Christ Is Worthy of Praise
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. Describe the praise offered to the Lord in the throne room scene.
2. Tell the significance of some of the elements of worship in Heaven as presented in Revelation 4.
3. Suggest one specific way to improve his or her personal approach to worship.
How to Say It
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, Apr. 9—Praise to a Gracious God (Psalm 145:8–12)
Tuesday, Apr. 10—Great Is Our God (Psalm 111)
Wednesday, Apr. 11—God’s Eternal Purpose (Ephesians 3:7–13)
Thursday, Apr. 12—None Is Like God (Jeremiah 10:6–10)
Friday, Apr. 13—Live a Life of Love (Ephesians 4:25–5:2)
Saturday, Apr. 14—Endure Hardships (Revelation 2:1–7)
Sunday, Apr. 15—God Is Worthy of Praise (Revelation 4)
“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”
Why Teach this Lesson?
Challenge your students with this question: What is the one thing you do in your life that is more important than anything else you do? The answer, for everyone, should be worship.
As the door of Heaven was opened to John, the first thing he saw was the worship of God by the people of God. God’s majesty and glory leads to worship. As you study this lesson today, reflect upon the worship of your church and the role you personally play in that worship. Is it worship inspired by and offered to the Lamb of God, who alone is worthy? This lesson will show why it should be.
A. Worship in the Church Today
Is it worship or is it entertainment? That’s the question I have asked myself occasionally as I have participated in Sunday services at several hundred different churches in many different states, provinces, and countries. My judgment? Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.
In many churches the worship time has evolved from hymns led by a song leader, accompanied by an organ and/or piano, to be a “worship set” led by a well-rehearsed team of singers and musicians. It is not uncommon to see 20 or more people on the stage of the church, leading in 30 minutes of singing, accompanied by lavish video projections of words to the songs. New songs are introduced on a weekly basis and repeated many times in order to allow the congregation to learn them. Auditoriums are now “worship centers,” with adjustable mood lighting and fabulous sound systems. One church I visited even had fountains down the center aisle; these fountains exploded with water jets at the pinnacle of the worship set. The worship set is energetic. It’s loud; it’s emotional; it’s invigorating.
This shift in styles has certainly added vitality to the worship experience long missing in some congregations. Churches with great worship attract visitors and may grow rapidly. Thus, some church strategists see investment in professionals to lead worship-with-excellence as a wise investment in a church’s future.
Some have noticed, however, that the youngest generation of Christians has a different taste in worship. Their preference seems to lean toward acoustic rather than electronic instruments, subtle hand drums rather than booming drum sets, and simple vocals rather than elaborate vocal teams. Their music is quieter, more reflective. They see an emphasis upon professionalism in worship as phony. They long to restore a sense of mystery and reverence to the worship time. One aspect of this has been the new generation’s rediscovery of some old hymns such as “Be Thou My Vision.” Where this will lead the church of the future is yet to be seen.
The central question, however, remains: Is it worship or is it entertainment? As we examine Revelation 4, we will find biblical principles of the nature of worship that will help us guide our worship into being just that—worship.
B. Lesson Background
The book of Revelation has long been a source of controversy. It has been combed thoroughly as a source of prophecies concerning the future. Many different systems of interpretation for Revelation have been developed and defended. Because of this controversy, some Christians avoid study of this book.
These controversies are unfortunate, for Revelation is much more than a book of prophecy. It is also the New Testament’s great book of worship. In this regard, Revelation has much in common with the Psalms. Throughout the history of the church, writers of songs and hymns for worship have drawn from Revelation. Such varied pieces as Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” (Revelation 19:1–6), Bridges and Thring’s “Crown Him with Many Crowns” (19:12), and Tomlin’s “We Fall Down” (4:10) are drawn from Revelation.
Nearly half of the occurrences of the New Testament’s Greek verb for worship appear in the book of Revelation (24 out of 60). We see in this book that Heaven is a place of worship. Scholars have identified seven hymns of praise and worship in Revelation. The songs of praise are spoken (4:8), sung (5:9), and cried out (7:10).
In the New Testament, the word worship implies “giving obeisance, bowing down.” Thus worshiping can involve a physical position (see Matthew 4:9). Our English word worship has the connotation of “giving worth to someone,” or “counting someone to be ultimately worthy.” Worship is not an emotion; it is an acknowledgment and commitment. We worship that which is superior and worthy of our honor.
