Revelation 5:8

Sunday Morning Bible Study

May 20, 2001

Golden vials full of odours

I’d like to set the stage for the verse we’re going to look at this morning.

John has been raptured into heaven and has found himself before the throne of God.

There are a couple of key players you need to be familiar with. There are four “beasts” or “living beings” which we have identified as angelic beings known as “cherubim”. There are twenty four “elders” which I believe to be a combination of the leadership of God’s people on earth, twelve from the tribes of Israel and the church.

When we get to Revelation 5, John finds himself witnessing a grand scene, which we believe to be something akin to a real estate transaction. The idea is this: Mankind had sold his inheritance of the planet to Satan in the garden, and it’s now time to see if anyone is able to purchase the earth back from the temporary ownership of Satan. There is a “book”, a scroll, which contains the title deed to the earth, and an angel asks if anyone is worthy to open this scroll. This scroll, if someone is found who is qualified to open it, will bring about the final seven-year period of judgment on earth, resulting in God’s reign on earth. As heaven and earth are searched for someone qualified to open this scroll, John finds himself weeping that no one is worthy. And then He appears. Jesus, the Lamb that was slain steps forward.

(Rev 5:8-10 KJV) And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. {9} And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; {10} And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.

Lesson #1

The Aroma of Prayer

odoursthumiama – an aromatic substance burnt, incense.  Incense was used in the worship in the tabernacle and temple as a picture of prayer, a sweet smell rising before God.

There was even a special formula to be used for the incense burnt before God.  God instructed Moses about which spices to use …

(Exo 30:35 KJV) And thou shalt make it a perfume, a confection after the art of the apothecary, tempered together, pure and holy:
The incense was to be like perfume, like art, something sweet.
Inside the Tabernacle, there was a small golden altar known as the “altar of incense”. It was located just outside the Holy of Holies. It was to be used only for incense. The priests had specific instructions for it –
(Exo 30:7-8 KJV) And Aaron shall burn thereon sweet incense every morning: when he dresseth the lamps, he shall burn incense upon it. {8} And when Aaron lighteth the lamps at even, he shall burn incense upon it, a perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations.

Morning and evening the priests were to burn incense upon this little altar.

Sweet Incense - Prayer and worship

Here in Revelation 5:8, they “fell down”, they had “harps”
harpskithara (“guitar”) a harp to which praises of God are sung in heaven
This is one of the times when the incense is before the throne. Not the only time, but one of them.  It is a time of worship, and the smell is wonderful.
All of heaven has longed for the day when this title deed to the earth would be purchased back from Satan, and now the day has come.
Jesus steps forward to take back the earth, and He is greeted with worship
The elders worship Jesus with a song,

(Rev 5:9-10 KJV) …Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; {10} And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.

The angels in heaven worship Jesus

(Rev 5:12 KJV) Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.

Every creature in the universe gives Him praise saying,

(Rev 5:13 KJV) …Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.

There is no prayer as sweet as the prayer that is accompanied with worship.

Strange Incense - Stinky Prayers

(Exo 30:9 KJV) Ye shall offer no strange incense thereon, nor burnt sacrifice, nor meat offering; neither shall ye pour drink offering thereon.
strange – Strange in the sense of something that God has not asked you to do. It was not made according to the instructions in vs.34-38.
Only God’s prescribed incense was to be used. The people weren’t supposed to burn whatever they wanted, only God’s special incense.
Nadab and Abihu found out what happened if you offered the wrong kind of incense. They died in God’s presence (Lev. 10).
Prayer isn’t about you deciding what to tell God. It’s learning to talk to God the way He wants you to talk to Him.  Four kinds of stinky prayers …
a. Praying to people rather than God.
(Mat 6:5-6 KJV) And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. {6} But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
Answer To A Prayer

Two young boys were spending the night at their grandparents. At bedtime, the two boys knelt beside their beds to say their prayers when the youngest one began praying at the top of his lungs. “I PRAY FOR A NEW BICYCLE... I PRAY FOR A NEW NINTENDO... I PRAY FOR A NEW VCR...” His older brother leaned over and nudged the younger brother and said, “Why are you shouting your prayers? God isn’t deaf.” To which the little brother replied, “No, but Gramma is!”

b.  Meaningless words.
(Mat 6:7-8 KJV) But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. {8} Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.
Some folks learn to pray by reciting certain memorized prayers like, “Now I lay me down to sleep”.
I guess that might be okay to start with, but how would you like it if every time someone came up to you and talked, they said the exact same words over and over again?
c.  Complaining
Too often my prayers are accompanied with complaining and griping.

(Num 11:1 KJV) And when the people complained, it displeased the LORD: and the LORD heard it; and his anger was kindled; and the fire of the LORD burnt among them, and consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp.

Sometimes we don’t have any reason at all to be complaining.  Sometimes the problem is ours, not God’s.  Our complaining isn’t pleasing to the Lord.
Moms, how does it make you feel when you put your heart and soul into cooking dinner and your kids come to the dinner table and complain about what you’ve served them?

