LINK: Revelation 8
Imagine . . . The throne is surrounded by worshipers crying out, "Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb" and "Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen." There are souls from every nation and all tribes of peoples and tongues standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They are clothed in white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. They came out of great tribulation but have washed their robes white in the blood of the Lamb. Now they are before the throne of God day and night, serving Him. . . It's a scene of joy bubbling over and constant praise to God.
Then the seventh seal is opened . . . and suddenly all goes silent. For thirty minutes there is no sound of worship, or anything else, in heaven. One half hour of absolute silence.
The seven angels receive seven trumpets. Another angel receives a great deal of incense to add to the prayers of all the saints. The smoke of the incense mixed with the prayers of the saints goes up to God. God hears the prayers of all believers, especially those suffering at the hands of unbelievers. For centuries, believers have prayed, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." David prayed in the imprecatory psalms for God to vindicate His people and serve justice to His enemies. Now these prayers are about to be answered.
The angel threw fire/coals from the altar to the earth, and there were great peals of thunder and flashes of lightning and an earthquake. This represents the judgment of God on the earth. The silence is over, and the seven trumpets begin.
1st trumpet - destruction of 1/3 of the earth
2nd trumpet - destruction of 1/3 of the sea and its creatures
3rd trumpet - destruction of1/3 of the rivers and springs (fresh water)
4th trumpet - destruction of 1/3 of the heavens (sky)
So far, the judgment has been "natural" in that it affects the natural creation of the heavens and earth. But great woe is predicted with the next three trumpets. We'll see the 5th and 6th trumpets tomorrow.
The incense reminds me of the Law that God established with the temple/tabernacle. There was an altar of incense that the high priest was to tend to every morning and evening. This golden altar was near the ark of the covenant, close to the presence of God (Exodus 30). On the annual Day of Atonement, the high priest would offer sacrifices for his own sin. Then the priest would enter the Holy of Holies into the presence of God. When he entered this area, he was to bring incense along with the blood from the sacrifice and allow its smoke to cover the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant. If the priest failed to bring the burning incense, he would be struck dead when he entered God's presence (Leviticus 16). The burning incense is linked to man's ability to commune with God.
Here, in Revelation 8, the prayers of believers are mixed with the incense. This golden altar is before the throne, just like the Old Testament golden altar was before the ark of the covenant. The prayers of believers really do ascend to God's presence. God hears our prayers. He is not deaf to His children. Somehow, some of those prayers are involved in the judgment at the end. He is waiting for the time of judgment to complete the answer, but God will carry out what He has promised. The purpose of prayer, then, is to get God's will (not man's) accomplished on earth. Prayer is serious business! And we would be wise to keep the altar of our prayers close to the throne of God where it belongs!
Lord, we don't understand all the things you will do in the end. But we do know that you tell us to pray, and you tell us to pray for your will, your work to be done. May we draw so close to you that our prayers truly reflect your will. May our prayers be a sweet aroma to you. In the name of Jesus, amen.