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Revelation 5:8

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

The four beasts - fell down before the Lamb - The whole Church of God, and all his children in heaven and earth, acknowledge that Jesus Christ is alone worthy and able to unfold and execute all the mysteries and counsels of God. See on Revelation 5:9; (note).

Having every one of them harps - There were harps and vials; and each of the elders and living creatures had one.

Odours, which are the prayers of saints - The frankincense and odours offered at the tabernacle were emblems of the prayers and praises of the Lord. That prayers are compared to incense, see Psalm 141:2; : Let my Prayer be set forth before thee as Incense. Hence that saying in Synopsis Sohar, p. 44, n. 37: "The odour of the prayers of the Israelites is equal to myrrh and frankincense; but on the Sabbath it is preferred to the scent of all kinds of perfumes." The words which are the prayers of saints are to be understood as this is my body, this signifies or represents my body; these odours represent the prayers of the saints.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

And when he had taken the book, the four beasts … - The acts of adoration here described as rendered by the four living creatures and the elders are, according to the explanation given in Revelation 4:4-7, emblematic of the honor done to the Redeemer by the church, and by the course of providential events in the government of the world.

Fell down before the Lamb - The usual posture of profound worship. Usually in such worship there was entire prostration on the earth. See the Matthew 2:2 note; 1 Corinthians 14:25 note.

Having every one of them harps - That is, as the construction, and the propriety of the case would seem to demand, the elders had each of them harps. The whole prostrated themselves with profound reverence; the elders had harps and censers, and broke out into a song of praise for redemption. This construction is demanded, because:

(a)the Greek word - ἔχοντες echontes- more properly agrees with the word “elders” - πρεσβύτεροι presbuteroi- and not with the word “beasts” - ζῶα zōathere is an incongruity in the representation that the living creatures, in the form of a lion, a calf, an eagle, should have harps and censers; and,

(c)the song of praise that is sung Revelation 5:9 is one that properly applies to the elders as the representatives of the church, and not to the living creatures - “Thou hast redeemed us to God by thy blood.”

The harp was a well-known instrument used in the service of God. Josephus describes it as having ten strings, and as struck with a key (Ant. Revelation 7:12, Revelation 7:3). See the notes on Isaiah 5:12.

And golden vials - The word “vial” with us, denoting a small slender bottle with a narrow neck, evidently does not express the idea here. The article here referred to was used for offering incense, and must have been a vessel with a large open mouth. The word “bowl” or “goblet” would better express the idea, and it is so explained by Prof. Robinson, Lexicon, and by Prof. Stuart, in loco. The Greek word - φιάλη phialē- occurs in the New Testament only in Revelation Revelation 5:8; Revelation 15:7; Revelation 16:1-4, Revelation 16:8, Revelation 16:10, Revelation 16:12, Revelation 16:17; Revelation 17:1; Revelation 21:9, and is uniformly rendered “vial” and “vials,” though the idea is always that of a “bowl” or “goblet.”

Full of odours - Or rather, as in the margin, full of incense - θυμιαμάτων thumiamatōnSee the notes on Luke 1:9.

Which are the prayers of saints - Which represent or denote the prayers of saints. Compare Psalm 141:2, “Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense.” The meaning is, that incense was a proper emblem of prayer. This seems to have been in two respects:

(a)as being acceptable to God - as incense produced an agreeable fragrance; and,

(b)in its being wafted toward heaven - ascending toward the eternal throne.

In Revelation 8:3, an angel is represented as having a golden censer: “And there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. The representation there undoubtedly is, that the angel is employed in presenting the prayers of the saints which were offered on earth before the throne. See the notes on that passage. It is most natural to interpret the passage before us in the same way. The allusion is clearly to the temple service, and to the fact that incense was offered by the priest in the temple itself at the time that prayer was offered by the people in the courts of the temple. See Luke 1:9-10. The idea here is, therefore, that the representatives of the church in heaven - the elders - spoken of as “priests” Revelation 5:10, are described as officiating in the temple above in behalf of the church still below, and as offering incense while the church is engaged in prayer.

It is not said that they offer the prayers themselves, but that they offer incense as representing the prayers of the saints. If this be the correct interpretation, as it seems to be the obvious one, then the passage lays no foundation for the opinion expressed by Prof. Stuart, as derived from this passage (in loco), that prayer is offered by the redeemed in heaven. Whatever may be the truth on that point - on which the Bible seems to be silent - it will find no support from the passage before us. Adoration, praise, thanksgiving, are represented as the employment of the saints in heaven: the only representation respecting prayer as pertaining to that world is, that there are emblems there which symbolize its ascent before the throne, and which show that it is acceptable to God. It is an interesting and beautiful representation that there are in heaven appropriate symbols of ascending prayer, and that while in the outer courts here below we offer prayer, incense, emblematic of it, ascends in the holy of holies above. The impression which this should leave on our minds ought to be, that our prayers are wafted before the throne, and are acceptable to God.

