Chapter 13 of Revelation: What is True Worship?

CloudsBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

You are commanded … that when you hear … every kind of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. And whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace (Dan 3:4-6).

What is true worship? What is not?

In her book, Just Give Me Jesus, Anne Graham Lotz (1-2) recalls a story of a conversation that her mother, Ruth Graham, had with the former head of Scotland Yard. She suggested that he must have handled a lot of the counterfeit money over the years. He responded: On the contrary, Mrs. Graham, I spend all my time studying the genuine thing. That way, when I see a counterfeit, I can immediately detect it.

We see counterfeit worship in Revelations 13. The dragon, a sea monster, and an earth dwelling beast compose a counterfeit trinity complete with a counterfeit resurrection (vv 3-4). This is a blaspheming counterfeit (v 4). Everyone whose name is not written in the book of life worships this counterfeit trinity (vv. 4, 8, 12, and 16). Much like in Daniel 3, anyone not worshiping this counterfeit trinity ends up being persecuted (v 10) and this persecution includes loss of income (vv 16-18).

The Apostle John is lampooning Rome here. The seven heads in v 1 are widely interpreted as the seven hills overlooking the city of Rome. The Romans emperor cult had temples and statues all over the empire dedicated to emperor worship. The resurrection motif in v 3 is a parody of the myth that Emperor Nero was still alive even after he committed suicide in AD 68. Numerologists often interpret 666 as referring to Nero.

But, what is true worship?

In his book, The Air I Breathe (117), Christian musician Louis Giglio defines true worship as: centering our mind’s attention and our heart’s affection on the Lord. What do we really worship? Giglio (13) writes: follow the trail of your time, your affection, your energy, your money, and your loyality…[that] is what you [really] worship.

Revelations 13 is a dark chapter. However, for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven (Ecc 3:1). Satan’s counterfeit trinity is given authority for only forty-two months (three and a half years; 1,260 days; v 5). The appearance of exotic creatures (like Behemoth and Leviathan of Job 40-41) should also remind us of Genesis 1 where God creates them all and declares them to be good.

This implies that God is still sovereign.

References

Lotz, Anne Graham. 2009. Just Give Me Jesus. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Giglio, Louis. 2003, The Air I Breathe. Colorado Springs: Multnomah Publishers.

Caesar Nero (NRON QSR)

The Greek version of the name and title transliterates into Hebrew as (נרון קסר), and yields a numerical value of 666:
Resh (ר) Samekh (ס) Qoph (ק) Nun (נ) Vav (ו) Resh (ר) Nun (נ) Sum 200 60 100 50 6 200 50 666

Questions

  1. What does the symbolism of vv 1-2 refer to? (Daniel 7:2-6)
  2. What do the seven heads refer to? (v 1)
  3. What is the trinity? What is not? (vv 3-4)
  4. What is your definition of blasphemy?
  5. What do we see here? (v 4)
  6. What is true worship? What is not? (vv 4, 8, 12,16)
  7. What is resurrection? What is not? (v 3)
  8. What does the forty-two month timeframe imply? (1 Kings 18:1)
  9. What do exotic creatures remind us of? (Genesis 1; Job 40-41)

Chapter 13 of Revelation: What is True Worship?

Also see:

Chapter 12 of Revelation: The Woman and the Dragon

Chapter 1: Alpha and Omega 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2zRkNMJ

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Chapter 7 of Revelation: Heavenly Worship

Clouds“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.… they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them” (Isaiah 49:6-10).

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Apostle John sees heaven as an eternal party. He paints the picture he sees with familiar colors.

When a passage seems mysterious, look for the key verse. In chapter 7 of Revelation we see everything leading up to verse 10 where we witness a huge choir singing: Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb (Rev 7:10). This conclusion is highlighted in the reference to palm branches in verse 9.

For the uninitiated, scriptural allusions can be found by checking the concordance in a good reference bible—the scriptural references in the middle of the page or off in the margins. Old Testament allusions are often the most insightful. In verse 9, for example, we find an allusion to Leviticus 23:40-43—a key reference for the Feast of Tabernacles. You shall dwell in booths for seven days…that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt (Lev 23:42-43). And, of course, we see the waving of palm branches (Lev 23:40). This party celebrates salvation—as mentioned in verse 10.

This chapter of Revelations is famous for its numbers. Here we read that the remnant of Israel will number 144,000. This is a big number, but the more important number comes in verse 9: a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages (Rev 7:9). The remnant of Israel is numbered, but the multitude of Gentiles is too big to be numbered!

The allusion here is to the parable of the wedding feast. The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. (Matt 22:2-3). The invited guests have no interest in the party so the king opens up the guest list: And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests (Matt 22:1). Our party is a wedding feast.

The most important allusion in Revelations 7 is to Isaiah. Isaiah 49, cited above, references one of the Servant Song passages—references to the coming Messiah. Jesus cited another Servant Song in his sermon in Nazareth: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor (Luke 4:18; Isa 61:1). Sunday morning worship is a rehearsal for the real party in heaven and we are guests of the king himself.

You have to love a good party! And guess what? You are invited.

QUESTIONS

1. Do you have questions from last week? Did any important events happen in your life this week? Do you have any thoughts that you would like to share?
2. What is the basic subject of chapter 6?
3. What are the angels doing? (v. 1) Why? (v. 3)
4. How many saints are sealed from Israel? (v. 4) How many others? (v. 9) a. What is the parable of the wedding feast? (Matt 22:2-10)
5. What is going on in heaven? (vv. 10-12)
6. What does the elder ask? (v. 13) What is the answer (v. 14)
7. What are the Servant Songs in Isaiah? (v. 16; Isaiah 42:1-4, 49:1-6, 50:4-9, 52:13-53:12, and 61:1-3)

 

Chapter 7 of Revelation: Heavenly Worship

Also see:

Chapter 6 of Revelation: Seals, Creatures, and Horses 

Chapter 1: Alpha and Omega 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2fEPbBK

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What is worship?

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

. . . the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created. (Rev 4:10–11)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

If a spiritual discipline points us to God, then worship is the prince of the spiritual disciplines. In fact, we were made for worship (Calhoun 2005, 25).

Unfortunately, the Bible’s first picture of worship also pictures improper worship. Cain brought God some fruit; Abel slaughtered the first born of his flock and brought God the fat portions. God honored Abel’s sacrifice, but not Cain’s (Gen 4:3–5). Improper worship is like inviting your supervisor to your house and serving leftovers at dinner—you may not get fired, but it degrades the relationship.

One of the first deacons of the church, Stephen, was arrested in Jerusalem and was arraigned before the Sanhedrin. There, he accused them of limiting the access to God at the temple, of killing the prophets, of betraying and murdering Christ, and, therefore, of not keeping the law. Improper worship—limiting access to God—was Stephen’s first charge. For this and other things, they took Stephen out and stoned him (Acts 7:48–58).

Stephen’s complaint was not about altar sacrifices. When the Israelite people lived in Egypt, they needed to go into the wilderness to offer sacrifices, in part, because they sacrificed animals that were sacred to the Egyptians (Exod 8:26). The point of the sacrifice was to demonstrate loyalty to God by forsaking the typical idols of the day (Lev 17:7) [1]. However, over time the sacrifices lost their meaning, became routine, or, worse, started to look like divine bribes—improper worship [2]. Echoing the Prophet Isaiah (Isa 1:16), King David writes: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Ps 51:17) The content of worship, not its form, is what makes worship proper or improver.

An important picture of proper worship is given in Revelation 4:10-11 where the twenty-four elders cast their crowns before the throne of God. In heaven, the elders are casting down crowns given them by God, yet they still humbly lay them down (e.g. Rev 2:10). On earth, a crown is a symbol (an idol) of our vanity—a conspicuous display of personal wealth, power, and authority; it does not have to be a golden tiara! When I cast my crowns at the feet of the king of kings, I am surrendering all my idols—money, power, and authority—to God. On earth as it is in heaven this is the ultimate act of worship.

How do we then properly lay our crowns before the Lord?

Proper worship is an idol crashing event [3]. In worship we demonstrate our loyalty to God by surrendering to God the idols that most typically capture our hearts—our money, our power, and our authority. For some, it will mean writing checks; for others it may be donating time; for still others it may be simply to show up at worship clean and sober. For most of us, it means bringing along our families. For all of us, it means joining in God’s praises. Worship is a smorgasbord of praise.

When we look beyond our pride and idols to God, we cast down our crowns and truly worship.

[1] For more discussion, see: (Hahn 2009, 150).

[2] For example, the Prophet Isaiah (Isa 1:13) writes: “bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.” Likewise, the prophet Malachi writes: “When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil?” (Mal 1:8)

[3] The prophet Mohammed (1934, 21.51–.66) wrote that Abraham’s father was an idol-maker. One day when his father was away, Abraham smashed all but the biggest idol in his shop. When his father returned and confronted him, Abraham told his father to ask the remaining idol what happened. His father replied—you know that idols cannot speak. To which Abraham responded—then why do you worship anything but the living God?

