And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets. 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. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel's hand. 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. So the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound. (Revelation 8:2-6, NKJV)
The book of Revelation is NOT a chronological narration of the history of the world. It is a book of perspective, providing various observations of time all from a heavenly point of view. If the saints are to safely negotiate through this world, they must have the heavenly outlook of things. This is not a mere philosophical view. It is involved in the spiritual posture described in the fourth chapter of Second Corinthians. "For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal" (4:15-18). The people of God are not victims of malicious men, although that is how it appears. They ARE part of an eternal purpose that is being brought to completion in an arena of fierce warfare. They have been called into a conflict that will conclude with the complete demise and banishment of all who are contrary to God. In their warfare, they are supplied everything required for the battle. They are also sustained until their work is completed. It is imperative the people of God live in an alert and perceptive state. The enemy of their souls is subtle, and will defeat all who are asleep or lack understanding. For this reason, the Savior has provided us with Scripture and teaching ministries in order that we walk not in darkness.
An Overview of the Seven Seals
The seven seals view history from the standpoint of trial, showing the saints to be superior in every form of testing. Each of the trials had the potential of overthrowing the people of God, but their faith made them adequate.
The first seal revealed the immediate and ultimate success of the King of kings, the conquering Lamb (the rider on the white horse). The people of God do not become inflated with pride during this initial spread of the Gospel, but join their Master, subduing the flesh.
The second seal unveiled the fierce trial of persecution, and the shedding of the blood of the saints (the rider on the red horse). Rather than believers being overthrown by this evil aggression, they bring great glory to God by willingly laying down their lives. They were, in fact, partakers of the Divine nature!
The third seal introduced us to the test of deprivation and famine. Here is a test that has caused many to deny the lord but not those who cleave to the Lord with purpose of heart. They hold on to the Lord, finding the means of survival He has provided. The severity of the trial was matched by the power of God.
The fourth seal declares the assault of death by unusual means. But as the final enemy closes in upon multitudes, those in Christ Jesus continue to keep their focus upon the Lord, showing faith to be superior.
The fifth seal provides a glimpse restless souls in the unseen world. They know their blood is not yet avenged, and cry out for an answer. They are provided one, which affirms the Divine purpose is still being fulfilled. Nothing has gone off course, so to speak. Even in the unseen world, God provides!
The sixth seal discloses the final trial the end of all things. It will be attended by a fearful prelude that will be detected by all. But the saints will survive this also, standing at last before the throne of God, victorious and shouting His praises. That end will not come until all of the children are gathered in, including the foreknown remnant of Israel.
The seventh seal begins with total tranquility all enemies overthrown, and all saints safe. Trial will not exclude a single believer from "the reward of the inheritance" (Col 3:24)! Those who put their trust in God have nothing to fear from trial! In the Beloved, they are made equal to every difficulty, even though tears and sorrows are pressed from them in the refiner's fire. This world is a place of testing and trial for the believer.
Another Cycle begins
Now we begin another cycle another view of the world. This time it is not viewed from the saints perspective, but from the standpoint of Divine judgment. Our introduction to these judgments includes a most wonderful perspective. We will find the saints participating in the execution of these judgments- not directly, but indirectly. They have been called "into the fellowship of" God's "dear Son" (1 Cor 1:9). That "fellowship" includes a personal and satisfying communion with Him, in which direction, shepherding, and nourishment are ministered. However, our fellowship is not limited to these satisfying elements, as we will find. We are also brought into the very rule of Christ, entering into His triumph over His enemies. This outlook is found several places in God's Word, and is most edifying to the soul. You will immediately recognize it is another neglected element in institutionalized religion. That is so because it deals with the realm of the unseen, where worldly acclaim cannot be realized. The salvation of God excludes flesh altogether!
The seven seals have brought us through stress and difficulty, substantiating the adequacy of salvation. The proof has been confirmed to us, but it has also been displayed to angelic hosts. The greatness of the redemption that is in Christ Jesus is too often understated, and too frequently viewed through restricting sectarian glasses.
ANGELS STANDING BEFORE GOD
"And I saw the seven angels who stand before God . . . " Our continued exposure to the heavenly hierarchy is intriguing. We never go very far in this book without being exposed to the way things REALLY are. There is a "throne" that governs the affairs of this world, and we are constantly reminded of it "THE throne," 33 times (1:4; 3:21; 4:2,3,4,5,6, 9,10; 5:1,6,7,11,13; 6:16; 7:9,10,11,15,17; 8:3; 12:5; 14:3,5; 16:17; 19:4,5; 20:11; 21:5; 22:1). That throne is occupied by the One ruling all things. He is called "Him who sat upon the throne" (5:1,5). Repeatedly we read of the One "on the throne" (4:2,9,10; 5:1,7,13; 6:16; 7:10,15; 19:4; 21:5). In this book, suffering saints are urged to behold life as the administration of the purpose of the One upon the throne!
The book of Revelation, as the verse presently being considered confirms, is not a mere rehearsal of things to come. It is not a lifeless prediction of fatalistic events, but the announcement of a strictly governed purpose. Before anything happens, we are apprized it must be cleared through the throne, and Him Who sits upon it. Then angels to which we are now introduced "stand before God." What they present ascends up "before God" (8:4). Judgments that follow are conducted before a golden altar that is "before God" (9:13). The twenty-four elders, we are reminded, are "before God" (11:16). When fraudulent religion falls, it does so because it has come up "before God" (16:19). As the co-Occupant of the throne (3:21), the Lamb is the prominent figure in this book. The government is presently upon His shoulder (Isa 9:6-7), and He is ruling in the midst of His enemies (Psa 110:2). Things that occur in this book, therefore, are said to be "before the Lamb" 5:8; 7:9). He receives praise (5;12-13)! He opens the future (6:1-16)! The redeemed stand before Him (7:9). The very book of life, in which the saved are written, belongs to Him (13:8). He is the One being followed by the pure (14:4). The final condemnation of the wicked will be "in the presence of the Lamb" (14;10). He is the one against Whom the wicked actually fight, and He is the One Who will overcome them (7:14). The day of wrath belongs to Him (6:26). The glorious marriage of the church is also His (19:7,9). The Apostles who form the foundation of the glorified church, belong to Him (21:14). You must not miss the point of this book! This is the record of a government Divine government! It is a delineation of the reign of Jesus Christ.
The Angels Stand Before God
This is something of what is involved in the words, "And I saw the seven angels who stand before God." These holy beings do not move about in a random manner. They are not executing their own will, or seeking their own pleasure. They "stand" before God, awaiting His direction. These personalities are characterized by unusual wisdom (2 Sam 14:17,20). They also, when compared with men and wicked angels, "excel in strength" (Psa 103:20; 2 Pet 2:11). They are "holy," untainted with sin (Matt 25:31; Mk 8:38). Because the favor of God is upon them, they are referred to as "elect angels" (1 Tim 5:21). There is an innumerable company of them (Heb 12:22), yet personal responsibilities are allotted to them. Here, for example, we see seven of the vast number, standing before God! Further, the text indicates they are regularly in close proximity to the throne. It does not say they "are standing" before the throne, but that they "stand before the throne." They are not simply occupying the place as spectator, but are in a designated position. I take it, therefore, they are a special class of angels. This should not surprise us, for we are told of "archangels," who are of special note (1 Thess 4:16; Jude 9).
