Revelation 5:8-10 is an incredible passage: John takes us to a heavenly worship service where Jesus is finally getting the praise He deserves. Four beasts and twenty-four elders fall on their faces before Christ and worship Him for the work He did on the cross. Will you do the same today?
Additional messages from this series are available here: The First Hymns of Heaven
We have been given, through the Revelation of John, a front row seat in the symphony hall where the hymns of heaven are being sung.
For the church, raptured and in the presence of God, these are the first hymns heard. What more could you do than sing of God’s glory when confronted with the physical beauty and terror of his throne – encircled by a rainbow, emitting flashes of lightning, with the sounds of thunder crashing and all the while, strange creatures chanting Holy, Holy, Holy.
These first five hymns of heaven in Revelation 4 & 5 are powerful, descriptive, moving, exhilarating expressions of praise to God for His holiness and glory and sovereignty and redemptive work on behalf of mankind.
This is what it’s like on the other side.
In each of our past sessions in this series we’ve discussed the intuitive sense in the human heart of eternity and God.
There is a sense in everyone that life goes on after death.
And especially in our generation, there is a growing acceptance to the syncretism of religions today where you pull something from the Bhagavad Gita – the sacred writings of the Hindus and pull something out of the Book of Mormon and pull something out of Mary Baker Eddy’s Christian Science Key and pull something out of the Koran – the sacred book of Islam and put it together any way you like and be fairly confident that whatever is right for you is right and you’ll make it to the other side, whatever that happens to be.
And by the way, pull anything you like out of the Bible while you’re at it.
Ask those tuning in to Oprah Winfrey’s radio show where Marianne Williamson is teaching the Course in Miracles – “do you believe in God” and they will answer, “Absolutely.”
Ask them, “Do you believe in the Bible?” and they will say, “Of course!”
Eckhart Tolle, the well known author and repeated guest on Oprah’s television show references the Bible 22 times in his book entitled The New Earth. [Listen, these people are comfortable talking about God, Jesus, heaven, salvation, the spirit, eternity . . . but they are given definitions outside of scripture.] Eckhart Tolle says, and I quote, “Of course we believe in the Bible; it’s part of ancient wisdom. We revere the Bible,” end quote.
Quoted by Erwin Lutzer in his sermon manuscript, “The Lie” (April 20, 2008)
I’m not sure what exactly he’s revering, but I do know what he’s reversing.
Here’s a quote from one of his books, “The truth is inseparable from who you are. The very being that you are is truth. Jesus tried to convey that when he said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’ These words uttered by Jesus are one of the most profound and direct pointers to the Truth if understood correctly; if misinterpreted they could become a great obstacle.”
What he means is that Jesus, the enlightened man who found out how to connect with the Divine within has pointed out that everyone is the way, the truth, the life. The great obstacle is when you don’t believe this, and instead you believe that Jesus alone is the way the truth and the life. For the believer, this is the great bridge to heaven. For Eckhart, it is the great obstacle to self-realization.
And by the way, Eckhart doesn’t quote the rest of John 14:6 that says, “And no one comes to the Father except by Me.”
But ask him along with Marianne Williamson and Rhonda Byrne, the author of The Secret, “Do you believe in Jesus” and they will say, “Of course.”
But they’ve redefined Him.
Dig a little deeper and you discover that, (and I’m summarizing from A Course in Miracles, taught by Marianne Williamson) the name Jesus is merely a symbol which can stand for any god or goddess that you can take and you can pour it into that name.
This is a different Jesus entirely.
By the way, Erwin Lutzer in the most recent manuscript he sent me this past week made the point that the author of A Course in Miracles – now being taught in Protestant churches in Europe and liberal churches in America, was not entirely written by its author, Helen Shookman. She claimed that it was the result of what’s called “automatic writing” . . . writing by a spirit guide who takes over as you let yourself stop thinking and the spirit guide actually dictates what you put down. Helen Shookman openly claimed that she wasn’t the author of the book but simply the scribe.
Neal Walsh, also a guest of Oprah and comrade of all these others, wrote his best seller entitled Conversations with God – also by way of automatic writing. In other words, information was granted to his subconscious mind by spirit guides – by the spirit world.
Which sends me immediately to Paul’s warning to the believers living in Galatia as he wrote, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed, As we have said before, so now I say again, If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:6-9)
Listen, all of this boils down to what you believe about Jesus Christ. That’s why the gospel can be boiled down to “Believing that Jesus Christ is kurios – Lord, literally deity – not a principle of deity as Christian Science teaches, but a person; God the Son.
