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I spent the greater part of my week reading and outline the book of Revelation, surveying where we are going to go, where the natural divisions are in the text. I spent a good deal more time in doing so than in other books given the less familiar nature of the writing. So I was studying the other day trying to wrap my head around what type of book this is, when it hit me: I now have figured out what type of book the book of Revelation is. The book of Revelation is Glee. You know, the TV show. It’s a musical, a grand drama of depth and stunning images that drive the plot along, interspersed with musical interludes that frame the story and seek to drive the reader in. I actually wish I was gifted enough and had a choir of thousands at my disposal to direct a stage production of the book of Revelation – I think it would actually help us to understand the message of the book. Well, I am not gifted enough, so we are going to throw that idea out, but we are going to try something a bit different today. It’s going to be a little right-brained today – next time I speak, it will be for you left-brained people who like charts and timelines. Today – music and art. We are going to have a Revelation sing-along. You are going to be the heavenly choir, and the book of Revelation is going to provide for us the order of our worship service today. Our service will consist of four movements, in each of which we will get a sense of how the story line of the book moves forward, hit on a key point of reflection, hear the song being sung in the text and then respond to God’s Word in worship of our own.
Movement #1: Rev 4: The Glory of Our Creator God
After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.
And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”
And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
In this first movement, the Apostle John gets called up to heaven for a glimpse of something that only a few men in history have seen with their eyes: the throne room of God. Now, its easy for us to get intrigued by all of the details of the scene, the rainbows and the spirits and the flames and the glass sea and the creatures and the elders and the crowns and the lightning. But notice where John’s eyes are drawn, right to the throne, and the one seated upon it. The song that is sung is directed toward the throne. The elders, as they are singing, fall down before him who is seated on the throne. This is a royal worship service into which John has entered and has given us a glimpse.
This first song has two main themes. God is eternal and He is Creator. He is the God who was and is and is to come, and the one who created all things by the might of his will. Here’s the point: God, even if he never did anything more for us than simply exist is still worthy to be worshipped by us as his created beings. Even if we knew nothing of his grace, nothing of his sovereign provision, nothing of his love, nothing of his redemption. Even if all we knew was that there was a being who existed and who made us, he would still be worthy of worship, for the very reason that He that creates is greater than what is created. As humans we only have three options: to worship something greater than ourselves, to worship ourselves, or to worship things less than ourselves. We worship the things we have made all the time: our careers, our homes, our grades, our resume, our comfort, our kids, our church, our savings, our dating relationship. These aren’t bad things per say, but it is often, as I’ve heard pastors say, that we take good things, make them God things, and that is a bad thing. In fact, ultimately all idolatry is not worship of the things we’ve made, but worship of self. Idolatry is control. I decide what is god and I decide how to use the gods that I have made. Contrast this to this scene in heaven. The elders throwing their crowns down saying, “Worthy are You, O God! I didn’t make you – you always were, always are and always will be. I didn’t make you – you are my maker. I cannot force you to submit to my will, but I must submit myself to your will.”
Movement #2: Revelation 5: The Worthy Lamb Who Was Slain
Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.
As John is witnessing this amazing worship, his eye is drawn to the right hand of the one sitting on the throne in which he sees a scroll with seven seals. It’s likely that John immediately understands the significance of this scroll. The seals give a clue as to the identification of the scroll. In John’s time, people would use scrolls like this in which they would write up their will and testimony, and the scroll would be sealed with the seals of either five or seven witnesses. Only after the person’s death would the seals be opened and the contents of the scroll be revealed. So John is witnessing this amazing sight of the God of the universe holding out his last will and testament. What an inheritance that must be! Whenever a super rich person dies, there is always speculation, isn’t there? That’s nothing! Imagine the contents of this scroll! John gives us a hint by noticing that the writing is written on the front and the back. This scroll has been called the “title deed to heaven and to earth”. This is why John starts weeping. No one in heaven or on earth is worthy to open this scroll. Human can do a lot of things. We are glory of God’s creation, created in his image. We can put a man on the moon, and power a dark planet, we can manipulate atoms, we can gain followings and throngs of people, but no one in heaven or on earth is worthy to open that scroll.
And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they 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.”
Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
I love how the drama is built up. Who is Worthy to take the scroll and open it? Jesus is found worthy. But where is he? He’s right there! What’s he gonna do? Well he wlks right up to the throne and takes the scroll from the Father’s hand. And then the celebration! Everyone falling down before him, just as they did before the Father. This time not only the four creatures and the elders, but then joined by myriads upon myriads hundreds of thousands of angels, along with the entire natural realm, blessing the one sitting on the throne and the Lamb.
Again, notice the description of the Lamb and focus of this heavenly worship: The Lamb who has been slain. Three times the Lamb is described as having been slain, twice in the song. His being slain was not a defeat, but a victory which makes him worthy to receive the scroll. Jesus is the only one who receives an inheritance upon his own death! He was slain to redeem a people for God from every tribe and tongue and nation and people. He was slain that he might receive glory and honor. The work of the Lamb of God on the cross for us sinners is the central focus of heaven.
Song: Worthy is the Lamb
Movement #3: Revelation 7: The Song of the Redeemed
So Jesus begins opening up the seals of the scroll, so that he might receive his inheritance. Now, we are going to look more closely at these seals next week, but let me just point this out – with every seal Jesus breaks, the end draws nearer, and things begin to happen in heaven and on earth in preparation for the end. These are the “birth pangs” of the kingdom. Upon opening the seventh seal, there is silence before the angels begin to herald in the Kingdom of the Lamb with there blowing of the trumpets, which proclaim his Kingdom while pouring out his wrath upon the kingdoms of this earth. It is after the sixth seal is opened however, that we find our next song. At the opening of the sixth seal, John suddenly sees in heaven a great multitude from every nation, tribes, people and languages who have been removed from the time of tribulation, and who have had their sins cleansed by the blood of the lamb. That’s us! This is our song!
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
Even though we face trials and tribulation in this world, Jesus is always with us and has poured his salvation over us who hold fast to his name. We will not face the hour of his wrath, because the wrath of God has already been poured out upon the Son on our behalf. So we sing a song of salvation!
Song: Salvation Belongs to Our God!
Movement #4: Revelation 11: The Lamb Begins His Reign
Finally, we enter the final movement of this section of Revelation. The angels blow their trumpets, heralding in the Kingdom of the Lamb. Again, we will look at this section more closely next week, but this is described as a time of God’s wrath. Part of the King entering his kingdom is the removal of his enemies before him. This will be a horrific time to remain on the earth. We are talking about such widespread devastation that a large percentage of the world’s population will be killed, and others will long for a death that does not come. There will be for example, a war followed by a plague that kills a two-thirds of mankind. Yet people still will not repent and continue to worship their idols, and their murders and their sorceries and their sexual immorality, and their greed.
Throughout the centuries philosophers, skeptics and common people have posed the question of the problem of evil. Simply put: Because evil goes unchecked, God must either be not good, or not powerful. If God is good, then he would do something about evil, but he does not, therefore he must not be powerful. But if God were powerful, then he would do something about evil, but he does not, therefore he must not be good. The simple answer to the problem of evil is this. God is good, and He is powerful, yet He is also longsuffering. He is patient with us, withholding his ultimate wrath and judgment so that we would come to repentance and faith, understanding that his wrath toward us has already been poured out upon Christ. There will be a time of wrath, when the cost of every evil will be exacted. You do not want to see that day.
Yet for the sons of God, that day is a great day, for it is the day when Christ will enter into his Kingdom upon the earth. The last song of this section marks the coming of Christ to claim the kingdom promised to him in the scroll he received from his father:
Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying,
“We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was,
for you have taken your great power and begun to reign.
The nations raged, but your wrath came,
and the time for the dead to be judged,and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints,
and those who fear your name, both small and great,
and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.”
Then God's temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.
The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our God. Through the outpouring of his wrath, the Lamb has taken power and begin to reign, holding judgment over all people and rewarding those who fear his name while destroying those who destroyed.
Song: A Mighty Fortress
While i believe all these things will ultimately come to pass someday, I want you to see that these songs are the songs of all of our lives. God is our creator. Our only hope for redemption is found in the Lamb who was slain to redeem us to himself. We do go through trial and tribulation, but we have escaped from God's wrath. Yet, if anyone has not come to the lamb, God's wrath remains on that one and judgment awaits from the King of all heaven and earth.