Probably the most spectacular sight I have ever seen was in Disney World this past winter, and it was a show called Fantasmic. Fire, music, water, lasers, holograms, lights, dragons, fireworks, battles. You couldn’t take your eyes off it, it was so spectacular.
We humans strive to create an extravaganza that blows us away ie. Olympic opening ceremonies. Maybe we’re trying to create our own experience of heaven’s spectacle. But even Hollywood couldn’t recreate what we hear about in these chapters of Revelation, we can’t even imagine it, only God himself could show it to us, and John got a glimpse. What a life changer that must have been as he got a preview of where he would shortly be.
John seems to be describing here what heavenly worship looks like. He’s probably describing what will happen to God’s people when the church age on earth has run it’s course: heaven will open; there will be a voice with the sound of a trumpet; and those who believe in the redeeming work of Christ will be caught up to heaven.
Notice something very important here. The word church is “ekklesia” which means ones called out of the world. Revelation uses another word for the saved in heaven, “saints”, and this word means holy, or sacred ones. Remember we are never holy or sacred in ourselves only by accepting the justification of Jesus death on the cross.
The Bible is pretty clear that just because people are in this institution called the church does not mean they’re all included in heaven. These are only the holy ones who have been saved out of the world, not the entire church. Going to church never saved anyone. The church is then never called the church again in Revelation.
This is important because there will still be an apostate organization that calls itself the church, left on earth to go through the tribulation. But true saints and called out ones will be taken to heaven prior to the Great Tribulation as we will see later. So from now on through Revelation all true Christians are in heaven, but the church as an organization will still be on earth. However there will be converted saints coming out of the tribulation as we will see in chapter seven.
I want to tell you right now that my most fervent prayer is that none in this building today or any day get left behind. Yet I know that in every church there are some who will be. I plead with you today to take heed of this and give your life completely to Christ because it would break my heart to know that any of us are left behind as the rest of the saints are in heaven worshipping, while the world goes through the horrible events to come.
Chapters 4 and 5 of Revelation are about worship. They give us a brief glimpse of heaven and the worship that’s going on there, and will go on for eternity. We have tended in church to be very focused on programs, teaching, and witnessing, but worshipping has not received as much attention, especially our personal worship outside of Sunday morning.
The main task of every being in heaven will be to worship. Here John gets a preview. Let’s start by looking at:
Chapter 4. God and His sanctuary
John hears the voice like a trumpet telling him to come up here and I will show you what must take place after this, after what? Well, the last chapter ends with those who let Christ in and conquer, being allowed to sit on the throne with Him. So he’s talking about after the true church has been removed from the earth and the end of history begins to take place through the systematic, righteous, cleansing wrath of God. The throne of grace becomes the throne of judgment.
The throne is very important because it indicates that God has always been in control since creation. The word is used 14 times in this chapter alone. John actually sees the throne and the one sitting on it who is the Father. Now Father God can never been seen because he has no physical body, so John describes his glory. The best he can do is speak in comparisons because there are no human words to describe the glory of God.
He sees these luminous colors that remind him of precious jewels that form a sort of emerald rainbow around the throne. That makes sense considering that the rainbow reminds us of the covenant God made with Noah that he would never again destroy the earth with a flood. Here we see the rainbow before the storm reminding us that even in His judgment God is merciful to those who put their faith in Him.
Now there were 24 other thrones around God’s throne. Daniel reported seeing these thrones in his vision but they were empty, now John sees them filled with Twenty Four elders. This is the heavenly court, but who are these elders?
They have golden victor’s crowns upon their heads, so they are the overcomers, or conquerors. They have white garments, so have been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb. They can’t be angels then, because angels don’t need cleansing and have had nothing to overcome. Probably the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles of the New Testament are represented here. There were also twenty four in the order of priests in the Old Testament temple.
Overall these 24 represent all the redeemed people of God who have been enthroned as kings and priests. This represents the complete family of God now in Heaven ruling with Christ.
And the very next thing we witness is lightning, rumblings and thunder much like God’s display on Mt Sinai in the book of Exodus. God is so magnificent that he is like lightning and thunder, jewels and rainbows. But this also signifies that the powerful storm of God’s Holy wrath is beginning. We can’t look at the rainbow unless we are willing to look at the storm. God is a God of grace and judgment, you can’t have one without the other.
What are the seven spirits mentioned here? Seven is perfection and fire is often used to represent the Holy Spirit if you remember the tongues of fire at Pentecost. You can read in Isa 11 to see that the spirit is given seven characteristics: wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, fear of the Lord, and righteous judgment. So before the throne is the Holy Spirit, and in a moment we’ll see Christ the Lamb, so the entire trinity is at this throne, representing the entire triune Godhead.
Sprawling before the throne is a sea of glass like crystal, perfect peace, tranquility, and clarity. Nothing impure. This clearly represents God’s holiness and reminds us of Ezekiel’s “crystal firmament” which was the foundation of God’s throne.
