Elon, North Carolina
Today, we want to talk about worship and some principles for worship from Revelation 4-5. What is worship? What does worship really look like? What does it look like in Heaven? How is worship on earth different from worship in heaven? How is what we do in church different from what we see in these chapters?
We do not have any strange mutants in the service with eyes all over their bodies. We do not have any visible angels present. God is in our services but we cannot see Him. We cannot see his throne. We do not see a throne of glass or seven lamps of fire in the service. We don’t se any lightening or hear any thunder.
Today, we come to the second part of the Book of Revelation. The book of Revelation can be divided into two sections. The first part of the book deals with PRESENT EVENTS. Revelation 1-3 deals with the state of the churches of Asia Minor in John’s day. We looked at Jesus’ letters to the seven churches.
The rest of the book deals with FUTURE EVENTS. Jesus told John, “I will show you what must take place AFTER these things” (Revelation 4:1 NASB), not things which “might” or “may” happen but things which MUST happen. That describes the rest of the book.
Revelation 4-22 deals with the Tribulation Period, the Battle of Armageddon, the Second Coming of Christ, the Millennium, the Great White Throne Judgment, the New Heaven and New Earth, the Lake of Fire.
Before John gets a vision of the future, he gets a vision of God. He gets a vision of the throne room of God. He gets to see the heavenly throne room. Other people in the Bible saw it in the OT (Isaiah, Ezekiel). Now John gets a chance to see it himself.
After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” (Revelation 4:1 NIV)
John looks up and sees a door in heaven. Normally, that door is shut but John sees an open door in heaven. Then he hears a voice. It is a voice, like a trumpet. It is the voice of Jesus. It must have been a loud voice because trumpets are loud.
Jesus invited him to come on up to heaven. John receives an open invitation to the throne room of God. He is instantly transported to heaven and gets to see Heaven.
Seeing heaven, even for a second, changes your whole perspective. All of the bad things taking place on earth look a little different from heaven’s perspective. Many people who have had near death experiences have been completely changed by what they saw.
Ten to twenty percent of people who almost die have NDEs. I had a heart attack in 2016, while playing a softball game and almost died. The ER doctor had to use the defibrillator on me twice to wake me up.
In the ER, I was dying. I was going to sleep. I was feeling very comfortable. My cardiologist said, “Oh you were going to sleep alright. You were going to sleep for a long time.” Then, I remember feeling this sharp pain. When I woke up my cardiologist asked me if I saw any bright lights. I did not see any. I was not unconscious yet but many people have seen them.
The scene of the book shifts to heaven. All throughout the Book of Revelation, the scene shifts from heaven to earth.
At first, the focus is on the seven churches on earth. Then, John was taken to the throne room in heaven (Revelation 4-5). Being taken right to the throne room of God changes you.
Revelation 6 brings things back on earth (seven seal judgments). It is rather negative and depressing. Then the next chapter is positive. We see a great multitude in heaven with all kinds of people and angels around the throne in heaven (Revelation 7).
Revelation 8-11 brings us back to earth with more terrible judgments (the seven trumpets). They will be like the plagues of Egypt falling on the earth once again. The whole book shifts back and forth from heaven to earth.
John gets a special invitation and a special privilege. What John was invited to do, we will one day be invited to do, if we are saved. Every saved person will one day be permitted to go through this door and enter heaven. Jesus is the door. He is the door to salvation. He is the door to heaven.
If we are saved, we will get to enter this door. We will get to go to heaven. We will not only get a chance to be observers, like John was, we will get to be participants. We will participate in worship in heaven but we can worship God now, even though we cannot see Him.
We can still come before God’s throne to “receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16 NIV). It is called a throne of grace. God’s throne in heaven is a throne of grace. It has a rainbow around it. We have rainbows on earth and they are a sign of grace. They are a sign that God will not judge the world with a flood.
There are not only rainbows on earth but will be one in heaven but it does not look like any rainbow you have ever seen. This will be a green rainbow, an emerald rainbow.
After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this. (Revelation 4:1 NIV)
The Rapture in Revelation
Before we look at the heavenly throne room, we have to dispel a common myth that many Christians have. Revelation 4:1 is one of the most misinterpreted verses in the Book of Revelation.
Is this passage talking about the rapture of the church? Many preachers believe that it is. That is a common interpretation in some circles (e.g., Adrian Rogers, Tommy Nelson, Jack Graham). The Bible has a lot to say about the rapture.
