The Power of Prayer

Revelation 8

We come to Revelation 8. We have seen the completion of the second major section of the book, chapters 4 through 7. Let us back up just a bit and review so that we have a background for where we are in Revelation. The first major scene is chapters 1 through 3 where we see Jesus Christ walking among the churches. We see this symbolically portrayed in the first chapter and we see concrete illustrations of it in the seven churches of Asia Minor in chapters 2 and 3. We see the harsh realities of the Christian experience in a sinful world. Then, in chapter 4, we begin a scene where we are taken into the very presence of God and are assured that He is in charge of our universe, that He controls things and that we need not fear that things are out of hand.

When we come to chapter 5, we see the Lamb of God who has been slain for the sins of the world. He has ascended to the throne of God and has been given a book. He has been found worthy of opening the book and unloosing the seals so that the destiny of the universe might be revealed and carried out. Then we see the seals beginning to be unloosed one by one and scenes are unveiled before our eyes. We see first of all Jesus Christ going forth, now that He has risen from the dead and ascended to the throne, going forth conquering and to conquer. We see then the efforts of Satan to fight against the conquering power of Christ as we see seal after seal unloosed. But we see the power of Satan exercised under the limitations that God has imposed upon him. We see him inflicting economic hardship and we see the injustices that he brings about in our world. We see death being the lot of Christians as well as the non Christian.

But, when the 5th seal is opened, we see that those who have been faithful to the word of God are found in the very presence of God and enjoying freedom from this earthly life. Finally, we see, as the 6th seal is opened, the wrath of God being poured out upon the world. But, we see in chapter 7, God's redeemed being preserved and protected from that final judgment that is coming upon the wicked. In fact, as we come to the close of chapter 7, it says, “For the Lamb who is in the


midst of the throne will shepherd them, and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” It sounds so very much what we find near the end of the book, where it says, “And there shall be no night there: they need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5).

We have seen God's people finally coming into the very presence of God where they are free from the suffering and the sorrow of this life. I believe at this point that we come to the end of a scene, a look at God's dealings with mankind. It starts from the throne of God and culminates with God's people present, with him at the throne.

Read Revelation 8:1: “When He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” There is a period of silence. It is just as though John has to catch his breath. He has seen such awesome things. He has seen one complete scene of the activity of God in our world, from the time of the ascension of the Lamb to the throne to the time when His people join Him at the throne. It is just as though after all of the tumult and confusion that is seen as God brings wrath upon the earth and redeems his people, that there has to be a moment of silence to reflect on all of this. But that silence also seems to prepare us for the next scent in Revelation.

I believe that what happens now is not something that continues from that point forward in some chronological sense, but rather, we go back to the beginning again. We go back to the throne of God and we are going to look at God's activity in our world from another point of view. Verse 2 says, “And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets.” These trumpets, as we shall see, are trumpets of judgment, trumpets of warning. God always tries to warn mankind of impending judgment before He finally brings it. And as we look at the seven angels sounding their trumpets, we will be seeing warnings, temporary and temporal judgments of God being brought against sinful men.

In the previous section as we were looking at the seals being loosed, we were seeing the seals of persecution. We were seeing God's people being oppressed. What we see now is a


different aspect of the whole picture. It has been brought into sharper focus, the fact that the seals of persecution give rise to the trumpets of warning , and that those who would oppress God's people must recognize that God will take vengeance.

Back in the 6th chapter when the 5th seal was opened we saw under the altar “... the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ ”

As we come to chapter 8 we are seeing the answer to that question given. God does avenge His people. Look at verses 3–4: “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.” Here we are seeing the prayers of a persecuted people, the prayers of the saints of God, going up to God. Christ is interceding for the saints.

Of course the word “saint” as used in the New Testament always means God's people. If you are a Christian you are a saint. And what we see in Revelation 8:3–4 are the prayers of all the saints going up before God and being received by God. None of us is left out. Our prayers reach the presence of God. But it is not because we are worthy to make our requests known to God. It is because the Lamb of God is worthy, and because we belong to the Lamb. God is willing to hear and ready and anxious to hear our prayers. And I believe that is the significance of the statement in verse 3 where it says, “And 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.”

