Tuesday, 10 November 2020
Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. Revelation 5:8
In the previous verse, the Lamb came forward and had taken the scroll out of the right hand of the One who sat on the throne. From there, John continues the scene. He says, “Now when He had taken the scroll.”
The verb reverts to the aorist tense here and should say, “Now when He took the scroll.” This is the moment of victory. The Lion of the tribe of Judah has prevailed, and He did it in the form of an innocent, slain Lamb. Through death, the victory has been obtained and the right to the scroll has been obtained. With this, “the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb.”
The act signifies worship. Normally it would be a fully prostrate position. However, the next words would seem to preclude that. Either way, they fall down before the Lamb in “glory and honor and thanks” (verse 4:9). This then explains the meaning of the word “whenever” in 4:9. At such a marvelous moment, such as now with the Lamb taking the scroll, the words of that verse come to pass.
The symbolism of the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders falling down is that of 1) the gospel message (the four living creatures, thus signifying any who have received it) and 2) all of the heavenly government (symbolized by the twenty-four elders). In this, they acknowledge the Lamb for His glorious achievement.
John next says of them (probably only meaning the twenty-four elders), “each having a harp.” The word is kithara. The word is found only in 1 Corinthians 14:7 and three times in Revelation. Vincent’s Word Studies explains it –
“Κιθάρα harp signifies an instrument unlike our harp as ordinarily constructed. Rather a lute or guitar, to which latter word kithara is etymologically related. Anciently of a triangular shape, with seven strings, afterwards increased to eleven. Josephus says it had ten, and was played with a plectrum or small piece of ivory.”
The word is the root of our modern word “guitar.” These are not the harps of David’s time, known as gittiyth and kinor. Nor are they the Greek style of lyres. Instead, these are more closely associated in sound and style with guitars. In the Bible, harps and similar instruments are seen in connection with service to God, prophesying, and so on. The harps here would be used in connection with the worship and praise of the Lamb. Next, John says, “and golden bowls full of incense.”
The word is phialé. One can see the etymological root of the word vial in it, but the word vial as is used today does not convey the idea of what is being seen. Rather, it signifies a shallow, flat bowl. The incense in these vessels is then explained for us, saying, “which are the prayers of the saints.”
Because the incense is explained here, there is no need to go beyond this to find any other meaning. However, the symbolism is also explained in this manner elsewhere –
“Lord, I cry out to You;
Make haste to me!
Give ear to my voice when I cry out to You.
2 Let my prayer be set before You as incense,
The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” Psalm 141:1, 2
Life application: Until now, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders have fallen down before the One on the throne – the eternally existent God and Creator of all things, who is Jesus. But now it says they “fell down before the Lamb.” Jesus is God united with human flesh. This will always be so. He will never cease to be other than the God/Man. As such, it is to Him that our attention, thoughts, allegiance, and worship are to be directed. This is the point of the symbolism we have been given. Jesus has prevailed!
As a point of doctrine, the symbolism of the incense representing the “prayers of the saints,” it is important to understand that God only accepts the prayers of true believers.
In the Old Testament, authorized incense was never to be mixed with any other. When it was, the people offering it died. This lesson is important for us – we are never to pray with non-believers in inter-faith prayer gatherings. By doing so, we are telling them that their prayers are as valid as ours. In this, we – by default – are condoning the false god they worship. Only one type of prayer is acceptable to God and that is prayer offered to, and through, Jesus Christ.
The Lamb is worthy. He receives worship, He receives petition, and He receives prayers. He is the Prophet, Priest, and King. He is JESUS!
How marvelous is Your plan, O God! You have never lost control! When we thought all was lost, Your plan was being carried out in the Person of Jesus Christ. The Lamb of God has prevailed and we are saved! Praises be to You for the marvelous workings of Jesus Christ our Lord! Amen.