REFERENCES

Calhoun, Adele Ahlberg. 2005. Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that Transform Us. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books.

Hahn, Scott W. 2009. Kinship by Covenant: A Canonical Approach to the Fulfillment of God’s Saving Promises. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

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Long: Honoring God in Worship

Cover, Thomas Long. Honoring God in Worship
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Long: Honoring God in Worship

Thomas Long. Beyond the Worship Wars:  Building Vital and Faithful Worship. Herndon:  Alban Institute.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Before I attended seminary, I spoke with a pastor who began quizzing me about a worship service that she was planning.  The question totally stumped me.  For me, worship was that mysterio

us experience on Sunday mornings that drew me closer to God (or not).  I had no idea what worship was or how to plan it.  As I studied worship in seminary, Thomas Long’s book, Beyond the Worship Wars, helped reduce the mystery in worship planning.

Long defines worship as: what happens when people become aware that they are in the presence of a living God (18).  But how does a faithful church actually bring people into awareness of God?  Long offers an interesting insight:

Even when Christian worship is at its best, it is much like that Mother’s Day breakfast.  It is always the work of amateurs, people who do this for love, kids in the kitchen overcooking the prayers, half-baking the sermons, and crashing and stumbling through the responses on the way to an act of adoration (vii).

Does the word, humility, come to mind?

Beyond the Worship Wars is written in 10 chapters whose titles are instructive:

  1. Worship wars:  a report from the front lines.
  2. Why do people come to worship?  The presence of mystery,
  3. Why do people come to worship?  A sense of belonging.
  4. All the world’s a stage—and heaven too.
  5. O for a thousand tongues:  the challenge of music.
  6. Tents, temples, and tables:  the space of worship.
  7. Serving in this place:  neighborhoods and mission.
  8. Come to the joyful dance:  memory and celebration.
  9. In the spirit on the Lord’s Day:  Leadership.
  10. Epilog:  Can revitalized worship happen here?

These chapters are preceded by a preface and acknowledgments and followed by notes and a bibliography.

In surveying Long’s chapter titles, is anything in all of creation left out?  This is not an idle question, but more a theological one.  The apostle Paul writes:   And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons and daughters, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23).  In writing about the cultural wars, new cultural realities lead Long (2) to observe that:  rare also is the congregation that has not felt some stress, some measure of conflict over all this ferment in worship [and in the world!]

Long (2-9) sees the conflict arising between two groups.  The first group seeks to recover the genuinely biblical worship of the ancient church as represented by interest in Bishop Hippolytus of the third century following Vatican II.  The second group focuses on seeker [1] worship symbolized by the praise music of the Willow Creek Community Church (www.WillowCreek.org) led by Bill Hybels.  While recognizing that the seeker worship is influenced more by our television culture than the Gospel story, Long sees wisdom in looking for a third-way that adopts the best of both worship styles (10-11).

How do we make room for God in worship, regardless of style?

Motivation clearly matters.  Long (26) sees us coming to worship for two fundamental reasons:  the hunger for communion with God [a sense of mystery] and the hunger for human community [a sense of belonging].  Theologians call the first need transcendence (God above us); they call the second immanence (God with us).  When we come to worship, the question of authenticity quickly arises because if our view of God is too transcendent, worship is dry and lifeless.  And if our view of God is too immanent, worship is too worldly.  Hence, true worship involves balancing this tension.

Long (107-110) ends with four insights:

  1. Pastoral leadership is the key to worship renewal.
  2. Whenever worship is renewed, some congregational conflict is inevitable.
  3. To change worship, significant lay involvement is necessary.
  4. Education and publicity help pave the way for worship renewal.

How do we make room for God in worship?  Long points out that the best worship is to some degree learned by heart (86).  This is because when worship is memorized, we are less distracted and more open to God’s presence.

Long’s Book, Beyond the Worship Wars, is a helpful book which I have given as a gift to friends.  Like many of the books published by the Alban Institute (www.alban.org), it is worth a look.

____________

[1] A seeker is someone interested in (seeking) God , but not yet a believer.

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Guest Blogger: Jesse D. Colón

Mural in Riverside Presbyterian Church
Mural in Riverside Presbyterian Church

This morning we welcome our first guest blogger, Jesse D. Colón.