I believe what we are seeing here is that Jesus Christ is adding to our prayers His words of intercession behalf of us before the throne of God. We see that this kind of thing is a function and role, which Jesus does play for His people. In Luke 22:31–32, Jesus was speaking to Simon Peter and said, “And the Lord said, ‘Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he


may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.’ ” Jesus Christ intercedes for his people. In I John 2:1, John said, “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” We do not have to go to God, the Father, alone, but Jesus Christ accompanies us there, and Jesus Christ is our advocate. He pleads our case and our cause, and it is because He does so that our prayers can go into the presence of God, and we have the assurance that God will hear and that God will answer.

In Romans 8:34, Paul said, “Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.” If you are one of God's people, what a thrilling thing to know that Jesus Christ is interceding for you! His work on your behalf did not end when He died on the cross. He continues to make intercession for you. Jesus is vitally interested in you, each of you. And Jesus Christ does not have human limitations. Let us never think of Jesus as too small to accomplish tasks which we are describing. Jesus knows you by name and Jesus Christ continues to intercede on your behalf. His blood continues to cleanse you from all sins. But that is not all that He does.

In Hebrews 7:25, the writer of the Hebrew letter told us more about the interceding work of Jesus Christ when he said, “Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” Jesus Christ always lives to make intercession for you. Some of these passages are so personal that they almost overwhelm us. To think that Jesus continues to be constantly aware of your needs, your activities, and your prayers that go up before the Father.

What happens when your prayers go before the throne of God? Does God have His hands tied behind His back? Is God looking the other way, totally disinterested in our affairs? Absolutely not! Our God is alert. His eyes go to and fro over the earth seeking those whom He may help; those who are willing to serve him. Here we see in verse 5 the response of God to the prayers of His people. “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.” What we have seen is God's response to your prayers. He throws fire on the earth. He does avenge God's elect. It is not that God's people are a vengeful people trying to encourage the retaliation of God, but that they are people who recognize the holiness and the righteousness and the justice of God, and realize that rebellion against God demands satisfaction. And when God's people are being oppressed, God does take action and God does respond to the prayers of His people who cry out. We do not always know how God accomplishes it. We see only highly symbolic ways in the response of God as described in Revelation 8.

Let us not get carried away and over-literalize the things that are said here. Rather, let us understand that the kind of language used here is the kind of language that was used by the prophets of the Old Testament. So often they used physical terms to describe the spiritual realities of God's activity. For example, consider the matter of God sending fire upon the earth. Look at Luke 12:49–53. Jesus said: “I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled.” Let us pause a moment. Jesus said, “I came to send fire on the earth.” We can take that literally if we want to. We can see Jesus getting a bowl of fire and just throwing it out on the earth. But that is not the way this kind of language is employed in the scripture. That is not the significance of it. Let us let Jesus tell us what He meant by that statement. It we understand that, we can begin to understand the significance of what is said in Revelation 8 about the angel talking the censer and throwing fire on the earth.

What does it mean? That is the symbol, but what is the meaning of the symbol? Jesus said, “I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished! Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division” (Luke 12:49–51). In the idea of casting fire, there is something destructive involved. Casting fire is the symbol but causing division is the significance. Jesus elaborates, “For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother–in–law


against her daughter–in–law and daughter–in–law against her mother–in–law” (Luke 12:52–53). In other words, when Jesus goes forth conquering and to conquer, Satan is going to do everything in his power to fight against those who would follow Jesus Christ and he would enter into their homes and try to cause strife and stress and friction. When one turns to Jesus and the others do not, there will be conflict. It is painful. It is as though Jesus has cast fire upon the earth. So here is an illustration from Jesus of the kind of expression that is found in Revelation 8..