13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. (I Thessalonians 4:13-17 NIV)
What is the rapture? It is one of the most important events in human history. Millions of people all over the world will instantly disappear. They will mysteriously vanish from the face of the earth. All Christians on earth caught up to meet Jesus in the clouds.
Dead believers will be resurrected and living believers will be raptured. They will be instantly changed and transformed without dying. Paul said that “we shall all be changed.” It will all happen very quickly (in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye).
There are some important differences between what John experiences and the rapture. What are some of the differences? There are some important differences.
At the rapture, the church will not be given an option or an invitation. They will be taken. The word used means to seize or take by force (ἁρπάζω). Revelation 4 describes an invitation to come to heaven. John is invited to come to heaven.
At the rapture, millions of people all over the world at the same time will meet Jesus in heaven. John 4 describes the rapture of John, not the rapture of the whole church. It describes the rapture of one person.
At the rapture, our entire bodies will be removed from the earth. John was “in the spirit” when this happened (Revelation 4:1). His spirit went to heaven, but his body stayed on earth. He had an out-of-body experience and he did not meet Jesus in the clouds but went straight to heaven.
At the rapture, we will receive glorified bodies. When John got to heaven, he was not glorified. He saw God and got some revelation about the future.
As you can see, Revelation 4 has nothing to do with the rapture of the church. The Book of Revelation does not describe the rapture of the church. There will be a rapture of all Christians one day, but Revelation 4 is not talking about that event.
John takes a trip to heaven. He not only got a vision of heaven; he took a trip to heaven. Jesus said, “come up here” and he went up. John tells us what he saw and what he heard. John gives us eye-witness testimony. What John saw was amazing. What he saw was breathtaking. He saw God. He also saw some strange beings in heaven.
Four Living Creatures
John also saw four strange looking, supernatural beings there around the throne. They are called “four living creatures.”
Who are they? They are a special type of exalted angels. They are different from any other angels in the Bible. There are four living creatures in Ezekiel 1. They are called CHERUBIM, but those angels only had four wings (Ezekiel 1:5-6), and these have six wings (Revelation 4:8).
There are another group of exalted angels in Isaiah 6. They are called SERAPHIM. These angels sound like the Seraphim. They did have six wings (Isaiah 6:2).
The Seraphim said to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3 NIV). That is very similar to the what the four living creatures of Revelation say. They say, “
“‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.” (Revelation 4:8 NIV).
However, the angels in Isaiah 6 are NOT called living creatures. They did not have strange looking heads. They are the angels closest to the throne and they function as the worship leaders in heaven. That brings us to a second group of beings that John saw.
Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. (Revelation 4:4 NIV)
Who are the twenty-four elders? Many good NT scholars argue that they are angels (so Carson, Osborne, Mounce). They are way better scholars than I am, but I think they are wrong. There are several hints that the twenty-four elders are people.
The FIRST HINT is that they are called elders. This term is only used of people in Scripture. There were elders in Israel and elders in the church. In fact, it is the name of an office in the church. The term “elder” is never used in the Bible for angels, but the term was commonly used of synagogue leaders and church leaders.
The SECOND HINT is that they sit on thrones. That was a promise to believers. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne (Revelation 3:21 NIV). They are throne-sitters.
The THIRD HINT is that they wear a crown. That was promised to believers in the last two chapters (Revelation 2:10; 3:11). Jesus promised believers crowns. Angels in the Bible are never said to wear crowns, but people are.
There are two different Greek words for crowns: στέφανος and διάδημα. The Diadem Crown is the crown that the Messiah will wear. Believers will wear the Stephanos Crown.
The FOURTH HINT is that they wear white clothes. That was also promised to the overcomer. Jesus promised believers in Sardis that “they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy” (Revelation 3:4 NIV).
Believers in Revelation wear white (Revelation 6:11; 7:9; 19:14). It is a sign of salvation in the Book of Revelation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (Revelation 7:14).
Who are the twenty-four elders? They are the people of God. The represent the totality of the redeemed. Twenty-four of them represent the people of God in the OT and in the NT. There were twelve apostles and twelve patriarchs (cf. Revelation 21:12, 14).
What does this passage say to us today? What is the practical application to us today? Is there one? Yes. Revelation 4-5 is all about worship. It is about worship in heaven. John went up to heaven and encountered a worship service in heaven.
God was worshiped in heaven by all kinds of beings. Some of them were strange looking beings. The four living creatures looked like demons with strange heads (lion, ox, man and eagle) and eyes all over their body in the front and back. That seems little creepy. What does this passage say to us today?