I. Preliminaries of Worship (Revelation 4:1)
The first three chapters of Revelation concern John’s vision of the risen Christ and letters to the seven churches of Asia. It is helpful, though, to understand these letters as separate greetings to each of the churches. The rest of the book is the letter itself, and all of the churches are intended to receive its messages.
A. Door to Heaven (v. 1a)
1a. After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven.
John understands his world like everyone else in antiquity. He sees the earth as being covered by a firmament, a large canopy that stretches over the earth (see Genesis 1:6–8; Isaiah 40:22). This firmament barrier prevents humans from seeing what is happening in the heavenly, spiritual realm. In his vision John sees a break in the firmament, a door into heaven. He sees what mortal eye is not normally allowed to see.
The fact that we now have traveled far beyond the sky into outer space diminishes neither the reality of Heaven nor the validity of John’s vision. We still believe that Heaven exists as a definite place but not as a physical location that can be visited in a rocket ship. Heaven remains a place where mortals are normally denied access or viewing, but it is a real place just the same.
What Do You Think?
In what ways do you think your walk with Christ would be affected if you, like John, could get a personal glimpse through the door of Heaven? Why is it probably a good idea for God not to give you that glimpse?
B. Invitation to Knowledge (v. 1b)
1b. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.”
John is invited by an unnamed voice to view heavenly events. He knows this voice, however. It sounds like a trumpet, loud and brilliantly piercing. He has heard it before. It is the voice of the risen Christ (Revelation 1:10).
Christ warns John that what he is about to see in Heaven foreshadows future events. This is not to be an impromptu visit to God’s throne to observe daily happenings. It is a vision designed to impart special knowledge of the future so John may share this with his fellow believers. Events in Heaven have an effect on us. People in the ancient world believe this, whether Jew, Roman, or Christian. Modern humanity tends to neglect the spiritual realm. It is good for us to remember what is really the case: God is on his throne as the ruler of Heaven and earth.
II. Center of Worship (Revelation 4:2–5)
John’s challenge is to describe the indescribable. So he paints wonderful word pictures, but we can be sure that the reality is far more glorious than what we are able to imagine. He begins his vision with a visit to the very throne room of God.
A. Description of the Throne (vv. 2, 3)
2, 3. At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne.
Being in the Spirit means that a new vision has begun. This is very real to John. His spiritual eyes immediately focus on the throne of God itself. He describes the throne occupant as having the appearance of jasper (a gemstone that comes in a variety of colors) and carnelian (a bright red gemstone). He does not attempt any physical description of God because that would be sacrilegious. His choice of these two gemstones seems to indicate that God has a fiery, glowing appearance.
The throne itself looks like an emerald to John, a brilliant green color. It emanates color as well—a multihued rainbow radiance. Such marvelous colors surely overwhelm John’s mind as they speak to him of the wonders of this place. Nothing on earth can compare with these marvels.
What Do You Think?
What cautions should be given to readers in terms of how the different images of this text are interpreted?
What Words Cannot Describe
What is your favorite gemstone? For some, diamond is the first choice (possibly because of the jewelry industry’s superb “diamonds are forever” marketing job). Others may name rubies or (as John does) emeralds. John describes the emerald he saw as being like a rainbow—a description that reminds some people of opal.
A scientific description of opal is that “it is made up of layers of precipitated silica spheres … [that] sometimes produce a diffraction grating, that creates play of rainbow sparkling light from within the stone” (www.theimage.com). Such a description is pretty dull stuff until we get to the phrase “rainbow sparkling light.” That grabs our attention! A cut-and-dried scientific description simply cannot do justice to the beauty of the opal (or most other gemstones, for that matter). You have to see it to believe it.
That’s probably what John felt as he was trying to find words to describe for us what it was like to stand in front of the throne of God. Paper and ink descriptions of all of those wondrous phenomena give us only a faint hint of the glory we shall behold when we meet our Lord in Heaven. What a future we have! —C. R. B.
B. Elders Around the Throne (v. 4)
4. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads.
