The Prayers Of The Saints
Key Verse 8:4
“The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand.”
This is a fitting key verse because God is a God who answers his children’s prayers. When last week we looked at the golden altar of prayer, we also saw an amazing thing. There was awesome silence in heaven for a span of about half an hour when the Lamb opened the seventh seal. John saw an angel who stood before the golden altar like a high priest ready to offer up the prayers of God’s people before the throne of God. He offered incense mixed with the prayers of the saints, and the prayers went up to God. This is a truth about prayer that we cannot ignore, that every prayer offered in faith goes up to God. Especially the prayers of God’s servants who labor for the gospel of Jesus go up before God. In this heavenly scene it was the prayers of those who had been martyred for their testimony about Jesus. During the period of holy silence before the throne of God where prayers were being offered, the angel filled the censer with fire from the altar and hurled it to the earth. Thunder, lightning and a terrible storm broke loose on the earth. Now the judgment of God was released on earth in answer to the prayers of the saints for the sake of justice. God is loving but he is also just. He promised that the day will come when he would judge the earth and its inhabitants for their sins. When John was given the vision, he saw the beginning of that terrible judgment which God has been storing up for the day of judgment. For those who have surrendered their lives to Jesus that day is going to be a day to witness the fruits of their faith in God. But for those who have not put their faith in Jesus, that day is going to be a terrible day— one that no human being is able to endure.
Look at verses 6-12. In these verses we see four trumpets being blown. And thus the terrible time of judgment began. Read verses 6-7. When the first angel blew his trumpet one third of the earth and its vegetation was burned up. Read verses 8-9. When the second angel blew his trumpet, a huge blazing mountain was hurled to the ocean, and one third of them turned to blood. A third of the creatures of the sea and a third of what’s atop the oceans also were destroyed. It was a terrible judgment. Read verses 10-11. When the a third angel blew his trumpet a star called Wormword fell and turned one third of the rivers bitter. This would be a great and terrible pollution to the world’s water supply turning the waters bitter and undrinkable. Read verse 12. At the sound of the fourth trumpet, one third of the sun, the moon and the stars turned dark. This is not symbolic, but a true disaster where a third of all heavenly bodies would lose their light. Jesus mentioned this in his discourse on the end times.
Read verse 13. “As I watched, I heard an eagle that was flying in midair call out in a loud voice: “Woe! Woe! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the trumpet blasts about to be sounded by the other three angels!” This is division between the first 4 trumpets and the last three trumpets. While the first four trumpets brings terrible judgments upon the earth, the flying eagle would have us know that the remaining three trumpets would spell judgment that are far more serious and catastrophic than what has already been dealt to the earth and its inhabitants. They are described as three woes the likes of which the earth and its people had never seen. We must remember this: that whatever judgment is dealt on mankind, the purpose is justice, as well as God’s effort to bring people to repentance and faith, so that they might be saved.
The prophet Habakkuk used the image of an eagle to symbolize speed and utter destruction. The picture here is also of an eagle flying over all the earth, warning of the terrors yet to come. While those who have accepted Jesus and those who have not accepted him as Lord and Savior experience the terrors described in verses 7-12, those who haven’t will meet spiritual harm through the next three trumpet judgments. God has already promised those who have been sealed protection from spiritual harm. We say spiritual harm because of the nature of the coming judgments. What judgments are these?
Read 9:1-12. The 5th angel blew his trumpet. The fallen star, the Destroyer, opened the Abyss. The Abyss is another name for hell. So this fallen star, the Destroyer, opened the gates of hell and released destruction on the earth. The destruction is portrayed in the form of locusts. Most likely these locusts are demons— evil spirits ruled by the devil and who tempt people to sin. Many people say that they do not believe in God and so they would also say that they do not believe in demons either. But demons are real creatures, fallen angels who joined Satan’s rebellion against God eons ago, before the world existed, and have been cast down into the Abyss to await God’s judgment just all other creatures, human or otherwise. The existence of these demons whom the Destroyed was permitted to let loose upon the earth, is real, as real as any other creature God has created. Our Lord Jesus often met men and woman who were possessed by them. Some were violent and others were docile, but the fact remains true, they were demons, and Jesus in his mercy cast them out. Today we do not see but a glimpse of what is to happen when the fifth angel blows his trumpet. Today we see things that people do in public or in the secrets places of their lives that cannot possibly be of human invention or origin. They are surely things done by the activity of demons that are already upon the earth. They are now limited in numbers, and terrible as they are, they are nothing compared to what is to come. Non believers may not want to believe but Christians know that the Bible is true, and the warning against demon or demon activity is real, and take heed.