Some Preliminary Lessons
I cannot proceed without drawing some conclusions from this scene. First, we must seek deliverance from the notion that everyone standing before the Lord occupies equal ground. This is not the case, either with angels or with men. Michael and Gabriel are not ordinary angels (Dan 10;13; Jude 9; Dan 8:16; 9:21; Lk 1:19,26), nor are the seven we now confront. Among men, there have been several who have excelled. Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and the holy prophets! From within the church, the Apostles stand out, and from within the Apostles, Paul stands out. There were some believers who were "of note among the Apostles" (Rom 16:17).
From the highest point of view, men are "appointed" to these lofty positions. That is why Jesus said to James and John, who requested key positions in His Kingdom, "but to sit on My right and on My left, this is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father" (Matt 20:23, NASB). From the lower vista, the redeemed are to aspire to the loftiest role possible, seeking to be as close to the Throne, and as useable to the Lord, as possible! It is still true, "For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His" (2 Chron 16:9, NASB). Salvation includes the opportunity to excel to occupy places of unusual blessing. The Word of God is filled with examples of those who did so: i.e., Joseph and David (young men), Joshua and Caleb, Timothy, Titus, etc. Forever blot from your mind the notion that you are shut up to mediocrity.
Second, everything in the heavenly Kingdom is strictly governed, and fulfilled as appointed. This does not necessarily mean that every detail of life is according to Divine appointment. It does mean the execution of Divine purpose is carried out as determined before the foundation of the world. The world does not revolve around individuals, but around the purpose of the Almighty. Predestination and appointments have to do with that purpose, not individual lives. We dare not view the working of God from a low vantage point. Remember, John was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and was summoned higher still. If we assess what He was given to see from a mere historical perspective, we will miss the real intent of the message. While there is a valid historical perspective, it obtains no lasting, or eternal, benefit for the saints of God. Edification and comfort will only be found in a spiritual view of these things.
There is a high and lofty purpose being fulfilled in the earth, and we do well to diligently seek to be in harmony with it. Noah entered into the ark on "the selfsame day" appointed by God (Gen 7:13). Israel was delivered from Egyptian bondage "at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, even the selfsame day it came to pass," according to Divine determination (Ex 12:41). The rich supply of manna supplied to Israel ceased "in the selfsame day" they ate the fruit of the land of Canaan (Josh 5:11). The birth of Jesus was "in the fulness of the time" (Gal 4:4). As well, the coming of the Lord and the end of the world are according to appointment i.e., a designated day. As it is written, "He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained" (Acts 17:31).
What We Are Seeing
What we are witnessing in the book of Revelation, is the execution of Divine appointments. This is not a record of the responses of the Almighty to the unfettered workings of the devil, or the unbridled insurrection of men. While Divine responses are, indeed, revealed, they are in strict keeping with Divine appointments. It is His purpose, however, that is the theme.
A suffering church needs to hear more about what God is doing than what they are experiencing! The focus of preaching and teaching is the fulfillment of the Divine agenda, not the resolution to problems related to living in the body. Contrary to the contemporary imagination, preaching is not an activity designed to meet the self-diagnosed needs of people. It is exposing them to the Divine agenda.
THEY ARE GIVEN SEVEN TRUMPETS
" . . . and to them were given seven trumpets." Here again, the control of the Almighty is accentuated. The "seven trumpets" were "given" to these heavenly ministers of justice. Remember that the Kingdom of God is one of participation. God rules through means, calling other personalities into His Sovereign rule. All of the authority has been given to "the Man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim 2:5), the exalted Son of the living God (Phil 2:9-11). The enumerable host of angels are under the Son, worshiping Him and doing His bidding (Heb 1:6; 1 Pet 3:22). The involvement of the saints will also be declared in this vision involvement that begins now, in this world, and at this time.
By saying "to them were given seven trumpets," the Lord is declaring that what follows are not random occurrences in the world. They are not the announcement of Satan's working in the world, but of God's judgements upon the world. While Satan is undoubtedly involved in what follows, it is a subordinate involvement, not a primary one.
Consoling the Saints
The message of the seven seals was devoted to the consolation of the people of God. They would be carried safely through all adversity, arriving at last with spotless character before the Throne and the Lamb. Their final song would be one of triumph, while the final expression of the ungodly would be one of utter frustration. Now, John is directed to the judgment of the wicked. He, and we as well, will be given to see that what encourages and brings hope to the righteous brings judgment to the wicked. The fire of Divine judgment not only softens the hearts of the godly, but it hardens the hearts of the ungodly. The same path threw the Red Sea that brought deliverance for Israel, brought destruction upon Pharaoh and his armies. When Jesus returns, not only will He be "admired in all them that believe," there will, at the same time, come punishment and "everlasting destruction" upon the ungodly (2 Thess 1:8-10). Remember, what encourages and brings hope to the righteous brings judgment to the wicked.
In the seven seals, the punishment of the wicked was a subsidiary consideration. In the seven trumpets, it is a primary one. The seven seals demonstrated the protection of the saints in all adversity. The seven trumpets will unveil the jeopardy and sure overthrow of the ungodly. Throughout the seven seals, the Lord took care not to break a bruised reed or quench a smoking flax. We now enter a vision that will reveal equal care is taken to utterly frustrate the cause of the wicked, bringing them down in a hail of appointed judgment.
A Needed Perspective
The godly need this perspective! In our day, this view is clouded with religious sentimentality. A certain care for the wicked is actually fostered by some Christian presentations. But you will not find this encouraged in the Word of God. Those who put their trust in God are continually reminded of the final overthrow of the wicked. This knowledge assists them in standing in the maelstrom of opposition. Think of some of the expressions of the Spirit. "But the wicked shall be silent in darkness" (1 Sam 2:9). "For yet a little while and the wicked shall be no more" (Psa 37:10). "But the wicked shall perish; And the enemies of the LORD, Like the splendor of the meadows, shall vanish. Into smoke they shall vanish away" (Psa 37:20). "But the wicked will be cut off from the earth, And the unfaithful will be uprooted from it" (Prov 2:22). "But to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness; indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil" (Rom 2:8-9). "He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Matt 3:12). "Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience" (Eph 5:6). "They are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is heir belly, and whose glory is in their shame; who set their mind on earthly things" (Phil 3:18-19). "But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality" (Col 3:25). "For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape" (1 Thess 5:3). "But the face of the LORD is against those who do evil" (1 Pet 3:12).
