"Behold, I am coming quickly! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book."
Revelation 8 - Quick Links
and the golden altar
3 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.
Revelation 8:1 - When He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.
Revelation 6 ends with the Lord opening the sixth Seal judgment. Chapter 7 is an interlude that takes John back to a time before any of the seals are open after the rapture of the Church. In this chapter, John goes back to the main narrative of Revelation, when the Lord opens the seventh seal. This last Seal judgment is "silence in Heaven for about half an hour" and includes the seven Trumpet judgments.
Silence in Heaven is not the norm. Heaven is full of praise and worship from those who surround the throne:
Revelation 4:8-11 - The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!" Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: "You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created."
Revelation 5:11-12 - Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!"
Silence is a show of reverence before the Lord:
Habakkuk 2:20 - "But the LORD is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him."
Zechariah 2:13 - "Be silent, all flesh, before the LORD, for He is aroused from His holy habitation!"
Those around the throne in the Lord's presence are reverent in silence to His judgment during the "day of the Lord," or the Tribulation period:
Zephaniah 1:7 - Be silent in the presence of the Lord GOD; for the day of the LORD is at hand, for the LORD has prepared a sacrifice; He has invited His guests.
The Lord is not silent in His judgment:
Psalms 50:3-4 - Our God shall come, and shall not keep silent; a fire shall devour before Him, and it shall be very tempestuous all around Him. He shall call to the heavens from above, and to the earth, that He may judge His people...
Isaiah 65:6-7 - "Behold, it is written before Me: I will not keep silence, but will repay - even repay into their bosom - your iniquities and the iniquities of your fathers together," Says the LORD, "Who have burned incense on the mountains and blasphemed Me on the hills; therefore I will measure their former work into their bosom."
Jeremiah 25:30-32 - "Therefore prophesy against them all these words, and say to them: 'The LORD will roar from on high, and utter His voice from His holy habitation; He will roar mightily against His fold. He will give a shout, as those who tread the grapes, against all the inhabitants of the earth. A noise will come to the ends of the earth - for the LORD has a controversy with the nations; He will plead His case with all flesh. He will give those who are wicked to the sword,' says the LORD." Thus says the LORD of hosts: "Behold, disaster shall go forth from nation to nation, and a great whirlwind shall be raised up from the farthest parts of the earth."
Revelation 8:5-6 - 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 11:18-19 - "The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints, and those who fear Your name, small and great, and should destroy those who destroy the earth." Then the temple of God was opened in heaven, and the ark of His covenant was seen in His temple. And there were lightnings, noises, thunderings, an earthquake, and great hail.
Revelation 16:17-18 - Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, "It is done!" And there were 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.
As mentioned earlier, silence in Heaven shows a reverence toward God due to impending judgment. This also shows that God has refrained from continuing judgment after the sixth Seal, during the time of silence in Heaven. The following passages support the notion that when God is silent, He refrains from judgment or vengeance:
Psalms 35:22-24 - This You have seen, O LORD; do not keep silence. O Lord, do not be far from me. Stir up Yourself, and awake to my vindication, to my cause, my God and my Lord. Vindicate me, O LORD my God, according to Your righteousness; and let them not rejoice over me.
Psalms 83:1-3, 13-15 - A Song. A Psalm of Asaph. Do not keep silent, O God! Do not hold Your peace, and do not be still, O God! For behold, Your enemies make a tumult; and those who hate You have lifted up their head. They have taken crafty counsel against Your people, and consulted together against Your sheltered ones.... O my God, make them like the whirling dust, like the chaff before the wind! As the fire burns the woods, and as the flame sets the mountains on fire, so pursue them with Your tempest, and frighten them with Your storm.
Psalms 109:1-5, 7, 15, 20 - To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David. Do not keep silent, O God of my praise! For the mouth of the wicked and the mouth of the deceitful have opened against me; they have spoken against me with a lying tongue. They have also surrounded me with words of hatred, and fought against me without a cause. In return for my love they are my accusers, but I give myself to prayer. Thus they have rewarded me evil for good, and hatred for my love.... When he is judged, let him be found guilty, and let his prayer become sin.... Let them be continually before the LORD, that He may cut off the memory of them from the earth... Let this be the LORD's reward to my accusers, and to those who speak evil against my person.