Now it starts to get even weirder. Who are these four creatures? They remind us of the cherubim and seraphim that Ezekiel and Isaiah mention. They are strange indeed, but I think we just need to know that they represent God’s wisdom as they are full of eyes all around. They are created beings though and the fact that they have six wings instead seven, indicates their slight imperfection compared to God.
Also they represent the four “faces of God” in the Gospels. In Matthew we have the royal gospel of the king represented by the Lion. Mark emphasizes the sacrificial servant Lord represented by the calf or ox. Luke presents Christ as the compassionate Son of Man, and John magnifies the deity of Christ as the eagle. Put all together with the thunder and lightning, and it seems to symbolize the almighty God who displays his power through nature.
Notice here the wild beasts are represented in the face of the lion, domesticated animals in the ox, birds are represented in the eagle, and the face of man, the head over all the beasts is there. There are no fish, perhaps because the sea has been done away with in the new heaven and earth, and no reptiles which represent Satan.
These beings are constantly speaking the praises of God’s holiness and permanence. Can you imagine a creature constantly saying “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God almighty, who was and is and is to come!” for eternity? What would cause a being to do that? They must really experience and understand the glory and majesty of God.
Then the elders themselves, remember representing all believers, as often as the creatures say this, give their praises, fall down, and worship. Let me just say that if you find worship boring down here, why in the world would you want to go to heaven where we are going to spend a lot of time worshipping. Might as well get into it here.
They cast their crowns at the foot of the throne realizing that they don’t reign at all, that the only one worthy to rule is God. Just think how different this is from the description of the Laodicean church that we heard of last week who thought they needed nothing.
These heavenly beings realize the enormity of God’s mercy, they know who they are in relation to Him, and they act accordingly with humility and gratitude all the time. I think in the presence of God I would be embarrassed to wear a crown. These elders in heaven give their own glory, the crowns they rightly earned, to God. Something we should always be doing.
Just think for a minute about the incredible awesome majesty of God. So incredible that these beings are happily doing nothing but constantly praising and worshipping the Lord. Realizing that this is exactly what we were created to do.
I don’t think that’s what we’ll be doing forever in heaven. We see that there is more for us to do later in Revelation, especially after we’re given our resurrection bodies and come back to the new earth with the New Jerusalem, but for now, those who are in heaven constantly worship as spectators of the great plan unfolding.
Then here it comes, the scroll, the history of creation, the eternal plan of salvation. A scroll with writing on both sides, complete with no more room to write anything else. But John doesn’t see anyone who can open it, no one is worthy to reveal it, so John weeps.
But in Ch 5 we see that there is one Who is worthy, who can make everything right. Is it the Republicans, the Democrats, the United Nations? No, there is nothing humans can do, it is The Conquerer (the Lion of Judah) and King (root of David). Yes, Jesus is those in spirit, but in the flesh he is the Lamb that was slain. He is the only one that can reveal the plan, he is the one that is worthy to hold the deed to the world, and the Word of God.
There is no human or human institution competent to rule the entire earth, that’s pretty obvious isn’t it. We’ll see later that people on earth believe for a while that the Antichrist can do it, but we know different.
It’s easy to ascribe power and glory to a powerful lion or king, but then we see the glorification of the Lamb, the offering. The Jewish people didn’t see a lion, but rather a Lamb, and it disappointed many of them to the point of not believing Jesus was the Messiah. The great paradox of the Christian faith, is that our king is a resurrected dead Lamb. No wonder it was and still is considered foolishness to those outside the faith.
John shows that Jesus is walking amoung us in the centre. He walks amoung the lampstands (which represent all the churches). He is accessible. And John sees him as a Lamb looking as though it was slain, though now healed and standing. Notice he is no longer seated at the right hand of God, he is up and ready to fulfill the final judgment.
The Jewish people expected a lion King, but they got a Lamb which they slaughtered. (Isa predicted this way back in Isaiah 53:4-7). This is the dying God paradox.
Nobody would have thought of making this up, we would use powerful animals as symbols. That’s one of the reasons we believe the Bible to be true. Why would someone who wants to convince another of a lie, make such nonsense up? Wouldn’t they want it to be believable? The power of God is in weakness, death and suffering.
We see that he has the complete Spirit, perfect (omniscient) knowledge represented by seven eyes, and omnipotent power seen in the seven horns. Jesus first coming was as a Lamb, but his second coming will be as a lion.
We need to ask ourselves, are we trying to be lions, kings, queens. Are we living under our own power, ruling our own lives, trying to control everything, or have we become like Him, a lamb displaying God’s power through our complete submission and weakness?
How did Jesus use his power though he had the power of God? Not to rule, not to defeat, but to heal people, feed people, share the word of truth with people, save people. He had no control over his own life, nor did he want it because he completely trusted the Father.
The scroll the Lamb claims is the great plan of history, which Jesus gives to John to write down. History has no meaning without the story and life of Jesus. He came as the most important part of History, to give it meaning. Otherwise we would just be walking around trying to get the most out of life, and then die, meaningless. But isn’t that how many are living, even some professing believers, like this life is all there is?
