HEAVEN’S HISTORY-MAKING WORSHIP
(Experienced in Four Dramatic Apocalyptic Visions)
ACT I: The Drama of the Seven-Sealed Scroll
Scene 1: Worship of the Creator – Who ‘was’ (4:1-11)
As I looked in my vision I presently saw
the portal to heaven, an open door.
The previous trumpet-voice called out again:
‘Come up here.
I will show you
things about to happen.’
With that I was suddenly seized upon
by the Spirit of God and – oh!
this is what I saw:
A Throne established in heaven
and One enthroned thereon,
resplendent in rich gem-hues
of amber and of flame,
encircled by a rainbow,
a halo of emerald green.
[Apres le Deluge,
chaos conquered, calm restored –
Creation’s order set in place.]
Twenty-four thrones encircled this Throne,
twenty-four elders sat thereon,
white-robed and crowned with gold.
Lightning flash and thunder crash
pulsated from that Throne.
Seven fire-blazing torches,
alive, aflame before it –
the seven-fold Spirit of God himself.
Restraining access to the Throne
I saw a sea . . . of crystal.
Patrolling around the Throne, I saw
guardian cherubim – four
earth-type creatures, all eyes
that looked ahead and looked behind,
each a chieftain of its kind –
wild lion stalking,
farm ox plodding,
one human parading,
and an eagle gliding –
each with six wings fitted,
and fully stocked with eyes all round,
complete insight within as well.
Day and night they chanted,
‘Distinct, Beyond us, Transcendent
is God our Sovereign-Strong Master,
who ever was, the great I AM,
the One who soon is coming.’
On hearing these four earth-type creatures
offering glory, honour, thanks
to the One who sat enthroned,
the age-after-age Living One,
the twenty-four elders prostrated themselves
and flung to the ground their crowns
at the base of the Throne,
‘Worthy, O Master! Yes, our God!
Take the glory, the honour, the power!
You created it all; the cosmos entire
only exists by your desire.’
Scene 2: Worship of the Ascended Redeemer – Who ‘is’ (5:1-14)
On the right palm of the One enthroned
I saw a scroll inscribed on both sides,
fastened with seven seals.
I also saw a powerful angel
calling out with clarion voice:
‘Is anyone worthy to open this scroll?
Can anyone break its seals?’
But no one was found –
no one in heaven
no one on earth,
no one from the underworld –
able to break the scroll’s seals open
and read aloud its contents.
I wept, and I wept, and I wept some more
that no one had been found
who was fit to break the seals
and read us the script on the scroll.
But one of the elders said to me:
‘There is no need to weep. Look, there,
the Lion of Judah’s tribe,
the Root of David’s family tree,
having triumphed gloriously,
is able to unwrap the scroll;
he can rip off its seven seals.’
So I looked; standing there I saw,
amidst Throne, creatures, and elders,
a Lamb that appeared as though he had
recently been slaughtered,
yet endowed with seven horns –
plenitude of strength –
also with seven eyes –
perfect insight, perfect foresight –
the sevenfold Spirit sent
[since that memorable Pentecost]
into all the earth.
He stepped up to the One enthroned
and took the scroll from his right hand.
The moment he took charge of the scroll
the four guard-animals prostrated themselves
before him in adoration,
as did the council of twenty-four elders –
each of them holding a harp in his hand
and a gold bowl full of incense,
the fragrant, fervent prayers
of all God’s holy people.
Now they sang this song,
freshly composed and commissioned:
‘You are worthy to take the scroll
and to break its seals
for you have sacrificed yourself
and, by paying with your blood,
have bought back human beings
to communion with their God,
ransomed out of every tribe,
every language, ethnic group,
and every nation state,
and have formed them into a kingdom
of truly royal priests
to serve before our God –
priestly kings, anointed
to rule the earth again.’
