When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.
Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them.
The billboards seem to have sprung up everywhere. If you’ve been driving in Dallas lately, you’ve surely seen them. Slogging along at 25 MPH on Central Expressway or LBJ, you’ve also had lots of time to ponder the provocative question that emblazons the signs: “Are we living in the end times?” the billboard shouts. And there’s a picture of a pastor who seems to be ready to answer the question.
Well, the answer is “YES.” We’ve been living in the end times since the Lord’s ascension. The real question is more like, “Do current world events signal the end of humanity as we know it?” That’s much harder to get onto a billboard, even if there’s plenty of time to read it from the car.
The book of Revelation has much to say about the end of humanity as we know it. It’s certainly not the only place in the Bible that the topic is addressed, but the apocalyptic vision given to the apostle John gives us pictures of what will be going on in the “end times.”
In this part of John’s vision, he is allowed to watch and hear three important movements in the symphony that will close history.
First, Jesus finishes the preparatory work of unsealing. All of history has been hurtling toward this moment. Now, imagine that you really are attending a symphony, but you get there early. Folks are walking about, stagehands are scurrying on and off, and at first glance, it seems like nothing in particular is going to happen. Then you hear the oboe play the A440, and all the other instruments check their tuning. Then there’s silence! When the final symphony described in Revelation was about to begin, the silence lasted half an hour. Can you imagine?
Secondly, the distinction between the eternal and the temporal begins to disappear. John sees the herald angels receive their instruments. These angels have been serving God Almighty since before the foundation of the world and are now preparing for the denouement of human history. The trumpets are ready. Another angel is given the material for the offering. It will be for the golden altar that stands before the throne of God. And look! There is heavenly incense, but it’s mixed with earthly prayers. The prayers of God’s people “here below” are part of the glorious offering gathered in “heaven above.” Soon, there will be no such distinction. Soon, the temporal will be completely replaced with the eternal.
Thirdly, John sees the beginning of the end. Old, stained earthly history is consumed in a cataclysmic conflagration as the Lord God begins to make all things new. The new heavens and the new earth will be brought forth from the worshipful offering of heavenly incense and the prayers of the saints.
Are we living in the end times? Yes, we are. But the Lord Jesus told us not to try to figure out the day or the hour. Rather, His people are to live in the reality that at any moment the Lamb who was slain could return as the King of Glory. He will rule and reign in the new heavens and new earth. John sees that the prayers of God’s people are a critical part of that eternal reality. So, what are we to do to be ready in these end times? Pray without ceasing!
“Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” Matthew 24:44