Elon, North Carolina
Last week, we began looking at the second part of the book of Revelation. It starts in chapter 4. The first three chapters of the book deal with the things that are (the condition of the churches). They deal with the present primarily.
The fourth chapter begins the second section of the book which deals with the future (“what must take place after this”). In the first three chapters of the book, John was on earth. The setting was on earth. In chapter 4, John is taken to heaven as the setting changes.
John is taken by invitation into the very throne room of God where he sees and hears some very strange things. He heard heavenly beings worshiping and praising God. He heard some singing. He heard loud peals of thunder. Heaven was not a quiet place. What did He see? He saw. He saw one supreme throne and a bunch of other thrones around that throne.
He saw lots of bright light. He saw a lot of different colors and precious stones (jasper, carnelian, emerald, crystal). Some of the ones which are rare and expensive are common in heaven. He also saw some rather strange looking angels. He saw some with six wings that were full of eyes all over. Some had the face of an animal (lion, ox, eagle).
The four living creatures were the highest order of angels and they were closest to the throne. They praise God for three things: his power (Almighty), His eternality (“the one was, and is and is to come”) and his holiness but impresses these beings the most was God’s holiness.
Day and night they never stopped saying (KJV, ESV, NIV) or singing (GWT, RSV, GNT, NRSV), “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty.” When we think of God, His holiness is not the first thing we think of but the four living creatures who are closest to the throne of God are consumed with the holiness of God.
Surrounding the four living creatures were twenty-four elders. They do three things in chapter four. They sit on thrones with gold thrones on their heads. They worship the one who sits on the throne and they cast their thrones before the throne. God rewards them with a gold crown and they give it back to God as an act of worship.
This group praised God primarily for creation. The four living creatures praised God in the third person but the twenty-four elders praised him in the second person (“You are worthy”). They did not just speak ABOUT God but speak directly TO God.
Revelation 5 continues right where chapter 4 left on. It is another chapter in the book but John is still in the same place (throne room). It is the same scene. This time John sees a mysterious seven-sealed book in the hand of the one sitting on the throne. This is good news for all who like to read. There are books in heaven. Here God the Father is holding a book in his right hand. The Greek word is βιβλίον.
What kinds of book is it? It was a rather strange book. This book had seven seals on it. The books that we read do not have seals on them but this was not a book but a scroll that could be rolled up and sealed. Books as we know them did not exist until the second century. John saw a scroll. It is a book with writing on both sides. Scrolls in John’s day usually only had writing on one side but this book was full of information.
What was in the book? It was a book that contained a lot of information. It was a book that was completely sealed. It was hidden from mankind. This book also contained the rest of the Bible. As the seals are opened, the book of Revelation is unveiled, the only prophetic book in the NT which reveals future end-time events on earth.
Removing a seal is like opening a chapter of the book. Each seal opened reveals a new section to the book. There was only one problem. There was no one on earth or heaven who was worthy to remove the seals of the book.
“And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?” (5:2). The angel does not ask, Who is willing to open the book. This calls to mind Isaiah 6:8-9 (“Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!” He said, “Go, and tell this people”).
But the angel does not ask who is willing to open the book or who is strong enough to open it. He asks who is worthy to open it. How would you feel if God wrote one more book of the Bible (number sixty-seven) and the book was right before you and contained some of the most important revelation that God had for humanity but no one could read it?
Here you have a book that God wrote for us. It is a very important book that is full of information. It needs to be open and read but the book is completely sealed. What was John’s response? He began not just to weep but to weep loudly. Weep loudly. There are two words used for weeping in the New Testament. One is used in John 11:35, where the Bible says, “Jesus wept.” That word (δακρύω) refers to “silent weeping”.
This word (κλαιω) refers to “uncontrollable sobbing” (Luke 19:41). One of the authors of the OT was known as “the weeping prophet” (Jeremiah). This was the weeping prophet. This is the weeping apostle. He must have been very emotional. Do we weep because people do not know the Word or because they do not know Jesus?
How did the twenty-four elders response to John? They said, “Stop crying. Stop your blubbering”. There is not going to be any weeping in heaven. In heaven, there will be no tears, no crying and no sorrow. God will wipe away every tear (21:4). “And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals’” (5:5).
