The eternal worship of God
Jesus is going to show John the future (4:1) but first he takes him to the centre of the universe to witness the eternal worship of God. The whole point of history is the worship and honour of the Eternal One (v.8).
Heaven is a Temple
The Old Testament temple was not mainly a picture of the church or anything else on earth. It was a picture of heaven (Hebrews 8:5, 9:24). There is a Most Holy Place where the Triune God is worshipped forever.
The very first thing John sees is the Throne. The seat of power from which God rules all things. The location of everything else in this scene is defined by its position relative to the throne. Every action comes from the throne or is addressed toward it because the one seated on the throne is God Himself.
The Cherubim which stood round the mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant were mere carvings. Here are the real Cherubim (the four living creatures - see Exodus 25:17-22 and Ezekiel ch.10) - the guardians of God's holiness and leaders of his praise. Those creatures who are closest to God praise him most.
Here are the elders of the church (12 patriarchs plus 12 apostles?) who represent God's people in praising him.
Here burns the real eternal flame of the Holy Spirit (v5) and here is the real Sea of cleansing (v6) which represents the Spirit's power to make us holy. These things could only be symbolised in the Tabernacle on Earth.
The mystery at the Centre
There are brief description of the four living creatures but we have no real description of the Holy One (see vs 2 & 3). He is just compared to various Gem stones. Precious stones glint and gleam. They are solid and yet we can see into them and they seem to contain their own light and life.
We can only say what God is "like". Nothing defines Him. He defines everything. There is an infinity in God. He is Love, Holiness, Wisdom, Justice and Power in their perfection and ultimate form. Even the Cherubim, probably the greatest of all His creatures, spend eternity in wondering awe - amazed at His presence and singing His praise.
We gain an echo of his greatness by seeing the majesty of this worship scene and then appreciating that He outshines it so fully that the one thought of everyone there is to give Him every honour.
The great songs of heaven
There are three great themes in heaven's praises. The first is God's glory in Himself (v.8). He is Holy, Almighty, Eternal and Active. As we get to know Him we find more reasons for praise. It is wonderful for us creatures to discover that our creator is not just a bigger version of ourselves and that he is unique in His goodness.
The second theme is God's glory revealed in creation (v11). The wonders of the universe reveal the greater wonder of the Mind and Word which made them and sustains them. If even the Cherubim praise God for creation then so should we! It seems that they see the universe as more wonderful than we do. The will and power of God lie behind all real existence. As our science and arts disclose more of the complexity and beauty of nature so we should praise Him the more.
The third theme, the great achievements of Jesus Christ, will be looked at later in the next chapter.
The Liveliness of Heaven
Many christians have an idea of heaven as static perfection. In fact it is intensely ACTIVE perfection! Thunder and lightning roar and streak from the throne, the lamp of the spirit flares and blazes and the worship of God is full of movement and shouting. How strange that some people think of worship as quiet and static. Here is a scene crackling with energy.
Pagan worship is also lively, of course, but there is a deathly silence at its centre. The worshippers make the noise but false Gods are silent (1 Kings 18:26-29).
In Heaven God makes the most noise and the worshippers respond. In his churches on earth God speaks powerfully through His word and we respond with lively praise, prayer and obedience. Or rather, that is how it should be.
I wonder whether the enthusiasm for worship as an aesthetic experience is a healthy one? Is not the heart of worship a free response to God uncluttered by self-consciousness? True worship is not self expression in Rev. 4. The elders throw their crowns at the foot of the throne over and over again to symbolise that what matters to them is the expression and recognition of God’s glory.
“Changed from glory into glory
till in heaven we take our place,
there to cast our crowns before you,
lost in wonder, love and praise!”
Congregational worship has become a large issue in many parts of Christ’s church. Denominations and churches seem to define themselves by styles of meeting, singing and praying more than by theology. Yet there is some doubt whether the early church believed it was meeting for worship at all. The New Testament idea seems to be that the formal worship of God occurs primarily in heaven and that part of conversion is to be raised up to share in that heavenly worship (Eph 2:4-7, Heb 12:22-24).
The temporary picture of that worship - the 24 hour temple service in Jerusalem - has been set aside in favour of worship in Spirit and Truth. This does not occur in a congregational, cultic setting but is a matter of life. The continual songs of praise no longer emanate from the singers of Jerusalem but from the hearts of the redeemed (Eph 5:19-20 - see the always - the continual nature of christian thanksgiving and praise).
While it is right and proper for christian meetings to have a cultic element of sung and spoken worship it is unfortunate that worship as a word has shrunk to such a limited use. The main places of worship in the New Testament are the throne of God and the Christian痴 daily life (Rom 12:1ff).
If Hebrews 12:22ff is to be believed every converted soul has come to the heavenly Mount Zion to join the praise of Revelation 5! It seems that the difference between our experience and John痴 is that he has been able to see what is really going on. The door which stands open in heaven is open to all who come to Christ; remember Jesus’ promise to the church in Philadelphia (3:12) that they will always have an open door before them.
At the beginning of this scene (4:1) John has been told he will see the future. Instead he witnesses the scene of worship which has been going on for ages and which presumably will continue for ages to come. The reason for this apparent detour is explained at the end of the chapter (4:11). The worship of God is the point and purpose of history. All creation is His and it exists for his purposes. The reason for the future is the good purposes of God.
Those good purposes are revealed in the next chapter.