The Tribulation Begins
All Prayers Are Answered
The last seal is now to be broken and the roll to be entirely opened. The breaking of this seventh seal teaches us how surely and completely God answers prayer. He treasures up every sincere prayer though He does not always answer them as quickly as we might wish. Those prayers of which the answer is delayed are not lost prayers, for they will bring answers at just the right time. When Elisabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, prayed for a son, he did not come at once. She prayed for many years and probably often wondered why God did not answer. In fact, she had become quite an old woman, and her husband, Zacharias, had stopped believing he would ever have a son. We are not told if she had stopped believing, too, but we think not from her beautiful salutation when Mary (the mother of Jesus who was yet unborn) greeted her. It breathes a spirit of faith. Zacharias would hardly believe it when an angel told him he was to have a son, for he asked for a sign that it was true, which displeased the angel Gabriel. (Luke 1:18, 20).
Why did not the son come at once at the natural time instead of after Elisabeth and Zacharias were old people? Actually, God had in mind to send them a greater son than they ever dared hope for. God wanted to send them a son of power and eloquence as well as holiness to do the very great and important work of preparing the way for the Lord’s coming. Now off in another village, miles distant from Elisabeth’s home, was a young cousin of hers named Mary who had undoubtedly prayed she might have the honor of being the mother of the Messiah, that is, Christ, for whose coming the Israelites often longed.
Also, Mary was a suitable person in her purity of life for God’s purpose. We feel sure Mary had repeatedly prayed for this happening to occur, for she was not at all unbelieving when the angel Gabriel appeared and told her she was to give birth to the Messiah. Mary was very young, and Elisabeth was old. How could Elisabeth’s son be born at the right time—not too early—to preach the coming of Christ unless Elisabeth was made to wait until Mary grew up to womanhood? So often the answers to prayers are delayed to make them fit in with the answers to other prayers.
Nearly all the prayers described in this chapter are delayed prayers, having been made at various times in human history whose answers will not come until the time set for John’s vision has come to pass. In fact, if these prayers could all be done up in a parcel and labeled as to their contents, the outside label would read, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.” God’s people have been praying the Lord’s prayer ever since He taught it to His disciples. Many prayed the same thing before this petition about the kingdom was taught in these words. However, God’s will is not yet being done on earth as it is done in heaven. John sees in this vision the beginning of the answer to those prayers, and the remainder of Revelation tells about the completing of the answer.
If we go back to 5:8, we will learn something we passed over to bring in now. Just when Jesus took the roll from the Father’s right hand, the twenty-four elders, who represent all God’s people, “fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps and golden vials (bowls) full of odors, which are the prayers of saints.” The harps represent praise. With praise and thanksgiving, they remind the Lord right at that moment when He takes the roll to break its seals that the prayer, ”Thy kingdom come,” has been rising from the hearts and lips of saints for centuries. Jesus accepted these offerings of the prayers of the saints for immediate answer. Here in chapter 8:3, we are told that the “prayers of all saints” are now to be offered on a golden altar.
Why does it say, “When He opened the seventh seal, there was silence,” and it lasted for half an hour? When the first seal was opened, a great cry, “Come,” like the firing of a tremendous cannon, came forth. After the second, third and fourth seals were broken—four tremendous reports—the great prayers repeated in the name of all created beings, “Come!” “Come!” Come!” “COME!!”
Next, when the fifth seal is broken, a great, agonizing cry, “How long, O Lord!” Then, after the sixth seal, a terrific explosion such as this world never heard before sounded as though the earth might have collided with Mars or some other body of tremendous size. The earth rocks and reels, the sun turns black, the meteors fly about by the thousands, and everyone screaming runs for shelter. Then, the last seal is broken in the calm of heaven far above all commotion and ruin which John had witnessed on earth. When it is broken, the thousands upon thousands of archangels, angels and redeemed saints, who have been sounding their praises to God are instantly hushed into a profound silence which lasts a full half-hour.
Have you been in a meeting where silent prayer was called for? Two, three, four minutes may have passed, but how long it soon seemed! Did you ever witness an accident when somebody ran for a physician while the rest waited in agonizing, helpless silence? A few moments spent thus seemed an age. Silence of all the angelic hosts—dead silence, while every ear and eye is opened wide in expectation of what may happen
next after the terrific things which have already happened. What a tremendously impressive half-hour this time will be!