Silence in Heaven lasts for a "half-hour." Recall from Revelation 3:10, the "hour of trial" is the Tribulation period. This period will last for seven years. This 7-year time frame is laid out in Daniel 9:27, as discussed later in this section, and in Ezekiel 39:9.
Numerous prophetic parallels found throughout Scripture support the 7-year length of the Tribulation, as shown below. It is important to note that we should never use parallels and patterns to determine doctrine, but rather only to support what the Holy Spirit has revealed through the clear teaching of God's word. (Click here to skip parallels and continue with commentary):
Click here for more on prophetic patterns in numbers in Scripture.
God revealed through Daniel, that He gave Israel 70 weeks in which He would punish their transgressing of the Law before the Messiah would come to rule (Daniel 9:24). History has shown us that the 70 weeks are 70 "weeks" of years, or 490 years. There were 483 years from the time of the command to Nehemiah to restore and build Jerusalem after Israel's exile, until Jesus died.
During those 483 years, God punished Israel under the yoke of Gentile rule. After the cross, God turned away from Israel because they rejected His Son (Romans 11). It only took about forty years for the nation to crumble after God abandoned them. Seven more years remain of the 70 "weeks" of punishment. Today we live in the gap between the 483 years and the last seven years.
Daniel shows us that these last seven years will begin when Israel and the antichrist, or the "prince who is to come" confirm a covenant. The antichrist will break this covenant in the middle of the "week," or half-way through the Tribulation by defiling the Jewish temple that the Jews will rebuild before that time:
Daniel 9:26-27 - ....And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end of it shall be with a flood, and till the end of the war desolations are determined. Then he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week; but in the middle of the week he shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate, even until the consummation, which is determined, is poured out on the desolate."
Daniel gives us more detail about this coming "prince" and his defiling of the temple:
Daniel 11:21-24 - And in his place shall arise a vile person, to whom they will not give the honor of royalty; but he shall come in peaceably, and seize the kingdom by intrigue. With the force of a flood they shall be swept away from before him and be broken, and also the prince of the covenant. And after the league is made with him he shall act deceitfully, for he shall come up and become strong with a small number of people. He shall enter peaceably, even into the richest places of the province; and he shall do what his fathers have not done, nor his forefathers: he shall disperse among them the plunder, spoil, and riches; and he shall devise his plans against the strongholds, but only for a time.
Daniel 11:30-31, 36-39 - For ships from Cyprus shall come against him; therefore he shall be grieved, and return in rage against the holy covenant, and do damage. "So he shall return and show regard for those who forsake the holy covenant. And forces shall be mustered by him, and they shall defile the sanctuary fortress; then they shall take away the daily sacrifices, and place there the abomination of desolation...." "Then the king shall do according to his own will: he shall exalt and magnify himself above every god, shall speak blasphemies against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the wrath has been accomplished; for what has been determined shall be done. He shall regard neither the God of his fathers nor the desire of women, nor regard any god; for he shall exalt himself above them all. But in their place he shall honor a god of fortresses; and a god which his fathers did not know he shall honor with gold and silver, with precious stones and pleasant things. Thus he shall act against the strongest fortresses with a foreign god, which he shall acknowledge, and advance its glory; and he shall cause them to rule over many, and divide the land for gain.
Jesus warned about the rise of the antichrist and what he would do to the temple. The Lord also urges the Jews in the future, who witness the antichrist's abominable act, to flee to the mountains.
Matthew 24:15-16 - "Therefore when you see the 'ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place" (whoever reads, let him understand), "then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains."
Mark 13:14 - "So when you see the 'ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not" (let the reader understand), "then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.
The mountains in eastern Jerusalem into Jordan are a desolate wilderness, which is where we see the Jewish remnant flee to:
Revelation 12:6, 13-14 - Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days.... Now when the dragon saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male Child. But the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent.
God protects the Jewish remnant in the wilderness is 1,260 days, or a "time and times and half a time," which is 3 ½ years, or 42 months, which how long the beast reigns after he breaks the covenant in Daniel 9:27, in the "abomination of desolation":
Revelation 13:4-5 - So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, "Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?" And he was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months.