Why is it necessary to speak of the overthrow of the wicked? First, in these announcements is a solemn warning to the wicked, to turn from their ways. God, after all, has "no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live" (Ezek 33:11). Notwithstanding, the wicked will perish, and therefore God in mercy warns them, urging them to turn from their wicked ways. Second, the wicked presently appear to have the upper hand. Too often, they seem to triumph over the godly. They killed the prophets, John the Baptist, the Lord Jesus, the Apostles, and untold numbers of those clinging to the testimony of Jesus. They have passed laws against the embrace and expression of the faith, and have dared to oppose those who walk with Christ. For some, this is a discouraging matter, even tempting weakened souls to compromise their faith, or even abandon it altogether, to make life more tolerable. In order to smother this temptation, the Holy Spirit speaks to us about the sure judgment of the wicked. They are in "slippery places" (Psa 73:18). We are not to modify our behavior in order to appease them, or lessen their opposition of us!
One of the many tragedies of our time is silence in the pulpit about the judgment of the wicked about their coming total overthrow and punishment. By withholding the Word of the Lord on this subject, a door is opened for the devil to tempt people to compromise their faith. They thus maintain an exaggerated view of the ungodly, imagining them to be more powerful than they really are. Christ's message to the churches will not exclude this facet of Divine activity! We will hear about the trumpets as well as the seals, about the judgement of God as well as His protection.
The seven seals included the vision of horses and riders, depicting activity upon the earth. Why do we now read of "trumpets?" This is the language of Moses and the prophets, and emphasizes Divine activity. The voice of the Lord is likened to a trumpet. When the Law was given at Sinai, "the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud" was heard (Ex 19:16; 20:18). The working of the Lord is said to be "with the sound of a trumpet" (Psa 47;5). Even the return of the Lord will be accompanied by the sound of a trumpet (1 Cor 15:52; 1 Thess 4:16). This speaks of drawing attention to what the Lord is going to do.
A trumpet is also used to declare the judgment of God against something. "Cry aloud, spare not; Lift up your voice like a trumpet; Tell My people their transgression, And the house of Jacob their sins" (Isa 58:1). "Blow the trumpet in Tekoa, And set up a signal-fire in Beth Haccerem; For disaster appears out of the north, And great destruction" (Jer 6:1). In a vivid depiction of Divine judgment Joel wrote, "Blow the trumpet in Zion, And sound an alarm in My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble; For the day of the LORD is coming, For it is at hand: A day of darkness and gloominess, A day of clouds and thick darkness, Like the morning clouds spread over the mountains" (Joel 2:1-2). In our text, we have the announcement of awesome judgments.
Trumpets were also used to call together an assembly to rally the people for a cause. Thus it is written, "Blow the trumpet in the land; Cry, 'Gather together,' And say, 'Assemble yourselves, And let us go into the fortified cities" (Jer 4:5). In the seven trumpets the saints of God are summoned to behold the judgment of God upon their enemies.
Finally, trumpets are used to announce impending danger. "When I bring the sword upon a land, and the people of the land take a man from their territory and make him their watchman, when he sees the sword coming upon the land, if he blows the trumpet and warns the people, then whoever hears the sound of the trumpet and does not take warning, if the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be on his own head. He heard the sound of the trumpet, but did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself. But he who takes warning will save his life" (Ezek 33:3-5). In these trumpets, we will not only hear of the judgment of God upon the enemies of Christ, we will also be given a solemn warning to disassociate ourselves from such. If you are hesitant to withdraw from the ungodly, think of the wrath that is coming upon them. It will assist you in cutting their chords away from your soul.
In short, what we will see in the seven trumpets is the collapse of earthly uniqueness, its values and its powers. Jesus came to "send fire upon the earth." He "kindled" it while dwelling amongst us (Luke 12:49), but it will reach its climax when those who have dared to oppose the Lord and His Christ face the wrath of the Almighty. It is not without significance that at the destruction of Jericho, a most precise parallel to this vision is seen. On the seventh day, the people of Israel compassed the city of Jericho seven times. It was then that seven priests blew seven trumpets. As they made a "long blast," the people were to shout with a "loud shout." It was then that the wall of the city "fell flat" (Josh 6:4-5). Even as Israel possessed Jericho at that time, so the falling of the wicked will occasion the saints taking the Kingdom, in answer to the promise of God (Dan 7:18,22,27). The people of God can wait in confident hope.
"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." Here we are introduced to some theologically difficult language. The prayers of the saints are said to be offered by an angel upon the golden altar that is before the throne. Do angels play a role in the presentation of the prayers of the saints? Whatever we may choose to think about the matter, that is precisely what is declared in this text. There are several perspectives of prayer offered in Scripture. First, it is directed to the Father Himself (Matt 6:9). Second, it is asked "in the name" of the Lord Jesus, or in fellowship with, and because of, His Person and accomplishments (John 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23-26). Third, the Holy Spirit helps our weaknesses by making intercession for us in language that cannot be uttered (Rom 8:26). Fourth, angels have been employed to reveal the Father's response to prayer (Dan 9:21-23; 10:12; Luke 1:13). Part of their ministry in behalf of the heirs of salvation has to do with prayer. The extent of this involvement is not known.
The text does not say the saints prayed to the angel, but that he possessed the prayers of the saints, and was given "much incense" to "add" to them (NASB). The role of the angel is not to make the prayers of the saints effective, but to participate in them. I understand the prayers to be the cumulative prayers of the saints, offered to God in faith throughout the ages. These are prayers concerning the ungodly, who have oppressed the godly. Several of these prayers are recorded in Scripture. Moses, for example, prayed against Korah and his rebellious group (Num 16:15). In his valedictory prayer, Moses also prayed for the overthrow of Levi's enemies (Deut 33:11). Nehemiah prayed against his enemies (Neh 4:4-5). The "sweet Psalmist of Israel" repeatedly prayed against the enemies of the Lord (Psa 5:10; 6:10; 9:20; 10:2; 35:4; 59:5; 143: 12). The prayers of Jeremiah also included imprecations against the unrighteous (Jer 11:20; 12:3). Paul the Apostle also prayed in this manner (Gal 1:8-9; 2 Tim 4:14-15). These were not prayers of vindictiveness, or a plea for the Lord to retaliate against those who simply sought harm against the saints. The men praying these prayers were involved in the cause of the Lord. Their prayers were petitions for God to thwart the cause of the wicked, not allowing it to overturn the purpose of the Lord.
In these prayers, the saints sided with the Lord. The truth of the matter is that God will overthrow the wicked, dashing their cause, and their persons, to the ground. The only hope for such enemies is to side with the Lord, repenting of their opposition, like Saul of Tarsus, and zealously embracing the Divine will. The judgment of the wicked is as sure as the salvation of the righteous! No prayer regarding the overthrow of the wicked, that is uttered in faith and within the context of Divine fellowship, has gone into the air. When the time comes for Divine judgment, whether temporal or eternal, God will recall the prayers of His people. That is the picture we have before us!