In my vision, I heard the sound
of a vast assembly of angels
gathered around the Throne
and the cherubim and elders –
ten thousand times ten thousand,
and thousands of thousands more
all shouting their acclaim:
‘The Lamb who was sacrificed
is worthy to be given
all power and wealth, all wisdom, strength,
all honour, glory, blessing.’
Then I heard all living souls
throughout the whole creation –
all that live in the air around,
on the ground, and underground,
and all that in the sea are found –
‘To the One who sits enthroned,
and to the Lamb be offered
all praise, all honour,
all glory, all power,
for age after age after age.’
And the cherubim all called out:
while the elders prostrated themselves again
in worshipful adoration.
Scene 3: Worship of the Judge – Who ‘is to Come’ (7:9 – 8:1)
I looked again –
[after six of the seals
had been torn off the scroll
with devastating effects on earth;
and the full number of citizens
of God’s elect nation
had been sealed and safeguarded;
ending the era
from Jesus’ ascension
until his return] –
I looked again, and now I saw
a crowd too huge to count.
Everyone was there –
all nations and tribes,
all races and tongues –
earthlings now standing before the Throne,
in front of the Lamb.
They shouted aloud:
‘Victory to our God
who sits upon the Throne!
Deliverance unto the Lamb!’
All the angels who were standing
in a circle round the Throne,
surrounding the elders,
and four living creatures,
prostrated themselves before the Throne,
their foreheads actually touching the ground,
worshipping God with these words:
‘Oh, yes! Praise and glory,
wisdom and thanks,
honour and power and strength,
be ascribed to our God
for ever and ever. Oh, yes!’
Just then one elder asked of me:
‘Do you know who these people are,
dressed in white robes?
Do you know where they come from?’
Taken aback, I answered him:
‘Oh, sir, I can’t guess whence,
but you could, please, tell me.’
Then he said:
‘These are the people who have been through
the great persecution, and, because
they’ve washed their robes and whitened them
by the blood of the Lamb,
now they are allowed to stand
here before the Throne of God
and to serve him day and night
within his holy temple.
‘Hereafter will the One enthroned
spread over them his tent.
Never again will they hunger or thirst;
neither will sun nor scorching wind
ever plague them again, because
the Lamb who is at the Throne
will shepherd them and lead them
to springs of living water;
and God will wipe away all tears
out of their sparkling eyes.’
The Lamb ripped off the seventh seal,
and, for the space of an earth half-hour,
an awesome hush enveloped heaven –
breathless, . . .worship-filled, . . . total . . . s i l e n c e . . .
ACT II: The Drama of the Seven Trumpets
Scene 1: Prayer – Touching Heaven, Changing Earth (8:1-6)
Next I saw seven trumpets
being given to the seven angels
who always stand in readiness
in the presence of their God.
Then another Angel,
[High Priest of the Covenant],
carrying a gold censer,
came and stood at the altar,
the golden altar of incense.
He was given great quantities of incense
to offer along with the prayers
of all God’s holy people
upon the golden altar
that stood before the Throne.
Smoke billowed up from the prayers –
incense-enhanced – of God’s holy ones,
rising in God’s presence
from the Angel’s hand.
Then he filled the censer
with fire from the [bronze] altar
and heaved it to the earth.
Immediately it set off
peals of thunder, lightning flashes,
and an immense earthquake.
The seven angels with
the seven trumpets
got ready to blow them . . .
Scene 2: The Last Trump (11:15-19)
When the seventh angel blew his trumpet,
a crescendo of voices could be heard
ringing out of heaven:
‘The kingdom of the world has now
become the kingdom of our God
and of his Messiah,
and he will continue
to reign for ever and ever.’
The twenty-four elders
enthroned in God’s presence
prostrated themselves and,
touching the ground with their foreheads,
they worshipped God with these words:
‘We thank you, God, O Sovereign-Strong,
the One who is, the One who was . . .
You have now taken your great power
and have begun to reign.
At last the angry nations get
the flavour of your anger.
