"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 the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angels hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake." –Revelation 8:3-5
John saw an angel conducting a service at the golden Altar of Incense. Then, John saw the angel take the censer and after filling it with fire, hurled it to the Earth "and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake." What service did John see? What is the meaning of this event?
John saw the termination of "the daily" in Heavens temple, that is, John saw the termination of corporate intercession on behalf of Earth. The termination of corporate mercy may be a new concept for some people so we are going to examine this important topic. Many Christians are not aware of the fact that the plan of salvation operates on two levels: the corporate level and the individual level. When most Christians read John 3:16, "For God so loved the world . . ." they dont realize that is a corporate statement.
God deals with Earth as a single unit. Jesus reconciled the world to the Father through His death. (1 John 2:2) God also deals with people as individuals. The point is that a day is coming when the limits of Gods patience with Earths violence and decadence will be reached. When that day arrives, Jesus will stop interceding on behalf of the world as a corporate body and Gods wrath against all mankind will break out. This wrath will come in two phases: the seven first plagues and the seven last plagues.
During the seven first plagues, salvation will be extended to the people of Earth, but corporately speaking, Earth itself will be doomed for destruction. To understand the importance and seriousness of the angel hurling the censer to Earth, we need to examine six biblical concepts that flow together to make sense of this highly important service.
1. Full Cup Principle: God grants a period of grace to every group of people throughout history. However, if that group fills up its "cup of sin" with degenerate and violent behavior, God acts and destroys that group of people. The action He takes is fair and just. It is not an arbitrary act; instead, it is based on eternal law. This law mandates that when a group of people (even angels) reaches the point where they will no longer submit to the demands of the Holy Spirit, that group must be destroyed.
Review this text: "Then the Lord said [to Noah], My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years. " (Genesis 6:3, insertion mine) The Lord told Noah that His patience with mankind had reached its limit because He "saw how great mans wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time." (Genesis 6:5) So, the Lord told Noah that the end of the world would occur in 120 years and it did.
Many groups since the days of the antediluvians have filled up their "cup of sin" and God destroyed them. (Please see Chapter 2 in my book, "Warning! Revelation is about to be fulfilled" for a comprehensive discussion on this topic.)
2. Jesus Present Role in Heaven: Review these verses: "The Son is the radiance of Gods glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in Heaven. . . . Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. . . . The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man. . . . If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already men who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: "See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain." (Hebrews 1:3, 7:25, 8:1,2, 4, 5)
The author of Hebrews says that Jesus became our High Priest and sat down at the right hand of the Father after He "provided purification for sins." Presently, Jesus serves in Heavens temple, "the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man" whereas the temple built by Moses was "a copy or shadow of what is in Heaven."
This is why Moses was warned that he must not deviate from the pattern that God gave him because the services conducted in the earthly temple must accurately parallel certain processes in Heavens temple. God has given us a model of the processes that occur in Heavens temple and we need to understand these processes in order to appreciate the dimensions of salvation.
The wisdom of using models is simple and powerful. In fact, NASA does this regularly. Many of the satellites circling Earth have identical models sitting in special clean rooms so that if a problem occurs out in space, scientists can accurately diagnose the problem by examining an identical satellite on Earth. Similarly, once we understand the fundamental operation of the earthly temple, we can understand the services in Heavens temple. (Please see Chapters 11 and 12 in my book, "Jesus, The Alpha and The Omega" for a comprehensive discussion on this topic.)
3. Salvations Model: The earthly temple model had two altars to teach mankind that salvation requires two levels of atonement. The golden Altar of Incense was placed inside the first room of the temple (called "The Holy Place") and it served as the corporate altar. Israels priests conducted atonement services for the sins of the whole camp at this altar each evening and morning. The bronze Altar of Burnt Offering was located outside, near the entrance of the courtyard. This altar was used to atone for the sins of individuals. (Leviticus 4) So, God set up two altars in the earthly temple, each with a different purpose one for corporate atonement and one for individual atonement.