Since the "abomination of desolation" marks the midpoint of "Daniel's 70th Week," per Daniel 9:27, then the first half of this period is also 3 ½ years. Therefore, if the "hour of trial" is 7 years, then a half-hour would be 3 ½ years. This means the Seal judgments occur in rapid-fire succession at the beginning of the Tribulation, and the Lord withholds His judgment for the rest of the first half of the Tribulation after He breaks the seventh seal. The Trumpet and Bowl judgments then occur in the second half of the Tribulation as shown below:
As we will discuss in Revelation 11:2-3, the timing of the Trumpet and Bowl judgments fits with the 42 months that the Gentiles trample Jerusalem, after the two witnesses arrive right before the middle of the Tribulation. This also makes more sense logically, in that the worst of the judgments occur in the second half of the Tribulation, which Jesus characterized as "great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world" (Matthew 24:21).
This view is in contrast to the popular belief that places two-thirds of the judgments in the first half of the Tribulation, with the last third of the judgments spread over the last half, which would leave the inhabitants of the earth without water for years due to the second and third Bowl judgments (Revelation 16:3-4). Surely "no flesh" could survive (Matthew 24:22) if God does not reserve the Bowl judgments for the final days to weeks of the Tribulation due to their extreme severity. Pouring out the Bowl judgments in the final days of the Tribulation resolves this issue and fits with the "half hour of silence" covering the first half of the Tribulation, or "Daniel's 70th Week," with the Trumpet judgments covering most of the second half as shown below:
Still, 3 ½ years with no judgment directly from God will not bring peace on the earth. When God withdraws, He turns people over to their reprobate or "debased" minds and they self-destruct (Romans 1). We see the evidence of this in the rise of the harlot religion "Babylon the Great" and its subsequent destruction by the antichrist. People will turn their backs on God, and instead follow after a harlot religion to try to fill their religious void, while appealing to the flesh in mystic worship, which serves to satisfy their "vile passions" (Romans 1:24-26). In response, God gives them over to this harlot religion, which the beast, or antichrist later destroys, and then enslaves them himself (Revelation 17).
We find the same destructive pattern in the Old Testament, in the downfall of Israel. God gave Israel over to idolatry and allowed dictators to enslave and exile them. In fact, the punishment under Gentile rule for the kingdom of Judah constitutes 483 years of the 70 Weeks in Daniel, as discussed earlier. The last seven years will finish the transgression for the Jews (Daniel 9:24), and deal with the Gentiles' transgression of the natural laws (Romans 2:12-16, Isaiah 24:1-6). God will be silent in judgment for 3 ½ years, as He gives the world over to their reprobate minds (Romans 1) and over to the harlot religion "Babylon the great." Then God will pour out the last two-thirds of judgment in the last 3 ½ years to destroy His enemies and the final Gentile kingdom of the antichrist, in preparation for His kingdom.
Revelation 8:2 - And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets.
John sees seven angels "who stand before God." Some believe that Gabriel, who spoke with Daniel and announced the coming births of John the Baptist to Zacharias and Jesus to Mary, is one of these seven angels, as he describes himself as one who "stands in the presence of God":
Luke 1:19 - And the angel answered and said to him, "I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings.
Jewish tradition and apocryphal writings speak of seven archangels in Heaven, Gabriel among them, who stand before God (source). However, in Scripture we see that all angels, or sons of God, both holy and fallen, can present themselves before God:
Job 1:6 - Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them.
Until the Lord permanently evicts the fallen angels from Heaven in the Tribulation, there is nothing in Scripture to show that they cannot stand in God's presence in Heaven, as they did in the days of Job:
Revelation 12:7-9 - And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
The only other time in Scripture we see the phrase "stand before God," is when Moses' father-in-law, Jethro, counseled him to form a hierarchy of rulers over the people, with Moses at the top:
Exodus 18:19-22 - Listen now to my voice; I will give you counsel, and God will be with you: Stand before God for the people, so that you may bring the difficulties to God. And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do. Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Then it will be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they themselves shall judge. So it will be easier for you, for they will bear the burden with you.