Christian Science, one man said, which is all the rage now as well . . . Christian Science is like Grape Nuts. It is neither grapes nor nuts. This false teaching is neither Christian or Science. They believe that God is merely a curative principle – again, just some kind of force you tap into.
Salvation comes by believing that Jesus Christ is the personal, literal God – Paul goes on to add, and believe also that God the Father raised God the Son from the dead – personally, physically – not spiritually or mystically. Paul says in Romans 9:10 – these two things are the sum and substance of the gospel.
In other words, you can’t be saved apart from the gospel and you can’t be saved apart from the gospel of Christ.
I got a lengthy, rambling letter this week from someone who believed that I was in error for making too much of the deity of Christ.
From what I’ve just read from Galatians and Romans, we can’t make too little of Christ’s deity. If anything we aren’t making enough of it.
And is it ever amazing to discover that Christ happens to be the subject and theme of these great hymns in heaven.
In chapter 4 of Revelation, God the Father is worshipped as sovereign, pre-existent creator; in chapter 5, God the Son is worshipped as redeemer and the singing, by the way, exalts many of the same attributes in Him as are exalted in God the Father.
One author wrote, “Only on earth is there any question about Jesus Christ’s identity and worth. In heaven they know who He is and what He is worth . . . only on earth is there confusion and error.”
David J. MacLeod “The Adoration of God the Redeemer (Bibliotheca Sacra, Oct/Dec 2007), p. 454
But in heaven there is clarity and magnificent worship and singing.
Now, if you’ve been with me in this series through Revelation chapters 4 and 5 – following the first two hymns of heaven in chapter 4, we arrived at chapter 5 to discover John the Apostle weeping (5:4).
He’s weeping because no one is capable of opening that scroll with 7 seals. John’s audience would know that a 7-sealed scroll was a title deed or a last will and testament.
No one was worthy to claim the title deed of earth and the universe; no one was capable and powerful enough to carry out the last will and testament, as it were, of God the Father.
But there was One – the One who centuries earlier had come to earth to do the will of His Father.
In verse 5 of chapter 5 John is told to stop weeping because Jesus Christ, equally omniscient and omnipresent and omnipotent – the one described in chapter 1 as pre-existent and sovereign is the One able to fulfill the will of the Father and powerful enough to see it accomplished.
By the way, God evidently knows His will for the future, symbolized by this scroll and Jesus Christ is there to receive it.
The open theists must stumble here at their belief that God is learning as He goes along – He’s figuring things out as mankind responds to Him. But here, you have John in 95 AD seeing the will of God written in a scroll – events that are gonna take place more than 2,000 years later are already confirmed.
To God, the future is as clear as the past.
And here is His Son – the Lion (v. 5); the one who descended from the royal tribe of Judah; the one who is both the descendant of David and pre-existent – the root – of David; the only One who has conquered death and the grave – stepping forward to receive the confirmed, decreed will of the Triune God.
Listen, to try to find the will of God through mediums and spirit guides and the occult world is a dangerous pursuit.
To listen to the teachings of authors like Rhonda Byrne and Marianne Williamson and Helen Shook and Eckhart Tolle is to play with fire.
Since the heart of every human knows there’s life after death – there’s something out there . . . there’s a spirit world that is just as alive as this physical world, everybody wants a clue – a sign – a secret key to unlock it all.
If all forms of spiritism – whether channeling spirit guides, automatic writing, séances, and the like – if all of it was fakery and sleight of hand, God would not have forbidden His people from dabbling in it.
A gentleman in our church gave me a recent article from the Wall Street Journal that recorded the ongoing uproar over the firing of a trial court judge in the Philippines because he admitted to receiving advice and counsel from three invisible elves.
Sounds strange to us, but not in that culture where elves are part of the spirit world and belief in their power dates all the way back to the 16th century in that culture. People make pilgrimages to places of supposed sightings.
This judge claims to have been able to perceive these three elves in 1986. Before he was fired – only recently – he would sometimes enter a trance in his chambers and write his rulings.
The three elves are known as Angel – who is a neutral force; Armand who is a benign influence and Luis whom this judge describes as the king of kings.
Wall Street Journal, Monday, September 17, 2007, p. A1
Ladies and Gentlemen, Satan, the angel of light, is alive and well. He and his dark kingdom have the ability to deliver to open minds and hearts information about the past and events of the present and clues about things that just might happen in the future, deceiving many into thinking they’ve tapped into something good.
