Worship in Revelation (in Revelation)

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Worship is certainly central to Revelation. Gloer contrasts Revelation’s hymns of worship to similar hymns of the imperial court which serve as a parody of the hymns of Revlation. This makes it evident that the hymns are not incidental to the content of Revelation. They focus a central message of Revelation that all must choose to worship God or the emperor. Gloer concludes: “Music plays a larger role in the Apocalypse than in any other New Testament writing.”

Majestic hymns punctuate the tribulation scenes, reminding the reader that the persecution of Satan is not the last word but that God’s salvation will prevail. The language is magnificent:

Worthy is the Lamb who was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing! (5:12)
Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb. (9:10b)
They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat. (7:16)
The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever. (11:15b)
Great and amazing are your deeds, Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, King of the nations! (15:3b)
Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. (19:6b)

In chapters 4–5 rhyming endings suggest liturgical intention and possible use: the threefold “holy” (hagios) in 4:8 is echoed by three refrains that are initiated by “worthy” (axios) in 4:11; 5:9, 12. The repetition of the number three indicates the completion of the holiness and worthiness of God and the Lamb. God is praised in these hymns because of his actions in history, and the worshipers’ response is to do the works of God (Rowland, 1998:595; see also 1 John 3:18). Thus, worship is tied closely to active service.

Revelation has also served as the inspiration for many of the church’s favorite hymns (see Koester, 2001:33-35). From the descriptions of God and Christ at the beginning and end of Revelation (1:8, 17; 21:6; 22:13) comes the fourth-century hymn: “Of the Father’s Love Begotten.”

Of the Father’s love begotten

Ere the worlds began to be.
He is alpha and omega.

He the source, the ending He.

Of the things that are, that have been.
And that future years shall see.
Evermore and evermore.

From the vision of heaven in chapter 4 comes the classic hymn by Reginald Heber (1723-1826), “Holy, Holy, Holy”:

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!

Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty,

God in three persons, blessed Trinity.
Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore thee,

Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea.
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee, 

Which wert and art and evermore shalt be.

The vision of the Lamb in chapter 5 is the basis for Edward Perronet’s (1726- 1792) “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name:”

All hail the pow’r of Jesus’ name!
Let angels prostrate fall;

Bring forth the royal diadem,
And crown him Lord of all.

Another verse of that song comes from the vision of the saints under the altar (6:9-11):

Crown him ye martyrs of your God,
Who from his altar call;

Extol the stem of Jesse’s rod

And crown him Lord of all.

The praise of the great multitude (7:10-12) inspires the hymn of Charles Wesley (1707-88), “Ye Servants of God:”

Salvation to God, who sits on the throne! 

Let all cry aloud and honor the Son.

The praises of Jesus the angels proclaim,

Fall down on their faces, and worship the Lamb.
Then let us adore and give him his right,
All glory and power, all wisdom and might
All honor and blessing, with angels above,
And thanks never ceasing, and infinite love.

The seventh trumpet (11:15) serves as the basis for Georg Friedrich Handel’s (1674-48) “Hallelujah Chorus:”

Hallelujah. For the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth. Hallelujah.

The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.

Vintage and wine press passages yield imagery for the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” by Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910):

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.
He hath loosed the fateful lightening of his terrible swift sword.

His truth is marching on.
Glory, glory hallelujah! Glory, glory hallelujah! Glory, glory hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

The vision of the New Jerusalem (chs. 21–22) inspired the hymn, “For All the Saints,” by William How (1823-97):

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost: Alleluia! Alleluia!

Perhaps Saint Francis of Assisi focused the purpose of music in Revelation in his answers to the following three questions: “Where are you coming from?” “From the next world.” “And where are you going?” “To the next world.” “And why do you sing?” “To keep from losing my way” (Kazantzakis, 1962:89).

In addition to its hymnody, Revelation’s basic message of the completed work of Christ’s redemption on the cross and still incomplete mission of the faithful to bear witness against sin and Satan carries considerable potential for preaching. Although the seven letters to the churches have served the church as texts for sermons and texts on the redemption of Christ and are included in the lectionary for the Easter season, Gonzalez (1999) has suggested that two passages are also homiletically appropriate for the Lenten season. Revelation 12:7-12 affirms that, because Christ has won the battle in the heavenly realm, the devil fights ferociously “because he knows his time is short.” The faithful are called to a steadfast witness, knowing that the victory is theirs. Revelation 18:9-24 is more specific about that witness against the powers of this world. The Roman system of commerce is tied to providing luxuries to the wealthy. While the Christian’s witness will not change the Roman system of injustice, the proclamation that the powers of the world have been defeated will be good news to those that the system oppresses. Such a relevant message is easy to preach in the twenty-first century.

Because of the rich resources in Revelation for praise and proclamation, it is not surprising that the word worship (proskyneo) occurs repeatedly in Revelation, where obeisance is directed eleven times to the beast or his allies (9:20; 13:4, 4, 8, 12, 15; 14:9,11; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4), but twelve times toward God and the Lamb (4:10; 5:14; 7:11; 11:1, 16; 14:7; 15:4; 19:4, 10 [twice]; 22:8, 9), indicating the greater majesty of the latter pair. Perhaps, the most impressive use of the word is in the repeated phrase “Worship God!” Piper argues that similarities between Revelation and early Christian liturgies imply that the heavenly worship of Revelation was patterned after the liturgy of the primitive church, which in turn was borrowed from contemporary Jewish temple and synagogue worship. He concludes that, although actual liturgies are not found in Revelation, “the great significance which this book has for our knowledge of the early Christian liturgy” must be recognized (1951:18-19). Conversely, Beale contends that Revelation presents a heavenly pattern for the worship of the church (1999:312).

Consistent with this early worship tradition, Swartley has provided a beautiful service taken directly from Revelation. It includes many voices—God, Christ, angels, elders, choirs. The hour-long worship service is especially appropriate for Easter or perhaps for the nation’s independence day. It is available from the Mennonite Board of Congregational Ministries, 500 S. Main Street, Elkhart, IN 46515 or in his forthcoming book on “Peace in the New Testament.” Swartley’s liturgy gives a powerful impression that Revelation may be a pattern for a Lord’s day service (1:10).

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John R. Yeatts