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Revelation 8 - The Prayers of the Saints

Unveiled Hope: The Reigning Christ of Revelation  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  32:04
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God uses the prayers of His saints to vindicate His glory on earth

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Introduction

We live in days when it is hard to keep praying, isn’t it? We turn on the news and hear of the disease, destruction and death all around us, we see the godlessness of our culture and lawlessness of our governing authorities, and our first instinct is to turn to God in prayer—we know what the old hymn tells us, “Oh, what peace we often forfeit / O what needless pain we bear / All because we do not carry / Everything to God in prayer”.
But it seems so often these days that even when we do “carry everything to God in prayer”, especially when it comes to praying for our nation, we still have no peace—the hatred and animosity in our country continues to grow. We act in our role as “a kingdom of priests”, representing our community, our state, our nation before God—and we still bear the pain of watching our elected officials and ruling authorities heap scorn and blasphemy on God and His revealed truth. The Supreme Court decision from a couple of weeks ago adding “sexual identity and gender expression” to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is utterly indefensible on any moral, logical, legal or Constitutional grounds, and will significantly hasten the utter collapse of this society. And this is after God’s people have prayed for years that He would restrain such lawlessness.
And it’s not only on the national level that our prayers can seem pointless—how many times have you prayed for God to deliver you from some evil, some rebellion or sin in your own life, and it seems like your prayers don’t go any farther than the ceiling? You’ve prayed for years for the salvation of a loved one, you’ve wrestled in prayer over and over again for victory over some evil habit of sin in your life. You’ve cried out to God to vindicate you against cruel and heartless enemies that slander and attack you, deny you of justice or harass you without cause.
We live in days when it is hard to keep praying—the Scripture tells us in James 5:16 that “the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working”. And yet so many times we don’t see the power of our prayers—nothing changes when we pray; everything seems to keep falling apart around us. So how do we persevere in the midst of this accelerating decline and disintegration of our world? In Luke 18, Jesus promises,
Luke 18:7–8 ESV
And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
As we have been reading through the Book of Revelation to this point, we have seen that the prayers of the saints play a massive role in God’s activity on the earth—here in Chapter 8 we see that the prayers of the saints are gathered up in a “censer” (a container designed to hold burning incense), and when they are “thrown on the earth” (v. 5), there were “peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake) (Rev. 8:5). Here in Revelation, the prayers of the saints were saved up and then poured out on Jerusalem in judgment. And that is what I want us to see this morning, so that we can be encouraged to “pray, and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). When we finish our look at this chapter this morning, I want us to see that
God will use every prayer of His saints to vindicate His glory on earth.
I want you to see, beloved, that every prayer you are offering up to God today—no matter how weak or ineffective or powerless you feel it to be—will someday be used by God to vindicate His glory here on earth! That the prayer you offer in His presence in worship will cause His will to be done “on earth as it is in Heaven!”
The first thing that we have to see from this chapter is that

