And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.
This chapter marks a turn in the book of Revelation. The imagery is filled with judgment and terror on the earth. It is part of what makes the book and its apocalyptic descriptions so hard to understand. But this little passage makes it clear that one of the reasons these judgments come to the earth has to do with the treatment of God’s people. The study notes in the ESV Study Bible provide a concise description of this:
As incense was associated with the prayers of the saints in the earthly sanctuary (see Ps. 141:2; Luke 1:9–11), so it is in John's visions (see Rev. 5:8). Not only martyrs under the heavenly altar (6:9–10) but also suffering saints on earth cry out for justice. Therefore fire from the altar, from which the saints' prayers rise, will be flung to earth in judgment, indicating that the judgments to follow answer the prayers of the saints.
Part of the reason that Revelation contains such stern and difficult descriptions is that God has prepared His Day for all judgment to be rendered. The saint’s have been offering prayer for deliverance and justice throughout the ages, and I believe that it is the events of this book that show God’s answers in their fullest.
When I pray for justice now, and if God chooses to withhold it until this future time, I can only know that I can see the clear answers coming in the biblical text. Patience is part of the character of God. Even during this time of intense tribulation, He will have His witnesses on the Because He has revealed His future plans to us in His Word, we can pray confidently for His will to be done, even in our worst circumstances, and our prayers surround His altar like fine incense.