Most Christians understand the role of the bronze Altar of Burnt Offering because it is easy to understand that Jesus died in our place and is our flawless Lamb of God substitute. (Deuteronomy 15:21; 1 John 3:5) However, most Christians do not understand that Gods law demands the immediate execution of sinners on the very day they sin (Genesis 2:17) and the atonement offered on the golden Altar of Incense represents a stay of execution. Think about this: Sinners are not killed on the day they first sin because Jesus began corporate intercession on behalf of Earth before anyone was born!
4. How Individuals Become a Corporation: Adam and Eve were created as separate and distinct beings. (Genesis 1) Each person was endowed with half of the power needed to procreate. (Genesis 1:28) After their marriage they did not lose their individuality, but instead, they became officers in a corporate unit called "family." No person loses his or her identity or accountability to God in marriage. In fact, the Bible teaches that two people can be married and one be lost and the other saved. (Luke 17:34) Similarly, one spouse can go to jail and the other remain free.
So, a family unit, according to God, requires the union of two individuals, a man and a woman. The Bible says, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." (Genesis 2:24) The union of a man and woman reflects the image of God. The Godhead is a corporation made up of three Gods the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. They make up a family unit called "God." (Deuteronomy 6:4) Their threesome as one God parallels the twosome of a husband and wife becoming one flesh.
5. Sudden Death: God warned Adam, as president of the human corporation, that no one should eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The penalty for violating this law, God said, would be death by execution on the very day that sin occurred. (Genesis 2:17) Because no one died that day, Genesis 2:17 has been distorted in many different ways. Nevertheless, the scriptures are clear the penalty for sin is sudden death. This law is eternal and it cannot be changed. However, on the day Adam and Eve sinned, their execution was temporarily postponed by special circumstances.
Let us consider the special circumstances that permitted their stay of execution. Eves sin was a third degree felony. She was led into sin through deception. Adams sin was a second degree felony, since he willfully sinned because of his love for Eve. Lucifers sin was a first degree felony because he defiantly sinned.* Lucifers angels also defiantly sinned. Because there is no atonement for a first degree felony, an offer of salvation was not extended to Lucifer and his angels. They had committed the unpardonable sin. (Isaiah 14:12-17; Ezekiel 28:12-18; Matthew 12:31,32)
For a legitimate reason, God did not kill Lucifer and his followers the day they sinned either. Instead, God cast them out of Heaven, allowing them to live so that sin might flourish for a predetermined period of time. Of course, at the end of the age of sin, Lucifer and his followers will be annihilated. Similarly, Adam and Eve were not killed on the day they sinned. However, at the end of the age of sin, all of the wicked will be annihilated. The law cannot be changed. However, these two temporary stays from execution demonstrate that the Father is purposeful and merciful in His administration of law.
* Note: The Bible teaches there are three types of sin and three degrees of guilt in Gods sight. Briefly, the three types of sin are sins of ignorance (Leviticus 4:13,14), accidental sin (Romans 7:19; 1 John 5:17) and willful sin (James 4:17; Romans 5:12). Of course, the penalty for sin is death and this explains why two goats were used on the Day of Atonement. One goat died to pay the penalty for those who had faithfully transferred their sins to the temple. The other goat, the scapegoat, died as the one responsible for the presence of sin in the temple.
Someone has to pay for sin. On the other hand, the degree of guilt is determined by circumstance. For example, if a person is enticed to sin, the guilt of the tempter is greater than the guilt of the victim. (Matthew 18:6) So, Lucifers guilt in leading Eve to sin was greater than Eves guilt. This also explains why Adams guilt was greater than Eves guilt. (Romans 1:32) Adam was not deceived by Lucifer as was Eve. Out of love for Eve, he choose to suffer her fate. Adam did not stand before God and defy an order.
