Small group Bible study curriculum with lessons by:
Scott Aniol, Tom Ascol, Voddie Baucham, Josh Buice, Costi Hinn, Phil Johnson,
Steven Lawson, John MacArthur, Laramie Minga, Matthew Sikes, Paul Washer, James White
Main Point: Heavenly worship is the model for our earthly worship.
Main Passage: Revelation 5
Memory: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”
Worship is our ultimate priority. God has created us for his own glory, and so we ought to worship God in a way that brings him greatest glory. The most perfect picture of what God-glorifying worship should be like has been given to us in two glimpses of heavenly worship: Isaiah 6 (see Lesson 3) and the book of Revelation.
In Revelation 5, we read about a worship service that has already taken place in heaven two thousand years ago. This explosion of praise occurred upon the ascension and exaltation and enthronement of the Lord Jesus Christ following his crucifixion and resurrection, when he was seated at the right hand of God the Father.
What we see in this passage is worship in its purest form, without any addition of manmade traditions or impurities. It is good for us to examine this worship in heaven because many today are looking in the all the wrong places for how they should worship. They are looking horizontally rather than vertically. They are adapting their worship so that it mimics the world around them. And in this new way of doing church, exposition is replaced with entertainment, preaching is replaced with performances, congregational singing is replaced with concerts, doctrine is replaced with drama, and theology is replaced with theatrics.
This is why we need to revisit this passage again, seeking to understand the distinctive hallmarks of worship in its purest form.
The Sovereignty of God (Rev 5:1)
The first thing that dominates this worship scene is the sovereignty of God. We see this clearly in verse one. This worship scene begins where every worship service must begin: with the recognition that God is upon his throne and that his sovereignty rules and reigns overall.
Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals.
The “him” refers to God the Father, seated upon the throne. That he is seated upon the throne means that he is presiding over the affairs of the universe. God is reigning and ruling every moment of every day. There are no more sabbatical rests for God as he had on the seventh day of creation. Every moment of every day God is upon his throne in heaven, and he is orchestrating all of the events upon this earth.
What is remarkable is that John writes this during the darkest hour of the church, as the church is oppressed, under the dominance of the Roman Empire, and as believers are being scattered around as emperor worship is exploding onto the scene. In the heavenly scene of Revelation 5, it is not Caesar upon his throne in Rome, but it is God upon his throne in heaven who is in control of the universe.
We note that in his right hand, in this hand of supreme authority, there is a scroll. This official document, mentioned eight times in Revelation 5, becomes one of the chapter’s dominant features. The contents of this scroll are known by alone, who is the author of its writings. This book is a sealed mystery and is unknown to human eyes. It cannot be changed. What is written in this book is already predetermined for the future, irrevocably sealed up with seven seals.
What is recorded in this book that will set heaven erupting with worship and praise? Contained in this book is the unfolding world events and coming judgements upon this earth that will be brought by Almighty God himself. It is God’s prewritten, predetermined final act for this age—the end of all things as well as the means to finally accomplish those ends. God is sovereign, and he has already recorded with infinite and precise detail everything that will unfold in the future.
The attention to the sovereign rule of God is how John’s vision began in chapter 4. When John first enters into heaven, what captures his attention is not the people there or the streets of gold; as soon as John enters into heaven, what dominates his vision is a throne standing in heaven. This is where the scene began in Isaiah 6. Isaiah “saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.” Worship in its purest form begins with the elevation and the exaltation of God over all things.
|Think About It|
|1. Why is it important that our worship begins with a recognition of the sovereignty of God?|
2. What is revealed when our worship focuses primarily on our needs and desires?
How might a focus on God’s sovereignty impact the way we approach worship?
The Inability of Man (Rev 5:2–4)
As this scene unfolds, we see not only the sovereignty of God, but we also see the inability of man.
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 loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.
The angel is crying out, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” In other words, Who is able to bring human history to its appointed end? Who is able to overturn evil with good? Who can usher in the kingdom of God on the earth?
Verse 3 provides the answer: no one. This reveals the complete inability of any created being to carry out with perfect fulfilment the predetermined plans of God for this world. No angel, no earthly ruler, no church, no pastor, no governmental official was able to break open the seals and execute its content.
The same is still true today. The answers to our problems lie not in this world, not in Washington, not in New York, in Hollywood, nor in London, nor in Moscow. There is no one on planet earth who can bring the Kingdom of God to its appointed end.
And in verse 4, the magnitude of the emptiness of this search came down hard on John. He wept as if over the death of a loved one. The futility of the world was too bleak for John to face, and the present hour seemed completely out of control to John. It appeared that evil would triumph over good and that sin would triumph over righteousness.
