Worshipping with the Elders (in Heaven)

Article by   February 2008

Drawing too many conclusions from descriptive passages is hermeneutically perilous. Revelation 5 is descriptive of heavenly worship and not necessarily prescriptive of worship here on earth. There are aspects of it which are non-transferable to our gathered worship settings on the Lord's Day. After all, Revelation 5 alludes to 'a strong angel', 'twenty-four elders', and 'four living creatures.' Prudence will demand that we proceed carefully!

Amidst the patterns of God-glorifying worship given here are some principles which seems to have abiding significance for us here below. It is as if in watching how worship conducted above, we are being instructed as the methodology and focus of worship here below.

First is prayer. There certain things here that are non-transferable: olfactoric use of incense in golden bowls, for example (5.8). Ritualistic Catholicism, High Anglicans not to mention Eastern orthodoxy, with 'smells and bells' approach to worship, continue to employ incense in the interests of ensuring that the entire sensory array is employed in worship. Protestant tradition has viewed this otherwise, seeing it as belonging to Old Covenant worship but not New, and Revelation 5 alluding to it here 'in heaven' only illustratively of something else employing Old Testament metaphors in the process. The point is to highlight the importance of the 'prayer of the saints' ascending to God as 'a sweet smelling aroma'. God is pleased by our prayers. Prayer is a vital element of all true God-honoring worship. And just as we take care to ensure sweet aromas perfuming our homes, so we should take care that our prayers be pleasing to God.

Second, is the corporate 'Amen' (5:14). It is an offhand comment of the apostle Paul that confirms it. Speaking of the use of tongues in the Corinthian church, Paul insists that all use of tongues (foreign languages rather than angelic ecstatic utterances) should be interpreted, otherwise 'how will... ungifted say the "Amen " at your giving of thanks' (1 Cor 14:16). The point being that Paul expected everyone to say the 'Amen'! Why is it that this seems to have fallen into disrepute in our churches? Of course, in liturgical churches it is still said, but I think we should make a conscious effort to 'agree' with the prayers (in this case, the Pastoral prayers voiced by the minister) by saying audibly, 'Amen'. I find it deeply moving when such thunderous responses are audibly given in worship.

Third, is singing (Rev 5:9, 12-13). Worship sings! It cannot help it! It demands the vocalization of song in our hearts and upon our lips. When Jesus is viewed in His majestic glory, and his work comprehended in its regal splendor, songs are irrepressible. Five songs in all in these two chapters, the first two to God the Creator, the third and fourth to the Redeemer, and the last one to both Creator and Redeemer together.

What are they singing? A song in which God is at the very center. In heaven, God is worshiped as he should be. What are the lyrics of this song?

Two features of worship in Revelation 4 set the scene:

God is Almighty. He is the 'Lord God Almighty' (4:8). His power and majesty are beyond human grasp. He is the Creator of everything: 'The Lord reigns' (Psa 93:1). He is the Creator of all that is: 'by your will they were created and have their being' (4:11).

God is glorious. The Bible word 'glory' (4:11) has its root meaning in the idea of 'weight' and thus significance. There is something of significance and inherent worth about God that demands worship. Nothing less than full-hearted worship seems appropriate.

But In Revelation 5 the focus is more specific. It is the Lamb who is the focus of all attention. It is Jesus who is worshiped as 'worthy' (5:9, 12) of all praise. And why? Surely because of who he is: as one who can be worshiped in the same breath as the Father--'to him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb' (5:13). It is what astounds us about Jesus in his earthly ministry: that he never once refused the worship of men and women as something wholly inappropriate!

But it is his work as our Mediator that receives attention: he stands "as one that has been slain' (5:6, 12) whose blood has been shed (5:10) to purchase a great multitude from their sins. Calvary is the focus.

There is a green hill far away,
Without a city wall,
Where the dear Lord was crucified,
Who died to save us all.
O Dearly, dearly has he loved,
And we must love him too,
And trust in his redeeming blood,
And try his works to do.

Blessed Jesus!

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