Adam tenderly loved Eve and when he saw that Eve had been deceived, he chose to suffer her fate. Adam willfully sinned, but he did not defiantly sin. This is why God permitted the plan of salvation to be invoked on Adam and Eves behalf. On the other hand, God patiently dealt with Lucifers growing disaffection for many years until the day came when Lucifer defied Gods direct order. The possibility of salvation was not extended to Lucifer and his angels because their sin was premeditated openly defiant.
Even in our own courts, we differentiate the sin of murder by degrees of guilt. For example, first degree murder is premeditated murder whereas third degree murder is defined as having no intent to murder. Like first degree murder, second degree murder is premeditated murder, but the penalty for second degree is lesser than first degree murder because circumstances determine the degree of guilt. (See 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12.)
The laws created by an all-knowing God cannot be changed. Ask the people on death row in any prison; a stay of execution does not change the demands of the law. Rather, a stay of execution is a legitimate delay in executing the demands of the law. Because Jesus offered to die in their place, God stayed the execution of Adam and Eve and their future offspring. This is the meaning of corporate intercession. The Bible says that Jesus was slain from the foundation of the world. (Revelation 13:8)
Jesus was as good as annihilated from the beginning of the world, but He came to Earth 4,000 years later to actually die. Jesus died when the Father decided the timing was perfect. (Galatians 4:4, Romans 5:6) There should be no question about Gods character of love. The Father is not arbitrary. He is committed to the rule of law in His universe and the death of Jesus proves that His laws cannot be changed.
Sin has been permitted to exist for a short season (6,000 years is a minuscule slice of time when compared to eternity) because Jesus was allowed to corporately intercede on behalf of the human race the day that sin began. The Father granted a stay of execution so that He could demonstrate the horrific properties and consequences of sin. Everyone in the universe has the knowledge of good and evil. Of course, wicked people cannot understand the properties of sin because these matters are spiritually understood. (Daniel 12:10; 1 Corinthians 2:14) Gods biggest problem at the moment is not the presence of sin; Gods biggest problem at the moment is preventing the second rise of sin.
Think about this. After sin has run its course, and the differences between good and evil are clearly understood, what virtue could there be in permitting sin to exist within Gods kingdom for a single day? Will God remove the power of choice from His children to prevent sin from happening again? No! God is a God of love! So, how does God prevent His children from sinning again? This is a serious question. Gods laws are not righteous just because He says so they are righteous because they have been demonstrated to be so!
Carefully consider this: After sin has been destroyed and the sin problem has been fully resolved, the penalty for any future sin will be carried out on the very day that it occurs. If sin occurs and the sinner is immediately annihilated, everyone will clearly understand the necessity for destruction and the righteousness of doing so! It will be as though God said, "Weve been there, done that and I am not allowing sin to contaminate my house and hurt my children anymore."
Because their sins were not first degree felonies, Jesus offered to die in Adam and Eves place, and not only for them, but for the sins of their corporation the generations of offspring that would be forthcoming. (Romans 5:12) The Father accepted Jesus offer. (Psalms 2:7-12) A "blood contract" between the Father and Jesus was signed. In essence, the contract contains these provisions:
(a) At an appointed time, Jesus would die. As an eternal member of the Godhead, He would give up His everlasting life and cease to exist so that all submissive sinners could have His life. Thus, the demands of the law, a life for a life, would be fulfilled.
(b) Because of Adams sin, Earth itself must be cursed so that mans environment would correspond with mans decline in health and longevity.
(c) Because Adam and Eve were put under the curse of sin, every child (with the exception of Jesus) has come from the womb with a rebellious nature. Fallen man cannot give birth to unfallen children. This means that before anyone was born into the human corporation (the family of Adam and Eve), he or she was cursed with a sinful nature.