No, we are not seeing Jesus literally sending fire upon the earth in Revelation 8, but we are seeing the response of God to the prayer of His people. We are seeing judgment brought. We are seeing that when we cry out to God, He hears and He answers. He responds to our prayers. As we read in Revelation 8:6–9, we see an elaboration on the idea: “So the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound. The first angel sounded: And hail and fire followed, mingled with blood, and they were thrown to the earth. And a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up. Then the second angel sounded: And something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea and a third of the sea became blood. And a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and third of the ships were destroyed.” We are seeing God bringing his judgments on the people. The calamities and catastrophes that happen on the earth are warning people. There are some that do repent, but there are others, even in spite of God's activities and calamities that are brought upon the earth, who see the awesome power of God and still refuse to turn to God.

We look at the third angel in verses 10–11: “The third angel sounded: And a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the water, because it was made bitter.” What is happening now? There is no escape for those who are under the wrath of God. The earth is being struck. The sea is being struck. The inland waters are being hurt. Then, we come to verse 12: “Then the fourth angel sounded: And a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them were darkened. A third of the day did not shine, and likewise the


night.” What is the significance of the third, the third, third? All it means is that it is not the final judgment of God that we are seeing. These are only the kinds of judgments that God brings all along the way on the people of the world to try to get them to see that God is active in His world. To see that God is the God who responds to His people. To see that the calamities of the world should cause us to turn to God, that there is no escaping from God.

It reminds us in sort of a reverse way of what we find in Psalms 139:7–10: “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.” If I ascend into the heavens, if I descend into the earth, if I go into the sea, wherever I go, God is present. And that is reassuring to His people because there is no way that God is ever going to abandon us or leave us. But for the world it ought to be a terrifying thought that there is no escape from God. And that is why in Revelation 6:16–17, we saw people who opposed God and they cried out, “And said to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?’ ” There is no escaping from the presence of God. But in Revelation 8 we are not seeing the final judgment of God in bringing His judgments on the earth and His warnings by calamities on the earth to try to cause people to respond to Him and to come back to Him.

Can God respond today? We often say that God is not doing today the miracles He did in previous times and there are people who get all upset when you make that kind of statement, and they say, ‘Is God not the same yesterday and today and forever?’ He is. But God chooses to act in different ways and operates in different ways from time to time. God places upon Himself His own limitations if He so chooses. But while God may not be operating today with the kinds of miracles that were done through Jesus Christ, God is still as active as He ever was in our world. He still can accomplish His purposes without ever doing the kinds of things that were seen under the


leadership of Moses or of Christ. You know, even in the Old Testament God often operated dramatically and powerfully in response to His people without miracles. He used the miracles of Moses in order to bring His people out of Egyptian bondage. He used absolutely no miracles and accomplished just as great a thing when He freed His people from Babylonian captivity and allowed them to come back to the land of Palestine and rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. There are no miracles involved here. There was simply an idea planted in the mind of Cyrus. God used the armies of Babylon even before that to destroy His people and lead them into captivity. That was God's judgment being brought because of sinful people. And yet, as the people finally responded to the message of the prophets and cried out to them, God was willing to let them come back. God can operate powerfully in our world. He planted a thought in the mind of Augustus Caesar to enroll the whole world so that Jesus could fulfill a prophecy of the Old Testament of being born in Bethlehem, although He grew up in Nazareth. God is still able to operate dramatically.

Some think that God is bound in our world today by all the laws of nature. That is not true. Our universe does not operate according to law; it operates according to God. God is the one who controls our universe, not laws, unless they be laws that God has devised which are not necessarily the same things that we crystallized into the so–called laws of nature. God still has a free hand to operate in our world. I think we need to gain the conception of the relationship of God to our universe that the ancient psalmist had in Psalm 65. We seem to think that that somehow God is trapped by the inability to operate due to the laws of nature. But God controls this. He can do whatever He wants to whenever He wants to. He does not have to obey any laws that men have crystallized. Look at Psalm 65. I would like you to read the entire 13 verses that you may gain an appreciation of how God relates to our universe.

