At length comes the seventh Seal. This is important, because it guards us effectually against the idea that the sixth Seal goes down to the end, as many excellent men have imagined of old and in our day. But it is clearly incorrect. The seventh Seal is necessarily after the sixth. If there is an order in the others, we need not doubt that the seventh Seal introduces seven Trumpets which follow each other in succession like the Seals. These are described from Rev. 8 and onward, and, far more evidently than the Seals, are inflictions from God. "And when he opened the seventh seal, silence took place in the heaven about half an hour." There was a brief pause of solemn expectancy, the lull that precedes the storm about to blow, only held down by the four angels, as we were told in Rev_7:1. "And I saw the seven angels that stand before God; and seven trumpets were given to them." Heaven takes note of God's ways. The silence was there, not on earth. Signal judgments impended for all creation. How strange to fancy that silence for about half an hour in heaven could prefigure the millennial rest! Yet the error naturally flows from the hypothesis entertained by not a few worthy men that the seventh Seal points to the millennial rest, and that the Trumpets go back and concurrently lead us to the same conclusion. Is it too much to say that the idea is wholly imaginative and without one solid reason for it?
Then we see the remarkable fact, even more than any already alluded to: an angel of peculiarly august character in priestly function. "And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and much incense was given to him, that he might give (efficacy) to the prayers of all the saints at the golden altar which [was] before the throne." Hence it follows that, while there are glorified saints above, saints are not wanting on earth who are objects of care to the great High Priest, however little their light or great their trial. We have the clear intimation that while the glorified are above, others will be in their natural bodies, yet accredited as saints here below. Yet it is not so much mercy and grace found of which we hear, but of judgments to fall on the wicked.
But it demands our special attention, that under the Trumpets the Lord Jesus assumes the angelic character. Angels are prominent at this juncture. We no longer hear of Him as the Lamb. As such He had opened the Seals; but here as the Trumpets were blown by angels, so the Angel of the covenant (who is the second person in the Trinity, commonly so called) falls back on that which was so familiar in the Old Testament presentation of Himself. Not of course that He divests Himself of His humanity: this could not be; and if any should imagine it, it would be contrary to all truth. The Son of God since the incarnation always abides the man Christ Jesus. From the time that He took manhood into union with His divine person, never will He divest Himself of it. But this evidently does not prevent His assuming whatever appearance is suited to the prophetic necessity of the case; and this is just what we find here under the Trumpets. It is observable that an increasingly figurative style of language is employed. All other objects become more distant in this series of visions than before; and so Christ Himself is seen more vaguely (i.e. not in His distinct human reality, but here angelically).
"And the smoke of the incense went up with the prayers of the saints out of the angel's hand before God. And the angel took the censer, and filled it out of the fire of the altar, and cast [it] unto the earth; and there took place voices, and thunders, and lightnings, and an earthquake." Further, in this new septenary we must prepare ourselves for even greater visitations of God's judgments. There were lightnings and voices and thunders in Rev. 4, but there is more now. Besides those we find an earthquake added. The effect among men becomes more intense. The angels are employed in providential judgments, as in providence generally. We can understand such a character of ministration, when the saints no longer witness to death as under the Seals, but are merged in the world save to God's eye: Rome's boast, but His horror.
"And the first sounded trumpet, and there was hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast unto the earth." This was a violent down-pouring of displeasure from God on the earth. Hail implies this. fire, we know, is the constant symbol of God's consuming judgment, and here even mingled with blood, i.e. destruction to life in the point of view intended. We have to consider whether it be simple physical decease, or dissolution in some special respect; and here it appears to be deprivation of life spiritual or Godward, rather than natural death.
It will be noticed in these divine visitations that the third part is regularly introduced. What is the prophetic meaning of "the third "? The answer seems given us in Rev. 12 (i.e. the distinctively Roman or western empire). For we know that the dragon's tail is to prevail over the leaders pre-eminently in the west, casting them down, as the figure runs, from the heaven to the earth. If this be so, "the third" would convey the varied consumption of the Roman empire in the west. Of course one cannot be expected in a brief sketch to enter on a discussion of the grounds for this view, any more than for other schemes which have been set up in its place. One able writer contends for the Greek or Eastern Empire, because the Macedonian was the third of the four great empires of Dan. 2, and Dan. 7. But "the third part" is quite another thought and phrase. It is enough now to state what one believes to be the fact.
Accordingly at least the earlier Trumpets (though not these only) are a specific visitation of judgment on the properly western empire. Not only was this visited, but "the third of the trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up." This is notable. The dignitaries within that sphere were consumed, but there was also a universal interference with the prosperity of men. Any "pause of judgment" at this point is pure fancy: the word of God utterly ignores it. Of such an episode the prophet neither says nor implies the least trace. The only revealed "pause" is in verse 13, portending the still more tremendous Trumpets of woe.
"And the second angel sounded trumpet, and as a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third of the sea became blood; and the third of the creatures which were in the sea, which had life, died; and the third of the ships was destroyed" It was in this case a great earthly power, which in divine judgment deals with the masses in a revolutionary state to their destruction. Thus not merely the world under stable government, but that which is or when it is in a state of agitation and disorder; and we find the same deadly effects here also putting an end, it would seem, to their trade and commerce.
"The third angel sounded trumpet, and there fell out of the heaven a great star, burning as it were a torch, and it fell upon the third of the rivers, and upon the fountains of the waters; and the name of the star is called Wormwood; and the third of the waters became wormwood; and many of the men died of the waters, because they were made bitter." Here the fall of a great dignitary or ruler, whose influence was judicially turned to poison all the springs and channels of popular influence, comes before us. The sources and means of refreshing intercourse among men are visited by God's embittering judgment.
"The fourth angel sounded trumpet, and the third of the sun was smitten, and the third of the moon and the third of the stars; so that the third of them should be darkened, and that the day should not appear for the third of it, and the night likewise." The fourth sounds its warning to all the governing powers - supreme, derivative, and subordinate - which must come under God's judgment, and all within the western empire. Learned men have sought to explain this judgment by an eclipse; and scientific men have argued for some such notion as agreeing with the phrase here employed. But this style of accommodation is quite untenable. The effect described by the prophet is far beyond any eclipse. It is symbolic presentation, and wholly beyond nature, to denote the extinction of all government within the western empire.
Even so worse is at hand, as next the eagle cries. "And I saw, and I heard an eagle flying in mid-heaven, saying with a great voice, Woe, woe, woe, to those that dwell on the earth, because of the remaining voices of the trumpet of the three angels that are about to sound." It is a vivid image of rapidly approaching judgments, "angel" having slipped in inadvertently for the better reading "eagle," through scribes who did not appreciate the symbolic style. The Woes are to fall expressly on those settled down on the earth. It is not now on the circumstances and surroundings of men, but directly on themselves. Here again notice how systematic is this book. The last three are distinguished thus from the first four.