I. Revelation 8:1-5
In Chapter 8 of the book of Revelation, we find ourselves at the end of the breaking of the seven seals, at the end of a cycle, and at the Day of Judgment. The breaking of the last seal brings silence. What is meant by this silence? The Westminster Confession of Faith states, “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself.” In other words, we understand Scripture by comparing it with the rest of Scripture. When doing so, we find that the Scriptures indicate that silence before God is the appropriate response to the judgment of God. This is especially prevalent in the minor prophets (Hab 2:20; Zeph 1:2-7; Zech 2:13). That is what is taking place here—every mouth is closed and all the world becomes accountable to God (Rom. 3:19).
The dramatic pause gives way to the third cycle in Revelation. Seven angels are given seven trumpets, but before they begin blowing, another angel appears to offer incense to the prayers of all the saints. It is only after the prayers of all the saints are heard, that the angel “took the censer and filled it with the fire of the altar, and threw it to the earth” (Rev. 8:5). The overall impression is clear: the prayers of the saints are the means that the Lord uses to move in judgment and bring salvation to His people.
(1) The Power of Prayer
The results of these prayers are powerful. The angel takes the censer and fills it with that purifying fire from the altar—those coals from the altar that touched the lips of Isaiah and made him clean—and then throws it to the earth. We read that this fire cast down results in “peals of thunder and sounds and flashes of lightning and an earthquake.” The imagery reminds us of Mount Sinai where God came down and touched the mountain. This is a reminder that the prayers of the saints have a profound impact on the coming kingdom.
Never consider your prayers to be a vain thing. Never listen to the lies of the enemy who tries to convince you that your prayers are stale and ineffective. Instead, let this scene encourage you. The Lord hears and one day the Lord will respond to those prayers. He will come in power, topple governments and nations. He will give salvation to the elect and judgment to the wicked. He will give Christ the full reward for His suffering.
This teaching on the power of prayer is nothing new; the Scriptures are full of examples. But do we really believe this? What do you believe about prayer? Are you walking by faith and actively giving yourself to it? What is the content of your prayers? It is about your world or His kingdom?
(2) Hindrances to Prayer and Effective Prayer
It is significant that the incense was added to the prayers of “all the saints.” Scenes like this not only challenge us but they help us recalibrate our minds. They remind us that regardless of age, gender, country, race, social status, wealth, or education level, the prayers of all the saints come before the Lord’s throne.
However, this does not mean that every prayer is effective. We read in the Scriptures of hindrances to prayer. For example, when we pray unbiblical and selfish prayers, when we treasure sin in our hearts, when we fail to honor our wife, when we refuse to walk in righteousness—these are all hindrances to prayer.
So, what makes prayer effective? James 5:16-18 helps us out, where we get the example of Elijah praying earnestly that it would not rain. Even though he knew that this would bring much suffering to the people, he put the Lord’s desires above his own and prayed according to God’s revealed Word with a desire for the nation’s repentance. This is what made it effective.
We see something else regarding effective praying that is incredibly encouraging—that our prayers never go before God alone. We see the angel adding incense to the prayers as they come before God, which mirrors the scene we see in Leviticus 16:12-13 on the Day of Atonement. Just as Aaron’s remaining sinfulness must be covered as he comes before the Mercy Seat, so the prayers of the saints are brought before God with incense. This Old Testament picture is brought into light in the New Testament when we see our Great Mediator and High Priest, Jesus Christ. He is that incense, interceding for His people at the Throne of Grace. Our prayer never goes alone but is beautified and perfected by the Savior. Not only Him, but as Romans 8 teaches, the Spirit also helps our weakness and intercedes on our behalf (Rom. 8:26-27). How we should take full advantage of this Calvary-bought privilege!