Revelation gives us a fascinating picture of golden bowls filled with our prayers at the throne of God. What is this telling us? Why would our prayers be presented this way? Let us look at the basic biblical interpretation of this passage and then close with one point of speculation.
Our Heavenly Father knew no one in the Church other than John would see the Revelation; instead, we would read what John wrote. Therefore, there is great wisdom in what was revealed to John because they paint perfect word pictures.
In Revelation, after we see the scroll, which contains the end of evil and the glorious future of the saints, and the lamb who was slain and worthy to open it, the 24 elders surrounding the throne begin to worship. They do so with harps and golden bowls filled with incense which are the prayers of the saints (Revelation 5:8).
Understanding what this picture tells us requires us to consider both the gold and the incense. The golden bowls show us that our prayers are precious to the Lord. We do not store worthless items in golden bowls. We only keep what we cherish in such a valuable vessel. Even though we may feel our prayers are insignificant, the Lord treasures it when his children speak to him. He hears every word. The second thing we see is our prayers are like incense. There are several aspects to our prayers being like incense throughout scripture, but in this instance, the focus seems to be on the sweet-smelling aroma.
In biblical times incense made homes smell pleasing. This is not difficult for us to understand because we do the same thing today, though we tend to use candles. Most of us have pumpkin or apple spice scents filling our homes this time of year. It is a pleasant experience, especially on a chilly fall night, while reading a book or watching a movie. Think about that for a moment. Our prayers, offered in the name of Jesus, delight the Lord. Not only has Christ redeemed us, but he has also redeemed our prayers so that they surround God’s throne and are pleasing to him.
The points above are the basic interpretation of that passage, but there is one point of speculation that I think is worth considering. We should not take this dogmatically, but I cannot help but think the Lord is revealing our prayers at this moment in the vision for a reason.
Though all of our prayers are represented in the bowls, one type of prayer could be highlighted. Many have said that the Lord answers our prayers in three ways, “yes,” “no,” and “wait.” I cannot help but think about prayers where the Lord said, “wait.” Especially since they appear right when evil will be destroyed, death will be defeated, and the saints will stand with him in glory.
These bowls contain every prayer for a believer to be healed of cancer or other illnesses that was not granted. They hold every wordless groan offered in weakness that will not find its final resolution in this life. Finally, they contain all those petitions asking that death would be thwarted, but death still had its way. When the scroll is unrolled, and the bowls are presented in worship, it is as if the Lord is saying, “Your wait is over. I never forgot your prayers, and they are precious to me.”
All those petitions we did not ask amiss but did not see fulfilled will one day be granted. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:4).
May my prayer be set before you like incense. – Psalm 141:2