The Seventh Seal Opened.
SUMMARY.--The Silence in Heaven. The Seven Angels with the Seven Trumpets. The Incense Offered. The Fire Cast on the Earth. The First Angel Sounds; Hail, Fire, and Blood Follow. The Second Trumpet and the Mountain Cast into the Sea. The Third Trumpet and the Great Burning Stars. The Fourth Trumpet and the Sun Darkened.
In the opening of the seventh chapter we are told that four angels were holding back hurtful winds or destroying agencies until a great work was done for the Church. That work accomplished, the eighth chapter describes how four angels let loose four terrible agencies to a work of destruction. The first four trumpet angels are entirely separated from the remaining three and do a separate work. There ought not to be a doubt that the four agencies let loose by the four trumpet angels of the eighth chapter , are the same as the four hurtful winds held back by the angels in the seventh chapter .
1, 2. When he opened the seventh seal. It is the Lamb who opens all the seals. There was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour. There has been a great effort among commentators to interpret the meaning of this silence. I think that it is a hush of awe before the march of the awful judgments about to come, the calm before the storm breaks forth, the oppressive silence before the burst of battle. It is designed to emphasize the events that follow. 2. And I saw. Thus John introduces the vision of each seal. The vision is not the silence in heaven, but what John saw. On this point some commentators make a mistake here. What he saw was the seven angels which stand before God; that is, the angels who act as his immediate ministering servants, to whom were given seven trumpets. The seventh seal, therefore, embraces these angels and their trumpets, and all they do in the following verses belongs to this seal. The seventh and last seal will not be exhausted until the seven trumpet angels have discharged their mission.
3-5. And another angel came and stood over the altar. The scene reveals the altar of the tabernacle, "a pattern made after heavenly things." This is the altar of sacrifice from which the coal was always taken to light the incense ( Lev. 16:13 ). This angel receives the incense and offers it upon the golden altar, the altar of incense. The incense is "the prayers of the saints;" these to reach the throne must be lighted from the altar of sacrifice; or by faith in the blood of the Lamb of God. 4. And the smoke. As the smoke arose before the throne, so the prayers of the saints in the name of the crucified Savior arise to God. The special significance of all this is that in the terrible judgments about to follow, the prayers of the true and faithful saints will still come before God, and his providence will be over them. 5. And the angel . . . filled it with the fire of the altar, and cast it upon the earth. Fire is usually a symbol of suffering. This fire cast from the altar upon the earth indicates that the judgments of God are about to fall upon it. The earth in the sense used by John is the great Roman Empire, which embraced the civilized world. There followed thunders, etc. These mutterings and the quaking are ominous of the terrible scenes to follow when the angels sound their trumpets.
6. And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets. See verse 2 . There is the utmost deliberation. All must be made ready. The four angels hold back the winds ( 7:1 ), then there was the silence of half an hour ( verse 1 ); now the seven angels prepared themselves to sound. This implies that all things were being made ready for the great events to follow. Trumpets. The trumpet is used to give a signal. Usually it implied the march or charge of armies. See Joel 2:1 Joel 2:15 Jer. 4:5 Ezek. 33:1-6 . Sometimes it calls the people to worship. See Numbers 31:6 Numbers 31:1 1 Chron. 15:24 . The reader will see that the first is likely to be the significance here.
7. The first angel sounded. When the trumpet sounded there followed the wonderful scenes described. When the first trumpet is blown John beholds a mighty storm-cloud rush over the earth. From it pour hail and fire mingled with blood. They fall upon the earth and a third part is scorched and blasted. These terms indicate desolation by some kind of judgments. The scene of the desolation is "the earth," or the Roman Empire in John's use of the term. The blood indicates carnage. The scorched and blasted land indicates the devastation of destroying armies. The language implies a terrible destruction descending upon a third of the world known to John.
8, 9. And the second angel sounded. Then the scene changes. Now a great burning mountain is cast into the sea. The sea is the theatre of destruction. Again there is fire and blood indicating carnage and destruction. In the first judgment the third part of the earth suffers; but now a third part of the sea. The symbols imply that some mighty volcanic power shall be turned upon the sea, and make it a scene of awful warfare and destruction.