That’s how that channeler can come up with the nick-name of your deceased uncle. The demonic world can communicate through their own network what just happened in New York and Australia. They see the vision boards of women who follow Rhonda Byrne and the Secret, maneuvering for many whatever they can so that some of it comes true.
Listen, there’s a reason why demonized people in the New Testament immediately knew who Christ was and later the Apostle Paul, without ever having had an introduction.
They do not know any more of the future than you or I – for Satan and his demons are not omniscient. But they can read the times and watch humanity at work and play with incredible skill.
Several years ago I headed to Japan to visit some of our gloabal staff – by the way, what a privilege to teach the son of that family now at Shepherds Seminary – Billy Petite plans to return to Japan after graduating and pastor the church planted by his grandfather.
Before I left for Japan, I went to the store to buy some board games for the family to take over with me. I was surprised to see OUIJA boards for sale as a game, no less. You ought to know that the makers of the OUIJA board went to court in 1922, claiming tax exempts status for the sale of their boards because of its religious connections. I was able to read a newspaper article, dated June 6, 1922 in which they ending up arguing before the Supreme Court that the OUIJA board was not a game, but a form of amateur medium-ship which involved “automation and the subconscious mind” and was therefore a spiritual exercise, and not taxable. They lost in court, and the boards have been sold ever since as a game.
My friend if you have an OUIJA board, throw it away. If you read the tarot cards for fun, throw them away. If you read the horoscope in the newspapers like millions of other Americans just to see if any of it will pan out, stop. If you’re calling 1-900-psychic like millions of other Americans wandering and winding on their way to eternal judgment, stop. Stop flirting with a kingdom that is real and dangerous.
God does not warn us because these things are innocent – just read again 2 Kings chapter 1 some time; God doesn’t forbid the activities of mediums and sorcerers and spiritists and astrologers, because they are silly, or just for fun, or not really true, or they don’t really work. He warns us because they are a doorway that opens the heart and mind to the deceiver – the angel of light – to the false teacher – the medium – the channeler – the erudite and articulate guest on TV talk shows who say things like you can create your own destiny; you are divine . . . your will can move the universe.
For the believer,
- there is only One whose will we seek;
- there is only One to whom we pray;
- there is only One on whom we meditate;
- there is only One who controls the universe;
- there is only One who has revealed the future in the truth of scripture that we pursue;
- there is only One whose will we desire to follow.
Listen to the prophet Isaiah deal with the spiritual wanderings of his own people as he wrote this warning, “When they say to you, “Consult the mediums and the spiritists who whisper and mutter,” should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no light . . . and they will be thrust into thick darkness.” (Isaiah 8:19-22)
Here’s the future! It’s unrolling in a scroll held not by a principle of deity, or a symbol for any god or goddess – but the Lamb of God. The risen, majestic, powerful, Son of God.
In this inspired tour of heaven, Christ alone is the One worthy of performing the will of His Father – unleashing the wrath of God on earth and riding to victory with the redeemed and setting up the throne of David in Jerusalem and inaugurating the Kingdom era.
So John stops weeping as he sees Jesus Christ take the scroll.
Now notice, verse 8, And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders (which represent the church) fell down before the Lamb.
Listen, John is seeing what is in your future and mine. We are here in this scene, represented by the elders – crowned, wearing white robes and, as we’ll see, called to rule and reign as priests before God.
People often wonder what we’ll do when we first see Christ. You don’t need to wonder – this text tells you. You will fall at His feet.
John MacArthur shared in a session I attended some time ago about a well known leader – a pastor in California – who told him on one occasion that he was shaving that morning when Jesus Christ appeared to him. Then he asked John, “Do you believe me – that Jesus Christ appeared to me?” MacArthur asked, “Did you keep shaving?” “Yes, I did.” MacArthur responded, “Then it wasn’t Jesus . . . if it had been, you would have fallen on your face before Him [shaving cream and all].”
Adapted from Steven J. Lawson, Heaven Help Us (NavPress, 1995), p. 88
I’m really sorry if this ruins one of your favorite songs – the Bible often does that when it’s consulted – but you don’t need to only imagine. When you first enter the presence of Christ you won’t dance before Jesus or not be able to speak at all; furthermore you won’t hug Him, give Him a high five; you won’t give God a hand with polite applause . . . and you will not be silent – because a great hymn is about to erupt in that great symphony hall like we’ve never heard before.
Before we look at the lyrics notice what the elders, representing the church, are holding. Verse 8 tells us they are all each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense.
The grammar makes it unlikely that the four creatures are holding harps or bowls of incense, in fact, it seems that they do not sing until the final stanza of the hymn we’re about to hear.
