“Then another angel with a gold incense burner came and stood at the altar. And a great amount of incense was given to him to mix with the prayers of God’s people as an offering on the gold altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, mixed with the prayers of God’s holy people, ascended up to God from the altar where the angel had poured them out. Then the angel filled the incense burner with fire from the altar and threw it down upon the earth; and thunder crashed, lightning flashed, and there was a terrible earthquake.”
Revelation 8:3-5 NLT
Something significant happened when the incense burner collided with Planet Earth. We are not told in John’s vision the extent of the devastation but the thunder, lightning and the earthquake would have been yet something else to be endured by the remaining inhabitants, those still alive on earth. But in what way was it significant?
To me, the symbolism was of the holiness of Heaven colliding with the sin and wickedness present on Earth. The incense burner held two things of significance, which were God’s incense, and the prayers of the saints. And they were poured out on the altar as an offering to God. But the angel then took fire from the altar and filled up the incense burner, before hurling it through the spiritual dimension of Heaven to the Earthly dimension below. Did those still alive on earth at that time see something hit their surroundings; perhaps they thought it was a meteorite or asteroid, as some might assume? Or was there just another apparently natural event that once again caused much devastation? Of course, we don’t know, but John’s vision was clear. The Bible does tell us that Heavenly events can have an earthly impact. For example, in Luke 10:18 Jesus said that He saw satan fall from Heaven like lightning.
Perhaps the fire confirmed what John the Baptist had prophetically said about Jesus some time before, which we read in Matthew 3:11, “I baptise with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” Fire purifies. Fire cleanses. Perhaps on this occasion fire represents yet another judgement from God in response to the wickedness found on Earth.
And the message was clear – sin can in no way prevail when it encounters holiness. An electrical storm of celestial proportions was followed by a “terrible earthquake“. Did the remaining inhabitants on earth rationalise the seemingly natural disaster to make it fit their entrenched belief system? Or did they at last realise that they were experiencing the consequences of their sins and wickedness?
In these verses located between the judgements of the seven seals and the seven trumpets, we pause and consider how devastating sin really is and how it breaks God’s heart to see His creation behave in sinful and wicked ways.
Father God. On our knees before You today we confess our sins and pray for Your forgiveness. Your kindness, love and compassion knows no bounds. We are so grateful. Amen.