Seven Angels Prepare to Sound Their Trumpets: Page 2 of 4 (series: Lessons on Revelation)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

3 And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.

“. . . another angel came and stood at the altar.” We are told here that the “other angel . . . stood at the alter.” We are not told exactly who he is, but he is definitely not one of the seven mentioned in verse 2. The “altar” in Revelation frequently appears in the picture of heaven (6:9; 9:13; 14:18). It cannot be the alter of burnt-offering for there can be no animal sacrifices in heaven; it must be the alter of incense. The alter of incense stood before the Holy Place in the Temple (Leviticus 16:12; Numbers 16:46). Made of gold, it was 18 inches square and 3 feet high. At each corner it had horns; it was hollow and was covered over with gold plate, and around it was a little railing, like a miniature balustrade{3], to keep the burning coals from falling off of it. In the Temple, incense was burned and offered before the first and after the last sacrifices of the day. It was as if the offerings of the people went up to God wrapped in an envelope of perfumed innocence. This was the ministry Zacharias was performing when the angel told him that he and Elizabeth would have a son (Luke 1:5). Burning incense on this altar was a picture of prayer ascending to God: “Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice” (Psalm 141:2).

In Jewish thought the archangel Michael made prayer for the people of Israel and there was a nameless angel called The Angel of Peace whose duty was to see that Israel “did not fall into the extremity{6] of Israel” and who interceded for Israel and for all the righteous. Could the angel in question be Michael? Some teachers believe that this angel is the Lord Jesus Christ, because he ministers both Godward and manward, serving as both Priest and Judge. He is called the Angel of Jehovah in the Old Testament (Genesis 16:13; 31:11, 13; Judges 6:22; Hosea 12:3, 4). This is a possibility, but it does not really matter who the angel is.

“Having a golden censer.” See note {2]. In Hebrews 9:4 we are told that the censer used at the altar was made of gold, and was used to carry the fire from the brazen altar (Hebrews 9:1-10; Leviticus chapter 16). The censer would hold the coals, and a separate vessel would carry the incense which was to be poured on the coals once the altar was reached. The resulting smoke was typical of prayer ascending before God.

“And there was given unto him much incense.” And he offered it with the prayers of the saints. The incense was to be offered on the golden altar before the throne. Note that the angel does not provide the incense; it is given to him by Christ, whose meritorious obedience and death is the incense, rendering the saint’s prayers well pleasing to God. It is not the saints who give the angel the incense; nor are their prayers identified with the incense; nor do they offer their prayers to him. Christ alone is the Mediator through whom, and to whom prayer is to be offered. The question is, who are these saints, why are they praying? It does not seem reasonable to suppose that these are the saints that make up the bride of Christ . . . those of us who are members of the True Church. At the time of the removing of the seventh seal, the Church will be in Heaven, having been raptured before this time of terrible judgment. The Church is raptured at the beginning of chapter four, and at the time of revelation 8:3 have been with Jesus in the clouds in the air for several months. These “all saints” are the converts of the 144,000 sealed messengers of God, about whom we studied in Revelation seven. They are a part of the great multitude which no man could number. They are praying because they are going through hell on earth under the mighty hand of the rider of the white horse of revelation 6:1. We are not told what their prayers are, but no doubt their general burden will be for deliverance and judgment on their ungodly oppressors. God answers their prayers by pouring out unheard-of judgment upon the peoples of the earth. God deals again with His people Israel as He dealt with them in the days of old and the case of Joshua and the battle of Jericho.

This incense was burning morning and evening in the tabernacle (Exodus 30:7-10). The sweet savor of Christ is set forth in the incense burning, signifying what He wills for us, what He did for us, and what He suffered for us. Why did this other angel, holding the golden censer, stand before the golden altar before the golden throne to offer Him incense with the prayers of all saints? Why this demonstration? The answer: The whole action is called for because of the great body of saints on earth during the last half of the Great Tribulation . . . the time of the trumpet judgments. They need heavenly help . . . They must have help from Heaven . . . In this time of terrible, terrible tribulation. “If the days were not shortened and if Heaven did not help them, there would be no flesh saved.”

The fire for burning the incense was lit by God Himself, and afterwards, was kept burning by the daily sacrifices offered there.

“That he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.” These prayers soon result in judgment, so evidently they were prayers for vengeance, the kind of prayer already heard ascending from the brazen altar at the breaking of the fifth seal. In a coming age, the imprecatory psalms{1] (e.g., 35:4-6; 59:13-15; 83:14-17 and 109:6-20) will come into their own. They are not expressions of selfish personal vengeance, but rather cries for God to uphold His holy Law and vindicate His people. Such prayers as these, holy unfit for any age of grace, will be most fitting for the persecuted martyrs of the tribulation age. So then, God waits while His tormented and terrified people on earth pray.

This other angel serves both God and men, for He is One who is between the suffering, praying saints{4] on earth and their God. The angel was not an intermediary, as Christ is (Hebrews 7:25; 9:24), nor did the angel make the prayers acceptable. There is “one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). The angel acted in the role of a priest, presenting the prayers of the saints to God. The incense symbolized the offered prayers, and the angel was merely the agent. No one should conclude from these verses that anyone should pray to angels. Remember, the promises on earth are to God’s chosen people, Israel. We, the Bride of Christ, will reign with Jesus over the restored Paradise on earth. God’s people Israel are an earthly people with earthly promises. The Bride is a heavenly people with heavenly promises.

In Revelation 6:9-11, the souls of the saints who had been martyred were crying out to the Lord, but no provision for intercession was made for them. They were out of their suffering at that time. They were resting under the altar. They were told to rest a little longer, until their fellow servants would be killed as they had been. The saints who are praying and crying unto God in chapter eight are the “other servants” to whom God refers. The intercession of the angel with the censer shows the longsuffering of God toward man, even until the end.

The “prayers of the saints” are not the prayers of a special group of people in heaven who have arrived at “sainthood.” To begin with, all God’s children are saints—set apart for God—through faith in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 1:1; 9:1, 12; 13:13). And there is no definite teaching in the Scriptures that people in heaven pray for believers on earth, or that we can direct our prayers to God through them. Moreover, there is no reference here to the Roman Catholic doctrine of intercession by angels or saints. We pray to the Father through the Son, for He alone is worthy (Revelation 5:3). The thunder, voices, lightning, and earthquakes are the symbolic announcements of the divine judgments about to fall upon the earth. They represent the very end of human history and the coming of the Lord, but the prophet was not yet ready to describe the Lord’s return. He still had too much to say (based on what he saw) about the nature of judgment, the mission of the church, and the persecutions of the beast to bring his prophecy to an end.
These words, “that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints,” have in them the idea that prayer is a sacrifice to God; the prayers of the saints are offered on the alter and, like all other sacrifices, they are surrounded with the perfume of the incense as they rise to God. A man may have no other sacrifice to offer to God; but at times he can offer his prayers and there are always angelic hands waiting to bring them to God.

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