Silence in Heaven – Revelation 8:1-5

I believe in God’s sovereignty and His predestination of events – both human and divine. Amen? Do you believe that God has predestinated ALL things? Not so many “amens” for that statement? Most Christians are agreed that the Lord has predetermined the really big things. For example, Jehovah decreed and determined to create the universe. With the measurements of men, how long before creation did the Lord determine to create? The question is foolish, but the fact remains, the Lord intended to create before He actually did so. And the Lord decreed before the creation of the world that Adam would sin, and He also chose to save some of Adam’s descendants. The method of that salvation was decreed as well. The incarnation of God’s Son was not an afterthought, taken up when Israel failed to glorify the Lord. In other words, it was foreordained that Christ be crucified; His death was not a horrible mix-up of plans. Christ “verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.” Additionally, “he hath chosen us in (Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” God’s foreknowledge and predestination involves your salvation if you are indeed a child of God.
But are you willing to say that God’s predestination extends down to the death of a sparrow or the descent of a particular hail stone or even a snow flake? If we are willing to make that statement or even to think that thought, dare we go any farther in applying it? For example, if God intends to do certain things, why should we pray about those things? If God has decreed certain things, and the decrees of God are immutable, isn’t it heresy to pray about them – or at the very least isn’t it a lack of faith? Since we don’t know what God’s will is in regard to events in our lives, perhaps we shouldn’t pray about those things because our desire in the matter might be contrary to the will of the Lord. If it appears that it is God will that someone you know is to die, should you pray for his healing? And why pray for the salvation of someone when there is no indication that he is one of God’s elect? Aren’t these more foolish questions? Of course we are going to still pray.
Let me ask you this: If God has ordained all things, and I believe He has, why eat your next meal? If God intends for you to live another 20 years, then you will live. Just as He maintained the life of Jonah in the whale without food, water, light or air… And just as God sustained Elijah during a total drought with food from ravens, He could maintain your life without you eating another bite. But the fact is, He intends for you to minister to your own existence through eating, sleeping and exercise. Similarly, our prayers are as much a part of God’s predestinated plan as His intention to maintain His eternal decrees.
When we pray, we become a link in the chain of divinely ordained events. As much as He has decreed to save someone, God has decreed that we should pray for that person’s salvation. Your prayers are as much a part of his evangelism as is that very last evangelist to speak to him. God decrees that you pray – and He has decreed that He will answer. The Lord Jesus has told us, “Ask, and it shall be given you.”
The Apostle John gives us a spectacular example of this in the Book of Revelation. I believe that before the foundation of the earth, God chose Israel and called that nation to serve Him. He also ordained to permit Israel’s fall into sin, bringing shame on the Name of the Lord. He even predestinated that when Christ first came into the world Israel would reject and have Him murdered. But then to bring Israel back to Himself, Jehovah decreed seven years of punishment – tribulation – which in the Old Testament He called “Jacob’s trouble.” The Tribulation has been clearly prophesied both in the Old Testament and in the New. Sure there are some debatable points, but the fact of the seven years are impossible to avoid without a deliberate intention to do so.
In the Book of Revelation, after Christ’s letters to the seven churches of Asia, we hear no more of churches. Their saved membership has been translated to Heaven, and John sees those people before God’s throne. John then describes seeing a great book, closed with seven seals, which no man on earth could open. But there was a slain Lamb – the Lamb of God – the resurrected Jesus Christ – “And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne.” All those present in heaven fell down and worshiped that Lamb who “liveth for ever and ever” as He began to break open the seals of the book. With the first seal there was a clap of thunder and a king on a white horse went forth on the earth slaughtering and conquering.
To quote John in Revelation 5 – “And when he had opened the second seal.. there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword. And when he had opened the third seal … I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand” and various economic disasters fell upon the earth. And when he had opened the fourth seal… “I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.” These are some of the events which will take place during the Tribulation. With the opening of the fifth seal those martyrs who had given their lives for Christ started crying out for justice. “And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?”
The seventh and final seal was not opened in Revelation 6 or in the next chapter; it wasn’t until chapter 8. But something very strange occurred at that point. “When he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.” Heaven – the throne room of God – the busiest place in the universe and beyond the universe – was silent and still. There were no anthems sung; no “holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.” There were no hallelujahs; whether sung, chanted or shouted. Not an angel stirred; no one moved, not even the Lamb or God the Father sitting on the throne.
