The book of Revelation Study 4: heaven’s inspired worship

To enable us to appreciate the range of the individual lyrics that John heard, it is helpful to notice:

I Six clusters of lyrics

[] Cluster A that we considered in Study 3 consists of No’s 1 – 6 found in 4:8; 4:11; 5:9-10; 5:12; 5:13; and 5:14 – with its single word ‘Amen!’

[] Cluster B consists of lyrics 7 and 8 in 7:10 and 7:12.

[] Cluster C in 11:17 and 12:10-12 contains lyrics 9 and 10.

[] Cluster D has three lyrics, No’s 11 – 13, in 14:3-5; 14:7 and 15:3-4.

[] Cluster E, lyrics 14 and 15, appear together in 16:5-6 and 16:7.

[] Cluster F contains four psalms of praise (No’s 16 -19), each starting with an exuberant ‘Hallelujah!’ (19:1-2; 19:3; 19:5 and 19:6-8) – reminiscent of the last sequence of songs in the book of Psalm (Psalm 146:1 and 10; 147:1 and 20; 148:1-4 and 14; 149:1-9; 150:1 and 6).

[ Lyrics G, ‘Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!’ (22:20) may not actually be celestial praise that John heard; it could be John’s own prayer – but even so, it surely was uttered in those heavenly realms!]

II Their range of themes

Some of the lyrics focus on God himself and recount:

1.The nature of God as eternal and almighty. For instance:

‘Amen! … glory and wisdom … honour, power and strength belong to our God forever  and ever! Amen! (17:12 = lyrics No 8).

‘… the Almighty, the one who is and who always was’ (11:17 = lyrics 9).

  1. 2. Other lyrics extol the character of God:

‘Just and true are your ways’ (15:3 = lyrics 13).

‘You are just, O Holy One’ (16:5 = No 14).

  1. 3. The works of God (some of which we have previously noted) especially three distinct themes:

(a) Creation

‘… you created all things’ (4:11 = No 2).

(b) Redemption

‘You [the Lamb] are worthy … For you were slaughtered and your blood has ransomed people for God …’ (15:3 = No 3).

‘Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!’ (7:10).

In these lyrics, to the historic ‘song of Moses’, that glorious praise of God for redemption first voiced on the farther shore of the Red Sea, has been added since our Saviour’s work at Calvary ‘the song of the Lamb’ who fulfilled Israel’s earthly experience of liberty from Egyptian slavery.

(c) God’s judgments

‘You are just, O Holy One … because you have sent … judgments. Since they shed the blood of your holy people and your prophets, you have given them blood to drink. It is their just reward’ (16:5 = lyrics 14).

III Various styles of response

  • Vocal responses

As soon as heaven opened to John and he entered he heard voices reciting together their appreciation of God’s unique nature – his awesome, holy and eternal being.

  • Bodily postures

And he noticed 24 elders prostrating themselves, and removing their signs of bestowed authority.

Question: when did I last feel ‘legless’ when engaged in corporate worship, ‘lost in wonder, love and praise’’?

In this age astronomy and biology are treated intellectually as concepts, or mystified as ‘Nature’s’ ingenious as-and-when adaptations. This contrasts with the way that the 24 elders expressed their wonderment to the divine Creator.

It is during a prolonged season of ‘lockdown’ that I am composing these studies, when Christians worldwide are denied any experience of corporate worship. But memories are stirring of summer conventions when in very large gathering we got caught up in the occasional spontaneous roar of worship that outdid the ecstasy of a football crowd in any stadium when their team scored a goal. The Spirit of God lifted us out of the everyday ethos of mere rationality into the mystery of pure joy! At times some of us worshippers were overwhelmed in awe and wonder as we dropped to our weakened knees or even felt pushed onto our backs on the floor! And publications that were available gave us eye-witnessed testimonies of worship in earlier times of just such divine visitations. Heaven will seem therefore surprisingly familiar yet also freshly surprising.

However, bodily posture must not be prized above a devoted attitude of heart. As I write in a prolonged period of half-a-year (and counting) of lockdown we join in internet streaming with other worshippers in our local church ensconced in our homes week by week. After many such helpful ‘broadcasts’ that had made use of pre-recorded songs of praise by groups around the world, the other Sunday we were led by our own Emma and Mark (with his guitar), and I found my heart prostrated before the Lord as we sang along with them: ‘Be lifted up as we bow down’, and ‘Forever I will praise you, … all my days … Hallelujah!’

IV The abiding inspiration of these heavenly lyrics

Without a doubt, alongside the Psalms in the Old Testament, Revelation is the most musical book in the New Testament. Its lyrics have inspired composers, probably the most famous being George Frederic Handel. He wrote much of his music for the theatre, but he also wrote oratorios on biblical subjects. It may surprise us to learn that it was Charles Jennings who scripted the ‘Messiah’, but he got the words for the Hallelujah Chorus from Revelation chapters 19: and 11. However, if you have sung in a choir performing it, or listened as part of a live audience, you will have felt the uplifting nature of its words and music.

Mention here must be made to African American spirituals such as ‘Shall we gather at the river … that flows from the throne of God?’ Yet that song actually originated in the city context of Brooklyn, New York! The song writer was Robert Lowry, a Baptist pastor, during the Civil War in 1864. As he lay down for a much needed siesta and meditated on the reunion of so many departed soldiers in God’s endless day – when the river of life will have replaced the river of death. [I owe these facts to Professor Craig R. Koester’s ‘The Apocalypse: Controversies and Meaning in Western History’ published as a study course].

P.S. In Revelation 7:13-17 we are introduced to white-robed worshippers in heaven who ‘through many hardships … enter[ed] the kingdom of God’ (Acts 14:22 New International Version). In the days of Covid 19 pandemic the verse by Katherina von Schlegal could enable us to join their worship:

‘Be still my soul the Lord is on thy side.

Bear patiently the cross of grief and pain.

Leave to thy God to order and provide

In every change He faithful will remain’.

The last words of an Indian Christian martyred in Assam are also appropriate. He and his family were the only believers in their village; his wife and children had already been killed in an effort to make him deny Christ:

‘I have decided to follow Jesus;

No turning back, no turning back’.

It later became the villagers’ song when many of them, including the chief, had decided to follow Jesus. Wow!

(My source: Barnabas Fund.)

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