Revelation 8:1-13 Part 3


1)    And when He loosed the seventh seal, silence was in the heaven for half an hour.

2)    Then I did see seven messengers which had stood before God; and seven trumpets were given to them.

3)    Then another Messenger did come, and He was poised before the altar having the golden censer.  And much incense was given to Him in order that He would present the prayers of all the holy ones before the golden altar in front of the throne.

4)    And the smoke of the incense with the prayers of the holy ones arose before God out of the hand of the Messenger.

5)    Then the Messenger took the censer and filled it from the fire of the altar of whole burnt offering and poured into the land.  And there were thunders and sounds and lightnings and shaking.

6)    And the seven messengers having the seven trumpets prepared themselves that they might trumpet.

7)    And the first trumpeted.  And hail was, and fire having been mixed in blood and poured into the earth, and the third of the land burned up, and the third of the trees burned up, and all tender herbage burned up.

8)    Then the second messenger trumpeted.  As it were a great mountain was cast burning into the sea, and the third of the sea was blood,

9)    and the third of the creatures having life in the sea died, and the third of the vessels were utterly destroyed.

10) Then the third messenger trumpeted.  And a great star fell out of the heaven as a torch being burned and fell on the third of the rivers and on the fountains of water,

11) and the name of the star is called ‘the wormwood’, and the third of the waters was made into wormwood, and many men did die from the waters for they had been rendered bitter.

12) Then the fourth messenger trumpeted.  And the third of the sun was stricken, and the third of the moon, and the third of the stars so that the third of them would be darkened; and the third of the day would not be brought to light, nor the night.

13) Then I saw and heard one eagle winging its way in mid-heaven exclaiming in a powerful voice, ‘ouai’, ‘ouai’, ‘ouai those living on the land, from the remaining soundings of the trumpets from the three messengers about to trumpet!’


As John looks on, he sees a “messenger of another kind” positioned at the altar of incense, with its golden censer.  The language and the Biblical Theology confirm that this is our Lord Jesus Christ appearing as Archangel Micha-El, mediating the prayers of His people before the Judgment Seat.

Right before the throne with its mighty cherubim, over which our Lord reigns, is the incense altar.  And there is no veil.  All through the older Scripture there is a veil in the man-made copy of the heaven.  And except for the high priest once a year, entrance was absolutely forbidden on pain of death.

But as John looks on, he sees no veil.  For there is a Man Who has entered once into the Holy of Holies having made atonement for sin.  He is “High Priest” before the throne Who offered Himself – the Lamb of God – the perfect sacrifice for the sin of the world.  He is the one “acceptable One” before the Mercy Seat – and all who are In Him at His “baptism” on the cross.

In the man-made “likeness” of what John sees here – that is, the tabernacle – there was a very peculiar and special mixture of spices and incense, one which was never to be used in any other way.  And in the tabernacle, “only” that mixture represented the prayers of God’s people.

Therefore when it was burned in the golden censer at the altar, God was pleased with the scent.  And should this mixture be used in any other way, it was idolatry.  And it brought the wrath of God.

As John looks on, this is exactly what he sees, for the High Priest before the throne, appearing as Archangel Micha-El, is presented with “only” the prayers of His marked and sealed and rescued people – a very select and special people.  And there are “none other” who are acceptable before the throne.  These are only those who belong to Him, in Him, and represented by Him.

And they have been crying out for God to avenge them, for their persecutors have shed their blood.  And Jesus had said that all the blood of the righteous from Abel to Zechariah would be laid to the account of this generation of Israel for the persecution of the Lord’s people who He came to seek and to save.

Micha-El had just led the legions of the heaven to mark and to seal and to rescue them so they wouldn’t suffer the inundation to come quickly.  And although they had been rescued before the wrath to come, Israel’s princes and priests and scribes and pharisees had pursued them and persecuted them unmercifully.  Many had died for their witness to the Christ.

And here He is again – Micha-El, with their prayers in His hand, offering them before the mercy seat.  The work of God the Son, appearing as Archangel Michael, is as “one who stands up for His people” as Daniel was told.

And because of His work as the Lamb of God, and because His people are “in Him”, the prayers He now offers are an offering, and a sweet smelling scent in the nostrils of God.  No other human scent is acceptable and sweet smelling to God the Father.  Only that scent made acceptable by the body and blood of the Lamb.

