And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. Another angel with a golden censer came and stood at the altar; he was given a great quantity of incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar that is 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.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then today’s Scripture provides a picture worth millions. It’s a heavenly picture of what your prayers set in motion. In this, John is reporting back to earth things revealed to him before the throne of God. John’s images are extraordinary as we see in picture form our prayers rising up to God.
John’s first century readers are hard-pressed, suffering saints in the Roman Province of Asia Minor. They face danger from within and danger from without. It must have seemed to them that the score was Lions: 100, and Christians: 0. With no political, economic, or military power they must have felt helpless before the world. The only thing left was prayer.
John pulls back the celestial curtain to show what happens when God’s people pray. John’s imagery is compelling. Amidst the upheavals of history and unnoticed by world rulers, he shows the prayers of God’s people rising up before the throne, returning to earth in unimaginable power.
John tells of seeing seven angels standing before God’s throne being given seven trumpets. We’ve seen these trumpets before in Scripture, symbolizing God ready to act and to intervene in the world (Matthew 24:31; 1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16). As the prayers go up before the throne, an angel sprinkles incense on them from a golden censer. The prayers are a sweet, precious savor to God (Psalm 141:2; Exodus 30:8; Luke 1:10).
Then, as the prayers are received by God, He is ready to put them into action. The same golden censer that was used to sprinkle incense is now used to throw the fire of cleansing to the earth. New Testament theologian Eugene Boring describes this transcendent scene: “The prayers are ‘heard’; they have an effect. The effect is not merely a subjective release in the worshiper; the prayers of the saints on earth cause things to happen on earth.” (Revelation)
This picture around the throne of God shows that our prayers do indeed have effect in this world. They ascend to God as a sweet smelling fragrance, and they descend onto the earth in powerful action. It is little wonder that Jesus says that we “need to pray always and not to lose heart” (Luke 18:1).
- Take some moments to reflect on today’s Scripture about the prayers of God’s people going up to Him as a sweet smelling fragrance.
- Use your senses to put you into the scene: see the luminous brightness around God’s throne; hear the trumpets blast; smell the sweet incense; feel the heat radiating from the fire on the altar.
- Conclude by praying The Lord’s Prayer.
“What are the real master-powers behind the world and what are the deeper secrets of our destiny? Here is the astonishing answer: the prayers of the saints and the fire of God… Would to God we in Christ’s Church really understood the power of prayer like that!”
Thomas Torrance, The Apocalypse Today