Glimpses of heavenly beings paying homage to God, coupled with the faithful perseverance of God’s people on earth, paint a picture of authentic worship.
The book of Revelation has much to teach us about worship, from visions of heavenly beings paying homage to the living God, to the faithful perseverance of God’s people in serving him in spite of persecution and conflicting demands on their loyalty.
The Seductive Power of False Religion
The backdrop of Revelation is the conflict between man-made religion and the worship of the true God. This takes shape in the opposition between the imperial cult of Rome versus Christian loyalty to Jesus Christ. Failure to give honor to the emperor was a punishable offense. Yet to engage in the cult was to indulge in idolatry – to give allegiance to “the dragon” and “the beast.” This is true not only in ancient Rome, but whenever human power demand ultimate allegiance. Acceptable worship involves accepting God’s claim for exclusive devotion and loyalty by rejecting every alternative.
The Call to Worship the True God
The first angel in Revelation 14 summons people from the entire earth to fear God, give him glory, and worship him. This invitation is to give submission and undivided allegiance to the creator. Those who respond to this divine call become a kingdom of priests to serve God. 1 Peter 2 also highlights the priestly role of Christ’s people, who offer “spiritual sacrifices” to God through Jesus Christ and who publicly sound the praises of God. Beyond this priestly calling, Christian worship – in contrast to worship of the beast – involves trusting in God’s promises worked out in the obedience and perseverance of daily life, giving proper allegiance to God in every circumstance of life.
Worship in the Heavenly Realm
The visions of heavenly worship are recorded in Revelation to encourage Christians on earth to remain faithful to Jesus, in anticipation of serving God in the new Jerusalem. At key points, the heavenly beings fall down before God and Christ in homage, while verbally ascribing certain traits and mighty acts to them. First, they acknowledge the sovereignty of God over creation. God’s kingship is elevated far above the claims of earthly emperors. The same heavenly assembly falls before Jesus, praising him for his redemptive work. Later, the heavenly creatures extol God for exercising his powerful rule over rebellious humanity, and for accomplishing the final salvation long anticipated in the Old Testament.
The Link Between Heaven and Earth
These acclamations of praise have found their way into many Christian liturgies and songs over the ages. These materials affirm the victory already accomplished by Jesus through his death, resurrection, and exaltation. They provide encouragement for Chrsitians to stay true to Jesus and resist apostasy. Singing praises to God and Christ is a way of affirming basic gospel truths together and of recognizing God’s powerful rule over nature and history. It can strengthen Christians to maintain their confidence in God and his purposes.
- Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
- What is your initial reaction to this video? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
- Explain how the book of Revelation relates to first-century emperor worship. How does background help us understand the nature of acceptable worship?
- How is the priestly function of God’s people described in Revelation and 1 Peter?
- In Revelation, Christians are warned against worshiping the representatives of Satan – who often take shape in terms of political and economic power. What is the opposite of worshiping “the beast”?
- Describe how worship is expressed in John’s vision of the heavenly realm?
- What is the object and the content of this heavenly worship?
- How does the author suggest that our earthly worship might align with the worship of heaven?
- What practical lessons can we learn from this chapter about leading congregational worship?
- Write a personal action step based on this conversation.