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The half hour of silence in Rev. 8:1 was a 15-year time period from 395-410 A.D. It began with the legal end of pagan sacrifice, the confiscation of the pagan temples, and the division of the empire. It ended 15 years later when Rome was sacked by the troops of Alaric the Goth in 410.
It is also noteworthy that the full prophetic “hour” (30 years) of this time frame extended from 380-410. The Emperor Theodosius actually proclaimed Christianity as the state religion in 380, which was 15 years before he banned paganism itself.
Hence, we see three major events take place within the space of one prophetic “hour.” The first half hour concerned the governmental transition from paganism to Christianity (380-395), while the final half hour (395-410) silently prepared the city to be invaded by foreign troops for the first time in its history. This shocked the church, for Rome’s final conversion to Christianity had given them a sense of invulnerability, much like the Jews had thought of Jerusalem in earlier times. Pagan Rome fell from 380-395; Christian Rome fell from 410-476.
The six-day sack of Rome marked the start of a series of divine judgments upon the city until it fell permanently (to Odoacer) in 476. Hence, this time frame from 410-476 marks the time of the seven trumpets framed by the seventh seal. Pagans, of course, attributed the fall of Rome to the anger of the gods for closing down their temples. Augustine found it necessary to write his now-famous City of God to refute those pagan claims and to assure Christians that the true City of God was the heavenly Jerusalem, not an earthly city.
Revelation 8:2-4 reads,
2 And I saw the seven angels who stand before God; and seven trumpets were given to them. 3 And another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a golden censer; and much incense was given to him, that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. 4 And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand.
John then saw heavenly preparations being made for the start of judgment upon Christian Rome. He saw seven angels standing before God, each having a trumpet. Trumpets signify decrees from the throne being proclaimed to the people. While the seven angels stood in readiness, “another angel came and stood at the altar.” We now see that this scene took place in the heavenly temple, which, in ancient times, had been the model (blueprint, pattern) for the construction of the earthly temple (Heb. 8:5).
The Ark of God in the Most Holy Place was the throne of God, and the golden altar of incense represented the prayers of the saints. The golden altar stood at the door of the Most Holy Place, because it was, in essence, a doorkeeper. To gain access to the throne of God, one was required to offer incense—that is “the prayers of all the saints.” We see this in the instructions for the Day of Atonement in Lev. 16:12, 13,
12 And he shall take a firepan full of coals of fire from upon the altar before the Lord, and two handfuls of finely ground sweet incense, and bring it inside the veil. 13 And he shall put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of incense may cover the mercy seat that is on the ark of the testimony, lest he die.
The seven angels are probably the same ones that brought the messages to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3. Each was called “the angel of” a particular church, and so they minister in the temple in heaven in the same way that the priests on earth were supposed to minister. Hence, the angels are pictured as ministering in the heavenly temple.
Yet there was an eighth angel, who appeared to act on behalf of the seven. This angel depicts the earlier practice in the Jerusalem temple, where a priest was chosen by lot each morning to burn the incense while the others prepared the morning sacrifice. Recall the story of Zacharias, who was chosen by lot to offer the incense in Luke 1:8-11,
8 Now it came about, while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering. 11 And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense.
The angel told him that he and his wife would have a son, who would minister “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17). This angel then identified himself as “Gabriel, who stands in [or “attending”] the presence of God” (Luke 1:19). The presence of God was located in the Most Holy Place, and the altar of incense was positioned closest to God’s presence.
So it appears that Gabriel was the eighth angel associated with the golden altar in Rev. 8:3. Whenever a priest was chosen by lot to offer incense in the temple, he was fulfilling the earthly role of Gabriel, who attended the golden altar in the heavenly temple.
Revelation 8:5 says,
5 And the angel took the censer; and he 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.
Such an action was not part of the ritual of the priest on earth who was called to minister in the temple. This was an extraordinary act which depicted divine judgment. Yet it was not without precedent. When God brought judgment upon Jerusalem for its sin, that judgment was decreed first in the temple in heaven. Ezekiel 10:2 says,
2 And He spoke to the man clothed in linen and said, “Enter between the whirling wheels under the cherubim, and fill your hands with coals of fire from between the cherubim, and scatter them over the city.” And he entered in My sight.
This “man clothed in linen” was no doubt the same angel as John saw in Rev. 8:3, as both are seen doing the same thing, but over different cities. Ezekiel saw divine judgment upon Jerusalem; John saw divine judgment upon Rome. Both were judged for corruption and lawless rebellion and for refusing to conform to the heavenly standard that it claimed to be following.
Recall that this man clothed in linen was given the earlier task of marking the foreheads of the true believers in Jerusalem (Ezekiel 9:4). In the next chapter he was given the task of scattering coals of fire upon the city. This shows us that the Babylonian armies who destroyed the city and burned the temple to the ground were the human agents of divine destruction. They thought they were destroying the city of their own will, not realizing that they were blindly acting out the will of God.
Likewise, when Alaric the Goth took Rome, it is not likely that he was aware that he was doing on earth what Gabriel had decreed by casting fire to the earth in Rev. 8:5. What is, perhaps, of interest to us is that after the man in linen cast fire upon Jerusalem in Ezekiel 10:2, the glory of God began to depart from the temple just two verses later in Ezekiel 10:4. We may ask, then, if this too happened to the Christian city of Rome during the 15-year “silence.”
We should not lose sight of the fact that John the Baptist was God’s prophet who was called to announce the coming of the One who would baptize with fire (Matt. 3:11, 12). John also announced judgment that the “tree” of Jerusalem/Judah would soon be cut down (Luke 3:9).
After the angel scattered coals from the altar in Rev. 8:5, the result was thunder, lightning, and an earthquake. Thunder depicts the voice of God, though usually not intelligible to most people (2 Sam. 22:14; John 12:29). Lightning depicts God’s arrows (Psalm 77:17, 18), and since arrows also depict sons (Psalm 127:4, 5), God’s lightning can represent the sons of God. Earthquakes, of course, depict divine judgment, upheavals of all kinds, and the overthrow of political and/or religious institutions.
These judgments are then applied more specifically by the seven other angels who were standing ready to sound their trumpets. Each angel’s trumpet signaled a new judgment upon Rome and the Western Roman Empire in general. A summary of these trumpet judgments are as follows:
1. Alaric the Goth (410)
2. Genseric the Vandal (429-460)
3. Attila the Hun (446-453)
4. Odoacer the Teuton (476)
There is an interlude that separates the first four trumpets from the final three. The final three trumpets are also called “woes,” and they depict God’s call for Islam to judge the church.
5. The Saracens (612-762)
6. The Seljuk and Ottoman Turks (1063-1453)
7. The Seventh Trumpet is subdivided into Seven Bowls (Rev. 16)
We will study each of these as we proceed.