To Christians, nothing captures our collective imagination quite like Heaven. We read a lot about Heaven in the Bible (nearly 700 references!), we preach about Heaven, talk about it, sing about it, and (if you’re like me) we even dream about it!
If you haven’t done this recently, take a few minutes right now to imagine what Heaven is like. Use your imagination to picture yourself entering through ‘the gates’ for the first time. What words best describe what you see, hear, feel or smell?
Perhaps you came up with some of the following: Beautiful, Joyful, Bright, Celebration, Praise, etc.
While we can only imagine what Heaven is like, John the Apostle actually experienced Heaven for himself, and recorded everything he experienced in the book of Revelation. Here are but a few of the incredible things John saw and heard:
“The hairs of His head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, His feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and His voice was like the roar of many waters.” (Rev. 1:14-15)
“Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!" (Rev. 5:11-12)
“Then God's temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of His covenant was seen within His temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.” (Rev. 11:19)
Wow! There’s a lot of amazing stuff going on in Heaven. And that’s just a small sample of all the incredible things that John saw and heard.
There’s one scene, however, that stands out starkly from all the rest of the spectacular activity being depicted in this apocalyptic vision. In the midst of all the praising, singing, smoke, hail, fire, earthquakes, lightening, thunder and the mayhem of the various judgements being dispensed, John describes a brief period of … (wait for it) … silence.
“When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” (Rev. 8:1)
I’ll bet few of us ever imagine Heaven as silent. But it will be, for 30 minutes. Sometime in the future, at the appointed time for an appropriate time, Heaven will be completely silent.
A Deafening Silence
No doubt you’ve heard the old saying – “the silence was deafening”, or Simon & Garfunkel’s ironic lyric – “the sound of silence”. I think Revelation 8:1 describes a time when silence will indeed be deafening. In contrast to all that comes before and after, this brief period of silence will surely have a ’sound’ of its own, begging to be noticed.
Why did Jesus ask John the Revelator to record this relatively insignificant future event? Well, probably because it will be anything but insignificant. As I’ve said before, nothing in the Bible is insignificant. Every “jot and tittle” has a divinely inspired purpose (Matt. 5:18; cf. 2 Tim. 3:16-17). In fact, the ‘jots’ and ‘tittles’ in Revelation are specifically protected by some powerful promises and warnings, as you can read in Revelation 1:3 and Revelation 22:9,18-19.
Let’s think about the significance of this ‘little tittle’ in Revelation 8:1. Why will there be a ‘pregnant pause’ in Heaven? What are the implications of this prophesied moment of silence?
We’re all familiar with the scene on the evening news, when during a recently deceased celebrity’s memorial service, or at a large public gathering soon after a major catastrophe, the moderator asks the crowd to honour the dead with a ‘moment of silence’. We do this as a sign of respect and as part of the grieving process as we reflect on our loss.
What’s unusual about the scene in Revelation 8 is that the ‘moment of silence’ will happen before the event. In anticipation of the horrific judgments to come, all of Heaven – God the Father, the Lord Jesus, all the angels, the Church elders, all the Tribulation saints and all of us who call Jesus “Lord” (yes, we’ll be there with Jesus too! cf. 1 Thess. 4:13-5:11; Rev. 4:1) – will pause for 30 minutes of silent, solemn contemplation. This dramatically underlines the gravity of what is about to come.
The fact that all of Heaven will take a ‘time out’ for the sake of what is about to be unleashed on earth is confirmation that everyone who has already been ‘promoted’ to Heaven is aware of events on earth (cf. Hebrews 12:1). That’s amazing. In the verses that follow Revelation 8:1, we see the martyred Tribulation saints praying for God’s justice to be dispensed on earth. They will be heavily invested in what is about to happen!
“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.” (Rev. 8:3-4; cf. Rev. 7:13-17)
Empathy – the half-hour of reverential silence seems to confirm that those in Heaven have deep empathy for the suffering they perceive here on earth. Yes, God is wholly righteous and requires complete justice (cf. Rev. 16:5-7). But, He is also wholly loving and takes no pleasure in metering out His justice.
“Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live..." (Ezek. 33:11a)
As fellow citizens of Heaven (cf. Phil. 3:20), when’s the last time we paused for a half-hour, or even a few minutes, to reflect and ponder the suffering all around us? While we’re acutely aware of the depraved state of our world, are we taking time out of our busy schedules to think about the eternal implications and prayerfully bring them before the Lord?
Maybe Simon and Garfunkel had it right after all. Perhaps, for the Believer, silence does have a ‘sound’ – the sound of awe and reverent contemplation of what the Lord is doing, and will do, to reconcile all things unto Himself.
“And He who was seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new.' Also he said, 'Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.'” (Rev. 21:5)
It seems only fitting to close in prayer:
Heavenly Father, as we sit in this Divinely ordained moment of silent pause, help us to prayerfully consider what is happening in the Heavenly realm as You bring to perfect completion Your sovereign plan for mankind on earth. May we pray in earnest for those who don’t yet bow their knee and call You “Lord”. Please open their eyes to the truth and their hearts to the saving knowledge of Your grace through Jesus. Amen.
Here are some further resources if you’d like to explore more about what the Bible has to say on the subject of heaven: