on Revelation 5 :8
The four beasts - fell down before the Lamb - The whole Church of God, and all his children in heaven and earth, acknowledge that Jesus Christ is alone worthy and able to unfold and execute all the mysteries and counsels of God. See on Revelation 5:9 (note).
Having every one of them harps - There were harps and vials; and each of the elders and living creatures had one.
Odours, which are the prayers of saints - The frankincense and odours offered at the tabernacle were emblems of the prayers and praises of the Lord. That prayers are compared to incense, see Psalm 141:2 : Let my Prayer be set forth before thee as Incense. Hence that saying in Synopsis Sohar, p. 44, n. 37: "The odour of the prayers of the Israelites is equal to myrrh and frankincense; but on the Sabbath it is preferred to the scent of all kinds of perfumes." The words which are the prayers of saints are to be understood as this is my body, this signifies or represents my body; these odours represent the prayers of the saints.
on Revelation 5 :8
And when he had taken the book, the four beasts ... - The acts of adoration here described as rendered by the four living creatures and the elders are, according to the explanation given in Revelation 4:4-7, emblematic of the honor done to the Redeemer by the church, and by the course of providential events in the government of the world.
Fell down before the Lamb - The usual posture of profound worship. Usually in such worship there was entire prostration on the earth. See the Matthew 2:2 note; 1 Corinthians 14:25 note.
Having every one of them harps - That is, as the construction, and the propriety of the case would seem to demand, the elders had each of them harps. The whole prostrated themselves with profound reverence; the elders had harps and censers, and broke out into a song of praise for redemption. This construction is demanded, because:
(a) the Greek word - ἔχοντες echontes - more properly agrees with the word "elders" - πρεσβύτεροι presbuteroi - and not with the word "beasts" - ζῶα zōa;
(b) there is an incongruity in the representation that the living creatures, in the form of a lion, a calf, an eagle, should have harps and censers; and,
(c) the song of praise that is sung Revelation 5:9 is one that properly applies to the elders as the representatives of the church, and not to the living creatures - "Thou hast redeemed us to God by thy blood."
The harp was a well-known instrument used in the service of God. Josephus describes it as having ten strings, and as struck with a key (Ant. Revelation 7:12, Revelation 7:3). See the notes on Isaiah 5:12.
And golden vials - The word "vial" with us, denoting a small slender bottle with a narrow neck, evidently does not express the idea here. The article here referred to was used for offering incense, and must have been a vessel with a large open mouth. The word "bowl" or "goblet" would better express the idea, and it is so explained by Prof. Robinson, Lexicon, and by Prof. Stuart, in loco. The Greek word - φιάλη phialē - occurs in the New Testament only in Revelation Rev 5:8; Revelation 15:7; Revelation 16:1-4, Revelation 16:8,Revelation 16:10, Revelation 16:12, Revelation 16:17; Revelation 17:1; Revelation 21:9, and is uniformly rendered "vial" and "vials," though the idea is always that of a "bowl" or "goblet."
Full of odours - Or rather, as in the margin, full of incense - θυμιαμάτων thumiamatōn. See the notes on Luke 1:9.
Which are the prayers of saints - Which represent or denote the prayers of saints. Compare Psalm 141:2, "Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense." The meaning is, that incense was a proper emblem of prayer. This seems to have been in two respects:
(a) as being acceptable to God - as incense produced an agreeable fragrance; and,
(b) in its being wafted toward heaven - ascending toward the eternal throne.
In Revelation 8:3, an angel is represented as having a golden censer: "And there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. The representation there undoubtedly is, that the angel is employed in presenting the prayers of the saints which were offered on earth before the throne. See the notes on that passage. It is most natural to interpret the passage before us in the same way. The allusion is clearly to the temple service, and to the fact that incense was offered by the priest in the temple itself at the time that prayer was offered by the people in the courts of the temple. See Luke 1:9-10. The idea here is, therefore, that the representatives of the church in heaven - the elders - spoken of as "priests" Revelation 5:10, are described as officiating in the temple above in behalf of the church still below, and as offering incense while the church is engaged in prayer.
It is not said that they offer the prayers themselves, but that they offer incense as representing the prayers of the saints. If this be the correct interpretation, as it seems to be the obvious one, then the passage lays no foundation for the opinion expressed by Prof. Stuart, as derived from this passage (in loco), that prayer is offered by the redeemed in heaven. Whatever may be the truth on that point - on which the Bible seems to be silent - it will find no support from the passage before us. Adoration, praise, thanksgiving, are represented as the employment of the saints in heaven: the only representation respecting prayer as pertaining to that world is, that there are emblems there which symbolize its ascent before the throne, and which show that it is acceptable to God. It is an interesting and beautiful representation that there are in heaven appropriate symbols of ascending prayer, and that while in the outer courts here below we offer prayer, incense, emblematic of it, ascends in the holy of holies above. The impression which this should leave on our minds ought to be, that our prayers are wafted before the throne, and are acceptable to God.
on Revelation 5 :8
5:8 And when he took the book, the four living creatures fell down - Now is homage done to the Lamb by every creature. These, together with the elders, make the beginning; and afterward, Rev 5:14, the conclusion. They are together surrounded with a multitude of angels, Rev 5:11, and together sing the new song, as they had before praised God together, Rev 4:8, and c. Having every one - The elders, not the living creatures. An harp - Which was one of the chief instruments used for thanksgiving in the temple service: a fit emblem of the melody of their hearts. And golden phials - Cups or censers. Full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints - Not of the elders themselves, but of the other saints still upon earth, whose prayers were thus emblematically represented in heaven.