Friday, 25 December 2020
Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth. And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake. Revelation 8:5
This verse now continues the thought of the previous verses. The angel having the golden censer stood at the altar and presented incense – the prayers of the saints. Those prayers (the smoke of the incense) ascended before God. With that complete, and with the prayers having gone through the Mediator of those prayers (Christ Jesus), judgment of those on earth in response to those prayers, is God’s reply. As it says, “Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth.”
Of this, Albert Barnes states the following –
“By the former it had been shown that there would be much prayer offered; by this it is designed to show that, notwithstanding the prayer that would be offered, great and fearful calamities would come upon the earth. This is symbolized by casting the censer upon the earth, as if the prayers were not heard any longer, or as if prayer were now in vain.”
The analysis says, “notwithstanding the prayer that would be offered,” as if the prayer is ineffective. But that is not the case. The prayers of the previous verses have been heard. They are the prayers of the tribulation saints of Chapter 6 –
“And they cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ 11 Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.” Revelation 6:10:11
It is not that God is ignoring the prayers and that prayer is now in vain. Rather, God has heard the prayers – offered through His Mediator – and there is now a response to those prayers. There is a time where God’s wrath will be poured out on nations for the shedding of blood. It is a precept that goes all the way back to the book of Genesis and which is explicitly stated in Joshua.
The sin of bloodshed eventually rises to a level where the Lord will respond. How much more so when it is the blood of His saints, and they are crying out for the avenging of their blood. As it says in Psalm 72 –
“Precious in the sight of the Lord
Is the death of His saints.” Psalm 116:15
The imagery is that the world has spilled its fill of blood and it is now to be judged. Taking fire from the altar and casting it upon the earth is a sign of impending judgment. The symbolism goes back to Ezekiel 10 –
“Then He spoke to the man clothed with linen, and said, ‘Go in among the wheels, under the cherub, fill your hands with coals of fire from among the cherubim, and scatter them over the city.’ And he went in as I watched.” Ezekiel 10:2
In Ezekiel 11, the reason for this is seen –
“Then the Spirit of the Lord fell upon me, and said to me, ‘Speak! ‘Thus says the Lord: ‘Thus you have said, O house of Israel; for I know the things that come into your mind. 6 You have multiplied your slain in this city, and you have filled its streets with the slain.”’” Ezekiel 11:5, 6
The blood of the slain of Jerusalem called out for vengeance, and it came – symbolized by the taking of coals from the fire. The same is true now in Revelation. The prayers have been heard, and the divine response is issued: Judgment time has come. No incense is added to the coals now, symbolizing no mediation for those who are on the earth that have their hands bloodied with the blood of the saints. They can cry out to God until their throats are sore, but He will not hear. Without the mediation of Christ, their prayers are in vain.
John next says, “And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake.” The wording is similar to verse 4:5, but in a different order and with the addition of “earthquake.” The idea is that of commotion and the striking of fear and awe into the hearts of those on the earth. It is reflective of what the Lord says of these times (as He describes in detail in Luke 21) and the state of man when they come –
“men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” Luke 21:26
But the accompanying display of noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake are also similar to the great display that occurred when the Law of Moses was received on Mt. Sinai. The judgment on the world is based on this standard, which no one can meet. As Paul says in Romans 3:20 –
“Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”
The law was given to show us our desperately sinful state and that we needed something more…the righteousness of Christ. The world has rejected this and will now be judged based on the standard set forth in the law and not on Christ’s imputed righteousness, of which they lack. Only the saints who trust in Christ alone, and not on some other standard of righteousness, are to be saved. The rest will perish in their unrighteousness.
The word translated as “noises” is the same word Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 14:8 to describe the blast of a trumpet. In Zephaniah, the prophet anticipated this coming day of destruction and the blast of the trumpet, warning what would occur at some point in the future –
“The great day of the Lord is near;
It is near and hastens quickly.
The noise of the day of the Lord is bitter;
There the mighty men shall cry out.
15 That day is a day of wrath,
A day of trouble and distress,
A day of devastation and desolation,
A day of darkness and gloominess,
A day of clouds and thick darkness,
16 A day of trumpet and alarm
Against the fortified cities
And against the high towers.” Zephaniah 1:14-16
Life application: The prayers of the saints were for the avenging of their blood and also a petition for the coming of God’s kingdom. Because the Lord hears the prayers of His people, their blood will be avenged, and His kingdom will be ushered in.
God has given His word and allowed the world over two thousand years to learn it and apply its truth – that of salvation through Christ alone. When the Day of Judgment comes, the world won’t be able to say they weren’t afforded abundant opportunity to accept the gospel and call on Christ.
And so, two truths can be considered to close out this verse. The first is that God has given man a path to being saved, and that path is through Christ Jesus. The second is that God does, in fact, hear that call leading to their salvation. Once saved, the prayers of His people are heard because of the mediation of Christ. We should never feel our prayers are not heard, even if it seems a response is not forthcoming. Being in Christ means that we are intimately joined to Him. Our prayers are heard, and they are holy because of Christ. God will respond to them according to His wisdom.
Let us trust that this is so and let us never fail to thank our God for having sent His Son to make this possible. He is our faithful High Priest who mediates for us. He is JESUS.
Oh God, when we are given the heavenly insights into Your great throne room, it allows us to understand how You tenderly receive the prayers of Your people and how You do act on them. We know that every prayer of Your saints is precious to You and that in Your wisdom You respond to them at just the right moment in history. Thank You for hearing our prayers. Amen.