The workings of G-d are not bound by time, to the contrary, time is bound by the workings of G-d.
8:1 When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there came silence in the heavens for about half an hour.
This chapter begins, “When” rather than, “After this” which indicates an indefinite chronological location for the events that follow.
We should go no further without reaffirming the fact that it is the Lamb of G-d (Yeshua), Who opens the seal. What results is born of His resurrected worthiness and His will, joined to the will of His Father.
The opening of the seventh seal completes the number and releases the inner contents of the scroll of G-d’s decrees. In doing so it also releases seven shofar blasts from seven angels, which will in turn release seven bowls to be poured out over the earth.
The silence denotes the awe of G-d and is pregnant with the coming shofrot (Rams horn blasts). It’s a silence that precedes the approaching wrath of G-d against His enemies and the enemies of His people (Jew and Gentile). Zechariah 2 explains that G-d has sent His messenger to bring punishment to the nations who have persecuted Israel (ethnic), it goes on to say that He will gather people to Himself from every nation and restore Jerusalem and Zion (ethnic Israel). These words of promise are followed by a silence as the reader considers the metaphor of The King HaShem rising from His throne to perform His wonders.
“Be silent, all flesh, before HaShem; for He has risen out of his holy habitation.” –Zechariah 2:13
To read this silence in context, we must remember that we are witnessing the heavenly Temple/Miskhan (Tent of meeting). We are about to read of the offering of incense by a select angelic messenger who acts in the role of a priest. The process of offering incense in the Temple was carried out in relative silence each day before the holy of holies on the altar of incense, which stood outside the curtain. This was done prior to the first sacrifice of the day and after the last sacrifice. While the incense was being offered worshippers would stand in the outer courts davening prayers. This is referred to in the following portion of Luke’s gospel.
“According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to enter into the temple of HaShem and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying in the outer courts at the hour of incense.” –Luke 1:9-10
We note that in the present text the silence takes place in the heavens. This was reflected in the service of the earthly temple (a shadow of the temple in the heavens) during the hour of incense. While the inner temple was silent, those in the outer courts prayed. I believe we are seeing the same pattern here. This silence in the heavens denotes the silence that anticipates the burning of incense, while on earth in the outer courts those who follow HaShem through Yeshua are davening prayers and looking to G-d to bring vengeance against the wicked and the final redemption of the righteous.
Silence is an uncommon event in the heavens, where continual worship of HaShem is the norm (Nehemiah 9:6; Revelation 7:11). This adds to the awe and anticipation felt in the midst of the half hour of silence spoken of here.
The, “half hour” mentioned is symbolic of a short period of time as perceived from an earthly perspective, given that the workings of G-d are not bound by time, to the contrary, time is bound by the workings of G-d.
2 And I saw the seven messengers who stand before G-d,
The seven messengers that stand before G-d are well documented in Jewish tradition. These messengers are not the sevenfold spirit (Holy Spirit) of G-d, rather they are servants of both G-d and the Lamb (Yeshua).
The concept of the “Angels of the Presence” as alluded to in Jewish tradition, is seeded by the text of Isaiah 63.
“In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them: in His love and in His pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old.” –Yishiyahu/Isaiah 63:9
This same idea is affirmed by the text of Luke 1.
“And the messenger answering said unto him, I am Gabriel (Mighty one of G-d), I stand in the presence of G-d; and I was sent to speak unto thee, and to bring thee these good tidings.” –Luke 1:19
Ezekiel 9 illuminates this idea further promoting the sevenfold angelic concept:
“And behold, six men (messengers) came from the way of the upper gate, which lie toward the north, every man with his slaughter weapon in his hand; and one man (messenger) in the midst of them clothed in linen, with a writer's inkhorn by his side. And they went in, and stood beside the brazen altar.” –Ezekiel 9:2
The book of Tobit (Apocrypha) records the angel Rafa’el identifying himself as “one of the seven holy angels”:
“I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who stand ready and enter before the glory of HaShem.” –Tobit 12:15
The names of the seven Angels of the Presence, according to Jewish tradition are: Uri’el (My light is G-d), Rafa’el (Healing from G-d), Re’uel (Friend of G-d), Mikha’el (Who is like G-d?), Saka’el (Commanded by G-d), Gavri’el (Mighty one of G-d), Remi’el (Thunder of G-d).
In both the Talmud and the Siddur (Prayer book) the first four angels of this list are designated by the special title, “Ministering Angels” (Malakhay ha-sharet); they’re sung about in the kabalat Shabbat prayer melody “Shalom Aleichim” (Peace Himself is with you). This is of interest because the first four angels of this chapter of Revelation bring the, “No-woe” blasts of the Rams horns, being that these blasts bring harm to the earth but only secondary harm to those who oppose G-d, whereas the latter three blasts “the blasts of woe,” bring harm directly against those on earth who oppose G-d.
And seven shofrot (Rams horns/Lamb’s horns) were given to them.