Uriah Smith
Daniel and the Revelation, 396

Verse 8

Vials Full of Odors. — From this expression we form an idea of the employment of those redeemed ones represented by the four living creatures and the four and twenty elders. They have golden vials, or vessels, full of odors — or, as the margin reads, incense — which are the prayers of saints. This is a work of ministry such as pertains to priests.DAR 396.2

Scott says: “It is indisputably manifest that the four living creatures join in, or rather lead, the worship of the Lamb as having redeemed them to God; and this proves beyond controversy that part of the redeemed church is meant by this emblem, and not angels, whose worship is next described, but in language evidently different.”DAR 396.3

A. Barnes, in his notes on this passage, remarks: “The idea here is, therefore, that the representatives of the church in heaven, the elders, spoken of as ‘priests,' are described as officiating in the temple above in behalf of the church still below, and as offering incense while the church is engaged in prayer.”DAR 396.4

The reader will remember that in the ancient typical service the high priest had many assistants; and when we consider that we are now looking into the sanctuary in heaven, the conclusion at once follows that these redeemed ones are the assistants of our great High Priest above. For this purpose they were doubtless redeemed. And what could be more appropriate than that our Lord, in his priestly work for the human race, should be assisted by noble members of that race, whose holiness of life, and purity of character, had fitted them to be raised up for that purpose? (See remarks on chapter 4:4.)DAR 396.5

We are aware that many entertain a great aversion to the idea of there being anything real and tangible in heaven; and we can easily anticipate that the views here presented will be altogether too literal for such. To sustain themselves in their position, they dwell much on the fact that the language is highly figurative, and that we cannot suppose there are or were any such things in heaven as John describes. We reply that, though the Revelation deals largely in figures, it does not deal in fictions. There is reality in all the things described; and we gain an understanding of the reality when we get a correct interpretation of the figures. Thus, in this vision we know that the One upon the throne is God. He is really there. We know the Lamb symbolizes Christ. He too is really there. He ascended with a literal, tangible body; and who can say that he does not still retain it? If, then, our great High Priest is a literal being, he must have a literal place in which to minister. And if the four living creatures and the four and twenty elders represent those whom Christ led up from the captivity of death at the time of his resurrection and ascension, why are they not just as literal beings while there in heaven as they were when they ascended?DAR 397.1

The Song. — It is called “a new song,” new, probably, in respect to the occasion and the composition. They were the first that could sing it, being the first that were redeemed. They call themselves kings and priests. In what sense they are priests has already been noticed, they being the assistants of Christ in his priestly work. In the same sense, doubtless, they are also kings; for Christ is set down with his Father on his throne, and doubtless these, as ministers of his, have some part to act in connection with the government of heaven in reference to this world.DAR 397.2

The Anticipation. — “We shall reign on the earth.” Thus, notwithstanding they are redeemed, and surround the throne of God, and are in the presence of the Lamb that redeemed them, and are surrounded with the angelic hosts of heaven, where all is glory ineffable, their song contemplates a still higher state, when the great work of redemption shall be completed, and they, with the whole redeemed family of God, of every age, shall reign on the earth, which is the promised inheritance, and is to be the final and eternal residence of the saints. Romans 4:13; Galatians 3:29; Psalms 37:11; Matthew 5:5; 2 Peter 3:13; Isaiah 65:17-25; Revelation 21:1-5.DAR 397.3

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
It is matter of joy to all the world, to see that God deals with men in grace and mercy through the Redeemer. He governs the world, not merely as a Creator, but as our Saviour. The harps were instruments of praise; the vials were full of odours, or incense, which signify the prayers of the saints: prayer and praise should always go together. Christ has redeemed his people from the bondage of sin, guilt, and Satan. He has not only purchased liberty for them, but the highest honour and preferment; he made them kings and priests; kings, to rule over their own spirits, and to overcome the world, and the evil one; and he makes them priests; giving them access to himself, and liberty to offer up spiritual sacrifices. What words can more fully declare that Christ is, and ought to be worshipped, equally with the Father, by all creatures, to all eternity! Happy those who shall adore and praise in heaven, and who shall for ever bless the Lamb, who delivered and set them apart for himself by his blood. How worthy art thou, O God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, of our highest praises! All creatures should proclaim thy greatness, and adore thy majesty.
Ellen G. White
Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students, 110

In every Christian home God should be honored by the morning and evening sacrifices of prayer and praise. Children should be taught to respect and reverence the hour of prayer. It is the duty of Christian parents, morning and evening, by earnest prayer and persevering faith, to make a hedge about their children. CT 110.1

In the church at home the children are to learn to pray and to trust in God. Teach them to repeat God's law. Concerning the commandments the Israelites were instructed: “Thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” Deuteronomy 6:7. Come in humility, with a heart full of tenderness, and with a sense of the temptations and dangers before yourselves and your children; by faith bind them to the altar, entreating for them the care of the Lord. Train the children to offer their simple words of prayer. Tell them that God delights to have them call upon Him. CT 110.2

Will the Lord of heaven pass by such homes and leave no blessing there? Nay, verily. Ministering angels will guard the children who are thus dedicated to God. They hear the offering of praise and the prayer of faith, and they bear the petitions to Him who ministers in the sanctuary for His people and offers His merits in their behalf. CT 110.3