The whole point of this chapter is to show the superiority of Christ. No one was worthy to open this book but Jesus. No one living and no one dead was worthy to open this book. The godliest saint could not open it.
The greatest martyr could not open it. No pastor or missionary could open this book. The greatest theologian could not open it. The greatest apostle could not open it. No angel was even worthy to open it either. The greatest angel in heaven was not worthy enough to open it. The angel Gabriel and Michael could not open it.
Only Jesus could open the seals. This is an inspired commentary on 1:1. The last book of the Bible is not just a book ABOUT Jesus as many preachers say. It is a revelation GIVEN BY Jesus. He was the only one who could take the book and open the scroll.
Jesus has three names in this chapter. They are all Jewish names. What three names of Jesus in this chapter (cf. 5:5)? He is called the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David and the Lamb. Jesus was a descendant of the tribe of Judah, one of the twelve tribes of Israel in the OT.
He is a descendant of king David but here Jesus is not just the offspring of David, he is the root or source of David (cf. 22:16). Jesus was not just David’s son, he was David’s Lord (Matthew 22:41-45).
Finally, he is called a lamb. Jesus is the Lamb of God. He is called a Lamb twenty-eight times in Revelation and only a few times in the rest of the NT. The name Jesus is used fourteen times in Revelation but the term “lamb” is used twenty-eight times in Revelation (“the Marriage Supper of the Lamb”, “the Lamb’s Book of Life”, “the Twelve Apostles of the Lamb”.
Sacrificial lambs were part of OT Judaism. They are part of one of the most important Jewish festivals (Passover). The irony here is that the twenty-four elders say that the only one who can open the scroll is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.
John expects to see a lion but he turns around and instead of seeing a lion, he sees a lamb. Jesus is both a lion and a lamb. Let’s think about these two images or metaphors.
Jesus the Lamb
Why is Jesus called a lamb? What qualities does a lamb possess? This is a reference to the First Coming. A lamb is a weak, innocent and harmless creature. It is silent when brought to the slaughter. It does not resist or even complain. It is completely submissive in suffering, even to the point of death.
Lambs were also used in sacrifice. This lamb looked like it has been slain. He does not just say that he saw a lamb that had died but a lamb that was slain. It was an ugly and gruesome death.
What are the clear implications of this? Jesus will retain his scars in heaven. Our resurrection body will not have any scars but his will. He will still have the wound in his hand and side. If he wanted to, Jesus could have been raised without any scars.
However, when Jesus appeared to the disciples, he showed them “his hands and his side” (John 20:19-20). He showed them “his hands and his feet” (Luke 24:40). In fact, Jesus said to Thomas “Reach out your hand and put it into my side” (John 20:27). Apparently, the nail prints were still visible.
There were several surprising things about this lamb. It was no ordinary lamb. The first unusual thing about it was that it was standing, not lying on the ground. That shows resurrection. Jesus is the one who “was dead but is now alive forever and ever” (1:18).
Second, this lamb had seven horns and seven horns (omnipotence) and seven eyes (omniscience). A horn is a well-known biblical symbol of strength and eyes are symbolic of wisdom, while seven is the number of completion or perfection.
Jesus the Lion
The first picture of Jesus is of a crucified lamb. The second picture is of a conquering lion. Many picture Jesus only as a lamb (nice weak, gentle and harmless pacifist). The Bible describes Jesus as BOTH. During the First Coming, Jesus came as a lamb. During the Second Coming, he will return as a lion. He will return as King of Kings and Lord of Lords (19:16). It is a picture of royalty.
While a lamb is a picture of weakness, a lion is a picture of strength. They are built for strength. Lions like to fight and are good at it. They are called the king of beasts. Lions are powerful and dangerous. Some of them weigh six hundred pounds and have sharp teeth and sharp claws.
They are killing machines. They are predators. This is a picture of the conquering Messiah who will terrify his enemies when he returns. He will not return as Savior but as ruler and judge.
The focus of this chapter is very different from the focus of the last chapter in Revelation. The focus of Revelation 4 was on God the Father (the Lord God Almighty). The focus of Revelation 5 is on the Son. Note how the chapters are different.
