Text: Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm 23:1-3a
There’s a lot going on in Revelation, but one of my favorite parts of it is the worship. Some six times in John’s vision he sees and hears the worship before the throne of God in Heaven. Now technically, only two of these passages are explicitly sung (chs. 5, 15). Others are spoken and still others shouted. But they are all formatted like poetry or lyrics. And across the six examples of worship the themes are overlapping. They speak and sing of God’s salvation, they offer praise to God, and they express the holiness and worthiness of God and Jesus, the Lamb.
I want to look with you at the worship in Revelation 7 today. It’s like a complete worship service, beginning with a shout of praise, then with a face-to-the-ground prayer, then with a time of teaching and explanation (not unlike a sermon). It seems to me that studying and participating in the worship of Heaven would be a good thing to do. So I want to walk us through that and then invite us to make it our own at the end.
Now I do want to follow the forms actually listed (shout, pray, teach); but I think what’s more important is the content of each form. So it is true that this scene of Heavenly worship starts with a shout, moves to prayer, and then has a time of teaching. But throughout the main point will be the content. In other words, the point is not that we re-format our own worship to shout, pray, teach. The point is to understand what is at the heart of Heavenly worship as a clue and cue to what should guide our own worship.
Starts with a Shout (vv.9-10)
This scene of Heavenly worship begins with a shout. That’s in verse 10, which was translated as “they cry out with a loud voice, saying…”. The word translated “cry out” just as often is translated as scream our shout, especially when “with a loud voice” is explicitly added. Let’s look at who was doing the shoutin’ and what they were shoutin’ about!
It’s a “great multitude.” And it’s not just big numbers like at a SEC football game, it’s too many to count. And it’s not just a crowd that looks like me or you, but one “from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues.” It is a crowd drawn from all of humanity in all its rich array of colors and languages and cultures. I don’t think I can stress that enough as a biblical theme. It’s throughout the Old Testament covenant as the purpose for blessing Israel. It’s throughout the ministry of Jesus and teachings of Paul; that God so loved the whole world and there is no distinction to be made between Jew and Greek, male and female, slave and free. And this is the trajectory of all that: an uncountable multitude shouting praise in the presence of God in Heaven.
And what were they (will they be) shouting” They cry out, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (v.10) I think of the crowds scream for their team before a huge football game. Or I think of the deafening sound of a crowd at a rock concert. The sound is enormous, but it’s focused on a person or a team. It’s directed praise. And that’s what is going on here. God the King and Jesus the Lamb have SAVED this crowd from sin and death. Salvation belongs to God and this huge crowd is shouting out that truth in celebration, enthusiasm, and victory.
Humble Prayer (vv.11-12)
And as pictured in verses 11-12 that follow, there is a smaller group simultaneously on their faces before the throne of God. This group is made of angels – ALL the angels – and the human elders and the four living creatures described elsewhere in Revelation. These beings and these people were seemingly in the midst of all that, yet face down in prayer and praise and worship.
They were saying something different: “Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.” I love the overflowing nature of that. I love the string of attributes that seem to just go on and on. “Amen” is “truly!” or “let it be so!” as if to affirm the shouts of praise from the surrounding multitude. But this group prostrate around the throne is offering more specific praise and the truth of it drives them to their knees and to the ground in humility. This is God! God is worthy! The Lamb is worthy!
Teaching Time (vv.13-17)
In vv. 13-17 there is a dialogue that I can only describe as a teaching moment. One of the elders asks what must be a rhetorical question because he goes on to answer his own question. He asks John (in the vision): “Who are these people with the white robes? What’s their story?” John says, “You know.” (i.e. “You tell me!”)
And the elder answers and packs an amazing amount of teaching into a relatively short response.
Who are they? They are the ones who have come out of the great tribulation, a horrible time of persecution for the sake of Christ. But for their endurance and faithfulness Christ has washed their robes (presumably stained with their own blood and suffering) and made them white in his own blood. Jesus has delivered them finally into a place of peace, wholeness, and rightness.
Why are they there? It is because of their faithful obedience and suffering. It is for this reason the elder says that they are close in the presence of God, serving Him day and night. (I should note that this is not some kind of extra burden, but an extra HONOR, to serve God in this way.) And in that nearness, God “spreads his tabernacle” – that is, His protection and presence – over them. Those who suffered most are comforted and protected most in the presence of God.
What is their future? Remembering that this vision of the future was written to comfort those suffering in the present, the elder describes what God’s tabernacle – His comfort and protection – will mean for those who suffer for the sake of Christ: “They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat.” And then here is another image to go with the “tabernacle” God has spread over them: “the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd.” As written long before John’s time, in the 23rd Psalm, the Good Shepherd will “guide them to springs of the water of life” and, further, will “wipe every tear from their eyes.”
Joining In the Theme
This vision of Heavenly worship was given to encourage those who suffered for the sake of Jesus – in John’s day and in the days that would follow. In a nutshell, this particular scene was to remind them of the huge news of God’s salvation (shout), that God is so ultimately worthy (prayer), and that God Himself is our future hope, even in the difficult present.
Now that seems like a theme we could join into. On this day you may connect more with one piece of that than another, and that is fine. Perhaps you need to be reminded of God’s big movement to save: “God so loved the world!” Maybe the world seems desperately out of control and anything but trusting in God. God’s story is not of people trusting so well in Him, but in His ultimate faithfulness to love and pursue humanity – the world He made and loves. God’s faithfulness and power are such that one day all the world will know and people from every tribe and tongue will gather to shout praise, no longer separated by skin color, language, culture, position, or any other thing that keeps us apart now.
Maybe you need a fresh reminder of who God is and what God is like. Maybe that string of descriptors would give you a fresh picture of God – to whom belong blessing, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honor, power, and might. Maybe like the angels, humans, and heavenly creatures you need to simply come before God and quietly pray.
Or maybe you can identify with the theme of suffering. The specific context of Revelation is the suffering of people for their faithful obedience to Christ, so suffering the loss of WiFi doesn’t measure up. But we do know the deep suffering of sin, sickness, and death. We know wars and conflict and betrayal. And we have heard the invitation of Christ to fix our eyes on him to make our way through this life. While the white robes of the martyrs may not fit our situation, the reminder of a Good Shepherd should comfort each of us. Jesus Christ is the one who leads us to living water, who walks with us in the dark night, who guards and keeps us to bring us into the presence of God.
As other-worldly as Revelation can seem, this scene of Heavenly worship is not so far-removed from our own lives and our own worship. We, too, can shout praise over God’s salvation, bow in humble prayer to our extraordinary Heavenly Father, and trust hopefully in the protection and care of our Good Shepherd. If you are careening through these days in fear, in distress, disconnected, and discouraged, read and re-read this passage this week to re-focus you on who God is and what God has done. Re-read Psalm 23 and pray to the one who is our Good Shepherd. And I believe you will find encouragement for the days ahead. Amen.