Adapted from MacLeod, p. 458
You say, “I knew it”. We’re all gonna have to play harps in heaven. This is where people get the idea that we’re gonna sit on a cloud and play a harp forever.
Some of you wouldn’t mind if everybody here was playing the guitar or trumpet; in fact, some of you would be really happy if they all had banjos in their hands . . . heaven knows good music.
While these are literal harps and bowls, they serve a symbolic purpose.
We’re given some help in verse 8 by being told the symbolic nature of the golden bowls of incense – notice “these are the prayers of the saints.”
Roman Catholic interpreters would use this verse to prove that saints in heaven are serving today as mediators of prayers voiced on earth and so we ought to be praying to the saints.
Protestant author, Randy Alcorn in his book entitled, Heaven, argues that saints in heaven are praying for people on earth.
What both views miss first of all is the clear teaching that there is only one mediator in heaven – Paul wrote to Timothy – and that mediator is Jesus Christ (I Timothy 2:5).
Furthermore, this is not a picture of saints in heaven praying for saints on earth. This is a picture of the future, when the church is in heaven with Christ, immediately preceding the beginning of the tribulation.
John is not implying here that saints in heaven are conveying to God the prayers of believers on earth as Roman Catholicism teaches, or that saints in heaven are involved in praying on behalf of the saints below as some protestant believers suggest.
This is not a picture of life here and now. This is a picture of the future.
The prayers of the saints here at this stage in history should be understood as appeals to God for the coming of Messiah’s reign – the literal culmination of how Christ taught us to pray on earth – “Thy kingdom come – Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Ibid, p. 459
Can you imagine the perspective we will have and the ability to pray that particular prayer then.
What about the harps? Well, we’re not told what they represent – as we are the bowls of incense.
However, in the Old Testament, harps were often associated with prophecy. The prophet Samuel prophesied to the sound of harps (1 Samuel 10:5); before Elisha prophesied in 2 Kings 3:15 he called for a harpist while prophesying.
I agree with one author who said that taken together, harps and bowls indicate that all the prophets ever prophesied and all the prayers that God’s children ever prayed is finally and ultimately going to be fulfilled!
John MacArthur, Revelation: Volume 1 (Moody Press, 1999), p. 171
Donald Grey Barnhouse, a former pastor and author, provoked my thinking when he wrote, “There are four things that are out of place in the universe – four things not yet in their final place. Christ, who belongs on David’s throne reigning; Israel who belongs in the land promised to her; Satan and his demons who belong in Hell, and the church who belongs in heaven.”
Quote adapted from MacArthur, p. 170
No wonder there is such incredible worship . . . events are moving that will put everything in its rightful place.
Notice verse 9. And they sang a new song.
Stop – why a new song? Because nothing else will quite do.
The Greek word for new (kainhn) is a word that refers to something better than the old – something of superior value.
Robert L. Thomas, Revelation: Volume 1 (Moody Press, 1992), p. 399
Revelation is a Book of new things. We’ve been given a new name (2:17; 3:12); we will occupy a new Jerusalem (3:12; 21:2);there are new heavens and a new earth (21:1); and to sort of sum it all up, God says in Revelation 21:5, I make all things new.
William Barclay, The Revelation of John: Volume 1 (Westminster Press, 1976), p. 176
- Are you abused and mistreated? God is going to make everything just.
- Are you suffering and afflicted? God is going to make everything right.
- Are you tired of temptation and sin? God is going to make everything clean and perfected.
- Are you tired of the drudgery and of life? God is going to make everything fresh and new.
Are you getting old? I am! I turn 50 this month. 50. That’s ridiculous. I know people in their 50’s they’re old people. When I began pastoring Colonial I was 28 and longed to turn 30 so that I could have some age. Then I was even happy to turn 40. I’m not happy anymore.
Guess what I got in the mail this week? I got a letter inviting me to join the AARP. Who told?
Actually, I didn’t know what the AARP was, but everybody in the brochure had gray hair and looked extremely happy. So I googled online and found out it was an organization for people 50 and up. They have their own magazine – the AARP magazine has the largest magazine circulation in the world. I don’t care.
I am still 49!
Are you getting old? I am! God is going to make everything, including us, brand new.
And they sang a new song.
A new song – that word for song is the word (wdh) which gives us our English word, ode – a lyrical poem intended to be sung. We recognize that word in the classical world of music.
In Beethoven’s 9th symphony he included a poem entitled Ode to Joy. In fact, the 9th symphony is called the Symphony of Joy because of its joyful lyrics.
