Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand. (Revelation 8:3-4 NIV)
Revelation is filled with Old Testament imagery, including this passage. The tabernacle, and later on the temple, had two rooms. The inner room represented God’s presence among them. The only furnishing in this room was the ark of the covenant, covered by the atonement cover. On the atonement cover were a pair of cherubim. And God was pictured as enthroned between them (1 Sam. 4:4). Just outside this room was the altar of incense, which had a sacred blend of fragrant incense burning on it day and night (Ex. 30:7-8). A sweet-smelling offering to God.
That is what this passage pictures. God sits enthroned between the cherubim. And incense burns on the altar of incense. But an additional element is included. The incense offering, as it rises to the throne, includes the prayer of God’s people.
Prayer: A Fragrant Offering to God
I love this picture of our prayer rising before God as a fragrant offering to him. Prayer is indeed a privilege that God has given us. We can come before him with our petitions and praise. And we can trust that he hears us and responds appropriately. But God does more than evaluate and respond to our prayers. He takes delight in hearing from us. The prayers we offer up are a fragrant offering, ascending to the throne of God. We can come before God, knowing he delights in hearing from us.