A room in a church building, a classroom, with seating for about 40, is dark and empty. One enters, flicks on the lights, adjusts the thermostat, and sits down. Everything’s quiet. A few minutes later others begin arriving. Chatter begins. They’re happy to see each other. They’re not dressed up. Some have just come from work, some from home or somewhere else. They look like ordinary folks. At the appointed hour, a pastor stands and calls them to begin the meeting. His voice is heard in a devotional message. Then he announces some prayer requests. Hands are raised and brief reports or new requests are mentioned. A brother stands to pray aloud, and then another. An hour passes, maybe an hour and a half. The last amen concludes the meeting, but some linger. The number present dwindles to just a couple, and the last one checks the thermostat and turns out the lights.
Many churches conduct meetings like this, usually weekly. Circumstances differ but the substance is the same. Some gatherings are smaller, others larger. Some are louder and more enthusiastic, others reflective and subdued. Some leaders in prayer use much Scripture and theological language, while others are plain, childlike in their simplicity. Some meetings are more impressive, others not.
The vision is ineffably glorious. The scope of the scene is vast, but everything focuses upon the source of light, a throne in the midst of myriad angels and saints. Seated upon the throne is the Lord Jesus Christ, high and lifted up. He is being worshipped by all, and yet His humanity is undeniable. He bears the scars of His Passion, but in a body free from all the miseries and limitations of His earthly life. The sounds of His praises are almost deafening, the sweetest music creatures ever offered, a new song for the Lamb that was slain, and for the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Surrounding Him are four heavenly beasts and twenty-four elders. They fall down before Him in reverent obeisance, yielding up the whole of their being to honor Him above all others. All here recognize this Lord of glory as their King. Their hearts and wills are perfectly zealous to carry out His barest wish.
Besides these, there are many angels round about the throne, and the number of them is ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands. The words they offer to Him in song are loud, yet extremely clear and powerful:
Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing!
This is the praise to be offered by every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them:
Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever.
Suddenly you notice the twenty-four elders are not empty-handed. Every one of them has a harp, employed in the service of this heavenly worship. And look! They also have golden vials full of odors, which are the prayers of the saints!
Let Him Who Has Eyes to See
Behold the Church in the Presence of Christ
We know this scene portrays spiritual realities because it is revealed to us from God in Revelation 5. Read it carefully, reverently, and with great reflection. Let your spirit soar as you see by faith what is invisible to unbelievers.
Among many choice gems in this chapter, it says, “The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Rev 5.8 ESV). A related passage reads,
3 And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. 4 And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand (Rev 8.3-4).
The thoughtful reader of Revelation sees that these prayers have special reference to the ardent pleas of martyrs before Christ’s throne. They are calling for justice, for their vindication as God’s faithful servants and for punishment of those who persist in their persecution of His church. “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” (Rev 6.10).
But the Lord also hears the prayers of the church militant, when we cry to Him for Christ’s coming, and the consummation of the kingdom glorious. “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”
Prayer as burning incense, with its fragrant smoke ascending from the altar to heaven, is a metaphor taken from Psalm 141.2, “Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” The prayers of the gathered saints, offered up with godly fear and holy purpose, are a sweet smell to the Lord who sees and knows all. Only the church of Jesus Christ prays acceptably to Him, while the rest of the world does not pray or instead sacrifices to mere idols. The Spirit-filled local churches are His temple, where believer-priests faithfully carry out our ministry of glorifying God in this present age, anticipating our eternal ministry of unfettered, blissful worship in the age to come.
Do you have the faith to appreciate that these two scenes are one?–D. Scott Meadows, Pastor Calvary Baptist Church (Reformed) Exeter, New Hampshire USA http://cbcexeter.sermonaudio.com