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The theo-logic of heavenly worship

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In the book of Revelation, God granted the apostle John a look into the temple of heaven. As with Isaiah during the reign of King Uzziah (Isaiah 6), it is no accident that this vision of heavenly worship came at a time when worship on earth was in chaos.

In his vision, John observed God himself, sitting on his throne in all of his majestic splendor, surrounded by spectacular heavenly beings. Among other things that occupy their attention, they are singing to God “day and night” (4:8). Chapter 4 describes angels surrounding the throne of God, and it relates two songs that those angels are singing to God day and night. The first is “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty” (the Trisagion ) and the second is “Worthy are you, our Lord and God.” But then in Chapter 5 John saw “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of Jesse,” a “Lamb standing, as though it had been slain.” He saw the Son of God, Jesus Christ, proclaimed as the only one worthy of opening the scroll that would establish his right to rule the Kingdom of God. And in response to this revelation, verse 9 tells us that the angels and the elders sang “a new song,” saying:

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.”

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They sing in the presence of God as expressions attributing worth to God—the essence of worship. Their worship is a response to the nature of God—his holiness, his sovereignty (“Lord God Almighty”), and his eternality (“who was and is and is to come”)—and the works of God—creation (“for you created all things”) and redemption (“you ransomed people for God”). Their responses of worship are expressions of “honor and glory and thanks” (4:9, 4:11, 5:12, 5:13).

This picture of the worship of heaven has significance for Christian worship for several reasons.

First, since earthly worship, both in the OT and NT, is said to be patterned after the worship of heaven, how heavenly worship takes place should inform earthly Christian worship. Second, consequently, Christians since the first century have taken careful notes of the pattern of worship presented in Revelation 4–5. It begins with a Call to Worship: “Come up here” (4:1), followed by a vision of God himself and angels singing the Trisagion (4:8) and hymns of praise for creation (4:11).

Then follows the presentation of the scroll that reveals the unworthiness of all people to open it (5:1–4) except for the Lamb, he who provided atonement and ransomed a people for God (5:5–12). They respond with a doxology and a choral “Amen” by the four living creatures (5:13–14).

Most of the rest of the book fortells God’s Word being opened as he enacts his plans for humankind, and the responses of God’s people in the form of praise and service (6:1–19:5). The book climaxes with the great Marriage Supper of the Lamb (19:6–21), when a great multitude will sing,

For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure. (vv. 6–8)

The heavenly temple will descend, and for the first time God’s ultimate intention for his people will come to full realization: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (21:3). The purpose of humankind was communion in the presence of God for his glory, and in that day the purpose will come to pass.

Thus, the structure of worship in Revelation is the same as it has been throughout Scripture:

God reveals himself and calls his people to worship

God’s people acknowledge and confess their need for forgiveness

God provides atonement

God speaks his Word

God’s people respond with commitment

God hosts a celebratory feast

From creation to consummation, the corporate worship of God’s people is a memorial—a reenactment—of the “theo-logic” of true worship : God’s call for his people to commune with him through the sacrifice of atonement that he has provided, listening to his Word, and responding with praise and obedience.

Scott Aniol, PhD, is an author, speaker, and teacher of culture, worship, aesthetics, and church ministry philosophy. He is chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He founded Religious Affections Ministries and has written several books, the most recent being By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture. He can be found on Twitter @ScottAniol.

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