No other offering is acceptable to God except this sweet smelling compound; and therefore any offering of prayer not mediated by the High Priest before God is not sweet smelling to God, and it brings only His wrath.  For it is not the compound required.  Any other offering of prayer except that offered through the blood of the Lamb is unacceptable; any other offering of prayer except from the hand of the High Priest of the Church – Jesus Christ – has a foul odor; any other attempt to pray to God outside the body of Christ is idolatry.  Any prayer through any other mediator, or by any other mediatrix, is idolatry.  Our Lord said: “no man comes unto the Father but by Me”.

This apostle – John – wrote that as a quote, by the way… in his Gospel.  And now he’s seeing it and hearing it.

Our text says that “much” incense was given to Him (verse three).  Apparently there were “many” white-robed martyrs in the heaven, and their imprecatory prayers and petitions were therefore many.  And here’s the “transition” from the tabernacle “sign” of the prayers of the people; for now the Mediator has arrived at the throne.  And from this point on, there is no more need for the incense.  And the “censer” will now be used for something else!

And, as we’ve said previously, the prayers were for God’s vengeance upon Israel as Jesus promised.  And there are numbers of occasions all through Scripture where God had promised to “avenge Himself”.

Here’s an example from the prophet Jeremiah, in chapter five:


7)    "How can I pardon you?  Your children have forsaken me and have sworn by those who are no gods.  When I fed them to the full, they committed adultery and trooped to the houses of whores.

8)    They were well-fed, lusty stallions, each neighing for his neighbor’s wife.

9)    Shall I not punish them for these things? declares Yahveh; and shall I not avenge Myself on a nation such as this?”


And you’ll notice that He says “shall I not avenge Myself?  That’s because all sin is against God.  It’s His creation; and it’s His holy Law-word.  We may sin against one another, but ultimately each and every sin is a foul-smelling stain against God.  King David, in his repentance for all his sin, said “all my sin is against You and You alone”.

And God avenges Himself for sin, for He is righteousness.  “Vengeance is Mine, says Yahveh.”  Either His vengeance is poured out upon the Christ, or it is poured out upon unrepentant sinners.  Either way it is vengeance, for the sin is always against Him.  And each Law-word is an “original” Law; and His is the original “right” to make Law for all creatures He has made!  So, “Shall I not avenge Myself?”  But Israel would not repent and “keep” His Law. 

And the prayers of all those in the heaven who had shed their blood for the witness of Jesus were offered to the Father directly from the hand of Jesus as He appears as Archangel.  And the smoke of the incense and their prayers arose into His nostrils.  And He burned with anger. And the wrath of The Lamb is about to be poured out upon Israel in response.

Micha-El, One As God, having offered the imprecatory prayers of those who had been persecuted and killed by the princes and priests of Israel (in conjunction with Rome), now reaches for the censer (as John watches, verse five).

The presently (and eternally) anointed High Priest of the Church, Jesus Christ as He appears in His work as Micha-El, offers the prayers of His Own persecuted “little ones” from His Own hand as the perfectly compounded, sweet-smelling offering, His Own blood on the horns of the altar satisfying the wrath of a Covenanting God.  And He now takes the golden censer from the altar of incense!

Now, there are some that might describe me as a “wordsmith” of sorts in my exegetical and expository preaching style (we do like to use God’s language here – it’s important to learn it).  But others would certainly say that that description of the preaching is “problematic”.  And that latter group may very well be in the ascendancy as far as events like this one are concerned.

Some things are just too… divine (I guess that’s the best way to say it).  Words and descriptive phrases just don’t come together properly sometimes.  Or there aren’t enough of them.  Or there aren’t any that are “piercing” enough to provide sufficient understanding to hearers.  That’s of course when I have to just completely rely on Holy Spirit to bring full clarity and impact to your minds and hearts and consciences.  Any gifts and abilities provided to me fall woefully short in instances such as this one.

What I can do (and this will help, I think) is provide you with some insight into how the use of incense and the censer in public worship has “devolved” to the present in some branches of the Church.  And then we can make a comparison with what John’s letter says.  And hopefully we’ll be able to gain the clarity that we need from the comparison.

As I go through this, the word “comical” comes to mind.  Comical means “unintentionally funny”.  That’s what it is.  But while unintentionally funny, it is tragic at the same time.  And dispiriting.

Then, having inquired about things that we in a Reformation Church have little experience with, we can proceed with the way John describes how our Lord has employed the censer in our text here in the Revelation.  And maybe that will give us some of that clarity we need about this event.