Surrounding God’s throne are 24 other thrones, occupied by Heaven’s elders. Who these elders are is not explained, but we have a few clues. They are not angels (see Revelation 7:11). Instead, they seem to be humans who have been installed into a position of honor. This is shown by their garb and their right to wear crowns in God’s presence.
Visual for Lesson 7
Post this visual to start a discussion about the heart of worship. Ask, “Why is God, and only God, worthy of worship?”
Numbers have special significance in Revelation. Twelve is the number for the people of God. Twelve was the number of the tribes of Israel (Exodus 24:4; 28:21). Twelve was also the number of disciples chosen by Jesus to be his apostles (Mark 3:14). Jesus himself had promised these 12 that they would be seated on thrones of judgment (Matthew 19:28). The number 24 is double 12. As a bit of speculation, this group of elders may therefore represent the combined peoples of God from the Old Testament and the New Testament: the faithful of Israel and the church.
C. Spirit of the Throne (v. 5)
5. From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God.
In the book of Revelation, lightning and thunder are signs that a significant event is about to take place (compare Exodus 19:16). Such activity marks the last of the seven seals (Revelation 8:5), the seventh trumpet (11:19), and the seventh bowl of God’s wrath (16:18). These supernatural fireworks are tied to the spiritual activity originating from the throne.
Seven is the number of perfection in Revelation (compare Zechariah 4:2). The seven spirits represent the perfect Spirit, thus the Holy Spirit. John sees the Holy Spirit as attendant before the throne of God, ready to do God’s bidding.
III. Worship in Heaven (Revelation 4:6–11)
The description of the scene of worship and its participants continues.
A. Description of the Four Beasts (vv. 6–8a)
6. Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.
The sea is seen in the ancient world as the most violent, uncontrollable force of nature. God’s mastery of his created world is often symbolized by his ability to control the sea (see Psalm 89:9). So also Jesus’ ability to calm the raging sea (Mark 4:39), and to even walk on its surface (Mark 6:48), are signs of his divinity and power. This sea in Heaven is in utter submission to God, with a surface as smooth as glass. This is a vivid symbol of God’s power and authority.
6b. In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back.
The number four in Revelation is symbolic of the entire created world. These living creatures have eyes that observe everything. They are symbols of God’s omnipresence (his presence everywhere) and omniscience (his knowledge of all things). They are able to give coverage to the four corners of the earth, to all of the created world (compare Revelation 7:1).
7, 8a. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings.
John notices individual differences in the four living creatures. As with many of the things seen by John, the beasts are reminiscent of images from the Old Testament. In this case we are reminded of the four “living creatures” seen by the prophet in Ezekiel 1:5–15. The creatures in that vision each had four faces. The list of faces there is quite similar to the list here.
What do these beasts symbolize? A very old explanation ties them to the four Gospels. In this interpretation Matthew is the lion, the king of the beasts, because he presents Jesus as the king of the Jews. Mark is the ox, the dependable servant animal, because he presents Jesus as the servant of all humanity. Luke is the man, because he presents Jesus as the Son of Man. John is the eagle, the imperial symbol of the Romans, because he presents Jesus as the exalted Son of God. This explanation has been used to give a picture symbol for each of the Gospels.
A less complicated explanation is that the faces represent various qualities of God. Under this theory, the lion symbolizes God’s power; the ox symbolizes God’s faithfulness; the man symbolizes God’s intelligence; and the eagle symbolizes God’s sovereignty.
A more likely explanation is that these four creatures represent the general categories of creatures on the earth: wild animals (lion), domesticated animals (ox), human beings (man), and creatures of the sky (eagle). Thus, the picture is related to the number four, the symbol for the created world.
The detail of the six wings ties this vision to Isaiah’s vision of Heaven (Isaiah 6). There the creatures above the throne are described as six-winged seraphim. A seraph is a heavenly creature.
B. Worship by the Four Beasts (vv. 8b, 9)
8b. Day and night they never stop saying:
“Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,
who was, and is, and is to come.”
The four beasts have the function of ceaseless litany concerning the one seated on the throne. The threefold Holy, holy, holy is also found in Isaiah 6:3. This is an emphatic way of stressing God’s unique holiness. (Interestingly, although the Bible says that “God is love,” the Bible never describes him as “love, love, love.”)
What Do You Think?
Today’s lesson might tempt one to assume that the complete spiritual emphasis in Heaven means that secular issues on earth are totally unimportant! How do you resist the temptation to think this way?
