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The 30 minutes of silence


The consensus is the seven seals and the seven trumpets run concurrently with each other… the silence is the end?

James Burton Coffman commentary of Revelation 8 the silence in Heaven

Verse 1

Regarding Revelation 8:1. With the first verse of this chapter, one reaches a watershed in the interpretation of Revelation, a moment of decision, that affects the understanding of all that follows. This verse is the pivot upon which the whole interpretation turns, making the problem of its interpretation probably the most important in the whole book. Once the wrong view of Revelation 8:1 is established in the interpreter’s understanding, it is impossible for the exegesis of subsequent chapters to be correct; and most of the systems of interpreting Revelation are wrong because this verse was either ignored or misunderstood. Observe the verse itself.

And when he opened the seventh seal, there followed a silence in heaven about the space of half an hour. (Revelation 8:1)

In these brief words, we have all that pertains to the opening of the seventh seal. The half hour of silence does not either include or introduce the seven trumpets, or anything else. Since the sixth seal brought a vision of the Second Advent and final judgment, followed by a special vision of the safety and felicity of the saints (Revelation 7), not only while they are enduring sufferings and tribulations, but also through the final judgment into heaven itself, the most natural question of the soul is, “What will it be like in heaven?” The Scriptural answer to that question is this half hour of silence. It is not revealed. There is not a word in the whole Bible that actually portrays the events following the judgment of the last day, “the day of the Lord.” Even the marvelous two chapters which conclude this prophecy reveal nothing of the events that are to take place afterwards. John himself said, “It is not yet made manifest what we shall be” (1 John 3:2), a statement which is parallel with the thought here. A moment later, we shall note some of the important corollaries that derive from this interpretation; but first, we shall give the interpretation of this verse as found in the writings of others:

It is a silence of fearful apprehension.[1] The silence is transitional.[2] It introduces a new series of symbols (the trumpets).[3] It may be a breathing space in the narrative.[4] It is a dread suspense in anticipation of events to follow.[5] All heaven breathlessly awaits the final act of divine judgment.[6] It is a brilliant device for deepening the suspense.[7] It begins a new series of visions, the trumpets.[8] It represents a broken or interrupted whole.[9]
The vast majority of commentators hold views similar to those cited here; and the net result of such an interpretation is that of making the trumpets a vision of events coming subsequently and in sequence to the six seals. This we believe to be incorrect. That half hour of silence is a terminus reaching all the way to eternity and summing up all that had been revealed by the opening of the six seals, which disclosed conditions of the whole period between the two Advents of Christ. This understanding of the silence forces the conclusion that whatever else may be revealed in Revelation covers identically the same time period as that covered by the opening of the six seals. A number of scholars discerned this exceedingly important truth:

Revelation 6:11 is clearly a reference to the final judgment … the half hour silence is the full content of the seventh seal … the end, after the judgment, is pictured by the silence. This shuts out the possibility of the trumpets and bowls being pictures of historical events subsequent to the seals … They present different aspects of the same time period as the seals.[10] Each new series of visions (trumpets and bowls) both recapitulates and develops the theme already stated in what has gone before.[11] It is noteworthy that both the seals and the trumpets bring us to the end (Revelation 6:17; 11:15); and this requires us to recognize some measure of recapitulation, when the narrative backs up and recovers the same ground.[12] He (John) has in mind at this point to double back and present more material.[13] The successive visions (the seals) are paralleled in the trumpets.[14] The arrangement of the trumpets is parallel to that of the seals.[15] Man cannot yet know all of God’s plans (comment on the silence).[16]
Others could be cited, but these are enough to show that the interpretation advocated here is by no means unique. This view of the half hour of silence as the totality of the seventh seal stresses the importance of the seventh seal. Roberson objected that such a view, “Does not give the same significance to the seventh seal which the reader is entitled to expect”;[17] but this objection is removed by the view of it as a withholding of any prophecy at all regarding the afterlife, thus making the seventh seal one of the most important and significant things in the whole prophecy. No other solution is adequate. This confirms the view of the sixth seal as a picture of the final judgment, and clears up the wonderment of many regarding no mention of the end in the seventh seal; but the end has already happened! The silence regards the time after the end, and God is silent with reference to that. Plummer also noted this:

The events narrated under the vision of the trumpets are not an exposition of the seventh seal, but a separate supplementary vision. The silence is typical of the eternal peace of heaven, the ineffable bliss of which it is impossible for mortals to comprehend, and which is, therefore, symbolized by silence.[18]
The crucial importance of Revelation 8:1 requires our study of it to be as thorough as possible. It is the key to our conviction that the prophecy of Revelation is a series of sections, each ending in the final judgment, and all of them therefore parallel and having reference to the same extended time period between the two Advents of Christ, and each of them recapitulating from different viewpoints the events regarding all the world of both believers and unbelievers, with specific references to both classes again and again.

This understanding of Revelation dates back many years with this writer, and it was delightfully exciting to discover, far later, the able defense of this view by William Hendriksen. Before glancing at Hendriksen’s argument, the reason why this interpretation came about is significant. In the Old Testament Joseph interpreted the parallel dreams of Pharaoh regarding the seven fat cattle devoured by the seven lean cattle, and the seven good ears of corn consumed by the seven blasted ears which followed them; and the answer God gave to Joseph was, “The dream of Pharaoh is one” (Genesis 41:25). There are far more resemblances in the various series of visions in this prophecy than there were in Pharaoh’s two strange dreams; and this fact long ago led this student to the conclusion that, in a sense, all seven of these sections in Revelation are one. A summary of Hendriksen’s very extensive presentation of this view is:[19]

The book consists of seven sections, running parallel, and spanning the whole dispensation between the first and second coming of Christ.
Each ends in the judgment day.