Notice, the "incense" "much incense" -- was given to this angel, just as the seven trumpets were given to the seven angels standing before the throne. Strict and precise Divine control is being confirmed to our hearts. Divine influence must be mingled with our prayers before they can be effective! Prior to this, golden bowls filled with incense were represented as being "the prayers of the saints" (Rev 5:8). But this is NOT the case here. The prayers are independent of the incense, being made effectual and pleasing by it. This incense is given to the angel to mix with the prayers of the saints. The incense gave fragrance to the prayers, making them pleasing to the Lord. In general, this incense is a depiction of the effective atonement of Jesus. Additionally, it is the intercession of Christ, daily accomplished from the right hand of the majesty in the heavens. Here the intercession of Jesus and the supplication of the saints are joined together in a pleasing fragrance that envelopes the throne of God. The will of the Lord is about to be executed. It is in strict harmony with the intercession of Jesus and the prayers of the saints.
There is a twofold message here. First, the coming judgments were primarily owing to the world's treatment of the Son of God. Divine reaction now comes in response to the world's attitude toward the Son the conquering Lamb. Sin is defined by men's reaction to the Son. As it is written, "And when He (the Holy Spirit) has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment; of sin, because they do not believe in Me" (John 16:8-9). The "incense," therefore, has to do with the pleasing effect of His vicarious atonement.
Second, the sacrifice of Christ, when mingled with the saint's prayers, made them pleasant to God, because they were in harmony with His will. The effectiveness of prayer is owing to its reflection of Divine priorities. Many prayers remain unanswered because they are not compatible with the accomplishments and objectives of the Lamb of God. They are out of synch with the Divine agenda, and thus fall to the ground. But this is not the case with the prayers we now confront. They are offered by saints who walk in the light, and therefore their prayers can mingle with, and be blessed by, the intercession of Jesus. What a blessed contemplation!
The imagery is taken from the tabernacle service, where a golden censer was also employed (Lev 16:12; Heb 9:4). The tabernacle censer had hot coals from the altar, upon which the high priest placed "sweet incense, beaten small" (Lev 16:12). The purpose of this procedure is precisely defined. "And he shall put the incense on the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of incense may cover the mercy seat that is on the Testimony, lest he die" (Lev 16:13).
Here is a revelation of the Divine nature. The Lord makes provision for the protection of His people, even during great judgments. As the recollection of them, and their prayers, come before Him, it is a pleasant consideration that compels Him to be merciful. It also moves Him to answer their prayers. That is something of the significance of the smell of sweet incense enveloping the mercy seat as the prayers of the saints came up before God.
ASCENDING BEFORE THE LORD
"And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel's hand." What a glorious mingling is seen in this vision. The fragrance of Divine sacrifice, the prayers of the saints, the Living God Himself, and the angel of the Lord all focused upon the fulfillment of Divine objective! This is vivid picture of God preparing to do something to execute His will. It is not done without regard for the sacrifice of Christ Jesus. Neither, indeed, does it exclude the fervent supplications of His people! Even the angelic hosts are employed in the fulfillment of God's good pleasure. Remember, God's Kingdom is one of participation! Here you see the lofty fellowship into which the saints have been called. Because the perception of this is so critical to an understanding of the book of Revelation, extending reasoning about it is necessary.
Believers Are Called into the Heavenly Agenda
Reconciliation to God involves participation in His "good and acceptable and perfect will" (Rom 12:2). That is not a reference to, what is commonly called, God's will for my life. It is not merely a way of life into which we have been called. In Christ, and through the promises, we "become partakers of the divine nature" (2 Pet 1:4). That participation has an objective, and is not an end of itself. Through this means, we are called into the very working of the Almighty God. This is the meaning of the following texts. "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose" (Rom 8:18). "God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began" (2 Tim 1:9).
This participation begins now, and will be culminated when the heavens and earth pass away, to be replaced by a "new heavens and a new earth wherein dwells righteousness" (2 Pet 3:13). Contemporary religion has miserably failed to clarify this to the multitudes. Churches are dominated by a membership that is unaware of the magnitude of salvation, or the glorious things that are now available to them in Christ Jesus. The extent of their association with the Godhead is virtually unknown, although expounded extensively in scripture.
All of this has a great deal to do with our text. We are about to behold the execution of Divine judgment. It will be accomplished with the pleasing and sanctifying accompaniment of saint's prayers. They have become involved in the kingdom of Christ, and play a role in His government now, as well as in the world to come.
Identified with Christ
Our identity with Christ is integral to salvation it is what is it all about. That identity is thorough-- past, present, and future. This is a glorious reality that lies at the very foundation of spiritual understanding. A view of salvation that does not take this full perspective into account is flawed, and will rob the soul. Too often, salvation is considered only as deliverance from the past, without regard to what we have been deliver to. Believers must be reminded they have not only been delivered "from the power of darkness," but have as well been "translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son" (Col 1:13). We have been turned "from darkness TO light, and from the power of Satan TO God" (Acts 26:18). The strength of new life is not found in what we do NOT do, but in what we have been freed to DO. That freedom is in the Son, and is the reason why we have been freed; i.e., "It was for freedom that Christ set us free" (Gal 5:1, NASB). That freedom is not only liberty from the tyranny of the devil and sin, it is also freedom to be involved with Christ Jesus.
"We died with Christ" (Rom 6:8; Col 2:20). . . . "have been crucified with Christ" (Gal 2:20). The past accomplishments of Jesus relate to redemption from sin, or the reconciliation of the world. He put sin away (Heb 9:26), destroyed the devil (Heb 2L14), plundered principalities and powers (Col 2:15), and obliterated both the cause and the reality of the debt incurred by transgression (Col 2:14). His achievement thoroughly pleased God, bringing great satisfaction and delight to Him (Isa 53:11). The glory of the circumstance is that believers have been integrated into the accomplishments of the conquering Lamb. Two things are inferred from this. First, the effectiveness of Christ's atoning death is realized by the individual receiving it. Second, participation in the reign of Christ is also accomplished initially now, and fully in the world to come. Our text particularly unveils the latter benefit.
" . . . joint heirs with Christ" (Rom 8:17) . . . "your life is hidden with Christ in God" (Col 3:3) . . . "But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him" (1 Cor 6:17). Christ not only died, He is "alive for evermore" (Rev 1:18). He not only did something, He is doing something. The reign of Jesus has already begun, and the saints are part of it. They are already joint heirs with Him (Rom 8:17). Their lives are presently hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:3). They are already one spirit with Him (1 Cor 6:17)! Christ dwells in them now (Eph 3:17), and they are in Him (1 John 2:28). Whatever Jesus is doing at this present time, the children of God are participants in it. It is measured, to be sure, but a reality nevertheless.
"Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him" (Rom 6:8) . . . "When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory" (Col 3:4) . . . "If we suffer, we shall also reign with him" (2 Tim 2:12). Blessed future, when we will fully come into our inheritance. Our status will be thoroughly known, as we reign unencumbered and without distraction. This is fundamental to our faith, i.e., the realization that we have been targeted to reign with Christ Jesus, world without end. If we allow this perspective to go from us, we will not be able to glorify God in our life by bringing forth much fruit.
Raised Together with Christ
" . . . even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph 2:5-6). "He has made alive together with Him" (Col 2:13). "If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God" (Col 3:1). Not only were we "crucified with Christ" (Rom 6:6; Gal 2:20), and "buried with Him" (Rom 6:2; Col 2:12)), we were also "raised" with Him. This is fundamental to sound doctrine.
If it is true that we have been "called into the fellowship" of God's Son (1 Cor 1:9), then we participate in His present ministry, as well as in the effectuality of His sacrifice. There is no point to being "with Christ," if we do not participate in what He is doing. We have not been called into the role of a spectator, but one of participation! That is basic in our reconciliation to God. We are "partakers of the Divine nature" (2 Pet 1;4), and "partakers of Christ" as well (Heb 3:14). That is another way of saying we not only were "crucified with Christ," "died" and were "buried" with Him, but are also "risen" with Him and "live" with Him. That life is active, and begins now.
At this present time the saints are sitting "in heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph 2:6). We have been made "one" with both the Father and the Son brought into conscious involvement with Them, and what They are doing. This is what Jesus prayed for, and it is what occurs when we "walk in the light as He is in the light" (John 17:21-23; 1 John 1:7).
And You . . .
Remember, we are witnessing the prayers of the saints, mingled with the intercession of Jesus, being a motivating factor in heavenly places. A pleasing fragrance rises into the presence of the Almighty "with the prayers of the saints." This is a marvelous consideration, scarcely mentioned in many churches. Right here, it is necessary to further discuss what has occurred in salvation. An understanding of this is essential to the comprehension of the book of Revelation.
" . . . that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins . . . AND YOU" (Eph 1:17-2:1).
The exaltation of Christ is the appointed consequence of His substitutionary death. He has been raised from the lowest realm of the curse, to the highest place in heaven. This glorification is appropriately called being "highly exalted" (Phil 2:9). Take careful note of the Ephesian text we are now considering. Paul is praying for the illumination of believers to three key elements. First, what God has called us TO: "THE HOPE OF His calling." Second, what a glorious inheritance the Lord possesses IN the saints: "the riches of the glory of His INHERITANCE in the saints." Third, the magnitude of the power that is devoted exclusively to believers: "the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe." All of these are participative in nature. We have been called into involvement with Deity: "The hope of His calling." God Himself has provided for involvement with us: "His inheritance in the saints." Divine commitment is found in the unity of believers with God and Christ through the Spirit: "His power toward us who believe." The extent of our association with Deity is infinitely greater than the best among us has dared to imagine. While many spend their time deciphering duty, the Lord wants to open our eyes to the possibilities before us. While there are duties and obligations in the new life, there is more much more!
Look at the Power
Look for a moment at the type of power that is "toward" believers, or dedicated to and for them. Lest we be tempted to philosophize about it, the Holy Spirit precisely defines it. This power is characterized by "exceeding greatness" (KJV), or "surpassing greatness" (NASB), or "immeasurable greatness" (NRSV), and is "incomparably great" (NIV). It should be obvious such power is not devoted to the mere correction of interpersonal relations, dropping bad habits, and expanding church attendance. While there is nothing wrong with these things, they do not demand the use of such power. Hear the delineation of how this power has been employed. It is the very power that God "worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come."
Think what it took to bring Jesus back from the region of the dead! Ponder the enormity of the power required to bring Him through the domain of the "prince of the power of the air" (Eph 2:2), and position Him at the very right hand of God. By the power that is now devoted to believers, the Lord Jesus has been placed "far above ALL principality and power." There is no power or form of authority that is not directly answerable to Him. There is not a personality in heaven, in earth, or under the earth, that can lift his finger without the approval of the exalted Christ! All forms of might and dominion are under Him! There is no name above or equal to His exalted name not now, or throughout all eternity. How much power does it take to accomplish all of that? That is the power that is devoted to the saints of the God those who believe!
The enthroned Lamb is the "Head over all things." Every thing has been placed "under His feet," or in subordination to Him. That includes demonic forces and evil angels as well as the holy angels. Personalities that seek the advantage of God's people are under Christ, and those who seek their harm. There is only One that is not under Christ, and that is the Father Himself, Who has placed all things under Christ. As it is written, "But when He says all things are put under Him," it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted" (1 Cor 15:27).
Christ Given TO the Church
It is in this capacity as Head over all things that Jesus has been given to the church. This text is not teaching that Jesus is the Head of the church, a truth that is taught elsewhere (Eph 5:23; Col 1:18). The point of this text is that Jesus has been given to the church as Head over all that surrounds it. He is Head over the enemies of the church, as well as its friends. Every advantage has been given, therefore, to those who believe. There is no power aligned against them that is not answerable to Christ, and over which He does not rule. Further, there is no blessing or benefit required by the church that is not under His control, and which he cannot freely dispense, if He wills to do so. He has been made Head over everything "for the church." There is no reason for His exaltation apart from the church, the body of the redeemed. The Lord Jesus revealed this in His prayer on the night of His betrayal. "As You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him" (John 17:2). This is why Jesus has been given "all authority" it is "for the church!" This is why He is reigning it is "for the church." Those, therefore, who entertain low views of the church have, by that very attitude, set themselves against Christ, making themselves subject to His judgment.
Believers Were Also Raised
However, the matter does not end here. This train of thought extends into the second chapter of Ephesians. Actually, verses 21-23 of the first chapter are parenthetical. The full impact of the thought is realized by reading it this way: "And what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ, when He raised him from the dead, and set Him at his own right hand in the heavenly places . . . And you, who were dead in trespasses and sins."
The point is that believers were raised to this lofty position WITH Jesus. They have not only been lifted out of the domain of Satan, they have been raised into the domain of Jesus. Here, in these heavenly places, they are blessed with "ALL spiritual blessings" (Eph 1:3), not the least of which is participating in His reign now. In a very real sense, we have been raised up with Jesus, and seated with Him. That, of course, is the representation of the case declared in Ephesians 2:4-6. "But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus" (NASB).
Viewing our revelation text from this perspective, we see why the prayers of the saints are mingled with the intercession of Christ to bring about judgments upon the earth. Believers have, in an initial sense, joined with Jesus in His triumphant reign now. They will more fully participate in "the ages to come." However, that participation beings now.
