The Holy Incense and Prayer
This section will discuss various accounts showing the prophetic and symbolic meaning and usage of incense during significant rituals, which have profound meaning for the elect who practice the apostles James' instructions for the healing of disabilities and illnesses during this gospel age of salvation.
Within the tabernacle there was a golden altar of incense that stood before the curtain which separated the holy of holies from the rest of the sanctuary. On this altar, a holy incense was to burn continually. The prophetic and symbolic meaning of making and burning the holy incense was an important part of the worship of the Creator and is rich with meaning for the elect during this gospel age of salvation.
King David understood the symbolic meaning of the continual offering of incense in the tabernacle and that this fragrance was very pleasing to his Creator; he wanted his prayers to be as pleasing to the Creator as the holy incense and the evening sacrifice:
"Lord, I cry to you: make haste to me; give ear to my voice, when I cry to you. Let my prayer be set forth before you as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice" (Psa.141:1-2 KJV).
Likewise, the incense which is currently being burnt before the thrones of God the Father and our Savior is an important act of worship and has a prophetic, symbolic, and literal meaning as it relates to the prayers of the elect. See Rev.8:1-4.
The biblical record shows that our heavenly Father and our Savior derive great pleasure from answering our prayers; therefore, a review of the holy incense burnt on the altar of incense in the tabernacle/temple and the incense burnt on the heavenly altar is relevant to an understanding of the apostle James' instruction to anoint the sick and pray over them (Jms.5:14-15).
Instructions to Moses
In Exodus 30, verses 1-5, Moses is given instructions concerning how to construct the altar of incense. In verse 6, he is told to place the altar of incense in front of the curtain, which the ark of the covenant was behind. In verses 7-8, Aaron is instructed to place new incense on the altar of incense every morning and evening and that the incense was to burn continually before the Lord.
"And Aaron shall burn thereon sweet incense every morning: when he dresses the lamps, he shall burn incense upon it. And when Aaron lights the lamps at even, he shall burn incense upon it, a perpetual incense before the Lord throughout your generations" (Ex.30:7-8 KJV).
Verse 9 limits the use of the altar of incense to specific rituals, which indicates that this altar, the incense burnt on it, and the rituals which must be performed on and before it are unique in function and meaning:
"You shall offer no strange incense thereon, nor burnt sacrifice, nor meat offering; neither shall you pour drink offering thereon" (Ex. 30:9 KJV).
Verse 10 refers to making atonement for the altar of incense on the Day of Atonement when all the sins of Israel were to be set aside in order for the Creator's presence to remain in the tabernacle for another year:
"And Aaron shall make an atonement upon the horns of it once in a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonements: once in the year shall he make atonement upon it throughout your generations: it is most holy to the Lord" (Ex.30:10 KJV).
The conceptual meaning of atonement (Heb. kippurim) contains both the method by which something is done and the result of doing it. When an atonement was made through the sacrificial system (the method), the breach between God and man was healed (i.e., sin was set aside). God and man were then in harmony (the result). Therefore, the sacrifice of animals as an atonement for sin was required to restore and maintain a harmonious relationship with God.
In Exodus 30:34-35, the Creator instructs Moses to prepare the incense to be used in the tabernacle:
"And the Lord said to Moses, Take to you sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum; these sweet spices with pure frankincense: of each shall there be a like weight: And you shall make it a perfume, a confection after the art of the apothecary, tempered together, pure and holy" (Ex.30:34-35 KJV). See also Ex.37:29.
The English words perfume and confection are translated from the Hebrew words qetoreth and roqach, which respectively mean a fumigation and an aromatic. The use of these two Hebrew words reveal that the purpose for making this compound is for it to be burnt as an incense.
The materials and their amounts are specified, but the formula for blending these materials is not revealed. However, the instruction to make the incense after the art of the apothecary tells us that this incense was to be carefully prepared using a specific blending process. Verse 35 reveals that this aromatic incense was unique in composition and that once made, it either became holy due to its formulation or the quality/ essence of holiness was bestowed on it by the Creator.
Verse 36 is further proof that this incense is sacred just like all things which were a part of the tabernacle and the sacrificial worship system given to national Israel:
"And you shall beat some of it very small, and put of it before the testimony in the tabernacle of the congregation, where I will meet with you: it shall be to you most holy" (Ex.30:36 KJV).
The English phrase very small in verse 36 is translated from the Hebrew word daqaq, which means to crush or crumble. The reason for crushing some of the incense into a powder and storing it before the testimony is explained in the rituals of the Day of Atonement.
The English words most and holy in verse 36 are both translated from the same Hebrew word qodesh, which means a sacred place or thing. The phrase most holy (i.e., sacred, sacred/holy, holy) is used to describe and stress the sacredness and importance of the things contained in the tabernacle, which included the altar of incense.
"And as for the perfume which you shall make, you shall not make to yourselves according to the composition thereof: it shall be to you holy for the Lord. Whosoever shall make like to that, to smell thereto, shall even be cut off from his people" (Ex.30:37-38 KJV).
This holy incense was only to be used in worship of God. Verse 38 warns that anyone who makes an incense like it will be severely punished.
There are many opinions as to exactly what was to happen to a person who made an incense similar to the holy incense and when this punishment was to be carried out. However, what is clear is that this is an extremely serious warning: the English phrase cut off in verse 38 is translated from the Hebrew word karath, which in this context means to cut (off, down or asunder); by implication, to destroy.
KORAH AND THE LEVITES
Numbers, chapter 16 contains the account of Korah and a number of other Levites who were attempting to usurp the authority of Moses, Aaron, and Aaron's male descendants whom the Creator had chosen to be priests from among the Levites.
These challengers either procured an incense or made an incense in violation of the Creator's command not to make any incense like the one he had instructed Moses to make for use in the tabernacle (Ex.30:37-38). The death of these men is a serious warning to individuals who attempt to take to themselves positions of authority that God has not granted to them or violate his instructions not to make and burn an incense similar to the holy incense. See also Num.16:36-40; 2.Chron.29:1-11.
SINS OF IGNORANCE
When the high priest, a ruler of the people, an individual, or the people as a whole became aware that they had sinned in ignorance, a sin offering was to be made so that they could be placed back into a harmonious relationship with the Creator. Some of the blood from this offering was put on the horns of the altar of incense and sprinkled before the curtain, which separated the holy of holies from the rest of the sanctuary.
Because the high priest was to offer the sacrifice for the sin of ignorance, if he had also committed the same sin through ignorance, he had to first offer a sin offering for himself, before making the required offerings for other people:
"If the priest that is anointed do sin according to the sin of the people; then let him bring for his sin, which he has sinned, a young bullock without blemish to the Lord for a sin offering. And he shall bring the bullock to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the Lord; and shall lay his hand upon the bullock's head, and kill the bullock before the Lord" (Lev.4:3-4 KJV) .
"And the priest that is anointed shall take of the bullock's blood, and bring it to the tabernacle of the congregation: And the priest shall dip his finger in the blood, and sprinkle of the blood seven times before the Lord, before the veil of the sanctuary. And the priest shall put some of the blood upon the horns of the altar of sweet incense before the Lord, which is in the tabernacle of the congregation: and shall pour all the blood of the bullock at the bottom of the altar of the burnt offering, which is at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation" (Lev.4:5-7 KJV).
This sprinkling of the blood before the curtain seven times indicated that atonement for the sin had been accomplished through a sacrifice. The placing of the blood of atonement on the horns of the altar of incense seems to be symbolic of requesting that the atonement be honored. Therefore, the sin of ignorance was completely atoned for through sacrifice and prayer.
Verses 16 through 18 show the sacrificial blood which was to atone for the people's sins of ignorance was also being put on the horns of the altar of incense and sprinkled before the curtain which separated the holy of holies from the rest of the sanctuary.