The use of this phrase by Jethro, about Moses' status before God, may suggest that these seven angels have a higher status than other holy angels in Heaven. Indeed, Daniel shows us there is a hierarchy in the angelic realm, both holy and fallen, which lends support to the Jewish tradition mentioned earlier:
Daniel 10:13, 20-21 - But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; and behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left alone there with the kings of Persia.... Then he said, "Do you know why I have come to you? And now I must return to fight with the prince of Persia; and when I have gone forth, indeed the prince of Greece will come. But I will tell you what is noted in the Scripture of Truth. (No one upholds me against these, except Michael your prince."
Some see the seven wise men before the King of Persia as types of these seven angels before the throne, because they had access to the throne, and ranked highest in the kingdom:
Esther 1:13-14 - Then the king said to the wise men who understood the times (for this was the king's manner toward all who knew law and justice, those closest to him being Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media, who had access to the king's presence, and who ranked highest in the kingdom)...
That said, later we see another group of seven angels that come from the temple of God with the Bowls of the wrath of God:
Revelation 15:5-7 - After these things I looked, and behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened. And out of the temple came the seven angels having the seven plagues, clothed in pure bright linen, and having their chests girded with golden bands. Then one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever.
The temple houses God's throne. Therefore, these angels would have higher rank than those who stand before the Lord on His throne because they have access to the holiest place in Heaven:
Psalms 11:4 - The LORD is in His holy temple, the LORD's throne is in heaven; His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men.
The seven angels in this chapter have seven trumpets. Incidentally, there are seven uses for trumpets found in Scripture:
In the Trumpet judgments the angels sound their trumpets to announce coming judgment. The last Trumpet judgment is the last of the three "woes" (Revelation 8:13), and is comprised of all the Bowl judgments, thus the last Trumpet judgment is also sounding the alarm for the worst of the judgments yet to come. After the sounding of the last Trumpet, Heaven erupts in praise, worship, and celebration in the coronation of Jesus Christ as King, just before He returns to defeat the kingdom on the earth and begin His millennial reign:
Revelation 11:15-18 - Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!" And the twenty-four elders who sat before God on their thrones fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying: "We give You thanks, O Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was and who is to come, because You have taken Your great power and reigned. The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints, and those who fear Your name, small and great, and should destroy those who destroy the earth."
The other place in Scripture we see seven trumpets is in the capture of Jericho:
Joshua 6:2-6 - And the LORD said to Joshua: "See! I have given Jericho into your hand, its king, and the mighty men of valor. You shall march around the city, all you men of war; you shall go all around the city once. This you shall do six days. And seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark. But the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. It shall come to pass, when they make a long blast with the ram's horn, and when you hear the sound of the trumpet, that all the people shall shout with a great shout; then the wall of the city will fall down flat. And the people shall go up every man straight before him." Then Joshua the son of Nun called the priests and said to them, "Take up the ark of the covenant, and let seven priests bear seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark of the LORD."
Joshua 6:7-10 - And he said to the people, "Proceed, and march around the city, and let him who is armed advance before the ark of the LORD." So it was, when Joshua had spoken to the people, that the seven priests bearing the seven trumpets of rams' horns before the LORD advanced and blew the trumpets, and the ark of the covenant of the LORD followed them. The armed men went before the priests who blew the trumpets, and the rear guard came after the ark, while the priests continued blowing the trumpets. Now Joshua had commanded the people, saying, "You shall not shout or make any noise with your voice, nor shall a word proceed out of your mouth, until the day I say to you, 'Shout!' Then you shall shout."
Joshua is a type of Jesus. In fact, the name "Joshua" in Hebrew is "Yeshua," which transliterates to Jesus. The seven priests are a type of the seven angels who announce judgment by sounding the trumpets. The Hebrew people were silent until the sounding of the trumpets. After the priests sounded the trumpets, the people shouted and God destroyed Jericho and Joshua took the city. Likewise, after a half-hour of silence, seven angels will sound seven trumpets and God will destroy the kingdoms of this world in His wrath in the Bowl judgments and hand them over to His Son to rule:
Psalms 2:1-12 - Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, "Let us break their bonds in pieces and cast away their cords from us." He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the LORD shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and distress them in His deep displeasure: "Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion." "I will declare the decree: The LORD has said to Me, 'You are My Son, today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter's vessel.' " Now therefore, be wise, O kings; be instructed, you judges of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.
