Christians have always enjoyed the beautiful scene set in heaven, pictured in Revelation 4 and 5. It falls between the letters sent to the seven churches in Asia (Rev. 2, 3), most of whom had their struggles and failings, and the judgments of God about to break out on the earth (Rev 6). The apostle John shares a brief glimpse of the glories of heaven, and the occupation of the redeemed, a record for the encouragement of God’s people.
The fact that “elders” appear throughout the section reminds us that church elders today are both worshipers themselves and involved in preparing believers to be intelligent about their worship in this life. They are aware of the important place of worship in the life to come. The Lord Jesus referred to the difference between ignorance and enlightenment on the subject in John 4:22 when speaking to the woman at the well, “You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship …” (John 4:22).
How good it would be if every Christian considered the following question: “When I get to heaven and participate in the scene pictured in Revelation 4 and 5, will I be shocked at how different the nature of worship in heaven is from that which I called worship on earth, or will it be a grander and more glorious continuation of what I had always enjoyed on earth?”
Because the Lord clearly stated that the Father is seeking “true” worshipers (John 4:23), and because local churches seeking to follow the New Testament example devote significant time each week to worship (see Acts 2:42), the subject is worthy of serious consideration.
Observations from the Text
A quick reading of the two chapters provides some insights to help us get started. The scene is in heaven, the setting is God’s throne, and the occupation described is worship which includes a number of different individuals and activities.
Seated on thrones or seats around God’s throne, were elders. The number 24 is probably representative, since the people of God in Old Testament times belonged to one of 12 tribes in Israel, and Christ chose 12 apostles to become the foundation of the church He was about to build.
The actual worship begins with heavenly beings called “living creatures” and the elders then respond in worship. Chapter 4 is mostly descriptive until the last verse (vs. 11) which records the actual words spoken in worship. But in chapter 5 attention turns to the Lamb “in the midst” (vs. 6) and we read of the prayers of the saints (vs. 8), and the new song (vs. 9), and then the angels join in (vs. 11), and finally all the creatures (vs. 13).
Thoughts of Possible Interest for Elders
It is interesting that the worship begins with a few and progresses toward a great climax in which all are involved. Note that the first beings of earthly origin to participate in the worship are the elders (4:10). Further, there is a progression in thought from worship given to God for His work in creation (vs. 11) to His great work of redemption in chapter 5.
Further we note that throughout the passage worship is corporate and follows a theme; in no way is it “every man doing his own thing.” In 5:9 we hear the elders singing in direct address to the Lamb. Translations differ on the exact wording of these verses because of variations in ancient manuscripts, but the substance of what the elders say is unaffected and the suggestion is reasonable that they precede the worship of the multitudes coming later.
The whole scene pictures a time of great reverence, and in both chapters we find the elders bowing (“fall down” 4:10; “fell down” 5:14), and casting their crowns before the throne (4:10). It is interesting that no mention of praise is found in the book of Revelation until chapter 19: “Praise our God, all ye His servants, and ye that fear Him, both small and great,” in retrospective praise of the mighty work completed in the judgment of the earth.
Finally, as might be expected, this is one of many Bible passages in which all three persons of the Godhead are mentioned; the One sitting upon the throne (4:2,3), the Lamb (vs. 6), and the seven Spirits of God (vs. 6 this is a reference to the Holy Spirit).
Certainly we should avoid dogmatic assertions where Scripture narrates a scene. But knowing that the entire book of Revelation is called from the outset “the revelation of Jesus Christ,” it seems reasonable to meditate on how such a sublime picture might suggest truth to the spirit of any believer, and especially to church elders.
Surely elders must consider that, as in all other aspects of life, they are to be examples to the believers. One elder complained to a visiting servant that the men of the assembly were reluctant “to enter into the holiest.” The old brother wisely replied, “My dear brother, if you want men to enter the holiest, then you must lead them in by example; they will follow.” Sheep sense the difference between mechanical acts of “worship,” and the voice of the Shepherd which they recognize and will follow (John 10:27).
Then, too, in a growing assembly, there will be believers in all different stages of spiritual development. Harsh words in response to imperfect participation – either in timing or in content – can cause great injury to young believers. Further, we would do well to notice that the subject of worship in chapter 4 is expressly stated to concern God’s work in creation. To censure remarks because they are not directly related to the cross of Christ is not only unkind, but also unbiblical!
I remember as a young man searching my Bible for the phrase which I was sure must be there somewhere, as I had heard it so often: “We remember the Lord in His death,” only to discover that no such phrase occurs in the Bible. Rather, His words were that we break the bread “in remembrance of me.” Thus, any thoughts, which direct our hearts toward Him, either in His Person or His work can be helpful in our worship.
Other points may yield fruitful discussion for elders:
– If worship in heaven centers around inspiring themes, we can anticipate worship on earth to do so also.
– As the public expressions of worship in Revelation 4 and 5 were mostly brief, so ought ours to be. Lengthy prayers are better reserved for the closet.
– There is a fine line between teaching and warming the heart through the Scriptures, but wise elders will know and cultivate the difference. This is important
so that worship does not turn into simply another time of teaching.
– Contrary to those who say worship can only be directed “to the Father,” we see that expressions of worship “to the Lord Jesus” are in order and should be honored as a legitimate form of worship.
– A spirit of reverence and respect characterizes the worship in heaven and should do so on earth also.
– Believers may be reminded, that just as worship was not limited to spoken words, but also the act of casting crowns before the Lord, so too, our worship can continue into the week as we honor the Lord in practical ways.
In Titus 2:10, Paul uses an interesting word to describe the opportunity of believing servants to “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior,” by using a word
from which our English word “cosmetic” (to make beautiful) is derived. Elders too, have the privilege, by their example to adorn this important aspect of church life.