"And the priest that is anointed shall bring of the bullock's blood to the tabernacle of the congregation: And the priest shall dip his finger in some of the blood, and sprinkle it seven times before the Lord, even before the veil. And he shall put some of the blood upon the horns of the altar [i.e.,the altar of incense] which is before the Lord, that is in the tabernacle of the congregation . . ." (Lev.4: 16-18 KJV).
Sins of Ignorance in this Age
Sins of ignorance are also a problem in this age. We are many centuries removed from the giving of the law to Israel and the teachings of Christ and the apostles, which has resulted in the loss of much knowledge and understanding about how to practice a truly righteous lifestyle.
The apostle John wrote the following about the cleansing effect of Christ's blood and the willingness of the Father to forgive all our violations of his law, precepts, and principles, which can also be applied to sins of ignorance:
"This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin" (1.Jn.1:5-7 KJV).
The English word sin in verse 7 is translated from the Greek word hamartia, derived from the word hamartano, which means to miss the mark (and so not share in the prize), i.e., (figuratively) to err, especially (morally) to sin. Hamartia in the simplest terms means a violation of God's law.
"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us" (1.Jn.1:8-10 KJV).
The English word sinned in verse 10 is translated from the Greek word hamartano, which means to miss the mark (and so not share in the prize), i.e., (figuratively) to err, especially (morally) to sin.
Yes, the Father considers his earthly children to be sinless, because their past and future sins are covered by Christ's blood and they have his holy spirit dwelling within them. However, just because the Father considers us sinless; it does not mean that we are always in perfect obedience to the way of life he has prescribed for us to follow.
Verse 15 of James' instructions for healing within a congregation speaks to the forgiveness of sins. Verse 16 speaks to confessing one's sins. Therefore, it seems logical that the forgiveness of known sins and sins committed in ignorance would also be requested during the healing ritual.
"And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise them up; and even if sins are committed, they shall be forgiven. Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that you may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of the righteous avails much" (Jms.5:15-16 KJV Para.).
Because being forgiven for the violation of God's law is an aspect of the healing ritual mandated for the elect, elders and people requesting anointing should consider what the apostle Paul wrote to the evangelist Timothy in the light of forgiveness of sin before beginning the healing ritual:
"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished to all good works" (2.Tim.3:16-17 KJV). See also Rom.15:4.
THE DAY OF ATONEMENT
Once a year on the Day of Atonement, the high priest was to make an atonement on the altar of incense with the blood of the sin offerings before going behind the curtain which separated the holy of holies and the mercy seat from the rest of the sanctuary. This was to be performed as a part of the rituals required in order to have all the sins of Israel set aside so that the Creator's presence would dwell with Israel another year.
The mercy seat was where the Creator appeared in a cloud to speak with Moses (Ex.25:17-22; Num.7:89) and where he would appear in a cloud to the high priest once a year (Lev.16:1-2).
Before the high priest could go behind the curtain which separated the sanctuary from the holy of holies containing the ark of the covenant with the mercy seat on it, he had to offer a sin offering for himself and his household:
"And Aaron shall bring the bullock of the sin offering, which is for himself, and shall make an atonement for himself, and for his house, and shall kill the bullock of the sin offering which is for himself" (Lev.16:11 KJV).
After offering a sacrifice for himself and his household and before going behind the curtain to sprinkle the blood of the bullock on and before the mercy seat, the high priest was to take a large amount of holy incense which had been crushed into a powder and stored in front of the curtain separating the holies of holies from the rest of the sanctuary and put it into his censer:
"And he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the Lord, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the veil: And he shall put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is upon the testimony, so that he does not die" (Lev. 16:12-13 KJV Para.).
The English phrase beaten small in Leviticus 16:12 is translated from the Hebrew word dak, which means crushed, i.e., (by implication) small or thin, a very little thing.
The crushing of the incense into a very fine powder seems to be prophetic and symbolic of thoughtfully composing detailed prayers before presenting them to our heavenly Father, rather than just giving an overview of what we are asking for or want to speak about.
