The Worship of the EldersRevelation 4:9-11Theme: The worthiness of God.This week’s lessons remind us that our God is worthy of our praise.
LessonWhenever any of the created beings praise God in heaven, the elders seem to join in. Remember that they represent the redeemed people of God from all ages. Here they praise God as the Creator. Their hymn begins with the words, “You are worthy,” which, of course, is worship in its purest sense because that’s what worship is. Worship is ascribing worth to God. The four living creatures are praising God because he is holy, and sovereign, and eternal, and here the elders praise him as the Creator. In other words, they’re praising God both for who he is and for what he’s done.
First of all, they praise God because he’s holy. That’s the only attribute of God in the Bible that is customarily repeated three times in a single sentence. It’s a way of emphasizing the holiness of God. It’s what sets God apart from everything else. And it’s the first characteristic of his nature that human beings become aware of when they catch a glimpse of God in his glory. It’s a wonderful thing, but it’s also what makes God so terrifying. When God appeared to Moses on the mountain with lightning and peals of thunder, the very thing that John says here he saw coming from the throne, Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.” There’s not much trembling and fear before the holiness of God today. As a matter of fact, there’s very little recognition of his holiness at all, even among the most pious of Christian people, which explains why our worship services are so trivial. An awareness of the holy has been crowded out by the grossly material, self-centered, entertainment-oriented culture of our time.
I want to quote a paragraph from Angels in the Architecture by Douglas Jones and Douglas Wilson that recognizes the problem.
We who are now alive do not remember how to apprehend the beauty and the holiness of our God. We are so unlettered by modernity that we no longer ache to think of it. Our inability to comprehend such things pervades everything we do. Some hope that post-modernism will show the way out, but a post-modernist is nothing more than a modernist who has admitted his cultural illiteracy, which is not the same thing as reading. Christians, by and large, do not stand against this folly with a clear understanding of antithesis. Coming to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness somehow gets translated into the warmth of niceness. Almost entirely gone is the experience of being run through, of being pierced by the pneumonis. We acknowledge that some things are pretty or nice; we desire to be dabbed by them. We say we call for the gods of glory and beauty and we summon up the imbecilic and grinning demons of kitsch.
Now the elders didn’t fall for this. The elders joined the cherubim in singing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty who was, and is, and is to come.”
The second thing they praise him for is his sovereignty. Sovereignty is certainly the thing that is most emphasized in the book of Revelation, and with a very good reason. John is writing to Christians who are undergoing troubles in the world, some of them facing persecutions, as many are in the world today. And what he wants to do is reassure them that God is ruling history. Now that’s what the four living creatures are talking about when they call God the “Lord God Almighty.” But it’s also what the elders are acknowledging when they use the words “Our Lord and God” in verse 11. Those to whom John wrote needed to know that God is truly sovereign, and that they would be able to stand firm in him when the time of persecution came.
In the Greek text here, each of the nouns in the second line of verse 11, “Glory and honor and power,” is preceded by the definite article which indicates totality. That means God alone is to receive all the glory, all the honor, and all the power. The reason for that is that all things have come from him. It’s exactly what Paul said at the end of Romans 11: “For all things are from him and are sustained by him. For from him, and through him, and to him are all things, and therefore to God alone be the glory forever.”
What is the first thing for which the elders praise God?
What has happened to man’s understanding of God’s holiness today?
What attribute of God’s is most emphasized in Revelation?