The Heavenly Altar – Rev 8:1-5

And when he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. And another angel came and stood at the altar having a golden censer, and to was given much incense that he will offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne. And the smoke of the incense with the prayers of the saints went up out of the hand of the angel before God. And the angel took the censer and filled it from the fire of the altar and cast it into the earth. There were thunders and rumblings and flashes of lightning and an earthquake.

The final seal simply indicates silence in heaven. The following verses are not necessarily placed upon it. So, it is quite likely that we see the final seal, and then verse two starts the beginning of the seven trumpets narrative. However, whether we take this sequence as being part of the seven seals, or whether we take it as beginning the seven trumpets, we still find it difficult to understand how exactly this gets placed.

For example, the casting down of the fire from the altar seems like it could correspond to the first trumpet – that a mountain of fire is cast down. Yet, the manifestation of this fire in verse 5 would tell us that it corresponds to Rev 11:19 and 16:18. So, it would appear that this is at the end of the age with the return of Jesus. Once again, though, how do we have in verse 2 the handing of the seven trumpets after the return of Jesus when the final trumpet is the return of Jesus? The progression in our text seems out of sync. However we decide to place it, I have yet to come to reasonable conclusion to why it would be at the end of the seals or beginning of the trumpets. The text seems to be against us at all points in this.

Yet, for they who want to consider this a chronology and say the trumpets come after the seals, we find an error even more blatant. If the seven trumpets are the seventh seal, then it leaves us to wonder why the trumpets are so weak in comparison to the seven seals. It causes us to wonder why the prayers are now being made, when back in 6:10 we saw the prayers of the martyrs are already coming up before God. It causes us to ask why there is this manifestation of the fire upon the earth that lines up so well with the seventh trumpet and the seventh bowl of wrath. It does not solve the previous complications. It only adds further complications. While it seems to fit as a chronology in the plain reading, the concepts become skewed and no longer make sense – unless we take the historical position of finding these seals and trumpets throughout the last 2000 years of history (another option that seems to me to be utterly incompatible).

In our progression through the events as the vision goes, we find that this seventh seal would most likely fit just after the return of Christ – as if this is the eternal rest being brought unto the earth. If the sixth seal is His coming, then the seventh is His reigning. The silence in heaven seems a bit odd, and I’m not sure what it signifies. In the larger progression of chapters 6-8:1, we would see this as being the New Heaven and New Earth. The Millennium is expressed in chapter 7, and now we find ourselves at the New Heaven and New Earth, where awe is being expressed through this silence and the Bride manifests upon the earth to rule with Her Husband – Christ.

For these seven angels, we can examine Isaiah 63:9 or Luke 1:19. “In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them…” And in Luke 1:19, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.” It is a direct translation from the Hebrew ‘amad lepani’ (1 Kings 17:1, 18:15, 2 Kings 3:14, 5:16). Some have recognized these seven angels as the seven archangels, Michael and Gabriel being two of them. (The book of Enoch records the names of all seven.) Whether these are the seven archangels or not cannot be determined, and believing in sola scriptura (Scripture alone), I tend to not dive into that area.

We can see the trumpet used as an eschatological symbols throughout the prophets. Isaiah 27:13 puts a trumpet blast with the Day of the Lord. Joel 2:1 puts the blowing of the trumpet just before the coming of the Lord (most likely when the Antichrist invades Jerusalem). Zephaniah 1:16 puts a trumpet blast at the Day of the Lord. Zechariah 9:14 puts a trumpet blast on the day that God comes upon the earth to redeem Israel. 1 Corinthians 15:52 suggests that there will be multiple trumpets, and on the last one we will see Christ and be changed into His likeness (compare 1 John 3:2). 1 Thessalonians 4:16, which ultimately is quoting Matthew 24:31, speaks of a trumpet when the Son of Man comes.

This “other angel” who has the golden censer is found in Ezekiel 10:1, but is originally mentioned in Ezekiel 9:2. He is described as ‘a man in linen clothing… standing next to the bronze altar’. In all mentions, there is only one altar in heaven, not two (Isaiah 6:6, Rev 6:9, 8:3, 5, 9:13, 16:17). Λιβανωτον is translated elsewhere as frankincense (1 Chronicles 9:29), but here seems to mean “censer”. It is a translation of the Hebrew hamaktah (Leviticus 10:1, 16:12). This Hebrew word can also mean “fire-pan” (Exodus 27:3, 38:3, Numbers 4:14). In Exodus 38:3, it is made of bronze, but of gold in 1 Kings 7:50, 2 Chronicles 4:22, 2 Kings 25:15. This may be representative of the Day of Atonement, when the priest offered incense before the Ark of the Covenant (Leviticus 16:12, Numbers 16:46). The altar is gold (Numbers 9:11).

It might be important to note that when we examine the trumpets, we find this golden altar at the beginning, at the beginning of the sixth trumpet, and at the last trumpet we see the Holy of Holies opened with the Ark of the Covenant exposed. It would seem as though the prayers are offered up, and these prayers actually affect the blowing of the trumpets. As the saints travail before God, the trumpets are blown, until finally we see with the beginning of the sixth trumpet the final answer to the prayers. The releasing of the angels at the Euphrates marks the consummation of the age, and the moment just before the return of Christ. This begins the final war – Armageddon – in which Zion shall be established upon the earth forever afterward.

Some believe that what is offered is the prayers of ALL the saints, even from David, Abel, Enoch, Elijah, etc. Maybe even some of Adam’s prayers concerning the restoration unto Eden and the deliverer to take them back to Garden-like conditions would be found in that incense. Others would say that this is specifically eschatological, and therefore the prayers of all the saints would be all who are travailing at that time. Which is correct? Only God knows at this time.

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