The time has come:
– to judge the dead;
– to reward your servants, all prophets and saints;
– to reward both small and great who fear your name;
– also to destroy all those who destroy the earth.’
The doors of God’s temple in heaven
flew open, and the ark of the covenant
could clearly be seen, surrounded by:
flashes of lightning, peals of thunder,
an earthquake, and violent hail.
ACT III: The Drama of the Seven Bowls
Scene 1: The Ascended Son (12:1-17)
Now a great sign appeared in heaven:
a woman completely clothed in sunlight,
standing on the moon,
and crowned with twelve stars.
She was at the point of childbirth,
crying out with labour pains.
Then a second sign appeared in the sky:
a huge fiery dragon
with seven heads and ten horns,
each head crowned with a coronet.
With one flick of its tail
it knocked from the sky
one third of the stars
and dumped them on earth.
The Dragon crouched before
the woman in labour,
poised to eat up her Child
as soon as he was born.
The woman produced a Son
who will shepherd all nations
with an iron rod.
Her Son was seized and safely placed
before God at his Throne.
The woman escaped to the desert
to a refuge prepared by God,
all her comforts provided
[for the duration].
War broke out in heaven.
Michael and his angels attacked the Dragon.
The Dragon and his angels battled back,
but were no match for Michael.
They were cleared out of heaven –
not a sign of them left.
The great Dragon – primaeval serpent,
known as the devil and Satan,
who led astray the whole earth –
was thrown out; and all his angels
were thrown out with him,
hurled down to earth.
Then I heard a strong voice out of heaven
‘Victory, and power, and empire
have been given to our God,
and all authority to his Messiah!
Now the persecutor of our brothers
and sisters has been thrown out,
who accused them before God day and night.’
They defeated him
through the blood of the Lamb
and the bold word of their witness,
because even in the face of death
they would not cling to life.
‘So, rejoice, O heavens,
and all who live therein,
for the devil has come down
on earth and sea with both his feet;
he is wild and raging with anger,
knowing that his days are numbered.’
As soon as the devil found himself
thrown down to the earth,
he sprang in pursuit of the woman,
the mother of the male Child;
but she was given
a huge pair of eagle’s wings
to fly from the serpent
off into the desert
to a place where she would be
looked after [for the duration].
So the serpent spewed out a river
to sweep away the woman;
but the earth came to her rescue;
by opening its mouth
it swallowed up the river
vomited through the Dragon’s jaws.
Then the Dragon, enraged with the woman,
went away to wage war
against the rest of her children –
all who obey God’s commandments
and hold firm to the witness of Jesus.
Scene 2: Worship of ‘the Beast’ (13:1-18)
The Dragon then set up two Beasts,
[The Beast, and his False Prophet],
by whom he’d receive worldwide worship.
Folk prostrated themselves before the Beast,
‘Who can compare with the Beast?
How could any defeat him?’
The beast was allowed to make war
against the saints and conquer them.
He was given power over
every race, people, language,
nation state [for the duration],
branding them on their foreheads.
Any who refused the Beast worship,
found himself sentenced to death.
Scene 3: The Overcomers (14:1-13)
Next in my vision I saw Mount Zion.
Standing there was the Lamb with
branded in their foreheads were
his name and that of his Father.
I heard a voice out of heaven,
as a sound of cataract, or ocean,
or as a roar of thunder;
it seemed like harpists playing.
Those before the Throne
were singing a fresh song
amidst the four animals and elders.
Only this company,
can ever learn to sing it.
They have been bought from the earth,
having lived uncompromised lives,
virgin-fresh before God.
They closely follow the Lamb
wherever he chooses to go.
They have been bought by his blood
out of the human race –
the firstfruits of the harvest
for God and for the Lamb.
Never a false word in their mouths,
in them no fault can be found.
The Sequel (14:14-20)
A messenger in mid-heaven
published the eternal gospel
to every nation, ethnic group.
every tongue and tribe:
‘Fear God, tremble and praise him;
his hour of judgment has come;
worship the Maker of heaven and earth
the sea and every water-spring.’
