Revelation of John 8When he had opened, that is, when the Lamb, who opened the six foregoing seals, did open the seventh, there was silence in heaven about half an hour, by way of allusion to what was done in the temple at the time of offering incense. The end of which silence was to give St. John an opportunity to contemplate those high mysteries which he had revealed to him, and to prepare him for new visions, as silence is cried before the proclamation of great and weighty matters. When great things are to be uttered, great attention is expected, and great silence prepares for great attention.
Observe here, 1. The readiness of the holy angels to execute the will of God at all times: They stand before God, namely, to minister at his pleasure, and to execute judgments at his command; whether these were good angels or bad, it is not material to dispute, seeing God makes both the executioners of his judgments when he pleases.
Observe, 2. The number of these angels, they were seven, and no more, because it pleased not God to pour down his whole wrath at once upon the rebellious world, but at divers times, and gradually.
Observe, 3. That to these seven angels were given seven trumpets to publish God's judgments to the world. These trumpets signified that God would proceed against the world in fearful hostility, and appear against it as an enemy to battle, proclaiming as it were open war, with sound of trumpet, and beat of drum, and hanging out a flag of defiance against it.
The patience of God, though lasting, will not be everlasting. These sounding the alarm of judgments before they did inflict these following dreadful judgments upon the world, shows that God warns before he strikes: he doth usually pre-admonish before he punisheth. Judgment is his strange work, he delights not in it: but when sin calls upon him to arise out of his place, to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity, he doth it with unspeakable reluctancy and regret, like a tender-hearted father, with a rod in his hand, and tears in his eyes.
Observe here, That all along in the visions which St. John had, a representation was made to his mind of things pertaining to the Jewish worship: his visionary temple, the altar, the incense, the fire, the censer, which he saw, were in allusion to the material temple, and to the worship and service performed there at Jerusalem; and accordingly this other angel here mentioned, represented the High-priest, (who was an illustrious type of our Lord Jesus Christ,) whose office it was to offer incense at the altar, and therewith to offer up prayers for the people.
Observe, farther, That Christ is here represented as having a golden censer, whereas the high-priest's was only of brass, to denote that he was a more excellent high-priest; and the much incense given to him, represents his abundant merits, whereby he renders the prayers of all his saints acceptable to his Father.
Learn hence, That as Christ was the only Mediator of redemption, so is he also the only Mediator of intercession; his mediation is founded upon his satisfaction: none had to do with the censer to offer incense, but he that had to do with the altar to offer sacrifice. Who durst offer to intercede with an offended God on the behalf of sinners, but he hath first satisfied the justice of God for sin? Now to satisfy an offended God is Christ's peculiar, therefore to intercede with God authoritatively, on the behalf of offenders, is Christ's sole prerogative.
Again, Christ's intercession gives virtue and effect to our supplications. This truth was signified, ver. 4. where it is affirmed, That the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand; that is, the virtue and efficacy of the Mediator's merits, which came up with the prayers of the saints, and perfumed them, did both plead for and procure acceptance with God.
Behold here is the true reason why our poor and broken supplications do find acceptance with God; namely, because perfumed with the odours of Christ's merits, and presented to the Father by his own mediation and intercession. The Father heareth him always, and so he doth all them whose prayers are offered by him.
Observe lastly, The success and efficacy of the saint's prayers thus perfumed and presented unto God; there followed voices, and thunders, and lightnings, signifying the wonderful effects of prayer, or the terrible things that would follow after their prayers, even dreadful judgments upon the earth, that is, upon the land of Judea, say some; upon the Roman empire, say others.
However it was, we may gather thus much from it, That in times of national provocation, the fervent prayers of God's faithful servants have a mighty prevalency with God, for staving off for a time national ruin and destruction.
Note here, 1. The readiness of the holy angels in heaven to execute the will and pleasure of God here on earth; they knew that the execution of God's judgments was to be performed by them, and accordingly they prepare themselves for it.
Note, 2. The judgments denounced by the first angel, Fire and hail mingled with blood. A strange storm, alluding probably to one of the plagues of Egypt, mentioned Exod 9:1-35 denoting, some say, direful temporal judgments which God would bring upon Judea in general, and Galilee in particular, by bloodshed and insurrections. The trees, says Dr. More, signify the great men, and the grass the common people. Others by this storm of hail and blood understand a spiritual judgment, namely, an inundation of heresy upon the Christian church, which is of a fiery and bloody nature; wherever it prevails, it is a dreadful plague, and a consuming storm; justly inflicted by God upon a people for their contempt of the gospel, and not receiving the truth in the love of it, that they might be saved.
Observe here, 1. The universality of the judgment inflicted; the former judgment was upon the earth, this upon the sea; that no place might escape, a storm of hail and blood falls upon the former, a mountain of burning fire is cast into the latter; both signifying increased wars and bloodshed by sea and land, according to some; the mighty prevalency of error and heresy, say others, and particularly of the Arian heresy, which puffs up and swells with pride, and is the harbinger and forerunner of ruin and destruction; as only by pride cometh contention, so after pride, or along with pride, cometh destruction.
The next judgment inflicted, or rather the farther progress of the former judgment, was the infecting of the waters and rivers with a mortal bitterness by a bitter star falling from heaven into them; denoting, some say, the fall of a great captain amongst the Jews in Judea; others understand it of heresy in general, of the Arian heresy in particular; and some apply it to the fall of Rome, the seat of the western empire; so Mr. Mede.
If it be understood of heresy, it shows us what a poisonous, bitter, and deadly nature, error and heresy is of. Error is as damnable as vice, the one is an open road, the other a by-path, to hell and destruction; and accordingly that person, and that people, which have a due care over their soul's salvation, will be as much afraid of erroneous principles as of debauched practices.
Observe here, 1. That by the sun, moon, and stars, in scripture prophecies, the potentates and powers of a state are understood: accordingly the darkening of the sun, moon, and stars, do understand the prevalency of ignorance and error in the church, occasioning a fearful eclipse of that saving and comfortable light which would illuminate our eyes, and direct our steps in the way that leads to eternal happiness.
Observe, 2. That in this and all the former judgments, the third part only is mentioned as smitten, which shows that the Lord corrects in measure, and delights more in mercy than in justice, and desires rather the conversion than confusion of sinners, by making the punishments of some instructive warnings unto others.
Observe, 3. God's way of dealing with his people in giving warning of future and severe judgments before they come, I heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying, Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabiters of the earth; thus God warneth of approaching judgments before they come, that sinners may repent, and his own people being forewarned, may be forearmed, ere the judgment come upon them: Praemoniti, praemuniti; Prsevisa jacula minus feriunt. Darts foreseen are dintless.
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