The potential for the high priest dying if he went behind the curtain where the Creator would appear above the mercy seat was very real. The burning of a large amount of powdered incense quickly formed a dense cloud in which the high priest stood while sprinkling the sacrificial blood of atonement. The cloud of incense prevented the high priest from seeing the Creator in his glorified form above the mercy seat (Lev.16:1-2) which would have caused his death (Ex.33:18-23). Additionally, the cloud of holy incense hid any imperfection in the high priest and any unintended failure by him to perform a small detail of the required sacrifices and rituals before he entered behind the curtain.
The English phrase mercy seat in Leviticus 16:13 is translated from the Hebrew word kapporeth, which means a lid (used only to describe the cover of the ark of the covenant). Kapporeth is derived from the root word kaphar, which figuratively means to expiate, condone, to placate or cancel.
The kapporeth represented the Creator's heavenly throne where mercy could be obtained. The kapporeth in the holy of holies seems also to be prophetic and symbolic of the Sovereign Father's throne to which the elect go to praise him, thank him, and speak with him about many things, including requesting forgiveness of sin and healing of a disability or illness.
The high priest offering the proper sacrifice and being without sin before entering the holy of holies seems to be prophetic and symbolic of Christ as the sinless high priest of the elect going before the Sovereign Father with our prayers to intercede on our behalf:
"Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifies. Who is he that condemns? It is Christ that died, yes rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us" (Rom.8:33-34 KJV). See also Heb.7: 14-25.
Leviticus 16:16-17 reveals that the high priest was the only person allowed in the sanctuary during these rituals. His going into the sanctuary alone to perform these rituals seems to be symbolic of Christ who is the only one authorized to go before the Sovereign Father to intercede on our behalf and request forgiveness of our sins:
"And he shall make an atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins: and so shall he do for the tabernacle of the congregation, that remains among them in the midst of their uncleanness. And there shall be no man in the tabernacle of the congregation when he goes in to make an atonement in the holy place, until he come out, and have made an atonement for himself, and for his household, and for all the congregation of Israel" (Lev.16:16-17 KJV).
Before leaving the sanctuary to place the sins of Israel on the head of a live goat and send it away from the camp of Israel, the high priest had to sprinkle the blood of atonement.
"And he shall go out to the altar [altar of incense] that is before the Lord, and make an atonement for it; and shall take of the blood of the bullock, and of the blood of the goat, and put it upon the horns of the altar round about. And he shall sprinkle of the blood upon it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it, and hallow it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel" (Lev.16:18-19 KJV).
The blood of atonement is to be sprinkled before the curtain seven times which indicates spiritual perfection and bringing to an end (i.e., the sacrificial atonement for the sins of Israel had been totally accomplished through sacrifice and prayer).
The High Priest's Atonement
Before the high priest could offer an atonement for known sins and sins of ignorance of others and before he could offer sacrifices for the sins of Israel on the Day of Atonement, he first had to atone for his own sins. But, Jesus was sinless, so he could sacrifice his life for us as an atonement for our past and future sins. When we deviate from the path of righteousness, we need to request the Father's forgiveness through Christ's sacrifice (1.Jn.1:5-10; 2:1-2; 4:9-10) which is why we are given the opportunity have all sins removed during the healing ritual as set forth by James.
The elect are all priest-kings in their heavenly Father's earthly family and have several priestly functions and responsibilities to perform within his family. Therefore, it follows that elders who are fulfilling their priestly function for a fellow priest-king who requests anointing should first ask forgiveness for their known sins and their sins committed in ignorance before they perform the healing ritual.
REPRESENTATIONS OF THE HEAVENLY
The writer to the Hebrews wrote that the Creator instructed Moses to construct everything associated with the tabernacle according to the directions that he would give him, because these things were representations of what is in heaven. The writer also wrote that the priesthood and the offerings were expressions of the heavenly worship system:
"Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; A minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man. For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer. For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law: Who serve to the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, says he, that you make all things according to the pattern showed to you in the mount. But now has he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises" (Heb.8:1-6 KJV).