But here’s what’s going on in many Churches….  And if you hang in there with me in this for a few minutes, I promise you’ll see why we so desperately needed a reformation… and why we SO need another one!

In the “devolution” of the Biblical golden censer on the altar of incense in the tabernacle, we now have (what is called) the “thurible”.

A thurible is a metal censer, suspended from chains, in which incense is burned during worship services. It is used in the Roman catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and even a few Lutheran churches, as well as in gnostic religions; and in the practice of magick. In Roman catholic and Anglican churches, the altar server who carries the thurible (the censer) is called the thurifer.

The workings of a thurible are quite simple.  Burning charcoal is inside the metal censer (hanging from chains); incense (sometimes of many different varieties) is placed on the red hot charcoal, and it burns – and smokes.  (This may be done several times during the service since incense burns up quite quickly.) Once the incense has been placed on the charcoal, the thurible is then closed and used for “censing”, which I’ll explain in a minute (it’s a verb).

The word "thurible" is derived from the Latin term "thuribulum". The Latin word thuribulum has the root "thur", meaning incense. The Latin "thur" is an alteration of the Greek word "thuos", which is derived from the term "thuein", meaning to sacrifice.  (Repeat that three times – quickly.)  So, what we translate “censer” in English is translated “thurible” in Latin.  And then the Latin word is used as an English word in Anglo-catholicism.

In the revised Roman order of the “mass”, incense may be used during the various liturgical celebrations (all the special liturgical days during the year plus some weddings and funerals, etc.) and at any mass, such as in the entrance procession, at the Gospel reading, at the preparation of the gifts, at the elevation of the sacred host and chalice, and in the recessional.

After the altar has been censed at the preparation of the gifts, the priest who is celebrating the mass may be “censed”, followed by concelebrants and other ministers of the altar, followed by the lay faithful.

Many times in local Romanist and Anglican Churches, you won’t see the thurible used at all, and nothing will be censed (which means swinging the thurible with its incense toward something or toward someone).  Even though Rome would prefer its wider use, many local parishes skip it for common Sunday mass.  But they will use the thurible many other times during the liturgical year – as you’ll see shortly.  The “higher” Churches however will use it more often.

The verb “to cense” should be easily recognized now.  It comes directly from the translation of the Hebrew and Greek terms for the “golden censer” found here in our text.  And in all the high liturgy Churches the thurible, or the (hanging) censer, is moved in different places and in different directions in order to “cense” – or distribute – the smoke of the incense.  And as you might imagine, there is great “mystery” here for members and attendees.  It’s also used in occultic practices for the same reason.  The word “magick” that I used earlier is spelled with a “k” on the end.  And when it’s spelled that way, it has to do with paranormal phenomena.

Now.  The responsibilities of a thurifer include:

Holding the thurible while the priest is blessing the incense inside it.

Carrying the thurible in procession (gently swinging if needed to keep the charcoal burning).

Presenting the thurible to the priest or deacon at different times in the ceremony, (at, for example, the Gospel readings and before the eucharist at mass).

At mass, if no deacon is present, the server censes the priest after the priest censes the gifts.

A thurifer may be helped by another server carrying a boat or container for fresh incense to add as the thurible burns low. And such a server is commonly called a “boat boy”.  (This is serious, now!)

The most famous thurible in the world (should you ever travel especially to see one of these) is the huge botafumeiro in Santiago de Compostelo, Spain.  I know you’re already anxious to go there!

Anyway, the manner in which the rite of censing is traditionally carried out (and this is done at all papal liturgies) is like this:

Three sets of triple swings when censing the most blessed sacrament,

Three sets of double swings when censing images (such as the blessed mother, the queen of heaven), relics, and other sacramentals, also when censing the celebrant, other clergy and the congregation,

And continuous single swings when censing around the altar.

This is what it says in the general instructions of the Roman liturgy:

"The following are “censed” with three swings of the thurible: the most blessed sacrament, a relic of the holy cross and images of the Lord exposed for public veneration, the offerings for the sacrifice of the mass, the altar cross, the Book of the Gospels, the paschal candle, the priest, and the people."

"The following are censed with two swings of the thurible: relics and images of the saints exposed for public veneration ...."

"The altar is censed with single swings of the thurible...."