Here we see the complete inability of man to solve his own problems and to carry out the will of God on his own here upon the earth. And in every worship service there must be this recognition of the complete inability of man contrasted with the sovereignty of God.
|Think About It|
|1. How does recognizing the supreme sovereignty of God naturally lead us to recognize our own inability?|
2. Why is it important that we regularly recognize our own inability when we worship?
3. How can this recognition of human inability impact what we do in worship?
The Supremacy of Christ (Rev 5:5–7)
In verse 5, we see an unexpected interruption.
And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
The elder cannot bear to see John weeping anymore, and he actually gently rebukes him: Stop weeping! He reveals that the solution to the problem of man’s inability is to focus upon the Lion of Judah, Jesus Christ. Christ is represented here as a Lion—as one who is ferocious and kingly and dominant and conquering. This is none other than the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords who is seated at the right hand of God the Father. He is the legal heir to the throne.
He has conquered so as to open the book and its seven seals. He has already overcome by the victory of his death upon Calvary’s cross, by the power of the resurrection, and by the triumph of his ascension to the right hand of God the Father. All authority in heaven and earth has been given unto him. He alone will be able to bring human history to its appointed end.
And this is the message that we must bring in our worship service: the supreme authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. When someone comes into our churches, they should witness a dominant victorious note of the supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ.
John begins to catch a renewed vision of this supreme dominance of the Lord Jesus Christ, and so in verse 6 he looks for this Lion:
And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.
What is this? A defenseless lamb? Slain? John sees Jesus Christ, slain as a sacrificial animal upon Calvary’s cross. He is supreme, and he has earned the right to break open the seals because of his sacrificial atonement. This is why Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:2, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” This is why he said in 1 Corinthians 1:22, “We preach Christ crucified.” This is why we come to the Lord’s Table again and again, to be reminded of the supreme importance of the sin-bearing substitutionary death of Jesus Christ upon Calvary’s cross, in which he bore the sins of his people and carried them far away. This sin-bearing death propitiated the righteous anger of God; it has reconciled Holy God and sinful man, and brought the two together through the blood of the cross. This death of Christ has redeemed those who are enslaved to their sin and to Satan and has bought them with the price of his own blood. Forever and ever, throughout all of the ages to come, we shall be staring at those nail-pierced hands in his glorified body and it will cause our hearts to rise in worship and declare his greatness.
But it says that though he was slain, he is standing. He has come back from the dead, and he is standing in triumph and dominion over this world. Jesus Christ has all authority in heaven and earth. He has authority to send the Holy Spirit, he has authority to convert his enemies, he has authority to open spiritually blind eyes, he has authority to answer prayer.
Here Jesus is represented with seven horns, the number of perfection, symbolizing that he is all-powerful and that he is able to conquer all in combat. None can stand up against him when he exerts his will. And he has seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth, meaning he sees in every direction. Nothing occurs behind his back that he does not see. He is omniscient, and nothing surprises him. He receives no news from the earth of which he did not already know. This is an invincible combination: seven horns and seven eyes—he is omnipotent and omniscient.
In verse 7, he boldly approached the throne of God—he comes to the very epicenter of the universe, the seat of all power and all authority. He took the scroll from his Father, assuming the reigns of human history. He possesses it all. And when he comes back at his second coming, he will simply say, “mine.”
This is the worship scene in heaven, and it is being run by a theocracy—by the vote of one, the Lord Jesus Christ himself. It is a government in heaven that is of the Lord, by the Lord, and for the Lord. This is what is dominant in this worship service in heaven, the reality of Christ upon his throne, and so it should be in our worship services.
|Think About It|
|1. Why must a focus on the supremacy of Christ in our worship be preceded by a focus on the sovereignty of God and the inability of man?|
2. How can we make the death and resurrection of Christ central in our worship?
3. Why is a focus on Christ’s atonement still necessary for Christians?
The Humility of the Worshipers
In verse 8, we see the response of the angelic beings and the twenty-four elders, who represent all of the redeemed people of God:
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.
In response to the exaltation of the Lamb, all of heaven is humbled—no one is left standing. They each hold a harp, which is an instrument of joy and gladness and celebration, and golden bowls, which are full of a sweet smelling aroma that represents the prayers of the saints ascending upward to God.
And this posture of submission in heaven before Christ must be the lowly posture of every church as it humbles itself beneath the mighty hand of God. We come not into the worship service strutting like peacocks as though we’re doing God a favor to show up on Sunday. We come into his presence acknowledging our own unworthiness and our lowliness of heart and submission under his right to rule over our lives. At the very least, we need to come in humble submission and surrender our lives to the mighty hand of God.
|Think About It|
|1. What are some ways we sometimes come to worship presumptuously?|
2. Name a few realities about Christ that should humble us in worship.
3. What are some practical ways we can make sure we are coming to worship in an appropriate humility and submission to the Lordship of Christ?