Allow me to illustrate this point. There are several poignant statements in Scripture that reflect the believers experience of Divine power. Here are a few of them. Think of the remarkable commissioning of Paul. "I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance" (Acts 26:18). Ordinarily, those are things that can only be accomplished by Jesus. Yet, Paul now joins in that activity. Paul further elaborates on his fellowship with a ruling Christ. "For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them" (Rom 11;14). "I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some" (1 Cor 9:22). Saving people is a work of Christ, yet Paul sets himself to join in the work.
Applied to Other Believers
Lest we suppose this king of participation is limited to the Apostles, hear a word to young Timothy. Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you" (1 Tim 4;16). The embrace of such a truth will fuel the fervency of Kingdom laborers!
This thought is even taken to the domestic level to a wife saving her husband, or a husband saving his wife. "For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?" (1 Cor 7:16).
James extends the blessing to anyone who sees a sol wandering from the truth. "Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:19-20). Paul affirms the same truth to the Galatians. "Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted" (Gal 6:1). John also teaches with this participation in mind. "If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death" (1 John 5;16).
The Promise of Jesus
Jesus declared such things would occur in His challenging promise. "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it" (John 14:12-14). How can such things be? It is because the one "who believes" in Christ is knit to Him, and participates in what He is doing. Observe that the "greater works" will not be performed because of a greater power given to the believer, but because Jesus went "to the Father." The believer, you see, is joined to the exalted Christ "in heavenly places," and joins in the administration of the Kingdom.
Spiritual Gifts Considered
This is the role of spiritual gifts. Take, for example, the matter of edification, or building up the saints of God. Technically, that is the work of the risen Christ, Who is the "great Shepherd of the sheep" (Heb 13:20). However, those in Christ are afforded a role in this ministry--reigning, as it were, with Jesus. It is no wonder Paul spoke of "the power which the Lord hath given me to edification" (1 Cor 13:10). All other spiritual gifts have this in common: they are dispensed to every person for the common good of the body. Thus they are nothing less than a participation in the current ministry of Jesus, the "great Shepherd of the sheep." The success of early church was not owing to the precision of its procedures, or the dynamics of its organization. Rather, it was because it was effectively joined to the Lord, and thus joined with Him in the conversion of sinners, the edifying of the body of Christ, and the subduing of evil.
The Nature of the Warfare
The reality of this truth should also be apparent in the nature of the warfare into which we have been called. Our contention is not with humanity, but with high and powerful spiritual authorities. As it is written, "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Eph 6:12). Do not gloss this text! Remember that the overthrow of the forces of darkness is the work of the Lord Jesus Himself. It is He that will subjugate all wicked powers under His feet. As the Scripture declare, "For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet" (1 Cor 15:25). While, in a sense, that work belongs exclusively to Him, the saints participate in it. Eventually, Satan himself will be subdued under our feet (Rom 16:20). Our struggle against the hierarchy of evil is nothing less than a facet of reigning with Jesus!
Back to the Key Thought
Lest we miss the connection of these thoughts with our text, the "prayers of the saints" are depicted as playing a key role in Divine activity significant activity (as though there were any other kind). As they became identified with the Lamb, they also began to play a role in the execution of His will. Their prayers are declared to be involved in the judgment of the wicked. The knowledge of this circumstance should provoke us to formulate prayers that are in strict accord with the revealed will of God prayers that can be mingled with Christ's intercession, and move the arm of God. I fear that the prayers of the average congregation fall far short of what they could be. With these things in mind, think of the prayer of Stephen. "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge" (Acts 7;60). Or, the prayer of Paul for Israel, "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved" (Rom 10:1). These were not expressions of sentimentality! They flowed from a rich fellowship with the Son of God, and will no doubt play a role in the Deliverer turning away ungodliness from Jacob.
The Contemporary Worship Syndrome
I am thankful for any increase in sensitivity to and involvement in the worship of God. An awareness of the majesty and worthiness of our Lord is commendable, and must not be opposed. But we have not been called to worship God, although that is inherent in spiritual life. Those who belong to Christ DO "worship God in the spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh" (Phil 3:3). That is not what they ought to do, but what new creatureship constrains them to do. The believer is compelled by the higher principle of life, not by law. What does concern me about the current trend is its lack of emphasis on identity and involvement with God. For example, there is a sense of groping that characterizes much of contemporary Christian music. Too often, it simply does not reflect a sense of the exaltation of the believer "with Christ."
Worship primarily related to service
While the common association of worship is made with praise, the Scriptural association is with "service," which is an alternate word for "worship." It is said of the nations of the saved, "Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple" (Rev 7:15). They are participating in the Kingdom, not merely observing its workings and responding to them with praise. Throughout the book of Revelation, worship is a response to Divine activity (4:10; 14;7; 15;4). However, the burden of the book relates to the activity of the Reigning Christ, with the participation of the saints.
Reigning with Christ
The significance of reigning with Christ must not escape us. "If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him . . . " (Rom 8:17). Actually, the suffering experienced by the saints is owing to their present identity with Christ Jesus. They are, in a sense, reigning in their very suffering. Their enemies are not capable of overcoming them, as they cleave unto the Lord with purpose of heart. It often appears as though the saints are overcome in their suffering. Many of them are martyred, and others persecuted mercilessly. However, they are kings, not vassals. It is Satan that is frustrated by them, and not vice versa. As it is written, "And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death" (Rev 12:11). Our reign on the other side will be an extension of the "reign in life" that began here and now (Rom 5:17).
The First Resurrection
"Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years" (Rev 20:1). This is an extremely controversial passage. Because we are going to deal with it extensively later, I will only touch upon its relevance to our present discussion. The particular point we are addressing is reigning with Christ. This passage speaks of a group of people that will do precisely that.
The term "first resurrection" is represented by some as depicting the resurrection of the righteous with the resurrection of the unrighteous occurring one thousand years later. No such depiction is found in the Word of God, although extensive effort has gone into attaching such a meaning to Revelation 10:5. You must remember that this book is to be viewed in the light of Christ's redemptive work, as expounded in the Apostolic writings.
"Resurrection" is never used in the plural (i.e., resurrections), and is always declared to include both the godly and the ungodly (John 5:28-29; 11:14; Acts 17:32; 1 Cor 15:21,42). The "first resurrection" is not one of sequence, but one of kind. The words "first" and "second" are not chronological terms in Scripture. When speaking of events or epochs, differing orders are meant. Thus we read of the "first" and "second" man (1 Cor 15:45-47), and the "first" and "second" covenant (Heb 8:7; 10:9). Likewise, we read of the "first resurrection," but never a second resurrection. Also, there is a "second death," with no reference to a first death.
The "first resurrection" is a spiritual resurrection, as distinguished from the bodily resurrection. The "second death" is a spiritual death, distinguished from separation from the body. Just as those in the flesh will experience two deaths, so those in the Spirit experience two resurrections. In both cases, the first of these experiences takes place in the earth. It is there that we are first raised, or born again. It is also there that we first die, or are separated from our bodies. Also, both terms (resurrection and death) have an eternal perspective. The "second death" is eternal, forbidding the possibility of recovery. Likewise, for the redeemed, the final resurrection is eternal, with the complete exclusion of jeopardy.