Another angel, apart from the seven angels given trumpets, has a golden censer to offer incense on a golden altar before the throne. We see these same elements in the earthly tabernacle:
Hebrews 9:2-5 - For a tabernacle was prepared: the first part, in which was the lampstand, the table, and the showbread, which is called the sanctuary; and behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All, which had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron's rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant; and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.
Exodus 39:33, 35-39 - And they brought the tabernacle to Moses, the tent and all its furnishings... the ark of the Testimony with its poles, and the mercy seat; the table, all its utensils, and the showbread; the pure gold lampstand with its lamps (the lamps set in order), all its utensils, and the oil for light; the gold altar, the anointing oil, and the sweet incense; the screen for the tabernacle door; the bronze altar...
Note in the following passage and schematic below that the golden altar of incense within the holy place is different from the altar for burnt offerings at the door of the tabernacle in the outer courtyard:
Leviticus 4:7 - And the priest shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar of sweet incense before the LORD, which is in the tabernacle of meeting; and he shall pour the remaining blood of the bull at the base of the altar of the burnt offering, which is at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.
Note the parallels in the graphics above, between the earthly tabernacle and the heavenly tabernacle:
As a side note, there is no physical representation of the table of showbread bearing the twelve cakes, or loaves of bread in the heavenly tabernacle, because in the earthly tabernacle it is a symbol of the covenant made between God and the twelve tribes of Israel:
Leviticus 24:4-9 - He shall be in charge of the lamps on the pure gold lampstand before the LORD continually. "And you shall take fine flour and bake twelve cakes with it. Two-tenths of an ephah shall be in each cake. You shall set them in two rows, six in a row, on the pure gold table before the LORD. And you shall put pure frankincense on each row, that it may be on the bread for a memorial, an offering made by fire to the LORD. Every Sabbath he shall set it in order before the LORD continually, being taken from the children of Israel by an everlasting covenant. And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place; for it is most holy to him from the offerings of the LORD made by fire, by a perpetual statute."
Frankincense was a priestly incense use in anointing oil and sacrifice. Frankincense was given as one of three gifts by the wise men to Jesus when He was born (Matthew 2:11), symbolizing His priesthood according to the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 5:6-10, 7:11-21). Jesus is also the "bread of life" (John 6:33-51), who offered the "new covenant" to both Israel and Judah, which include all twelve tribes:
Jeremiah 31:31-34 - "Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah - not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more."
While the twelve tribes of Israel will not corporately come into this new covenant with the Lord until He returns after the Tribulation, Christ, our High Priest, offers it today to those He calls individually, both Jew and Gentile:
Hebrews 9:11-15 - But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.
In short, there is no representation of the table of showbread in Heaven, because the "new covenant" through Christ has replaced the old covenant made only between the Lord and the twelve tribes of Israel:
Hebrews 8:13 - In that He says, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.
Revelation 8:3 - 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.
The angel with the golden censor acts as a minister by offering the incense with prayers on the altar. While some have protested that an angel could minister in the manner of a priest, the following passages show that angels do serve as ministering spirits before the Lord:
Psalms 103:19-21 - The LORD has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all. Bless the LORD, you His angels, who excel in strength, who do His word, heeding the voice of His word. Bless the LORD, all you His hosts, you ministers of His, who do His pleasure.
Hebrews 1:7 - And of the angels He says: "Who makes His angels spirits and his ministers a flame of fire."
Recall from Revelation 5:8, the elders had golden bowls that contained the prayers of the saints. While some believe these prayers in the gold bowls are all unanswered prayers of the saints, the following passage suggests that prayers with incense are prayers for justice and judgment on the wicked:
Psalms 141:1-5 - A Psalm of David. LORD, I cry out to You; make haste to me! Give ear to my voice when I cry out to You. Let my prayer be set before You as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice. Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips. Do not incline my heart to any evil thing, to practice wicked works with men who work iniquity; and do not let me eat of their delicacies. Let the righteous strike me; it shall be a kindness. And let him rebuke me; it shall be as excellent oil; let my head not refuse it. For still my prayer is against the deeds of the wicked.
There is support for this notion in the next few sections, as God's judgment resumes on the earth and its inhabitants after these prayers are offered up with incense by the angel.
Revelation 8:4 - And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel's hand.
