John saw “another angel, having a golden censer” who “came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints… Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth” (Revelation 8:3-5). The context of this verse is right after the sealing of the 144,000 and just before the beginning of the 7 trumpets.

John had already seen four angels holding back the “four winds of the earth” (Revelation 7:1). The four winds represent the destruction and chaos that Satan is allowed to bring about during the Time of Trouble, and he is not permitted to do this until the 144,000 have been “sealed on their foreheads” (Revelation 7:3).

The golden censer is another symbol of this protection. In the Old Testament sanctuary service, the high priest on the Day of Atonement took a censer with incense with him into the Most Holy Place.  It gave off a cloud of smoke, veiling him from the direct glory of God, “lest he die” (Leviticus 16:12,13).  The censer was thus an instrument of intermediary protection.

The censer as a symbol of protection is also seen in the story of the rebellion of Korah, Dathan and Abirim during the wilderness wandering. They had challenged Moses’ authority, gained many followers, and as a result a deadly plague broke out in the camp. “So Moses said to Aaron, ‘Take a censer and put fire in it from the altar, put incense on it, and take it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them; for wrath has gone out from the Lord.  The plague has begun.’  Then Aaron  took it as Moses commanded, and ran into the midst of the assembly…So he put in the incense and made atonement for the people.  And he stood between the dead and the living; so the plague was stopped” (Numbers 16:44-48).

From these examples we see that the censer represents Jesus’ intercession to protect sinners from the destruction they deserve, destruction that Satan would like to bring about. As a part of the “Great Controversy” God has agreed to allow Satan a short period of time (the Time of Trouble) in which to bring about chaos and destruction, in an attempt to prove that God’s special messengers, the 144,000, will not remain true to Him. 

The 144,000 will be partially protected by God, but Satan will have full access to the rest of humanity and he will attempt to prevent anyone from leaving Babylon and joining the 144,000 on “God’s side”. His attempts will begin as he incites a world war that is depicted in the Seven Trumpets. The war starts when the four angels release the Four Winds, also symbolized by the throwing down of the Golden Censer.
Contrary to the teaching of many commentators, the throwing down of the censer has not already happened at some time in the past, it does not mark the “closing of probation” and it does not mean that Christ will no longer intercede for his people. It simply marks the beginning of the Great Tribulation.

Some of these ideas may be different from what you have previously learned. For more details and scriptural support see chapter 8 of The Book.