, to the very throne itself, thence to take the coals which he is to scatter over the city. Here, in the Apocalypse,