John must be impressed that he is being allowed to view the center of all holiness. The words of the beasts tie this to John’s initial description of God as the ageless one (Revelation 1:4).
9. Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever,
We now begin to understand the function of the four living creatures more clearly. They serve as leaders of worship for the heavenly throng (especially when we see v. 9 and v. 10 together). There are four aspects to these words of worship. First, they give glory to God. The Bible teaches that we are to do this (see 1 Corinthians 10:31). To ascribe glory is to recognize God’s greatness and power. Second, they honor God. To honor means to recognize sovereignty, to place oneself as a loyal vassal. Those in the ancient world are expected to honor the king (see 1 Peter 2:17). When we honor God, we are acknowledging his kingship in our lives.
Third, they give thanks to God. To give thanks is recognition of God’s provisions for us and our dependence upon him. Our need to give thanks to God will never end (see Psalm 30:12). Fourth, the four beasts recognize a central attribute of God: his eternality. God, the eternal one, lives for ever and ever.
A Heavenly Menagerie
We humans have always found animals fascinating; this probably started when Adam first gave them names in the Garden of Eden. Just look at all the money we spend on our dogs and cats! From what we can learn of Solomon’s knowledge and dealings with animals, we can speculate that he may well have had a royal zoo in Jerusalem (1 Kings 4:33; 10:22).
Modern zoo-keeping has been dated to 1752 with the establishment of the Imperial Menagerie in Vienna. It is still open to the public. Today every large city and many smaller ones have zoos or wild animal parks. What a delight it is to see the “zoo babies” every spring!
Do we find it surprising, then, that the God who created such a huge assortment of beasts in the first place would also take delight in having some of them serving him around his heavenly throne? Whatever symbolism we see in this, one thing seems certain: in Heaven all of God’s creatures will join in praising him. Should the only creatures who are created in God’s own image not praise him daily? —C. R. B.
C. Elders Cast Their Crowns (vv. 10, 11)
10.… the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:
The 24 elders follow the lead of the living creatures and now offer their own worship. They do this with a remarkable, unforgettable act: they bow and offer their crowns. In so doing they release any claim to their own separate authority and autonomy. They are completely devoted to the service of God.
11. “You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.”
The words of the elders are similar to those of the beasts, with a couple of additions. For one thing, they emphasize the elders’ own created nature. They are nothing without God. They would not even exist without a creator.
Another addition is the utterance you are worthy. This is the very heart of worship: acknowledging the one who is worthy. In an absolute sense, God is the only one worthy to be praised (Psalm 18:3). When we understand worship as spiritual submission to God, we count him as worthy of any possible praise. He is then our king and master, and we are his blessed servants.
What Do You Think?
How can we arrange the content and style of our worship to honor God adequately for all his great deeds?
[Caution: Be careful not to let this question turn into a gripe session about the current way your church conducts worship.]
Is the worship service at your church real worship or is it entertainment? Evaluate it by asking this question: is the congregation the consumer of worship or is it the producer of worship? In other words, are those gathered for worship thought of as the audience or as participants?
What Do You Think?
If your church organized its worship to match the worship pattern in Heaven, what would change? How do you think the changes would be accepted? Before we think about changing a current pattern or routine, should we think first about changing our awareness that in worship we are talking and singing to God as our audience? Why, or why not?
Worship, whether individual or corporate, should have the same purposes as given in the heavenly scene of Revelation 4. We can use this text to ask these evaluative questions: Is what we are doing in any way ascribing worthiness to God? Specifically, are we either giving God honor by our submission, giving God glory by our praise, or giving God thanks by the gratefulness of our hearts?
There is indeed an audience in the worship service, but it should be an audience of one: the Lord God. We may do other things at the weekly meeting time of a congregation, but let us not mistake them for worship. Let us renew our commitment to worship God “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).
Thought to Remember
Worship of God is primary.
Mighty God of Heaven, who sits on the throne in power and glory, we worship you. May we lay our own personal crowns before you, submitting to your will in every aspect of our lives. You alone are worthy. We pray this in the name of your Son, Jesus, amen.
Underwood, Jonathan ; Nickelson, Ronald L. ; Underwood, Jonathan: New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2006-2007. Cincinnati : Standard Publishing