(d) If Jesus was successful in redeeming man (and there was a possibility of failure), the Father promised to resurrect Him from the dead and as a gift, the Father would give the world and everything in it to Him. (John 17:4-8; Hebrews 1:2) Note: A number of pastors claim that Jesus did not die on the cross because divinity cannot die. Jesus disagrees. (Revelation 1:18)
On the very day that Adam and Eve sinned, Jesus came looking for the guilty pair offering the plan of salvation instead of the sword of justice. Keep in mind, the sword of justice will surely come because the stay of execution is not indefinite. The bad news for Adam and Eve was that they had lost their righteous nature, their garden home, their face to face communion with their Creator, and the access to the Tree of Life which enabled them to live endlessly.
The good news was that their execution had been stayed, and even better, the restoration of everything that had been lost was possible! Jesus carefully explained the situation to two "naked" felons. To make life on Earth possible, Jesus terminated the perpetual forces of life which He established at Creation (this is the meaning of a curse), so that the cycles of sins consequences might be shortened. Last, Jesus explained that He was their only hope. If they wanted to regain all that had been lost, they had to put their faith in Him and surrender to His commands.
I can imagine Jesus saying, "If you trust me and believe in my future sacrifice for your sins, then you must show your faith by killing an atonement symbol (a lamb) at the times appointed." Jesus then showed a naked Adam how to conduct a worship service. Adam transferred his sin and the sin of Eve by placing his hands on the head of the lamb and confessing their sins. Then, Jesus* killed the first lamb and took the warm skin of the lamb to cover their nakedness. (Genesis 3:21)
Through this marvelous demonstration Jesus helped the pair to understand the plan of salvation. The penalty for sin, which Adam and Eve were supposed to suffer, immediately was transferred to the lamb. The nakedness of the first two sinners was covered with a robe representing the righteousness of Christ, which would be provided by His future sinless life. I imagine that when Jesus closed this tearful meeting, He summoned two attending angels to immediately escort Adam and Eve out of the garden. The only things they carried out of the garden were their memories and the robes that Jesus gave to them. As the guilty pair walked away from their their lovely home, I am sure they were bent over with anguish and tears of remorse. That first night outside the garden must have been more sorrowful than anything we can imagine.
* Note: It is my understanding that Jesus, on behalf of the Father, killed the first lamb. I offer this explanation because the Father required the life of Jesus for our atonement. (Adam and Eve did not negotiate with God on the plan of salvation.) Jesus is called "The Lamb of God" because the Father required the death of a perfect substitute. On the cross, the life of Jesus did not end because of the weight of sin, or the punishing treatment of Jews and Romans, even though that was their murderous intent.
The Father actually took the life of Jesus after Jesus submitted His life to the Father. (Consider these texts! Men did not kill Jesus. Luke 23:46; John 10:18) This matter is wonderfully paralleled in the sacrificial story of Abraham (the Father) and Isaac (the son) on Mount Moriah. (Genesis 22)
Of course, the sacrifice of a created animal cannot atone for sin, nor can animal blood wash away the guilt of sin. (Hebrews 10:4) From the beginning of sin, the killing of a lamb was a required object lesson demonstrating what Jesus would do for the human race at the right time. Jesus was The Lamb of God and the Father required everyone, who wanted salvation, to kill a perfect lamb at appointed times to demonstrate faith in His promise to give us Jesus! (John 3:16)
Many Christians have been led to believe that during a "dispensation of law," animal sacrifices atoned for sin. The Bible does not teach this. The killing of a flawless lamb was an act of submission to Gods demand and this act, if accompanied with heartfelt sorrow for sin and restitution to the victim, showed faith in Gods promise. (Hebrews 11:4)
How Corporate Intercession Works
Adam and Eves first son was named Cain. On the basis of Jesus contract with the Father, Cain was not killed on the day that he committed his first sin, nor was Cain killed when he murdered his brother, Abel. Let us be clear about this. Corporate intercession was put in place BEFORE Cain was born and this is why sinners have been able to live a natural life span without being destroyed ever since.
