Silence in Heaven

Silence in Heaven September 15, 2014

When the Lamb opens the seven seal, there is silence in heaven for a half hour. There are several questions to ask about this silence. The first is, What is being silenced? Everything?

It could be taken as total silence that lasts only from the time that the seventh seal is broken until the time that the first trumpet blows. It lasts only between verses 1 and 7 of chapter 8.

But if we back up and ask what kind of noise is being made when the seventh seal is opened, we have a different possibility. From the time the Lamb appears and takes the scroll, the angels and elders are sing. After the 144,000 are sealed, the saints with white roles join the angels and begin to take the lead in the heavenly worship. That singing has taken place throughout the opening of the six seals.

When the Lamb opens the seventh seal, that all comes to an end. The singing of the living creatures and elders, their harps or lyres, the singing of the multitude: It all ends. Suddenly there is silence in heaven. 

If that is what the silence involves, then the period of silence does not end with the blowing of the trumpets but when the singing starts up again, which it does at the end of the seven trumpet series (15:1-4). The silence in heaven is not the silence until the trumpets, or a silence that excludes the trumpets, but silence that makes room for the trumpets.

This fits with reading the entire book of Revelation as a worship service. After we have confessed, we are absolved and ascend in song to the presence of God. When we get to the throne, where the Word of God will be read, we fall silent and let the trumpet-voiced reader of the Scriptures speak God’s trumpet word to us.

Silence isn’t passive. It’s expectant, eager. Silence is the prerequisite to hearing, and hearing is central to the biblical understanding of the Christian life. Silence is an act of faith. Silence means we are ready to hear the Lord speak. Silence means that we recognize that our words are not determinative. Silence means we wait for God to speak and act.When we fall silent in the presence of the Lord, it is like bowing to the earth: We lay ourselves in the dust, prostrate ourselves before the Lord, so He can raise us up. We go as low as we can in hope of resurrection. Silence is the audible equivalent of a prostration.

The silence is about half hour. The background includes the teaching of the gospel of John, where “the hour” and Jesus’ statements about “My hour” play key roles. Jesus escapes from those who hate Him because His hour has not yet come (7:30; 8:20), but eventually the hour does come (12:23), and it is the hour for the Son of Man to glorify the Father (17:1). This hour of glorification is clearly also an hour of suffering from which Jesus hopes to be rescued (12:27). It is also the hour when He will depart from His disciples to return to His Father (13:1), but beyond that Jesus speaks of an hour of persecution when the disciples will be cast out of the synagogue and suffer the birthpangs of the new age (16:2, 4, 21, 32). The hour is the hour of Jesus’ sufferings and His glory, and in John the disciples also have an hour that replicates the hour of Jesus in some fashion. They also will suffer an hour to bring glory to the Father, to return to the Father, and to share in the hour of Jesus.

This hour of suffering for the disciples is the focus in Revelation. Twice in the letters to the churches, Jesus speaks of an “hour” that is coming upon the church (3:3), or the entire oikoumene (3:10). Before the harvest is gathered up, an angel calls out to announce the “hour” of God’s judgment (14:7), and the hour is the hour of the harvest (14:15). This harvest is the harvest of grain and grapes, which means the harvest of bread and wine, the harvest of the people of God, who will be gathered with the other saints who are already singing before the throne. Their hour of harvest is an hour of witness and martyrdom, like the hour of Jesus. This might be the same hour as the hour in which the beast and kings reign (17:12), but all this leads finally to the hour of judgment against Babylon (18:10, 17, 19), which is the hour of crisis on the whole oikoumene.

So, the hour is a brief time of suffering and judgment that, for those who are in Christ, leads to glory. But in 8:1, the time lapse for the silence is not an hour but a half hour. It is the first portion of the hour that the rest of the book describes. The half-hour of the trumpets is completed when the bowls are poured out. Together, trumpets and bowls form a complete hour, the hour of that shakes the earth and brings down Babylon in particular.

The half-hour should be linked also to the various half-times found elsewhere in Revelation. The three witnesses are put to death for “three and a half days,” a half-week (11:9, 11). That is the same length of time as the “time, times, and half a time” in 12:14 (cf. Daniel 7:25; 12:7). Two different measures are given for a 3 1/2-year period, twice in lunar terms (42 months, 11:2; 13:5) and one in solar terms (1260 days, 11:3). All those are symbols of a broken week, either a broken week of days or a broken week of years. To say that the witnesses remain dead 3 1/2 days is to say they are raised mid-week, as Jesus way, before the end of history or before the end of whatever time-period is being symbolized by the week. That the beast has authority to act for 42 months means that his power is cut off mid-week. He can’t keep power for the full week of years.

Split time periods suggest that there is a rescue or transition in the middle of the period. A half-hour is an hour that has been split in two by some decisive event at the center. If there is silence in heaven for a half hour rather than a full hour, then something happens to break the silence before the hour passes. 

With John’s gospel in the background, we can say this: The trumpets begin to blow, which brings in the hour of testing, the hour of trial for the disciples of Jesus; after the seventh trumpet, there is a long sequence of visions that climaxes with the successful persecution of the church; but that persecution of the church is also the hour of harvest, or, better, the half-hour of harvest, and the saints are rescued to stand on the sea of glass and fire, and to break out in song (Revelation 15). 

That is the end of the half-hour silence, but there is still more to come before this “hour” is finished. During the second half-hour, the blood of the martyrs is poured out, which eventually causes the city to split and the nations to fall (16:17-21). But during the second half-hour, the saints are safe in heaven, praising God, saved by the very persecution that seemed to wipe out the church. The “hour” is broken in the middle, so that the martyrs don’t suffer the full weight of the “hour” of judgment. 

This is, finally, linked to the Hebrew idiom describing midnight, which is “half-night” (chatzi halayelah, Exodus 12:29). Half-night is the moment of transition in Egypt, the time when Israel escapes from the angel of death and leaves Egypt. The judgment continues on Egypt, as the firstborn are killed, but Israel is saved, by the blood of the Lamb and then by their own exit from Egypt. Just so: the martyrs are saved by the blood of the Lamb, and by their exit (in their deaths) from the city that has become Sodom and Egypt.

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