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New American Standard Version of the BibleAnd He came, and He took it out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. 8And when He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, having each one a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. 10"And Thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth." Revelation 5:7-10 (NAS)

Golden Bowls and Harps

Throughout the first five chapters of the Revelation, John describes the symbolic objects, animals, etc. that he sees in the vision.  These many visual images...from a lamb which symbolizes Jesus to the sword which represents the word of give a word-picture of the ideas that God wants us to learn from the Revelation.

The twenty-four elders who sit before the throne of God and the four living creatures fell down before the Lamb (Jesus).  It says that each one had a harp and golden bowl full of incense.  Let's look at the meanings of these two symbols:

  • Golden bowls full of incense:

    The explanation is given quickly in the text:  These are the "prayers of the saints."  In the time the Revelation was written, the followers of Jesus (also called Christians or saints) were under terrible persecution (refer to the preface to this lesson for more information).  As we get into later chapters, we will see what is done with the golden bowls and incense.  Note that the word "saint" is from the Greek word #40 "hagios" which means sacred, pure, blameless, consecrated.  True followers of Christ are not perfect, but have been made pure or blameless through Jesus' blood that was sacrificed...and through their belief and obedience in Christ.

  • Harps:

While the meaning of the bowls & incense is directly spelled out in this passage, the meaning of the harps is not specified.  It is possible that the harp is used to symbolize voices in song to God.  Revelation chapter 14 says that the voices of those who were singing a new song before the throne "was like" the sound of harpists playing on their harps:

New American Standard Version of the Bible"...the voice which I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps. 3And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders; and no one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been purchased from the earth." Revelation 14:2-3 (NAS)

Whether or not the harps and bowls represent two of the ways in which Christians worship (harps representing singing, and bowls representing prayers), the point is that we are not talking about physical harps or physical bowls or a physical four-legged lamb.  The images are used to represent other things (e.g., the four-legged lamb in the vision is representing Jesus Christ, the one who died for our sins).

For more information on the worship of Jesus' church, see Lesson 2.

For these followers who prayed to God during these times, what a comfort it must have been to know that their prayers (the prayers of the saints) had been heard and were being held before the throne of God. 

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