Wednesday, 23 December 2020
Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. Revelation 8:3
The previous verse spoke of “the seven angels who stand before God.” One of the options (the preferable one to this commentary) is that they are the same as “the seven Spirits who are before His throne” in Revelation 1:4. The Greek word “angels” simply means “messengers.” The coming Christ is called an angel in the Old Testament, demonstrating that the term is acceptable to be applied to Him. As the seven Spirits are seven aspects of the Lord (see Revelation 1:4 commentary), there is nothing doctrinally wrong with this view. Now, in this verse, it says, “Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar.”
The Greek reads, “over the altar,” or “upon the altar.” It is the same Greek word, epi, or upon, that is used again in this same verse. The altar speaks of the golden altar of incense first described in Exodus 30:1-10 – every single detail of which pointed to Jesus Christ. The incense altar was originally placed outside of the veil in the Holy Place. As it says in Exodus 30:5, it was to be “before the veil that is before the ark of the Testimony.”
This “angel” or “messenger” is also another unveiling of Christ Jesus, as will be noted as the commentary progresses. Other than on the Day of Atonement, where the high priest would enter the Most Holy Place once a year, nothing except the twice-daily wafting of this incense ever entered the Most Holy Place. The veil stood between the two demonstrating that access to God was restricted until the time set by Him.
However, the altar in heaven is in the very throne room of God, not outside a veil. The tabernacle was made by Moses to be a type, or picture, of the true throne of God. But until Christ died, access to God was restricted. When Jesus died on the cross, the veil was torn in two at that same moment signifying that full and free access to God had been restored through His torn body. He is now that point of access for the redeemed of the Lord.
In heaven, there is no separation between where the incense altar is and where the throne is, because there is no need to separate redeemed man from the presence of God. All who are received into heaven have come through the sacrifice of Jesus. That this angel stands “over” or “upon” the altar is important. As noted above, the altar of the tabernacle prefigured Christ in every detail. No created angel would be allowed to stand “over” or “upon” Christ in this capacity.
It is true that the angels of God are said to be ascending and descending upon (epi) the Son of Man in John 1:51, but that is a different context with a different purpose. Here, the altar is a representation of Christ. The angel (the Lord) stands upon the altar and, as it next says, “He was given much incense.”
The incense at the tabernacle was first described in Exodus 30:34-38. Again, every single detail of that incense prefigured the Person of Jesus Christ. The studies on these things should be reviewed to understand all of these magnificent details. There, standing upon the altar, and with the incense, it says that this Messenger “should offer it with the prayers of all the saints.”
Under the Mosaic covenant, it said, “Aaron shall burn on it sweet incense every morning; when he tends the lamps, he shall burn incense on it.” This was the duty of the high priest (or his designated representative who performed the function in his stead). It was a mediatorial role on behalf of the people. As has been seen in a previous commentary, and as will be stated explicitly in Revelation 8, the incense reflects the medium in which the prayers of the people are transmitted to God.
It says in 1 Timothy 2:5, 6, “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.” As the altar, the incense, and the one who offers the incense all were typical of Christ under the Old Covenant, and as there is now one Mediator between God and men, this Angel, or Messenger, is the Lord Jesus. It is another revelation, or unveiling, of His many duties before God.
Of this particular duty, He offers the incense “upon the golden altar which was before the throne.” The throne of God in the Mosaic Covenant was represented by the Ark of the Covenant. It is the place where the glory of the Lord was fixed. The way the ark was situated for the poles to carry it reflected a throne. And, again, every detail of the construction of this ark, the things placed inside of it, and so on, all of these minutely pictured the Person and work of Jesus Christ.
In this verse is seen a marvelous demonstration of the mediatorial and intercessory role of Jesus in His humanity then transmitting the prayers of the saints to the throne of God (where He sits in all rule and authority) in His deity. He is the point between the finite and the infinite. He is the incarnate Word of God. He is the Mediator between God and man.
Life application: The prayers in this verse are being offered directly to God with much incense. They are the many prayers of all of God’s people in anticipation of the coming of His judgments which then lead into the coming of His kingdom.
God’s wrath at sin, and His judgment upon the world, must come first in order to cleanse the world. After this happens, then there can be the establishment of this kingdom. The prayers of the saints are coming now, and they precipitate the great trumpet and bowl judgments upon the earth. God hears and responds to the prayers of His people. Now that they are being brought before Him in great numbers, it means that the time of wrath is at hand.
But those prayers offered to God are only those from the people who have called out to Jesus. God does not, nor indeed can He, hear the prayers of those who are not Redeemed by Jesus. To say otherwise is to say that God does not need Jesus to mediate the prayers of the people. It is no different than saying that there are more paths to God than through Christ Jesus alone. It is heresy.
The makeup of the incense in the Old Testament said, “Whoever makes any like it, to smell it, he shall be cut off from his people” (Exodus 30:38). The implication is that only this incense (typical of Jesus as noted above) is acceptable to God. Any other incense (meaning prayer apart from Christ) is abominable to Him.
The typology clearly reveals that believers are never to pray to God with people from other religions, or from false cults. To do so is to acknowledge that their prayers are just as acceptable to God as are those of true believers. Such can never be implied. Be sure to never mix the holy with the profane. There is one Mediator, and God only accepts the prayers of those who belong to that Mediator. He alone is the access point between God and man. He alone is our High Priest. He alone is JESUS!
Lord God, it is incredible to imagine that the prayers of ages and ages of saints reach even to Your throne. And yet, because of Jesus, our prayers are brought before You. He is our great High Priest who comes to You with them. Yes, our Father in heaven, thank You for Jesus who brings us near to You in prayer. Amen.