Recap of the Sixth Seal
It took two chapters to describe all that John saw and experienced at the breaking of the sixth seal.
The moment the seal was broken, the earth quaked, the sun turned black and moon blood read. Ever star fell to earth, then the sky disappeared. Human beings whether wealthy and powerful or in the troughs of society ran for the hills, begging to be hidden.
The four angels of destruction were held at bay until a fifth angel with the Lord’s protective seal could mark the foreheads of all God’s own.
After these things I saw, and behold a vast multitude which no one was able to number, out of every nation and tribes and peoples and languages, who were standing before the throne and before the Lamb, having been arrayed with white robes and palm branches in their hands.
And they are crying out in a great voice saying, “Salvation (is) to our God sitting upon the throne and to the Lamb.”
Then all the angels (who) had been standing around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell before the throne upon their faces and gave homage to God
saying, “Amen—the blessing and the glory and the wisdom and the thanksgiving and the honor and the power and the might (be) to our God into the ages of the ages, amen.”Revelation 7:9-12
The sky cascaded with flaming orbs shooting across the heavens, the very atmosphere was rolled up like a scroll while the entire planet quaked and groaned. Everyone on earth cried out, either for rescue or for shelter from the Lord’s mighty wrath. After God’s own were sealed against the cataclysm, John noticed a myriad throng of white-robed worshippers praising God. They were from every possible people group, yet they sang with one voice.
Throughout John’s description there is a sense of immensity, of sensory overload, hyperbole pushed to the Nth degree. Just reading his account is exhausting. After such a riotous kaleidoscope of colors, sounds, movement, and power, the breaking of the seventh seal would have been deafening in its simplicity.
It is one of the more mysterious and intriguing verses in John’s account.
Have you ever been in a gathering where someone asks for a moment of silence? Perhaps it is in memory of someone, or in honor of an event. After a while, maybe someone coughs nervously and another shifts in their chair. Cough drop wrappers rustle, a small child cries, there is the sound of a chair leg scraping or a keys jingling. Time seems to take on a sense of eons the longer the “moment” lasts.
Now imagine what it was like for John when the four living creatures grew still, the mighty multitude fell quiet, and all the angelic host in the heavenly realms hushed. Imagine this moment of silence spreading from the throne of God throughout heaven’s Holy of Holies, so that even as John watched all movement and sound ceased. Perhaps John felt the supernatural gravity of such stillness.
Theologians have ever since pondered the meaning of this settled silence.
Scholars who see the historical fulfillment of John’s Revelation regard this pause as a seventy-year period between Constantine’s victory in 324 CE and the invasion of the Holy Roman Empire in 395 CE. During this interim, it is viewed, the 144,000 were sealed unto God.
Acting something like the eye of a storm, silence came after the horrific persecution of Christians and before the sounding of the seven terrible trumpets to come in chapters eight through eleven. One commentator suggests this lull represents a time of peace for Christians who had previously cried out to God for rescue during the sixth seal, and would cry out afresh during the trumpet tribulations. Or perhaps this was a time of silent anticipation of what the Lord was about to do, in the same way the prophet Zechariah had spoken of.
Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord, for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.Zechariah 2:13 (NRSV)
Commentators who look to the sacking of Jerusalem in 70 CE note the calming of the martyrs who were languishing beneath the altar in heaven. The martyrs had been revealed at the breaking of the fifth seal, as John heard them cry out in a oud voice,
“Until how long, Lord, the Holy and Trustworthy, True One, are you not judging and avenging our blood out of the ones living upon the earth?”Revelation 6:10
But rather than give them a timeframe, long white robes were given instead. They were told to rest a while, to be at peace, because many more brothers and sisters in the Lord would be joining them before all would be fulfilled.
But now the time had come. Half an hour would symbolize the martyrs witnessing God’s avenging of their lives in the destruction of Herod’s temple, the final act of the Lord’s judgment.
Alternatively, because it is thought the priest’s daily tending to the incense altar in the Holy Place would have taken about thirty minutes, perhaps this moment of quiet represented all of heaven observing this ceremony. Just a few verses later in chapter eight, an angel would be presenting the incense of godly prayers, and traditionally on earth, according to Luke’s Gospel, attendant worshippers were to pray in silence.
Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside.
…Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering at his delay in the sanctuary.Luke 1:10, 21 (NRSV)
However, these would be prayers of anguish rising up to the Lord in distress as Roman persecution of Christians commenced.
Other interpreters see this heavenly calm as a future event yet to be fulfilled—it is that moment heavy-laden with expectancy as the next movement of God is about to unfold. Think of the audience when the maestro lifts his baton, or onlookers as the diver leaps from the springboard, or the courtroom as the jury is about to disclose their judgment. But there is also a sense of foreboding and dread in this breathless quiescence, for it is the Wrath of God is poised mid-air.
Even though we might think of heaven as outside the dominion of time, being the home of eternal and infinite God, theologians with this view accept the thirty-minute interval John described as literal.
Conversely, the broader spiritual perspective understands this verse as a short time in which all heaven worships God in silent awe. The Lord’s redemptive purpose is about to be made complete—the restoration of all creation, set into motion by the resurrection of Christ, will now be fully accomplished.
Perhaps an analogy can be drawn from the Israelites’ conquest of Jericho. As the priests hoisted the Ark of the Covenant to their shoulders, as shofars were raised to priestly lips, and rank upon rank of the people of God arrayed themselves in procession behind them, watchers from the towers of Jericho looked on in noiseless apprehension.
Then the first blasts of the shofar blew, the people marched, and the walls of Jericho came tumbling down.
The four perspectives taken from Revelation: Four Views A Parallel Commentary, edited by Steve Gregg