Day 7: ‘and the elders fell down and worshipped’
And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honour and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
Imagine you are walking past a still, flat lake (like the beautiful Hafod Y Llyn not so far from here in Penrhyndeudraeth), and you see little ripples spreading out in circles. What is reasonable to conclude about the object that caused those ripples? Why, that it was small of course! Whether a pebble, acorn or rain drop, small objects will cause small ripples. Later in your walk you hear a massive splash and see huge waves working out from the centre of the lake, coming over it’s edges. What is reasonable to conclude about the object that caused those ripples? Why, that it was massive of course! Whether a log, boulder or elephant, large objects will cause large ripples. Generally speaking, you can tell a lot about something by the effect it causes.
This is important because we see in these verses this incredible reaction throughout the heavenly throne room and the entire created order. The size and extent of the huge ripples of waves of worship that crash throughout heaven and earth tells you a lot about the One who causes them – the Lamb opening the scroll.
This is my main point today as we notice the spreading worship of the One on the throne and the Lamb throughout the whole cosmos. There are five hymns in chapters 4 and 5, and these verses recount three of them. We see an overflowing fountain of worship from the heights of heaven to the depths of the earth and then back up again:
In verses 8-10 we see the immediate reaction of those around the throne. The four living creatures, representing the created order, and the twenty-four elders, representing the redeemed people of God, fall down before the Lamb in worship. The elders each hold a harp, an object of praise. They also hold a golden bowl of incense, representing the prayers of the saints, most particularly the cries of for vindication and judgement of God’s persecuted people (6:9-11, 8:1-4). So the Lamb is the object of worship and prayer for all God’s people as shown in their ‘new’ song in verses nine and ten, a phrase being regularly used in the Old Testament to describe songs of praise for God’s triumph over evil and darkness.
Then in verses 11-12, the heavenly circle is widened as innumerable angels, the host of heaven, sing of the worth of the Lamb. Following this in verse 13the circle is widened further still to ‘every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea all that is in them’. The picture is a future one, of all life recognising the glory of the One on the throne and the Lamb. It doesn’t mean that all will be saved, it means that eventually all will recognise, willingly or not, the glory and lordship of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:10-11).
In verse 14 this spreading wave of worship is echoed back in heaven as the four living creatures give their Amen, and once more the elders fall down and worship.
Over the past seven days, as we have worked our way through this vision, we have seen that heaven and earth are pictured as a huge cosmic temple. We have seen Jesus Christ pictured as a New Adam, a King worthy to mediate God’s kingdom. The old Adam was given the mandate to fill the earth and have dominion and subdue it, but he failed through rebellion. But through the New and better Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ, the whole of creation will be filled with the glory of God. Here we have a spreading wave of worship, which the enthronement of Jesus triggers throughout heaven and earth, but what do these ripples of worship tell us about the One who caused them? At least 3 things:
Firstly, it tells us much about the identity of the Lamb. He is the One who elders bow themselves before, and is declared to be worthy along with the Father. He shares the same space with the Father as an object of worship, and is given the same accolades as God himself (vs 12 and see 1 Chronicles 29:11). He is the One who is co-equal with God the Father, and is God in his own right. A friend of mine once asked some Jehovah Witnesses, ‘If Jesus isn’t God, why is he worshipped in heaven?’ One of them turned to the other and said, ‘Good question, why is that?’. Now I’m sure they’d have their answer, but do you see how clearly and explicitly the Scriptures testify to the identity of the Lamb as God. It’s the kind of certainty you can stake your eternity on, whatever sufferings and persecutions come – Jesus is God.
Secondly, it tells us much about the achievement of the Lamb. What is it the Lamb has done that has caused such a reaction? What has he achieved? The answer is in the glorious new song of verses 9-10. By his death Jesus has ransomed a worldwide people for God. After the exodus God promised that if Israel continued to obey him and keep his covenant, they would be a ‘kingdom of priests’ (Exodus 19:6). We know that the people were never able to keep the covenant as history shows us that they continually rebelled, but Jesus has accomplished it – actually and definitely – for God’s children. What was promised has been accomplished for a people from all nations by Jesus. Just as Jesus has conquered and is reigning, so Jesus’ people have conquered and have already begun to reign. That is the wonderful truth here about Jesus’ achievement: as we suffer, endure and serve Jesus now, we are already beginning to reign and will be kept until his kingdom fully comes. It is certain!
It tells us so much about the worship of the Lamb. As John Piper puts it: “All of history is moving towards one goal, the white-hot worship of God and his Son among all the peoples of the earth.” It is the worship of God through Jesus Christ that sustains the church in their sufferings and fuels them in their mission to make him known. As Piper puts it again, “Mission exists because worship doesn’t.” If worship is such a big thing in heaven and ultimately on earth, that means we need to joyfully pursue worship as a priority. Whether it be at times when we stop privately and worship God through Christ, when we live our lives in obedience as worship to him, or when we share the gospel with others – we have the amazing privilege to worship Christ.
Through these two chapters we have been given a wonderful glimpse of the reality of our world. It all about Christ! May we all be strengthened, encouraged and kept as we worship Christ together now, and to eternity.
Throughout the universe of bliss
The centre Thou, and sun,
The eternal theme of praise is this,
To heaven’s beloved One:
Worthy, O Lamb of God, art Thou,
That every knee to Thee should bow!
Pray: Father, I pray that you would ignite in me a passion for the white hot worship of your Son among all the peoples of the earth. Amen.
Pete Campbell, Capel Fron, Penrhyndeudraeth