INCENSE AND PRAYERS OF THE SAINTS
The Book of Revelation, chapters 5 and 8 reveal the meaning of the continual burning of holy incense in the tabernacle before the holies of holies as it relates to the prayers of the saints, before and after the advent of Christ.
In Revelation 5:1-7, the apostle John sees the Sovereign God sitting on his throne holding a book with seven seals and Christ taking the book from his right hand, after which John sees twenty-four elders showing their respect to Christ:
"And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odors, which are the prayers of saints" (Rev.5:8 KJV).
The English word vials in verse 8 is translated from the Greek word phiale, which means a broad shallow cup. The English word odors is translated from the Greek word thumiama, which means an aroma, (i.e., fragrant powder burnt in religious service; by implication, the burning itself).
The English word prayers in verse 8 is translated from the Greek word proseuche, which is derived from the Greek word proseuchomai, which means to pray to God, (i.e., supplicate, worship). Proseuche basically means prayers of worship.
The English word saints in verse 8 is translated from a Greek word hagios, which means sacred (physically pure, morally blameless or religious, ceremonially consecrated).
This prophetic vision shows the twenty-four elders holding golden dishes containing a fragrant burning incense, which is described as being the prayers of sacred individuals.
But, why are our prayers offered before Christ? The answer is that Christ is our high priest and he intercedes on our behalf to our heavenly Father (Rom.8:33-34), which is why Jesus said to make our request to our heavenly Father in his name (i.e., his authority).
The Heavenly Altar
Revelation 8:1-4 reveals that the altar of incense and the continual burning of incense before the holies of holies in the tabernacle were representations of a heavenly altar on which incense and the prayers of the saints are offered to the Sovereign Father as he sits on his throne:
"And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour. And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets. And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given to him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God [God the Father] out of the angel's hand" (Rev.8:1-4 KJV).
The mingling of the incense with the prayers of the saints ascending before the Sovereign Father as an offering shows that the prayers of the saints are very pleasing to him and that our conversations with him are extremely important to him and to us.
Because our prayers are very pleasing to our heavenly Father and are being offered to him as a pleasing aroma, the writer to the Hebrews gives the following advice, which should be taken seriously and applied when following the apostle James' instructions about requesting healing of our illnesses and disabilities, as well as any other time we communicate with our heavenly Father:
"Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:14-16 KJV).
The English word mercy in verse 16 is translated from the Greek word eleos, which means compassion (human or divine).
THE HOUR OF PRAYER
Nothing is recorded in the biblical record requiring or advocating prayer during the replenishment of incense on the golden altar of incense. However, during the temple period, the morning incense was offered between the application of sacrificial blood to the altar of burnt offerings and the trimming of the lamps. The afternoon incense was offered between the burning of the sacrificial animal and the drink offering (Mishnah, Yoma 3:4;5). The evening replenishment of the incense was finished around 3 p.m. This is also the time period mentioned in the New Testament when people would customarily come to the temple to pray.
Luke records that many people were praying outside the temple while the priest Zacharias was replenishing the incense on the altar of incense. This is when the angel appeared to Zacharias and told him that he would father John:
"And it came to pass, that while he [Zacharias] executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course, According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense" (Lk.1:8-10 KJV).
This account means nothing by itself, but when it is compared with other events that occurred during the replenishing of the incense in the temple, we see a pattern of significant events emerge which are all connected to this time.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record that the final stages of Jesus' crucifixion occurred before 3 p.m. and that he called out to his heavenly Father and died around 3 p.m., which is when the incense replenishment ritual was being completed:
"Now from the sixth hour [noon] there was darkness over all the land to the ninth hour [3 p.m.]. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?. Jesus, when he
had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the spirit" (Matt.27: 45-46, 50 KJV). See also Mk.15:33-37; Psa.22:1-2.