How personally significant is Jesus to you? He is the center of everything. He is the meaning of life whether we believe it or not.
Let’s now take look at the Heavenly Worship found in verses 8-14 of chapter 5.
1. There is first the Prostration of the worshippers (the word for worship here in Revelation means bow toward, it is the most common word for worship in the New Testament). Muslim’s do this right, but with the wrong God.
Let’s just look at these words “fell down”. The way this Greek word is used denotes involuntary falling. So while there may be some aspect of control as they prostrate themselves, there is this notion that they are compelled to do so. It always has been and always will be difficult to stand upright before God, because of his great majesty we will literally collapse.
This is not just physical prostration but emotional as well, humility. Now remember they are falling before the Lamb, so if Jesus isn’t God as many suggest, why do these beings fall down and worship Him? That would be blatant idolatry. There is no democracy in heaven nor would anyone want there to be. They want more than anything to have the Lamb complete the implementation of his kingdom.
2. Next look at the Possessions of the Worshippers. They had harps, which represent praise, but they are not all said to be playing them. No doubt there will be music played in heaven, but not everyone will be playing harps. There were also golden bowls full of incense (which are the prayers of the saints PS 141:2). So they are praying and praising.
Then we finally witness:
3. The praise of the worshippers, it is a new (fresh) song. The old song of Moses was about God’s creation, this one is now about God’s redemption of mankind. New Songs are Ok if they are true praises. Not just going through the motions. The heavenly host here are singing about how he ransomed us so we could serve him. Like posting bail, we can’t just go out now and do whatever we want or we symbolically go back to jail.
They sang a hymn that combined worship, the Gospel of the slain one, a missionary song about redeeming all people, a devotional hymn to the king, and a prophetic song about his return to earth. What a song. Worship literally in our language, means to ascribe worth, and the last two utterances we hear in this passage started with the word worthy. Only Christ is worthy of any worship.
The scene ends with the living creatures, elders, and angels, myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands saying with a loud voice “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”
What a climax to this worship service. When I was in Chicago I got to hear a thousand men sing together with a massive pipe organ, and it brought chills. Imagine what this would be like. Endless number of beings all singing together in harmony praises to the King.
And I want you to see something very important in this song. In heaven we have all finally let go of believing we deserve anything. Finally we happily give all the glory to Christ. All the desire for power, wealth, wisdom, might, honor, glory and blessing that we sought all our lives, we happily give it all to Jesus who is the only one worthy of claiming these things. This is a joyful thing not a begrudging thing that we hesitantly do because we finally have to. In heaven we will realize that our greatest joy is in giving God all glory.
Every tribe, every creature in all of creation, what a potluck that’s going to be. Myriads, billions and billions give a sevenfold, perfect praise. Every creature including unbelievers will be giving this praise to God (read Php 2:9-11). The question for each of us is where will we be doing it from? Everyone will believe, but for many it will be too late, their names will not be found in the book of life, they will be left forever outside the gates of the Holy city with Satan choosing to have never received God’s grace.
Notice at the end it’s only the elders, the saved believers that go plop and fall down again. The others in heaven I guess have been used to doing this, but we the believers who are relatively new to heaven are going to hear and see this and our only reaction will again be to do a face plant.
Something we need to address here before we leave these chapters is whether the church will be raptured, taken to heaven all at once, and if so, does it happen before the Great Tribulation that will be described starting next chapter, during the tribulation, or after the tribulation.
I think there is enough clear evidence throughout scripture to suggest that yes, those true Christians on earth before Christ opens the sixth seal next chapter, will be caught up in the air with him all at once. When this will happen is not as clear.
Personally, I will almost always go with what Scripture plainly says, over what us humans have come up with to make it make more sense. God’s ways are not our ways and who can understand the mind of God. Why do we want to make His supernatural works something that has to make sense to our rational limited minds?
Clearly, believers are not appointed to God’s wrath, we will be spared according to passages in Romans 5 and 1Thes. 1 and 5. The tribulation is not a time to purify the church, Christ’s blood has already done that. The tribulation has nothing to do with the plan for the church but rather the plan for the people of Israel. It is the time of Jacob’s trouble as Jeremiah tells us, and Jacob is Israel. The tribulation and to a large extent the millennium is about Israel’s ultimate redemption, not the church of Christ.
If we look at the book of Genesis we see that God always delivered His faithful people before the wrath came in the days of the flood and in Sodom and Gomorrah, and the plagues in Egypt. God’s people were always warned first, and if they listened they were saved from destruction.
We’ll dig into this more in chapter 20, but what I do know is that the Bible is clearly telling us that no matter what, whether we go through the suffering times or not, we can be assured that God is on the throne and we will be facing part of a loving sovereign plan that will culminate in believer’s redemption and vindication of their faith, and that those who cause God and his people distress will be justly dealt with.
We may have to go through some of this tribulation in our lifetimes, but those who endure, who keep the faith and trust in the outcome, can rest in the assurance that God gives us of our final destination.