The book of Revelation could be called a hymnal since there are twenty hymns sung by various heavenly groups throughout the book. Two of those hymns are found in Revelation 4 and make up a hymn of creation.
The four living creatures praise God the Father “day and night.” This doesn’t necessarily mean without stopping, but it’s the idea of constant worship. Their worship is focused on His attributes—three in particular (Revelation 4:8).
- His holiness
They worship God for His holiness. In Scripture, a double repetition of a word or phrase is intended to draw the reader’s attention to something particularly important. For example, Jesus often said, “Truly, truly . . .” to grab the attention of His disciples. What He meant was that they needed to listen very carefully to what He was about to say because it was of utmost importance.
But in Revelation 4:8 the four living creatures use a triple repetition—“Holy, holy, holy.” This is to say that God’s holiness is of superlative and infinite quality. The holiness of God points to His complete otherness and separateness from His creation, including mankind. Humans fell into sin and condemned all of creation as a result. And though we can be redeemed through faith in Christ—and creation awaits its redemption (Romans 8:19–27)—God has always been and will always be holy: pure and sinless. And the four living creatures praise Him for it.
- His omnipotence
They worship God for His omnipotence. God is not merely three times holy. He is also the one and only “Almighty” (Revelation 4:8). He is all-powerful. He alone has authority over His creation. Nothing can thwart the plan of God.
- His eternality
They also worship God for His eternality. When God spoke with Moses through the burning bush, He told Moses His name: “I Am Who I Am” (Exodus 3:14). The four living creatures acknowledge God as the One “who was and who is and who is to come” (Revelation 4:8).
The writer to the Hebrews says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). It is true of God the Father, as well. His changelessness, always existing, forever nature in the face of ever-changing creation is worthy of worship and praise.
The four living creatures aren’t the only ones who praise God, so do the twenty-four elders (Revelation 4:9-11). The final picture is of all of God’s creation joining in the praise of God as sovereign Creator.
At the praise of the four creatures, the twenty-four elders prostrate themselves and place their crowns at the Father’s feet (Revelation 4:9–10). This is a sign of humility and an acknowledgment of God’s sovereign authority over all authorities, as well as His right to receive worship. This is an allusion to the practice in John’s day of victorious athletes returning home after winning a contest would participate in a final celebration where they offered their wreaths or crowns, won at the games, to the local deity.
This is not negating the truth of the crowns. Just as the athlete’s crown represented real honor and special privileges the athlete would receive, so Christians who have lived for Christ will receive real, tangible rewards. But the casting of crowns at God’s throne represents our recognition that everything in our life—even the rewards we receive—are only because of the mercy and grace of God.
Notice that the 24 elders use a phrase that was often used in pagan or emperor worship: “Worthy are you, our Lord and God” (Revelation 4:11). Christians were persecuted for failing to worship the emperor—to call him “Lord” or “God.” But in worshiping the one true God, they proclaim Him as the creator and sustainer of life and of the universe.
The twenty-four elders acknowledge that God willed the creation. He created all that exists, and all that does exists, exists because He willed it. Therefore, everything that exists belongs to God.
The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders worship God for His character—His holiness, justice, graciousness, righteousness, purity, omnipotence, eternality, and sovereignty over creation. We should see the coming tribulation in light of this heavenly scene, and it should impact how we worship.
Author Gordon Dahl cut to the bone of modern churchgoers when he wrote:
“Most middle-class Americans tend to worship their work, to work at their play, and to play at their worship. As a result, their meanings and values are distorted. Their relationships disintegrate faster than they can keep them in repair, and their lifestyles resemble a cast of characters in search of a plot.”
The cross is good representation of our relationships. If the vertical relationship with the Lord is strong and healthy, then the horizontal relationships with others will be strong and healthy. But to maintain the vertical we must worship appropriately, not play at it. It doesn’t matter if you close your eyes and raise your hands when singing the songs, not if your mind and soul aren’t fully engaged.
The word “worship” comes from the old Anglo-Saxon word weorthscipe, or “worth-ship.” It means to give or ascribe worth to someone or something. We can only do that when we give our full attention to that someone or something.
When we gather on Sunday mornings, there may be a number of activities that are worthy of your time and attention—and many people to meet and greet. But we are here to give God our undivided time and attention because He is the only One worthy of our worship.
In the new heaven and new earth, there are many things we will do as well. But central to everything we do will be the worship of God.