Can you interpret Revelation 5:8?

Question
Revelation 5:8 is confusing for me. Different versions of the Bible do not all agree in their translations. Who are the main players of Revelation 5:8? Who is holding the harps? What are the prayers of the saints?
Answer

Revelation 5:8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb [Christ], each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

Revelation 5:8-10 is part of a hymn that interprets the heavenly vision seen in Revelation 5:1-8.

The living creatures (angelic beings; compare Isa 6:1-7; Ezek 1:1-28; 10:1-22) and elders fall down before the Lamb (cf. Rev 4:9-11). The "twenty-four elders" are those whom hold the harps and bowls and sing the new song in Revelation 5:8-10. The living creatures do not hold the harps; the Greek word echontes ("having") is a masculine plural participle and has its antecedent in oi eikosi presbyteroi ("the twenty-four elders," masculine plural) and not ta tessara zoa ("the four living beings," neuter plural). Additionally, the song of praise that is sung in Revelation 5:9 more properly applies to the elders and not to the living creatures; "for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation." We can also compare "the twenty-four elders" with the twenty-four orders of Levites (i.e. people, not angelic beings) in 1 Chronicles 25:6-31, who were commissioned to sing with "cymbals, harps, and lyres for the service of the house of God."

The "saints" in Revelation 5:8 are possibly related to the "saints" in Daniel 7:18. The "incense" (cf. Psa 141:2; Luke 1:9-10) represents the plea of the righteous; that God will vindicate them by fully judging their enemies. "The prayers of the saints" are those observed in Revelation 6:9-11; 8:3-4. These prayers are imprecatory in nature (see below) calling for the divine vindication of the martyred saints. These prayers are linked to the judgment of the wicked.

Related Topics:

Imprecatory Psalms

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).