When the locust who are either demons or demon controlled were let loose upon the earth they effected terrible terrible suffering and anguish among the non believers of the world. But the destruction was limited in time to 5 months. Verse 6 tells us that “During those days men will seek death, but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.” How terrible would be the torture these demons would deal to mankind that they would want to die but it would not be given them to die. On the other hand, the servants of God who bear his seal would not be harmed. Jesus’ people often suffer persecution in a godless world, but on the day of judgment, those bearing God’s seal would not be harmed at all, but be spared and saved to the shelter of God.
Read verses 13-19. Now the sixth angel blew his trumpet and four angels with an army of two hundred million were released and sent to kill a third of mankind. In John’s time and the time that the prophecy was given, this number of mounted troops in an army was inconceivable. But today we know that there are countries and alliances that could easily produce this many troops. This huge army, led by the four demons, may be human or demon or demon possessed, we do not know. But that they are led by four demons is absolute and that the army released is demon controlled. It will be sent out to destroy one-third of the earth’s population. But the judgment is still not complete. Listen what Jesus our Lord tells about those times. In Matthew 24:21-22 he says: “For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now–and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.” Surely we cannot perceive of what judgment God is bringing upon this earth which crucified his Son, which persecuted his beloved Christians and which refuses to let God rule where he is rightfully God and King.
What was God’s purpose God’s purpose in releasing this kind of destruction on mankind? Let us read 9: 20-21. “The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood— idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.” God surely brings such terrible judgment so that men might repent of their sins. What were their sins? Their sins were the works of their hands; their idolatry; murders and sorcery; sexual immorality and theft. We wonder sometimes that most people do not belong to any of these categories of sin. But the truth is different. People are idolatrous, they worship what they desire in their own hearts. What they desire the most they worship. And that is idolatry. Idolatry is one of the greatest deceptions of Satan in the old times as well as in modern times. Then God mentions that they neither repented of their murders or murderous hearts. Hatred and jealousy and envy and the want of something that is not ours is like murder, for when the heart hates, it also murders that which it hates, whether it is a human being or God himself. Murder is also another great deception of Satan. Then there is sexual immorality which is the most common form of sin in our generation, as prevalent as idolatry, for who has not committed the sin of sexual immorality whether in reality or in the imaginings of the mind. The Bible tells us that unless these sins are covered in the blood of Jesus, they cannot go unpunished, that if they are not repented of people risk being kept out of heaven. And he mentions that people did not repent of theft. Theft is also common these days. We may not steal money but men’s hearts are constantly coveting things they do not have. We must know that God will bring judgment on men. We must also know that when the heart is hardened, even his judgments will not cause men to repent.
Satan’s deception keeps men from repenting. Listen to what Paul tells us in 2 Thess 2:9-12. “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.” Satan has worked in this way from the beginning of time. He is a deceiver. He lies and he distorts the truth.
The moment people reject the gospel, and do not begin to live by the teachings of the gospel, they are setting themselves up for deception and lies— which are easily swallowed by a mind and heart that is not touched and sanctified by the blood of Jesus. The biggest lie is that God loves me and therefore whatever I do I am okay and will be okay. It is a lie. If you do what you want to do instead of what God wants you to do, you are being deceived and will not be okay. Another common deception of lie is that “God does not exist” and if he doesn’t then all that I do is of no consequence. The truth is that God exists and that we will have to give an accounting for every careless word we speak, let alone for what we do. Another lie is that we are the masters of our own fate. We are not. God is the author of life and we ought to follow his will and not fate. There is another lie and deception which makes me proud — that God does not mean this or that when he says this or that— that he means instead what I think he means— that is powerful delusion of Satan to numb the minds of unbelievers.
These days most people are numb to the truth of God. They live as if there is no set truth and therefore no coming judgment. They live as if the truth is evolving into something that it was not a decade or two ago. But truth does not change. Jesus is the truth. He is the only truth. The word of God is truth. It does not change. It hasn’t and it will not change. The heavens and earth are changing, the foundations of the earth are shifting under lands and oceans, but the word of God is as solid as ever. How do we know? We know because lives are still touched and changed by the gospel message. We know because God is still listening to prayers and answering them. The evidence is overwhelming. We cannot shut that out regardless of how much we try— or regardless of how much our society and our schools want to teach us that God’s voice is a myth. God is not a myth. His words and truth and his workings in this world are not a myth.
