Seven Angels Prepare to Sound Their Trumpets: Page 3 of 4 (series: Lessons on Revelations)
by John Lowe
4 And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand.
“And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints.” Verse four tells us that the smoke of the incense came with the prayers of the saints, and ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand—not out of the golden censer, but from the hand of the angel. This signifies even further that this angel was none other than the Lord’s eternal High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible knows of no other than Him who does the work of mediating “the prayers of all the saints.” “The prayers of the saints” must be for judgment on their oppressors (in keeping with a time of judgment, but not in this day of grace), because this is the nature of those dispensations; the end times, and the age of grace in which we are living.
“Ascended up before God out of the angel's hand.” The cloud of fragrant smoke rose, much as it did in the tabernacle and the temple. A sensor filled with live coals was used in temple worship. Incense would be poured on the coals, and the sweet-smelling smoke would drift upward, symbolizing believer’s prayers ascending to God (Exodus 30:7-9). This would be done twice a day, at the morning and evening sacrifices. These prayers are most likely prayers for justice and deliverance, as described in Revelation 6:10: “And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?. God brings judgment in response to the prayers of His people. One of the reasons for the trumpet judgments is God’s answer to the prayers of the saints.
When the prayers of the saints and the incense from the censer have gone up to God out of the angel’s hand, the angel then takes the empty censer, goes again to the altar, fills the censer with fire from the altar—but there is no incense mixed with the fire! The incense was mixed with the prayers of all saints.
On some unknown day (unknown to all except God) in the future, as the saints pray, “the angel of the Lord” (surely the Lord Jesus Christ Himself) will come forward and add to the groans and cries the perfume and the fragrance of His finished work. For prayer never reaches God in the clumsy, inept, feeble way it leaves our lips. So then, there was silence in heaven for half an hour (of heaven’s time) while God graciously takes into consideration the prayers of His own.
The point for emphasis here is that the prayers of saints are given effectiveness through the incense added by the angel. Who are these saints, and for what are they praying? Under the fifth seal the souls of the martyred saints cried for just judgment (6:9-10). It seems that their petition is being taken up here by the Jewish remnant on earth. Apparently their prayers of imprecation, like those in the Imprecatory psalms, meet with divine approval, for they are furthered and benefited by the angel. It is immediately made clear that their prayers have a profound connection with the sounding of the trumpets and the coming judgement. The prayers of the saints in that day will be for vengeance, and God will answer without delay.
5 And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake.
“And the angel took the censer.” In direct answer to prayer, God acts by setting in motion the trumpet judgments. John tells us, “And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the alter, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake. And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.” Preliminary rumbling is heard in advance of the great upheavals soon to take place. Voices! Thunder! Lightning! Earthquakes! In essence, this formula, sometimes called a formula for catastrophe, is repeated four times during the Apocalypse (4:5; 8:5; 11:19; 16:18). Prayer which can bring on such things must be potent indeed! The saints go into their bedroom, close the doors, kneel down, and pray. They spread out their petitions before God, and God hears. So the silence ends. Immediately after the prayers ascend, the judgment descends. The prayers of God’s people have been flung into the scales of judgment and have tipped the balance in favor of an immediate resumption of hostilities by Heaven.
“And filled it with fire of the altar.” The altar from which the angel filled the sensor with fire represented the place of judgment. The fire represented the judgment of God upon sin as seen in the Levitical offerings. One teacher writes: “As the altar was the expression of His holiness and righteousness in dealing with the sin of the people of old, so that same holiness and righteousness will search the earth and judge and punish it accordingly.”
“And cast it into the earth.” The fire from the altar was emptied upon the earth and at once there followed voices, and thundering, and lightning, and an earthquake. These convulsions causing disorder in the earth are just the beginning of terrible calamities which follow the sounding (playing) of the trumpets. Those on the earth in that day will have rejected the all-sufficient Sacrifice, therefore “. . . if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:26-27). The Savior has become the Judge. The casting of the fire into the earth is merely a token judgment indicating that the sound of the trumpets will follow. Note: the incense and prayers went up to God; the fire was cast down upon the earth. This symbolizes the prayers of the saints on earth being answered. God was about to act on their behalf.
“And there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake”—and judgment, raw judgment, judgment in such fury as this earth has never known nor will know up to that moment, which is still in the future and will occur during the last half of the Tribulation period. God is bringing to pass the redemption of all creation—“For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Romans 8:22). “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” One day God will renovate this old earth a second time, removing every trace of evil and of the curse, and we will have one great Paradise such as God placed Adam and Eve in when He created man.
When the angel took the censer, filled it with fire and cast the fire into the earth, the stage was set for complete catastrophe . . . “voices” in the sky, “thunder,” and “lightning,” and a great “earthquake.” Immediately the seven angels prepared to sound their trumpets, for God is about to take action and answer the prayers of His people.
“Thunder” denotes the approach of the coming storm of God’s judgment.
“Voices” reveals that this is the intelligent direction of God and not the purposeless working of natural forces. God is in charge.
“Lightning” follows the thunder. This is not a reversal of the natural order. We see the lightning before we hear the thunder due to the fact that light waves move faster than sound waves. Actually, the thunder comes first, but we did not hear it until after we have seen the lightning.
The “earthquake” is the earth’s response to the severe pressure which will be placed upon it during the judgment of the Great Tribulation Period.