What is it all for? Just for this reason: All heaven is called to witness HOW GOD ANSWERS PRAYER even though the answer has long been delayed. Every prayer has been treasured up in heaven that has ever been offered from a true heart with the condition, “Thy will be done,” in the name of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer.
The scene opens with seven great archangels before God’s throne. We know the names of only two of these archangels, Gabriel, who appeared to Zacharias and Mary, and Michael, who is mentioned by both Daniel and John. Daniel mentions Gabriel also. The Jewish rabbis invented fictitious names for all seven, except these two given in Scripture. Next, comes to the front One called “another Angel,” who is probably Jesus Christ Himself, for He performs a high priest’s part. The only High Priest in heaven or on earth is Jesus Christ, who has been called “the Angel of God’s presence” in the Old Testament. He’s that same Angel who went with the Israelites through all their wanderings in the wilderness when they left Egypt (Exodus 23:20, Isaiah 64: 9, I Corinthians 10:4).
Christ has a golden censor in His hand with the prayers of the saints the elders offered Him. To these, He adds “much incense,” that is, His own merit, and Christ requests of God that the prayers have immediate answer. This action is what we call Christ’s intercession as our High Priest in our behalf before God’s throne. Here, John sees this intercession, and how it is carried on in heaven.
All true prayers we ever offer to God are answered through Christ’s intercession for us after this manner. Some prayers are answered immediately, but other prayers, as we have shown, for good reasons are not responded to at once. Now we see that a time has come in John’s vision when all the prayers that have been waiting will be answered along with those just ascending.
Do not misunderstand. Not every request made to God will always be responded to, no matter who makes it. God does not promise to answer any prayer of a sinner but the request for forgiveness that is made in sincere repentance. Besides, we need not expect God to forgive our sins, and thus open the way for an answer to other prayers, unless we forgive others. He taught us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” and He said, “If ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses” (Mark 11:26).
People make foolish mistakes, which they would not make if they kept in mind the verse, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” When we excuse ourselves in wrong-doing or try to pass over some wrong we have done and try to forget it, we “regard” iniquity in our hearts. We must repent and make a clean breast of the matter to God and to anyone we have wronged. However, if what we have done lies between us and God alone, we need not confess to anyone but God and not to any human confessor, such as a priest.
I knew a woman in India in fear of the plague when it was raging. Therefore, she prayed and asked God not to let anyone in her family fall ill with the terrible disease. Then, she opened her Bible and read, “There shall no plague come nigh thy dwelling.” She was very happy and sure they were safe. Within a few days, however, her husband sickened and died of plague. She was fearfully shocked and thought God did not keep His promise. It is not for me to say for a certainty why God let her husband die although I did not wonder when I knew these people kept their business running seven days a week. What reason had they to expect God’s protection while they were breaking God’s Sabbath? Satan can direct our attention to Scripture as well as God. Satan quoted Scripture to Jesus when he tempted Him.
Suppose you promised to pay a man five shillings after he met the conditions you had laid down for his weeding your garden. What if he had begged at your door for the money before he had met half the conditions? You would say, “Away with you. You have not met the conditions. I will not pay you.” This woman had not met the conditions to properly lay claim to God’s promise. The promise reads, “BECAUSE thou hast made the Most High thy habitation, there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.” She was a Sabbath-breaker that had not made the Most High her habitation.
In pity, God often answers the prayers of those living in sin. When He does so, it is not because they have a right to expect it. The promises in the Bible are for Christians who are living consistently and are trying to please God. Some special promises depend upon the special conditions laid down with them. If these conditions are not heeded, these promises do not bear fruit.
John shows us how God answers these prayers--all the unanswered, properly offered for all time up to the moment of the vision. How did He accomplish it? John sees Jesus taking those prayers in a censor with live coals, adding sweet-smelling incense, representing the merit of Christ’s beautiful character and His atonement, and the fire from God’s altar picturing God’s power and fiery judgments on the wicked. Lastly, He hurled all of it out of heaven down upon the earth. What happened? There came forth “voices,” tremendously loud, for John to hear them all the way up in heaven; “thunderings,” the loudest noise one ever hears on earth; “lightnings,” the most vivid light we ever see; “and an earthquake,” the greatest commotion one ever feels or sees on earth.
All heaven, then, is hushed, looks downward, listens, and learns this lesson: Prayer will accomplish more for this world than anything else man can do and carries the greatest power man can ever exercise. “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of,” a poet said. However, this chapter in the Bible teaches us that more things are done by God in answer to prayer on earth than by any other means known to man.