Unfortunately, our stay of execution has led millions of Christians to believe there will be no execution! This is a great deception. Execution day will surely come. "If anyones name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire." (Revelation 20:15)
Back to the Two Altars
Previously, the presence of two altars in the earthly temple was discussed, which explained the necessity of two levels of atonement for mans salvation. The golden Altar of Incense was the corporate altar. The priests did not place offerings for an individuals personal sins on this altar.
The bronze Altar of Burnt Offering was for the personal sins of individuals. The value of these two altars is seen in their metallic construction. Gold is of much greater value than bronze, so the service at the Altar of Incense is of utmost importance! Both altars were designed as object lessons or teaching aids. (Galatians 3:24) The sacrifices placed on the bronze Altar of Burnt Offering pointed forward to the death of Jesus for individuals. The daily offering of incense and occasional blood* on the golden Altar of Incense pointed backward to the day when Jesus became Intercessor for the whole world before the first sinful child was born.
* Note: The Bible does not clarify whether blood from the morning and evening sacrifices was applied to the horns of the golden Altar of Incense each day. However, the Bible does reveal that blood was applied to the golden Altar of Incense at special times (Leviticus 4), and that the Altar of Incense was cleansed on the Day of Atonement. (Leviticus 16) We also know that a special incense with a delightful aroma was used on this altar each day. This is why it was named the Altar of Incense. (Exodus 30:37)
6. Holding Back Gods Wrath: The only thing that is holding back the wrath of God against the whole world is the corporate intercession Jesus executes at the golden Altar of Incense. John saw an angel, representing the ministry of Jesus, standing at the golden Altar of Incense.
When Jesus is "taken out of the way," (2 Thessalonians 2:7) the censer at the golden Altar of Incense in Heaven will be thrown down. This indicates that no further atonement will be offered on that corporate altar. Gods wrath will then break out on mankind and hundreds of millions will suddenly perish in the global earthquake and the judgment events that follow.
"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 the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angels hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake." (Revelation 8:3-5)
The easy part to understand in these verses is the physical part. When the censer is cast down in Heavens temple, the whole world will experience four physical phenomena. There will be deafening peals of thunder, rumblings [loud voices heard speaking], flashes of lightning all over the sky and a global earthquake. The terror caused by these phenomena and the destruction caused by this global earthquake cannot be calculated. This earthquake will mark the beginning of the Great Tribulation, so the casting down of the censer in Heavens temple signals the end of corporate intercession.
Of course, Jesus does not suddenly annihilate everyone. Instead, He will use His wrath, mixed with mercy, to rescue as many people as possible during the 1,260 days that follow. Then, at the close of mercy (the seventh trumpet), services at the bronze Altar of Burnt Offering in Heaven will also be terminated and every sin will have been assigned either to the head of the sinner or to the head of the scapegoat.
This study has examined six topics that enable us to understand why the censer at the golden Altar of Incense will be thrown down:
1. The full cup principle
2. Jesus present ministry in Heavens temple
3. The necessity of two altars and two levels of atonement in the temple
4. Individuals can become a corporation
5. God granted a stay of execution the day Adam and Eve sinned
6. The wrath of God has been restrained because of the corporate intercession of Jesus at the Altar of Incense on behalf of the entire world.
If you understand these six concepts, then you will understand why the censer will be thrown down and what the consequences will be. One more question. Would you like to know when it will be thrown down? Here is the answer: "So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come [to the close of corporate intercession] at an hour when you do not expect him [to do so]." (Matthew 24:44, insertions mine) Please think about this: The casting down of the censer (for corporate Earth) is the equivalent to the door closing on the ark in Noahs day.
This is why Jesus said, "As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man." (Matthew 24:37-39) According to Daniel 12:11,12, the Second Coming of Jesus is an event that lasts 1,335 days. The casting down of the censer marks the beginning of this event. So, do your best to be watching, working and waiting.