True worship is God’s eternal heart for all sinful people. Since the dawn of time, the Father has been actively seeking sinful men and women who will be his people and will worship him in spirit and truth. Even now, he is drawing believers together essentially to worship him, and is still gently persuading us that this is his good-and-perfect will for our lives.
We have considered the insights of Proverbs 8, which seems to show that God has been rejoicing in-and-with himself for all eternity – even before his worship overflowed into creation. This seems to suggest that all creation was made primarily to join in with the pre-existing heavenly worship, and so to enjoy God in his presence forever.
The Scriptures include several other insights which also appear to show that heaven is characterised by true worship and great rejoicing. For example:
• Isaiah 6:1-3 describes the angelic rejoicing which goes on within heaven
• Ezekiel 40-47 suggests that heavenly worship is the destiny of God’s people
• Luke 2:13-14 reveals the great praise of the heavenly host
• Luke 15:7 & 10 show that there is rejoicing in heaven.
These insights, however, are dwarfed by the awesome descriptions in the book of Revelation, which make God’s ultimate purposes plain. He is drawing us together to a place of total worship, where we will live together in his perfect presence forever, and will spend eternity rejoicing together in-and-with him . We can say that worship in spirit and truth participates in and anticipates the worship of heaven.
Worship in Revelation
Heavenly worship is the backdrop and context for all the visions of the book of Revelation. We must take care that we are not so concerned to understand the apostle John’s visions correctly that we overlook what he reveals about the place and priority of heavenly worship.
Revelation 4 is the first of John’s descriptions of heavenly worship: verse 2 shows that this recognition and appreciation of worship can come only in-and-through the Spirit, and verses 8-11 reveal that everything in heaven lives to worship God. It is much the same in 5:8-14; 7:9-17; 11:15-19 & 15:3-5.
These important passages show that heavenly worship embraces ancient hymns (15:3) and brand new songs (5:9); that it focuses entirely on the person of God (4:8, 11; 5:9, 13; 7:12; 11:17; 15:3 & 16:5); and that it celebrates what God has done, what he is doing, and what he has promised to do (4:11; 5:9-10, 12, 13; 11:17-18 & 15:4).
In particular, the book of Revelation reveals that heavenly worship revolves around two great themes of worship:
• The song of creation – Revelation 4:11
• The song of salvation – Revelation 5:9.
These two themes appear constantly throughout Scripture, and both reveal everything about God’s person and character – his power and his love, his grace and his purity, and so on. Because God reveals himself through his mighty acts, we experience him for who he is when we worship him in his presence as Creator and Saviour.
As creation is the essential overflow of God’s own worship, the worship of God as creator has always been at the heart of worship. Creation is a visible evidence of God’s power and might, and a proof of his uniqueness and supremacy. Through creation, the Old Testament people of God were able to recognise that God was the only God, and that other gods were simply impotent idols.
The Jews were called to worship one God because they knew through creation that there was only one God, and this was meant to determine how they lived and served. Many Psalms celebrate God as creator, and his handiwork of creation and divine creativity – seen again in the new heaven and earth – is a major theme of heavenly worship.
Many modern believers fail to sing the song of creation, and neglect to worship God as creator. In their worship, they focus almost entirely upon God’s work of salvation. But the Father’s work of redemption is inseparably linked with his work of creation (he has the right to redeem only because it is his creation) and we cannot appreciate redemption properly without recognising its vital link with creation. We consider this in Knowing the Father.
In the Old Testament, the people of Israel knew that God continually acted to save them from their enemies, from famine, from disease, and so on. They knew that Yahweh was their Saviour, and that their existence as a nation depended upon his mighty acts of deliverance. In particular, their deliverance from slavery in Egypt was basic to their understanding of God, and ‘the song of Moses’ in Exodus 15:1-21 was their definitive expression of worship to God as Saviour – this is the hymn which Revelation shows is still being sung in heaven.
We know, however, that God has performed an even greater act of salvation for his people than the Passover miracle. At the cross, Jesus became the Saviour of the whole world, delivered us all from the slavery of sin, and decisively defeated our enemy. This has become the theme of countless songs of salvation sung through the ages, and is the theme of the new heavenly songs of Revelation 1:5-6 & 5:9-14.
Personal and corporate
Revelation’s most telling insight into heavenly worship is its consistent presentation of heavenly worshippers as being both fully individual and completely corporate.
Revelation 5:11-13, for example, reports that ‘ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands and thousands’ and ‘every creature in heaven and on the earth and under the earth’ are united in one expression of worship. They retain their distinctive personhood but have been brought by the Spirit to a climax of worshipping oneness.
It is the same in Revelation 7:9-10, which records how ‘a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, people and tongue’ are standing before the throne and shouting praise to God. Their individual, national, tribal and linguistic differences are still obvious, but they are united in praise and worship to God. They are offering praise and worship which is personal to them, but which is expressed through their Spirit-made corporate oneness.
This, then, is our destiny – to be an eternal worshipper who is thoroughly personal yet fully united with all other worshippers. Like the people of Israel in the days of the first temple, we have been drawn by God’s grace towards him. In faith, we have set out on a personal pilgrimage towards him, and have then discovered that God is building us together with the other believers in our area.
Together with them, we are journeying on towards him, learning to worship and serve together, beginning to appreciate our interdependence in the body, struggling at times with the tensions but working to maintain the unity of the Spirit.
And the great goal of eternal, heavenly worship in the intimate presence of God is always before us. It has always been God’s greatest desire for us to enjoy him in the same way, and just as intensely, as we read the persons of God rejoiced in themselves in Proverbs 8.
The God who is personal but corporate, one but more than one, is drawing us into exactly the same eternal enjoyment of personal but corporate rejoicing. In his great grace and mercy, the Father is seeking yet more sinful men and women who will worship him in spirit and truth, and will enjoy his glorious presence forever.