The poem ends with these powerful lyrics, sung in this magnificent symphony;
One sees the banners of Joy in the wind,
Through the opening of burst coffins
One sees her standing in the chorus of angels.
Endure courageously, millions!
Endure for the better world!
There above the starry canopy
A great God will reward.
Actually, by the time he finished it, he was deaf – he never heard one note when it debuted with him conducting.
After the second movement, that night when it was first performed, the people jumped to their feet and began to cheer - Beethoven was simply disturbed that his orchestra wasn’t preparing for the third movement and kept motioning them to prepare until one of them pointed and he turned around to see the audience cheering while members of the orchestra wept.
The Ode to Joy was and still is magnificent music.
This here is The Redeemed singing an Ode to Jesus.
And it is incredible.
It begins in verse 9 with the words, “Worthy are you . . .”
John’s audience would have goosebumps at that first phrase.
Domitian, the cruel Roman emperor was beginning to persecute the church; it was Domitian who exiled John to the island of Patmos. Whenever there was a lavish state banquet or a festival, the crowd rose when Domitian entered and they chanted these same words, “Worthy are you . . . worthy are you.”
Adapted from MacLeod, p. 461
What a thrilling moment as this orchestra and choir sings and John hears these opening words to the Emperor of Heaven – the true and living King of Kings.
In John’s day the church was small, isolated, struggling and even sinful. What will her future be? Will she triumph? Will she even grow? Will persecution and sin extinguish the spreading flame of Christianity?
Adapted from MacArthur, p. 172
Here is final proof . . . the church remained alive and well.
The promise of Jesus Christ that the gates of Hades would not overwhelm the church had indeed come true. (Matthew 16:18)
Notice new lyrics now in verse 9b, “for You were slain.”
The word used for “slain” refers to a death of violence and mercilessness.
It wasn’t an accident . . . His death was intentional.
Without His death there is gospel (I Corinthians 15).
His death is also redemptive. Notice the next phrase (9c), “and by your blood you purchased us for God.”
The word for purchased was used in John’s day for buying slaves and then setting them free.
Christ’s death set us free from slavery to sin and enslavement in an eternal hell.
His death is not only intentional and redemptive but universal. I didn’t say universalism – universalism is the belief that everybody gets into heaven no matter what they believe.
I said universal. That is, the effects of the atonement of Christ reach around the world.
Notice in the middle of verse 9:
- The redeemed are from every tribe – this refers to the same family line or clan;
- The redeemed are from every language or tongue – the word is glossa (glwssa) which refers to every group distinguished by a language;
- The redeemed are from every people – a word that refers to race;
- The redeemed are from every nation – the word is ethnos (eqnoV) and refers to an ethnic body of people united by culture and common tradition.
Adapted from MacLeod, p. 461
Can you imagine John’s heart pounding with amazement and joy as he discovers the atoning work of Christ has reached around the world?
Three benefits to Christ’s cross work are sung of next:
- The church is given royal position – we’ve been made a kingdom, John wrote in verse 10a.
- Secondly, we’re given an eternal priesthood – as priests we will have ongoing immediate access to our Lord.
- Thirdly, we’re given a future promise – still future to this choir of redeemed ones. Notice (10b), and they shall reign on the earth! An indisputable reference to the coming kingdom on earth. More on that later.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this inspired Ode to Joy – you could call it an ode to Jesus Christ, is really a song about the power of the cross work of Jesus Christ who was slain and who ransomed a people for God.
Marianne Williamson has now taught A Course in Miracles on Oprah’s network to millions of people. Here’s what A Course in Miracles says about the crucified Lord, and I quote, “A slain Christ has no meaning. The only message of the crucifixion is that you can overcome the cross. Do not make the pathetic error of clinging to the old rugged cross.”
Lutzer’s sermon manuscript
“A slain Christ has no meaning”? My friend, a slain Christ has eternal meaning. According to this passage, in heaven we are still going to be singing about it.
“Don’t make the pathetic error of clinging to the old rugged cross”?
Listen, don’t make the pathetic error of ignoring the old rugged cross!
The Apostle Paul said, “God forbid that I should glory in anything except the cross of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 6:14)
You ignore the crucified Savior and reject the cross of Jesus Christ and you will die in your sins without hope forever.
You accept the crucified Savior and believe in the death of Jesus Christ for your sins and His burial and His resurrection and you will live in the new heaven and the new earth forever.
Ignore it and die in your sins and suffer the consequences forever.
Believe it and live unto Christ in the coming kingdom forever and forever.