Revelation 5:8

living creatures
See commentary on Revelation 4:6.

twenty-four elders
See commentary on Revelation 4:4.

fell down
The living creatures and elders repeatedly fall before the throne in adoration and worship (Rev. Rev. 4:10+; Rev. 5:14+; Rev. 19:4+).

Harps are played by the 144,000 from the twelve tribes of Israel (Rev. Rev. 14:1-3+) and all those who have victory over the beast by refusing to take the mark and worship him (Rev. Rev. 15:2+). The Levites used harps as part of their priestly service ministering to God (2Chr. 2Chr. 5:12; 2Chr. 29:25), as did the psalmist (Ps. Ps. 33:2; Ps. 43:4; Ps. 71:22; Ps. 92:3; Ps. 149:3; Ps. 150:3).

golden bowls full of incense which are the prayers of the saints
It was at the hour of incense that the people were praying when the angel of the Lord appeared to Zacharias announcing the birth of John the Baptist (Luke Luke 1:10). The prayers of the saints—many of which have remained without answer for thousands of years— will find their fulfillment in the events to come (Rev. Rev. 19:1-2+). Later, similar bowls will contain the wrath of God (Rev. Rev. 15:7+). It seems we are to see a correlation between the prayers of the saints offered up to God as incense and the resulting vengeance poured forth as God’s wrath. Prior to the sounding of the seven trumpets, an angel offers the prayers of the saints with incense on an altar before God. He then exchanges the contents of the censer for fire from the altar and throws it to the earth resulting in “thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake” —all sounds of impending judgment (Rev. Rev. 8:3-5+). The continual cries of God’s elect throughout history are like the fragrance of incense which rises to God (Ps. Ps. 141:1-2). “And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them?” (Luke Luke 18:7). Malachi spoke of a time when incense would be offered to God, not just in the Temple, but across the entire world. Not just by the priests of Israel, but by all the Gentiles. This offering pictures the global prayer which even now ascends from the saints as a memorial to His throne (Mal. Mal. 1:11; Acts Acts 10:4). When on our knees we are contributing to the contents of these bowls. “And who can reckon up the volumes and oceans of such entreaties, which remain to this day unanswered? But, not one of them is lost. They are carefully treasured in golden bowls.”1

Why are harps and bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints (Rev. Rev. 5:8+), connected with the Lamb’s taking the book of the inheritance? Did the prayers of the saints bring about this scene? Would our Lord have commanded His disciples to pray “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth,” if (a) God had not meant to bring this to pass, and (b) if the prayers of the saints were not a vital factor in bringing about this glorious result?2

Some view only the elders as possessing the harps and bowls. “The fact is that the details of the following description are not appropriate to the living beings. To see them as possessing harps and bowls is unnatural, and to attribute to them priestly functions ignores the priestly function that is distinctive to the elders (Swete; Charles; Lenski).”3 Although one of the living creatures handles a golden bowl later in the Apocalypse (Rev. Rev. 15:7+), this bowl is full of wrath and is not seen to reflect a priestly function whereas the golden bowls of incense are priestly in function (Lev. Lev. 4:7; Num. Num. 4:16; 1S. 1S. 2:28).


1 J. A. Seiss, The Apocalypse: Lectures on the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), 118.

2 William R. Newell, Revelation: Chapter by Chapter (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1994,c1935), 97.

3 Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1-7 (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1992), Rev. 5:8.