Worship in Black & White, Pt. 2

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Worship and God

            With letters to the churches complete, in chapter 4 John ushers us into the very throne room of God. The description is breathtaking. John describes the one on the throne as looking like “jaspar stone and sardius.” An emerald rainbow encircling the throne is next to catch his eye. John then begins to list those that surround the throne, including the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures. These groups of attendees join their voices together in two songs of praise with which chapter 4 culminates. These songs will be considered now in more detail.

            The first occurs in 4:8 and harkens back to the familiar words of Isaiah 6:2: “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.” This short declaration of praise by the four creatures first highlights God’s holiness. The thrice repetition is likely for the sake of emphasis rather than a Trinitarian affirmation.[1] In short, then, the first part of this song highlights “God’s distance from an unholy creation”[2] by asserting emphatically that He is “holy.” The second part highlights His omnipotence. The title “Lord God, the Almighty” occurs seven times in Revelation and, based on its Old Testament equivalent (“Yahweh, God of hosts”), “indicates Yahweh’s unrivaled power and supremacy over all things.”[3] The final portion of this short declaration points to God’s eternality. Nakhro sees this description finding its roots in Exodus 3:14 (“I am who I am”) and asserts that it emphasizes God’s past, present and future existence.[4] 

            As the worship scene culminates in the last few verses of chapter 4, the twenty-four elders join the chorus of those praising God and offer the following adoration: “Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they existed, and were created.” The word axioj which opens this declaration carries the idea of “deserving” or “appropriate.”[5] And so this first clause might be paraphrased, “God is deserving of the descriptions of glory, honor, and power.” Thomas summarizes these three words: “the first two words point to the perfections of God, holiness, omnipotence, and eternality, as emphasized in the previous song.”[6] The third focuses on God’s creative power as the song move toward the reason for this great praise.[7] The final clauses of the elder’s song offer the rationale for this great praise, namely God’s creative and sustaining power.[8] 

            In chapter 15, another song of Praise is offered to God by those believers who stayed true to God though opposed by the beast: “Great and marvelous are Thy works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Thy ways, Thou King of the nations. Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Thy name? For Thou alone art holy; For all the nations will come and worship before Thee, For Thy righteous acts have been revealed.” (15:3b-4). Recalling the discussion of proskunew, it is helpful to note that in this passage “the worship envisaged is not simply an act of physical obeisance but an acknowledgement of God’s character and purposes revealed in his righteous acts.”[9] It is His righteous acts, notwithstanding his righteous character, that spur on this particular song of praise.

            John’s description of the constant worship that surrounds God’s throne coupled with the song of praise in chapter 15 surface a second thesis concerning worship: Worship highlights God’s transcendent being and His righteous acts. Wells offers a helpful distinction when he describes “two different ways a Bible book may effect our worship. First, it may give us materials for worship. . .Second, it may discuss worship.”[10] It is in the former sense that God’s character and actions intersect worship. They provide the content and focus of adoration. For John, worship intrinsically pointed to God’s transcendent character and righteous acts. 

Worship and Christ’s Work 

            Beginning in chapter 5 John’s vision of the throne room of heaven takes on a new focus. In the right hand of the One sitting on the throne is a scroll, the seal of which can only be broken by one who is worthy. In a triumphant entrance, the Lamb, Jesus Christ, breaks into the scene triggering an outburst of worship that rivals that of the previous chapter. The elders and the living creatures all bow to worship as they had done before, but this time they worship the Lamb. These attendants offer a song declaring the Lamb’s worthiness (5:9-10), only to be joined by an innumerable host of angels who encircle the throne. The angel’s song, recorded in 5:12, will be examined here in greater detail.

            “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” The comment above on “worthy” applies here as well. Notice, then, the description of the Lamb—He is the slain Lamb. And according to verse 9, He is worthy “because he was slain” (emphasis mine, NIV). Peterson aptly notes that “the focus of heavenly worship [in chapter 5] is the redemptive work of Christ, which qualifies him to open the scroll and its seven seals.”[11] The remainder of the short song might be summarized in the following way: “The angels use seven expressions (the perfect number is probably significant) to indicate the wonder of the Lamb. The first four are qualities he possesses, the last three express the attitude of people to him”[12] In summary, at this point in John’s vision, every being in heaven stands in awe of the Lamb and His redemptive work.

