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THE SEVENTH SEAL, Part 1

 

 

When He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Revelation 8:1.

 

About the Seventh Seal

 

The first six seals are relatively easy to identify and explain under the church-historic interpretation of the Book of Revelation.

Setting opening and closing dates for these seals is relatively simple when using reliable and authoritative history texts, such as Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church. Identifying a date for the opening of the seventh seal is a challenge because there is nothing in our history-past that suggests an authoritative date. The seventh seal opens on silence that lasts for about half an hour. The word “about” suggests an indefiniteness: more-or-less half an hour; not exactly half an hour. After this half hour we see several things coming to light: seven angels to whom are given seven trumpets, the saints praying, and an earthquake after which the seven angels prepare themselves to sound.

F. G. Smith, 1880–1947, was a principal exponent of the Book of Revelation in the Church of God Reformation Movement. In addition to extensive teaching on the Revelation, he wrote three books that survive to the present: The Revelation Explained, The Last Reformation, and Prophetic Lectures on Daniel and the Revelation.

The Church of God Reformation Movement that began in the United States in about 1880 saw itself described in the sixth seal of chapters 6 and 7. It was believed that this movement would grow around the world and prepare the church for the Second Coming of Christ and the end of time. The things pictured in the sixth seal certainly give credence to this view. However, the sixth seal leads to the seventh seal and we find a very different picture.

Smith makes one comment about the seventh seal in The Revelation Explained and notably omits any comment on the subject in his other books. He wrote:

 

Upon the opening of the seventh seal, “there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.” Whether this interval of silence is intended to be symbolical of any event on earth I do not know; neither have I seen any solution of the matter that is consistent or satisfactory.[1]

 

However, among the contemporaries of Smith, some ministers believed that God had given them more light on the Revelation. They proposed an explanation for the seventh seal that eventually shook that movement resulting in unintended divisions.

 

Goodnight’s Teaching on the Seventh Seal

 

One such minister was W. S. Goodnight. Goodnight wrote a small book in 1930 with the title Chart Explanations of the Revelation. In this book, he dates the closing of the sixth seal and the beginning of the seventh seal in the year 1930. I do not agree with how Brother Goodnight made this determination and I do not agree with his conclusions about the seventh seal. But, it is important that we explore his thinking whether or not it was correct because it has had a significant impact in the thinking of various parts of the Church of God movement.

For a time, his explanation was accepted by many Church of God ministers. A new holiness paper called The Seventh Trumpet was started that espoused Goodnight’s view. Three ministers by the name of Lawson, Turnbow, and Rogers expanded upon Goodnight’s interpretation in a book in which they collaborated in the early 1950s titled The Revelation with Gospel and Prophecy. A substantial movement grew up around the seventh seal message that was championed by an able and influential minister by the name of Emmerson Wilson in the 1960s. Since then opinions have varied on the seventh seal, some dogmatically holding to it as it was explained, others rejecting it altogether, and most just being quiet having little or no opinion.

Goodnight determined that the sixth and seventh seals would cover 100 years as preliminary judgement on the world and the nominal churches. His theory begins in Revelation 6:17 where the sixth seal is called “the great day of His wrath.”

On page 41 of his book Goodnight asserts that the expression “one day" stands for 100 years. The assertion, while seeming to be arbitrary, is derived from earlier teaching on the two witnesses of chapter 11 where they are resurrected after three-and-a-half days, which is interpreted to be 350 years. The 350 years was said to be the time of the Reformation. Dating the beginning of the Reformation at 1530 the 350 years produce the year 1880 which was said to be the date for the opening of the sixth seal. In commenting on the great day of His wrath of Revelation 6:17, Goodnight writes on page 63,

 

In this day of one hundred years, the saints are to judge the world by the word. We read in I Cor. 6:2, “The saints are to judge the world.” This is to take place in this one hundred years as symbolized in this day.

 

He identifies the judging of the world by the word with the Church of God Reformation Movement. He writes on page 90, “We see in this that the judgments in chapter 18:l–8 are placed with the beginning of the A.D. 1880 reformation.” This conclusion is restated on page 95, “People of God will be coming into this light the remainder of the one hundred years of judgment as symbolized in the one day symbol, beginning with A.D. 1880.”

Revelation 18:9–24 describes the judgment on Babylon, verse 10 “for in one hour is thy judgment come.” This one hour of judgment is said to be the same as the one hundred years of judgment beginning in 1880. On page 105 Goodnight writes,

 

In verse 8 of this chapter we had the day symbol. Then beginning with verse 9, as quoted, we see the kings of the earth that committed fornication with Babylon, standing afar off for fear of her torment, lamenting for her. And in verse 10—“For in one hour is thy judgments come.”

 

In his thinking, the 100 years and the one hour are the same period of time. If the hour is 100 years, then the half hour of the seventh seal is 50 years. Since the 100 years began in 1880, and if the seventh seal is 50 years of that 100 years, the conclusion is that the sixth seal began in 1880 and the Seventh seal began 50 years later in 1930.

