What does incense signify in the Bible?
In the Bible, incense is often a picture of prayer. For instance, in the book of Psalms 142 we read “Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.”
The incense of the Old Testament is called sweet incense numerous times in the books of Moses. It was mixed especially for the Temple sacrifices and was pleasing to God. In Leviticus we read that the high priest was to bring the offering before the Lord in the holy place. He had to bring the sweet incense and put it on the fire before the Lord. A cloud of incense burnt before the Lord then covered the mercy seat on the ark so that the priest would not die.
According to Exodus, the mercy seat was in the holy place, behind the vail. As believers in Christ, we know that the vail for the holy place has been rent in two. Not just so that we could go into the holy place but so that God could come out and walk among us. Through His Holy Spirit, we as believers can now enter the holy place and offer up our prayers as incense before the mercy seat of God.
We Gentiles who have been grafted into the family of God have especial reason to rejoice. The Gospel of the life, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus has been extended to us who are Gentiles as well. In Malachi 1 we read the glorious news “For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the LORD of hosts.”
We who were far off have been brought nigh by the death of Christ! We have the privilege as children of God to enter the holy place, approach the throne of God our Father and offer our prayers as sweet incense before Him. Now, we need not fear death since our high priest Jesus took our place, but our prayers as incense should cover the altar out of our love for Him.
In Revelation we learn that an angel has the prayers of saints mixed with incense in a censer in his hand. The smoke ascends before God on His throne. Our prayers are an important way for us to worship and please God. Before, in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple, sweet incense was offered daily before God. Now, instead of once a day, believers from every tribe and nation go before God into the holy place and offer up their prayers and praise.
The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God's people, went up before God from the angel's hand. (Revelation 8:4)
What a privilege we have to be part of the throng gathered before the throne of God and to offer up our incense, our prayers before Him!