Regarding this particular text, the consequence of the "first resurrection" is reigning with Christ Jesus. The reign begins here, but will be brought to fruition in the world to come. This resurrection puts us beyond the reach of the second death, which cannot function in heavenly places, either in an initial or eternal sense.
I understand the reference to the "first resurrection" to particularly apply to the resurfacing of the cause of the martyrs, when they will reign indirectly in the rapid spread of the Gospel. Remember, we are speaking of a Kingdom characterized by participation, where the saints of God themselves play a key role. From the beginning of Christ's reign, until all of the kingdoms of this world have become His (Rev 11:15), the saints are integral to His reign. We are apprized that the fellowship into which we have been called includes "the spirits of just men made perfect" (Heb 12:23). They are no more idle than we are. It is refreshing to know their cause will yet flourish in the earth, even though they were vigorously opposed while here. Those who participate "the first resurrection" (i.e., being raised from death in trespasses and sins) share in the triumph of the truth, even after they have left this world. The "second death," therefore, has no power over them, being incapable of separating them from the love of God or the reign of Christ.
The Association with Our Text
In our text, we are witnessing a lofty view of the saints reigning with Jesus. The focus is upon their "prayers," which means the reign takes place prior to the end of the world. None of their prayers have been in vain , particularly as they related to the cause of Christ. This perspective clarifies the reason for Christ's teaching concerning prayer. "In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven" (Matt 6:9-10, NKJV).
Picture the cumulative expressions of this desire coming up before God, mingled with the pleasing fragrance of Christ's sacrifice and intercession. They come to His remembrance as He prepares to judge those who have dared to left their heel against His Son. As a son of God, you have been joined to the Lord in a most remarkable way. As you take advantage of your lofty position, focusing your prayers and labors upon His work, you have a part in the execution of His will. What a glorious privilege you have!
THROWN UPON THE EARTH
"Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar and threw it to the earth . . . " Again, tabernacle imagery is employed, because it was the "example and shadow of heavenly things" (Heb 8:5). The altar of reference is the altar of sacrifice, or burnt offerings. That fire was never to go out, but burned continually. As it is written, "And the fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it; it shall not be put out. And the priest shall burn wood on it every morning, and lay the burnt offering in order on it; and he shall burn on it the fat of the peace offerings. 'A fire shall always be burning on the altar; it shall never go out" (Lev 6:12-13). The original altar fire which consumed the first sacrifice, came out from the Lord (Lev 9:24). It is that fire, we understand, that was never allowed to go out.
The reason for this requirement was its depiction of the coming sacrifice of Jesus Christ. That vicarious sacrifice burns with efficacy throughout all time. It never goes out, or loses its power to reconcile, keep, and glorify. Therefore, because the tabernacle was a shadow of the effectiveness of Christ's death, the fire that consumed the tabernacle sacrifices was to burn continually, else the "substance" of the shadow would become distorted. The imagery of putting fire from the altar into a censer with incense was also introduced in the tabernacle service (Lev 10:1; 16;12). On one occasion, this was the means through which Israel was spared from extermination through a Divinely imposed plague (Num 16:46). Here was a vivid depiction of the mingling of (1) An effective sacrifice, (2) Divine approval, and (3) prayer.
John is now given a vision of the heavenly manner the way in which Divine judgments are set in motion. They do not simply happen, but are in strict accordance with the "Divine nature" and "eternal purpose."
First, God does not act capriciously, nor does He react to wicked men inconsistently with His nature and purpose. God can neither violate His character or His determined, or eternal, purpose. He has therefore provided for Himself, as well as us, the Lamb, Who appeals to His mercy for the preservation of His people.
Second, His Kingdom is governed in the interest of His Son Deity in Its redemptive posture. There is nothing more prominent in the present Kingdom than the salvation wrought out by the conquering Lamb. The entire world is being governed with that salvation in mind. At no point are other considerations moved to the front like a world economy, the prevalence of a nation, or the resolution of other social and domestic issues. If men move these to the forefront, they move out of God's will!
Third, having incorporated those in Christ into the Kingdom, God is motivated by their insightful and fervent prayers their participation in the Divine government. When the Word admonishes us to "pray in the Spirit," or build up ourselves, "praying in the Holy Spirit" (Eph 6:18; Jude 20), something more is meant than seeking personal advantage although that is involved. We are being called to deeper involvement in the working of the Lord. Again, when Jesus told His disciples to "pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest" (Matt 9:38), it was nothing less than a summons to participate in His Kingdom. Oh, that this truth would become more clear to the saints of God!
We have, therefore, a wonderful blending of key matters in this text. The Living God, the Lamb of God, and the people of God joined in holy union. Here is a fulfillment of Christ's prayer, that believers might be one with Him and the Father (John 17:20-23). Here is the purpose of God, the activity of Jesus, and the prayers of the saints, joining together in holy efficacy. Mind you, it is not that our prayers add any weight to the fulfillment of God's will. Rather, it is that God has chosen to bring honor and glory to himself, through the Son, by working through the redeemed.
The Appointed Time Has Arrived
By saying the angel "took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth," the Spirit means the time appointed for the judgment of God's enemies has come. The judgments of the Almighty are about to descend upon the earth. They will be an open confirmation that the sacrifice of the Son, and those who have accepted it, cannot be opposed with impunity. Also, it will become apparent that the prayers of His people have been heard even the pleas that were heard from the souls of martyred saints "under the altar."
These are temporal judgments i.e., judgments that occur before the great and notable day of the Lord. They have eternal consequences, yet take place in time. We should not be surprised that these judgments occur, for the Scriptures are filled with similar reprisals. The wicked will not necessarily wait until the great and notable day of the Lord to experience Divine retribution.
Think of the Scriptural record with this in mind. God's judgment was experienced in this world by Adam and Eve, Cain, the world of Noah's day, and the people at Babel. Ponder the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, the nation of Egypt with Pharaoh and his army, Jericho, and the nations that occupied Canaan. Kings Sihon and Og, the cities of Tyre and Sidon, Neuchadnezzar and Babylon, and boastful Sennacrib. Following the Word becoming flesh, there was the judgment of Herod, Ananias and Sapphira, and the dreadful destruction of Jerusalem.
Let no person think the actions of the wicked are being overlooked especially those who openly oppose Christ Jesus and persecute His people! Retribution does not come upon men immediately because God is granting them space to repent. However, hard hearts do not recognize this provision, so go on in their opposition to God. As it is written, "Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil" (Eccl 8:11).
The Spirit refers to this aspect of God in 1 Timothy 5:24. "Some men's sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after." The NIV reads, "The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them." Such sins are so flagrant, they are apparent to all about them. Often, they become conspicuous because of God's judgment upon them, as with Cain, Aachan, Korah, Judas, and Ananias and Sapphira.
