Reflections on Revelation (6): The praise songs

Revelation paints a glorious picture of the worship of God in heaven. I have compiled a list of seven of the more prominent praise songs that are sung in the book of Revelation.

1) The worship portrayed in Revelation 4 is reminiscent of Isaiah 6 and Ezekiel 1. John sees a vision of God sitting on his heavenly throne and being worshiped by mighty creatures whom he calls “elders” and “living creatures.” The text is full of imagery. Picture this:

-“around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald” (3)
-“before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal” (6)
-“from the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder” (5)

Day and night the four living creatures never cease worshiping God with this song:

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!”

The twenty four elders sing this song:

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.”

One of my biggest questions in reading through this chapter (which frustratingly none of the commentaries addressed) was, who is the one one the throne – the Father, the Son, or the Triune God all at once? Because of the larger context of Revelation, in which the Lamb is clearly disassociated from the One who sits on the throne (e.g., 5:6, 13, 7:10, etc.), and because of the larger context of the New Testament, in which Christ is often portrayed as “sitting at the right hand of God the Father” (which assumes the Father is sitting on a throne), I have tentatively concluded that the One sitting on the throne is God the Father. This also makes sense of the praise song’s focus on God’s work of creation.

2) In chapter 5 the same angels shift their worship from God the Father to God the Son, “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” (5:5):

Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth
” (5:9-10)

3) This song is sung by the elders, the four living creatures, and innumerable angels, for God’s salvation of the 144,000 from Israel. From chapter 7:

Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen

4) In chapter 11, after the seventh angel blows his trumpet, the twenty four elders sing this song:

“We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,
who is and who was,
for you have taken your great power
and begun to reign.
The nations raged,
but your wrath came,
and the time for the dead to be judged,
and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints,
and those who fear your name,
both small and great,
and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.”

The reference in verse 17 to God’s reign beginning with this act of judgment, especially when read in light of the immediately preceding verse 15 (“the kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever”), is helpful for understanding the relation between preterism and millennial views. In the partial preterist view (and in some non-preterist views as well!), the 70 A.D. judgment marked the inauguration of the millennium of chapter 20 – this is why preterists are basically either post-mill or a-mill. The preterist views Christ’s judgment on Jerusalem as a major Christological event – the public vindication of his session at God’s right hand. Hence John can write that Christ’s kingdom begins with the judgment associated with the seventh trumpet (which, in this view, is the judgment on Jerusalem).

5) This is “the song of Moses” and “the song of the Lamb,” sung by those who conquer the beast, from chapter 15:

“Great and amazing are your deeds,
O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
O King of the nations!
Who will not fear, O Lord,
and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

6) This song is proclaimed by the angel who pours out the third bowl of God’s wrath in chapter 16:

“Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was,
for you brought these judgments.
For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets,
and you have given them blood to drink.
It is what they deserve!”

Its interesting to note how many of these songs, such as this one, have as their major impetus an act of divine wrath/judgment. This may lend credence to Gentry’s thesis that a major theme of Revelation is God’s judgment on apostate Israel.

7) And lastly, the great multitude at the marriage supper of the Lamb in chapter 19 sing this song:

“Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
for his judgments are true and just;
for he has judged the great prostitute
who corrupted the earth with her immorality,
and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.”

To conclude:

Nowhere else in the Bible do we get such a picture of heavenly worship (i.e., worship by angels and glorified saints) – most biblical praise songs are sung on earth. Getting a vision of this heavenly worship is such a powerful stimulus for our worship here, and our perseverance. To think – right now God is being incessantly worshiped by creatures which are so bright and awesome that we would be tempted to worship them if we saw them, as John was (19:9-10). Its more noisy, exciting, and beautiful than any concert has ever been on earth. Even just knowing that that is going on somewhere is enough to fill life with meaning. There is a place where goodness and light and happiness are untouched, unspoiled, unruined. No matter how neglected the glory of God may be among fallen humans, its not forgotten by the seraphim. No matter how terrible things may be going here on earth, the worship of heaven continues, undisturbed and un-interrupted.

Well, this is my last post on Revelation. I have loved studying this book, but am ready to move on. I have been doing scattered reading from Psalms for the past few days, and in a few days I will start reading through and posting about Zechariah.

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  1. Thanks Gavin – I’ve thought for some time that the ringing echo of Rev, when all else has died away, the portents and prophecies and suffering, is the doxologies.