Although the former use of the thurible in the general instructions of the Roman liturgy are abrogated, the “extraordinary” form of the Roman rite is dictated by the liturgical legislation in force in 1962.  It has not been abrogated; and this is found in the appropriate liturgical texts of that period.

In the Anglican communion (Churches), the use of incense is a fairly reliable guide to how 'high' the Church is (which means more “catholic” in liturgical style) or how 'low' (or more Protestant) a church is.  Anglican churches may use generous quantities of incense due to the numbers of occasions in which the thurible is employed. But in recent years, some middle-of-the-road Anglican churches have taken to using incense only a few times a year for special occasions.

Traditionally, at High Mass, the following rule is observed when censing, which differs a little from the common Roman Rite:

Three sets of triple swings when censing the most blessed sacrament,

Three sets of double swings when censing images, relics, and other sacramentals, also when censing the celebrant (the priest),

Two sets of double swings when censing a Deacon,

One set of double swings when censing a Sub-Deacon,

Three sets of single swings when censing the congregation.

In the Anglican churches, the thurible is carried in procession in front of the crucifer (or the one who carries the crucifix) and the acolytes (the ones who perform other ceremonies, such as lighting candles, etc. The Celebrant (or the priest who is celebrating the mass) then censes the altar on which the eucharist is to be offered.  In other words, he swings the thurible in a liturgical fashion all around the altar.  And he does that in the following way:

After venerating the altar, the priest receives the thurible from the server at the North end of the altar.

The Priest circles the altar, making small movements in the thurible, in an anti-clockwise direction until he (or she) reaches the west side of the altar, facing east.

The priest then makes three sets of triple swings towards east, then continues around the altar to his/her original position facing west.

This same pattern is followed when censing the altar at the offertory, with the following sequence:

The Priest makes 6 swings (3+3) over the gifts while making the sign of the cross (a feat in itself, if you think about it),

The Priest then makes 3 circles, two counter-clockwise and one clockwise, over and around the gifts.

At the Gospel, the deacon (or whoever is reading the Gospel) censes following the introduction to the Gospel (i.e.:  Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to … then cense) using three sets of double swings, one set South, one set North, and one set west.

At the elevations of the blessed sacrament, during the prayer of consecration, either the deacon, sub-deacon, or other appropriate person (including the thurifer), makes three sets of triple swings, as the parish bell and sanctuary bells are rung.

Should the regina coeli be sung (that’s the “queen of heaven” by the way), (during Easter) then the celebrant or other appropriate person may cense the statue of the blessed virgin Mary in the following form:

Three sets of triple swings during the verse (joy to thee, O queen of heaven, alleluia...) and then three sets of triple swings during the concluding prayer.

In the case of the “angelus” (or devotion of Mary as she received the announcement of the incarnation), one set of triple swings during each 'Ave Maria', then three sets of triple swings during the prayer of the angelus, which is: 'Pour forth, we beseech thee, thy grace into our hearts...).

In the Anglican tradition (which is very similar to Romanism), incense and censing can (and should) be used at any celebration of the eucharist throughout the year, but especially in the seasons of Christmas, epiphany (which means “feeling” – normally celebrated on January 6th in celebration of the arrival of the magi to see the infant Jesus) and Easter, the maundy Thursday vigil (meaning “holy Thursday, celebrating the Thursday before Easter when Jesus washed His disciples feet), Palm Sunday (of course); also on the feasts of Pentecost, Trinity Sunday (the first Sunday after Pentecost), the feast of the Ascension (the fortieth day after the resurrection), feasts honoring saints and martyrs, the feast of Corpus Christi (celebrating the eucharist), and at the dedication of a new Church.

Now, that may have been terribly cumbersome for you to hear all of that.  But I thought it important for you to hear it for a couple of reasons.

And the first one is very simple; you need to know just how far from solid Biblical Theology the Church has apostatized.  And this is just one item of the liturgy.  There are many others.

The second reason is pretty obvious, isn’t it?  Our Lord, our Mediator, is the One High Priest Who now offers the prayers of the saints… directly from His hand.  As John looks on, this event is the juncture between the tabernacle foreshadowing and that which it foreshadowed.

In other words, the priest of Israel burning the incense before the veil foreshadowed our Mediator offering – Himself – the prayers of the saints.  So there’s no more need for the censer!  There’s no more need for the incense burning in the censer, for our High Priest/Mediator is now offering our prayers Himself!  The “shadows” are gone!  They’re obsolete!