While Goodnight does not specifically state this in his book, he does make statements based on this conclusion:

 

This brings us to the time of the pouring out of the three first vials. They began to be poured out with the opening of this sixth seal and lasted up to A.D. 1930, for fifty years. (Page 72)

 

In this we see the saved ministry of Protestantism rejecting truth as it is brought to them in regard to the fullness of the gospel, and holding on to their creeds and earthly born churches. They fall to the earth; they were no part of it till they rejected light. John saw these things when the sixth seal was opened. It was fully opened A.D. 1930. (Page 78)

 

Goodnight summarizes his theory in one paragraph on pages 83–84.

 

Notice this seventh trumpet sounds just after the standing up of the two witnesses (chapter 11, recorded in verse 15). Following the beginning, to sound of the seventh trumpet in the last part of chapter 11, there is another earthquake mentioned. There are two earthquakes mentioned in chapter 11. The seventh trumpet is between them. The first one is in line with the sixth seal earthquake, at the same hour the two witnesses stood up with the A.D. 1880 reformation—the sixth seal age. In this, we locate the beginning of sounding of the seventh trumpet to be at the end of the sixth seal, A.D. 1930, and the beginning of the seventh seal between the earthquakes of chapter 11. Also, in the scripture regarding the opening of the seventh seal, reading as follows, “And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for the space of an half hour” (chapter 8:1) notice this seal is placed just before the six trumpets as recorded. In this, we see we must come to the knowledge of the truth of the seventh seal before we understand the six trumpets. The seventh seal begins at 1930 and ends with figure 7 on the chart, or is open in its fullness at figure 7, A.D. 1980.

 

The year 1980 supposedly ends the seventh seal and ushers in the camp of the saints mentioned in Revelation 20:9. Of the silence of the seventh seal, Goodnight suggests on page 107,

In this we are made to believe we shall come to a time at the end of the seventh seal that there will be no rejoicing in heaven, for no one is being saved. The door of mercy will be closed, as all the righteous are gathered into the camp of the saints, and the wicked against them, spiritually speaking.

This is not to be understood as the end of time, but an end of people’s opportunity to be saved before Christ returns. The obvious implication is that no one will be saved after the year 1980 as the door of mercy will be closed. Goodnight finishes his thought,

 

. . . as to the one hour at the end, and silence in heaven half an hour, might refer to the door of mercy’s closing half an hour before the time appointed for the end.

 

Although the language is confusing this suggests that Christ would return around 1980. Christ did not return and people are still being saved therefore we know that this dating and interpretation of the seventh seal cannot be correct.

 

Unanticipated Result of the Teaching

 

The idea that the seventh seal opened in 1930 was largely rejected by the Church of God fellowship centered in Anderson, IN. The Movement was experiencing some serious internal difficulties concerning issues that had been largely taken for granted during its first 50 years. Some of those difficulties involved how to teach entire sanctification, what constitutes proper adornment and other matters of outward standard, to what degree can the work of the Church of God be organized into boards, committees, and such, and the teaching of the Revelation. Some were questioning the validity of identifying the Movement so strongly with the sixth seal and the overall interpretation of the Book of Revelation.

Those that followed Goodnight’s understanding of the seventh seal quickly condemned the Anderson Movement as the church of Laodicea of Revelation chapter three. In time numerous congregations disaffiliated with the Anderson Movement and banded together in loose fellowships around several camp meetings across the country. For the most part, these congregations tended to hold to the more traditional opinions and conservativeness of the earlier Church of God Reformation Movement.

For decades, the message of the seventh seal was believed to be exposing the Anderson Movement for its apostasy. While some still hold to that understanding, the larger part of the unaffiliated congregations have rejected that thought and for the most part have no opinion as to what the seventh seal is.

 

First Approach Was Not Correct

 

However well-intentioned what might be called the seventh seal movement was, the interpretation that developed this understanding was not correct.

First, defining the hour as one hundred years is totally arbitrary. While some logic was applied it was based on assumptions suggested by a theory of time symbols and then misapplied. Goodnight eventually places the half our silence at the end of the seventh seal, but the text indicates that the silence exists at the opening of the seal. Placing the half hour silence at the end of the seal confounds the idea behind dividing the sixth and seventh seals into two 50-year periods. If the sixth seal lasts 50 years and the silence comes at the end of the seventh seal, where do we get the 50 years for the seventh seal? And, if the silence lasts for half an hour, logically that 50 years must follow whatever happens in the seventh seal. In this we have a conundrum—a puzzle that cannot be solved.

Those that followed this interpretation of the seventh seal eventually reduced the seventh seal to a time when God put judgment on the Movement centered in Anderson, IN and brought the true church out of apostasy as I just mentioned. This is erroneous because it is too narrow in scope. The previous six seals all revealed certain historic facts that affected the entire Christian church during specific times in history. Judgment on a small movement in the United States even though that movement has a world-wide representation does not fit the model of the previous seals.

As mentioned at the opening of this lesson, the very language of the seal suggests some indefiniteness as to the time at which this seal is opened and how long it lasts. The only thing we know for certain at this point is that “there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.”

Setting these things aside, we will explore the seventh seal beginning in our next lecture.



[1] Smith, F. G.,  The Revelation Explained,  Faith Publishing House: Guthrie, OK,  1973,  p. 132.