In the Bible there is much truth. Specially we have been studying Revelation. And when we think about it, we that that we have learned countless truths so far. Especially the truth about losing our first love for example. Losing our first love is not a small thing. If we have, we ought to do everything to restore that first love, as the Lord commands. There is no price high enough to pay in order to regain that first love we had for our Lord Jesus. Loving Jesus is everything. This is where you and I need to be. We need to be in a place where loving Jesus is more than important to us than loving ourselves. More than loving our own pleasures and the things that supposedly make our lives interesting. Jesus is the beginning and end the Bible tells us, and he is the beginning and end of our lives as well. We may have come to him at a later age in life, but it does not matter when we have finally found him, as a teenager or an old man. To us our life began when Jesus became the center of our life. He occupies the first place in our lives and should be the last place in our life as well. That is not easy. This world screams for us to love other things. It shouts at us to love it, to love its splendor and its glory, the tantalizing things that bring momentary joys. The world urges us to love the things that makeup the bulk of our lives, like our jobs our hobbies and everything else that is interesting in our daily lives. But we cannot love a job or a hobby more than Jesus. The world makes the love of God look uninteresting. It makes following Jesus a drag. But in reality the love of Jesus is the most tantalizing, most precious and most interesting thing that could have ever happened to us. And if it has not yet happened, then it is time to make it happen, by surrendering our heart to him who died for our sins that we may have life and escape God’s judgment.
The other thing we may have learned in Revelation is the important place of witnesses in God’s history. People under the altar have given their lives to Jesus as his witnesses. Loving Jesus is important. And witnessing is equally as important. If we have forgotten our testimony, the testimony about Jesus’ grace in our lives; if coming to church has become no more than a habitual activity we use as a band aid over our guilt; if prayer is something we have come to do only when we are asked to pray or when someone asks us to pray together; if we are no longer living to broadcast the name of Jesus but trudging through life to make ends meet; if this is happening, then we need to review our testimony— what the Lord has done for me— where I had been and where I am now. And we are not talking about making our physical life better. We are talking about Jesus who took us out of hell and brought us to heaven. Such a testimony far outweighs whether we are comfortable in life or not, whether we have what we need or not. If we have not this testimony in our hearts, then we need to renew it for the Lord is merciful and kind, gentle and loving, as loving as the first day we met him and gave him our lives. And we have not then it is time to do so.
Testimony in our hearts is so important and so precious. We need not be ashamed of our testimony. We need not be ashamed to witness to Jesus neither at school nor at work. Rather we ought to stand up for the Lord as he stood up for us. He went to the cross for us. He suffered for us. It is only a matter or remembering that grace from day to day. People tell me that they have weakened and what to do. Others tell me that something happened where they used to freely tell wherever they were about Jesus. What happened that they do not tell of Jesus any more? I do not know. All I know is that we ought to remain in his word in his grace, in prayer. That is the purpose of the word of God. We do not eat once we must eat it all the time, we are strengthened by it. Then the Holy Spirit gives us the courage not to be ashamed of Jesus. To be ashamed of Jesus is a terrible thing. It is one thing to give one’s testimony in a church where others can say amen to us, but the real place for testimony is out there where people are nasty and mean and hostile to the gospel and to the lord of the gospel. Jesus was right when he said Matt 10:33
“But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.” Our place is to witness to Jesus. We need to remain humble for that, we need to remain repentant for that. We need to remain in his word for that. We need to remain in prayer. And we need to remain in fellowship with other believers. And we need most of all the working of the Holy Spirit so that we may be brave in the face of a terrible world out there. People need to know that you belong to Jesus. That he is yours and you are his. There is no shame in that. The shame is that a humanity that was created by a righteous and loving God has given itself over to the worship of created things, such that it runs after them without shame, and shames you for following what humanity should follow.
Through the study of revelation we may not be able to understand everything all that the Lord has given in a vision to his apostle john,. But we can surely understand and learn some basic truths that would become for us a foundation for life, for the word of God whether we understand it or not is a solid rock on which we can all stand without fail. As we study let us take those truths and build our lives upon them and make them guide us in a world that is surely moving towards that great end. Look again at verses 20-21. God in his mercy calls us to give up the world and its things and live in repentance and in faith. Let us do that as we continue to study Revelation. Amen.