The messengers/angels are given Rams horns (Shofrot), not trumpets. The Tanakh (OT) tells us that the Great Judgement of HaShem will be heralded by blasts on the shofar (Rams horn):
“Then HaShem will appear over them,
and his arrow go forth like lightning;
HaShem Elohim will sound the shofar (Rams horn)
and march forth in the whirlwinds of the south.” –Zechariah 9:14
“And on that day a great shofar (Rams horn) will be blown, and those who were lost in the land of Assyria and those who were driven out to the land of Egypt will come and worship HaShem on the holy mountain at Jerusalem.” –Yishiyahu/Isaiah 27:13
“Blow the shofar (Rams horn) in Zion;
sound the alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
for the day of HaShem is coming, it is near” –Yoel/Joel 2:1
These seven rams horns are given to the messengers as representations of the voice of the Lamb of G-d, Who was previously revealed as having seven horns and seven eyes (Revelation 5:6). Before the Ram’s horn is sounded a blessing is said:
“All blessing comes from you O L-rd our G-d Sovereign of the Universe, Who has commended us to listen to the voice of the ram’s horn.” –Traditional Jewish Blessing over the shofar (Rams horn)
The rams horns represent the strength and voice of the Messiah Yeshua (Lamb of G-d) Who commands His servants (The Seven Angels of the Presence) to sound judgement against the people of the earth (enemies of G-d).
3 Another messenger came and stood at the altar (Exodus 30:1), holding a golden censer (Exodus 27:3; 1 Kings 7:50); and much incense was given to him, so that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar which was before the throne. 4 And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before G-d out of the messenger’s hand.
As with the seven Angels of the Presence, there is no conclusive solution to the identity of this messenger. It’s significant that the term messenger is used here, this is not one of the elders (Rev 5:8) because if it were Yochanan would have used the term elder. The role of this messenger is not to make propitiation for the saints but to offer up the prayers of the saints in combination with the coals of the altar. These prayers combine the prayers of those at the foot of the altar (Not the incense altar: in Sheol/Bosom of Abraham), the martyrs of Revelation 6:10, with the prayers of the righteous who remain on earth. Based on what follows, it seems that these prayers are prayers that are made out of suffering and persecution and call upon G-d’s vengeance.
The altar spoken of here is not the sacrificial altar. The messenger is offering incense, which is only offered on the incense altar (Exodus 30:1) that stood before the curtain which veiled the Holy of Holies. This curtain was torn at the point of Messiah’s death. It was torn from top to bottom as the action of a grieving Father tearing His garment. This has meant the unveiling (Revelation) of the Holy of Holies and means that this altar is now seen immediately before the throne of HaShem in the heavenlies.
It is interesting to note that a small portion of the coals from the sacrificial altar, which was outside the Holy Place, were carried by “One who is worthy” (A priest) to the altar of incense, thus mingling the coals of the sacrificial altar with the incense being offered on the incense altar. (Mishnah. Tamid. c. 5. sect. 5)
We see in this a picture of the sacrificial death of the Messiah represented in the coals of the sacrificial altar, being the ignition point for the suffering prayers of the saints (set apart ones) represented by the insence.
5 Then the messenger took the censer and filled it with the fire of the altar, and threw it to the earth; and there followed peals of thunder and sounds and flashes of lightning and an earthquake. 6 And the seven messengers who had the seven shofrot (Rams horns) prepared themselves to sound them.
“HaShem said to the man clothed in linen, ‘Go in among the wheels beneath the cherubim. Fill your hands with burning coals from among the cherubim and scatter them over the city.’” –Ezekiel 10:2
The coals of the sacrifice of Messiah ignite the prayers of the saints and as a result G-d sends the answer to their prayers as coals of wrath upon the earth (enemies of G-d). These coals represent the punishments recorded in the Torah. This is why the language reflects that of the giving of the Torah at Sinai.
“On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud (fire) over the mountain, and a very loud shofar (Rams horn) blast. Everyone in the camp trembled.” –Exodus 19:16
7 The first sounded, and there came hail and fire, mixed with blood, and they were thrown to the earth; and a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.
The first four shofar blasts produce plagues that resemble those of Israel’s escape from Egypt. The plagues affect nature directly but humanity indirectly. This can be understood to give yet another opportunity for repentance. Also, given the similarity to the plagues of Egypt, we can understand this to be a sign of G-d’s coming deliverance of His people, who remain on earth, deliverance from the temporal world which is infected by sin.
Jewish tradition teaches that the plagues of Egypt will be repeated in the last days:
“’Behold, tomorrow about this time I will cause it to rain a very grievous hail such as has not been in Egypt from the day it was formed until now’ (Exodus 9:18)… However, there will be one like it in the time to come. When? In the days of Gog and Magog, as it is written… ‘A torrential rain and great hailstones, fire and sulphur’ (Ezekiel 38:2, 22).” –Midrash Exodus Rabbah 12:2
This first plague, issued by the voice of the rams horn, reflects the seventh (fulfilment) plague against Egypt (Exodus 9:13-25; Ezekiel 38:22).
“He turned their waters into blood,
causing their fish to die… He turned their rain into hail,
with lightning throughout their land;” –Tehilim/Psalm 105:29, 32
The phrase, “a third of” indicates that this is only the beginning of G-d’s judgement upon the earth, there are yet two thirds of the earth that will be affected as the judgements come to completion.
