Have you ever considered your prayers from the perspective of heaven? Revelation 8:1–6 compels you to do so. These verses push you to consider your prayers from the perspective of heaven. As you do so, you will learn that prayer is something far more effective than you ever thought it to be.
The context is set in the opening verses. “When He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour” (8:1). That half hour of silence we have identified as that time period between when God last spoke in His Son and when He will again speak in His Son. In other words, that half hour of silence is the time period between Christ’s first coming and His second coming—between His incarnation and His return to judge the living and the dead.
Silence in Heaven
That half hour of silence, then, is the time period in which you live! Where do you live after all, but between the first coming of Christ and His second coming? Where do you live, but between the incarnation of Christ and His return to judge the living and the dead? You live in that time period characterized by silence! You live in heaven’s half hour of silence! You are in it. This is your story. This is your history. Your life is being described here in the text. You are not mere spectators sitting in the stands watching the events unfold before your eyes. You are participants in the arena! You are part of the action! Revelation 8:1 is describing your history!
Do you find that disturbing? You should! For the time period in which you live is characterized by silence! You live in a time when heaven and God are seemingly silent! You live in a time when it seems that God is not there! You cry out to heaven, and heaven, it seems, is silent! You cry out to God, and God, it seems, is silent! It seems that God is not there! That is disturbing!
But then let me remind you of what we said in the last article: we cannot read Revelation 8:1 and leave matters there. We cannot read Revelation 8:1 and conclude with the apparent silence of God. We must move on to Revelation 8:2: “And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets.”
Again, remember what we have observed. The trumpet blasts do not follow the half hour of silence. These things are not to be understood chronologically, as though the half hour of silence must come to a conclusion, and only then can the trumpets sound. No! The half hour of silence encompasses the entire time period between Christ’s first coming and His return. In other words, the half hour of silence encompasses the whole of chapters 8–11.
But then remember what we find in those chapters: trumpets! The trumpets accompany the silence. The trumpets break the silence. The trumpets blast in the silence, even bringing the silence to its end.
While it may seem that God is inactive, the trumpet blasts assure you that God is anything but inactive! While it may seem that God is silent, the trumpet blasts assure you that God is anything but silent! God is very much at work, and particularly through the preaching of His Word.
This, then, is the context set before us in Revelation 8:1–2. John sees in the silence seven angels standing before God and to them were given seven trumpets. We would fully expect that the next thing John would see would be those angels raising the trumpets to their mouths in order to sound forth. Instead, John sees something else. He sees the prayers of the saints ascending before the throne of God (:3–5).
Incense at the Altar
“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” (8:3). John sees “another angel.” This angel has a golden censer in his hand. He stands at the altar. He is given much incense that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.
What are we to make of all this? The background is found in the Old Testament, and specifically in the altar of incense, that item of furniture in the tabernacle that stood just before the curtain of the Holy of Holies. We read about it in Exodus 30:6-8, “And you shall put it before the veil that is before the ark of the Testimony, before the mercy seat that is over the Testimony, where I will meet with you. Aaron shall burn on it sweet incense every morning; when he tends the lamps, he shall burn incense on it. And when Aaron lights the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense on it, a perpetual incense before the Lord throughout your generations.” The High Priest was to keep incense burning before the presence of the Lord continually—perpetually—as a sweet aroma before the Lord.
It is interesting to note that in Psalm 141:1–2, David likens his prayers to the incense that arises from the altar of incense: “Lord, I cry out to You; make haste to me! Give ear to my voice when I cry out to You. Let my prayer be set before You as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.”
In Revelation 8:1–6, that identification is complete. The prayers of the saints are mixed with incense from the altar. In other words, the prayers of the saints ascend before God like incense! Even as the incense, burnt continually on the altar of incense, ascended into the presence of God as a sweet and pleasing aroma before Him, so the prayers of the saints continually ascend into the presence of God as a sweet and pleasing aroma before Him! Your prayers ascend before the throne of God. Your prayers come before Him, and they are pleasing to Him! He delights in the prayers of the saints! “And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand” (8:4).
