Sunday, February 2, 2014

Revelation 8:1-5 - OUR PRAYERS BEFORE GOD

We are  back in the “Revelation to John”,   after our summer break.  We had last  concluded with  Chapter 7. After our prayer week it  is fitting that we start  with the first  5 verses  of chapter 8. Since it has been  a while since  we last considered  this  book, it is   important to revise  what we have covered :

In Chapter 6 we  considered the opening of the first 6 seals.  We  saw  that  these  were all about God’s  dealings  with the world,   from the  ascension of Christ until the second coming of Christ. These are the times in which we live. 
The first seal, the revelation of the  rider on the white  horse,   refers  to Christ who rides ahead with the gospel. 
The next three  seals  reveal  three riders  that  exercise terrible   judgments on the earth. We have seen these things  described in 6:3-8  happening within the history of the world  in these  last 2000 years. 
The 5th seal  reveals the existence  and impatience of  the martyrs  for Christ  who were  killed  for the sake of the gospel. 
The 6th seal   contains the revelation of the events that accompany  the   second coming and final  judgment  of Christ (6:12-17)  when  the  people of this world  will be  in panic, “… hiding  themselves in caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling  to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us  and hide us  from the face of Him who is seated  on the throne, and  from  the wrath of the Lamb ,  for the great day of  their wrath has come, and who can stand?” ( 6:17).  Chapter 6 is  a glorious and yet at the same time a terrifying vision  of the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus  who holds both  the history and the future of this world in His hand. In the midst of His temporary judgments and in view of the final judgment  we are encouraged to flee to Christ,  the Lamb of God  before the  wrath of the Lamb becomes our ultimate judge.

The 7th chapter is a dramatic   “interruption”   before the  7th seal will be opened in Chapter 8. This chapter  answers the  question : “What will happen  to  Christians in this period? “  The answer given  is that  God’s people (whose righteousness is in Christ)  are being kept secure through all these  times of tribulation. We have seen that this is true of those  who have been killed  for the testimony of Christ.  They are  secure with God . They are alive  and waiting  until  the  final judgment and the resurrection ( 6:10-11) when  the Lord Jesus will restore  all things  and when He will  exercise  His  justice .  In Chapter 7  we  have then  essentially a revelation of the  eternal security of the saints.

(i) from the perspective of the church  in  the history  of  the earth (7:1-8):  We note that God’s angels exercise a restraining ministry  upon the earth (7:1). We also note that   God’s people, His  servants  are sealed by the angels. They are owned by God. The    seal (or the mark)  is not  a literal mark, but it certainly reminds us of the fact that the Lord knows those who are His  (2 Tim 2:19). We also read  in   Revelation 14:1 that this seal is the name of Christ and of God ( cf.  9:4 and 22:4). [1] The number 144,000 is  symbolic of the entire church, which includes the entire  number  of believing Jews and Gentiles. It is a  symbolic number and it is a fixed number, indicating that  God knows the total number of His elect sheep on earth.  In Revelation 14:5  the 144,000 are said to be those redeemed  from the earth as “first fruits for  God and  the Lamb.”   This makes their identity clear. The Lamb  has shed His blood for people from every nation, “from all tribes and peoples and languages…”. ( 7:9)  
(ii) From the perspective of the Church in  eternity (7:9-  17): Here is the picture  of the church  triumphant, as she  enjoys  her  heavenly rest from her earthly labor and  hardships. This glorious scene of God’s redeemed people becomes yet another occasion  for  exuberant worship.  (vv. 11,12[2])
The interlude  of Chapter 7  reaches its conclusion in v. 13, when a question is put to John. The identity of the  great  multitude is revealed: “ Who are these?...These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation”.  This again refers  to  the entire church age  which  will have  been   a period of great tribulation for the church  – such as Jesus had spoken of in John 15:18-21. Now these  have become  a happy  and thankful and therefore  a worshipping people .  In verses 15-17  we see that  heaven is a world of thankful worship.  They are finally home from their restless wanderings in this spiritual desert. They are  no longer hungry or thirsty. In Christ they are entirely satisfied. There is no more sorrow . The world  has now received its just judgment.  This  fact leaves  them speechless, which is where  the next chapter  takes us.

