Worship for the Twenty-First Century: The Way Forward, Part 1

When you come to the book of the Revelation, you find in chapters 4 and 5 a single vision of two parts. In chapter 4 the focus is upon the worship of God the Father, the Creator. In chapter 5 the focus is upon God the Son, the Redeemer. We are taught both by creation and redemption that God has the right to do with this world as He chooses, and that such a God is indeed worthy of our faithful and authentic worship. I believe if we could describe in one word, the activity of heaven, that one word would be “worship.” If that observation is correct, then I believe the way forward in the Twenty-First Century is to look upward. We do not need to look back; we certainly do not need to look around us. Rather we need to gaze into heaven itself, for there we find patterns for worship that will appropriately glorify God; that will build up the body of Christ; and that will demonstrate to unbelievers the majesty and the beauty of our God. I believe in the process, we will attract them to the one true and living God through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

When you examine these two chapters, you discover that God is worshipped both for who He is, but also for what He has done. Giving our attention primarily to the fifth chapter, I believe we will find at least three components or three essential characteristics for authentic worship anytime or anyplace. I would note first in verses 1 through 4 that authentic worship will acknowledge God’s sovereignty.

“And I saw on the right hand of Him who sat on the throne, a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals. Then I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice,” and here is the question that resonates, and note the relationship to the concept of worship: “Who is worthy?” The word “worthy” will appear four times in the fifth chapter, very strategically located in verses 2, 4, 9, and 12. So there is a question that continually resonates through heaven, and the question is “who is worthy?” In this context, “who is worthy to open the scroll and to lose its seals?”

We find the answer in verse 3. “And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look at it, So I wept much because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look at it.”

I believe God is worshipped appropriately when we acknowledge His sovereignty. The problem with movements like open-theism is first and foremost that they are unbiblical. And because they are unbiblical, their God is too small. He is not the kind of God that can compel us to drop to our knees in awe and worship and adoration of His greatness and His majesty. In contrast, the God that we encounter in the Revelation is a majestic God. He is a great God. He is an awesome God. He is a God who can be appropriately worshipped, and He is worshipped appropriately because of His sovereignty. In these four verses, two aspects of his sovereignty are laid before us. One is His sovereign plan. The other is His sovereign power. In other words, nothing takes place by accident in the world that is ruled by our sovereign God.

The text says, “I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne, a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals.” In the Semitic mind, the right hand is the hand of authority. The throne, a word occurring more than 40 times in the Revelation, is the place of authority. So in the hand of authority and in the place of authority John says “I saw a scroll.” This is a rather unique scroll because He says “there was writing both inside and on the back, and it was sealed with seven seals.” That it is possessed of writing both on the inside and on the back tells us on the one hand, it is filled with information. Don Carson says, “because there is writing both on the inside and on the back, perhaps there is the intimation that it is a book both of blessing and also a book of cursing.” Commentators and theologians have debated for years what is the significance of this book. Is it a title deed to the earth? Is it a last will and testament? Is it to be identified with Ezekiel’s book of woes in Ezekiel 2:9-10? Is it perhaps to be related to that book that Daniel was denied access to in Daniel12? All of those are possibilities and yet the answer is really quite simple. The scroll that is in the right hand of God the Father who sits on the throne as the sovereign Lord of the universe is the remainder of the book of Revelation. It is Revelation 6-22. I would agree that Don Carson’s observation is most likely correct because as you work your way through Revelation 6-22, you find blessings and you find cursings. You find out, for example, that this is a book of retribution, a book of judgment where the sovereign God judges a world that has denied His lordship. You have seal judgments in chapter 6, you have trumpet judgments in chapters 8 & 9, you have bowl judgments in chapter 16. It is indeed a book of judgment, a book of retribution, and yet, it is also a book of redemption.

In chapter 7, you have 12,000 sealed from the twelve tribes of Israel, a total of 144,000. You also have in that seventh chapter, a multitude that no one can count. John says they are so great that he cannot put a number on them, and we discover that they are from every tribe, every tongue, every people, every nation. He further says of them “they are they who have washed their robes white in the blood of the Lamb.” And so the book of Revelation recognizes that the sovereign God who is worthy of our worship does visit the world with judgment, but He also visits the world with redemption.

But running from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, we see that the plan of God is always moving toward a restoration and a greater glory than that which we had before the fall in Genesis 3. Genesis 1-2 should be read with Revelation 21-22. When you come to Revelation 21, two verses summarize magnificently what it is that the redeemed can anticipate eschatologically they are with the Lord. Revelation 21:4-5 says, “and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There shall be no more death nor sorrow nor crying. There shall be no more pain. For the former things have passed away. Then He who set on the throne said ‘Behold, I make all things new,’ and he said to me ‘Write, for these words are true and they are faithful.'” God has a plan. God is a sovereign God who will see that His plan is carried out. Such a God, and only this God, is worthy of our worship.

John goes on to tell us something about this plan in Revelation 5:2-4. “Then, I saw a strong angel. He was proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and to lose its seals?'” Now listen to the response that John receives: “no one.” “No one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look at it.”

John’s response in verse 4 is immediate: “I wept much because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll or to look at it.” John, for a moment, fears that God’s plan is not going to come to fruition. There is a search initiated throughout the corridors of heaven and amazingly, not one single person has the right in their own righteousness, has the right in their own ability, has the right period, to even approach the throne, much less take the scroll from the right hand of God the Father. I do not have a great imagination, but I try to engage it, and I try to keep it within sanctified categories. I’ve often wondered what it might have been like for John to be in heaven and to observe what was taking place at this precise moment? For example, maybe as he is watching, he looks and sees Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Joseph. But they do not move. He looks again, and there is Moses and Joshua. He sees Elijah and Elisha. He spots Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Peter, Paul, and his brother James. And yet when this question is asked, no one, no human, no angel, takes even a step toward the throne of God. Why? Because no one of us has the right to even be in heaven, much less approach the throne of God and institute, inaugurate and bring to fruition His sovereign plan. No, it is God and God alone who is worthy of our worship and indeed, authentic worship will acknowledge God’s sovereignty, both in His plan, but also in His power. Where does that idea appear? It comes with the second observation I would make.

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  1. We do not need to look back; we certainly do not need to look around us. Rather we need to gaze into heaven itself, for there we find patterns for worship that will appropriately glorify God; that will build up the body of Christ; and that will demonstrate to unbelievers the majesty and the beauty of our God. I believe in the process, we will attract them to the one true and living God through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

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