Eleven interesting facts about worship in Revelation

  1. Revelation is the New Testament book in which worship is most prominent. (Thompson)
  2. Worship provides the main conflict of the book of Revelation, the contrast between those who worship God and those who worship the beast. God will not tolerate false worship, so the story revolves around the theme and is punctuated often by scenes of true worship. “Every stage of God’s victory — through chapters 7-19 — is accompanied by worship in heaven.” (Bauckham, Kindle section 459)
  3. Thompson mentions “several threats to authentic worship” found in Revelation: emperor worship (ch. 13), the synagogue of Satan (Rev. 2.9, 3.9), Satan’s throne (Rev. 2.13), idolatry (Rev. 9.20), the eating of food sacrificed to idols (Rev. 2.14), attempts to worship angels (Rev. 19.10, 22.8-9), and a false prophetess (Jezebel, Rev. 2.20) in or at least influencing the churches. The church must keep its worship pure while surrounded by opposing religious alternatives.
  4. Worship is pictured in political and imperial terms. Chapter 4 is not modeled on worship services in Jewish, pagan or Christian circles in the first century, but on teh worship rendered to the emperor. The most frequently used word for worship in Revelation is “bow down” – an act of submission to God’s kingly sovereignty. Crowns are cast before God’s throne, just as senate members and delegates from other communities in the empire  would do before Caesar to acknowledge his authority over them. Even the act of singing around the throne is a political parody: the emperors kept courtiers close at hand, who were “notorious for keeping up a perpetual chorus of praise, lauding him day and night….” (Gloer) There are also references to God as ‘Almighty’ and calls to render power and authority to him.
  5. Gloer writes that the acclamation that God is “worthy” is not found in the Old Testament or in Judaism. Nahkro says it was widely used of people in high political and military positions like the emperor’s bodyguards and army commanders. It originally meant “of equal weight”, but came to mean “‘worthy,’ ‘deserving,’ ‘fit,’ ‘estimable,’ and ‘appropriate.’”
  6. Worship is given to both God the Father and Jesus Christ. This would have been scandalous to first century Jewish people, good monotheists that they were. But the first Christians, also strict monotheists, found room within their monotheism for worship of Jesus.
  7. Reasons that God is worshiped in Revelation: God is worthy, he is eternal, he is sovereign, he is holy, he is the Creator, he is the Redeemer, he is Judge, his plan is coming to pass. All of these themes tie into the circumstances and purposes of the book:
    • Saying that only God is ‘worthy’ of worship is a declaration that the emperor and pagan idols were not worthy.
    • Saying God is eternal and sovereign is a comfort to persecuted Christians, who, looking at their immediate situation, may have been tempted to lose sight of the long-term plans of God, who is sovereignly bringing those plans to pass.
    • Saying that God is holy would call up memories of many OT verses about his holiness and his intolerance of idolatry and immorality with which first century Christians were tempted.
    • Saying that God is the Creator emphasizes the obedience God is due by every creature, including those who opposed the churches. It also reminds us that humanity is only a small part of a much larger picture. In Revelation we see the forces of creation reacting to sin and rescuing God’s people, and the redemption of the earth itself. The Creator will indeed restore the creation that “the dragon, that serpent of old” corrupted by leading humankind astray.
    • Saying that the Lamb who was slain is Redeemer would call to mind the exodus, where Israel was redeemed the day after the Passover lamb was slain. Powerful and idolatrous Egypt, also with a king who claimed to be God, was defeated, and God’s people were called out of her. John and his readers faced a very similar situation.
    • Saying he is Judge comforts persecuted Christians tempted to cave in to the status quo: if they remain faithful, God will reward them and judge those who tempt and persecute them.
  8. There are numerous worship elements found in Revelation: amens, antiphonal singing, doxologies, gifts (crowns placed before the throne), hymns, incense, maranathas, palm branches, prayers,  prostration, robes, sacred meals, shouts of celebration, silence, thanksgiving, trumpet-blowing, victory songs
  9. Thompson mentions a sense of lingering mystery and distance involved in worship. We do not see a description of God himself, only of what is going on around his throne. This counteracts both the tendency to be too intellectual and the tendency to be overly familiar with God.
  10. Revelation also connects worship with the themes of fear (Rev. 11.18, 14.7, 15.4) and service (Rev. 7.15, 22.3).
  11. Until chapter 19, all of the worship and singing in Revelation occurs in heaven, not on earth. There is no worship on earth, and the only singing found on earth are the laments for Babylon in chapters 17-18. But when the final victory is won, there is praise in both heaven and earth, which eventually become one. (Thompson) As Bauckham puts it, the goal of worship in Revelation is “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Sources: Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993); W. Hulitt Gloer, “Worship God! liturgical elements in the Apocalypse.” in Review and Expositor 98 no 1 Wint 2001, p 35-57; Mazie Nahkro, “The manner of worship according to the book of Revelation.” in Bibliotheca sacra 158 no 630 Ap-Je 2001, p 165-180; Mazie Nahkro, “The meaning of worship according to the book of Revelation.” in Bibliotheca sacra 158 no 629 Ja-Mr 2001, p 75-85; Marianne Meye Thompson, “Worship in the Book of Revelation.” in Ex Auditu 8 1992, 45-54;

4 Comments »

  1. dwayne moore Said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 4:18 pm

    Great content! Thanks so much for this resource! Blessings.

  2. Dave Gifford Said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 6:09 pm

    My pleasure! I hope to get back to this project, but other things must come first, I’m afraid.

  3. Susan Mitchell Said,

    May 30, 2011 @ 4:23 pm

    Fascinating! I hadn’t heard about the parallels with worship as depicted in Revelation and Roman political/imperial practices. Thanks for posting this.

  4. Rene Reider Said,

    June 29, 2011 @ 6:47 pm

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