“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.”
As we enter December, approaching the end of the year, we have received some prayer requests from those who have been through spiritual battles. Prayer is still needed for us.
This message is to help us understand that our prayers are reaching God.
The passage we read is from Revelation 8. Before this, the book describes a grand chorus of praise to God by a multitude of angels. However, when the Lamb, Jesus, opened the final seal, there was silence in heaven. The word translated as “silence” here is the Greek word “σίγη” (sige), meaning a hush or stillness.
In that stillness, something significant happened – the sweet aroma of incense was offered. The smoke of the incense ascended before the throne of God, symbolizing the prayers of the saints. In the Old Testament, the priests used to burn incense in the temple as part of a ritual to symbolize the acceptance of the people’s prayers by God. This concept is also found in the Christmas story when Zechariah encounters Gabriel in the temple.
“Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.”
During the burning of incense in the temple, the people outside were praying.
Astonishingly, in Revelation 8, John sees the smoke of the incense ascending to heaven, and he understands that it represents the prayers of Christians on earth.
The idea is beautiful: our prayers, like the fragrance of incense, ascend straight to God. Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer, emphasized that even groans and inexpressible prayers ascend to heaven and resound loudly in God’s ears.
Prayers ascend from below to above. Our prayers “stand before God.” And in response, there is a reverberation from above to below. The incense that ascended before God descends to earth, causing thunder, lightning, and an earthquake. This signifies the powerful judgment of God, where justice is executed, evil is destroyed, and the arrival of God’s kingdom is heralded.
The crucial point is that these events occurred after the prayers of the saints, symbolized by the incense, were received before God. Indeed, prayers have the power to move heaven and earth.
The vision that John saw in Revelation is something we can imagine when we close our eyes to pray. Our prayers truly ascend before God. Revelation, written to encourage the persecuted church facing challenges from the Roman Empire, reminds us that encouragement is needed in difficult times.
The eighth chapter of Revelation, which we read together today, encourages our prayers. It conveys through the vision that our prayers are not only reaching God but are also like the “smoke of incense.” Our prayers are a pleasing fragrance to God. The Lord desires to joyfully hear our prayers.
Now, the heavens are still open. Let us desire to lift up the fragrance of our prayers, like the smoke rising to heaven, before the presence of God.