The Apostle John is writing to a group of people who are picked on, put down, beat up, and persecuted as they are fed to lions, crucified upside down, and ignited as candles by the hand of the Roman Empire. As you read the book of Revelation, keep this backdrop in mind. The temptation is to view this Book only in the context of current events and eschatology.
Although current application is important, we must listen to John’s heartfelt words to his audience in 96 A.D. — people who had no prestige, power, or prominence — people who perhaps wondered if they even had a prayer. ‘Yes! You do!’ John would say resoundingly. ‘These winds of persecution do not have to blow you away because you do have a prayer.’
I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day . . . Revelation 1:10
‘I was on the island of Patmos due to persecution,’ writes John, ‘but I was in the Spirit. ‘Egenomen en pneumati’ in Greek translates literally, ‘I came to be in the Spirit’. Not, ‘I was sitting in a pew, when I suddenly found myself in the Spirit’ — but ‘I came to be in the Spirit. I actively pressed in.’ How did John press in? He prayed.
The entire Book of Revelation is a mixture of vision and prayer. And here in Chapter 8, John deals with this issue in a most powerful, picturesque, practical way as he reminded his persecuted people to pray.
According to Church Historian Hendrik Gruven, the distinctive feature of early Christian prayer is the certainty of being heard. In other words, when the Early Church prayed, they believed God was actually listening.
And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour. (Revelation 8:1)
Commentator after commentator will tell you the silence in heaven of Revelation 8:1 is a mystery. But I suggest to you our text indicates that as the prayers of the saints ascend before Him, it’s as though God says, ‘Hush.’
To the living creatures who cry Holy, Holy, Holy, He says, ‘Hush;’
to the twenty-four elders who praise Him continually, He says, ‘Hush;’
to the thousands of angels who serve Him perpetually, He says, ‘Hush;’
— rendering heaven completely, totally silent.
It’s as though God says, ‘At this moment in time, nothing else has My attention like this prayer being offered to Me. I don’t want to miss a single word.’
Because our days are filled with a cacophony of noise, we don’t hear each other very well. We talk but we don’t listen. We converse, but we don’t understand.
There is, however, one exception: Two people who are totally in love can sit in a crowded, noisy restaurant and converse as though there’s no one else around. And that’s the idea here. ‘I am passionately in love with the child speaking to Me,’ says God, ‘and I don’t want to miss a word he’s saying.’ So, like a laser, fixing His full attention on the person offering even the simplest of prayers, God listens.
People spend thousands of dollars on psychiatrists, or months waiting for a pastoral appointment — yet God gives His undivided, complete, total attention to the prayers of anyone going through tribulation or trouble. The key is to pray . . .
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. (Revelation 8:3)
The prayer which causes silence throughout heaven is mixed with much incense. Throughout Scripture, incense speaks of intercession. Hebrews 7:25 says that Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest, ever lives to make intercession for the saints. In other words, the incense of Jesus’ intercession on our behalf sweetens our prayers.
You see, my prayers stink because they’re tainted by my flesh. I ask for something I think is good, but Jesus, knowing my request would have disastrous results says, ‘Father, this is how Jon is praying, but what he really means is . . . .’ Knowing our heart, Jesus perfumes our clumsy and faulty prayers through His intercessory ministry.
And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake. (Revelation 8:5)
The angel takes the censer of prayer, perfumed with intercession, and casts, or literally ‘hurls’ it back to earth. As the answer re-enters earth’s atmosphere, the whole world is shaken with incalculable effect. These guys being beat up and persecuted, are told through this prophecy that their prayers are heard, and that, in due season, the answer will shake their world.
And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound (Revelation 8:6)
What was the answer? It was music to the ears of the persecuted, for when these first century believers studied the Bible, they studied the Old Testament. And when they did, they read of trumpets . . . The blast of seven trumpets preceded the collapse of the seemingly impregnable walls of Jericho (Joshua 6). The alarm of two trumpets reminded the children of Israel that the Lord their God would bring them victory (Numbers 10:9). The sound of the trumpet signaled the year of Jubilee — in which all debts were canceled, all slaves set free (Leviticus 25:9). Thus, the answer to their prayers was truly music to the ears of John’s congregation, for the sound of the trumpet promised victory, liberation, and the collapse of a city even stronger than Rome.
‘Interesting study,’ you might be thinking, ‘‘but I’ve been saved for awhile, and I know differently. Oh, I’m not saying God doesn’t listen to prayer generally — just that He doesn’t hear My prayer specifically.’’ ‘My marriage was on the rocks’, or — ‘My daughter had cancer’, or — ‘My business was going bankrupt, so I prayed and prayed and prayed — and nothing happened. You talk about blaring trumpets, about a fireball of an answer hurled from heaven. That’s fine theoretically, but it doesn’t play that way for me personally.’
If you feel this way, you’re not alone. Turn to Luke 1 . . .
There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years. (Luke 1:5-7)
Because barrenness was considered a curse, Zacharias and Elisabeth were considered sinful in the eyes of their community. Although God deemed them righteous, others believed there was a defect in their piety. This being the case, perhaps Zacharias and Elisabeth lived their lives brokenhearted, wondering what was wrong.
And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord 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 unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. (Luke 1:11-13)
‘What prayer?’ Zacharias must have asked. ‘Prayer for a son? I stopped praying for a son thirty years ago!’
Do you understand the implication? This verse tells us that God remembers even the prayers we forget. ‘Give us a son,’ prayed Elisabeth and Zacharias. But they heard nothing day after week after month after year because God wanted to give them more than just a son. His plan was to give them the herald for His own Son (Matthew 11:11).
Slowly I begin to understand that my prayers remain in the Lord’s ‘To Do’ box even though I may have given up hope long ago. Mixed with the sweet incense of Christ’s intercession, they simmer on the altar until God answers them in a way I would never have dared dream (Ephesians 3:20).
Thus, the delay in answered prayer is not due to God’s procrastination, but to His desire to exceed even our wildest imagination.
‘Shhh,’ says God. ‘My child is praying.’ And at the right time — maybe that day, maybe next week, maybe ten years down the road, maybe half a century later — the answer will quake his world.