I. Our prayers are pleasing to God (Rev. 5:8; 6:9-11)

You’ll remember that we are right at the end of the opening of the seven seals around the scroll of the universal dominion of Jesus Christ—He had taken the scroll from the Father in Revelation 5, and in Revelation 6 He began breaking the seals, preparing to open the scroll to execute judgment on Jerusalem. In Revelation 7 we saw a “break in the action” between the sixth and seventh seal, as God sealed them from judgment before breaking the last seal.
After God’s people were sealed in Chapter 7, the Lamb, Jesus Christ, goes on to break the last seal here in verse 1 of Chapter 8:
Revelation 8:1 ESV
When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.
All of the innumerable throng of the redeemed in Chapter 7 fall silent here as the last seal is broken. The scroll is fully opened; the judgment that the Lamb is bringing against Jerusalem is about to commence. But before that judgment finally falls, all of heaven falls silent. And the reason there is silence is so that God can hear the prayers of His people.
I say that because of what we see in verses 3-4:
Revelation 8:3–4 ESV
And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.
Think of it—before the terrible and horrifying judgments fall on Jerusalem for her utter rejection of the Messiah, God the Father receives the prayers of His people! To this point in Revelation, we have seen reference to the prayers of God’s people in two other places. In Revelation 5:8 we read that
The prayers of all His saints please Him (Rev. 5:8)
The twenty-four elders around the throne hold “golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints”. The twenty-four elders represent all of God’s people—Old Testament and New Testament both—every last believer who ever trusted in the blood of the Lamb of God shed for the forgiveness of their sins. Every prayer that every saint throughout history ever prayed—even yours—is held as a precious offering in Heaven! When you pray, Christian, God receives that prayer as a precious offering, as pleasing as incense rising up before Him!
The prayers of all of God’s saints please Him, and
The prayers of all His martyrs please Him (Rev. 6:9-11)
As we saw a couple of weeks ago, when Jesus broke the fifth seal, the voices of the martyrs—the souls who had been killed because of the Word of God and their testimony—cry out to God,
Revelation 6:10 ESV
They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”
God does not ignore their cries, He does not forget. He tells them that their justice is coming—that they only have to wait “a little longer”. The blood that they shed for their faithfulness to Jesus Christ is a precious offering to God, and He promises that He will answer their prayer for vindication on His enemies.
And this is the point at which perhaps we aren’t sure about—is it really right, after all, to pray for vengeance? Some commentators even go so far as to say that the prayer of the martyrs in Revelation 6 is a sub-Christian prayer—that it is not fit for a Christian to pray for vengeance against their enemies. Should our prayers to God really include vengeance and retribution and punishment for our enemies and the enemies of God in this world?
I believe that the answer is yes—in part because you’ll notice that when the martyrs pray for vengeance against those who shed their blood, God does not answer them with a rebuke, but with assurance that vengeance is coming (“rest a little longer”). So I believe that it is right for Christians to pray for vengeance against the enemies of God, provided that we do it the way the Bible teaches us to.
God will use every prayer of His saints to vindicate His glory on earth. And the reason that we can pray in this way is because

II. Our prayers are perfected in God’s presence (Rev. 8:3-4)

Look again at verses 3-4:
Revelation 8:3–4 ESV
And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.
Many commentators on this verse suggest that the “angel” here in these verses actually represents Christ Himself—which would not be unusual, since there are several places throughout the Old Testament where Jesus Christ appeared as “The Angel of the LORD”. Also, this “angel” is performing the function of the high priest in the Temple, offering incense at the altar (cp. Luke 1:9-11)—which would lead us to understand that this is more than just another angel in this verse.
Hebrews 10:21 tells us that Jesus Christ is our “great High Priest over the house of God”, the One who is “interceding” for us—praying for us before God (Romans 8:34). So what we are seeing here in Revelation 8 is that our prayers are perfected in God’s presence because
Our High Priest purifies our prayers (Heb 10:21)
In his devotional book, All Things For Good, the Puritan pastor Thomas Watson puts it this way:
Christ’s prayer takes away the sins of our prayers. As a child... that is willing to present his father with a posy, goes into the garden, and there gathers some flowers and some weeds together, but coming to his mother, she picks out the weeds and binds the flowers, and so it is presented to the father: thus when we have put up our prayers, Christ comes, and picks away the weeds, the sin of our prayer, and presents nothing but flowers to His Father, which are a sweet smelling savour. (Watson, All Things for Good)
By His blood shed on the Cross, Jesus Christ purifies our prayers—any sinfulness, any wickedness or selfishness that stains our prayers He washes away with His blood, and presents our prayers in their purest and holiest form.
Our prayers are perfected in God’s presence—our High Priest purifies them, and
The Spirit puts words to our groanings (Rom. 8:26-27)
Sometimes our struggle in prayer is that we are simply too overwhelmed, too confused or weary or hard-pressed to find words to cry out to God. But just as our Great High Priest purifies our prayers from sin, so the Holy Spirit, our Comforter, puts words to the anguish and sorrow that we cannot express:
Romans 8:26–27 ESV
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Here in the throne room of Heaven we see our Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, offering the prayers and groans and pleas of His persecuted saints as a purified and perfected offering of sweet-smelling incense to the Father. All of Heaven has fallen silent so that God may hear and receive the prayers of His saints before the judgment of His wrath falls on Jerusalem. God will use every prayer of His saints to vindicate His glory on earth—they are pleasing to Him, they are perfected in His presence, and

