The Revelation: As Liturgical Text

lion-dove-lamb-yeshuaGorman writes,

As a prophetic summons to first-commandment faithfulness, Revelation is both a call to worship the true God and a call to forsake all false deities. These two aspects are connected, and both appear in sharp relief at the beginning and the end of Revelation, as well as throughout the book. “Worship is so important in the book of Revelation,” writes Mitchell Reddish, “because John rightly understood that worship is a political act. Through worship one declares one’s allegiance, one’s loyalty. . . . [Public worship] is a statement to the world that the church will bow to no other gods.”

(Kindle Locations 954-958).

The most obviously liturgical, or worship-related, aspect of Revelation is its ample supply of texts most likely drawn from early Christian hymns and identified as the music of heaven.

(Kindle Locations 963-964).

The Revelation, of course, contains the lyrics of several songs sung in heaven in honor of God. As we’ll see in the next post, the church has frequently turned to Revelation when writing its hymns.

As a call to join the ongoing heavenly worship of God, Revelation is simultaneously a presentation of the divine drama that is celebrated in worship, and therefore also a summons to enter the story and mission of God, the missio Dei.

(Kindle Locations 1009-1011).

Think about it. When we worship God in our assemblies, we are joining the thousands upon thousands of worshipers in heaven in their worship. It’s not just us. Rather, we join with the angelic throng and the dead in Christ who are in constant worship of God.

The Orthodox like to speak of the dead in Christ as still alive and participating in worship, whereas the Catholics and Protestants tend to think of the dead as dead. The Orthodox are truer to heart of the Revelation.

Just so, when we study the Bible in light of the writings of the dead in Christ — the great scholars of the past — we are in conversation with the part of the church that lives in heaven with God. We sometimes act as though we’re the first people to ever read the Bible or sing a song of praise. We give little thought to the importance of the work of those who preceded us. But we’d not know about Jesus but for the heroic work of Christian men and women who preserved this knowledge and passed it on to the next generation. Like us, they were limited, broken, flawed beings, but we are saved because they paid the price to make sure the next generation heard the gospel — often in the face of brutal, cruel persecution.

Now, if we think in these terms when we worship, worship changes. It’s less about “being fed” and more about joining with the heavenly host to share in the joy of God present throughout the Creation, both heaven and earth.

Or, to think in similar terms, when we enter the assembly to sing praises to God, we join with our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, who were worshiping before we were born and will continue worshiping long after we’re dead.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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20 Responses to The Revelation: As Liturgical Text

  1. Monty says:

    “and the dead in Christ who are in constant worship of God.”

    Jay, have you changed your views about what happens when we die? More specifically, do we have a soul that goes to heaven?

  2. Johnny says:

    Monty I was wondering the exact same thing.

  3. Mark says:

    6:9When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; 10and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”…

    This sounds like the holy martyrs are there already there while people are still on earth.

  4. JES says:

    RJS has a current essay on JESUS CREED that deals with this same subject; may be worth reading.

  5. Dwight says:

    The question is if this is literal like most of it or not. Is there really a fifth seal? But let’s read Rev.6;9 again, “because of the testimony which they had maintained; 10and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”…” It appears that there testimony was put forth in their death in Christ and that in this they are crying out for justice. It is kind of like when God comments that “The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground.”

  6. Larry Cheek says:

    It also sounds like something that we are not supposed to be like while here. We are to be loving, forgiving, not holding grudges etc: but this appears to be almost the opposite of being Christ like.
    Could it be that after we die then we can cry out to God to avenge those who have done us harm.

  7. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    JES,

    I think you’re referring to http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2016/02/02/prepared-in-heaven-unveiled-on-earth-and-left-behind-rjs/, which is a good article, although very brief for the difficulty of the topic.

  8. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Larry,

    It also sounds very much like the Psalms. And if we take seriously the meaning teachings that God will grant justice for his people, there is no sin in crying for justice. On the other hand, we do far better to cry for forgiveness, as Jesus and Steven did, although they cried for mercy for God’s chosen people. The scriptures teach us not to seek vengeance but to leave vengeance to God — meaning it must be okay to leave vengeance to God.

    I suppose the precisely correct answer is that we want whatever God wants. Salvation for the saved. Justice for all others. And that the world be saved. But where salvation fails, justice. Something like that. (Best I can do with tornadoes blowing through West Alabama. I’m a little distracted.)

  9. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Dwight and Larry,

    I think Dwight is pointing in the right direction. The blood of the sacrifice was poured out beneath the altar.

    The blood of sacrifices was poured out at the base of the altar (Lev 4:7, 18, 25, 34; 5:9; 8:15; 9:9); the martyrs are thus viewed as sacrifices, like the Passover lamb of Revelation 5:6. (Paschal lambs had come to be viewed as sacrificial in some sense. Martyrs were also viewed as sacrifices in, e.g., 4 Maccabees and Phil 2:7.) Souls were “visible” to recipients of apocalypses, due to the seers’ visionary state.

    Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Accordance electronic ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 780.

    Beneath the altar is where the blood is poured, and the life is in the blood. “Soul” can also be translated “life.”

    This is not a literal representation, of course. I don’t imagine the martyrs in heaven crying for justice for millennia. That would be a miserable existence if literally true. Rather, as Dwight suggests, it’s more like God hearing the cry for vengeance raised by the sacrifice — the poured out blood — itself.

  10. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Monty and Johnny,

    See the Jesus Creed article mentioned in my earlier post. Scot McKnight and NT Wright argue for an in-between life after death (before life after life after death) where souls hang out in heaven waiting on the general resurrection. And so I’ll not say that’s wrong. It might be right. But I think the weight of the evidence is that God exists outside of time, and so we pass from death straight to the general resurrection — appearing to those left alive as though asleep but actually skipping that entire problem by passing beyond time.

    Time is clearly a part of the created order and God clearly is outside of time — both according to scripture and modern physics. So while this is hard to imagine, it’s not hard to believe.

    If that’s so, then we meet our great-grand-parents at the gates of heaven. And we meet our great-grandchildren there at the same time. It’ll be a wonderful moment.

    But, then again, there’s this powerful passage —

    (Heb. 12:1-2 ESV) Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

    In some sense, we’re “surrounded” by those who’ve gone before us. Now, is that because they live in some in-between state awaiting Judgment Day? Or because they’ve already made it to the arms of Jesus but, being outside of time, can still look back and cheer us on? Don’t know. Wouldn’t pretend to have it figured out.

    Now, if those who died before us move straight to outside-of-time, we can still worship with them. Their worship is timeless. Ours is temporal. But wherever God is, he is being worshiped both by us and by them.

    One last point. In the imagery of the Revelation, I think John sometimes pictures the dead but saved as in an intermediate state. That might be literally true, but I think it’s symbolic and an accommodation to our limited ability to imagine things outside our time-space reality. Our brains aren’t wired for higher-dimensional thinking. Even though I take the language to be metaphoric, it’s still appropriate language to use because it is — in its intended sense — true. The lesson or message given by the text is a true lesson or message, even if not literal.

    Thus, if I say, “The LORD is my Shepherd,” I shouldn’t be heard to as saying I eat grass the Lord leads me to eat in Judean meadows. I mean what David meant — even if I’m not sure what David meant exactly.

  11. Ray Downen says:

    Several have written as if the early church met for worship. I’ve read about their meeting to EAT together, and to pray together, and I note Paul’s admonition concerning what is appropriate to do while together, but I missed seeing that they met to worship. Which passages point to the early church meeting for worship?

    I feel sure, by the way, that our eternal home is to be “the new Jerusalem,” and it’s not yet been built if I’m reading the text correctly.

    Jesus spoke of an in-between state which was NOT God’s Heaven but where Lazarus could talk with the rich man at whose gate he had begged. The rich man was in agony. Lazarus was in a happy place, but Jesus didn’t describe it as Heaven as I read the story. He spoke of it as “Abraham’s bosom,” which might imply it was not God’s home.

  12. Larry Cheek says:

    This statement has caught my attention.
    “Worship is so important in the book of Revelation,” writes Mitchell Reddish, “because John rightly understood that worship is a political act. Through worship one declares one’s allegiance, one’s loyalty. . . . [Public worship] is a statement to the world that the church will bow to no other gods.”
    Now, here is the reason. In many of our discussions here on the blog we have talked about the importance of reading scripture with the mindset of those to whom it was written. With that in mind, I want to draw your attention to the environment in which John was living. Could we believe that there were grand public assemblies of Christians worshiping God which would portray to the world that they would not submit to the prevailing governments’ demands to worship gods other than The God of The Universe?

    I wonder if there were any organized public assemblies of Christian Worship in the area where John lived. Was John exiled on this island because he was worshiping publicly?

    Anyone can easily fill in the details from history.

    Jay was this your comment,
    “Think about it. When we worship God in our assemblies, we are joining the thousands upon thousands of worshipers in heaven in their worship. It’s not just us. Rather, we join with the angelic throng and the dead in Christ who are in constant worship of God.”

    I really believe that by stating, “when we worship God in our assemblies” in the context that is being used here suggests that, our assembly service is more important than our worshiping by our lives 24/7. It is even mentioned in this statement that the angels and the dead are in constant worship of God. What would suggest, that we would be in union with them only when we were assembled together in a session called worship? Are there not many Christians in the world who do not have an opportunity to assemble with other Christians on a regular basis? Christianity is not bound by public worship assemblies.
    P. S.
    The church was never given the responsibility to be the light to the world, and if it was than individual Christians could not fulfill that obligation. Churches are never portrayed in scripture to be the influence that is to draw the world to Christ.

