Sunday, September 29, 2013

Heavenly Worship - Revelation 4:6-11

Revelation 4:8 "And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.”

The late great Bible teacher and scholar Dr. John Walvoord notes this about the worship scene in Revelation 4 - As if anticipating the ultimate consummation where all recognize the exalted name of Jesus whether in heaven or hell, Revelation 4 reveals this intimate glimpse of heaven where all created beings join in a symphony of praise and give their honor and worship to the Almighty God.  The worthiness of God to receive such praise is related to His sovereign right to rule as the One who sits upon the throne." Walvoord later writes: Wise is the soul who finds in the Scriptures the revelation of such a God and who bows now in this day of grace in faith and worship before the God whom He will serve in eternity."1  As we enter into the scene of God's Heavenly throne room once again, we are struck by the Heavenly worship being done by the angelic realm and the realm of men. The 24 elders represent believers of all ages as the church triumphant. The angelic realm is represented by a particular order of beings called elsewhere in scripture by the title "cherubim". (Ezekiel 1:10; 10:1) 

As we explore Revelation 4:6-11 in today's post, our aim is to understand what particular elements are associated with Heavenly worship. Why? Because we as the saints of God here on earth, the church militant, as well as those saints in the Old Testament - Israel, were called to heavenly-type worship. Two texts will serve as prime examples of how Heavenly worship is meant for both heaven and earth. Psalm 150:1-2 "Praise the Lord!Praise God in His sanctuary; Praise Him in His mighty expanse. (2) Praise Him for His mighty deeds;
Praise Him according to His excellent greatness." Romans 15:11 "
And again, 'Praise the Lord all you Gentiles, And let all the peoples praise Him.” When we think of what worship means, commentator Robert Mounce notes: "The word 'worship' originally involved the idea of prostrating oneself before Deity to kiss his feet or the hem of his garment."2 With those introductory thoughts we now ask the question: what is entailed in heavenly worship? Note the following three main thoughts:

1. Testimony.            Revelation 4:6-8
2. Thanksgiving.        Revelation 4:9
3. Total Awe.             Revelation 4:10-11

Testimony.     Revelation 4:6-8
What is a testimony? Essentially it has to do with telling who God is and what He has done, is doing or will do. Three particular features of this text bear out three particular emphasis about God in this text. 

1. Testimony of marvelous grace. 
Much ink has been spilled in trying to explain what exactly the "sea of glass" is before the throne of God in Revelation 4:6. As we have noted in past blogs on Revelation, the book of Revelation has its own built in interpretive system.  When you turn to Revelation 15:3-4 you find the saints who came out of the Tribulation, who overcame the beast, standing around this "sea of glass, mingled with fire". Now what are they doing? They are testifying of God's marvelous grace in enabling them overcome. 

The text states that they sang a combination testimony song composed of "the song of Moses" and the "Song of the Lamb". Whenever you study those passages which record songs composed by Moses for God's people (Exodus 15, Numbers 21, Deuteronomy 32), they are songs that testify of God's marvelous grace of deliverance.  The song of the Lamb speaks of the type of songs sung in Revelation 5 that extol the victory of Jesus Christ in winning salvation for His people. God will see those saints through the extreme difficulties that will attend the tribulation period. We as Christians in this currents age worship with the testimony of the grace of God revealed to us in the fullness of time. (Titus 2:11) But notice a second great theme of testimony in heavenly worship, namely...

2. Testimony of majestic holiness. 
Revelation 4:6b-7 records these words: ..."four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind.(7) The first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle."  The particular angels spoken of here in Revelation 4:6-7 are those same Cherubim we see in Ezekiel 1 and 10. The Cherub is an angel that was created by God to "testify" of God's character and holiness. 

Cherubim were included in the furnishings and design of the tabernacle.  For example, we read in Numbers 7:89 - "Now when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak with Him, he heard the voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim, so He spoke to him." Two golden Cherubim made out of one piece of solid beaten gold composed the lid of the ark called "the mercy seat". They were associated with the very furnishing, the "Ark of Testimony" that communicated God's holy presence among His people. 

