Revelation 5:8b Each [Elder was] holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
II. We must see the need to fill those angelic bowls with our intercessions.
The “each one” refers to the Elders alone and not to the Living Creatures. The Creatures do not perform a priestly function in the Book. The harp is the OT instrument of
The golden bowls are the phialê — the flat, shallow cup or bowl for the drinking and pouring out libations. It was used prior to the time of Homer as a funerary urn — to keep the ashes of cremated dead bodies.
These are said to be full of incense (thymiamaton). This is a fragrant substance which was burned for fumigation or which was placed on the bodies of the dead for embalming. Psalm 141:2 is obviously in John’s mind as he records was he saw. “Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!”
E. M. Bounds, pastor from Washington, GA, said this of prayer —
“Prayers are deathless. They outlive the lives of those who uttered them.” (see Bounds below).
In the OT the incense symbolizes the praise of the people. Here it symbolizes the prayers of the saints on earth and the martyrs. (It bothers me that the NRSV translates any earthly saint as “holy one” instead of “saint.” This is wrong on a number of levels. This is why I’m glad to use the ESV in our Anglican service and leave behind the NRSV with the 1979 prayer book.)
What kind of prayers? It seems logical to view them as the prayers for righteous vindication. In Revelation 6:9-11 we are introduced to the souls of the martyrs under the altar. They cry out for vindication. If anyone has been wronged, he should not retaliate but pray to God who will right all wrongs when He sits to judge the world.
Spurgeon said this of Psalm 119:126 — “It is time for the Lord to act, for your law has been broken.”
“And surely this is an age in which this prayer is very suitable. On all hands we see God’s law ridiculed, or denied, or travestied, or else hidden under tradition or under the [dogmas] of so-called scientific men, or in some way or other “made void.” Oh, that God’s right hand of grace might be stretched out to do some miracle of mercy in the land at this very time! The presence of evil is an incentive to pray for God to act.” (see Surgeon below).
God’s people have always been a praying people. We see evil the like of which Spurgeon did not see in his day, government funded murder of children for convenience, laws passed that approves unBiblical views of marriage, etc. So any difficult situation we face should be an incentive to fill the angelic bowls with “deathless prayers” that outlive our brief lives. Prayers are never forgotten!
vs. 9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.
III. We need to see the new song as keeping the Great Redeemer’s sacrifice ever fresh and new.
Luther said, “Preach as if Jesus was crucified yesterday, rose from the dead today, and is returning tomorrow” (see Luther below).
I would add we ought to proclaim the Gospel and sing and live as if Christ’s sacrifice has a daily effect in our lives!
Psalm 96 calls for such a “new song” —
1 Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth!
2 Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.
3 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!
4 For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods.
The New Song — “New” in Greek is kainos — “new in the sense of not being used up” — but not in the sense of “new in time.” We speak of a “new” car in the sense of its being new to us. The song of the Elders is not “brand new” in the sense that the words had never before been heard. It was new in that old words and concepts are placed in a new arrangement and given to the Lord in a new way.
We love the old hymns of the faith! But I see no need to use the melodies that sound alien to our younger folks. I think we ought to avoid entertaining anybody—old or young! But the words of the old hymns are significant even if the original music has gone out of favor.
For those who wish to learn new tunes to older, theologically sound words, I suggest a visit to Reformed University Ministries music site (see Indelible Grace Music below). They have older hymns set to new music. They have lead sheets, guitar chords, etc. to help worship leaders and musicians.
The Redemption of Humankind — Jesus’ act of redemption made him worthy to take the scroll and open it. John uses the word agorazô — to buy out of the marketplace (see agorazô, below.)
Blood payment may seem strange to our 21st century ears, but to Jewish/Christian ears of the first century it refers to the price of the sacrificial victim — the redemption money paid for the firstborn so he would not die, but a substitute would die in his place. Our Lord paid the price of buying us out of the slave market of sin. He set us free to serve him. The price our redemption was the blood of Christ.
I remember choosing the hymn “Not All the Blood of Beasts,” for worship one Sunday morning.
1 Not all the blood of beasts,
On Jewish altars slain,
Could give the guilty conscience peace,
Or wash away its stain.
2 But Christ, the heavenly Lamb,
Takes all our sins away;
A sacrifice of nobler name,
And richer blood than they.
An older, proper lady approached me after the service and said I should not have chosen that hymn about the blood of beasts. I pointed out is was in our hymnal and it was written by Isaac Watts (1674-1748).
We cannot be embarrassed by the blood! Christ alone saves us by his sacrifice.
I Peter 1:18-19 —
18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. [ESV]
vs. 10 …you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they [are reigning] on the earth.
IV. We must see ourselves as God’s kingdom people called to be intercessors in the last days!
The Old Testament background to 5:10 is Exodus 19:3-5 —
3 while Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: 4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession [Hebrew = segullah = royal property] among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’
The Saints Reign on the Earth now — physical Israel is no longer God’s nation apart from many other Leviathan States. God’s people are dispersed among the nations in the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. The reign upon the earth now is a great comfort to the disfranchised from countries who do not esteem them. Christ’s reign with His people was inaugurated at His Ascension. It will be consummated in the new heavens and the new earth in eternity.
One way we reign now is through of our intercessory prayers! I think, we would give our entire earthly possessions away if only our children would walk with God and would do so always. (I know I would!) Your, and my, prayers for erring prodigals are not lifeless. They are stored up in heaven to be answered in God’s time. (see Graham, Ruth below).
Maybe the world is sliding into judgment. We may not be able to influence that outcome, but we can affect our family’s destiny with our prayers.
More on chapter 5 next time!
Agorazô. (2019). Accessed 20 November 2019 from https://biblehub.com/greek/59.htm
Bounds, E. M. from Goodreads. (2019). Accessed 20 November 2019 from https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/1092295-prayers-are-deathless-they-outlive-the-lives-of-those-who
Graham, Ruth Bell. (2008). Prodigals and Those Who Love Them: Words of Encouragement for Those Who Wait. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
Indelible Grace Music. (2019). Accessed 18 November 2019 from http://www.igracemusic.com/
Luther, M. from Goodreads (2019). Accessed 20 November 2019 from https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/7139931-preach-and-live-as-if-jesus-was-crucified-yesterday-rose
Spurgeon, C. H. I cannot remember the book where I read this quotation, but I did write it in the margin of my Bible.
Spurgeon, C. H. (n.d.). from Ultimate Commentary on Psalms: a Collective Wisdom On The Bible (Kindle Locations 129182-129185). Kindle Edition.
© 2019 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved