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What Happens Next?

For the purpose of explaining Revelation 8:2-5, let us proceed under the assumption that the seven angels were given seven trumpets in the spring of 1994. So, the four angels in Revelation 7:1-3 have been waiting to hurt Earth for several years. We know they are waiting because (a) the five phenomena described in Revelation 8:3-7 have not occurred at any time in history, and (b) the first four trumpets judgments have not fallen. Therefore, the four angels in Revelation 7 are presently waiting for the service described in Revelation 8:3-5 to occur.


“Another angel [that is, not one of the seven angels], who had the golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar [of Incense] before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightening and an earthquake.” (Revelation 8:3-5, italics and insertions mine)


The golden altar in front of God’s throne is the Altar of Incense. We know this because the golden altar in the earthly temple was the Altar of Incense (Hebrews 9:3,4) and it was positioned before the Table of the Presence (Exodus 26:35; 40:5) that represented God’s throne. Further, the bronze Altar of Burnt Offering was located in the outer court and it was covered with bronze. (Exodus 38:2) To understand the significance of the service conducted at the Altar of Incense in Heaven’s temple, we have to first understand how the Altar of Incense functioned in the earthly temple because the tabernacle Moses built was a copy and shadow of the true temple in Heaven. (Hebrews 8:1-5)


Four Prerequisites

The special service in Revelation 8:3-5 marks the close of corporate mercy and the beginning of the Great Tribulation. You need to understand and synthesize four prerequisites to understand why this service is conducted at the Altar of Incense:


1.   Corporate Mercy


 Before sin began, God commanded Adam and Eve to obey this law: “And the Lord God commanded the man saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.’” (Genesis 2:16,17, KJV)


Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. Neither person defiantly sinned against God, although they did sin. On the basis of love for Adam and Eve and their future offspring, Jesus interceded. God’s law demanded immediate death, but instead of killing the guilty pair, Jesus went to the Father and offered to die – not only in their place, but also on behalf of their future offspring. The Father consented and on that very day, Jesus became “subject” to the will of the Father for the next 6,000 years. (Psalm 2:7-12, John 6:38, Hebrews 5:4-7) The emphatic point is that Adam and Eve were not immediately executed. Jesus mediated a “stay of execution” and Jesus has been holding back God’s wrath for 6,000 years. Many people do not understand this intercession. Even worse, they do not know that the intercession will soon end.


Jesus intercedes for sinners on two levels, the individual level and the corporate level. Both levels are separate, distinct, and important to understand. For example, corporately speaking, the world became corrupt in Noah’s day. When a majority of the antediluvians grieved away the Holy Spirit, the world went beyond the possibility of repentance. Jesus told Noah that since a majority of mankind was beyond redemption, He was going to destroy the world in 120 years. Jesus commanded Noah to build an ark and Noah went to work. Noah informed the world of God’s coming wrath and Noah encouraged people to enter the ark and be saved. When the appointed time arrived, the flood came and destroyed all but eight people. Even thought God was angry with the corporate behavior of mankind, He extended mercy to individuals by offering refuge in Noah’s ark.


When it comes to understanding God’s goodness and grace, it is important to distinguish between corporate mercy and mercy for individuals. God can be angry with a nation like Israel and at the same time be happy with individuals like Daniel. Consider this: There were tow altars in the wilderness tabernacle. Individuals used the bronze Altar of Burnt Offering (located in the courtyard). Families brought their sin offering to the bronze Altar of Burnt Offering each day. However, the golden Altar of Incense (located inside the tabernacle) was only used for corporate atonement. (Leviticus 4) Every evening and morning, priests offered atonement for the nation of Israel on the golden altar. Because there was continual atonement, sinners were not immediately executed when they sinned!


Notice how corporate grace aligns with grace and mercy for individuals. If an individual sinned in July and his family’s turn at the Altar of Burnt Offering came in November (services at the Altar of Burnt Offering were rotated monthly according to tribe), the sinner knew that his death would be “stayed” because corporate intercession provided a period of grace for individuals. This grace gave sinners time to make atonement if they wanted to make atonement.


Because Jesus has been corporately interceding for the whole world for the past 6,000 years, life on Earth has continued for the offspring of Adam and Eve. God’s corporate grace has given billions of sinful individuals a chance to discover their need for a Savior. Once a person discovers Jesus as his Savior, he then realizes the wonderful corporate grace extended to him while he was in darkness. Out of joy and thanksgiving and praising God for the grace that He has provided, the sinner repents of his sins and offers himself as a living sacrifice unto the Lord.


At times, God dealt with Israel corporately, as though the whole nation was an individual. For example, God imposed the Babylonian captivity on everyone in Israel when a majority in Israel became hopelessly defiant and rebellious. Even though God punished the nation as one man, there were some individuals who pleased God, men like Ezekiel, Daniel, and Daniel’s three friends. Nevertheless, God raised up a destroyer, King Nebuchadnezzar, to destroy Jerusalem and His temple. Of course, the Bible clearly indicates that God deals with individuals, too. You may remember the punishment of Achan (Joshua 7), Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Numbers 16), and King David who was punished for having an affair with Bathsheba. (2 Samuel 11). Individual consequences were not limited to Old Testament characters. God also punished Ananias and Sapphira for their rebellion against Him. (Acts 5) 


Summarizing, the first thing that we need to remember about the special services at the Altar of Incense in Revelation 8:3-5 is that the Altar of Incense concerns corporate intercession. The casting down of the censer indicates the cessation of corporate intercession. When the censer is cast down, God’s destructive wrath will be released throughout Earth. This is why the seven trumpets occur after the censer is thrown down. God’s corporate wrath begins when corporate mercy ends.


2.   The Role of Prayers and Incense


Have you ever heard the expression, “Well, that just stinks!”? The idea behind this expression is that something went wrong and the consequences stink, that is, they are offensive. This may come as a surprise, but sinners dressed in their finest clothes are a stench in God’s nostrils. This stench is not body order, but our unrighteousness. God’s heart is totally selfless and pure, and our hearts are just the opposite, totally selfish and impure. Sin cannot be washed away with water. Pilate did not wash away his guilt in the death of Jesus by washing his hands. (Matthew 27:24) To teach Israel that even in their finest clothes, their hearts were still a stench in God’s nostrils, God required the offering of a special fragrant incense each evening and each morning. 


“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Take fragrant spices-gum resin, onycha and galbanumand pure frankincense, all in equal amounts, and make a fragrant blend of incense, the work of a perfumer. It is to be salted and pure and scared. Grind some of the powder and place it in front of the Testimony in the Tent of Meeting, where I will meet with you. It shall be most holy to you. Do not make any incense with this formula for yourselves; consider it holy to the Lord. Whoever makes any like it to enjoy its fragrance must be cut off from his people.’” (Exodus 30:34-38)


The Jews gathered around the temple when evening and morning services were offered because they reasoned that their petitions would be more favorably presented if they ascended with the sweet fragrance of holy incense. Think about this: If you petitioned a great king to grant a very important request, obviously a fragrant atmosphere would be more favorable than a smelly one! The practice of burning incense with corporate offerings explains why the angel in Revelation 8:3-5 was given much incense to burn on the Altar of Incense. God’s people on Earth (a dear group of stinkers) will be desperately praying for God’s help when Revelation 8:3-5 occurs, and the angel will add much incense on the Altar to “sweeten” their petitions – and the Lord will not disappoint.


3.   The Use of Censers


In Bible times, small metal pans or censers were used to carry fire from one place to another. Since there were no matches or butane lighters, it was a lot easier to carry fire around to start a fire. (Genesis 22:6) Thus, censers were rather common household devices in Bible times. Censers were also used in the temple for the purpose of carrying fire during atonement services. Notice how a censer of burning coals was used on the Day of Atonement: “He [the high priest] is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the Lord [the Altar of Incense] and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain. He is to put the incense on the fire before the Lord, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover [The atonement cover was a removable lid on the golden box that held the Ten Commandments. Two figurines of angels were attached to this lid and God’s glory radiated as a brilliant light from between these two angels. This light radiated] above the Testimony [the Ten Commandments are often called “the Testimony” in the Old testament and the smoke from the incense protected the priest from this brilliant light], so that he will not die.” (Leviticus 16:12,13, insertions mine)


The fire on the bronze Altar of Burnt Offering in the courtyard burned continuously. (Leviticus 6:13) Priests sustained this fire around the clock. However, there is no evidence in the Bible that the fire on the golden Altar of Incense was provided or sustained by man. I understand that God Himself ignited and sustained the fire on the Altar of Incense and this made that fire holy or set apart. In other words, the fire on the Altar of Incense was God-made and the fire on the Altar of Burnt Offering was man-made. I mention this point for two reasons. First, the “strange” fire that Aaron’s two sons, Nadab and Abihu, used were most likely taken from the Altar of Burnt Offering. Evidently, they came before the Lord with man-made or “unholy” fire to burn incense. This action was a defiant sin and an insult to God. God responded to their impudence by killing them. (Leviticus 10:1,2) Second, I believe that God ignited and sustained the fire on the Altar of Incense because this perpetual burning fire represents Jesus’ unilateral and perpetual intercession for humanity. In other words, corporate grace has nothing to do with the efforts or desires of mankind. Corporate intercession is God’s gift to all sinners. The perpetual burning fire on the Altar of Incense represents His grace, His perpetual love for us that never goes out.


Summarizing, the priests used fire in the temple services and carried it in censers to burn incense. The casting down of the censer indicates the atonement service conducted on the Altar of Incense is finished. Since the Altar of Incense is limited to matters of corporate mercy, the casting down of the censer indicates the end of corporate mercy.


4.   The Termination of the Daily


There is one more topic that will secure the conclusion that Revelation 8:3-5 marks the end of corporate mercy. Daniel 12:12 says, “From the time that the daily [service] sacrifice is abolished [in Heaven] and the abomination that causes desolation is set up [This abomination that causes desolation points forward to a universal death decree that will be set up to kill all of God’s saints on the 1,290th day of the Great Tribulation.], there will be 1,290 days. Blessed is the one who waits for [patiently endures] and reaches the end of the 1,335 days [allotted for the Great Tribulation].” (Insertions mine)


The tabernacle on Earth was a copy and shadow of Heaven’s temple. According to Hebrews 8:1-5, Jesus serves in Heaven’s true tabernacle as our High Priest. This wonderful truth enables us to understand things about serives in Heaven temple that would be impossible to otherwise understand. For example, since there was a daily service in the earthy temple, there must also be a daily service in Heaven’s temple. The daily service in the earthy temple consisted of two routines. The first routine centered around corporate atonement. Every evening and morning, the priest presented an atonement offering before the Lord on the Altar of Incense. The priest conducted a second routine at the Altar of Burnt Offering. During daylight hours, people brought their sin offerings to the Altar of Burnt Offering. Both services were considered perpetual, continual or “daily.”


The book of Daniel mentions “the abomination that causes desolation” two times. The first mention points to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. (Daniel 11:31, Matthew 24:15) The second mention (Daniel 12:11) points to a daily service that will end in Heaven’s temple and 1,290 days later, a universal death decree will be imposed on God’s saints. How do we know that Daniel 12:11 is speaking about the daily service that occurs at the Altar of Incense in Heaven’s temple?


Rule Three of apocalyptic prophecy requires that we examine the context. The context in Daniel 12 clearly concerns the end of time. Consider the two verses in chapter 12: “At the time Michael [Jesus], the great prince who protects your people, will arise [indicating that His mediation for mankind has been completed. He will stand up – a position that kings takes when moved by indignation]. There will be a time of distress [the last seven plagues – the seven bowls] such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people [who are alive] everyone whose name is found written in the book [of Life] will be delivered [from the martyrdom of the fifth seal]. [Then, at the Second Coming] Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others [including those who participated in the crucifixion of Jesus will be raised] to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Daniel 12:1.2, insertions mine)


Now that we know the context in Daniel 12 is the end of days and the Second Coming, consider the final words in Daniel 12: “He [Gabriel] replied, ‘[Daniel, you have been shown things about the distant future.] Go your way [go about your business], Daniel, because the words [of this prophecy] are closed up and sealed until the time of the end. [There will be many difficult centuries for the saints.] Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand [these visions], but those who are wise will understand [how these words apply to them]. From the time that the daily [service in Heaven] is abolished and the abomination that causes desolation [a universal death decree for God’s people] is set up, there will be 1,290 days. Blessed is the one who [patiently] waits for and reaches the end of the 1,335 days [for he will see Jesus coming in the clouds of glory without seeing death]. As for you [Daniel], go your way till the end [of your life]. You will rest [with your fathers in death], and then at the end of the [1,335] days you will rise [with all God’s saints] to receive your allotted inheritance.’” (Daniel 12:9-12, insertions mine)


Because the context in Daniel 12 is the end of the age, it should be rather easy to see that “the daily” in verse 11 points to an event that is 1,335 days before the Second Coming. Moreover, if there was a daily service on Earth at the Altar of Incense, then there has to be a daily service in Heaven at the Altar of Incense because services in the earthly temple parallels services in Heaven’s temple. We already know that corporate mercy will end when the censer is cast down and God’s wrath (the seven trumpets) will follow, therefore, the timing of the daily in Daniel 12:11 is the same as the casting down of the censer in Revelation 8:3-5.


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