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Sun, Feb 04, 2007

97 - Biblical Worship [b]

Revelation 4:5-8 by Robert Dean
Duration:49 mins 58 secs

Biblical Worship. Revelation 4:5-8

 

In the expression of praise to God in verse 8 the emphasis is on His holiness, but the one who is being praised in the Father, not the Son. There has been some confusion because some look at the phrase "who is to come" and think in terms of Jesus at the Second Coming, but in chapter 21 we see that God the Father Himself comes and takes up residence with man in the new Heavens and the new earth. He is the one who is to come. Throughout the book the phrase "Lord God Almighty" always refers to the Father. If we think about it, in this scene in chapter four there is one sitting upon the throne but the Lamb who is the Son of God comes before the one who is sitting on the throne in chapter five, so obviously these are two distinct persons. So this cannot be a reference to the Lord Jesus Christ, it must be a reference to God the Father.

 

The focus of this praise is on His holiness. There is another aspect of this that we have to deal with. In the Majority Text there is a major textual problem here: it says, "holy, holy, holy, holy holy, holy, holy, holy, holy—nine "holys," three for each of the three members of the Trinity. That is found in the vast majority of Greek MSS, which is why it is called the Majority Text. There are some variations there but for our purposes it doesn't change any doctrine, the focus of this phrase is on the integrity of God as the one who is holy. What does "holy" mean? Very few people understand what holy really means. We think of holiness primarily to mean that which has perfect righteousness, that which is morally pure. But that isn't the core meaning of this word. The New Testament concept of holy—HAGIOS/a(gioj is based on the Old Testament revelation of the holiness of God, and in the Old Testament the verb that is used to describe the holiness of God—and the noun comes from a root that has three basic consonants of q, b and sh. The noun is  qodesh. Yet, there is one form of the masculine noun and one form of the feminine noun that is used to describe the temple prostitutes in the fertility religion of the worship of the Baalim. This is where the worshipper would go into these groves or designated pagan temples and engage in sexual intercourse with these temple prostitutes as an act of fertility in order to motivate the gods to make the soil fertile. That was the emphasis in the pagan religions and the temple prostitutes were called by this root word. This gives us the root meaning. It is not morally pure because they were not morally pure. They were totally dedicated to the service of their god. And that is the root meaning of holiness, to be set apart for the service of God. There was furniture in the temple that was described as holy, but if holy has the core meaning of being morally pure you couldn't describe an inanimate object that way because a bowl of piece of furniture could not be either moral or immoral. So it has the root idea of being set apart for the service of God or simply to be set apart.

 

When this is used to describe the character of God it is emphasizing that God Himself is completely set apart, completely distinct from His creation. It emphasizes again this whole idea of the creator-creature distinction, that God is not like the creature, not just a human being that is much larger with greater powers with more intellect, but He is something that is totally other and distinct and that we cannot understand Him logically because the Old Testament says that His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways. So can only understand Him through analogy, through figures of speech, through points of contact that are common to our experience where we can have some idea of who he is and what He is like. But this emphasizes the fact that he is so completely distinct that He is the one who is worthy of worship. As a secondary idea many passages bring into the concept of holiness the idea of His perfect righteousness and justice, because if we examine this whole context of Revelation chapters four and five we see that this is a focal point on the operation of His justice. His righteousness is the standard of His character, it is absolutely perfect; His justice is the outworking, the application of that perfect righteousness toward His creatures. His righteousness and His justice combine together and often you will read theologians who define holiness as the combination of His righteousness and His justice, but it is more than that, it is something that sets God completely apart from all of His creatures. So the picture that we have here is that because He is holy, because of His absolute perfect, because of His perfect justice, he is the one, and the only one, who is qualified to bring judgment on mankind and to execute justice over evil in the history of mankind. And what we see in this chapter is what Jesus mentioned in John 5: "All judgment has been given to me by the Father." That happens in chapter five when the scroll is brought forward and the Lamb of God comes forward. This is when the judgment is delegated from God the Father as the ultimate supreme judge of the universe to His Son who is both man and God, and he as our peer judge, as one who is fully human, is the one who brings about judgment on the human race. The foundation is being paid in chapter four for the actions that occur in chapter five. The emphasis in on His holiness and His power; he is the Lord God Almighty, the eternal and everlasting one.

 

When we come to the book of Revelation we can observe five different characteristics of the "living beings," v. 8. It is an important part of any kind of Bible study to understand how something is used within the book or the epistle that is being studied. It is important to do a study of earlier books that have been written but we need to understand how something is used within a book itself, and since these living beings play an important role in the outworking of the justice of God in Revelation it will help us if we just glance at a couple of passages as we do this. These four living beings are always before the throne of God and the Lamb of God—4:6; 5:6. They have six wings and are full of eyes. The wings indicate their power and the eyes indicate the extent of their knowledge and their awareness of all that is going on around them. When they are pictured in Revelation they are engaged in praising God for His character, the focus is on who God is and what He has done—4:8; 5:9. (Note that 5:9 says that He is worthy because He was slain and He has redeemed us to God by His blood—the term "blood of Christ" is not to be taken literally, it is a term that is an idiom for the spiritual death of Christ on the cross)  They are seen falling down and worshipping God in 5:14, and again in 7:11, 12. The last passage where the living creatures are mentioned in Revelation 19:4. This is just prior to the return of the Lord to the earth and here they are before the throne and the 24 elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshipped God who sat on the throne, saying, Amen; Alleluia. Alleluia is not some word with special spiritual connotations so that if you say that somehow you have praised God. It comes from the Hebrew word halel, which is the word for praise, which means to ascribe honor and glory to someone, to give thanks for what they have done. The imperative form of halel is halelu—the "u" is a second person plural imperative ending, and it means "You all praise." It is a command. Jah is the first syllable in the name of Yahweh, so hallelujah is a command to people to praise God. It is not a descriptive term, it is a command to others to praise God. In and of itself it is not praising God. Alleluia means to praise God, when we read praise psalms what they are are hymns that describe and declare what God has done in history; who He is in terms of His character and what He has done in history. That is what praise to God is, it is not the mindless repetition of some of these words where people think they are somehow special spiritual vocabulary.

