“After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! 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."
You probably heard the old story about the little girl in church one Sunday, sitting through a loooong sermon, bored out of her mind. Finally in desperation, she tugged on her mother’s dress sleeve and said, “Mama, Mama.”
The mother replied, “What?”
The little girl said, hopefully, “If we give him the money now can we go home?”
Or did you hear the one about the family on the way to church and the father wants to be certain the children behave properly, so he asks his children, “Why should we be quiet in church?”
One child replied, with all too much of the truth, “Because people are sleeping.”
But, the one I like is about a little boy who was making his first trip to church and his mother had washed him and dressed him in his Sunday best clothes and warned him to be on his best behavior. On entering the church, the boy was fascinated by this strange new world—the hushed voices, the high arches, the slightly musty smell, the rows of pews. His church belonged to one of those denominations that does a lot of kneeling in the pews, and there came a moment in the service when everyone disappeared from view as they knelt in prayer. The boy also knelt beside his mother, and then after a long moment of silence, he turned and whispered, “Mamma, who are we hiding from?”
I would not put the question that way. But I have a similar question: What are we doing here? You might say, we have come here to worship God. True enough, but why?
Why worship God at all? There are a number of answers to that question. Probably the most basic answer is that human beings have an inborn, innate sense of the divine that naturally leads us to worship the source and power of the universe.
Another answer is that we worship out of gratitude. God created us; God sent Christ to save us from our sins. What is our response? In Luke 2, after the shepherds had seen the baby Jesus, they glorified and praised God for all that they had seen and heard. They worshipped out of gratitude.
But in Rev. 4, we find still another reason to worship God. Practice for heaven.
The book of Revelation is divided into two visions. The first vision begins in chapter 1 with a vision of the Risen Lord. This exalted Christ commands John to write seven letters to churches. The second vision opens in chapter four and consists of the rest of the book—that is, chapters 4-22. Most of the time when we consider this second vision, we think about all the bad things that going to happen—the four horsemen and the seven seals, the beast and the false prophet, war and catastrophe, and those things certainly are mentioned, but the second vision begins with a church service in heaven.
In Rev. 4:1, John sees the door of heaven standing open, and “the first voice”—that is the voice of the risen Christ whom we met in chapter one—the first voice commands him to come up into heaven, saying, “I will show you what must take place after this.”
That gets our attention. What is going to happen? John is in some kind of ecstatic trance. He says in v2, “I was in the spirit.” And he sees into heaven itself, and the first thing he sees is a throne, “with one seated on the throne.” This is the throne of God. Now you might say, God is a spirit, what does God need with a throne? John is seeing symbolically. The throne represents the majesty and splendor and power of God. A throne is a symbol of rulership and supremacy. God is Lord of a billion billion stars.
But words seem to fail John when it comes to describing the Lord of the universe, the one on the throne. John can only say that this glorious presence is like precious stones. The old Testament prophet Ezekiel had much the same difficulty. In Ezekiel 1:26, in the prophet’s great throne vision, we read, “There was something like a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was something that seemed like a human form.” When it comes to describing God, John and Ezekiel and Daniel and Isaiah only give us hints of God’s power and glory. Ultimately, God is beyond all human language and description.
Returning to Revelation, chapter 4, verse 4 tells us that around the divine throne were twenty-four smaller thrones on which are seated twenty-four elders. Numbers in Revelation are usually symbolic. Twenty-four is double twelve. Twelve is the number of the tribes of Israel and the number of the apostles. Numbers derived from twelve in Revelation, like 144000 or twenty-four, represent the whole people of God.
In Revelation chapter 4, these elders represent the church triumphant, the church victorious. They are sitting on thrones and wearing royal crowns. They are dressed in the white robes of victory. They represent the holy nation, the royal priesthood that Peter spoke of.
Then, in verse 5, John supplies us with more details of what he sees through the open door of heaven. He sees flashes of lightning. He hears peals of thunder. He sees in front of the throne “seven flaming torches,” and he tells us that these torches represent “the seven spirits of God.” You might say, “Whoa, I did not know that God had seven spirits. Where did that come from?” Remember numbers in Revelation are usually symbolic. The number seven is the number of completion or perfection. The seven spirits of God are simply God’s perfect Holy Spirit.