10, 11. And the third angel sounded. With the third trumpet the vision again changes. Now a great, burning, blazing meteor falls upon a third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of the waters. A "third part of the earth," a "third part of the sea," and now "a third part of the rivers" are subjected to judgments. 11. And the name of the star is called Wormwood. That is, it is bitterness, because it shall fill the world with bitter sorrow. A star is a symbol of a great leader. Such a star as this, a blazing meteor, is a symbol of a leader who suddenly appears, rapidly does an awfully baleful work, and then disappears. In some way the rivers will be the scenes of his malign influence. They shall become bitterness and shall be scenes of death.
12. And the fourth angel sounded. Again the scene changes. Now it is the third part of the sun, and of the moon, and of the stars that is smitten, and darkness follows. The sun is a symbol of the supreme ruler, and the moon and stars of inferior dignities. If the Roman emperor, ruler of the world, should be cast from power, his empire overthrown, the consuls, senators, and great men who supported his power be cast to the dust, and a period of intellectual and moral darkness should follow, it would fully meet the symbolism.
13. And I beheld, and heard an angel. An eagle in the Revision. The flight of this messenger through the midst of heaven shows that an epoch has been passed with the four trumpet visions, and that another epoch is about to begin. The voice proclaims, Woe, woe, woe. There are three woes; there are three woe angels. Upon the inhabitants of the earth. Upon the earth as known to John. The geographical scene of those events which are historical must be looked for somewhere within the bounds of the great Roman world.
I have explained briefly the symbolical significance of the visions which follow each trumpet blast of the first four angels. The next question is whether history has anything corresponding which follows the overthrow of Paganism and triumph of Christianity as predicted in the sixth seal. Thus far we have a complete correspondence between the series of symbols and the events of history, following each in regular order, events and symbols corresponding. Does this correspondence continue? Do we find that, as the four trumpet blasts are blown, four hurtful agencies long held back (the four winds) rush to the destruction of the Roman Empire? Let us see:
1. About A. D. 400, the "four winds" could be held no longer. The Goths gathered out of the mysterious lands of the unexplored North, and, like a mighty torrent, threw themselves, a mighty, dauntless, savage host, upon Rome. Barbarous as the Indians of the desert, they left behind their march, scarred, scorched, blackened, bloody and desolated lands. Countries blooming like garden were turned into treeless deserts. In A. D. 409, under Alaric, their king, they descended on Italy. It had not seen the face of a foreign enemy for eight hundred years. At last the hosts gathered around the Imperial City. After a long siege, in the dead hour of night, the gates were opened by the hands of traitors and the barbarians rushed in. For three days the sack went on before they were glutted with blood and spoil. Then, their leader having died, they retired, loaded with spoil. The iron hail of war, the fire of burning towns and cities, mingled with the blood of the slain defenders, the scorched and blackened lands denuded of their fruit trees, and the grass trodden under foot by the march of armies all correspond surprisingly with the language of the Scripture. It is strange, also, how the infidel Gibbon has chosen the very language of inspiration to describe some of the events of this period. I will quote a few phrases found in his thirty-first chapter and descriptive of the great invasion of Alaric and the Goths. "The tremendous sound of the Gothic trumpet" stirred the host to invasion. "At the first sound of the trumpet the Goths left their farms" to rush on in invasion. "The Gothic conflagration" consumed the empire. "Blood and conflagration and the burning of trees and herbage marked their path." Here is surely a remarkable fulfillment of the symbolism that follows the First Trumpet.
2. The second trumpet implies a warfare upon the sea. Let us turn to history. The Goths completed their work about A. D. 409. About ten years later another mighty horde of northern barbarians was sweeping south. The principal tribe was called the Vandals, from whence our word vandalism. They rushed over Gaul, swept through Spain, leaped over the narrow straits of Gibraltar, and wrested northern Africa from the Roman dominion. Then they threw themselves like a burning mountain upon the sea and filled it with fire and blood. In order that they might assail Rome on the seas and carry their armies to the islands and to Italy, they built fleets and struggled for the mastery of the Mediterranean. For six hundred years no ship hostile to Rome had disputed the mastery of the sea, but now it becomes the theatre of war. Fleets meet in the shock of battle; the sea is reddened with the blood of the slain; the Roman ensign goes down, dyed in blood; the islands of the sea fall into the hands of the fierce barbarian, and at last, near thirty years after the contest began, their fleets land their armies in Italy, and they rush upon Rome. The city is besieged, falls, and for fourteen days a pitiless barbarian soldiery spare neither age nor sex. The spoil gathered for eight hundred years, from a hundred conquered nations, is carried away and loaded upon the Vandal fleets, and the blasted, scourged, and pillaged Capital is abandoned as unworthy to be held as a permanent possession. Surely these facts correspond to the Second Trumpet vision.
