Chapter 5 of Revelation: Harp and Bowl

CloudsBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Do you get excited when you read the Bible?

In May 2013 I had the privilege of attending a prayer service in Charlotte, NC. Normally, I would drive to school on Friday morning, attend Friday evening and all day Saturday, and drive home late Saturday evening so attending a Sunday morning prayer service in Charlotte was a treat for me.

Harp and Bowl Prayer

This prayer service consisted of prayer mixed with music. Some prayer and music was prepared in advance; some was spontaneous. The point was to praise the Lord, to enjoy the His presence, and to linger. This style of worshipful music and prayer is referred to as a Harp and Bowl service (Rev 5:8; also: The idea apparently originated with King David (Psalm 141:1-2) which perhaps inspired the Apostle Paul’s admonition to pray without ceasing (1 Thes 5:17).

The outbreak of worship is Revelations 5 arises immediately after the fifth verse:

And he [the Lamb] went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints (Rev 5:7-8).

Worthy to Open Scroll

The excitement arises because of the scroll which: no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it (Rev 5:3 ESV). This scroll, which previously was treated as an idolatrous object of worship (Deut 5:8), was suddenly now being opened by someone worthy: the Lamb—ironically referred to as the Lion of Judah (Gen 49:9). This passage obviously refers to Jesus Christ.

The interpretation of this chapter accordingly hangs on one word: scroll—what scroll is it? The Greek word for scroll is βιβλίον normally translated as: Bible. So why do many translations read: scroll?

The First Book (Codex)

In the first century, the very first book (called a codex) ever assembled was the New Testament (NT). The church did not agree on the content of the NT until the fourth century. However, many of the books now contained in the NT were already assembled together in the first century, bounded together on leather pages printed front and back—an innovation.

Christian evangelists developed the book format for three important reasons—it was cheap, transportable, and was easily distinguished from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament—OT) which were traditionally written on multiple scrolls which were neither cheap nor transportable. Consequently, scholars disagree as to whether the Apostle John’s vision referred to the OT (scroll) or the NT (book). The Book of Revelations is one of the last books in NT to have been written so arguments go either way. Theologically, translating βιβλίον as scroll makes sense because John’s point then becomes that the OT is understandable only when viewed through the lens of Christ.

Getting Excited

So in verse 9 we see a party breaking out in heaven: And they sang a new song, saying, Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation (Rev 5:9 ESV).

So if you get excited reading your Bible, consider yourself an angel!


  1. Do you have questions from last week? Did any important events happen in your life this week? Do you have any thoughts that you would like to share?
  2. What sort of seals are we talking about here in v 5:1?
  3. What is the image of the Lion of Judah? (Genesis 49:9)
  4. What about the image of the lamb? (Exodus 12:21)
  5. What is the symbolism of the seven horns? What do horns signify? (Daniel 7:7-8)
  6. What is the image of a new song? (Isaiah 42:10; Psalm 40:3)
  7. What about the four living creatures? (Ezekiel 1:5)
  8. What does Amen (ἀμήν) actually mean?

405 ἀμήν
• ἀμήν (LXX occas. for אָמןֵ , usu. transl. by γένοιτο; taken over by Christians; in pap symbol. expressed
by the number 99 [α=1 + μ=40 + η=8 + ν=50; ESchaefer, PIand I 29], but also as ἀμήν [POxy 1058, 5].
Ins: ISyriaW 1918; MvOppenheim-HLucas, ByzZ 14, 1905, p. 34ff, nos. 36, 39, 46, 84)

1. strong affirmation of what is stated
a. as expression of faith let it be so, truly, amen liturgical formula at the end of the liturgy, spoken by the congregation 16:10 p. 137, 19 Ja.; Cyranides p. 124, 18 Ἀμήν· τέλος· ἀμήν· ἀμήν) ἀ. was almost always put at the end of books, but not in the older mss. (and hence v.l.) Mt 28:20; Mk 16:20

Chapter 5 of Revelation: Harp and Bowl

Also see:

Chapter 4 of Revelation: The Times and The Seasons 

Chapter 1: Alpha and Omega 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site:, Publisher site:

Newsletter at:

Continue Reading

Kodak Prays for the Persecuted

Kodak_review_05162016Betsey Kodat. 2015. Arise, LORD! Scriptural Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Herndon, Virginia: CreateSpace.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The annual number of Christian martyrs in 2015 has been estimated to have been 90,000 people. This estimate is a decline from 377,000 in 1970s in the heyday of world communism,[1] but it is still about three times the number (34,400) in 1900 (IBMR 2015, 29) and has probably increased since that estimate was made because of genocide reported in the ISIS conflict in the Middle East. Those directly affected by genocide and martyrdom thankfully remain a small portion of the Christians worldwide suffering persecution.