III. Our prayers are powerful in God’s hands (Rev. 8:5-12)

The prayers of the saints are offered on the altar to God as a sweet-smelling sacrifice. And then what happens to those prayers in verse 5?
Revelation 8:5 ESV
Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.
The saints have offered their prayers to God, they have been perfected in His presence, and now He sends those prayers back to earth—not as the weak, half-sinful, stammering cries that they were when they ascended to Him, but as the thundering, earth-shaking roar of the judgment of God!
God uses every prayer of His saints to vindicate His glory on earth. And in verses 6-7 we see that He uses the prayers of the saints
To pronounce judgment on the city (Rev. 8:6-7)
We read in verses 6-7:
Revelation 8:6–7 ESV
Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them. The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the earth. And a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.
In the Old Testament we see the priests marching around Jericho with seven trumpets (Joshua 6:4), and when they blew the trumpets, the wall of the city fell down flat and Jericho was destroyed. And in Amos 3:6, God says
Amos 3:6 ESV
Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?
Here we see angels preparing to blow seven trumpets—a sign that death and disaster and destruction is about to fall on the city of Jerusalem. We read that when the first trumpet sounded, “A third of the land was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up”. In the Wars of the Jews, Josephus writes that when Jerusalem was besieged in A.D. 70 that the Romans cut down every tree within 90 furlongs of the city (about an 11 mile radius). Jerusalem was also surrounded by pleasant gardens, which were also wiped out—there was nothing but a desolate, burned-over wasteland as far as the eye could see.
The trumpets in the hands of the angels were a sign that the rebellious city of Jerusalem had become like Jericho—a city doomed to fall. And in verses 8-11 we see that God used the prayers of His saints
To punish a rebellious people (Rev. 8:8-11)
Look at verses 8-9:
Revelation 8:8–9 ESV
The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.
John sees “a great mountain, burning with fire, thrown into the sea”. Throughout the Old and New Testaments, mountains are used as symbols for kingdoms—in Isaiah 2 we read about “the Mountain of the LORD” as a symbol for His kingdom. Mount Hermon in the north of Israel was always considered the symbol of the kingdom of the Canaanite gods (and you have “Mount Olympus” in Greek mythology representing the kingdom of the gods). In Jeremiah 51:25 Babylon is described as a mountain:
Jeremiah 51:25 ESV
“Behold, I am against you, O destroying mountain, declares the Lord, which destroys the whole earth; I will stretch out my hand against you, and roll you down from the crags, and make you a burnt mountain.
In Matthew 21, Jesus curses a fig tree for not producing fruit as a sign that Jerusalem is about to be cursed for not producing the fruit of repentance when He arrived. The disciples are amazed that the tree died when Jesus cursed it, and He responds:
Matthew 21:21–22 ESV
And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”
Jesus said, “You can command this mountain” (Mount Zion, the mountain that Jerusalem is built on) to be thrown into the sea. The martyrs prayed that God would bring vengeance on the city that murdered them, and in A.D. 70 their prayers were the means by which God threw the “mountain” of Jerusalem into the sea—scattering the people of the city throughout the Gentile nations.
We read here that when this trumpet was blown “a third of the sea became blood, and a third of the living creatures of the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.” Josephus writes in The Wars of the Jews about a battle that took place between the Romans and the Jews on the Sea of Galilee—when it was over, Josephus says
one might then see the lake all bloody, and full of dead bodies, for not one of them escaped. And a terrible stink, and a very sad sight there was on the following days over that country; for as for the shores they were full of shipwrecks, and of dead bodies all swelled; and as the dead bodies were inflamed by the sun, and putrified, they corrupted the air… The number of the slain, including those that were killed in the city before, was six thousand and five hundred. (Wars, III.10.9)
In verses 10-11 we read
Revelation 8:10–11 ESV
The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter.
Here we see God progressively cancelling all of the blessings He had given Israel in the covenant they had broken. Wormwood in the Old Testament is a symbol of the bitterness of judgment, as in Lamentations 3:15
