Prayer-a Sweet-Smelling Sacrifice

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. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel's hand. 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.
-Revelation 8:3-5, emphasis added

Perhaps the altar spoken of in Revelation 8:3-5 has made you wonder what kind of altar is in heaven. Are there animal sacrifices going on up there? No. Is Jesus offering himself over and over again in heaven? No. So then, what altar is left? If you look at the setting of this passage, you will see that it is right in front of the throne.

The altar noted seven times in heaven (Revelation 6:9; 8:3 twice; 8:5; 9:13; 14:18 and 16:7) is not an altar of burnt offering. Jesus was offered once; therefore, no animal sacrifices in heaven are needed. The only other altar is the altar of incense. This altar is found in the third and fourth books of Moses (Leviticus 16:12; Numbers 16:46). Do you remember the setting? There was a big tent with an outer courtyard housing a brazen altar and a laver. The inner tent was two-chambered. There was a holy place with a table of showbread and the golden candlesticks that lit it. Then, right in front of the doorway into the Holy of Holies, there was an altar of incense. That incense was always to be rising up before the curtain on the other side of the Holy of Holies, the tiny room of God's presence over the ark of the covenant.

In front of that tiny room of God's presence, where God's shekinah (the glory cloud) hovered over the ark of the covenant, was a hollow, rectangular box, covered with gold, standing three feet high and a foot and one-half square. Along the top of this incense altar was a small rail fence to keep burning coals from tumbling off as the priests came and walked past it. As the High Priest annually came with the bowl of the blood of the atoning sacrifice to be sprinkled on top of the mercy seat, he had to walk by this cloud of incense.

What's amazing is that it is almost as if that priest brought his blood sacrifice surrounded by fragrant incense. Because the incense was offered before the first and last sacrifice, it is like the people's offerings were sent to God tied with fragrant ribbons of perfumed incense smoke. What a beautiful picture of how God wants us to offer our prayers to Him! We are to come before Him in the name of Jesus Christ. We are to come because of the sacrifice of Christ and His finished work, but this time of fellowship is to be surrounded by the perfume of our prayers and our devotion to Him.

God Listens--Time to Pray: As we just read in Revelation 8:3-5, although Christ is above time, He shows himself to be God, waiting as He allows the prayers of His saints to arise. Before He acts in vengeance upon the earth, He receives the incense of our prayers as sacrifices rising from the altars of our hearts, a fragrant aroma of perfume from a devoted spirit of worship. This is what the eighth chapter of Revelation is all about: God is waiting for the smoke of the incense of our lives to rise before Him before He will act. How does God, who is sovereign, eternal, and omnipotent, limit himself to wait? That is part of the mystery of God.

Prayer is an awesome privilege. Do you look on prayer that way? What a captivating thought to see God wait for these prayers to rise before Him in Revelation 8. Even now He seeks the same worship, adoration, devotion, and praise from each of us. Is the altar of your soul burning with fragrant incense to God? Are the coals of your soul glowing with fire for Him? Do your prayers fill His presence with your devotion? Those are some remarkable thoughts that should draw you to bow in your soul before your Creator and speak to Him wonderful words of worship.

Jesus Christ asks us to come before Him with our prayers so that He can act on our behalf. How is the smoke of the fire of your heart doing? Are your prayers incense to Him? Right now, you may have nothing more important to give to God than your prayers. If so, rejoice! Jesus is waiting to capture those prayers as they rise and pour them out before His Father, our Lord God Almighty!

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