How long is a half hour in the time-keeping of God? Was it measured with a digital watch or a special divine clock? For some people, a mere sixty seconds of silence is deafening or maddening; thirty minutes? There were seven angels with trumpets ready to blast the earth into deafness and oblivion, but they were awaiting orders to blow and scarcely breathed. There wasn’t a single cheer or warning; no sighing and no gasping. Total silence. All action was suspended in heaven – the very center of all activity.
But then very quietly came another angel to stand before the altar, having a golden censer in his hand. This censer was a portable instrument for the purpose of burning sweet-smelling incense. But he had nothing to burn as yet, and this angel resolutely stood his ground awaiting orders. “And (then) there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand. And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake. And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.”
You may think that my subject tonight is the Tribulation, but it isn’t. Please note that according to God’s word, at least in this case, incense represents the prayers of God’s saints. In the midst of one of the most prophesied and guaranteed periods in human history – in the midst of the Tribulation – after six seals had been broken but before the blowing of the seven trumpets with their additional judgments, there was silence in Heaven. That silence and inactivity was broken only when Heaven began to be filled with the delicious perfume of holy incense. Only after God’s saints began to petition the Lord was the seventh seal broken and the first trumpet was blown. And with that we come to my purpose and theme for the evening.
“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” Those are the words of the Lord Jesus as recorded in Matthew 7:7 and Luke 11:9. Are they debatable? Should we question their meaning or whether they are to be taken literally? What if we don’t ask; what if we refuse to seek or we are too lazy to knock? Isn’t it logical to conclude there will be nothing given, nothing found and no doorway opened? It’s not until God’s throne room is filled with the incense of prayer that we will hear the voice of God or see the evidence of angels working in our lives. The Great Tribulation had been in the plans of God since before Adam and Eve; before Israel, but its further execution awaited the prayers of God’s saints. Don’t worry about or debate the decree of God in that matter which concerns you; just pray about it.
For years now you have been concerned about the spiritual condition of that loved one of yours. Like Israel awaiting the Millennial kingdom, you have been patient, and expectant, and yearning. But God’s decree hasn’t yet been fulfilled. And like Israel, perhaps you have slipped into the sin of silence; you’ve become despondent. You’ve tried your best to enjoy your loved one despite his/her lost condition. You’ve stopped praying, or your prayers have become nothing but rote and repetitious formalities. You come into the presence of God with your censor filled with warm rocks rather than fiery incense. And yet you wonder why heaven is silent.
And there is that elderly person whom you love – she has lived well-passed the Biblical three score and ten. And now she has been sick for several years and there is no sign of recovery. Is your censor full of prayer for her? Have you drawn fire from off the altar of the Lord with which to burn that incense?
There is that personal need which is not related to health or life and death, but it has been a burden for years. Are you trying now to fix the problem by relying on the flesh – your strength, your wisdom, your finances? Have you heard nothing but silence from Heaven all this time? Why is that? Don’t be tempted to blame the Lord. The problem may be a lack of incense on your part. I didn’t say a lack of faith, but a lack of incense. The Lord Jesus said, “Ask, and it shall be given you.” And James turns the Lord’s words around and says, “Ye have not because you ask not.” “There was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.”
For the sake of further application, let’s think about some of our church hopes and dreams.
Some of us, and I hope it is true of all of us… Some of us would like to see Calvary Baptist become the Antioch of the Northwest. I’d like to see people saved every week and baptisms taking place every month, just as it was in the church of Thessalonica and some other early churches. I’d like us to not only support missionaries around the world but to sponsor more missionaries in our Judea, and in our Samaria and in the utter parts of the earth. My dream includes the local reservations (plural), the Silver Valley, Canada and elsewhere in Idaho and Washington. I’d like to see those people who are talking about moving to Post Falls, actually step out and move. I’d like to have more than one or two preachers working out of this church. It would be wonderful to have three or four or more. We know people who have an interest in doing this, and we know others who have been recently saved. In order to complete the vision that I have it will take more dedicated people than we have right now. We have been given a van to use both here and on the reservation, but we need someone to drive it. We need more people to go out knocking on doors, visiting the sick, and starting Bible studies in nursing homes and private homes. We need more people boldly coming before the throne of grace with their censors full of burning incense, “that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in (this) time of need.”
I have known persuasive preachers who seemingly could get rocks to roll up hill. I have known pastors who could get their members to commit themselves to attempt great things for God. But I am not one of those persuaders – it’s not my personality. And I’m not even sure that is the kind of minister we need in these last days. We need Christians whose hearts have been turned by the Lord – in the same sort of way He turned them at the time of their salvation. There is no need for obedient feet, or hands or lips, if the heart isn’t even more obedient and surrendered to the Lord.