Below is a parallel of the angel offering the incense with the saint's prayers, to the high priest offering incense before the Lord on the Feast of Atonement:
Leviticus 16:11-13, 29-30 - "And Aaron shall bring the bull of the sin offering, which is for himself, and make atonement for himself and for his house, and shall kill the bull as the sin offering which is for himself. Then he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from the altar before the LORD, with his hands full of sweet incense beaten fine, and bring it inside the veil. 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..... This shall be a statute forever for you: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether a native of your own country or a stranger who dwells among you. For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the LORD."
The following passage shows an intercessory role for atonement, by offering incense and taking fire from the altar:
Numbers 16:44-48 - And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "Get away from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment." And they fell on their faces. So Moses said to Aaron, "Take a censer and put fire in it from the altar, put incense on it, and take it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them; for wrath has gone out from the LORD. The plague has begun." Then Aaron took it as Moses commanded, and ran into the midst of the assembly; and already the plague had begun among the people. So he put in the incense and made atonement for the people. And he stood between the dead and the living; so the plague was stopped.
The heartfelt prayers by Hezekiah and the people suggest that intercession does not come through an angel, but through the prayers of the saints offered up to the Lord:
2 Chronicles 30:18-22, 27 - For a multitude of the people, many from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the Passover contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, "May the good LORD provide atonement for everyone who prepares his heart to seek God, the LORD God of his fathers, though he is not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary." And the LORD listened to Hezekiah and healed the people. So the children of Israel who were present at Jerusalem kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with great gladness; and the Levites and the priests praised the LORD day by day, singing to the LORD, accompanied by loud instruments. And Hezekiah gave encouragement to all the Levites who taught the good knowledge of the LORD; and they ate throughout the feast seven days, offering peace offerings and making confession to the LORD God of their fathers.... Then the priests, the Levites, arose and blessed the people, and their voice was heard; and their prayer came up to His holy dwelling place, to heaven.
The angel gathers the prayers of the saints from the golden bowls of the elders into his golden censer to offer on the golden altar. Recall from Revelation 1:13, gold can represent holiness and purity, as it retains all its qualities when tested in fire. The prayers of the saints survive the fire, as they ascend with the smoke before God. This shows that God has accepted the offerings and prayers of the saints, because rejection in the offering results in destruction, like impurities in gold refined in fire, as shown in the examples below:
Leviticus 10:1-2 - Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.
Numbers 16:5-7, 15-18, 20-21, 35 - "....Tomorrow morning the LORD will show who is His and who is holy, and will cause him to come near to Him. That one whom He chooses He will cause to come near to Him. Do this: Take censers, Korah and all your company; put fire in them and put incense in them before the LORD tomorrow, and it shall be that the man whom the LORD chooses is the holy one. You take too much upon yourselves, you sons of Levi...." Then Moses was very angry, and said to the LORD, "Do not respect their offering. I have not taken one donkey from them, nor have I hurt one of them." And Moses said to Korah, "Tomorrow, you and all your company be present before the LORD - you and they, as well as Aaron. Let each take his censer and put incense in it, and each of you bring his censer before the LORD, two hundred and fifty censers; both you and Aaron, each with his censer." So every man took his censer, put fire in it, laid incense on it, and stood at the door of the tabernacle of meeting with Moses and Aaron.... And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, "Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment...." And a fire came out from the LORD and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who were offering incense.
2 Chronicles 26:16-19 - But when he [King Uzziah] was strong his heart was lifted up, to his destruction, for he transgressed against the LORD his God by entering the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense. So Azariah the priest went in after him, and with him were eighty priests of the LORD - valiant men. And they withstood King Uzziah, and said to him, "It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have trespassed! You shall have no honor from the LORD God." Then Uzziah became furious; and he had a censer in his hand to burn incense. And while he was angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead, before the priests in the house of the LORD, beside the incense altar.
Isaiah 1:4-7, 13 - Alas, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a brood of evildoers, children who are corrupters! They have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked to anger the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away backward. Why should you be stricken again? You will revolt more and more. The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faints. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores; they have not been closed or bound up, or soothed with ointment. Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire; strangers devour your land in your presence; and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers..... Bring no more futile sacrifices; incense is an abomination to Me....
