Revelation was one of my favorite books to study. It is the source of much dissension and fear in the church, but when studied in context it brings immense hope. God is in control, Jesus wins in the end, and we who are sealed in relationship with him can rejoice today. I look forward to continuing to study this book, but for now I’ll share just one of my essays about the theme of worship in Revelation.
This is the last CBCC post! Thank everyone who has supported me so that I could do this amazing school. I will continue to process the things I am learning on this blog. I am not sure the time frame yet, but I am committing to finish studying the entire bible inductively. Keep checking back for new book summaries!
Final Theme Summary- Worship
Worship is not a mere option for the spiritually excellent person, but the unwavering expression of the knowledge of the fullness of God. Worship contains two fundamental aspects, revelation and response. By tracing the theme of worship throughout the Bible, you will find a common thread of choice amongst adversity. Adam and Eve chose to forgo their life of simple worship to eat the forbidden fruit, the Israelites had to choose to be set apart from other nations and worship only one God, the first believers and apostles had to choose to accept the new covenant and Jesus’ sacrifice among the Jewish mockers. Jesus himself instructs that no one can serve two masters (Matt. 6:24). We must choose to serve God or choose to serve something else. Revelation contains the climax of this scriptural theme of worship, giving a clear spiritual reality of worship that will one day be physically attained.
The seven major churches in Asia to which this book was addressed lived during in time when persecution of Christians was the norm in the Roman Empire. The Imperial Cult emerged, and all Rome was required to worship the Caesar as if they were divine. Temples all around were being erected to worship mere man, and much of the economic system revolved around it. If a Christian wanted to work, you had to join a trade guild, which meant that you would have to meet and carry out trade in the temples. You would be expected to eat the food there sacrificed to idols and indulge in the temple entertainment provided, i.e. the prostitutes. If you did not comply, you would lose your job. The Christians of that day were faced with a constant question, who will I worship? What does it look like for me to worship in culturally adverse circumstances?
The original readers with both Jewish and Greek roots, would have had a more complex understanding of worship than we do today. In the Old testament, the root of the most common hebrew word for worship means “servant”. This contains the idea of service of every kind. It is acts of adoration but also completion of the chores. Worship in the New Testament greek had similar meaning. The word “latreia” meant “service”, and “leitourgia”, a word taken from secular life, meant service to the community or state, frequently without charge or wage. Christian worship and service always went hand in hand. The primary question was not, who will I sing songs to Sunday morning, but rather who will I serve with my life? Music and singing were also an important parts of Biblical worship, but they were all centered on the knowledge of God revealed through the scriptures. The early Christian church recognized herself as a people who worship and not so much a place of worship
John receives a vision of revelation in order to bring about a response of worship and steadfastness among the persecuted early church. Three main scriptural events give them the revelation to respond in worship.
1. Inauguration of the Spiritual Reality – Chapter 5
Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll written on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals; 2 and I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it. 4 And I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
They sing a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation; you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth.”
Here the Lamb, Jesus, was found worthy to open the scroll because of his sacrifice on the cross. It is clear that is single act of sacrifice inaugurated the spiritual reality of the new Kingdom. We can now approach the throne of God boldly and praise God for overcoming what we could not overcome. Jesus wins in the end.
2. Presentation of the Physical and Spiritual Battles – Chapter 12
7 And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, 8 but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming,
“Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Messiah,
for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down,
who accuses them day and night before our God.
11 But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony,
for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.
12 Rejoice then, you heavens
and those who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
for the devil has come down to you
with great wrath,
because he knows that his time is short!”
The original reader sees that there is a spiritual battle in heaven and an earthly battle involving them. Satan is going to try everything he can to make those belonging to Christ stumble, but it is their testimony that will overcome him. Testimony defined is a confession of obedience to Christ. An obvious decision to worship God alone. It is only through this adherence to worship that they with overcome in the end.
3. Our future Physical Hope – Chapters 21 and 22
5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. 7 Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children. 8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life[b] with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; 4 they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
The Original reader is assured of the final victory of Christ and sees that if they hold fast to their confession, they will conquer the enemy and inherit what Jesus has promised. They will live a life of continual worship because they will have seen his face. This is the future reality. This incredible knowledge of the completed and future work of God shows the original readers who to worship and how to worship in the present. And their convictions are unshakable, because worship is founded in their knowledge of God. Through God’s revelation to them, he is enabling them to be conquerors.
What was the response of the Church to the challenge of worship in Revelation? The victory of Christ and the realities of that in the spiritual world give them reason to praise Jesus and worship only him amongst the chaos. Twenty years later, Ephesus, the church with the greatest spiritual problems at the time of Revelation, received a letter from Ignatius. He commended them grandly, saying “You are imitators of God, who have perfectly fulfilled your congenial work.” This was the case for most, if not all the churches. The word martyr in the original greek simply meant witness, yet we know the word today as someone who dies for their faith. Christians had such an unwavering adherence to worship that they laid down their lives for it and a word was redefined for their sacrifice.
These churches took the book of Revelation to heart. They paid a price to preserve our faith and the word of God so that we can worship today. This beautiful knowledge comes full circle as I think back to last year when I was in Ephesus. The evening after we visited the ruins of the great city and the ruins of the temple of Artemis, we came together for a BBQ with all the friends we had met there. An Egyptian man brought out his guitar and began to sing a worship song. And so believers from Turkey, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Great Britain, Russia, Switzerland, and America sang the same song in our own languages.
Rocks that used to form old brothels and temples to foreign deities lie broken and strewn about the ground, yet the worship of the one true and good God continues to be lifted up among the nations. Just as the early church, we should continue to worship with our whole being, the God who was and is and is to come.