"And it was about the sixth hour [noon], and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour [noon to 3 p.m.]. And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst. And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into your hands I commend my spirit: and having said this, he gave up the spirit" (Lk.23:44-46 KJV).
It seems more than a coincidence that the symbolic and literal meaning of the holy incense is prayers of the righteous ascending to God and that Jesus' last prayer to his heavenly Father as a human happened during the replenishment of the holy incense in the temple.
Peter Heals a Man
The Book of Acts records that Peter and John went to the temple around 3 p.m. at which time the priest was replenishing the incense on the altar of incense:
"Now Peter and John went to the temple at the hour of prayer, about the ninth hour [3 p.m.]. And a certain man lame from his mother's womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that came to the temple; who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple asked an alms. Then Peter, fastening his eyes upon him with John, said, Look on us. And he gave heed to them, expecting to receive something from them. Then Peter said, Silver and gold I have none; but such as I have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise and walk" (Acts 3:1-6 KJV Para.).
Our heavenly Father has great concern for humanity and is aware of people's suffering when they are sick, injured, or otherwise in physical or mental distress. Here, Peter shows godly mercy and compassion to this man during the hour of prayer.
Peter and the Centurion
Acts, chapter 10 records the centurion Cornelius praying about 3 p.m., which is about the time the incense on the altar of incense was being replenished. At this time, Cornelius was visited in a vision by an angel who told him that his prayers and his kindness to others were noted by God and that he was to send for Peter. The following day Peter received a vision of unclean animals and was told to eat them and not to think of that which God had cleansed as unclean.
These events resulted in Peter understanding that God the Father was not a respecter of persons and that he was not only calling Abraham's descendants to salvation but also non-Israelites. Additionally, Cornelius, his relatives, and friends received the holy spirit and became the first among non-Israelites to become members of God the Father's earthly family of king-priests.
The events recorded in the New Testament, which happened during the replenishment of the holy incense on the altar of incense at the time customarily called the hour of prayer, accentuate the importance of our communication with our heavenly Father. Moreover, these events show that maintaining continual communication with our Father is extremely important and that many benefits are derived through this communication.
The House of Prayer
The prophet Isaiah records the following which speaks of those who live in obedience to God's law and please him with their life being rewarded with an everlasting name and an eternal residence in his heavenly house. God's house is to be known as a house of prayer:
"For this says the Lord to the eunuchs that keep my Sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; Even to them will I give in my house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off. Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the Lord, to serve him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be his servants, every one that keeps the Sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant; Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer [i.e., his heavenly temple]: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people" (Isa.56:4-7 KJV).
The English word prayer in verse 7 is translated from the Hebrew word tephillah, which means intercession, supplication; by implication, a hymn.
This prophecy also reveals that the Sovereign Father's heavenly temple is a place where intercessory prayers are heard by him and praise and song are presented to him. See also Jer.33:10-11; Rev.8:1-4; 14:3.
During Christ's Lifetime
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record Jesus throwing the merchants out of the temple area and stating that God's house was to be known as a house of prayer:
"And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast them all out that sold and bought at the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said to them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but you have made it a den of thieves" (Matt. 21:12-13 KJV Para.). See also Mk.11:17; Lk.19:46.
The English phrase of prayer in verse 13 is translated from the Greek word proseuche, which means prayer (worship); by implication, an oratory (chapel).
Jesus' statement about God's house (i.e., his temple) being a place of prayer, clearly reveals that the Sovereign God's temple is a place where continual communication with him is to take place.
Continual prayers to the Creator God were symbolized by the continual burning of incense on the altar of incense in the tabernacle and the temple. In the Book of Revelation, continual prayers of the saints are symbolically presented with incense by the 24 prophetic elders before our Savior to be conveyed by him to our heavenly Father. Additionally, the prayers of the elect are offered at the heavenly altar and mixed with incense to rise before God the Father as a pleasing odor.