Revelation 8: 1-5

And so we note that  the  first cycle of judgment ends quite unexpectedly in the opening of the seventh seal in  Chapter  8:1, when  John  reports, “When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” The opening of the 7th seal  is the revelation of silence!  This  silence in heaven contrasts  dramatically  with  the loud praises  of the  redeemed in heaven  (7:10-12).  The  silence is said to last for half an hour. Heaven is  speechless. What is the meaning of this silence?    This silence   reflects   the awe in view of  the revelation of  God’s awesome  judgment in the  earth .  Heaven’s worshipers  are stunned into silence when they behold the judgment of God.
Zephaniah spoke of silence in connection with the day of the Lord: “Be silent before the Sovereign LORD, for the day of the LORD is near.” 
Habakkuk did the same: “But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.”
The  first cycle of  “seal judgments”  is  now complete.  God has  brought final judgment upon all those who have rejected  Christ – His Son- the  Mediator and Saviour for all who would believe in Him.  History as we know it, is over!  The great judgment  has taken place – and  now  the choirs of heaven cease their singing. All creation stands in awe of him who is seated upon the throne. There is nothing left to say. God has brought all things to their appointed end.  Silence!


[2] Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. The vision of the  7 seals   now gives way to the vision of the 7 trumpets, but before  that happens  we read this :
[3] 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, [4] and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.

Note the reference to the prayer of the saints. We have seen this before in 5:8 . This is an astonishing  bit of information, for it makes much more of prayer  than you  had perhaps  imagined. What do we learn here? 

(i)          We learn that the prayers of all the saints  appear before the  throne  of God (vv. 3 & 4)
(ii)         The prayers of the saints  set in motion  the judgments  upon the earth  (v.5)

The prayers of the saints here are  rising before God  from the hand of the angel. They are a “pleasing aroma”[3]  to God as were the  offerings of the OT  that were  brought with a sincere heart. Prayers  are associated with sacrifice. You give up time  to pray. These then are the  prayers   that are truly according to God’s will, offered with Christ’s help (Rom 8:24)  and the Spirit’s enabling ( Rom. 8:26,27) . They, like  the smoke of incense  ( 8:4) are a pleasing aroma to God.

What do these prayers  accomplish? I remind  you of something very important which we learned from our recent  study of the Lord’s prayer in Luke 11. Jesus taught us  to pray  in the first place: “Our Father in heaven , hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come…” (Luke  11: 2).  Prayer occurs  against the background  of  a world in sin and in need , in which Satan  deceives gullible , naïve people,  in which he distorts and dilutes truth,  in which  he distracts us from  true worship by  tempting us with respectable idols of our time, and in which  he  seeks to destroy   Christian testimony  and of course the Christian church.
The Christian  man and woman  sensitive to these things, see these things  and they  strongly desire  that  God’s Name  would be honoured in all the world. They desire  that  Satan’s  power  and this earthly mess  would be  soon  substituted by the  glorious  rule of  the great King .

Here is the question :  Do you not think that God intends to  honour this prayer ? Remember Proverbs  15:8 : “ …the prayer of the upright is acceptable to Him.” Do you not think that sooner or later this must happen?   Well, here it is. Here is the revelation and the promise  that God  hears this prayer,  and that  in time  He will  do what He already told you to pray for .

The  next question is this : How will He answer this prayer ?  Verse 5  gives us the answer. [5] 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. This is the picture of the final judgment , of which the OT prophets  had spoken , and of  which the Lord Jesus had spoken .[4]

Remember that in pleading  with God that He would vindicate His Name and His cause would require  such answers , and that is what  the  vision of the 7 trumpets is all about – in fact it is what  the visions of the seals, trumpets  and bowls are all about . This is the reason why this insight about prayer  is found here. The  prayers of the saints  play a necessary part behind the  bringing  about of the judgments of God.  Yes, it is terrifying  to  an unbeliever (and it ought to be) , but this is so encouraging to every believer who is sick and tired of  this ungodliness . Our prayers are more powerful than all  the evil that is arrayed against us.  Our prayer is the fuel  that  sets  ablaze the fire  of the judgment  of God.  The prayers of the martyrs  ( see 6: 10- 11) are being answered . The  final judgment of which  Sodom and Gomorrah   was a foretaste   has now become a reality , and the  words of our Lord Jesus  have come true :
I came to cast fire on the earth…” (Luke 12:49)

[1] For other uses of  the Spirit’s sealing see:  2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13f; 4:30.
[2] Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”   -   Note – a  seven fold  acknowledgement of God and  His attributes  for which the church worships Him .
[3] A term often used in connection with   the burned  offerings  of the OT in Exodus , Leviticus and Numbers .
[4] E.g. Matthew 24:29-31 

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