A dramatic pause in God’s judgment of the world occurs just after the seventh and final seal of the book that was given to the Lamb of God is opened. It says in Revelation 8:1, “And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.” The Greek word translated silence, sige (see-gay’) means to “to hiss, i.e. hist or hush” (G4602). The closest thing in our language would be shushing someone or telling him to be quiet. Although in the case of the silence in heaven, it appears that it’s a natural reaction to the seventh seal being opened. One way to think about what is happening might be to imagine something like an awards ceremony. As the envelope is being opened, everyone sits in silent anticipation, waiting for the judges’ final decision to be announced.
The length of the silence in heaven after the seventh seal is opened seems like an unusually long break in the activity that’s taking place. In a typical conversation, there is rarely more than a few seconds that passes without someone talking. Even when we are publicly acknowledging a significant event, it is customary to observe only a moment of silence, not several minutes or half an hour. The Greek word John used to designate the time period, hemiorion (hay-mee-o’-ree-on) is derived from two words that suggest John was referring to a half hour according to a heavenly timekeeping system. In other words, an eternal half hour. The Apostle Peter indicated God’s timekeeping system is different than our own. He said, “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8).
John’s statement that there was “silence in heaven about the space of half an hour” (Revelation 8:1) may have been meant to convey the idea that the length of the silence was unbearable and the suspense was killing him, so to speak. What happened afterward was an unusual display of worship in which the prayers of the saints were offered on the golden altar (Revelation 8:3-5) as if they were a sacrifice that God was expected to respond to. John said, “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” (Revelation 8:4-5).
According to the Mosaic Law, one of the responsibilities of the kinsman redeemer was to execute the murderer of his relative (H1350). In Revelation 6:9-10, John refers to this responsibility and states, “And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: and they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” The phrase “them that dwell on the earth” is a regular designation in Revelation for mankind in its hostility to God. “These are those that oppose God, receive the mark of the beast, and on whom the tribulation is focused” (note on Revelation 6:10). The persecuted saints that were crying out for vengeance were told they must wait until their fellow servants and their brethren should be killed as they were (Revelation 6:11). This appears to have already taken place in Revelation 7:14, therefore it seems like the silence in heaven and seven trumpet judgments that follow in Revelation 8-9 could be attributed to the Lord’s vengeance of his church’s martyred saints.
The first four trumpet judgments appear to take place in rapid succession, similar to the unleashing of the four horsemen, but then there is a shift in attention to an announcement that is made to the entire world. John said, “And I beheld, and heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabiters of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which are yet to sound” (Revelation 8:13). Jesus often used the Greek term translated woe as an exclamation of grief to the numerous unrepentant sinners that he came in contact with during his ministry on Earth. In particular, the scribes and Pharisees were singled out and told, “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation” (Matthew 23:33-36, ESV).
The severity of the first two woes that John recorded in Revelation 9 were significant because they seemed to be designed to bring such a devastating blow on mankind that repentance would be inevitable and yet, John said, “And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk: neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts” (Revelation 9:20-21). At this particular point in time, it appears that there will be no believers left on the earth, everyone that is alive is in blatant opposition to God and his commandments. The only clue we have about the size of the population that will be left is that the population of Earth will first be reduced by one-quarter when the pale horse of Death is released (Revelation 6:8) and then, by another third when the four angels are loosed (Revelation 9:15). If these events were to take place today, 3.9 billion or roughly half of the 7.8 billion people on plant Earth would be eliminated. This seems to coincide with Jesus’ prediction, “Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken and the other left” (Matthew 24:40).