            Two chapters ahead, in 7:10, a short song is sung by a great multitude in white robes. These people are likely the victorious assembly of tribulation martyrs.[13] In a short verse they acclaim, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” “Salvation sounds the chief note of their song. This salvation is not their own achievement but that of God and the Lamb.”[14] 

            These two passages in chapters 5 and 7 suggest a third thesis about worship: Worship highlights the redemptive work of Christ. While these passages clearly support this thesis, it should be noted that many more could be added including 7:15-17, 13:8, 14:1-5, and 19:6-8. Each of these passages contains an important theme for John, namely the redemptive work of Christ, and each occurs in a worship context (13:8 stands in contrast to the false worshippers of the beast). As in the previous thesis, this designation supplies the content and focus of worship. For John, worship instinctively pointed to the Christ’s redemptive work.

Worshipping God and the Lamb

             Returning to the heavenly vision of chapter 5, just after an innumerable host of angels come on the stage to sing their chorus in verse 12, the choir grows even larger. Now all the creatures in heaven (the elders, the living creatures, and the angels) are joined by the all the creatures on earth and under the earth and in the sea! “Every created being, each with its ordered place and function in the harmony of the whole” offer this “homage of praise and worship”[15] in one great crescendo of adoration: “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever” (5:13). Much could be said about this doxology, but the pertinent point for the thesis at hand is the joint category of recipients (God and the Lamb). Bauckham agrees that “it is important to notice how the scene is so structured that the worship of the Lamb (5:8-12) leads to the worship of God and the Lamb together (5:13).”[16] This is not to suggest that Christ is a substitute for the worship of the Father,[17] but to suggest that “the Lamb (God the Son) is worthy to receive the same manner of worship as God the Father.”[18] Also note that this doxology does not denote two acts of worship, but a singular act toward the Father and the Lamb.[19] In sum, the doxology in 5:13 casts the Father and the Lamb as jointly receiving the same worship.

            Jumping far ahead in the narrative to the new “temple,” notice the comment made in 21:22-23. Speaking of his vision of the new city John says, “And I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb.” In this passage, John describes worship in eternity future. Worshippers in that time will enjoy direct access to God as His very presence constitutes the new temple.[20] But it is not the Father alone that constitutes the temple, but the Lamb as well.[21] Again, as before, note the joint reception of worship between the Father and the Lamb.

             These two passages and others (1:8,17; 21:6; 22:13) form the basis for the fourth thesis concerning worship: The Father and the Son share worship. As Thompson notes, “the eternal creator, Lord and God, sovereign ruler of the world, is to be worshipped. But the Lamb who was slain likewise receives heavenly adoration.”[22] This thesis may need to be balanced slightly by noting that in passages such as 4:13 “God still retains primacy.”[23] This thesis, then, is meant to denote that in John’s theology, Christ was nothing short of full deity, and therefore deserving of worship. Yet “Jesus [is not] an alternative object of worship alongside God, but [shares] in the glory due God.”[24] 

[1] Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 362, contra Philip Edgcumbie Hughes, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 75.

[2] Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 362.

[3] Mazie Nakhro, “The Meaning of Worship According to the Book of Revelation,” Bibliatheca Sacra 158 (Ap-Je 2001):76.

[4] Ibid., 77.

[5] Ibid., 78.

[6] Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 364.

[7] Ibid., 367.

[8] Beale, Revelation, 335.

[9] Peterson, “Worship,” 73.

[10] Tom Wells, “The Book of Revelation and the Subject of Worship,” Reformation and Revival 9 no 3 (Sum 2000): 93.

[11] Peterson, “Worship,” 75.

[12] Morris, Revelation, 98.

[13] Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 488-89.

[14] Ibid., 489.

[15] Hughes, Revelation, 83.

[16] Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, New Testament Theology, (Great Britain: Cambridge, 1993), 60.

[17] Ibid., 60.

[18] Nakhro, “The Meaning of Worship,” 79.

[19] Thompson, “Worship,” 50.

[20] Hughes, Revelation, 229.

[21] Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 474.

[22] Thompson, “Worship,” 50.

[23] Richard Bauckham, “Worship of Jesus in Apocalyptic Christianity,” NTS 27, 335 in Thompson, 50.

[24] Bauckham, Theology, 60.

This article is part of a larger paper entitled “Worship in Black and White: A Johanine Theology of Worship from the Book of Revelation” by Peter Radford. Pete is a friend and an instructor at Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary in Lansdale, PA. These articles are published with his permission.


One response to this post.

  1. Howdy!

    WORDPRESS says that our two blogs (at least our most recent posts) are related, so I came by to check you out–I hope you enjoy my slant on the topic. Please stop by my blog and let me know what you think: Jesus + Compassion.

    God bless you!



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