When reviewing the prophetic and symbolic meaning of the holy incense which burnt continually in the tabernacle and subsequently in the temple in Jerusalem, it is important to clearly understand that the apostle Paul wrote much about the fact that the Sovereign Father's earthly children are also his personal temples on earth (1.Cor.3:16-17; 6:19-20).
Sacrifice of Praise
The writer to the Hebrews wrote the following about a sacrificial altar to which the elect have access, but the Levitical priesthood are not allowed to partake of what is offered on it:
"We have an altar, whereof they [the levitical priesthood] have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle. For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate" (Heb.13:10-12 KJV).
The Levitical priesthood could eat portions of some offerings made to the Creator. The eating of portions of sin and the peace offering (also called the fellowship offering) were symbolic of eating at God's table. See Lev.3:1-17; 6:1-18. The altar at which we sacrifice is before our Father in heaven. The sacrifices we offer promote a harmonious relationship with our heavenly Father. In verses 13 through 16, the writer to the Hebrews says the following about coming before our heavenly Father and offering a sacrifice of praise through Christ:
"Let us go forth therefore to him [our heavenly Father] without the camp, bearing his [Christ's] reproach. For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come. By him [Christ] therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God [the Father] continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name" (Heb.13: 13-15 KJV).
The English word praise in verse 15 is translated from the Greek word ainesis, which is derived from aineo and means to praise (God). Ainesis is only used once in the New Testament and refers to the act of praising and specifically speaks to an offering of gratitude.
The English phrase giving thanks in verse 15 is translated from the Greek word homologeo, which means a covenant or acknowledgment. Homologeo in the context of verse 15 speaks to acknowledging the Father's authority in our lives.
In order to offer a sacrifice to God the Father, a person must first have a sacrifice to offer, a place to bring the sacrifice, an altar on which to perform the sacrifice, and a high priest to offer the sacrifice for them. There is only one place a person can offer praise and gratitude to their heavenly Father and make requests to him—the altar of incense at his heavenly throne (Rev.8:1-4 ).
During this gospel age of salvation, the elect are the Sovereign Father's earthly temples on earth (i.e., his houses of prayer on earth (1.Cor.3:16-17; 6:19) ) from which we offer our praise and gratitude and make requests to him.
Incense and Prayer
The holy incense offered in the tabernacle and the temple at Jerusalem was symbolic of the prayers of the righteous ascending to the Creator God and were prophetic of the elect's prayers to their heavenly Father and the pleasure he derives from this communication with him.
The continual offerings we are to make to our heavenly Father to show our respect for him are praise, songs of praise, acknowledgment of his sovereignty, gratitude, good works, and the practice of a righteous lifestyle. There are many scriptures instructing us to communicate often with our heavenly Father, which is extremely important to maintaining a harmonious relationship with him as we work out our salvation. The following are several of the apostle Paul's comments about prayer which show the importance of this aspect of our relationship with our heavenly Father:
"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God" (Rom.12:1-2 KJV).
"Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another; Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality" (Rom.12:10-13 KJV).
"For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when you received the word of God which you heard of us, you received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually works also in you that believe" (1.Thess.2:13 KJV).
"See that none render evil for evil to any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men. Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you" (1.Thess.5:15-18 KJV).
"To Timothy, my dearly beloved son: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of you in my prayers night and day; Greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of thy tears, that I may be filled with joy" (2.Tim.1:2-4 KJV).
Without continual, heart-felt prayer to our heavenly Father, nothing positive will be accomplished in our lives or the work we are given to perform during this gospel age of salvation.
So, what do the holy incense which was to be offered continually, the events which occurred during the hour of prayer at the temple, and our physical bodies being our heavenly Father's temples have to do with James' instructions about healing?
Our heavenly Father is extremely interested in our well-being as his earthly children. He is more than willing to heal us of our disabilities and sicknesses if we communicate our needs to him in accordance with his will (1.Jn.5:13-15). And his will is that we ask for healing in compliance with the apostle James' instructions if we are in a congregation with an active, spirit-filled eldership.
By B.L. Cocherell b8w16-6