- In chapter 4, God is sitting on the throne of the universe (4:2). In Chapter 5, the Lamb is on the throne (5:6). He is standing at the center of the throne. The focus is on Him.
- In Chapter 4, we are told that God is worthy. In that chapter God the Father is worthy “to receive glory and honor and power” (4:11). The tone changes slightly in Chapter 5 which says in a LOUD VOICE that the lamb is worthy. They did not whisper it. In this chapter, we hear the words, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise” (5:12).
Does this mean that the Son is more exalted than the Father? The Father is only worthy to receive three things, while the Son is worthy to receive seven things. Those same attributes are later attributed to the Father (7:12).
Jesus said, The Father has “entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father” (John 5:22-23). When we get to the New Jerusalem there is only one throne there. It is “the throne of God and the Lamb” (22:1, 3).
- In chapter 4, the Father is praised for creation. The twenty-four elders say that God is worthy because He created all things, and by His will they were created and have their being (4:11). In chapter 5, the Son is praised for redemption. Jesus was worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because he was slain, and with his blood he purchased persons from every tribe and language and people and nation (5:9).
- In chapter 4, God was worshipped (4:11). In chapter 5, the Son is worshipped (5:9). Who worships him? Four groups of people worship him (the four living creatures, the twenty-four elders, an innumerable host of angels and all the rest of creation). That is very significant. It is one of the strongest proofs of the Deity of Christ in the NT. The Bible teaches that Jesus is both God and Man. He is Man. There is clear evidence from Revelation 5 that Jesus is human. He came from the tribe of Judah. He was a descendant of King David (5:5).
But the Bible also teaches that Jesus is God and Revelation 5 gives conclusive proof that Jesus is God, because Jesus is worshiped in Revelation 5. If Jesus was just a creature, this would be idolatry. Only God was to be worshiped. In fact, Jesus himself said that God alone was to be worshiped (Matthew 4:8-10) and yet he received worship from others.
You never hear him say, “Don’t worship me, worship God instead”. When John tried to worship to worship angels (and he tried to do this two times in the Book of Revelation), they did not accept his worship and told them to worship God alone (19:10; 22:8-9).
Lessons on Worship
What lessons can we learn from this chapter? How can we apply it? Worship leaders love Revelation 4 & 5 because it is all about worship. As we read these chapters we learn several important lessons about worship. Some of these truths go completely against the beliefs and practices of some churches.
Heaven is full of Worship. That is the first thing that we see in these chapters. Heaven is full of worship. There will not be any preaching in heaven but there will be worship. Preachers will be out of a job but there will be a need for worshippers. What are some characteristics of this worship?
1. It is universal.
It is done by everyone in heaven (men and angels). All creation is involved (5:13). We see both human and angelic worship in heaven. It is not just done by a few people in heaven or a few denominations in heaven. It is done by everyone from every race and church background.
Picture thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand all around the throne worshipping God. Those who are closest to God worship him. People that do not know God or are not close to God don’t worship God. People that know God and are close to God worship him.
2. It is public.
This worship is not taking place by one person in private. It is public. Many people who do not go to church say that don’t need church because they can worship God in private. You can worship God in private. That is true. You do not have to go to church to worship God. You can worship God in the woods all by yourself or on the beach but believers are commanded to worship publically and if you are genuinely saved, you will want to do this.
3. It is voluntary
The angels in heaven do not worship because they are forced to. They do not worship God because it is their duty and they are supposed to do this. They want to do this. It is a joy and a delight for them to worship God. It is not a burden. Some people see church as a burden. Some of the churches people go to may be a burden but that is not the purpose of worship.
4. It is loud.
This worship in heaven was not quiet. They used “a loud voice” (5:12). Here you have millions and millions of beings all worshiping at the same time. That is going to make some noise (Psalm 47:1). On the other hand, some churches seem to think the louder the music the more spiritual you are. How do you know when the music is too loud?
Signs that the Music is Too Loud
1) The music is too loud when it detracts from worship. The volume becomes a distraction.
2) The music is too loud when it is no longer musical. It is so loud you cannot hear the words. You cannot hear yourself sing
3) The music is too loud when it causes hearing loss.