 

So these living beings are described as worshipping and praising God. They have special duties to perform such as calling forth for the dreadful manifestations of the judgments of God. In 6:1 we read, "Then I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, 'Come.'" So the living creatures were taking the apostle John to show him the outworking of the justice of God. And again in 6:7, "When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, 'Come.'" So they have these special duties as witnesses and revealers of the outworking of the judgment of God. One of them is involved in handing over one of the bowls of the wrath of God in 15:7, "Then one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God, who lives forever and ever."

 

These creatures are very similar to those that we already find in Scripture. Ezekiel 1 where we have a picture of the same kind of thing that we see in Revelation 4 & 5, a picture of the throne of God described by Ezekiel in terms of his own frame of reference. Our focus here is just on these living creatures. Ezekiel 1:5 NASB "Within it there were figures resembling four living beings. And this was their appearance: they had human form." This is a vision that takes place in 592 BC just after the second invasion of Nebuchadnezzar into the promised land where Ezekiel is taken captive back to Babylon. Again, the emphasis in this vision is on the outworking of God's justice because much of the subject matter in Ezekiel is on the judgment of God in relationship to the nation Israel, and also in terms of ultimate judgment of the earth in the future. Each of the living creatures had four faces. These are the same four that we find in Revelation, but in Revelation the living creatures each had a different face, one a lion, one a calf, one an eagle, and one a man. Here each of these creatures has four faces and each has four wings; those in Revelation chapter four have six wings. So these are different, though similar. Ezekiel 1:7 "Their legs were straight and their feet were like a calf's hoof, and they gleamed like burnished bronze." Again the imagery of bronze emphasizes the purity, the holiness of God. [8] "Under their wings on their four sides {were} human hands. As for the faces and wings of the four of them, [9] their wings touched one another; {their faces} did not turn when they moved, each went straight forward. [10] As for the form of their faces, {each} had the face of a man; all four had the face of a lion on the right and the face of a bull on the left, and all four had the face of an eagle." So we have the same four animals mentioned here as in Revelation. Then in verse 18 when he sees the throne of God, "As for their rims they were lofty [high] and awesome, and the rims of all four of them were full of eyes round about… [22} Now over the heads of the living beings {there was} something like an expanse, like the awesome gleam of crystal, spread out over their heads." This is similar to the imagery of Revelation chapter four but it is not necessarily showing the same thing. [26] "Now above the expanse that was over their heads there was something resembling a throne, like lapis lazuli in appearance; and on that which resembled a throne, high up, {was} a figure with the appearance of a man." These creatures are not identified until 10:20, and there Ezekiel says, "These are the living beings that I saw beneath the God of Israel by the river Chebar; so I knew that they {were} cherubim."  The cherubim are a strictly significant class of angels in the Old Testament and they are always associated with the character of God. In the tabernacle and then later the temple there was a veil that was set in the holy place that separated the outer room from the inner holy of holies, and on this veil were the images of the cherub—Exodus 26:31. Furthermore, in Exodus 25:18-21 we are told that in the holy of holies there would be the ark of the covenant, and on top of this ark and on top of the mercy seat were two cherubs depicted looking down upon the mercy seat. They depicted the holiness of God, His righteousness and justice as it is satisfied by the blood that is placed there.

Passages like Isaiah 37:16 talk about God as Yahweh of hosts, the Lord of the armies, the God of Israel, the one who dwells between these cherubim. Psalm 18:10 NASB "He rode upon a cherub and flew; And He sped upon the wings of the wind." So these cherubs are distinct from the living creatures. Isaiah 6:2, 3 NASB "Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory." What we see in these passages is the emphasis on the throne of God, the presence of God as one who is completely distinct because of His character. He is holy, and because He is holy He is worthy to be worshipped. In fact when we just r4ead "worthy" it is related in English etymologically to our word worship. It comes from the old English word worthship which means worthy to be honoured. This brings us to the fact that in Revelation 4:9 where we read the living creatures "give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever." Then what happens is that the 24 elders, instead of sitting upon their thrones and observing their worship, fall down prostrate before the throne of God. Rev 4:10, 11, "the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 'Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.'"

This sets us up for investigating and understanding what the Bible teaches about worship, something that confuses a lot of people today, something that is a point of tremendous concern in a lot of congregations today. Rev 4:10 the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying,

Rev 4:11 "Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created."

Illustrations