8 The second messenger sounded, and something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea; and a third of the sea became blood, 9 and a third of the creatures which were in the sea and had life, died; and a third of the ships were destroyed.
The second shofar brings a plague that replicates the first (beginning/head) plague against Egypt (Exodus 7:20-21).
This is a picture of volcanic pollution and the resulting destruction.
It’s important to note that the plagues against Egypt were punishments for idolatry. The ancient Egyptians worshipped the Nile River, so G-d turned it to blood, they worshipped the weather and their crops were decimated by hail, they worshipped frogs and found them infesting their every living space, and so the list goes on.
10 The third messenger sounded, and a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of waters. 11 The name of the star is called Wormwood (Bitterness); and a third of the waters became wormwood (bitterness), and many men died from the waters, because they were made bitter.
The falling star is symbolic of the worship of cosmic entities, like the ancient Egyptians, those who resist G-d in the last days will suffer greatly as a result of the destruction of the very objects of their worship.
These events originate in the middle heaven, which is the space between the edge of the earth’s atmosphere and the furthest edges of the universe (Rev 8:13).
Wormwood is from a family of bitter plants, hence, “Bitterness”.
Like the plagues of Egypt, wormwood/bitterness is a judgement against idolatry:
“’Instead, they have followed the stubbornness of their hearts; they have followed the Ba’als, as their ancestors taught them.’ Therefore this is what HaShem Shaddai, the G-d of Israel, says: ‘See, I will make this people eat bitter food and drink poisoned water.’” –Jeremiah 9:14-15
“’And among the prophets of Jerusalem
I have seen something horrible:
They commit adultery and live a lie.
They strengthen the hands of evildoers,
so that not one of them turns from their wickedness.
They are all like Sodom to me;
the people of Jerusalem are like Gomorrah.’
Therefore this is what HaShem Shaddai, says concerning the prophets:
‘I will make them eat bitter food
and drink poisoned water,’” –Jeremiah 23:14-15
12 The fourth messenger sounded, and a third of the sun and a third of the moon and a third of the stars were struck, so that a third of them would be darkened and the day would not shine for a third of it, and the night in the same way.
The fourth shofar brings about a plague which partially reflects the ninth (penultimate) plague of Egypt. It is also familiar as an allusion to the darkness of the day of the L-rd.
in the valley of decision!
For the day of HaShem is near
in the valley of decision.
The sun and moon will be darkened,
and the stars no longer shine.” –Yoel/Joel 3:14-15
The use of the phrase, “a third” again conveys the beginning of a greater judgement yet to be fulfilled.
13 Then I looked, and I heard a messenger in the form of an eagle flying in mid-heaven, saying with a loud voice, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the shofrot (Rams horns) of the three angels who are about to sound!”
I’ve chosen to combine the Greek and Syriac/Aramaic texts to render the translation, “a messenger in the form of an eagle”. In other words I agree that the messenger is both an angel and an eagle. We should remember that we’re reading a vision that unveils the greater depths of G-d’s decrees for the universe. There is no need to respond to false choices regarding textual preferences. The texts available to us complement one another, they’re not intended as tools for contradiction. Those who demand that one text have greater authority over another (Many of whom presume to represent the Messianic Hebrew view), foolishly miss the point entirely. G-d is echad (one) and has made those texts that are reliable and authentic in each of the ancient languages, to complement one another within the parameters set by the Holy Spirit’s direction.
The eagle is in, “mid heaven” which can be interpreted to mean either the apex of the skyline or in the space between the outer atmosphere and the edge of the Universe.
The eagle was a symbol of Rome’s dominance at the time of Yochanan’s recording of the Revelation. It is therefore ironic that it will be G-d’s angelic eagle that brings the warning of woe against the empires of humanity.
The first mention of eagles in the Scripture is at Exodus 19:4 where G-d says, “I carried you on eagles’ wings”. Scripture describes the eagle as being swift (2 Sam. 1:23), swooping on prey (Job 9:26) and building nests on high (Job 39:27). The eagle is also seen as a symbol of G-d’s judgement against idolatrous nations (Jeremiah 49:16, 22). An eagle’s head is one of the faces of the cherubim who guard the Ark (Ezekiel 1:10; 10:14). This face is a symbol of all seeing judgement, strength, and swift vengeance against G-d’s enemies.
“Put the shofar to your lips! An eagle is over the house of HaShem because the people have broken my covenant and rebelled against my law.” –Hosea 8:1
The angelic eagle therefore, is a sign of judgement and vengeance against the enemies of G-d and their idolatry, and at the same time, is a sign of hope, strength and deliverance for the people of G-d.
The three woes indicate the three shofar blasts yet to come. The last three shofar blasts (9:1-12; 9:13-11:14; 11:15-18:24) will be the catalysts for judgements that affect humanity (the enemies of G-d) directly, While the sealed people of G-d are spared (9:4; 7:1-8). These plagues are intended to provide an opportunity for repentance (9:20-21).
© Alastair Brown 2015