Commentary on Revelation 8:1-5

Notes (NET Translation)

1 Now when the Lamb opened the seventh seal there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.

Apparently even God and the heavenly worshipers are silent (cf. Rev 4:5, 8, 11; 5:9-14; 7:10, 12). The phrase “about half an hour” means a limited period. In Jewish literature silence was associated with coming divine activity or judgment (Ex 14:14; 1 Sam 2:9-10; 12:16; Pss 31:17; 115:17; Isa 47:5; Lam 2:10-11; Ezek 27:32; Amos 8:2-3; Hab 2:20; 3:3-6; Zech 2:13; Zeph 1:7-8, 11; 4 Ezra 6:39; 7:30; 2 Bar 3:7). Therefore, the silence in 8:1 should be taken as the anticipation of divine judgment. The judgment alluded to in the opening of the seventh seal follows the dissolution of the cosmos during the opening of the sixth seal (Rev 6:12-17). Verses 3-5, not the seven trumpets, are the content of the seventh seal and describe the judgment in symbolic language.

2 Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.

Verse 2 interrupts 8:1, 3-5 (the seven trumpets are picked up again in verse 6). The phrase “the seven angels who stand before God” suggests the seven archangels of Jewish tradition are in view (Tob 12:15; 1 En 20:1-8; 40; 54:6; 71:8-9; 81:5; 87:2; 90:21-22; Jub 1:27, 29; 2:1-2, 18; 15:27; 31:14; T Levi 3:5; Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer 4; Lk 1:19). The passive verb in the phrase “seven trumpets were given to them” indicates that the angels were given the trumpets by God. Judgment was sometimes accompanied by trumpet blasts (Ezek 33:1-5; Zeph 1:14-16; 4 Ezra 6:23; Apoc Abraham 31; Sib Or 4:173-174; Mt 24:31; 1 Cor 15:52; 1 Thess 4:16).

3 Another angel holding a golden censer came and was stationed at the altar. A large amount of incense was given to him to offer up, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar that is before the throne.

Verse 3 seems to continue from 8:1, meaning it is a continuation of the final punishment. A censer “was an open-topped pan made of bronze (in the tabernacle, Exod. 27:3) or gold (in Solomon’s temple, 1 Kings 7:50) used to carry live coals from the altar of burnt offering for making sacrifices (Lev. 16:12), and often incense would be placed on these coals in the censers and offered before the Lord (Num. 16:6-7)” (Osborne 344). The “altar” is the altar under which the persecuted saints were standing and petitioning God to punish their persecutors (Rev 6:9-10). However, this verse mentions the prayers of all the saints. “Most likely, the language emphasizes the imprecatory prayers within the general category of all the prayers of the saints” (Osborne 345). Verse 5 forms an answer to the prayers.

4 The smoke coming from the incense, along with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand.

The petition from 6:10 is now being formally presented to God by the angel. At the same time the incense/prayers were given to the angel by God (8:3). Thus, the angel is performing his divinely commissioned role. The phrase “ascended before God” indicates that the prayers were accepted by God (Ps 141:1-2).

5 Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it on the earth, and there were crashes of thunder, roaring, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.

In response to the prayer of the saints God has the angel execute judgment on the earth (cf. Ezek 10:2-7). The phrase “crashes of thunder, roaring, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake” mirrors the description of final judgment in 11:19 and 16:18 (cf. 4:5). In fact, the description of final judgment gradually grows through 8:5; 11:19; and 16:18. Hence, we should not take the description here as being exhaustive. The main point is that God is making his presence felt in order to act for his people (cf. Ex 19:16-25; Pss 68:8; 77:17-18; Isa 64:1-3; 1 En 1:3-9; 102:1-2; T Mos 10:1-7; 2 Bar 32:1).

Bibliography

Beale, G. K. The Book of Revelation. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998.

Boxall, Ian. Revelation of Saint John, The. Black’s New Testament Commentary. Baker Academic, 2009.

Fee, Gordon D. Revelation. Kindle ed. New Covenant Commentary Series. Cascade Books, 2010.

Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation. Revised. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.

Osborne, G. R. Revelation. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.

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