The Bible describes the prayers of the saints in two visions of heaven full of powerful symbolism. Revelation 5 and Revelation 8 both contain verses about the prayers of the saints. Learning the meaning of these passages can inspire us and strengthen our faith. Our prayers count!
Where in Revelation do we find the prayers of the saints?
The entire chapter of Revelation 5 describes a scene in heaven where Jesus, who appears as a lamb that has been slain for the sins of the world, takes a scroll into the throne room of God while souls and angels in the heaven adore him. Revelation 5:7-10 sets the context for the prayers of the saints, which are mentioned in verse 8. The Standard English Version of these verses reads: “And he went and took the scroll out of the right hand of him that sat on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals, for thou wast slain, and by thy blood thou hast redeemed unto God people from every kindred, tongue, people, and nation, and thou hast made them a kingdom and priests unto our God, and they shall reign in the earth.” Some other translations, such as the New International Version, call the prayers of the saints “the prayers of the people of God.” The meaning is the same, since saints are simply people who i have relationship with God.
In Revelation 8, Jesus opens the seventh (last) seal of the scroll, and Revelation 8:2-5 mentions the prayers of the saints (also called “the prayers of the people of God” in some translations): “Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he received much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and cast it to the earth, and there was thunder, rumbling, lightning, and an earthquake.
What are the prayers of the saints?
The symbolism of these biblical passages may seem mysterious at first glance. But the key to deciphering their meaning is frankincense. In Revelation 5, golden bowls filled with incense represent the prayers of the saints. Revelation 8 describes the offering of incense with the prayers of the saints. Incense refers to any type of plant material (like spices or herbs) that is burned to produce a sweet aroma through its smoke. In Exodus 30, God commands Moses to prepare an altar of incense in the tabernacle, where the priests would regularly burn incense. God says in Exodus 30:8 that these plans are “that incense may burn steadily before the Lord for generations to come.” Throughout Bible times, priests faithfully burned incense in temples. Luke 1 reports that a priest named Zechariah was burning incense in a temple with worshipers praying outside when an angel came “standing to the right of the incense altar” to tell him that he and his wife Sarah would become the parents of the baby who would grow up to be John the Baptist (Luke 1:5-25). Private prayers as well as public prayers are associated with incense in the Bible. King David prays in Psalm 141:2: “Let my prayer be set before you as incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.
So, incense is a symbol of how people’s prayers are like a sweet fragrance rising to God. The prayers of the saints in Revelation are linked with incense, showing how these prayers reach God in heaven in a way that God cherishes.
What do the prayers of the saints teach us?
When we reflect on the prayers of the saints in Revelation, we see an awesome description of the value and power of our prayers in heaven and on earth. The main lessons we can learn from the prayers of the saints are:
God cherishes our prayers. These passages in Revelation reveals how much God appreciates our prayers when they reach heaven. Gold symbolizes something that is precious, and in both passages the prayers of the saints (God’s people) appear in heaven with gold – as golden bowls, with a golden censer and on an altar in gold. In heaven, God cherishes these messages from his people. This shows us that God wants us to communicate with him. We can pray with confidence because God cares about our prayers. Prayer works because God pays attention to what we pray and responds with perfect love and wisdom. Hebrews 4:16 encourages us, “Let us therefore approach with confidence the throne of God’s grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.
Our prayers are powerful. The the prayers of the saints in these passages show the great power of the prayers of people at work. Prayers are part of joyful worship in heaven and bring about meaningful change on earth. Research on prayer which I explain in my book Wake up to wonder shows the power of prayer. For example, a study shows that when small groups of people pray together with positive, purposeful intentions, awe-inspiring events such as healing can occur. James 5:16 says, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effectual.”
We should continue to pray often. We can also learn from the prayers of the saints of Revelation that it is worth praying often. Our prayers matter to God, and they have the power to have a significant impact on life on earth, so it only makes sense that we answer God’s call to pray as often as possible. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 urges us to “pray continually” and Philippians 4:6 encourages us to “pray for everything.” In Luke 18, Jesus tells his disciples the parable of the persistent widow “to show them that they must always pray and not give up” (verse 1) and concludes by assuring them that God will answer prayers with righteousness, so that people pray in faith, “And will not God avenge his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he continue to eliminate them? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? (verses 7-8).
Each of us who has a relationship with God is a saint, and our prayers count. The passages in Revelation on the prayers of the saints give us wonderful descriptions of the importance of our prayers. They give insight into what happens to our prayers once they reach heaven. When we communicate with God, He cherishes our prayers and answers them in powerful ways, so we should continue to pray often. It’s all worth celebrating!
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Whitney Hopler is the author of Wake up to wonder Wake Up to Wonder book and blog, which helps people thrive by experiencing wonder. She leads communications work at the Center for Advancing Wellness at George Mason University. Whitney has served as a writer, editor and web developer for leading media organizations including Crosswalk.com, the Salvation Army national publications in the United States and Dotdash.com (where she produced a channel popular on angels and miracles). She also wrote the children’s novel dream factory. Connect with Whitney on Twitter and Facebook.