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 8, 178

In Christ's name our petitions ascend to the Father. He intercedes in our behalf, and the Father lays open all the treasures of His grace for our appropriation, for us to enjoy and impart to others. “Ask in My name,” Christ says. “I do not say that I will pray the Father for you; for the Father Himself loveth you. Make use of My name. This will give your prayers efficiency, and the Father will give you the riches of His grace. Wherefore ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” 8T 178.1

Christ is the connecting link between God and man. He has promised His personal intercession. He places the whole virtue of His righteousness on the side of the suppliant. He pleads for man, and man, in need of divine help, pleads for himself in the presence of God, using the influence of the One who gave His life for the life of the world. As we acknowledge before God our appreciation of Christ's merits, fragrance is given to our intercessions. As we approach God through the virtue of the Redeemer's merits, Christ places us close by His side, encircling us with His human arm, while with His divine arm He grasps the throne of the Infinite. He puts His merits, as sweet incense, in the censer in our hands, in order to encourage our petitions. He promises to hear and answer our supplications. 8T 178.2

Yes, Christ has become the medium of prayer between man and God. He has also become the medium of blessing between God and man. He has united divinity with humanity. Men are to co-operate with Him for the salvation of their own souls, and then make earnest, persevering efforts to save those who are ready to die. 8T 178.3

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Ellen G. White
SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6 (EGW), 1078

The religious services, the prayers, the praise, the penitent confession of sin ascend from true believers as incense to the heavenly sanctuary; but passing through the corrupt channels of humanity, they are so defiled that unless purified by blood, they can never be of value with God. They ascend not in spotless purity, and unless the Intercessor who is at God's right hand presents and purifies all by His righteousness, it is not acceptable to God. All incense from earthly tabernacles must be moist with the cleansing drops of the blood of Christ. He holds before the Father the censer of His own merits, in which there is no taint of earthly corruption. He gathers into this censer the prayers, the praise, and the confessions of His people, and with these He puts His own spotless righteousness. Then, perfumed with the merits of Christ's propitiation, the incense comes up before God wholly and entirely acceptable. Then gracious answers are returned. 6BC 1078.1

O, that all may see that everything in obedience, in penitence, in praise and thanksgiving must be placed upon the glowing fire of the righteousness of Christ. The fragrance of this righteousness ascends like a cloud around the mercy seat (Manuscript 50, 1900). 6BC 1078.2

29 (2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 3:10). Moral Image of God Restored Through Christ—Though the moral image of God was almost obliterated by the sin of Adam, through the merits and power of Jesus it may be renewed. Man may stand with the moral image of God in his character; for Jesus will give it to him. Unless the moral image of God is seen in man, he can never enter the city of God as a conqueror (The Review and Herald, June 10, 1890). 6BC 1078.3

29, 30. See EGW on Ephesians 1:4, 5, 11. 6BC 1078.4

34 (Hebrews 7:25; 1 John 2:1; see EGW on Matthew 28:18). Kept by Christ's Intercessions—Everyone who will break from the slavery and service of Satan, and will stand under the blood-stained banner of Prince Immanuel will be kept by Christ's intercessions. Christ, as our Mediator, at the right hand of the Father, ever keeps us in view, for it is as necessary that He should keep us by His intercessions as that He should redeem us with His blood. If He lets go His hold of us for one moment, Satan stands ready to destroy. Those purchased by His blood, He now keeps by His intercession (Manuscript 73, 1893). 6BC 1078.5

(Ephesians 5:2; Hebrews 7:25-27; 9:23-26; 13:15; Revelation 8:3, 4.) Constant Need of Christ's Intercession—Christ was the foundation of the whole Jewish economy. In the service of the Jewish priesthood we are continually reminded of the sacrifice and intercession of Christ. All who come to Christ today are to remember that His merit is the incense that mingles with the prayers of those who repent of their sins and receive pardon and mercy and grace. Our need of Christ's intercession is constant. Day by day, morning and evening, the humble heart needs to offer up prayers to which will be returned answers of grace and peace and joy. “By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifice God is well pleased” (Manuscript 14, 1901). 6BC 1078.6

(John 14:6; 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 9:11-14.) Clothed With His Priestly Vestments—Christ is the connecting link between God and man. He has promised His personal intercession by employing His name. He places the whole virtue of His righteousness on the side of the suppliant. Christ pleads for man, and man, in need of divine help, pleads for himself in the presence of God, using the power of the influence of the One who gave His life for the world. As we acknowledge before God our appreciation of Christ's merits, fragrance is given to our intercessions. Oh, who can value this great mercy and love! As we approach God through the virtue of Christ's merits, we are clothed with His priestly vestments. He places us close by His side, encircling us with His human arm, while with His divine arm He grasps the throne of the Infinite. He puts His merits, as sweet incense, in a censer in our hands, in order to encourage our petitions. He promises to hear and answer our supplications. 6BC 1078.7

Yes, Christ has become the medium of prayer between man and God. He also has become the medium of blessing between God and man. He has combined divinity and humanity. Men are to be co-laborers with God in the salvation of their own souls, and then make earnest, persevering, untiring efforts to save those who are ready to perish (Letter 22, 1898). 6BC 1078.8

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