Bible Verse Explanations and Resources


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
Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 92-3

The uplifted Saviour is to appear in His efficacious work as the Lamb slain, sitting upon the throne, to dispense the priceless covenant blessings, the benefits He died to purchase for every soul who should believe on Him. John could not express that love in words; it was too deep, too broad; he calls upon the human family to behold it. Christ is pleading for the church in the heavenly courts above, pleading for those for whom He paid the redemption price of His own lifeblood. Centuries, ages, can never diminish the efficacy of this atoning sacrifice. The message of the gospel of His grace was to be given to the church in clear and distinct lines, that the world should no longer say that Seventh-day Adventists talk the law, the law, but do not teach or believe Christ. TM 92.1

The efficacy of the blood of Christ was to be presented to the people with freshness and power, that their faith might lay hold upon its merits. As the high priest sprinkled the warm blood upon the mercy seat, while the fragrant cloud of incense ascended before God, so while we confess our sins and plead the efficacy of Christ's atoning blood, our prayers are to ascend to heaven, fragrant with the merits of our Saviour's character. Notwithstanding our unworthiness, we are ever to bear in mind that there is One that can take away sin and save the sinner. Every sin acknowledged before God with a contrite heart, He will remove. This faith is the life of the church. As the serpent was lifted up in the wilderness by Moses, and all that had been bitten by the fiery serpents were bidden to look and live, so also the Son of man must be lifted up, that “whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” TM 92.2

Unless he makes it his life business to behold the uplifted Saviour, and by faith to accept the merits which it is his privilege to claim, the sinner can no more be saved than Peter could walk upon the water unless he kept his eyes fixed steadily upon Jesus. Now, it has been Satan's determined purpose to eclipse the view of Jesus and lead men to look to man, and trust to man, and be educated to expect help from man. For years the church has been looking to man and expecting much from man, but not looking to Jesus, in whom our hopes of eternal life are centered. Therefore God gave to His servants a testimony that presented the truth as it is in Jesus, which is the third angel's message, in clear, distinct lines. John's words are to be sounded by God's people, that all may discern the light and walk in the light: “He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: He that cometh from heaven is above all. And what He hath seen and heard, that He testifieth; and no man receiveth His testimony. He that hath received His testimony hath set to his seal that God is true. For He whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto Him. The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into His hand. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” TM 93.1

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Ellen G. White
Child Guidance, 519

Let the members of every family bear in mind that they are closely allied to heaven. The Lord has a special interest in the families of His children here below. Angels offer the smoke of the fragrant incense for the praying saints. Then in every family let prayer ascend to heaven both in the morning and at the cool sunset hour, in our behalf presenting before God the Saviour's merits. Morning and evening the heavenly universe take notice of every praying household.7 CG 519.1

Angels Guard Children Dedicated to God—Before leaving the house for labor, all the family should be called together; and the father, or the mother in the father's absence, should plead fervently with God to keep them through the day. 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 upon the altar, entreating for them the care of the Lord. Ministering angels will guard children who are thus dedicated to God.8 CG 519.2

Prayer Makes a Hedge About Children—In the morning the Christian's first thoughts should be upon God. Worldly labor and self-interest should be secondary. 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. They should patiently instruct them—kindly and untiringly teach them how to live in order to please God.9 CG 519.3

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Ellen G. White
Christian Service, 263

The oil of grace gives to men the courage, and supplies to them the motives, for doing every day the work that God appoints to them. The five foolish virgins had lamps (this means a knowledge of Scripture truth), but they had not the grace of Christ. Day by day they went through a round of ceremonies and external duties, but their service was lifeless, devoid of the righteousness of Christ. The Sun of Righteousness did not shine in their hearts and minds, and they had not the love of the truth which conforms to the life and character, the image and superscription, of Christ. The oil of grace was not mingled with their endeavors. Their religion was a dry husk without the true kernel. They held fast to forms of doctrines, but they were deceived in their Christian life, full of self-righteousness, and failing to learn lessons in the school of Christ, which, if practiced, would have made them wise unto salvation.—The Review and Herald, March 27, 1894. ChS 263.1

The work of God is to be carried on to completion by the co-operation of divine and human agencies. Those who are self-sufficient may be apparently active in the work of God; but if they are prayerless, their activity is of no avail. Could they look into the censer of the angel that stands at the golden altar before the rainbow-circled throne, they would see that the merit of Jesus must be mingled with our prayers and efforts, or they are as worthless as was the offering of Cain. Could we see all the activity of human instrumentality, as it appears before God, we would see that only the work accomplished by much prayer, which is sanctified by the merit of Christ, will stand the test of the judgment. When the grand review shall take place, then shall ye return and discern between him that serveth God and him that serveth Him not.—The Review and Herald, July 4, 1893. ChS 263.2

Legal religion will not answer for this age. We may perform all the outward acts of service, and yet be as destitute of the quickening influence of the Holy Spirit as the hills of Gilboa were destitute of dew and rain. We all need spiritual moisture; and we need also the bright beams of the Sun of Righteousness to soften and subdue our hearts. We are always to be as firm as a rock to principle. Bible principles are to be taught, and then backed up by holy practice.—Testimonies for the Church 6:417, 418. ChS 263.3

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