The doom of great Babylon was announced.
Also fire and sulphur for all Beast-worshippers.
It’s harvest time and vintage time –
earth’s dire judgment hour .
Scene 4: The Seven Disasters (15:1 – 16:21)
I saw yet another sign in heaven,
a great breath-taking sign:
seven angels bringing seven disasters –
the final plagues that will
complete the wrath of God.
I seemed to see a lake of glass
all shot through with fire,
and standing by the lake of glass,
those who had fought against
the Beast, and who had triumphed
over its image and name.
They all carried harps of gold
and sang the Song of Moses –
faithful servant of God –
and the Song of the Lamb:
‘How great and wonderful are all your acts,
O God, the Sovereign-Strong!
Righteous all your ways and true,
King of all the nations!
Who can fail to fear you, God,
give glory to your name?
You, only you, are truly distinct.
All nations will come and adore you,
for the many acts of justice
that you have displayed.’
After this, in my vision, the doors
of the temple in heaven,
the Tent of Witness, flew open,
and thence came out seven angels
with the seven last plagues,
wearing clean, bright linen
and their vests all golden.
One of the four guard-animals gave
the seven angels seven gold bowls,
brimming over with the anger of God,
who lives for ever and ever.
Smoke from God’s glory and power
poured out of the temple so that
no one could go in until
the seven last plagues were completed.
Then I heard a voice from the temple
shouting to the seven angels:
‘Begin! Pour out the seven bowls
of God’s anger over the earth.’
I heard the Angel of Waters say:
‘Righteous you are,
and your judgments are just,
he-who-is-and-who-was . . . ,
‘They poured out the blood
of your saints and prophets
so you have given them to drink
blood – it is what they deserve.’
Just then I heard the altar chime in:
‘Truly, O God, the Sovereign-Strong!
your judgments are true and just.’
Beware Bowl Seven:
‘Keep watch! I come unannounced
like a thief. You are blessed if,
awake and dressed, you are ready for me.
Too bad if instead you are found
running through the streets,
naked and ashamed.’
The seventh angel poured out his bowl
into the air. From the Throne
in the temple came a shout: ‘Done!’
lightning flashes, thunder crashes
and a colossal earthquake –
a huge, devastating earthquake,
never an earthquake like it
since the beginning of time.
Every island fled away,
not a mountain could be found.
Hailstones a ton weight plummeted,
crushing and smashing women and men
as they cursed God for the hail,
the epic disaster of hail!
ACT IV: The Drama of the Two Cities (sequel to the Seven Bowls)
Fall of the Famous Prostitute ‘Babylon’ (17:1-18)
One of the seven angels
who carried the seven bowls
came and invited me:
‘Come here, I will show you
the punishment decreed
for the famous prostitute
who sits enthroned over many [peoples] –
the judgment on the earth-dwellers
drunk on her whorish lust.’
The Spirit seized and carried me
out into the desert.
The woman is the great city
built on seven hills,
which has authority over
all the rulers of earth
all of whom she has tyrannised.
Scene 1: Earth’s Laments (18:1-24)
Next I saw another angel
descending out of heaven –
his authority was immense,
his glory flooded earth with brightness,
his voice was thunderous:
‘Ruined, ruined, Great Babylon, ruined!
A ghost town for demons is all that’s left!
A garrison of carrion spirits,
garrison of loathsome, carrion birds.
All nations were intoxicated
on the wine of her prostitution;
every king of the earth
went a-whoring with her,
entrepreneurs made millions
by exploiting her.’
Just then I heard another shout out of heaven:
‘Get out of her, my people, as fast as you can,
so you don’t get mixed up in her sins,
so you don’t get caught in her doom.
Her sins stink to high heaven;
God has remembered every evil she’s done.
Give her back what she has given,
double what she’s doubled in her works,
double the recipe in the cup she mixed.
Bring her wild and flaunting ways
to torments and to bitter tears.
