The "Hallelujah Chorus" of Handel's Messiah is probably the most powerful and moving musical composition ever written. Music historian Cesar Saerchinger once observed that hearing a performance of the "Hallelujah Chorus" inspires "a spiritual elevation that can never be surpassed."
During the London premiere of the Messiah in 1743, King George II was seated in his box as the first rolling strains of "Hallelujah" cascaded forth from the orchestra and chorus. The king was so deeply moved that he spontaneously rose to his feet and stood for the remainder of the performance, his eyes glistening with emotion. The rest of the audience, seeing the king reverently standing as the music swelled, also rose to its feet — a tradition that remains to this day whenever the "Hallelujah Chorus" is performed.
You know this magnificent chorus well. I'm sure you remember that at its climax, wave after wave of Hallelujahs sweep over you. It is difficult to experience this music without your heart pounding and your eyes filling with tears. And then —
The orchestra and the chorus suddenly stop!
And there is silence!
It is a thundering silence, full of awe and intense anticipation. The echoes of the last Hallelujah still reverberate in your ear and in your heart, fading gradually until the silence at last becomes complete. There is a sense of drama, of suspense, of mystery. We know it is not over. The last Hallelujah is yet to sound.
Suddenly the silence shatters under the triumphant blow of the final majestic Hallelujah. The victory of the Messiah is accomplished.
In the eighth chapter of Revelation, we witness the very moment which is symbolized in the climactic pause of Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus."
8:1-2 When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.
And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets.
The silence described here reminds us of the doxology penned by the prophet Habakkuk: "But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him." The half hour of silence in Revelation 8 comes as a dramatic contrast to the shouts of praise and the playing of harps we have heard up to this point. Suddenly, everything — all activity and all sound throughout heaven — ceases with the dramatic opening of the seventh seal.
8:1 WHEN HE [the Lamb] broke open the seventh seal, there was silence for about half an hour in heaven.
2 Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets.
3 And another angel came and stood over the altar. He had a golden censer, and he was given very much incense (fragrant spices and gums which exhale perfume when burned), that he might mingle it with the prayers of all the people of God (the saints) upon the golden altar before the throne. [Psalms 141:2.]
4 And the smoke of the incense (the perfume) arose in the presence of God, with the prayers of the people of God (the saints), from the hand of the angel.
5 So the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and cast it upon the earth. Then there followed peals of thunder and loud rumblings and blasts and noises, and flashes of lightning and an earthquake. [Leviticus 16:12; Ezekiel 10:2.]
6 Then the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them.
7 The first angel blew [his] trumpet, and there was a storm of hail and fire mingled with blood cast upon the earth. And a third part of the earth was burned up and a third of the trees was burned up and all the green grass was burned up. [Exodus 9:23-25.]
8 The second angel blew [his] trumpet, and something resembling a great mountain, blazing with fire, was hurled into the sea. [Jeremiah 51:25.]
9 And a third of the sea was turned to blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea perished, and a third of the ships were destroyed.
10 The third angel blew [his] trumpet, and a huge star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it dropped on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water —
11 And the name of the star is Wormwood. A third part of the waters was changed into wormwood, and many people died from using the water, because it had become bitter.
12 Then the fourth angel blew [his] trumpet, and a third of the sun was smitten, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that [the light of] a third of them was darkened, and a third of the daylight [itself] was withdrawn, and likewise a third [of the light] of the night was kept from shining.
13 Then I [looked and I] saw a solitary eagle flying in midheaven, and as it flew I heard it crying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, because of the rest of the trumpet blasts which the three angels are about to sound! AMP
As Earl Palmer observes,
It is the silence of mystery and intense waiting. . . . There is communicated in a very dramatic way in this quietness the full and awesome authority of God. Everything must wait for his kingly move.
That dramatic, kingly move begins, as this account tells us, with seven angels who are given seven trumpets to sound. These seven trumpets are all part of the consummate event which is the opening of the seventh seal. These seven angels are impressive indeed. We are told that they are the angels who stand before God — a reference which calls to mind the story in Luke 1 of the angel who visited Zechariah to announce the birth of John the Baptist.
1:1 SINCE [as is well known] many have undertaken to put in order and draw up a [thorough] narrative of the surely established deeds which have been accomplished and fulfilled in and among us,
2 Exactly as they were handed down to us by those who from the [official] beginning [of Jesus' ministry] were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word [that is, of the doctrine concerning the attainment through Christ of salvation in the kingdom of God],
3 It seemed good and desirable to me, [and so I have determined] also after having searched out diligently and followed all things closely and traced accurately the course from the highest to the minutest detail from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, [Acts 1:1.]