    “Now, if we think in these terms when we worship, worship changes. It’s less about “being fed” and more about joining with the heavenly host to share in the joy of God present throughout the Creation, both heaven and earth.”

    I did not know that we were to assemble to be “fed”. I understood the scriptures to tell us to assemble to edify and admonish each other. That is not being “fed”, that is an effort by each to help encourage another, a total different purpose than being “fed”. If we are assembling to be fed we are not performing as we have been instructed.

  13. laymond says:

    Larry, it does sound like some are holding a grudge. and it doesn’t matter whether you get vengeance by your own hand or not , if you have vengeance in your heart, you may as well attend to it yourself. and I hardly ever consult psalms when looking for an answer to my problems, I do believe the book of Revelation was written in “the end times”.

  14. laymond says:

    Jay said, ” The scriptures teach us not to seek vengeance but to leave vengeance to God — meaning it must be okay to leave vengeance to God.”

    I believe Jesus prayed ” forgive us out trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”

  15. laymond says:

    Mat 6:14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:
    Mat 6:15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

  16. Dwight says:

    I believe assembly was an aspect of worship to God, not the sum total of it, which I don’t think Jay believes, but often in our rhetoric we often point that way since it is built into the church concept that we use. The church or those who assembled were to mainly “edify one another” according to Heb.10:25 and be unified I Cor.11 while remembering Jesus and in the name of Jesus.

    Worship is an expression of the worshipful and can be done on may levels and alone or with others. We don’t go to assembly to worship, we go to assembly to worship with others who are worshippers of God. But many see assembly as their time to dedicate to God and not so much at home or work or in their life. After years and years of saying “come to church to worship” we have ingrained many to believe that they can’t worship God in their lives. We gather in our temple and aren’t the temple of God ourselves.
    But Revelations does have scenes of public worship to God and it should encourage us to approach God the same way. God deserves our praise.

    In regards to what happens in-between heaven and death, who knows. We have hints like the fore mentioned Lazerus and the rich man. Where did Jesus go for three days while in the grave? We know he wasn’t alive and we know he wasn’t with God yet as this wouldn’t happen until later. Maybe there is time out place. And yet it appears that some were with and are with God like Enoch, Moses and Elijah (Matt.17:3), etc. I have heard many lessons on the state of hades or the waiting place, but here is another thing that defies our exact understanding and a limited knowledge of something that is beyond our comprehension. We aren’t told to look forward to the inbetween, but to the final resting place with God anyway. And if we look at Revelation this is what we get a great picture of…heaven with God and his angels and His glory.

  17. laymond says:

    Mat 6:6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
    Mat 6:7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

    I have never heard a prayer leader in the church that did not defy both of these Jesus recommended procedures.
    I believe that Jesus again speaking in John, reinforce what he said in Matthew. I don’t see any change there.

    Jhn 4:23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.
    Jhn 4:24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.

    I doubt there is any among us who would be so arrogant, to the point as to say, Jesus worshiped God wrongly. Or he didn’t know how to do it right.

    Do we need to be reminded that Revelation was a vision.

  18. Monty says:

    From Revelation there are clearly “souls” in God’s presence before the end of “time.” However, these souls are waiting for God to avenge their blood. So, in a sense heaven is waiting for God to complete his plan. While God exists outside of time as he sees the end from the beginning and vice-versa, heaven and it’s hosts wait expectantly. John’s visions are a trailer of how everything plays out. They are complete with spoiler alerts. The Good wins out over the evil, no matter how it presently looks to those on earth. Isn’t that what makes for a good story? Just when it seems that all hope is lost, that the bad guys are going to crush the good guys, a hero emerges just in the nick of time. Our hero is the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the One who rides upon the white horse, whose name is Faithful and True. The earth is waiting in eager expectation, those who are alive in Christ eagerly await our redemption, and even those in heaven(it would appear) eagerly await for God to bring about his judgment and usher in the new age. Even so come, Lord Jesus!

  19. laymond says:

    From Revelation there are clearly “souls” in God’s presence before the end of “time.”
    Who you gona believe Monty?

    Act 2:29 Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day.
    Act 2:34 For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand,

    Luk 16:22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
    Jhn 8:52 Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death.

    It is evident that Jesus does not speak of the earthly death he suffered that death himself . Jesus speaks of the second death.

  20. JES says:

    Monty:

    This certainly sounds like Paul’s message in Rome 8:19 on, and I Cor 15. Souls are “gathered” in two different settings to await the Second Coming, when they will receive “their reward” (sentence) and a new “spiritual body”. Then they “go” to a new home that Christ prepared.

    I think that’s what most are saying here?

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