The censer was a copper bowl used for carrying coals and for burning incense, hence the word ‘censer’. It was used in Old Testament days by the High Priest to carry incense into the holiest of all on his annual visit there. Vials were bowls too and were broad and shallow, often used for incense and drink offerings. The word ‘vial’ is used only in Revelation and then some eight times.
The Prayers of Saints, Rev. 5. 8.
In Revelation 5 the dramatic events witnessed by John reach their climax when no one is found worthy to open the scroll which was written within and on the back side. No room was available for further writing on this scroll, indicative of the fact that the whole counsel of God had already been defined and committed to writing. Nothing could happen to deflect or delay the programme, and there was no opportunity to include things unforeseen, which is of course quite correct, as nothing is unforeseen as far as God is concerned. The scroll lay in God’s right hand, indicating that the next stage of the divine plan was about to unfold, provided away could be found to open it.
However, no one is found worthy to open the book and John weeps at this apparent hitch in the divine plan. It is then announced that the Lion of the tribe of Judah had prevailed to open the book and to unlock the seven seals. Learning this John expects to see a Lion but is surprised to see a Lamb as it had been slain, but now in the majesty and power of victory.
As the Lamb took the scroll the twenty-four elders fell down before Him and sang a new song, the glorious words of which are recorded in this chapter. It should also be noted that the elders each had a harp and a golden bowl containing incense odours – the prayers of saints. As they gather around the standing Lamb they fall down and worship Him, yet a sad reminder of those earthly elders in Jerusalem who had gathered round only to mock and to reject His claims. The harp is the first musical instrument referred to in the Bible and the only one mentioned as being used in heaven. That the elders should have harps is unsurprising but they also carried golden bowls. In these bowls were many odours, described as being the prayers of saints. Thus praise and prayer unite in an appreciation of the Lamb.
Prayers are precious to God – just as they will be then, have been in the past, so they are today. These bowls of prayers are golden – precious, weighty, broad, and are in God’s presence at the very point of decision where angels wait ready to do His bidding. They are available to fly immediately at His command to answer prayer. Let us continue to pray in the certain knowledge that God hears, cares and is always ready to intervene in favour of His people.
The Priestly Intercessor, Rev. 8. 3-5
Chapter 8 opens with silence in heaven for the space of half an hour, prior to the opening of the seventh and final seal of the scroll. This is not the sweet silence of rest and peace, but the ominous silence as of the calm before the storm. It lasts but a short time, half an hour, but the depth of the silence and its heavy atmosphere make it seem to be very much longer indeed. After this period of silence the seven angels are each given a trumpet with which to officially announce the judgements of God.
Now another Angel appears standing at the altar and having a golden censer. To this Angel, none other than our Lord Jesus Christ, is given much incense. Here the incense speaks of the beauties of His character and life which His sufferings brought out in full fragrance. The incense of Old Testament days was made up of four parts and was very precious and holy. The ingredients were stacte, onycha, galbanum and frankincense, perfectly balanced, tempered together, pure and holy. Beaten very small it was placed before the ark of testimony where God met man. This beautiful incense is now to be mingled with the prayers of the saints and together they are offered to God. These particular prayers are of course for judgement, but whether for judgement or mercy the beauty of Christ in all His perfection, as appreciated by God is mingled with the prayers of saints. Not just added to but mingled with, so that the life of Christ and His sufferings are an indistinguishable part of the prayers. No wonder ‘Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon his knees’!
Having offered the incense and prayers from His hand the Angel then fills the golden bowl with fire and in a dramatic gesture of judicial judgement casts the fire of God into the earth. This fire too (like the incense) has four parts, voices, thunderings, lightnings and an earthquake, after which the seven angels sound their trumpets in turn initiating judgements the like of which earth has never before experienced. The prayers are answered at once! Prayer is a powerful weapon when used, as against enemies in that day, or for the good of those for whom we intercede. Let us continue in prayer in the knowledge that ‘to all our prayer and praises Christ adds His sweet perfume, and love the censer raises their odours to consume’.
Preparations for judgement, Rev. 15. 7
Chapter 15 opens with a sign in heaven, great and marvellous. This is that seven angels are seen coming out of the temple. Priests would normally be seen doing such a thing, but here it is angels who are ministers of divine judgement. Each angel bore a plague, was clothed in pure and white linen and girded with a golden girdle. All these combine to demonstrate that the coming judgement is from the very presence of God Himself and will be conducted in a way which is righteous in God’s eyes and in men’s as well.
To these angels are now given golden bowls full of the wrath of God. At the same time the temple is filled with smoke making it impossible for any to enter until the seven plagues are fulfilled. This indicates that this judgement of God cannot be stayed nor interrupted. God will hear no word of intercession, nor of special pleading. His wrath is burning fiercely and His presence is out of bounds until the angels have released the seven plagues. When God finally moves in judgement nothing can stop Him. He is unapproachable in this matter, hidden in the smoke of the righteous anger of His own power and glory. How blessed that He is able to deal with us in grace!
Thus these golden bowls of Revelation teach us that the prayers of saints are highly valued in heaven and lie at His right hand ready to be acted on immediately. Secondly, that the prayers of saints are always mingled with the beauty and acceptability of their Lord and as such are irresistable. Thirdly, that the prayers and incense finally give way to wrath and fury which are poured out on earth in such a way that is unstoppable until God is satisfied that the demands of His throne and sanctuary have been fully met.
Golden censers and vials play a vital role in future events yet can be used to our advantage in a personal way.
To God be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.