Lamentations 3:15 ESV
He has filled me with bitterness; he has sated me with wormwood.
In Exodus 15, right after the Hebrews escaped from Pharaoh through the Red Sea, they came to a place called Marah—a place where the water was too bitter to drink. God told Moses to throw a tree into the water, which made the water sweet. Then God said to the people
Exodus 15:26 ESV
saying, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, your healer.”
Jerusalem did not keep the covenant, they refused to listen, they murdered the Messiah. And so here in Revelation 8 we see God putting all of the plagues on that generation of Jerusalem that He put on Egypt—fire, hail and blood. (We will see Jerusalem specifically identified with Egypt later on in Revelation 11:8).
When the fourth trumpet blows in verse 12, we see God moving in response to the prayers of His saints
To prosecute wicked rulers (Rev. 8:12)
Revelation 8:12 ESV
The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light might be darkened, and a third of the day might be kept from shining, and likewise a third of the night.
In Genesis God placed the sun in the day to “rule” the day and the moon in the night to “rule” the night, and throughout the Old Testament the blotting out of the sun, moon and stars is a symbol of the fall of earthly kingdoms. The power and influence of the wicked rulers of the rebellious people begins to fail; their “light” fades, and their ability to govern falters. God’s people had cried out for vengeance on the wicked rulers who had spilled their blood, and in A.D. 70 God answers their prayers by throwing down those wicked rulers.
God used every prayer of His saints to vindicate His glory in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. And so, beloved, you and I have this assurance that God will vindicate His glory on the earth through your prayers! When you pray, you are carrying out one of the most powerful, most spiritually potent acts possible! Because every single prayer that is offered up by every single believer is precious to God—He is pleased by your prayer, Christian!
He is pleased by your prayers—not because you are so proficient, not because you use such expressive and elegant speech, not because your prayers are models of high spirituality and holiness. He delights in your prayers because they have been purified by the blood of Christ! You who are ashamed of your stammering, weak, confused prayers, you who are embarrassed to pray publicly, you who despair of even trying to pray because you feel so inadequate—you would be utterly amazed if you could hear your prayer after it was put into words by the Holy Spirit and purified and beautified by your High Priest Jesus Christ and offered to God the Father as a sweet-smelling sacrifice!
Those prayers that you pray for repentance for our nation, those prayers that you pray for victory over evil, those prayers that you pray for God to vindicate His glory here in our world—those prayers that you pray for victory over the sin and temptation that you fight—if God were to give you even the tiniest glimpse of the power that those prayers have in His hand and the impact that those prayers will have on this earth someday—you would never stop praying!
So, Christian, pray and do not lose heart. God will use every prayer that you have ever prayed—no matter how weak or sin-stained or despairing—to vindicate His glory here on earth! God will not delay long, He will bring justice to His elect who cry out to Him day and night! So pray—no matter how poorly or clumsily or weakly—and entrust your prayers to your the One who presents them as pure, pleasing and powerful offerings by washing them with His blood—your Great High Priest, Jesus Christ!
BENEDICTION
Hebrews 13:20–21 ESV
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:

What are some of the reasons why we feel that it is hard to keep praying for our nation and our world during these times? How does this passage encourage us to keep praying, even when it seems like things fall apart even further?
When have you experienced such sadness or despair that you couldn’t even put a prayer into words? How does it help you to know that the Holy Spirit is perfectly expressing your anguish, even when you don’t know what to say?
Romans 8:34 says that Jesus Christ is “interceding” (i.e., praying) for us as our great High Priest (Hebrews 10:19-21). How does knowing that Jesus Christ "picks away the weeds, the sin of our prayer, and presents nothing but flowers to His Father” give you confidence to pray boldly?
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