The Imprecatory Prayers of the Apocalypse -- By: Robert L. Thomas

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 126:502 (Apr 1969)
Article: The Imprecatory Prayers of the Apocalypse
Author: Robert L. Thomas


The Imprecatory Prayers of the Apocalypse

Robert L. Thomas

[Robert L. Thomas, Professor of New Testament Language and Literature, Talbot Theological Seminary, La Mirada, California.]

A rarely discussed, but very prominent source of God’s eschatological wrath is the prayers of the saints. These prayers loom large in the Apocalypse and in each case take on a vindictive tone. In order to understand these prayers adequately, four related themes must be clarified.

I. Altar(s)

Bearing upon the prayers of the saints in the Apocalypse is the matter of the heavenly altar or altars. The noun thusiastērion (altar) occurs eight times in Revelation, and only once is an earthly altar in view (11:1). The remaining occurrences always connect either directly or indirectly with the saints’ petitions in heaven.

While there is no doubt that the earthly altar is the altar of burnt offering,1 the case for the heavenly altar is not nearly so clear-cut. The heavenly sanctuary formed the pattern after which the earthly was constructed (Heb 9:24), but it is debatable whether one or two altars should be visualized there.

It is quite certain that the golden altar of incense came before the mind of the Apostle John in his ecstatic state. Otherwise there would be no explanation for the incense prior to the sounding of the first trumpet (8:3–5). Nor would there be an explanation for the “golden” altar that is found twice (8:3; 9:13 ); for the altar of burnt offering, the other alternative, was overlaid with bronze, not gold (Exod 38:1 ff.).

Whether one can demonstrate the presence of the altar of burnt offering in heaven is another question, however. The

only serious possibility of such is John’s vision of the fifth seal judgment (6:9–11).2 Several characteristics of this altar call to mind the altar of burnt offering:

1. The souls (psuchas) of the martyrs are pictured under the altar, a feature resembling the pouring of blood (symbolic of life, psuchē, Lev 17:11, LXX) at the base of the altar of burnt offering (You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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