I am not a powerful persuader, and I don’t really have much of a desire to become one. But if I could persuade you to one thing tonight it would be to pray – to really pray. It is a problem in my life, and I’m sure that it is in the lives of others. “There was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour” because God’s saints had not filled the throne room with incense.
A few minutes ago I contrasted Christ Jesus’ words with those of His servant James. The Lord said, “Ask, and it shall be given you,” and James added, “Ye have not because you ask not.” Those words of James are encouraging, but the context from which I took them is not. The come from James 4 where verse 1 says, “From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.”
Why are our personal wishes not being fulfilled? Why is there so much going on around our church but not actually within our church? Someone might say, “It’s because we ask not.” Is success or victory achieved by asking for it? The Bible seems to say so. And without question this is a part of today’s spiritual famine. But it is our human nature to at first try to reach for success through our own fleshly strength. If we take enough vitamins, get enough exercise, treat our symptoms with wisdom we will live to be a hundred. We don’t need to pray about our health until it starts to slip away from us. If we ask enough young preachers to visit us… If we can get their wives to love us, and be willing to leave their fathers and mothers… Then we will have more workers for the Lord here in our church. Such things as these may be nothing more than the outworking of the flesh – letters, email invitations, the purchase of plane tickets, etc. etc. The Saviour, Who has authority over all things, has told us, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”
“But Lord, in addition our feeble attempts, we been asking you for these things for some time now. Haven’t we been seeking a missionary pastor for Tricities for several years – writing letters and buying plane tickets? Haven’t we been preaching the gospel month after month and no one has been saved? Aren’t we knocking on doors – your door – loudly enough?”
Do I see the finger of the Lord pointing to James 4:3? “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.” If we come into the Lord’s presence even with good spiritual requests, but our motivation is selfish, it is like carrying our censor filled with micro-waved river rock and rotten lettuce leaves. There will be no sweet-smelling savor, and the reply will be “silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.” And that is even if it is the decree of God to do the things we beg of Him.
Why do you want your friend to be saved? That you want him to be spared eternal judgment is a very good reason. And that you would like to fellowship with him before the throne of God for eternity, is another good reason. But they are not the best reason; they may in fact be fleshly, selfish reasons. Rarely do we beseech God for the best reason – for the glory of the Lord our Saviour. “Oh God, may your Name be magnified by the salvation of the soul of that friend of mine.” “Lord use this church for your glory, even if it means tribulation or our personal shame.” “Not my will, but thine be done” – those were the words of Christ Jesus Himself while in the midst of His suffering in the garden.
I have to ask myself, why do I want our church to prosper? Is it for my personal legacy? Is it so that when I am gone Calvary Independent Baptist Church will still be here? Is it that I might have a little empire to rule for a short while. May it be so that I can have less work to do because others are doing it for me? Is it pride that motivates these desires? I don’t think any of these things are my reason, but do I really know my own heart? When I go before the Lord, I need to make sure that my censer is in proper working order and filled with God-approved incense and fire from His altar.
I may be mixing metaphors at this point, but there is a point to it. Revelation 8:5 says, “And the angel of took the censer, and filled it with fire off the altar….” At that point the judgments of the tribulation resumed. Fire off the altar in Heaven reminds me of an earlier day – Isaiah 6 – “Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.”
Why is there silence in heaven? Is it because our incense burning lacks Heavenly altar fire? Maybe you have been praying for that unsaved loved one so long that your heart and lips no longer burn with the fire of God. “We ask, and receive not, because we ask improperly.” Why do our prayer meetings end so quickly? Is it we have nothing about which to pray? Is it that we have no burdens? Why is our prayer meeting attendance not 100%. Is it because there is no need or its not important? Why are our prayer meetings so quiet and sedate? Is it because we have nothing about which to be excited? Don’t you wonder if Isaiah’s lips burned when that coal from God’s altar was placed upon them? Jeremiah couldn’t keep from prophesying because there was a fire in his bones. Maybe heaven is silent because there is no fire in our bones or on our lips.
When the incense of the saints filled God’s throne room, the angels took action and all Heaven broken loose on the wicked of the earth. Do we really want to see God’s angels in action here and around us? Then we need to fill our censers with God-approved incense and the fire which comes from God’s altar. It cannot be said that we are really serious for the Lord until we are more serious about prayer.