The Fervency of Praise (Rev 5:9–14)
We come finally in verse 9 to the fervency of their praise.
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, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
The response of the people begins in humility, but in more than just quiet submission—there is fervent singing to the Lamb. Christianity is a singing religion. These worshipers sing a new song with new meaning, a new awareness of Christ’s honor and glory. They recognize that Christ is the only one worthy to execute the contents of the scroll, and so they respond by singing of his worthiness. Only Christ is worthy to direct human history to its God-ordained end; he earned that right by humbling himself to the point of death, even death upon a cross. And by this death he purchased for God a people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.
And then in verse 10 we that see that Christ has “made them to be a kingdom.” Out of the kingdom of darkness, they are now brought into the kingdom of light and praise to our God—a community of worshipers now have access to the throne of God.
11 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, 12 saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”
“Myriads of myriads” is the highest number in the Greek language. Countless hosts of worshipers are singing in recognition of the power and wealth and wisdom and might—what he already possesses—and in honor and glory and blessing—what we will give to him.
13 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 honor and glory and might forever and ever!” 14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
This is anticipatory of the end of the age, when “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Phil 2:10). You will either bow the knee to Jesus in this life, or you will bow the knee to Jesus in judgement of the world to come. But this passage anticipates the end of the age when all of humanity will confess Jesus Christ is Lord. They give praise to the Father—he who sits on the throne—and the Son, two distinct persons yet ruling together and both worthy of equal worship.
And the four living creatures kept saying “Amen.” They cannot stop saying this, perhaps in antiphonal form on both sides of the throne. And the elders fell down—they could not remain standing in the presence of God in the midst of the power of this worship scene. They’re not standing up erect or running around in circles—they are falling down on their knees in worship.
|Principles from Heavenly Worship (Isaiah 6, Revelation 4–5)|
The two biblical visions of heavenly worship establish some important foundational principles for our worship. First, the similarities of heavenly worship between Isaiah’s vision and John’s vision reveal that this is eternal worship. For this reason, second, earthly human worship is not something new for us, unique to us, or initiated by us; worship is perpetually taking place in the world without end. When we worship, we are entering into something eternal. Third, we enter into this eternal worship, not of our own initiative or merit, but only at the invitation from God and on basis the of God’s atoning work. In both eras, God called the sinner into his temple; they did not seek him out or initiate the encounter. And in both eras, acceptance into God’s presence was permitted only after the sinner’s guilt was atoned for by means that God himself provided. Fourth, the theological pattern of heavenly worship in both visions reflects that initiating call of God and his atoning work that enables sinners to be in his presence. The pattern of Revelation, Adoration, Confession, Propitiation, Instruction, Dedication, and Communion provides a contour to the worship of heaven that magnifies the true reality of eternal worship and the only means by which sinful humans are able to participate. Consequently, fifth, worship is not us performing for God, but a reenactment of God’s work for us. Everything about the eternal worship into which Isaiah and John enter is initiated by God, provided for by God, and shaped by his covenant relationship with his people. God is the primary actor. All of the actions of the worshipers are in response to God’s work and actually a reenactment of God’s covenantal work.
The worship in heaven should be the template to form the structure of our worship. And the tone of the worship in heaven should be the tone of our worship on earth. Let us worship as these worshiped in heaven.
|Think About It|
|1. Why is praise more glorious when it is preceded by a focus on God’s sovereignty, man’s inability, and the supremacy of Christ?|
2. How can we make sure that praise is truly directed toward God and not simply emotionalism?
3. In what ways should heavenly worship set the standard for our earthly worship?
Prayer: Father in heaven, this worship scene that took place two thousand years ago continues to reverberate within our souls as though it took place this morning. The reality of all that is represented in that scene must dominate our individual lives. It must dominate our churches. May the worship of heaven be the worship upon the earth, in of our churches and of our personal lives. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.
For Further Study:
Aniol, Scott. Draw Near: The Heart of Communion with God. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2020.
Beale, G. K. The Book of Revelation. NIGTC. Eerdmans, 1999.
Bunyan, John. Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2004.
2007, -September 1. Proclamation and Praise: Hebrews 2:12 and the Christology of Worship. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2007.
Payne, Jon D. In the Splendor of Holiness: Rediscovering the Beauty of Reformed Worship for the 21st Century. Dallas, GA: Tolle Lege Press, 2008.