Then John describes a crystal sea in the front of the throne and four strange creatures around the throne. The creatures are like a lion, an ox, a human being, and an eagle. They probably represent all creation, and we are told that the four living creatures sing praises to God day and night. Their song is: "Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come" (8).
The phrase “holy, holy, holy” is used in many Christian prayers and is called the “Sanctus” which is Latin for “holy.” God is the thrice holy one, the most holy one.
Again, God is described as the one “who was, is, and is to come.” John has already used this phrase before in 1:4. John’s Gentile readers in the first century would have probably known that this was God language. In some pagan mystery religions, it was customary to speak of God in this way. For example, “A temple of Isis, at Sais, in Egypt, has this inscription: ‘I am all that was, and is, and shall be, and my vail no mortal can remove’” (see Barnes Notes on the New Testament). John tells us that the one we speak of in this way is not Isis but “the Lord God Almighty.”
The worship service in heaven continues in V10 as the 24 elders rise from their thrones and kneel before God. They cast down their crowns, indicating that they claim no sovereignty or authority compared to God. Whatever authority they have is derived from God.
In v11, the elders, representing the whole people of God, also sing, "You are worthy, 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."
So, ask yourself this question: What does Revelation chapter 4 say is going on in heaven? All creation and all the church are worshipping God. They worship God because God is worthy. We need to think about our word “worship.” It is derived from the Old English word “weorthscipe”, which is a combination of two words: worth and ship. These two words literally mean “to have the character or condition of being worth something.” “Worth-ship” means “worthy of respect” or just “worthiness.” We worship that which has worth, that which has value. Actually, we worship that which is most valuable to us. The songs of the creatures and the elders in Revelation chapter 4 tell us what is most valuable—the thrice holy one, the Lord God almighty, the one who has always been and always will be.
When we worship God, we proclaim that God has the greatest possible worth; that God’s value is above that of stocks and bonds and houses and land; God’s power exceeds that of every king, President, and dictator in history; the glory of God’s holiness outshines the billions of suns in every galaxy. When we worship God, we say that nothing compares to God. God is above all, God is greater than all. Everything in creation pales to insignificance next to the sovereign Lord of the stars.
God alone is worthy of our praise, and our love, and our devotion, and our service; both because of who God is, and because of what God does. Saying that is part of our worship.
But worship is more that just saying that God is great; worship is actively desiring and seeking God. To worship something is to make the pursuit and enjoyment of what you worship the overriding goal of your life. That’s what Jesus was meant when he said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’" (Mark 12:30). That’s worship: valuing God so highly that nothing else even compares to God.
That is what they do in heaven. They worship God, they are focused on God and centered on god. God is what heaven is about.
Now some folks talk about the reward they expect in heaven. They seem to think that whatever they did not have on this earth, in the way of riches and privileges and stuff, they will get in heaven. In other words, if you are poor here, you will be rich there, if you had a little house here, you will have a big house in the sky. This way of thinking says heaven is about me. God is going to reward me. I want to go to heaven because of the good things that I will have there.
But Revelation shows us an entirely different view of heaven. It is not about me. It is about God. My reward in heaven, if you want to call it that, is not to get stuff that I did not have on earth—because that stuff is not that important. My reward in heaven is to be in the presence of God, and worship God.
And, Right now, I ought to be getting ready for what I will be doing in heaven. In heaven, I will worship God. Now, on this earth, I should worship God. That means that I should be in church on a Sabbath day lifting up my praises and thanksgivings to God.
Ask anyone if they want to go to heaven and everyone will say that they do. Of course, everyone wants to go to heaven, but do they? If they are not willing to worship God now, why should they want to go to heaven, where all they do is worship God? If people have no desire for God’s presence in their lives now, why should they want to go to heaven, where they live and breath in the presence of God?
If someone were to say to us, “I do not like to worship God in church,” we should reply, “You ought to go on to hell then, because you will not like heaven, because that is what heaven is about.”
This morning, as we worship God, we are practicing for heaven. We need all the practice we can get. We need to be in church every time the doors open, because the open church door gives us a vision of heaven.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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