4[My purpose is] that you may know the full truth and understand with certainty and security against error the accounts (histories) and doctrines of the faith of which you have been informed and in which you have been orally instructed.
5 In the days when Herod was king of Judea there was a certain priest whose name was Zachariah, of the daily service (the division) of Abia; and his wife was also a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.
6 And they both were righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.
7 But they had no child, for Elizabeth was barren; and both were far advanced in years.
8 Now while on duty, serving as priest before God in the order of his division,
9 As was the custom of the priesthood, it fell to him by lot to enter [the sanctuary of] the temple of the Lord and burn incense. [Exodus 30:7.]
10 And all the throng of people were praying outside [in the court] at the hour of incense [burning].
11 And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense.
12 And when Zachariah saw him, he was troubled, and fear took possession of him.
13 But the angel said to him, Do not be afraid, Zachariah, because your petition was heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you must call his name John [God is favorable].
14 And you shall have joy and exultant delight, and many will rejoice over his birth,
15 For he will be great and distinguished in the sight of the Lord. And he must drink no wine nor strong drink, and he will be filled with and controlled by the Holy Spirit even in and from his mother's womb. [Numbers 6:3.]
16 And he will turn back and cause to return many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God,
17 And he will [himself] go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn back the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient and incredulous and unpersuadable to the wisdom of the upright [which is the knowledge and holy love of the will of God] — in order to make ready for the Lord a people [perfectly] prepared [in spirit, adjusted and disposed and placed in the right moral state]. [Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 4:5,6.]
18 And Zachariah said to the angel, By what shall I know and be sure of this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.
19 And the angel replied to him, I am Gabriel. I stand in the [very] presence of God, and I have been sent to talk to you and to bring you this good news. [Daniel 8:16; 9:21.]
20 Now behold, you will be and will continue to be silent and not able to speak till the day when these things take place, because you have not believed what I told you; but my words are of a kind which will be fulfilled in the appointed and proper time.
21 Now the people kept waiting for Zachariah, and they wondered at his delaying [so long] in the sanctuary.
22 But when he did come out, he was unable to speak to them; and they [clearly] perceived that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary; and he kept making signs to them, still he remained dumb.
23 And when his time of performing priestly functions was ended, he returned to his [own] house.
24 Now after this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant, and for five months she secluded herself entirely, saying, [I have hid myself]
25 Because thus the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He deigned to look on me to take away my reproach among men. [Genesis 30:23; Isaiah 4:1.]
26 Now in the sixth month [after that], the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee named Nazareth,
27 To a girl never having been married and a virgin engaged to be married to a man whose name was Joseph, a descendant of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.
28 And he came to her and said, Hail, O favored one [endued with grace]! The Lord is with you!Blessed (favored of God) are you before all other women!
29 But when she saw him, she was greatly troubled and disturbed and confused at what he said and kept revolving in her mind what such a greeting might mean.
30 And the angel said to her, Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found grace ( free, spontaneous, absolute favor and loving-kindness) with God.
31 And listen! You will become pregnant and will give birth to a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus.
32 He will be great (eminent) and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His forefather David,
33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob throughout the ages; and of His reign there will be no end. [Isaiah 9:6,7; Daniel 2:44.]
34 And Mary said to the angel, How can this be, since I have no [intimacy with any man as a] husband?
35 Then the angel said to her, The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you [like a shining cloud]; and so the holy (pure, sinless) Thing (Offspring) which shall be born of you will be called the Son of God. [Exodus 40:34; Isaiah 7:14.]
36 And listen! Your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is now the sixth month with her who was called barren.
37 For with God nothing is ever impossible and no word from God shall be without power or impossible of fulfillment.
38 Then Mary said, Behold, I am the handmaiden of the Lord; let it be done to me according to what you have said. And the angel left her.
39 And at that time Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country to a town of Judah,
40 And she went to the house of Zachariah and, entering it, saluted Elizabeth.
41 And it occurred that when Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with and controlled by the Holy Spirit.
42 And she cried out with a loud cry, and then exclaimed, Blessed (favored of God) above all other women are you! And blessed (favored of God) is the Fruit of your womb!
