Prayers as Incense
Rev. 8.2-5 “And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets. 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. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand. 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.”
We examined this interesting passage during our End Revealed, Revelation series. Now, I’d like to look at it in greater depth with application to our day and time. This passage is coming at the beginning of the Trumpet Judgments of the Tribulation. The seven angels are present to announce a series of seven plagues.
The altar mentioned is the brazen altar of the Tabernacle, which was originally lit by God’s holy fire. The priests served 24-hour shifts to make sure the fire never went out. They would shovel the coals, putting the coals in the altar of incense, and then sprinkling the coals from the brazen altar on the top. That smell of incense would waft from the Holy Place into the Holy of Holies and into the presence of God.
The incense symbolized the prayers of the saints. Incense ultimately came from the fire of sacrifice. When prayer comes through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, they are sweet to God. Yet, if anyone offers prayers any other way, the Lord will not receive them (John 14:6). In the Scripture, we see that before God, our prayers are like unforgettable incense.
In Psalm 141:2 the Psalmist refers to this saying, “Let my prayer be set before You as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.”
Throughout the book of Revelation, prayer, and worship accompanies the divine judgments. God’s people pray for justice and God’s responds in judgment. Throughout the book of Revelation, the removal of evil from this world is a holy event, and in the book of Revelation, Christ’s followers are filled with praise for the destruction of evil forces.
We find the Imprecatory Psalms in chapters 5, 17, 28, 35, 40, 55, 59, 70, 71, 79, 80, 94, 129, 137, 139 and 140. They all contain prayers for God’s judgment on the psalmist’s enemies. To imprecate means to invoke evil upon, or curse. “Imprecatory Psalms” are not expressions of selfish personal vengeance, but cries for God to uphold His holy Law and vindicate His people.
Human beings are incapable of rendering totally just judgment, so we are to leave vengeance to God (Deut. 32:35, Ps. 94:1, Rom. 12:19). Yet the Lord must judge the wicked and God promises to intervene on behalf of His people. We, therefore, cry out for His will to be done and for His righteous justice to be carried out. The seven trumpets judgments are answers to the prayers of God’s people for justice.
Prayer is cooperating with God to see His will done. We are His Vice-Regents decreeing His will be done and His Kingdom come. In this passage, we observe it is vitally important to keep praying until the tipping point. Eventually, answers to prayer come pouring out. Don’t become impatient. When the tipping point is reached, suddenly our prayers are answered and God pours out His purposes.
There is much injustice around our world today. Often it is perpetrated by wicked leaders. I find comfort in readying The Passion Translation of Psalm 94:20-23: “It’s obvious to all; you will have nothing to do with corrupt rulers who pass laws that empower evil and defeat what is right. For they gang up against the lovers of righteousness and condemn the innocent to death. But I know that all their evil plans will boomerang back onto them. Every plot they hatch will simply seal their own doom. For you, my God, you will destroy them, giving them what they deserve. For you are my true tower of strength, my safe place, my hideout, and my true shelter.” Ps. 94:20-23 (TPT)
Again, this is not a prayer of personal vengeance, but of putting these leaders in God’s hands and trusting Him to bring justice and to deal with them as He sees fit.
We are called on by Jesus to love our enemies (Lk. 6:27-29), to honor leaders (1 Pt. 2:17), and pray for their salvation (1 Tim. 2:4), to pray they will do what causes human flourishing (1 Tim. 2:2), and to ask the Lord to turn their hearts as He wills (Pr. 21:1). Yet, we cannot pray for wicked, unjust, perverse, and ungodly policies and laws to succeed. It would have been wrong for German Christians to pray for the success of Nazi causes in the days of Hitler. We can pray that God will pull down the ungodly and unjust, and raise up the righteous as our leaders (Ps. 75:7, Pr. 29:2). It is our responsibility to pray but then to trust God to do what is right and to do it in His timing. These kinds of prayers are a bold act of faith and trust in God.
In every situation of life, the image in this text is awe-inspiring. Our prayers go up. God captures these prayers and then His angels will eventually hurl them back to the earth in answer to the prayers. This is an extraordinary picture of the power of our prayers. God never forgets the prayers of the saints. Don’t stop praying, the cup of God is filling up, and God will pour it out in answered prayer.
Pastor Todd Hudnall
Written by Todd Hudnall
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