Ezekiel 8:6-12, 18 - Furthermore He said to me, "Son of man, do you see what they are doing, the great abominations that the house of Israel commits here, to make Me go far away from My sanctuary? Now turn again, you will see greater abominations." So He brought me to the door of the court; and when I looked, there was a hole in the wall. Then He said to me, "Son of man, dig into the wall"; and when I dug into the wall, there was a door. And He said to me, "Go in, and see the wicked abominations which they are doing there." So I went in and saw, and there - every sort of creeping thing, abominable beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel, portrayed all around on the walls. And there stood before them seventy men of the elders of the house of Israel, and in their midst stood Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan. Each man had a censer in his hand, and a thick cloud of incense went up. Then He said to me, "Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the room of his idols? For they say, 'The LORD does not see us, the LORD has forsaken the land....'" "Therefore I also will act in fury. My eye will not spare nor will I have pity; and though they cry in My ears with a loud voice, I will not hear them."
Interestingly, prayers and incense appear together in Scripture when the angel declared John the Baptist's conception and birth. John's mission was to prepare the people for the Lord's righteous and just rule in His coming kingdom:
Luke 1:8-13, 16-17 - So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.... And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, 'To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,' and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."
As we will see in later verses and chapters of Revelation, God will answer these prayers of justice and judgment on the wicked through the rest of the Tribulation judgments.
Revelation 8:5 - Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth.
From the last section, offering incense and taking fire from the altar of incense in the earthly tabernacle was a symbol of atonement for sin. The passage below shows that the fire from the heavenly altar of incense is God's refining fire that can purge sin and take iniquity away:
Isaiah 6:5-8 - So I said: "Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts." Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged." Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?" Then I said, "Here am I! Send me."
The act of the angel throwing the fire from the heavenly altar of incense to the earth shows that the wicked will perish in the coming judgments that follow, which answers the prayers of the saints for justice (Revelation 8:3), while the righteous will be refined, both Jew and Gentile:
Zechariah 13:8-9 - And it shall come to pass in all the land," says the LORD, "That two-thirds in it shall be cut off and die, but one-third shall be left in it: I will bring the one-third through the fire, will refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them. I will say, 'This is My people'; and each one will say, 'The LORD is my God.'"
Daniel 11:35-36 - And some of those of understanding shall fall, to refine them, purify them, and make them white, until the time of the end; because it is still for the appointed time. "Then the king shall do according to his own will: he shall exalt and magnify himself above every god, shall speak blasphemies against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the wrath has been accomplished; for what has been determined shall be done."
Malachi 3:1-3 - "Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming," Says the LORD of hosts. "But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner's fire and like launderers' soap. He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the LORD an offering in righteousness."
Malachi 4:1-3 - "For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up," Says the LORD of hosts, "That will leave them neither root nor branch." But to you who fear My name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings; and you shall go out and grow fat like stall-fed calves. You shall trample the wicked, for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day that I do this," says the LORD of hosts.
Recall from Revelation 4:5, visual and audible displays of lightning, thundering, and voices, depict the awesome power God has over His creation (Psalms 18:7-14, 77:16-20). Indeed, thunder occurring before lightning shows that God is beyond the laws He established in nature and the rest of His creation. God revealed Himself in these same audible and visual displays when He first revealed Himself to Israel:
Exodus 19:16-19 - Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly. And when the blast of the trumpet sounded long and became louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by voice.
As discussed in the "Pre-Tribulation Rapture" study, the main purpose of the Tribulation is to bring Israel back to God, but also to judge the nations and destroy His enemies in preparation for His kingdom. The "lightnings, thunderings and voices" are evidence that God is about to reveal Himself to His chosen people again. While judgment was not in view when God revealed Himself to the Hebrews the first time, we do see these same audible and visual displays appear between each set of Tribulation judgments, which ultimately turn the Jewish remnant back to the Lord before He reveals Himself to them physically, when He returns at the end of the Tribulation (Zechariah 12).