3. The blazing meteor that follows the sound of the third trumpet has been found to imply some mighty leader who suddenly appears and enters upon a baleful work. Is there such a leader? Before A. D. 440, the Romans knew nothing of the Hungarian nation. About that time there suddenly appeared, as a meteor would flash in the sky, a warrior upon the banks of the river Danube, with eight hundred thousand fighting men under his banners. They had come from the depths of Central Asia, marched north of the Euxine Sea through Russia, and now knocked at the river boundary of the Roman Empire. Overcoming opposition to their passage of the Danube, they rushed westward, crossed the river Rhine, and on the river Marne were met in conflict by the hosts of Rome. The historians tell us that the blood of slaughtered heroes made the river run with blood, and that from one hundred and fifty thousand to three hundred thousand bodies of the dead attested the fury of the conflict. Then they desolated the river Rhine to its mouth. Turning southward, on the banks of the river Rhone, the hosts met again in fury. Then, descending from the Alps, the fierce warrior, on the banks of the river Po, contended for the mastery of Italy. Victorious, he marched southward to seize the imperial prize. Unable to contend longer, Rome sent a priestly deputation to ask him to depart. By rich bribes and by work on his superstition they succeeded, and he retired, made Buda, on the river Danube, his capital and founded the Hungarian nation. When he died, his followers turned the waters of the Danube from its course, buried him in its bed, and then let them return to flow over the grave of the hero. Beneath the waters of the river Danube still lie the bones of the star called Wormwood, that fell upon the rivers. The trumpets have blown, three awful blows have been struck, and the weakened empire is ready to fall when the fourth trumpet blows.
4. The fourth trumpet. Read again the 12th verse . We have found that the Goths struck their blow about A. D. 409; the Vandals from the sea about A. D. 422; and Attila upon the rivers about A. D. 440. What follows? We are to seek the fulfillment in the next and final invasion of Rome. It occurred A. D. 476. Odoacer, king of the Heruli, a Northern race, encouraged by the apparent weakness of the falling empire, besieged and took the almost helpless city. Augustulus, the feeble emperor, was hurled down, the Roman Senate that had met for twelve hundred and twenty-eight years, was driven from the Senate chambers, the mighty fabric of the empire fell to the dust, and the great men were humbled never to rise again. Sun, moon, and stars, emperor, princes, and great men, are smitten, lose their power, and cease to give light. Nay, more. There now began the period called by all historians the "Dark Ages." The fall of Rome introduced the period when, intellectually and spiritually, the day and night were darkened; when the minds of men were blinded, and when the Church, falling gradually into apostasy, gave forth for ages only a feeble light to human souls. Again the correspondence is complete.
THE THIRD PART.--The third part is named each of these four judgments. The first falls on a third part of the earth the second on a third part of the sea, the third on a third part of the rivers, and the fourth on a third part of the sun, moon, and stars. If they were to fall upon a third part of the great Roman world, (1) upon its land provinces, (2) upon its seas, (3) upon its river systems, and (4) upon emperors and rulers (sun, moon and stars), the whole would thus be fulfilled. This is just what took place. During a great part of the period when the events were taking place which are covered by the seven trumpets, the great Roman world was divided into three parts. Gibbon, Chapter LIII., says: "From the age of Charlemagne to that of the Crusades, the world (for I overlook the remote monarchy of China) was occupied and disputed by the three great empires, or nations of the Greeks, the Saracens, and the Franks." "The three great nations of the world, the Greeks, the Saracens, and the Franks, encountered each other on the plains of Italy."--Chapter LVI. "Three classes of men during the interval are conspicuous, the Saracens, or Arabians, the Latins or Franks, inhabitants of Western Europe, and the Byzantine Greeks."--Phil. Inquiries, Part III. These quotations, which might be multiplied, show that during the long period of a thousand years, a period embraced in the fulfillment of the visions of John, the civilized world was divided into three distinct parts, and that these were clearly marked in history. It is upon one of these parts, a third part, the Western third part, called the Latin or Frank part, that all the calamities of the four invasions of Goths, Vandals, Huns, and Heruli fell. It was the Western third part, the Old Roman Empire, which fell forever under their blows.