Results of Prayer
But now consider the result of your prayers, verse 5: “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.”
To what do the “noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake” refer? They refer to judgment! Your prayers are linked to judgment. Your prayers ascend into heaven before the throne of God, and God, in answer to your prayers, sends forth judgments from His throne upon the earth! God answers the prayers of His saints by sending forth judgments upon the earth. You pray and the result is judgment!
As disturbing as that may be, there is still more! Not only do your prayers result in God’s judgments upon the earth, but your prayers actually set in motion God’s judgments upon the earth! Consider the censer, held in the angel’s hand, in verses 3-5. In verses 3-4, that censer is filled with incense and the prayers of all the saints. But that incense and those prayers do not remain in the censer; they ascend before the throne of God, leaving the censer empty, as it were. But then look at what happens: the censer is filled with fire from the altar, and the angel throws it to the earth! The prayers of the saints ascend, leaving the censer empty; the censer is then filled with fire and cast to the earth. Could the imagery be any clearer?! The prayers of the saints set in motion the judgments of God upon the earth!
Consider what that means: you bow down upon your knees by your bed at night to pray, and God’s judgments are poured out upon the earth! You bow your head in prayer early in the morning, and God’s judgments are poured out upon the earth! You offer up your prayers at the dinner table, and God’s judgments are poured out upon the earth! Think of it! Something that appears so weak and insignificant has been ordained by God, and is used by God, to pour out His judgments upon the earth, and thereby advance His kingdom even to the day of consummation.
Verse 5 drives home the point: “And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake.” That phrase is consistently used in Revelation in the context of judgment, and that judgment progresses throughout the book. Pay close attention to how the phrase develops as you move through the book!
The first time we encounter the phrase is in 4:5, “And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices.” Here you have only the introduction of judgment—it is announced in heaven.
The second time we encounter the phrase is in 8:5, “And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake.” Now the judgments of God begin to be poured out upon the earth. You notice the addition of the word, “earthquake.” There is progress in God’s judgments upon the earth. In 4:5, those judgments were announced in heaven. In 8:5, those judgments begin to be poured out upon the earth.
The third time we encounter the phrase is in 11:19, “Then the temple of God was opened in heaven, and the ark of His covenant was seen in His temple. And there were lightnings, noises, thunderings, an earthquake, and great hail.” You notice the addition of “great hail.” There is progress in God’s judgments upon the earth. In 8:5, those judgments upon the earth began. In 11:19, those judgments upon the earth have become much greater. In fact, here the twenty four elders worship God for His judgments upon the earth: “We give thanks, O Lord God Almighty, The One who is and who was and who is to come, because You have taken Your great power and reigned. The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints, and those who fear Your name, small and great, and should destroy those who destroy the earth” (11:17–18).
The fourth and final time we encounter the phrase is in 16:17–21, “Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, ‘It is done!’And there were noises and thunderings and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth. Now the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. And great Babylon was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath. Then every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. And great hail from heaven fell upon men, each hailstone about the weight of a talent. Men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, since that plague was exceedingly great.” Here you have a great description of the final judgment and wrath of God Almighty!
There is progress in judgment. The more the saints of God pray, the more the judgments of God are poured out upon the earth and the more His kingdom advances, even to the day of consummation! The prayers of the saints set in motion the judgments of God upon the earth!
In that sense, there is power in prayer! If the prayer of one righteous man is powerful and effective—the prayers of Elijah shut up the heavens for 3 ½ years!— then consider the power and the effectiveness of the prayers of all the saints collectively! There is power in prayer! God has ordained that it would be so. The prayers of the saints set in motion the judgments of God upon the earth! That is the point of verses 3–5.
Prayer and Preaching
But then let me draw your attention to one final thought, verse 6, “So the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.”
