«The Apocalypse A Series of Special Lectures on the Revelation of Jesus Christ by J. A. Seiss, D.D. Lecture Seventeenth ...»
It was no evidence that a champion in the ancient games had not lawfully and in his own person entitled himself to the honors of the victory when the rightful judges and all Greece gave him those honors. It was rather a demonstration that he had justly merited and won them. And so, in the sense of judicial award, and general credit, confidence and acknowledgment, the intercessorial prerogatives and mediatorial earnings of Christ may be spoken of as given to Him. He glorified not himself to be made a high priest; and the more excellent ministry of his mediatorship of the better covenant is everywhere spoken of as having been "obtained" by Him (Heb. 5:5; 8:6). All has really been given to Himgiven to Him as the just due of His own perfect fulfillment of all righteousnessgiven to Him by eternal Deity and all saints. And such a giving to this AngelPriest no more necessarily excludes him from being rightfully taken as the Christ than the giving of the Spirit or the giving of the kingdom or the giving of the possession of the nations to the Savior proves that He is not the only begotten Son of God.
The object of the giving of these incenses was, "that He might offer [them] for the prayers of all the saints." Not for those prayers in the sense of in their stead, but in the sense of furthering them, benefiting them, and prospering them; for the prayers themselves are included in the offering. Strictly rendered, he was to offer them to the prayers; but ταις προσευχαις is a dativus commodi, and rather gives the sense of in behalf ofwithas a helper of their success. The idea is complex. There is an offering of incenses; those incenses come to the prayers to enrich and forward them; and the incenses imparted to the prayers are offered as the prayers. They are given to the prayers, and with the prayers, and for the prayers.
But why this offering just here, as the trumpets are about to be sounded? Many have taken it as denoting a state of much prayerfulness in the earthly Church about this time. But there is not a word said about an earthly church. Indeed, the Church proper is no longer on earth at the time to which these trumpets belong. There are still true worshipers of God on earththe two olive treesand those who refuse to adore the Beast; but their prayers cannot be taken for "the prayers of all the saints." The words are very comprehensive, and take in all the holy prayers ever offered.
We had an allusion to these precious treasures in chapter 5, where the account is given of the Living ones and Elders falling down before the Lamb and holding up golden bowls full of incenses. Those incenses, like these of the text, were the prayers of the saints. There the saints themselves hold them up before the Lamb as an adoring act of confidence that He was now about to enter upon their complete fulfillment, and as yet standing back and waiting for an answer. Here Christ offers them, as the Great High Priest. He bears them in the golden censer, and perfumes them with the precious fragrance of His own meritorious favor and righteousness, and sanctifies them with the sacred fire, and presents them upon the golden altar before the throne of infinite Godhead. Not one of them is forgotten or lost. Those that came up when time was young, and those offered but yesterday, are all present and in hand. Jesus Himself is not ashamed of them, and handles them with holy care. He bears them in a heavenly vessel of gold and presents them on the highest altar in the universe. He offers them as approved and endorsed by Himself, and for such acceptance that their fulfillment may no longer be delayed. He presents them now, because the fullness of the time has come for them to be brought into remembrance, seeing that all things are in final readiness to execute what is to satisfy them forever.
I have heretofore referred to the great burden of all holy prayer (vol. I, p. 289). As put by Christ Himself into the lips and hearts of His people, it is: THY KINGDOM COME! THY WILL BE DONE ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN! This is truly the sum and substance of all saintly supplication, the very crown and goal of all holy prayer. And for what purpose are those trumpets in the hands of the seven angels? To what intent is this calling forward of such mighty ones to pour out blasts over the earth? What is to be achieved by the sublime activities in which they stand ready to move? What, but the revelation of the power and the glory of that very Kingdom, for the coming of which the saints have never ceased to pray? What, but the enforcement of the reign of God where iniquity and usurpation now hold jubilee? What, but the dethronement of sin, and death, and hell, and the setting up in their place of a heavenly order in which God's will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven?
Need anyone ask, then, why this sublime offering of the prayers of all the saints is made just here, as the presenceangels are about to put their awful trumpets to their lips? When prayers are to be answered, then is the time for them to be brought into remembrance. That which results from the sounding of those trumpets is to fulfill what has been the great burden of the Church's prayers in all ages. Those prayers, therefore, have a most profound connection with the sounding of these mighty trumpets. And hence it is that they here come into view and appear upon the golden altar of God.
Nor are they offered in vain. The ascension of their sweet vapor into the presence of God is equivalent to an announcement that they are heard. The coming up before God of the prayers and alms of Cornelius was the good pleasure of God toward what thus ascended; and the like ascent of the sweet vapor of these perfumed prayers is the token of a like approval and a like speedy answer. It is the effectual going up of the voices of them who cry day and night unto God. It is the signal that the time has come to avenge His own elect. And at once the mighty action begins.
"And the Angel took the censer, and filled it out of the fire of the altar, and cast into the earth." The Savior himself thus initiates the oncoming climax of the day of wrath. The people under the sixth seal thought the last and worst had come, but it was only the herald of still greater things which now begin.
Nor is it to be overlooked that all this occurs in answer to the prayers of the saints. There are those who think meanly of prayer, and are always asking, "What profit should we have if we pray unto the Almighty?" (Job 21:15.) The true answer is, "much every way."