Because she gloated, ‘I am queen over all,
I am no widow, no tears on my face,’
in one day disasters will crush her –
death, heartbreak and famine –
then she’ll be burned by fire, because God,
the Strong God who judges her,
has . . . had . . . enough.’
The kings of the earth will cry their lament:
‘Doom, doom, the great city doomed!
City of Babylon, vigorous city!
In one hour it’s over,
your judgment has come!’
All the ship’s captains and sailors threw
dust on their heads and cried as if
the world had come to an end:
‘Doom, doom, the great city doomed!
all who owned ships or
did business by sea
got rich on her getting-and-spending.
It’s now all over for good –
wiped out in one hour!
‘O Heaven, celebrate!
Join in, saints, apostles and prophets!
God has now judged her;
every wrong you suffered from her
has been thoroughly judged!’
A strong angel reached for a boulder –
huge, like a millstone –
and heaved it into the sea,
‘Heaved and sunk, the great city Babylon,
sunk in the sea, not a sign of her
will ever be seen again.
Silent the music of harpists and singers –
you’ll never hear flutes and trumpets again.
Artisans of every kind – gone;
you’ll never see their likes again.
The voice of the grinding millstone falls dumb;
you’ll never hear that sound again.
The light from lamps, never again;
never the laughter of bride and groom.
Her traders robbed the whole earth blind,
and by black magic arts deceived all nations.
The only thing left of Babylon is blood –
the blood of saints and prophets,
the murdered and the martyred.’
Scene 2: Heaven’s Hallelujahs (19:1-10)
I heard a sound like massed choirs in heaven
The victory and glory and power are God’s –
he judges fairly, he punishes justly.
He has condemned the infamous harlot
who corrupted the earth with her lust.
He has avenged the blood of her servants.’
Then, more singing:
The smoke from her burning
billows up to high heaven
for ever and ever and ever.’
The twenty-four elders and the four animals
fell to their knees and worshipped
‘Amen! Yes! Hallelujah!’
From the Throne came a shout,
‘Praise God, all you his servants,
all you who fear him, small and great!’
Then I heard the sound of massed choirs,
the sound of a mighty cataract,
the sound of majestic thunder:
The Master reigns,
our God, the Sovereign-Strong!
Let us celebrate, let us rejoice,
let us give him the glory!
The Marriage of the Lamb has come;
his wife has made herself ready.
She was given a bridal gown
of bright and shining linen.
The linen is the righteous deeds
of God’s holy people.’
I fell at his feet to worship him,
but he would not let me.
‘Don’t do that,’ the angel said.
‘I am a servant just like you,
and like your brothers and sisters
who hold to the witness of Jesus.’
The witness of Jesus surely is
the very spirit of prophecy.
Then I saw heaven open wide –
and oh! a white horse and its Rider.
The Rider, named Faithful and True,
judges, makes war in pure justice.
His eyes are a blaze of fire
on his head are many crowns.
He has a name inscribed thereon,
known only to himself.
He is dressed in a robe soaked with blood,
and is addressed as ‘Word of God’.
The armies of heaven,
on white chargers mounted,
dressed in dazzling white linen,
A sharp sword comes out of his mouth,
so he can subdue the nations,
then rule them with a rod of iron.
He treads the winepress of
the raging wrath of God,
On his robe and thigh is written,
‘King of kings, Lord of lords’.
Scene 3: The Lamb’s Bride (21:1 – 22:5)
I saw heaven and earth re-created.
Gone the first heaven,
gone the first earth,
gone the sea.
I saw the holy city, Jerusalem new-created,
descending resplendent out of heaven,
as ready for God
as a bride for her husband.
I heard a voice thunder from the Throne:
‘You see this city here?
God has moved into the neighbourhood,
making his home among people.
He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death is for ever gone –
tears gone, crying gone, pain gone –
all the first order of things is gone.’
The Enthroned continued:
‘Look! I’m making everything new.’