We shall see in coming articles, the Lord willing, that the trumpets are intimately connected with the preaching of the Word. The preaching of the Word is pictured to us in Revelation 8-11 in terms of trumpet blasts to underscore the role of the preaching of the Word. What does the preaching of the Word do? It warns! It warns sinners! It summons them to repentance and faith! It calls them to repent and believe the gospel! The preaching of the Word of God goes forth like a trumpet blast warning unbelievers to repent and believe! The preaching of the Word of God goes forth like a trumpet blast, as a harbinger of the last trumpet! Yes, there comes a Day when the last trumpet shall sound.
Notice, then, the connection between the prayers of the saints and the sounding of the trumpets. It is only after the prayers of the saints have ascended that we read of the trumpet blasts going forth. “So the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.” The trumpets sound only in connection with the prayers of the saints. We are given the impression that if the saints do not pray, the trumpets will not sound!
The prayers of the saints set in motion the sounding of the trumpets, and those trumpets represent the preaching of the Word! The prayers of the saints, then, set in motion the preaching of the Word! We are given the distinct impression, here in Revelation 8:5–6, that if the saints do not pray, the Word will not be preached! Why do you think Paul pleaded with the Romans, “Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in prayers to God for me…” (Romans 15:30)? Paul understood full well that in the preaching of the Word he was dealing with that which is an aroma of life unto life for those who are being saved, even as it is an aroma of death unto death for those who are perishing. Paul understood that as he preached God’s Word, it saved some, even as it condemned others. Paul understood that in the preaching of the Word, he was dealing with matters of eternity. Paul understood how desperately he needed the prayers of the saints.
Any minister who understands what is happening in the preaching of the Word understands full well how desperately he needs the prayers of the saints. I am reminded of the story of a seminary professor who taught the first year preaching class. For the first day of class he gave the students directions to meet him at a certain location at a certain time. When the time came the students made their way to the destination; it was a cemetery. The professor was standing there in the middle of the cemetery and he called the students to gather round him; they did so with rather puzzling looks. The professor chose one of the students and told him to start preaching to the graves. Reluctantly, the student did so. But nothing happened. The professor urged him to preach louder. The student did so. Still nothing happened. The professor urged him to preach with more urgency. The student did so. Still nothing happened. The professor urged him to preach with all the energy he could muster. The student did so. Still nothing happened. Finally, exasperated, the student turned to the professor and said: “What’s the point?!” The professor replied, “even as you don’t have the power within yourself to raise the dead here in this cemetery, so you don’t have the power within yourself to raise the spiritually dead in church. That’s the work of God! Don’t ever forget that!”
Do you see why the prayers of the saints are needed for the preaching of the Word?! I dare say that the ministry of the Word depends more upon the prayers of the saints than it does upon the hours spent in the study! That is not to minimize the responsibility of the minister in the study; it is to emphasize the responsibility of the saints in prayer! I dare say, furthermore, that the reason many churches fail to thrive is because the people spend more time in criticizing the preaching of the Word than they do in prayer for the preaching of the Word. Which do you spend your time doing? Praying for the preaching of the Word or criticizing the preaching of the Word? Would you pass judgment on the preaching of the Word? Then perhaps it is more than time for you to pray!
There is no greater thing you can do for your minister than to pray for him, and to pray for the preaching of the Word. No amount of time in the study can replace the prayers of the saints. It is said that C. H. Spurgeon, the prince of preachers, had an entire prayer room constructed beneath the pulpit, where members of the congregation would continue in prayer for the preaching of the Word, even as that Word was being preached. Spurgeon understood the weight of the preaching of the Word, as did those who prayed. Revelation 8:1-6 compels you to consider prayer from the perspective of heaven. It compels you to see prayer as that which sets in motion the judgments of God upon the earth. It compels you to see prayer as that which sets in motion the preaching of the Word, which is nothing less than the power of God unto salvation.
Prayer is something far more effective than most of us ever thought it to be. The only question that remains, then, is this: do you pray?!
Rev. Brian Vos is the Pastor of the Trinity United Reformed Church in Caledonia, Michigan