Note in the parallels below, "voices" and "noises" come from the same Greek word "phóné." Also, after the first time the "lightnings, thunderings and voices" appear in Heaven, catastrophes hit the earth in the form of an earthquake and/or hail which intensify each time:
Indeed, we see all these elements present when the Lord metes out judgment:
Isaiah 29:6 & 30:27-30 - You will be punished by the LORD of hosts with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with storm and tempest and the flame of devouring fire.... Behold, the name of the LORD comes from afar, burning with His anger, and His burden is heavy; His lips are full of indignation, and His tongue like a devouring fire. His breath is like an overflowing stream, which reaches up to the neck, to sift the nations with the sieve of futility; and there shall be a bridle in the jaws of the people, causing them to err. You shall have a song as in the night when a holy festival is kept, and gladness of heart as when one goes with a flute, to come into the mountain of the LORD, to the Mighty One of Israel. The LORD will cause His glorious voice to be heard, and show the descent of His arm, with the indignation of His anger and the flame of a devouring fire, with scattering, tempest, and hailstones.
Psalms 18:7-15 - Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations of the hills also 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. He bowed the heavens also, and came down with darkness under His feet. And He rode upon a cherub, and flew; He flew upon the wings of the wind. He made darkness His secret place; His canopy around Him was dark waters and thick clouds of the skies. From the brightness before Him, His thick clouds passed with hailstones and coals of fire. The LORD thundered from heaven, and the Most High uttered His voice, hailstones and coals of fire. He sent out His arrows and scattered the foe, lightnings in abundance, and He vanquished them. Then the channels of the sea were seen, the foundations of the world were uncovered at Your rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of the breath of Your nostrils.
God's judgment will fulfill the purpose of the Tribulation - He will destroy the wicked nations and the remnant of Israel will going through refining and then turn back to God, as discussed in the last section:
Jeremiah 30:7-11 - Alas! For that day is great, so that none is like it; and it is the time of Jacob's trouble, but he shall be saved out of it. 'For it shall come to pass in that day,' Says the LORD of hosts, 'That I will break his yoke from your neck, and will burst your bonds; foreigners shall no more enslave them. But they shall serve the LORD their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up for them. 'Therefore do not fear, O My servant Jacob,' says the LORD, 'Nor be dismayed, O Israel; for behold, I will save you from afar, and your seed from the land of their captivity. Jacob shall return, have rest and be quiet, and no one shall make him afraid. For I am with you,' says the LORD, 'to save you; though I make a full end of all nations where I have scattered you, yet I will not make a complete end of you. But I will correct you in justice, and will not let you go altogether unpunished.'
As an interesting side note, the cherubim below God's throne in Ezekiel's vision, when God commissioned Ezekiel to warn the people of God's judgment, looked like lightning and made loud thunderous noises when they moved:
Ezekiel 1:13-14 - As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches going back and forth among the living creatures. The fire was bright, and out of the fire went lightning. And the living creatures ran back and forth, in appearance like a flash of lightning.
Ezekiel 3:13 - I also heard the noise of the wings of the living creatures that touched one another, and the noise of the wheels beside them, and a great thunderous noise.
It is possible these creatures are the source of the thunderings, lightnings and some of the voices or noises, save God's voice in Revelation. While the seraphim verbally announce the four horses (Revelation 6:1-8), perhaps the cherubim announce the three sets of judgments and the return of the Lord through "noises, thunderings, and lightnings."
The noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake from the throne seem to signal the seven angels to blow their trumpets, announcing the next set of judgments. Note the parallels between the Trumpet and Bowl judgments and the increasing severity of each successive judgment:
Also note that like the Seal judgments, the first four of each set of judgments primarily affect the creation, and the last three focus on the spiritual realm interacting with humans. (Click here for more on this topic). There is no need to spiritualize away any of these judgments to symbolism, as we find that many of them literally came on Egypt before the Exodus:
Moses and Aaron were two prophets that acted as witnesses before Pharaoh for the Lord. At the word of Moses and Aaron, God rained down judgment on Egypt. Likewise, two witnesses will arrive shortly before the Trumpet judgments begin, and they will witness against the beast and his kingdom. As was the case with Moses and Aaron, these judgments appear to come at the word of the two witnesses. In other words, the timing of each angel sounding on their trumpet occurs may be dependent on when the two witnesses call out each judgment from their post in Jerusalem:
Revelation 11:3, 6 - "And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth...." These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire.
Revelation Flow Chart:
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