Volume 9, No. 8 (August 2014)
19. SCENES OF WORSHIP IN REVELATION (Part 1)
In A.D. 987, Vladimir, Prince of Kiev . . . sent embassies to the neighboring states of Bulgaria, Khazar, and Byzantium to examine their beliefs. The ambassadors return, declaring that the Islam of Bulgaria is too unhappy a religion to adopt. . . . Vladimir himself rejects the Judaism of his Khazar neighbors, for he says the Jewish loss of Jerusalem and its temple proves that God has forsaken them. As for German Catholicism, the ambassadors describe it as plain and dour. Their impression of the faith of their Orthodox neighbors to the south is altogether different, however. Upon attending a service at the glorious Hagia Sophia cathedral in Constantinople, they report:
“And we went into the Greek lands, and we were led into a place where they serve their God, and we did not know where we were, on heaven or on earth; and do not know how to tell about this. All we know is that God lives there with people and their service is better than in any other country.”
Through Vladimir, Orthodox Christianity was brought to the Russian lands.
“The worship of the Orthodox Church is meant to be nothing less than participation in the eternal Liturgy at the Throne of God in heaven.” (http://stmatthewbr.org/metjonahonliturgy.html)
Orthodoxy draws inspiration for their majestic worship rituals from the great worship scenes in the book of Revelation.
a. The Living One (Revelation 1)
I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of His head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, His feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and His voice was like the roar of many waters. In His right hand he held seven stars, from His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and His face was like the sun shining in full strength.
When I saw Him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But He laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. (Revelation 1:10-19)
The splendor of the glorified Christ is seen at the beginning of the book, as He Himself appears to John and gives him the commission to write this book. John’s natural response before the divine glory is to fall prostrate (1:17), and this response is seen repeatedly in the scenes of worship in the book (4:10; 5:8,14; 7:11; 11:16; 19:4). Many things fall (the same Greek word) in the book of Revelation: stars (6:13; 8:10; 9:1); rocks (6:16); fear (11:11); a city (11:13); Babylon (16:19; 18:2); hail (16:21); kings (17:10). Falling down and worshiping a created being is warned against as well (19:19; 22:8). But the appropriate response of men (including us!) and angels to God and to the Lamb is on their face before Him in submission and adoration.
b. The Business of Heaven (Revelation 4)
And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!”
How similar this is to what Isaiah saw:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
It is remarkable that in John’s vision, 800 years later, the angelic beings are still singing the theme of God’s threefold holiness!
Praise is heaped upon the Lord here, as in other worship scenes in the book; superlatives are piled up in an ultimately impossible attempt to fully express the supreme worthiness of the Creator:
glory and honor and thanks (4:9); glory and honor and power (4:11)
glory and dominion (1:6)
power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing (5:12); blessing and honor and glory and might (5:13)
blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might (7:12)
salvation and glory and power (19:1)
The angelic “twenty-four elders” fall down and worship and cast their crowns before the throne (4:10) in an expression of complete and utter devotion to the Creator:
“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.” (4:11)
God as Creator is absolutely unique: He is infinitely above everything else that exists, precisely because He created everything else that exists. That is why He is the only One worthy of worship. (See Worship Notes 3.1.)
In our worship, too, we acknowledge the holiness and supremacy and worthiness of God our Creator; we heap praises upon Him and bow before Him in complete dependence and commitment.
c. The Worthy Lamb (Revelation 5)
The Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, appears again now in John’s vision, and with Him a “new song” focusing on God as not just Creator, but also Redeemer:
“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.” (5:9-10)
The Son joins the Father in receiving the worship of heaven:
Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”
And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,
“To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped. (5:11-14)
A concentric scene is described to us:
GOD THE FATHER AND THE LAMB
the four living creatures
the twenty-four elders
myriads and myriads of angels
every creature (heaven, earth, under earth, sea)
And all are utterly focused on the center of that circle: there is a total preoccupation with God and His glory. All are transfixed with awe and wonder and love at the magnificence of their Maker and Redeemer, and of His worthy Son, the Lamb that was slain. There is no hint of distracted (and distracting) side conversations, petty squabbles, and idolatrous personal agendas and preferences.
May that kind of single-minded focus, that kind of transfixing, that kind of preoccupation with God and His glory characterize our worship also!