- Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth
Justice is served
“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.”
I have never been one not to beat a dead horse; nor refrain from cliches, euphemisms, analogies, metaphorical writings or similes, like a first century apocalyptic writer. As Paul wrote to the Philippians, “to write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.” We haven’t moved on to something new, but we’re continuing in the same theme, despite the chapter break. While I am beating the proverbial dead horse, like the gift that keeps on giving, remember the genre and context while constantly considering the audience. Revelation has pauses, zooms in and out, shifts focus, and also returns to things of which it has mentioned earlier. This is one of those times. Look; “And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” -Revelation 5. And notice in chapter 6; They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, a how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.” And now we read; “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.”
I don’t know about you but I am rethinking my prayers, but I am not rethinking beating a dead horse. Remember the context and genre. Think about the imagery and ignore the chapter breaks. This is all tied together. If the book of Revelation were put on as a play, no doubt there would have to be different scenes based on logistics, but this is all in Act 3. Act 1 Scene 1 would be John on Patmos. Then quickly on to Act 2 and its seven Scenes of seven churches. Now we are in Act 3, and have been for sometime, because there is much to unpack–there is much imagery.
The image we see now is of the Golden Censer. We have had foreshadowing before in this Act but in different Scenes and with different, incomplete imagery. Despite what Martin Luther and many other commentators and scholars have said about Revelation, it is truly a literary masterpiece. We have to read it as such. When we do, when we understand the imagery and the genre, the themes and the numbers, and waltz through the Acts and Scenes, it will be life changing. For the author is the Lord, the Master, the Worthy One who opens the book and broke the seals. The Golden Censer and bowls of incense full of prayers, which we first see immediately before the breaking of the first seal, find their apex at the breaking of the seventh seal. The seal is broke by the Worthy One and then…silence. The silence was broken by angels with seven trumpets, that are about to sound, and by the angel with the Golden Censer.
The censer was filled with incense, a lot of incense. The incense is the prayers of the saints and they rise up as smoke before God. O.O.T.T.; “Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!” -Psalm 42. In Isaiah 1, the Lord proclaims, “Incense is an abomination to me.” Without taking much time, we still understand that the true prayers of saints are represented by a soothing aroma of incense and that incense alone, was never anything to the Lord. Good news: the true prayers of the true people of God rise before him. The imagery of smoke and incense are used to paint the picture, from the Old Testament, that God sees, hears, smells, tastes, feels and knows. Consider Act 2 Scene 2. “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
I have to get out of me to pray (yes, you read that correctly; not in a trance or deep meditation but far beyond who I am.) We who attend or have attended prayer meetings, have ourselves our heard another pray for something seemingly of little consequence, possibly even downright silly. They are heard. However, consider this text. I have prayed for the stupidest of things. I have been self centered. I truly pray best with my eyes wide open. If I close my eyes it is too easy to look inwardly; I need to pray outwardly. I want my prayers to be worthy of smoke to Lord. Personally, I pray better staring at his creation, thinking of the brothers and sisters, under the same heavens, who face terrible tribulation. Perhaps we take going into the innermost room too literally? All prayers of the faithful reach the throne but the prayers we see here either outweigh, overwhelmingly outnumber, or both, prayers of a self serving nature. Notice the longing of those who have been killed for their faith: “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”
The Devine response is to wait. There will be more tribulation, and more martyrs, but justice is coming. The Golden Bowls fill the Golden Censer and it is placed on the Golden alter. Then the angel combines the payers and fire, making a holy hand grenade, and it is thrown to the Earth. The prayers of the faithful usher in justice with images of earthquakes, lightning and thunder. What a combination, the prayers of the faithful and the power and justice of God!
There will be justice for every single sin, whether on the cross or by God’s wrath, then, now and for all eternity.