Then he said:
‘Conquerors inherit all this.’
One of the seven angels who
carried the bowls filled with
the seven final disasters
spoke to me:
‘Come here; I’ll show you the Bride
that the Lamb has married.’
In the Spirit he snatched me away
to an enormous, high mountain
and showed me Holy Jerusalem
descending in God’s bright glory.
The city shimmered like a precious gem,
light-filled, pulsating with light.
The city’s gold was unalloyed,
translucent as quality glass.
The foundation of the city’s walls were
garnished with every imaginable
kind of precious stone.
Pure gold the road metal of Main Street,
translucent as quality glass.
But there was no sign of a temple,
for the Lord God – the Sovereign-Strong –
and the Lamb are the city’s temple.
The city needs neither sun nor moon
for God’s glory is its light,
and the Lamb is its lamp.
In that light the nations walk;
their kings endow it with their splendour.
Its gates will never be shut by day.
and there will be no more night.
Then the angel showed me
the Water-of-Life River, crystal bright.
It flowed from the Throne of God and the Lamb,
right down the middle of the street.
The Tree of Life was planted
either side of the river,
producing twelve kinds of fruit,
fresh ripe fruit every month.
The leaves of the tree are useful for
healing of the nations.
Never again will anything be cursed.
The Throne of God and of the Lamb
is at the city’s centre.
His servants will offer service to God;
worshipping, they’ll look on his face,
their foreheads will mirror God’s image.
Never again will there be any night.
No one will need
lamplight or sunlight.
the shining of God, the Master,
is all the light that’s needed.
And they will rule along with him,
age after age after age.
Immediately I fell on my face
to worship at the angel’s feet.
He objected: ‘No you don’t.
Worship only God!’
Three distinct phases of celestial worship are observed in this sequence of scenes.
1. The twenty-four elders bow prone, abandoning their crowns every time the four Living Creatures offer praise to the Creator ‘who was and is and is coming’, crying: ‘Worthy Creator, receive the glory, honour, power’.
2. When the Redeemer arrives at the Throne and takes the scroll of earth’s title deeds or future history, now the Living Creatures also bow down flat along with the elders. In the new song they praise the Lamb for redeeming humans as priestly kings to govern the earth. They declare that the Lamb is worthy of honour. The angel hosts join in the song; then all creation add their voices.
3. After the actual redemption of the vast range of humans is realised, the angel masses also prostrate themselves when ascribing glory to God, in response to redeemed humanity’s song of ‘Victory to God and to the Lamb’.
4. Appropriately, we end this series of poems with John himself flat on his face in helpless wonder before the Throne (final lines of Act IV Scene 3).
1. This series of judgments is sent from heaven as a result of the intercessions of God’s people on earth.
2. At the last trumpet (cf 1 Corinthians 15:52) ‘the One who is and who was’ has now come to conclude history; hence the pyrotechnic celebration.
1. This section of drama starts all over again at the time of Jesus’ ascension to the Throne as ‘the firstborn from the dead’ (Colossians 1:18; cf Revelation 5). With the Son’s arrival at the Throne the accuser is expelled from attending court days in heaven (as in Job 1 – 2; Zechariah 3; cf Romans 8:31-39).
2. Emperor worship – the most extreme form of worldliness – is resisted by the Lamb-worshipping overcomers.
3. Singing the Song of Moses (e.g. the one he composed on leaving Egypt – Exodus 15, or the one he wrote on the borders of the Promised Land – Deuteronomy 32) and the corresponding Song of the Lamb releases the bowls of judgment, just as the prayers of the saints had triggered the series of trumpet judgments. Our harps of praise and our censers full of prayers touch heaven and cause changes on earth.
1. While earth laments the fall of corrupt humanism, heaven praises God ecstatically.
2. John himself falls prone in worship on witnessing both the demise of humanism’s proud city and the glorious completion of the city of God. Consistently throughout these dramas, exuberant high praises often issue in awesome, breathless, prostrate adoration.