Here, prayer moves the Son of Godmoves eternal Majesty upon His everlasting seatsets the highest angels in motionbrings on the awful scenes of the day of judgmentinfluences the administrations in the heavens and induces wonders upon the earth.
And as these climaxes of judgment come in answer to "the prayers of all the saints," the implication also is, that where there is no prayer there is no piety, no holiness, no salvation; and that people who do not wait, and long, and pray for the coming again of the Lord Jesus and this consummation are not saints, but belong to the population against whom these fiery revelations occur.
Fire is the great consumer. It always bespeaks wrath, torture, and destruction to the wicked. It tells of burning fury and the most dismal effectseven "vengeance upon them who know not God, and who obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." It is the common figure of divine terribleness toward the guiltyone of the great agents in the administrations of the great day the chief torment of the lost. And when the sublime PriestAngel of heaven turns His firefilled censer on the earth, we have come to the day that shall burn as an oven, in the which all the proud and ungodly shall be as stubble to the devouring flames (Mal. 4:1).
This fire is taken from the altar. It is one of the fearful characteristics of God's gracious operations, that they breed and heighten the damnation of the disobedient and the unbelieving. It is not Adam's guilt, for there is full remedy in Christ against that. It is not the condemnation in which the Gospel finds them, for it comes with a full and everlasting reprieve. But here is the mischiefthat when the great and costly salvation of God is carried to them, they despise it and make light of it and go their way as if it were nonsense or nothing. It is not that their sins are too great for them to be saved, but [it is] because they tread underfoot the Son of God, and count His sanctifying blood an unholy thing, and render despite to the Spirit of grace. Out of the very altar of sacrifice, therefore, comes their damnation. It is the saving word refused, which is a savor of death unto death in them who perish. The same fire which wafts the devotions of the obedient into the presence of God kindles the hell of the unbelieving and the neglectful. Perdition is simply abused or perverted grace. It is the same censer filled with the same ingredients, only turned downward in the case of those who believe not.
And when the glorious Angel of intercession emptied the fiery contents of his censer toward the earth, "there followed thunderings, and lightnings, and voices, and an earthquake." These are the signs and instruments of God's judgments upon His foes. No age has ever been entirely without them, as no age has ever been without earnests and foretokens of the great day. But they mistake, who think to find the description fulfilled in events of the past, or in anything but the scenes which are to terminate the history of this present world. Indeed, it is the very climacteric of the day of judgment which is here betokened.
John perceives the awful effects before they have passed into actual fact on earth. We read and know things only from their outward symptoms, in or after their accomplishment. In heaven they read and know things from their inward principles, even before they have been wrought into historic fact. It is under the action of the trumpets that these thunderings, lightnings, voices, and convulsions are worked into the experiences of the earth and its inhabitants; and it is only according to the interior view of them, from the heavenly standpoint, that the events to be achieved are thus summarily described. As the trumpets are sounded and we come to consider the scenes they develop, we will see these thunderings, and lightnings, and voices, and convulsions as they manifest themselves on the earthly theater.
Meanwhile, I suggest just one thought more. It is in reference to the interest which holy beings take in these subjects of sacred prophecy. There is a very sublime picture, presented by the Apostle Peter in his first epistle, where he represents the ancient prophets as "inquiring and searching diligently" to understand "what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ, which was in them, did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow;" and the angels of heaven bending from their lofty thrones, desiring to look into these things. It is a masterly touch to set forth the greatness, majesty, and glory of the Gospel, which makes us feel as we read, that here is a theme at once the wonder of the universe, and challenging the profoundest attention and study of man. It is an overwhelming vindication of any amount of absorbing captivation by the topics referred to. All agree to this.
But what shall we say, then, for the themes with which the text stands connected? Here is a subject which has engaged the devotions of "all the saints" and been the grand goal of all their holy desires since time began. Here are transactions which fill heaven with awe and turn the songs of eternity into silence! Here are administrations which call the seven archangels into action, and for looking after the results of which the universe is spellbound and mute with solemn expectation! Here are things, the mere prayers for which the Son of God holds in the golden censer, and offers on the golden altar, and sends up with awful solemnity into the presence of eternal Majesty! Is not this, then, a subject to command and justify the holiest and profoundest interest, study, and attention of rational beings!
And yet there are peoplemen claiming to be Christians, leaders of religious thought, ministers ordained to teach the way of God trulywho have not hesitated to sneer at it as the theme of fools, the hobby of enthusiasts, or the plaything of religious idiots! You may agree with them if you like. But while I find these things treated with all soberness in the Scriptures and blessing spoken from heaven upon those who give them devout and studious attention, and the Holy Ghost interpreting them as involving the highest hopes and prayers of "all the saints," and the whole celestial world becoming mute and motionless in the intensity of its interest as they unfold into fact, and prophets of God, angels of glory, Archangels of the Almighty's presence, the blessed Christ at the heavenly altar, and the universe of holy beings occupied with heart and soul with reference to them, I must persist in a different judgment and ask to be excused for believing that we have here not only a legitimate and fitting theme for our devoutest study, but one as high and momentous as ever was presented to the contemplation of man. It grasps deep into everything dear to us for time or eternity, and he who willfully ignores it has reason to fear for his safety against the terrific plagues written in this book and for the security of his part in the holy city.
May God in mercy save us from such dangerous unseemliness. Amen.