So why is the Church still using the censer to “cense” everything and everybody in the Church… even relics and idols and Mary?  Why is there a religion of mysticism akin to the occultic and magick?  Or, putting the very best spin on it, why is there still a foreshadowing of the High Priest in the liturgy of the Church when He has already come???  (Answers not forthcoming here.)

But let me read to you from the prophets concerning our Lord’s use of the censer here in our text!!  Here’s Jeremiah chapter seven and verse twenty:

Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, My anger and My fury shall be poured out upon this place, upon man, and upon beast, and upon the trees of the field, and upon the fruit of the ground; and it shall burn, and shall not be quenched.

And in the Lamentations chapter two and verse four, Jeremiah writes:


“He hath bent his bow like an enemy: he stood with his right hand as an adversary, and slew all that were pleasant to the eye in the tabernacle of the daughter of Zion: he poured out his fury as fire.”


Then listen to Ezekiel chapter seven and verse eight:


“Now will I shortly pour out My fury upon you, and accomplish My anger upon you: and I will judge you according to your ways, and will recompense you for all your abominations.”


And here are the last verses of Ezekiel chapter twenty-two as God condemns Israel’s princes, priests and prophets:


26) Her priests have violated My law, and have profaned My holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and the profane, neither have they showed difference between the unclean and the clean, and have hid their eyes from my Sabbaths, and I am profaned among them.

27) Her princes in the midst thereof are like wolves ravening the prey, to shed blood, and to destroy souls, to get dishonest gain.

28) And her prophets have daubed them with untempered mortar, seeing vanity, and divining lies unto them, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD’, when Yahveh has not spoken.

29) The people of the land have used oppression, and exercised robbery, and have vexed the poor and needy: yea, they have oppressed the stranger wrongfully.

30) And I sought for a man among them who should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before Me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none.

31) Therefore have I poured out My indignation upon them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath: their own way have I recompensed upon their heads, says the Lord GOD.


Although there are quite a few of these, I’ll give you only one more.  This is the prophet Nahum in chapter one, verse six:


“Who can stand before His indignation? And who can abide in the fierceness of His anger? His fury is poured out as fire, and the rocks are thrown down by him.”


Now, in verse five of the text, the two items of the tabernacle mentioned here reach their fullness in the Person of the Christ as He performs His work as Archangel Michael.  The altar of whole burnt offering is no longer needed as the place of sacrifice and shed blood; and the altar with the golden censer is no longer needed as the likeness of the prayers of the saints.  For the One has shed His blood; And He is now the High Priest of His Church, and the prayers of His people are presented right out of His hand.

So what John is seeing here is the “transition” from the man-made to the heavenly reality as everything in the tabernacle becomes obsolete.  And now, as he looks on, that man-made temple is about to be destroyed forever as the man-made items are used for a completely different purpose.

Jesus the Christ, in His work in the appearance of Michael, presents the imprecatory prayers of His people from His hand – prayers for Almighty God to avenge their blood.  And then He takes the censer and fills it with coals of fire from under the throne (the very wrath and fury of God) and pours it out upon the land… as prophesied, as promised in the prophets.

And we are left wondering why large portions of our Lord’s Church are occupied with censing “the queen of heaven” and relics of the cross with obsolete items from an obsolete and completely destroyed temple.

We finish this morning with David’s prophetic Psalm, the one “foreknowing” the wrath of an angry God.  It’s part of Psalm 18.  Listen:


6)    I called to Yahveh in my distress, and I cried to my God for help.  From His temple He heard my voice, and my cry to Him reached His ears.

7)    Then the earth shook and quaked; the foundations of the mountains trembled; they shook because He burned with anger.

8)    Smoke rose from His nostrils, and consuming fire [came] from His mouth; coals were set ablaze by it.

9)    He parted the heavens and came down, a dark cloud beneath His feet.

10) He rode on a cherub and flew, soaring on the wings of the wind.

11) He made darkness His hiding place, dark storm clouds His canopy around Him.

12) From the radiance of His presence, His clouds swept onward with hail and blazing coals.

13) The LORD thundered from heaven; the Most High projected His voice.

14) He shot His arrows and scattered them; He hurled lightning bolts and routed them.

15) The depths of the sea became visible, the foundations of the earth were exposed, at Your rebuke, Yahveh, at the blast of the breath of Your nostrils.


We’ll pick up right here next time with this same text, verse five and beyond.  And we need to remember to pray for another reformation of our Lord’s Church.