43 And how [have I deserved that this honor should] be granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
44 For behold, the instant the sound of your salutation reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.
45 And blessed (happy, to be envied) is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of the things that were spoken to her from the Lord.
46 And Mary said, My soul magnifies and extols the Lord,
47 And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 For He has looked upon the low station and humiliation of His handmaiden. For behold, from now on all generations [of all ages] will call me blessed and declare me happy and to be envied!
49 For He Who is almighty has done great things for me — and holy is His name [to be venerated in His purity, majesty and glory]!
50 And His mercy (His compassion and kindness toward the miserable and afflicted) is on those who fear Him with godly reverence, from generation to generation and age to age. [Psalms 103:17.]
51 He has shown strength and made might with His arm; He has scattered the proud and haughty in and by the imagination and purpose and designs of their hearts.
52 He has put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of low degree.
53 He has filled and satisfied the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty-handed [without a gift].
54 He has laid hold on His servant Israel [to help him, to espouse his cause], in remembrance of His mercy,
55 Even as He promised to our forefathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever. [Genesis 17:7; 18:18; 22:17; 1 Samuel 2:1-10; Micah 7:20.]
56 And Mary remained with her [Elizabeth] for about three months and [then] returned to her [own] home.
57 Now the time that Elizabeth should be delivered came, and she gave birth to a son.
58 And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy on her, and they rejoiced with her.
59 And it occurred that on the eighth day, when they came to circumcise the child, they were intending to call him Zachariah after his father, [Genesis 17:12; Leviticus 12:3.]
60 But his mother answered, Not so! But he shall be called John.
61 And they said to her, None of your relatives is called by that name.
62 And they inquired with signs to his father [as to] what he wanted to have him called.
63 Then Zachariah asked for a writing tablet and wrote, His name is John. And they were all astonished.
64 And at once his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he began to speak, blessing and praising and thanking God.
65 And awe and reverential fear came on all their neighbors; and all these things were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea.
66 And all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, Whatever will this little boy be then? For the hand of the Lord was [so evidently] with him [protecting and aiding him].
67 Now Zachariah his father was filled with and controlled by the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,
68 Blessed (praised and extolled and thanked) be the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has come and brought deliverance and redemption to His people!
69 And He has raised up a Horn of salvation [a mighty and valiant Helper, the Author of salvation] for us in the house of David His servant —
70 This is as He promised by the mouth of His holy prophets from the most ancient times [in the memory of man] —
71 That we should have deliverance and be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who detest and pursue us with hatred;
72 To make true and show the mercy and compassion and kindness [promised] to our forefathers and to remember and carry out His holy covenant [to bless, which is all the more sacred because it is made by God Himself],
73 That covenant He sealed by oath to our forefather Abraham:
74 To grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our foes, might serve Him fearlessly
75 In holiness (divine consecration) and righteousness [in accordance with the everlasting principles of right] within His presence all the days of our lives.
76 And you, little one, shall be called a prophet of the Most High; for you shall go on before the face of the Lord to make ready His ways, [Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 4:5.]
77 To bring and give the knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness and remission of their sins.
78 Because of and through the heart of tender mercy and loving-kindness of our God, a Light from on high will dawn upon us and visit [us] [Malachi 4:2.]
79 To shine upon and give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to direct and guide our feet in a straight line into the way of peace. [Isaiah 9:2.]
80 And the little boy grew and became strong in spirit; and he was in the deserts (wilderness) until the day of his appearing to Israel [the commencement of his public ministry]. AMP
After the angel told Zechariah what he and his wife Elizabeth should name the baby, and the special kind of man this child would one day become, Zechariah asked, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years."
And the angel's reply is significant: "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news" (emphasis added). It was this same angel Gabriel who announced the coming birth of Jesus to a virgin named Mary.
In Revelation 8 we are introduced to seven angels who stand in the presence of God. They are probably archangels — the highest class of angels — for they are given an extremely important task, the sounding of the seven trumpets. Another of these angels is doubtless the archangel Michael, who appears in the book of Daniel.
There is an ancient apocryphal book that contains an interesting detail. It lists the names of the seven high angels: Uriel, Raphael, Raguel, Michael, Sarakiel, Gabriel, and Phanuel. Notice that their names all end in "el," which is short for Elohim, one of the names of God. These are the seven angels of God, powerful angels who are given apocalyptic trumpets to sound.