During a blistering hot day, a family was entertaining guests for dinner. When all were seated, the man of the house turned to his six-year-old son and asked him to say the blessing. “But daddy, I don’t know what to say,” he protested. “Oh, just say what you’ve heard me say,” the mother chimed in. Obediently, he bowed his little head and said, “Oh, Lord, why did I invite these people here on a hot day like this!”

d.  Pride
Uzziah was a great king.  He did many wonderful things for the nation of Judah, making them a strong, powerful kingdom.
(2 Chr 26:16-21 KJV)  But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he transgressed against the LORD his God, and went into the temple of the LORD to burn incense upon the altar of incense. {17} And Azariah the priest went in after him, and with him fourscore priests of the LORD, that were valiant men: {18} And they withstood Uzziah the king, and said unto him, It appertaineth not unto thee, Uzziah, to burn incense unto the LORD, but to the priests the sons of Aaron, that are consecrated to burn incense: go out of the sanctuary; for thou hast trespassed; neither shall it be for thine honour from the LORD God. {19} Then Uzziah was wroth, and had a censer in his hand to burn incense: and while he was wroth with the priests, the leprosy even rose up in his forehead before the priests in the house of the LORD, from beside the incense altar. {20} And Azariah the chief priest, and all the priests, looked upon him, and, behold, he was leprous in his forehead, and they thrust him out from thence; yea, himself hasted also to go out, because the LORD had smitten him. {21} And Uzziah the king was a leper unto the day of his death, and dwelt in a several house, being a leper; for he was cut off from the house of the LORD: and Jotham his son was over the king's house, judging the people of the land.

The sin of pride, thinking we’re something more than we are, is one of the stinkiest of all things to God.

Lesson #2

The Persistence of Prayer

:8 and golden vials full

vialsphiale – a broad shallow bowl, deep saucer. This is a parallel with the bowls of incense used in the Tabernacle (Num. 7:14)

Here, the cherubim and the elders are carrying bowls filled with incense, filled with our prayers. The idea seems to be that as we pray, the bowls in heaven are filled with our prayers.


Fill the bowls

I have this idea that the bowls are a picture of how much prayer is required for a request to be granted.
When the bowl is filled, the request is granted.
I think that some prayer requests only need one prayer and the bowl is full.
I think that other bowls are quite large and require a lot of prayer to be filled.
Jesus taught that we need to be persistent in prayer.
(Luke 11:5-10 KJV)  And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; {6} For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? {7} And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. {8} I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth. {9} And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. {10} For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

importunity – “shamelessness”.  The person is not ashamed to keep knocking on the door until the friend helps.

The idea is not to teach you that God is reluctant to help you.  The idea is to teach you to keep asking, keep seeking, and keep knocking.

I think that this is one reason why Satan tries so hard to keep you from praying.  You will find that the moment you set out to start praying, you will find great spiritual opposition. Satan knows that if that “bowl” gets filled, he’s in trouble! 

:8 which are

are – present tense, current, continuous action. It’s not that these “were” the prayers of the saints, but these are the prayers of the saints.

Are you praying?

If so, your prayers are in heaven right now.  Right now in heaven, there are bowls with sweet incense in them with your name attached.

Lesson #3

The Person of Prayer

:8 the prayers of saints.

saints – these are the prayers of a certain type of person. These are the prayers of the “saints”.

What is a “saint”?

I think the Catholic Church has done a great deal to give us a picture of what a “saint” is.  It’s someone who lives in a stained-glass window and has a yellow ring around their head.  It’s someone who is so good that they float above the ground and probably never eat food and never have to use the restroom.  Right?  Wrong.

The Bible says that all believers are “saints”.  In the New Testament, the word “saint” is used 62 times, and no references to glowing halos.  It’s simply used for those who are a part of the church.
When we come to trust in Jesus, He sets us “apart” from the rest of the world and makes us “holy”.

There is something that can keep your prayers from getting into the bowls of heaven.

The Psalmist wrote,

(Psa 66:18 KJV) If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me:

Isaiah wrote,

(Isa 59:1-2 KJV) Behold, the LORD'S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: {2} But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.


Open a channel

On the old Star Trek TV show, whenever Captain Kirk wanted to talk to someone, he’d say something to his communications officer like, “Lt. Uhura, open a channel to the Klingon ship” or, “Lt. Uhura, open a channel to Starfleet”.
Talking to God is a lot like “opening a channel”.  God wants to establish a clear channel of communication with you.  But there is something that can block that communication, and that is our sin.
For some of you, you’ve never faced this problem.
You’ve thought your whole life that if you really need something, you just “talk to the Old Man upstairs”.

But that’s kind of hard when the line between you and God has been cut.

Your sin has cut off your communication with God.

Even worse, your sin is going to take you to hell.

“Wait a minute!”  you say.  “I’m not that bad!”

The Bible says, “Thou shalt not lie” Have you ever lied?  Have you ever “stretched the truth”?  What does that make you?  A liar.  How many times do you have to lie to become a liar?  Only once.

The Bible says, “Thou shalt not steal”.  Have you ever stolen anything?  How about something small, like taking something from work that wasn’t yours?  What does that make you?  A thief.

The Bible says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” and Jesus says that if you look upon a woman to lust after her, you’ve committed adultery with her in your heart.  Have you ever looked on a woman with lust?  What does that make you?  An adulterer.

A lying, thieving, adulterer.

The Bible says that the wages of sin is death.  You will face God one day and have to pay for your sins. That means going to hell.

Unless you choose to allow another to pay the price for your sins.

Jesus came to the earth and died on a cross to pay for your sins.  He offers you the free gift of forgiveness, but you have to choose to open your heart to Him and receive this gift.

For some of you, you may have been a Christian for a while, and you’ve begun to backslide and get kind of comfortable with certain sins.
The verses like those in Psa. 66 and Isa. 59 are written to or about people who are claiming to follow God.
Are your lines of communication with God cut off?
The Bible says,

(1 John 1:9 KJV)  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

God desires to start smelling the sweet incense coming from you.