Suffice it to say, there is coming a time when the hierarchies of evil will be shaken violently by God prior to the end of all things. There have been preliminary exposures to this manner of Divine judgment, as in the fall of Rome after dominating the world for nearly 500 years, and a political existence of nearly 1,000 years. Because of her sins, she was brought down by God, in this world, and well before the coming day of eternal judgment. It is God's manner to so judge. The confederacies of the wicked will be broken up, and there will be nothing they can do about it. The ruins of Egypt, Babylon, Media, Persia, and Greece confirm this. Once again, Scripture clearly attests this to be the Divine manner. Therefore, it is not to be questioned.
THE IMMEDIATE EFFECTS
" And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake. So the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound." As the appointed time arrives, the prayers of the saints mingling with the accomplishments and activity of the conquering Lamb, it is accompanied by awesome manifestations. In the heavenly places, there is an acute sensitivity to Divine workings. The "sons of God shouted for joy" when the world was created, and the human enterprise got under way (Job 38:7). Thousands of angelic hosts accompanied God as He descended on Mount Zion at the giving of the Law (Psa 68:17). Heavenly hosts brake forth in praise at the birth of the Lord Jesus (Luke 2:13). The closer we get to the throne of the universe, the more acute is the sensitivity to the working of the Lord! Of old time, this was also shared by those upon earth. Those living by faith were able to sense great Divine epochs. When the time of Israel's exodus from Egypt drew near, Moses had a mind to visit his brethren (Ex 2:11). The prophet Daniel knew the time of Israel's deliverance from Babylon was approaching (Dan 9:2-3). As John the Baptist's ministry began, "the people were in great expectation" (Lk 3:15). When the Lord Jesus was born, there were people looking "for redemption in Jerusalem" (Luke 2:38). Paul also spoke of "knowing the time" (Rom 13:11). Mark it well, the working of the Lord, whether for blessing or cursing, is accompanied by sensitivity and perception around His throne.
And what do we hear? "Noises (voices, KJV), thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake." The NASB reads, "and there followed peals of thunder and sounds and flashes of lightning and an earthquake." Forever put out of your mind any notion that casualness can exist where the working of the Lord is known! There is always a violent disruption of the natural order, whether in the hearts of men or in the worldly environment. Think of the great epochs of Scripture, and of the disruption of the natural order that accompanied them. Israel's deliverance from Egypt, the giving of the law, the death of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, and his soon return.
When we were first introduced to the heavenly throne, from it "proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices" (4:5). Later in the book, when the heavenly sanctuary is opened, there will be "lightnings, noises, thunderings, an earthquake, and great hail" (11:19). When the seventh angel pours out his bowl upon the earth, there will again be heard "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" (16:17-18).
This is the language of Divine judgment. Boiled down to its essence, it speaks of the overthrow of the cursed order the world and all that is in it. Throughout history there have been token judgments, revealing the ultimate destiny of all who oppose God. However, just as surely as we know of the Lord will "cover the earth as the waters cover the sea" (Isa 11:9; Hab 2:14), there will also be an extraordinary outpouring of judgment upon the wicked.
A vivid description of the judgment of God against the wicked is provided by king David. It is interesting that it occurs in answer to prayer, much like our text. "In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried out to my God; He heard my voice from His temple, and my cry entered His ears. Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations of heaven quaked and were shaken, because He was angry. Smoke went up from His nostrils, and devouring fire from His mouth; coals were kindled by it" (2 Sam 22:7-9).
In both blessing and cursing, there are, in my judgment, five levels of Divine manifestation. These represent my own perception of the case. (1) The personal level. At this level individuals are blessed (Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Paul, etc.), and individuals are cursed (Cain, Jezebel, Ahab, Judas, etc.). (2) Small groups. Here both blessing and cursing are extended beyond the individual. Blessings of note include Noah and his house, Rahab and her house, and Cornelius and his house, etc. Judgments in this category include Korah and his cohorts, and Aachan and his family. (3) Larger token revelations. In this case, large scale benefits and judgments are experienced, which extend beyond the individual and the smaller group. Blessings in his group would include the house of Israel, the city of Samaria at Philip's preaching, and believers on the day of Pentecost. Large scale curses include, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the judgment of Egypt at the time of the exodus. (4) Massive revelations. These are revelations on a global scale. The knowledge of the Lord covering the world as the waters cover the sea, is an example of blessing. The flood is an example of judgment. (5) The ultimate. Here we deal with ALL of humanity all of the saved, and all of the condemned. This will occur at the return of our Lord, the "great and notable day of the Lord."
The text before us deals with Divine judgment on a massive scale. When the angel hurled fire upon the earth, it was indicative of an unprecedented judgment of the wicked. The judgment will be decisive and apparent, revealing the wickedness of the wicked. Yet, it is not their final portion. This is only preliminary to the final judgment. The worst is yet to come! In the end, there will be "everlasting destruction" for all unreconciled to God.
We have dealt with an intriguing text of Scripture. The strength of its ministration to us is not found in the details it provides, but in the Kingdom principles therein revealed. Remember, John is writing as a companion in tribulation, as well as in the "kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus" (Rev 1:9). Through him, Jesus is bolstering His people, assuring them of His dominion and ultimate victory. The suffering saints are targeted for better things, and their cause will not be abandoned or fail. Even more than this, the Lord is promising the participation of His people in the victory.
Those who have opposed the saints, although it presently appears they have triumphed, will reap the seeds of destruction they have sowed. Throughout the centuries, whether before John, during his exile, or in our day, God's people have prayed for His kingdom to come. They have wrestled against wicked principalities and powers, and besought the Lord to bring down the wicked and their cause. None of those prayers have been in vain. They have all been heard, and held in reserve, as it were, until the appointed time. When God executes judgment upon those who have maligned His Son and opposed His people, He will remember the prayers of the saints. In these judgments He will not only vindicate His own holy name, but theirs as well. In the meantime, the saints must press into the holiest place, seeking close fellowship with the Son, the favor of the Father, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. They have been called according to God's eternal purpose, and they must avail themselves of all of the resources provided for their participation.
Without controversy, we have walked upon holy ground. Every believer does well to ponder these things in the heart. Admittedly, they are not common considerations for professed believers. In my judgment, this is because institutionalized religion has supplanted spirituality chiefly through the activities of religious professionals. The truth of the matter is that the judgment of the wicked and the vindication of the saints have very little to do with the goals and activities of the average church. If this is a proper assessment, it does not speak well for our religious environment. In fact, it places it squarely at variance with the Lord and His Christ. The word of God is essential for the agenda of God. The revelation of Christ is required for fellowship with Christ.
Take heed, then, to the words of this book -- particularly those we have just considered. Make it your determined objective to participate in the Kingdom of Christ. It will not be long until the well of praise will spring up within the saints, together with renewed faith and hope. That, of course, is the reason this book has been given to us.