Why Half An Hour’s Silence in Heaven?


readingtorahAfter the seventh seal is opened on the scroll in the Book of Revelation, there is “silence in heaven for half an hour”. (Rev 8:1)

So many people have commented on this fact, and there are so many suggestions about its meaning, that it’s bewildering. I too used to ponder on its meaning… until…

I had decided to explore the idea of the Book of Revelation being arranged within the framework of a Jewish Feast, Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement (which seems apt, since the contents of the Book are about the final redemption.)

Knowing that John of Revelation was either a Priest himself, or at least was well acquainted with the Temple Priesthood and its inner workings, made me wonder if he had seen the events in Heaven laid out as a heavenly version of Yom Kippur.

Turns out I was right. The more I explored the celebrations, prayers, sacrifices and daily events of Yom Kippur (the Temple service, the one which John knew), the more I saw their reflection in the heavenly events of Revelation.

Mysteries Solved

Some events in Revelation hardly make sense outside the context of a temple service. For instance the “martyrs under the altar” (Rev 6:9 – and why is there a sacrificial altar there at all?).

These things only make sense if we understand that, in the Temple, the “members” or limbs of the sacrificial animal were reverently laid around the base of the altar of sacrifice, awaiting the moment in the ceremony when they would be offered on the fire at the top of that altar.

altar of sacrifice

In John’s account, the members were slain Christians who had died on earth for their faith, but who had arrived prematurely (ahead of the major persecution to follow). They were the representation of the morning sacrifice, made before the main ceremony began, and who had to “wait” for the moment of their full recognition and recompense.

The smoke and fragrance of the slain members could not rise to God and become answered prayer before the incense was offered within the Inner Temple.

The Temple of God in Heaven

After my extensive research, it is obvious to me that what John sees in Heaven is the genuine Temple of God, a model or pattern of which was given to Moses. It is now plain that John is entering through the great gates of that Temple when he ascends to Heaven, and what he sees comes to life as integral to that Temple and its angelic services.

Below I list some passages in Revelation that relate to the Temple and its ceremonies:

  • The appearance of Jesus as High Priest 1:13
  • The seven golden candlesticks 1:12
  • The Book of Life 3:5
  • The 24 elders in white garments 4:4
  • The harps and golden bowls of incense 5:8
  • The white robes 6:11
  • The great multitude worshipping with palm branches 7:9
  • The trumpets Chapter 8
  • The golden censer of incense upon the altar 8:3-4
  • The ‘new song’ sung by the 144000 Chapter 14
  • The sea of glass 15:2
  • The tabernacle 15:5
  • The seven bowls 15:7

We note the peculiar fact that Heaven has an Ark of the Covenant and its own Tabernacle (Chapter 15:5).

These objects, and the actions of the angels in blowing silver trumpets, pouring out incense and so forth all lead one to believe John is seeing events as the prophetic outworking of the “Day of the Lord”, the Day of Redemption, or just THE DAY as it was known.

Indeed, he said as much in Revelation 1:10. He was in the Spirit on “The Day of the Lord” (which isn’t a reference to Sunday since that wasn’t the meaning given to it in the earliest days of the Church.)

To John, the phrase en teé kuriakeé heeméra (“on the Lord’s day”) and its Hebrew or Aramaic equivalent would imply what is called in the Old Testament “the Day of the Lord,” the time of the coming destruction that climaxes in the return of Christ (Isaiah 13:6, 9; Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; Amos 5:18; etc.).

In the introduction to E.W. Bullinger’s Commentary on Revelation, he explains definitively that the “Lord’s day” in Revelation 1:10 is not talking about the first day of the week:

Let us notice the latter expression, “the Lord’s Day.” The majority of people, being accustomed from their infancy to hear the first day of the week called the Lord’s Day, conclude in their own minds that that day is thus called because that was the name of it. But the contrary is the fact: the day is so called by us because of this verse.

In the New Testament this day is always called “the first day of the week.” (See Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:2 2, 9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1, 19; Acts 20:7; I Corinthians 16:2.). Is it not strange that in this one place a different expression is thought to refer to the same day? And yet, so sure are the commentators that it means Sunday, that some go as far as to say it was “Easter Sunday,” and it is for this reason that Revelation 1:10-19 is chosen in the New Lectionary of the Church of England as the 2nd Lesson for Easter Sunday morning.

There is no evidence of any kind that “the first day of the week” was ever called “the Lord’s Day” before the Apocalypse was written.

But in particular this (connection to Yom Kippur) solved to my own personal satisfaction the mystery of the half-hour silence.

I remember the day I discovered this, and how I skipped joyfully into the kitchen, shouting “YES, I’ve found it!” in my own Eureka moment. My husband simply smiled patiently – he’s used to me being like this when I’m researching.

What did I discover? I’ll have to give the context beforehand so this makes sense.

It is the day of Yom Kippur, and the Priests are ministering in the Temple. The preliminaries of The Day have been performed, and the most solemn moment is coming.

The altars and lamps have been readied and the priests, suitably dressed in white linen and ritually pure, have been allotted their tasks for the day. The lamb (regular morning sacrifice) has been sacrificed and laid at the base of the altar.

Now the “time of incense” has come – that special event in the Temple service when all the people would gather for prayers. (Luke 1:10)

The priest chosen for the honoured task of offering the incense inside the Holy Place, with another priest as his helper, would gather fire from the altar of burnt offering in the Priests’ Court along with a vessel of incense and they would then approach the vestibule of the sanctuary.

Offering Incense in the Holy Place

The two incense priests mount the twelve steps that lead to the Sanctuary building and they enter the Holy Place.