4) The music is too loud when the neighbors complain and it becomes a poor testimony to the community.
5. It is sacrificial
Worship in heaven was sacrificial, at least for the twenty-four elders. They gave God their golden crowns. They gave something back to God. They gave something up and they wanted to do this. No one forced them to. It was an act of worship. They did not hold on to their crowns.
6. It is humbling
This is interesting. When we worship God in our modern church services what do we do? We stand up. We sing. If we are charismatic, we might clap our hands or raise our hands. What did they do in heaven? They fall down on their faces and worship. They get as low as possible as quick as possible.
We do not see that happening at church but that is what happened when they worshiped in Revelation over and over again (cf. 4:10; 5:8; 7:11; 11:16-18; 19:4). The twenty-four elders were seated on thrones but were not too proud to get off their thrones and worship God, the one who was seated on another throne.
7. It is musical
Music is an important part of our life. Music is powerful and is a part of worship. Who is singing here? Both men and angels. This is very significant. In the 1970s I heard Church Swindoll say that angels do not sing.
I have heard J. Vernon McGee and David Jeremiah say the same thing but that view is completely wrong. In Revelation 5:9 we have a song. Who is singing the song? It is not just the twenty-four elders. Virtually all scholars agree that there are three hymns in chapter 5.
It is a heavenly chorus that keeps growing. It starts with twenty-four and then includes the four living creatures. It goes from twenty-four to twenty-eight. Then, you can add millions of angels to the song. Finally, all of creation joins in. The first two hymns sing a song of praise to the Lamb, while the last hymn is sung to the One who sits on the throne and to the Lamb (5:13).
There are other verses that say that angels can sing as well. God asked Job Where he was when He laid the earth’s foundation? “While the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” (Job 38:7) . Not only can they sing, they sang the first song ever sung. They sang it when God created the world.
What form did the music take in heaven? It was both vocal and instrumental. There was some singing taking place, as well as the use of instruments (harps). That is interesting because there are some churches do not use any instruments in worship (parts of the Church of Christ). They not only do not use any instrument in worship, they do not fellowship with any churches that use instruments in worship.
That is just plain stupid. Instruments were used in the OT (Psalm 150) and they are used in heaven. Some of us have absolutely no musical ability. We cannot sing on pitch. We do not have a voice. We cannot play any instruments. In heaven, we will. Everyone is singing. All of the twenty-four elders have a harp. Singing was not limited to a group of professional musicians in heaven. Everyone was involved.
8. It is creative
They sang “a new song” (5:9). In many churches the only songs that are sung are old songs (hymns), songs sung for hundreds of years. In heaven, they did not just sing old songs but new songs. Nine times in the Bible God says, “sing to me a new song” (e.g., Psalm 33:3; 96:1; 149:1). God likes worship that is fresh and creative, not stale and traditional.
9. It is God-centered.
Worship in heaven is centered on God (different persons of the Trinity). In Revelation 4, the focus is on the Father. In Revelation 5, the focus is on the Son. In these chapters, it focuses on who the Father is (holy, eternal, omnipotent) and what he has done (creation).
It also focuses on who the Son is (the Lion, the Lamb, the Root of David) and what he has done (redeeming people from every tribe and language and people and nation). It is theological. It is based on truth (John 4:24). They praised God because he is holy. If you have no idea what holiness is, you can’t praise him for that. If you do not understand redemption, how can you praise God for it?
Worship in some churches is man centered, not God-centered. What is the difference?
1. This type of worship is ENTERTAINMENT.
When you go to a man-centered worship service, you feel like you are at a concert. The worship leaders give a musical performance.
2. The audience is MAN. It is horizontal.
3. The goal is to make you feel good or to move you in some way.
4. God’s Word is NOT preached.
Man’s thoughts are more important than God’s thoughts. This type of worship tries to be as non-offensive as possible.
1. The audience is GOD. It is vertical. It is directed to God, not the congregation.
2. This type of church service promotes genuine WORSHIP, not entertainment.
3. This kind of worship focuses on the WORD.
God’s Word is preached and there is conviction of sin. You feel unworthy before God.
4. The goal is to GLORIFY GOD.
Evangelism is important but that is not the purpose of worship. It is not the ultimate reason for worship.