The Presentation of the Prayers of the Saints
We know that Gabriel is one of them. For according to the Gospel of Luke 1:19, he says to Zacharias: “I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings.” It is not impossible that Michael is another of these angels, but this is not specifically stated in Scripture. And that they are seven in number shows that they have to do with the covenant and kingdom of God, of which Christ is the head. That they stand before the throne indicates that they are called and always are ready for special service unto the completion of the kingdom of God.
To these seven angels, then, there are given seven trumpets. The trumpet occurs frequently in the Word of God. The people of Israel were instructed to use the trumpet in time of war. Before they went to war against the enemy that oppressed them in their land, they had to blow the trumpet. It seems, therefore, that the trumpet is a symbol of war for the kingdom of God. In the second’ place, it also indicates the downfall and the destruction of the enemy of the kingdom, as is evident from the downfall of Jericho. For thus we read in Joshua 6:2-5: “And the Lord said unto Joshua, See, I have given into thine hand Jericho, and the king thereof, and the mighty men of valor. And ye shall compass the city, all ye men of war, and go round about the city once. Thus shalt thou do six days. And seven priests shall bear before the ark seven trumpets of rams’ horns: and the seventh day ye shall compass the city seven times; and the priests shall blow with the trumpets. And it shall come to pass, that when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, and when ye hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city shall fall down flat, and the people shall ascend up every man straight before him.” It also indicates evidently judgment and authority, as is plain from God’s appearing with the law under the sound of a trumpet on Sinai. For thus we read inExodus 20:18: “And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed and stood afar off.” Further, the trumpet was used with the people of Israel for the convocation of the assembly in connection with their sacrifices and festivals and for the crowning of the theocratic king, as, for instance, in the case of Jehu and of Solomon. And therefore, it also denotes in general any activity in the kingdom of God proclaiming God’s gracious presence over His people, but at the same time destruction and judgment over the enemy. In connection with the seven trumpets mentioned in our passage it is especially the latter element that is on the foreground, as we shall observe later. The trumpets signify especially that God through Christ Jesus is coming to inflict judgment and destruction upon the enemy of the kingdom of God. When therefore our text informs us that the angels that stand before the throne receive the seven trumpets, it thereby indicates that these servants of the Most High receive power to execute judgment over the world of evil.
Before, however, these angels sound their trumpets, or even prepare to sound, they stand in silence, watching what takes place in heaven, namely, the presentation of the prayers of the saints. For we read in our passage: “And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much intense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand.” It is very evident that the all-important element here is the prayers of the saints. To understand the entire scene it is undoubtedly necessary to understand and to emphasize that these prayers that are here presented with the intense to God are the prayers of saints. They are not presented as mere men, nor even as believers; but they are pictured from the point of view of their being saints. Who are these saints? They are not merely people that are already in heaven, as is the view of those who make the church of God go to, heaven at the time that is mentioned in the first verse of the fourth chapter. They claim that the people of Christ have gone to heaven before the seals are opened, and that henceforth the Book of Revelation speaks no more of a church upon earth. And therefore, when our text speaks of saints nevertheless, they claim that naturally they are people that are already in heaven, and that the prayers of these people are also actually made from heaven. However, we cannot agree with this. Saints are not only those that are already in glory, but just as well the people of God on earth. Scripture calls believers saints time and again. Only think of the manner in which the apostle Paul is accustomed to address the church in his epistles. All the people of God are saints because they are members of the body of Christ. They are of Christ, and they are in Him. They are in Him as their head, first of all in a juridical sense of the word, so that all their sins are forgiven them and they are justified. And therefore, from this viewpoint they are saints in the most perfect sense of the word. They have in Christ Jesus no sin whatsoever. But they are also in Christ Jesus in the organic sense, that is, they are engrafted into Him. They are living members of His body. The life that is in Him is also in them. There is one body, with one head, and with one and the same Spirit of life. That one body is the body of the church. All believers are members of that body. Or, if you please, in the strictest sense of the word, all that are regenerated by the Spirit of God are members of the body of our Lord Jesus Christ. And of that body Christ is the head, and the Spirit that is given to Him is the life of that body. That Spirit dwells in Christ as the head, and in the saints as members of His body, and causes their faith and hope and love, in fact, causes all their life to be one, one in Christ. By that Spirit of Christ they are controlled. By that Spirit of Christ they are sanctified, and walk in newness of life. When our text, therefore, speaks of saints, it refers to that entire body of Christ and to all its members.
We must remember, in the second place, that they pray exactly in their capacity of saints. Not every prayer that rises from the lips of believers is here referred to, but merely the prayer that rises from their hearts as saints of Christ. Here upon earth our prayers, or so-called prayers, are often very imperfect. We do not always pray as members of Christ’s body. Our requests are often sinful. We often send petitions to the throne of grace that are never heard because our prayers are often controlled by the lust of the flesh. But of those prayers our text does not speak whatsoever. They pray only in the capacity of saints. It speaks of prayers that actually rise to the throne of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, and which are surely heard. Perhaps they arise to the throne of grace only in the form of the groanings of the Spirit that are mentioned in Romans 8:26, 27. When we do not pray, or cannot pray, as we ought to, the Spirit of Christ that dwells within the body of Christ and in the hearts of all the saints prays for them with groanings that cannot be uttered. The Spirit knows the needs of the saints. That Spirit also knows their deepest longings as members of the body of Christ. And that Spirit presents these longings now through their own consciousness, teaching them how to pray, and now praying within them, outside of their consciousness, with groanings that cannot be uttered. And it is of these prayers of the saints, as they rise from their hearts, controlled by the Spirit of Christ that is in them, that our text speaks. Thus conceived, it is not difficult to guess what these saints pray for. What is their highest purpose? And what is the deepest longing of the saints in Christ? It is the perfect fellowship with the God of their salvation, the Sovereign of heaven and earth; and it is the desire that He may be glorified. And as they know that this God of their life shall never reach His glory except through the completion and perfecting of the kingdom of Christ, the prayer of the saints is that the kingdom may come and quickly be completed. Moreover, since they also know that the glory of God and the kingdom of Christ cannot come otherwise than through the judgments that must come upon the wicked world, their prayers include also these judgments. Not only the saints whose blood has been shed for the Word of God and the testimony which they had, but all the saints, the entire body of Christ, prays for judgment upon the world.