Offering_Incense

At a signal from the Overseer, the priest gently places the incense on the altar, “like sifting grains of flour” and as the Holy Place fills with smoke he prostrates himself then leaves the Sanctuary.

All those outside are waiting in a reverent hush, just as they did when the father of John the Baptist delayed his exit from the Sanctuary.(Luke 1:21)

And right at the same place in proceedings, in Chapter 8 of Revelation we see the silence in which the multitudes await the emergence of the incense priest, in this case the angel.

“In the Jewish Temple, musical instruments and singing resounded during the whole time of the offering of the sacrifices, which formed the first part of the service. But at the offering of incense, solemn silence was kept (“My soul waiteth upon God,” Psalms 62:1 ; “is silent,” Margin; Psalms 65:1 , Margin), the people praying secretly all the time.” [Matthew Henry’s Commentary of Revelation.]

The Mystery of the Half Hour of Silence

Revelation 8:1 “When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.”

The great multitude of ordinary worshippers has assembled in the outer court to join in the daily service. As far as the people in the Temple are concerned, activities are progressing behind the thick wall dividing their Court and the Priests’ Court, but apart from their knowledge of the scriptures and familiarity with the Temple services, they are not sure of the exact timing.

They have been alerted to the incense priests entering the Sanctuary, but they need to WAIT in hushed silence for their prayers (the incense) to be offered to God and accepted.

The Exact Timing of the Incense Offering

It is a recorded fact of the Temple service that the whole process of collecting the fire from the altar, offering the incense, and re-emerging from the Sanctuary took THIRTY MINUTES.

During all this time, the musical and vocal praises in the Temple ceased, and the people stood in an awed silence! For half an hour.

“In Exodus 30 we find the detailed specifications of all each priest had to do twice a day. The time usually allocated for that rekindling of the coals, and refilling the incense spread on the coals was 30 minutes. So in Revelation 8 we are seeing an allusion to the prayers of the saints illustrated in the Tabernacle Incense Offerings”. [Source]

“Some scholars believe that this passage is a reference to the length of time it took for the High Priest to take the fire from the bronze altar that is in the outer court of the Temple and then to enter the Holy Place and to use the altar fire to burn incense on the golden altar in front of the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant had been kept and then to return to where the people were assembled to give them the priestly blessing. The whole procedure took about 30 minutes. (Lev. 16:13-14; Lk 1:10, 21). [Source]

“Slowly the incensing priest and his assistants ascended the steps to the Holy Place, preceded by the two priests who had formerly dressed the altar and the candlestick, and who now removed the vessels they had left behind, and, worshipping, withdrew. Next, one of the assistants reverently spread the coals on the golden altar; the other arranged the incense; and then the chief officiating priest was left alone within the Holy Place, to await the signal of the president before burning the incense. It was probably while thus expectant that the angel Gabriel appeared to Zacharias (that is, Zechariah – Luke 1:8-11). As the president gave the word of command, which marked that ‘the time of incense had come,’ ‘the whole multitude of people without’ withdrew from the inner court, and fell down before the Lord, spreading their hands in silent prayer. It is this most solemn period, when throughout the vast Temple buildings deep silence rested on the worshipping multitude, while within the sanctuary itself the priest laid the incense on the golden altar, and the cloud of ‘odours’ (5:8) rose up before the Lord, which serves as the image of heavenly things in this description.” Alfred Edersheim “The Temple: Its Ministry and Services”, page 167.

Other Astounding Revelation & Yom Kippur Similarities

In brief, I found that so many activities in Revelation had a direct relationship to the Yom Kippur Temple Service that I cannot now see them in any other way. To me, it’s conclusive, and explains SO much.

For example, that God put His Name upon the forehead of the 144 thousand; that the service cannot begin until the Morning Star be seen in the sky; that all participants wore white robes; that precisely seven trumpets were blown through the day; that exactly 24 representatives of the Nation of Israel (elders) were permitted to enter the inner court to witness the priests at work; that the songs of praise and prayers recorded in Revelation all have their counterpart in the Temple proceedings – and much more.

But this blog entry was simply to point out ONE of those events, the half-hour silence in Heaven, and to explain that it can hardly be understood outside the Temple Service!

Knowing that, opens up a whole new and exciting way of understanding Revelation, and adds to earlier research without contradicting it. Thank God for His opening of the books in these last days.

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7 thoughts on “Why Half An Hour’s Silence in Heaven?

  1. Truly exquisite and saying exactly what myself and my friends were finding in our fellowship together, after doing an extensive study of the law and ordinances. God has packed in so much meat for us as His people, but also, the book of Revelation has brought a whole new revelation as far as how God views and demands our worship…praying continually, the same way the altar of incense would be burnt each morning and at twilight. Not offering up vain prayers, just like God’s forbidding of offering up unauthorized incense.

    There are so much things to unpack in Revelation beyond the signs of destruction in the world which so much modern day pre-trib “Left behind” type theology misses and completely skews as far as where the emphasis lies. Thank the Lord for opening the eyes and ears of our heart to receive this amazing blessing for us His people!

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  2. Thank you for this enlightening and enriching research, Tricia. No more mystery. The Jewish feasts reveal so much about what God’s Word is REALLY saying. I’ve been learning over a number of years that the westernised understanding of Christianity is a far cry from the truth on many issues.

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    • I thought you might be interested to know that the feasts were never Jewish. They have always been called The Feasts of The Lord so they are His feasts and ALL Israel were invited to them – all 12 tribes (Judah – The Jewish people are one tribe and there are 11 non Jewish tribes) And also to the foreigner. Foreigner became as native born by simply following and worshiping the same God – the God of Israel. So if you belong to God, you belong to Israel and the feasts along with their blessings are for all of us to take part in 🙂

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