1) We were created for worship
People were created for worship. We are worshipping beings. They do not all worship the true God. There are all kinds of false religions and cults. Some follow Hare Krishna and all kinds of goofy things, but we were created for worship.
Aristotle said, “man is a political animal.” Adam Smith said man is an economic animal. Animals don’t trade with other animals and make bargains. Only people do that.
If you watch Hallmark, you know that man is social animal. We are created for relationships. In Scripture, we learn that man is a religious animal. We were created for a personal relationship with our Creator. We are created for worship.
What have we learned? Man is a political animal. Man is an economic animal. Man is a social animal. Man is a religious animal. Women say that men are just animals.
2) God is worthy of our worship
That is very clear from our passage. Why are all of these beings and creatures in heaven worshiping God in heaven?
Why God is Worthy
1. God is worthy because He is eternal
Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever (Revelation 4:9 NIV)
God is eternal and is the one who sits on the throne, where He rules the world. He has not abdicated His throne or gotten off this throne. He is still there. Every knee one day will bow to this throne.
This throne is full of bright light. Flashes of lightning came from this throne. In front of the throne were these seven lamps of fire that were blazing. The Bible says that God dwells in unapproachable light (I Timothy 6:16).
John does not describe Who he saw on the throne. How do you describe the indescribable. He could only describe it by previous stones (jasper and ruby). Red and purple were the colors of royalty in the ancient world.
2. God is worthy because He is Holy
The four living creatures said, “‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.” (Revelation 4:8 NIV). They did NOT say “HOLY is the Lord.” They did NOT say, “HOLY, HOLY is the Lord.”
They said, “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is the Lord God Almighty.” The word “holy” is used three times (ἅγιος ἅγιος ἅγιος) by the four living creatures. The Seraphim in Isaiah 6 said it three times as well.
No other attribute of God is emphasized three times. This is the only one in the Bible. These angels did not say, “love, love, love.” They did not say, “mercy, mercy, mercy.” They did not say, “judgment, judgment, judgment” or “wrath, wrath, wrath.” They said, “holy, holy, holy.”
The ones who are closest to God and closest to the throne are impressed by the absolute holiness of God. That is something that we don’t emphasize too much in church today.
We emphasize the love, grace and mercy of God but not the holiness of God. That does not seem to impress believers too much today, unfortunately.
In fact, some Christians do not even know what the holiness of God is. It means that God is the Separated One. He is separate from all sin. He is also separate from his creation.
It refers to God’s total purity. It refers to absolute moral purity. Many believe that it is the supreme attribute of God. We are to be holy as He is holy.
3. God is worthy because He is the Creator
“You are WORTHY, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” (Revelation 4:11 NIV).
Before you see God as Redeemer, you have to see Him as Creator. God is not always recognized as Creator one earth but He is in heaven. If your notice, the twenty-four elders did not praise God for evolution but for creation.
Evolution says that there was no design or designer. Everything happened by chance or because of some natural evolutionary process. No. Everything exists because God created it.
This answers the question, Why am I here? We are here because God created us. He willed us to be here. We exist because of God’s will and good pleasure (by your will they were created and have their being).
4. God is worthy because He is the Redeemer
You are WORTHY to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10 NIV)
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12 In a loud voice they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (Revelation 5:11-12 NIV).
4) Worship God humbly
Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. (Revelation 4:9-10 NIV)
And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. (Revelation 5:8 NIV)
The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped. (Revelation 5:14 NIV)
All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God (Revelation 7:11 NIV)
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 quickly as possible.
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.
They were not too proud to take their thrones off and laid them before the throne. They did not try to hold on to them. One of the myths that people have is that one day we will give up all of our rewards.
That is not what the text says. It simply says that during worship, they took off their crowns and laid them at the feet of the one sitting on the throne (so Frutchenbaum).
4) Worship God creatively
They did not just sing an old hymn. They sang a new song. Their worship was fresh and creative. Many churches only sing old song, ancient hymns that have been around for hundreds of years. In heaven, they did not just sing old songs but new songs
5) Worship God constantly
Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.” (Revelation 4:8 NIV)
The four living creatures worshiped God day and night. They NEVER stop. They never take a break. They never take time off to sleep. You have heard of prayer without ceasing. They worship without ceasing.
We think of worship as something we do just once a week and some do not do much of that in church. Worship should be a daily thing. We should worship God constantly.