Betsey Kodat In her book, Arise LORD! Scriptural Prayer for the Persecuted Church, takes her title from Psalm 3—

O LORD, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying of my soul, there is no salvation for him in God. But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy hill. I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me. I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around. Arise, O LORD! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked. Salvation belongs to the LORD; your blessing be on your people! (Ps 3:1-8 ESV)[2]

—and focuses on intervening for those affected in prayer (3). Prayer is, of course, hard enough because in order to pray for the persecuted, one needs to admit to yourself that persecution exists and believe in your heart that God both truly exists and cares enough to intervene. Intervening in prayer also requires admitting our own impotence to stop persecution, often a hard step for gung-ho Americans, so by inviting us to pray for the persecuted God is also inviting us to set aside our pride and approach Him in humility. This need of humility is aptly captured in the cover graphic displaying the disciples in the storm on the Galilee (Matt 8:23-27) which symbolized persecution and early church fathers referred to as “the ship of Peter” (7).

In approaching prayer for the persecuted, Kodat recommends a 4-part movement in prayer:

  1. Opening Prayer,
  2. Strategic Prayer,
  3. Specific Prayer, and
  4. Closing Prayer (7).

The basic prayer in 4-movements structures the core chapters in her book and the group prayer template, which functions as the book’s concluding chapter (166-168). Kodak expands these 4-movements into 6 steps in application, allowing for preliminary research and a period of spontaneous prayer just before the closing (15).   Let me turn briefly to each of these 6 steps.

Step 1: Preliminary Research. Kodat admonishes us to: “Research target needs before you pray, using reputable resources, then select prayers that meet these needs” (16) She then offers a list of websites that can be used to undertake this research. Research for prayer might seem like overkill, but in prayer we are asking God to channel His power to specific ends. By engaging both our hearts and our minds, taking time to be specific demonstrates to us and to God that we are serious about prayer.

Step 2: Opening Prayer. Kodat recommends that we open prayer employing 6 specific topics: placing ourselves in God’s hands, praising God, binding Satan, confession, thanking God, and song (17). These instructions remind me of the “harp and bowl” prayers of the saints (Rev 5:8) where music and petitions are mixed together in continuous prayer.[3]

Step 3: Scripture-based Strategic Prayer. Kodat offers a list of 7 topics for strategic prayer to select among for particular occasions. This list includes—general needs, strength, leaders, supporting churches, nations, national leaders, and persecutors[4]—and it targets topics that may prevent or correct the problem of persecution (18).

Step 4: Scripture-based Specific Prayer. Kodat offers a fairly short list of 4 specific prayers (19)—for crises, recovery from crises, ongoing oppression, and a 4-page list of specific items mentioned throughout the book (170-173). Being specific in prayer has commonly been promoted as a way to channel God’s power, but channeling is unnecessary for an all-powerful God; a better explanation for channeling is so that God’s concern for us would be more obvious (John 9:3).

Step 5: Spontaneous Prayer. Kodat advises us to “pray with Holy Spirit insight as your heart leads.” (20) This advice might seem out of place because for most people this is the only way that they normally pray, but something more interesting is at work. If we become too formal in our prayers and neglect to engage our hearts, then we pray for reasons other than love—remember the Apostle Paul’s admonition:

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Cor 13:1-3)

Nothing is gained by praying without love, in part, because our love marks us as disciples of Christ worthy of God’s attention to our prayer (1 John 4:21).

Step 6: Closing Prayer. Kodat’s guidance on closing prayer is brief:

“Choose a blessing, and pray it in unison along with ‘leaving our concerns with God’ and the Lord’s Prayer” (20).

In particular, Kodat advises us to pray corporately to intensify the power of prayer (21).

Betsey Kodat’s Arise, LORD! Scriptural Prayer for the Persecuted Church is a readable and thoughtful devotional focused on interceding for the persecuted church. Each devotional includes an introduction to the topic, suggested resources, a list of suggested prayers, and scriptural resources. In addition to being a prayer warrior, Kodak writes, teaches, and is a dedicated mom,[5] but I know her best for her tireless work for the Capital Christian Writers’ club[6].

[1] Communism is an atheist philosophy and remains widely influential in secular circles even today. Over time, communist nations have been fairly open in their persecution of Christians who are often accused of representing a foreign influence. This idea of foreign influence is also an excuse used in the case of Middle Eastern persecution of Christian minorities (Iwanicki and Bailey 2012).

[2]A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son…” (Ps 3:1).

[3] International House of Prayer (

[4] This rather-unusual idea of praying for the persecutors comes directly from Christ—“You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matt 5:43-45)—who essentially advised us to persecution as a ministry opportunity.




 International Bulletin of Missionary Research (IBMR). 2015. Christianity 2015: Religious Diversity and Personal Contact. Cited: 28 December 2015. Online: (

Iwanicki, Hugh and Dave Bailey. 2012. Shock and Alarm: What It Was Really Like at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. North Charleston: CreateSpace. (Review:

Continue Reading