Except for John’s Revelation on the island of Patmos, Scripture gives us very few details about how heaven looks and sounds. John’s ‘four living beings’ (Revelation 4:6; all references from the New Living Translation unless otherwise indicated) had previously been replicated by the ‘two cherubim’ whose pairs of outstretched wings covered the sacred Ark of the Covenant in Moses’ tabernacle (see Exodus 37:6-9; and Deuteronomy 10:1-5) and in Solomon’s temple (see 1 Kings 8:1-11 and 1 Chronicles 15:25 – 6:3). The ark resided in the holy of holies – the innermost compartment of both sanctuaries, representing the throne of God within the heaven of heavens (see Micah 1:2-3).
Ezekiel also records his visions of the same heavenly beings, each with its different, individual, creaturely face (see Ezekiel 1:4-13).
Then Daniel was shown some beasts that symbolised earthly empires (see Daniel 7:1-26; 8:1-26), paralleling how they would also appear to John’s eyes.
But only Isaiah was privileged to hear the lyrics of the seraphim:
‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies!
The whole earth is filled with his glory’ (Isaiah 6:1-4),
anticipating the words that fell on John’s ears centuries later in the first of the twenty-or-so songs of heavenly praise:
‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty –
The one who always was, who is, and who is still to come’ (Revelation 4:8).
It is thought-provoking that John’s Revelation did not begin with this scene – he was first given plenty of details of the faults as well as the virtues of church life in Asia Minor, just as Isaiah’s book tells of Israel’s privileges and failures prior to his heavenly vision. Isaiah was only then conducted to God’s throne room, and instantly felt himself to be unclean in heart and in speech, needing his prophetic lips to be purged with the touch of a hot coal from the altar of sin offering – which had to be located on planet earth where Christ would fulfil that Levitical sin offering at Calvary (see Leviticus 4:1 – 5:13; and Isaiah 53:5-6). By the time John was invited into heaven the Lamb of God had already been slain, and then raised again from death, and had ascended thither (Revelation 5:6-10).
How the songs are clustered
According to one professor at an overseas Christian seminary, every cycle of visions in Revelation ends with one or more of these songs. However, the first cycle (Revelation 1 – 3) with its vision of the glorious Christ, who appears to each of the seven churches in selected aspects of his outshining qualities, does not contain any of these songs. So it is more appropriate for us to notice the various clusters of songs, each with at least two of them in close sequence, or even four or six at a time, and to observe the singers and what triggered their praise. This surely would help us to broaden our own expressions in corporate worship.
The first cluster of heavenly songs
We find five (or even six) songs in Revelation chapters 4 and 5.
John had already recorded the statement by ‘the Lord God: “I am the Alpha and the Omega [or as we would say, the A and the Z] – the beginning and the end … I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come – the Almighty One.”’ Theologians would say that God was here declaring his eternity of being, as well as his omnipotence as ‘the Almighty One’ (Revelation 1:8). But more surprisingly, when John was prostrated on being dazzled by the solar brilliance of ‘someone like the Son of Man’, he heard him repeat, ‘”Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last,”’ then adding, ‘”but look – I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave”’ (1:16-18).
So, when summoned by the same thunderous voice to enter heaven, on seeing the original golden Ark, the golden seven-branched lampstand and the bronze washbasin previously represented in the earthly tabernacle, now he heard this same theme proclaimed in the liturgy of the actual cherubim:
Song 1:‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty –
the one who always was, who is, and who is still to come’ (4:1-8).
Then John was shown the essence of genuine worship:
‘… the living beings give glory and honour and thanks
to the one sitting on the throne.’
And ‘the twenty-four elders … lay their crowns before the throne and say:
Song 2:‘You are worthy, O Lord our God to receive glory and honour and power,
for you created all things, and they exist
because you created what you pleased’ (4:9-11).
 So, some themes of worship are:
- God’s eternal being;
- Thanksgiving to him for his merciful care;
- Acknowledging that any authority we may exert must be laid down before The Throne of his ultimate authority;
- Verbally expressing that God finds his own delight in our existence and abilities.
The theme of divine worthiness continues, now offered in ‘a new song’ to the Saviour:
Song 3:‘you are worthy … for you were slaughtered
and your blood has ransomed people for God
from every… nation … to become a Kingdom of priests for our God. And they will reign on the earth’ (5:9-10).
‘Then … the voices of thousands and millions of angels … sang in a mighty chorus:
Song 4:‘”Worthy is the Lamb who was slaughtered” –
[although they did not themselves claim redemption]
“to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength
and to honour and glory and blessing.”’
After which every created being ‘in heaven, on earth and in the sea sang:
Song 5:“Blessing and honour and glory and power belong to the one sitting on the throne
and the Lamb forever and ever.”’ (5:13).
Song 6 [?]: ‘And the four living beings said “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshipped the Lamb.”’ (5:14).
There was a song we gave voice to in earlier days:
‘And when we sing redemption’s story they must fold their wings,
for angels never knew the joy that our salvation brings.’
That, of course, is a major theme in Christian worship.
[To Be Continued]