The description of these Cherubim merits some explanation, being that it contributes further to showing how these beings testify about God. You will notice how these beings have the face of a lion, calf, man and eagle. These four "animals" represent the greatest examples of God's visible creation: the lion - king of the beasts; the calf or ox, chiefest of the the domesticated animals; man, the supreme pinnacle of the visible creation and then the eagle, master of the flying creatures. These Cherubim, in representing the interests of the highest orders of earth, point to the Holy One who is responsible for life in both heaven and earth. 

Now we know that the Cherubim's purpose for existence is to testify of God's holiness. Consider Revelation 4:8 - "And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.”  Much as their counterpart Seraphim sang in Isaiah 6, these Cherubim are testifying in ceaseless praise the Thrice Holy Triune God. 

In that testimony of God's holiness we see them singing about His excellent character ("holy, holy, holy"); endless power ("is Lord God Almighty") and His eternal existence ("Who was, and Who is and Who is to come"). More could be said, but we must move onward to the second element of heavenly worship, namely....

Thanksgiving.   Revelation 4:9
Revelation 4:9 states - "And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever." Let me ask you something dear reader: when was the last time you thanked God for being God? Heavenly worship certainly must testify about God, but there must be thanksgiving as well. Our problem as God's people lies in our too frequent lack of gratitude. We complain and gripe more than we celebrate and glorify God. 

We don't thank Him enough for who He is and for what He has done. These angels were moved to give thanks to God, and when you consider the numerous passages that command us to be thankful, you see why heavenly worship is meant for us Christians here on earth. Psalm 136:1 tells us - "Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good,For His loving kindness is everlasting." Ephesians 5:19-20 "speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; (20) always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father." Other texts command us as believers to be ever thankful. (Colossians 3:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:18; Hebrews 13:15) 

When you and I are consistently thankful, we are mirroring conditions as they are continuously in the third heaven. In a world that is un-thankful and unbelieving (Romans 1:28), thankfulness can function as a taste of heaven invading the darkness. Heavenly worship destroys bitterness, loosens the chains of bondage and liberates heart to fully testify and thank God for Who He is and what He has done. But now let us notice one more trait of heavenly worship, namely....

Total Awe.        Revelation 4:10-11
The worship scene switches from the angelic worshippers to the human ones. Once again we see the appearance of the 24 elders in Revelation 4:10.  Who are they? These 24 elders are most likely representative of the Old and New Testament saints. Other scriptures speak of 24 orders of priests and singers representing Israel in 1 Chronicles 24-25, as well as 12 patriarchs or sons of Jacob and the 12 apostles of Jesus. These 24 elders are representative, are human beings, and depict for the reader the activities Christians are and will be doing around God's throne. 

One important point to bring out about heavenly worship as it pertains to this final aspect of total awe is that the audience is not us. Its not the angels. God and God alone is the Audience to whom we direct our attention. Our worship here as Christians here on earth ought to be marked with the total awe of God.  1 Thessalonians 1:8-10 describes a church who was in awe of her Savior - "For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything. 9 For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, 10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come." Another text where we see the urgency to have the awe of God in our worship services, 1 Corinthians 14:25 "the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you." 

Whenever we typically consider what marks an exceptional sermon or song service, most people think in terms of "relevance" and "connection on a personal level". And rightly so. Numerous passages speak of the need to come together as a church body and connect with the Lord and with one another. (Hebrews 3:12-13; 10:24-25)  However there must needs be another theme that marks our services and sermons - total awe of God.  There needs to be times in a sermon and song service where the worshipper, and song leader and preacher are absolutely blown away by God.

This type of impulse is created inside all of us when you think about it. (Ecclesiastes 3:11) Its what drives people to travel hundreds of miles to see the Grand Canyon or to peer through a telescope into the night sky or pay good money to see professional sports or to see an action packed movie.  Whenever you say the word "awesome!", that's the language of worship.  We know this to be the case in activities and entertainment.  How much more must it be in the songs we sings, the sermons we preach and the types of lives we live. We ought to be a people who are known for being in awe of God and who project to others how awesome God is. 

In our time here in Revelation 4:6-11, we have discovered the following traits of heavenly worship: testimony, thanksgiving and total awe. May you and I, believer, be those who are about the heavenly worship of our Great God and Savior this day!  

1. John Walvoord. The Revelation of Jesus Christ. Moody Press. 1966. Page 112

2. Robert Mounce. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Eerdmans. 1977. Page 139

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