Both the first trumpet and the first bowl affect the earth (Revelation 8:7,16:2); the second trumpet and the second bowl affect the sea; the third trumpet and the third bowl affect the rivers; the fourth in both series refers to the sun. This type of correspondence in the series is extensive, including the divisions into groups of four and three, etc.

The same themes appear in all sections: the bliss of the redeemed, the destruction of Christ’s enemies, the judgment of the wicked, divine judgments upon men, trials and persecutions of the church, etc.

Even the interludes are similarly constructed.

The seven churches addressed at the beginning constitute somewhat of an overture for the whole production; and they suggest a sevenfold division of the whole prophecy.

The same promises are repeated in all sections. God shall wipe away all tears appears in Revelation 7:17, and in Revelation 21:4.SIZE>

Many other similarities and resemblances will be pointed out in the notes on the text throughout.

The acceptance of the above interpretation does not mean that no specific events in history are prophesied; for it is our conviction that many such things are included, although most of them may not be restricted to specific dates nor limited to any single fulfillment. The fulfillment of the wars and famines under the six seals, for example, has been repeated in many fulfillments throughout history, and will doubtless be fulfilled again and again in the future.

[1] Ralph Earle, Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. 10 (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1967), p. 551.

[2] Ray Summers, Worthy is the Lamb (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1961), p. 153.

[3] W. S. Thompson, Comments on Revelation (Memphis, Texas: Southern Church Publications, 1957), p. 87.

[4] William Barclay, The Revelation of John (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), p. 40.

[5] Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1919), p. 269.

[6] F. F. Bruce, A New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 646.

[7] Martin Kiddle, The Revelation of St. John, The Moffatt New Testament Commentary, p. 144.

[8] Leon Morris, Tyndale Commentaries, Vol. 20, The Revelation of St. John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1969), p. 119.

[9] Charles H. Roberson, Studies in Revelation (Tyler, Texas: P. D. Wilmeth, P.O. Box 3305,1957), p. 53.

[10] Douglas Ezell, Revelations on Revelation (Waco: Word Books, 1977), pp. 44-47.

[11] G. B. Caird, The Revelation of St. John the Divine (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), p. 106.

[12] George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972), p. 121.

[13] Vernard Eller, The Most Revealing Book in the Bible (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), p. 104.

[14] Ralph Earle, op. cit., p. 555.

[15] J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 1079.

[16] James William Russell, Compact Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1964), p. 632.

[17] Charles H. Roberson, op. cit., p. 52.

[18] A. Plummer, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 20, Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 229.

[19] William Hendriksen, More than Conquerors (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1956), pp. 23,25, 26,28, and 139.

By David Lackey Cornerstone Baptist Church 8636 Cox Gap Rd
Boaz, Alabama 35956
“And when He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour” (Revelation 8:1). One of the striking patterns of the book of Revelation is the repeating series of seven—the seven churches, seals, trumpets, thunders, and last plagues. In each case the seventh of the series introduces a theme which is expanded in the following chapters. For example, the seventh plague (Revelation 16:17-21) announces the judgment of “Great Babylon,” and introduces the next three chapters which give details of the judgment of Babylon .[1]

The seventh seal mentions “silence in heaven for about half an hour.” According to the pattern, this should be an introduction of what follows in the next few chapters, which is the seven trumpets. In other words, there is some sense in which the seven trumpets take place in a symbolic “half an hour,” during which there is “silence in heaven.”

The seven trumpets are a series of severe disasters that fall upon nature and people, often destroying a third of what is stricken. In the chiasm outline they are mirrored by the seven last plagues, and in fact the trumpet plagues seem to be a limited version of the seven last plagues.[2] By correlating texts that have to do with disastrous plagues or judgments, silence in heaven, and hours (“half an hour”), a pattern begins to emerge.

Plague judgments in the book of Revelation are portrayed symbolically as taking place in one hour. For example, the judgments on Babylon take place in one hour (“Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! For in one hour your judgment has come” Revelation 18:10, see also vs. 17 and 19). The final judgment takes place in a symbolic “hour” (“the hour of His judgment has come” Revelation 14:7). Most relevant to the seventh seal is the “hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth” (Revelation 3:10).

This “hour of trial” is called the “time of trouble” in Job 38:23. The Greek Septuagint version calls this the “hour” of trouble, using the same root word (ora) which is used for “hour of trial” in Revelation 3:10 and “half an hour” in Revelation 8:1.

The time of trouble or “hour of trial” seems to be divided into two parts. The seventh seal mentions “half an hour,” and is followed by the seven trumpet plagues. During this period heaven is silent—“there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” Apparently this is a period when God does not intervene, because in scripture, when God intervenes he no longer keeps silence. “Our God shall come, and shall not keep silent; A fire shall devour before Him…He shall call to the heavens from above, and to the earth, that He may judge His people…But to the wicked God says:…These things you have done and I kept silent;… But I will rebuke you… Now consider this, you who forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver” (Psalms 50:3,4,16,21,22). “Behold, it is written before Me: I will not keep silence, but will repay— even repay into their bosom— your iniquities and the iniquities of your fathers together” (Isaiah 65:6,7).

In these verses we see a period of silence (“I kept silent”) in which God does not intervene, but during this time He gives the wicked an opportunity to “consider this, you who forget God, lest I tear you in pieces.” In other words, God sends a powerful warning and a call to repentance before he sends His judgments. This time of silence correlates with the “half an hour” in which the trumpet plagues take place. This is followed by the remainder of the “hour of trial” in which God “shall not keep silence, but will repay…your iniquities”— in other words, the time for repentance is over and God sends His judgments. This correlates with the seven last plagues.

The following diagram illustrates the two parts of the “hour of trial” (also called the time of trouble and the great tribulation).