God is doing all of this. God is the one who brings the spring to us. God is the one who showers the earth with water, who blankets it with a soft layer of snow. God is doing these things. It is not mother nature. It is not some law that is foreordained that causes this. Almighty God is blessing us with rain. He cause the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. It is not accident. It is not just by some foreordained meteorological


phenomenon that rain and showers and hail come. God brings it; God does it. God is active in our world. He is active for the benefit of His people. We are not a people who are incapable of affecting any change in our world. When we pray that kingdoms may fall before God, God answers. When we pray for people who are sick, God answers. God can operate in our world today and He does operate. And let us never think that we have a God that cares not what is happening to His people. Here in Revelation we see the prayers of all the saints going up before the throne of God and we see the response of fire cast on the earth. God responds to the prayers, the cries of His people even today. Let us never forget it. So we come to Revelation chapter 8 and we see the judgments of God being brought upon those who oppose God's people and God's efforts to warn people of impending final judgment that is to come by the judgments all along the way.

Unfortunately, many people expect a literal fulfillment of these prophecies. They expect some day in the future to look into the heavens and see some kind of strange astronomical phenomena in the sky. Revelation is not talking about that. They expect that a third of all the grass on the earth is literally going to burn up and there will be two–thirds left. These are ideas completely foreign to the whole nature of prophecy. Let us go back a minute to Isaiah. Let me show you how the Bible speaks about God's activity in this world. In Isaiah 13, for example, God is talking about the destruction that is coming upon Babylon. In Isaiah 13:10, there is this description of what happens when Babylon is destroyed: “For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be darkened in its going forth and the moon will not cause its light to shine.” Read verse 13: “Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth will move out of her place in the wrath of the Lord of hosts and in the day of His fierce anger.” That never happened literally. Babylon was destroyed. It still lies in ruins. God, however, brought His judgment on the world, and the prophets described it in these terms.

Look at another illustration in Isaiah 34. This time we see Edom, a very insignificant little nation but one that had enough power to be a thorn in the side of other nations and a nation that thought she could never be destroyed. Here are the words of the prophet Isaiah concerning the destruction coming on


Edom. Isaiah 34:4–5: “All the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll; all their host shall fall away as the leaf falls from the vine, and as fruit falling from a fig tree. For My sword shall be bathed in heaven; indeed it shall come down on Edom, and on the people of My curse, for judgment.” No literal sword came shooting down from heaven on Edom. The heavens were not rolled away literally. The heavens were not dissolved literally. But God's judgment described in these symbols came to Edom so there not an Edomite on the face of the earth any more. That nation has long since been lost in antiquity. God brings His wrath on people. He brings His warnings and His judgments on people and responds to the cry of the people of God.

What we have seen in Revelation 8 is one of the greatest passages on the power of prayer. Your prayers count. When you pray, God listens, and Jesus Christ intercedes for you. God continually is watching out on your behalf. Jesus continues to care for you. He wants to answer your cries and your pleas, and we need to recognize that this is part of what is involved in God's dealing with our world, even in our time. If you are not a Christian, you have missed out on the most important thing in the world: coming into a new relationship with God so that you are preparing yourself for eternity with God. Do not allow yourself to continue in rebellion and enmity against God, but become a follower of the Lamb who intercedes with God on your behalf. Give your life to the One who is able to bring you into the presence of God.

We sometimes sing that hymn, “When This Passing Word is Done,” and there is one phrase in there that says, “When I stand with Christ on high, looking o'er life's history.” That is what Revelation is helping us to do. We are standing with Christ on high and looking over life's history to see how God is dealing with man and what is significant and the fact that we are dealing with the awesome realities of eternity. Let us get our heads out of the sand and get our minds away from this earthbound existence and realize that we are creatures of eternity. And realize that God has prepared a destiny for us in His presence where there shall be no pain or sorrow any more, where God himself shall wipe every tear from our eyes. That is what God wants for you. Why not give your life to Him and be baptized into Him and begin a new life?