PRAISE IN HEAVEN Revelation 4–5
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise” (Rev. 5:12).All in heaven praise Jesus. Praise Him here on earth!
The Jews were scandalized that Jesus should be identified as equal with God (cf. John 8:48–58). The sophisticated first-century pagan believed in one “great God,” with many subordinate deities. Jesus might possibly be granted the status of a hero or subordinate deity. But it was shocking to the pagan that Christians would claim that this crucified Galilean was in fact the great God come in the flesh. Against this background of hostility and resentment, John’s vision of the scene now unfolding in heaven is especially powerful. John was granted a vision of the great God Almighty, identified as the Creator. And then, standing on the very throne of the High God, John saw Jesus! And the inhabitants of heaven fell down and worshiped Jesus, granting Him the same praise and honor offered to God Himself. Whatever else Revelation may teach us this Christmas season, it begins with the exaltation of Jesus. The Babe of Bethlehem, despite the skeptics’ sneers, is the eternal God come in the flesh. All heaven joins us today in worshiping Him. And, when history draws to a close, and John’s vision of the future is fulfilled, the universe will join in honoring Jesus Christ as Lord.
John was raised to heaven, and saw God on His throne, surrounded and praised by living creatures (4:1–11). A call went out for one worthy to open a sealed scroll (5:1–4). Jesus was then introduced as a Lamb slain (vv. 5–6), standing on the very throne of God and receiving worship as God (vv. 7–14).
Understanding the Text
“I will show you what must take place after this” Rev. 4:1.
Some understand Revelation as a symbolic statement of God’s sovereignty. Others see it as apocalyptic, meaning that it is a powerful but again symbolic description of the writer’s impressions of events to take place at the end of time. The angel who called John up to heaven seemed to identify the rest of this powerful book as prophecy. From this verse on John will watch future history unfold, not from man’s viewpoint on earth, but from the viewpoint of a an observer in heaven. What a privilege this is. And what a reminder for us. You and I are limited to physical eyes that see only what is taking place in the material universe. John’s vision reminds us that all around us God and His angels are active, struggling with Satan’s hosts in an invisible war. You and I are part of this warfare. Though we cannot now understand how the part we play contributes to final victory, through John we know that God will surely triumph in the end. “A throne in heaven” Rev. 4:2–9. The vision of the throne, of the Person seated on it, and of the “living creatures” who constantly cry, “Holy, holy holy,” recalls the vision of God granted to both Isaiah (Isa. 6) and to Ezekiel (Ezek. 1; 10). This identification of the God John worshiped with the God of the Old Testament is vitally important. One of the early criticisms of Christianity was that while the church claimed to be a development from and a fulfillment of Judaism, Christians departed from worship of the Old Testament’s God to worship a mere man. But the vision that John had of God in heaven is unmistakably that of the very God who revealed Himself in similar visions to Isaiah and to Ezekiel! Here, in the last book of the New Testament, we have final reassurance that the God we know in Jesus is the one God who has revealed Himself in sacred history. Our faith is secure, rooted in a revelation that spans the millennia, a fulfillment of promises made to Abraham over 4,000 years ago. “Twenty-four elders” Rev. 4:4. Those who study Revelation look for meaning in every detail. Thus the faces on the “living creatures,” which we know from Ezekiel and Isaiah as a special order of angels called cherubim, are taken to represent the highest representative of each order of warm-blooded animal creation: the lion for predators, the ox for domesticated animals, the eagle for birds of the air, and above all, man. What might the meaning of the 24 elders be? Most take them to represent the 12 tribes of Israel, and the 12 Apostles introduced by Christ. Thus the elders, like the vision of God Himself, tie together Old Testament and New, reaffirming the unity of God’s plan, and the glorious truth that saints of every age have been saved by faith, through the salvation won for us all by Jesus Christ. “You are worthy, our Lord and God” Rev. 4:9–11. The figure on the throne, “our Lord and God,” receives perpetual praise from the living creatures and the elders. Inhabitants of both the spiritual and material universe unite to praise His name. This first paean of praise focuses on God’s worth as Creator. He created “all things.” Again we see a sharp departure from first-century culture, where God was viewed as a craftsman who shaped pre-existing matter into its present shape. The God of the Bible, however, created all things. All things material, all things spiritual, owe their existence to Him. We too owe our existence to Him. As our very being is a gift from God, how fitting it is to join the heavenly throng, and offer Him our own perpetual praise: 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. “A scroll with writing on it” Rev. 5:1–5. John’s attention was drawn to a sealed scroll held in the hand of God, and he heard an angel calling for someone “worthy to break the seals and open the scroll.” While the nature of the scroll was then a mystery to John, he was overwhelmed with a sense of urgency. When no one was found “in heaven or on earth or under the earth” who was worthy to break the seals, John was overcome and weeped uncontrollably. Later we learn the significance of the scroll. It is the book of history’s end, and contains all the judgments that God must pour out on the earth to satisfy justice, and to bring in everlasting righteousness. Now we can understand John’s emotional outburst. He wept for all who experience injustice now. He wept for all who endure suffering and pain. He wept for all who are in anguish because of the sin that warps and twists every human society, crushing the hopes and the spirit of the individual. John wept, and his tears expressed all our yearnings for a world purified and purged of sin; a world made forever new. We can search all of heaven and earth, we can search time past and time to come, and none worthy to bring history to God’s intended end can be found. None—but One. The Jesus of history. Born a Babe. Born to die. But born to be raised up, and to come again. “I saw a Lamb” Rev. 5:5–14. The stunning aspect of John’s description is found in these words: “standing in the center of the throne.” John had seen God seated on heaven’s throne, and suddenly, there on the throne beside God, Jesus stood. He took the scroll, and as He held it the living creatures and the elders fell down and worshiped Him. What clearer affirmation could there be that Jesus and God the Father are One God? Distinct Persons, yes. But One in essential being, both equally worthy of our worship and our praise. And suddenly heaven is filled with praises. Praises for the Lamb. Praises for One born in order to die, to purchase with His own blood “men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” You. And me. Men and women for God, to be a kingdom and priests, to serve our God and reign in Jesus Christ, forever and forever and ever. Amen. No wonder we join this wonderous season with the crowds of heaven, and in a loud voice sing, Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!
Praise to the Lord(Rev. 5:6–14)
In theA.D 406 a 16-year-old English boy named Patrick was captured by Irish pirates and sold as a slave in Ireland. Later he escaped, trained for the priesthood, and returned to Ireland as a missionary, where he played a central role in converting the Irish to Christianity. This prayer, developed from Patrick’s original version, helps us sense what it can mean for us to be ever aware of Jesus, triumphant with the Father on heaven’s throne. I bind unto myself today The power of God to hold and lead, His eye to watch, His might to stay, His ear to harken to my need. The wisdom of my God to teach, His hand to guide, His shield to ward; The word of God to give me speech, His heavenly host to be my guard. Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in mouth of friend or stranger. I bind unto myself the name, The strong name of the Trinity; By invocation of the same, The Three in One, the One in Three, Of whom all nature hath creation; Eternal Father, Spirit, Word, Praise to the Lord of my salvation, Salvation is of Christ the Lord.
Take the enthroned Christ with you, within you.
“He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree.”—Roy L. Smith