Jesse D. Colón Arroyo, is a loud NewYorican who loves God and Music. He studied music in Puerto Rico and served as the Director of Music Ministries for 7 years at the church his parents founded as a mission, “Evangelio de Amor”, alongside his older brother and current pastor, Justin.  He moved to Virginia with his wife and two children in 2011 and now currently serves as a Music Coordinator at Riverside Presbyterian Church in Sterling, Virginia.

Worship

What is worship?  As a music leader in church I found defining this word harder than I thought.  It’s a word used many times to describe a type of service in church and other times referred as the musical section within the order of a service.  But if we adhere to these definitions we’re limiting worship to something that happens a day of the week or an hour within the day. Is worship done with afterwards?  Though many may agree with this perspective, it is my understanding that God has more in mind.

Looking at the word

Oxford Dictionary explains its origin from Old English–“weorthscipe” ‘worthiness, acknowledgment of worth’ (worth-shipping)

This definition could lead us to understand worship as acts of recognition.  Something we say or do to demonstrate that the object of our worship is worthy.  Some people might be okay with leaving it here but this perspective is limited.   It could be made into a checklist of things to do, and as soon as we’re done with the list, one could interpret that we’re done relating with God.  This could not be further from what Scripture teaches us.  Yes. God is worthy, but a single act of recognition is not enough.  As reflected in the Jesus of the gospels, the God I serve is worthy of my time, worthy of my attention, worthy of my affection, worthy of my resources, worthy of my service, and worthy of everything I am or have. Worship is more than just an act but also an attitude, a way of living, and a life surrendered completely and wholly to God.  All the acts of recognition we can come up with are merely reflections of what worship causes in our lives.

What does the Bible say?

The first appearance of the word “worship” in scripture is in Genesis 22:5 when Abraham is about to sacrifice his son Isaac as an offering to God.  The Hebrew word used is shachah which literally means to prostrate or bow down.  In Genesis 24:26 we can understand this meaning because it’s very direct in saying: “Then, the man bowed down and worshiped the Lord”.  Interpreting these passages support the perspective that worship is an act of offering up or sacrificing something to God.  But we should ask ourselves: what does God want us to offer or sacrifice? In the passage of Genesis 22, God stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son Isaac because it was all a test of obedience and trust in God.  1 Samuel 15:22 explains it clearly: “…Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as obeying the Lord?  To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”

God wants us. From creation to Moses and the Ten Commandments to Jesus dying on a cross, it’s always been about God reaching out and us reciprocating.

I think this couldn’t be any more clear as when we read: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of Gods mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God-this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1). 

What’s more revealing is that worship is what we live for and what makes us human. Thomas G. Long expresses in his book Beyond the Worship Wars: Building Vital and Faithful Worship [1]:

“Worshiping God is not simply a good thing to do; it is a necessary thing to do to be human.  The most profound statement that can be made about us is that we need to join with others in bowing before God in worshipful acts of devotion, praise, obedience, thanksgiving and petition.”(17)

A passage that gives light to this statement is Isaiah 43.  This is a beautiful chapter where the prophet is revealing God’s word to the people of Israel and he starts by saying in the first verse:

“But now, this is what the Lord says-he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israeleveryone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (Isaiah 43:1,7).

Granted that this was written specifically to Israel, if we understand that today we are his children and his people, then here’s what we were made for.  Worship is not something we do on Sunday mornings, but what we were made for–we were created to bring God glory.  This reminds me of a Tim Hughes song called “Living for Your Glory” where there’s a part he sings: “in everything I say and do, let my life honor You, here I am living for Your glory”.

Walking this Path

I don’t know who coined the phrase “We are what we Love”.  However, I think it gives us insight on how we can start to live this life of a worshiper described in Romans 12:1–to feel completely whole and human as God intended us to be from the beginning.  Bob Kauflin expresses in his book Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God [2]: “while it’s simplistic to say worship is Love, it’s a fact that what we love most will determine what we genuinely worship”(25). Kauflin goes on to say:

“For years we’ve read or experienced firsthand the “worship wars”-conflicts over music styles, song selection, and drums. But far too little has been said about the worship wars going inside of us. And they’re much more significant. Each of us has a battle raging within us over what we love most –God or something else.”

The Great Commandment says: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind” (Deuteronomy 6:5; Luke 10:27).

No matter what stage or season in life we might find ourselves the life of a worshiper is constantly asking this question:  do I love the Lord my God with all that I am? That is worship.

Worship Workshop

On Saturday February 8, 2014 from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Jesse D. Colón (Jesse@RiversideChurch.com) and Noemi Simmons (Noemi@Riversidechurch.com) are hosting a Worship Workshop at Riverside Presbyterian Church (www.RiversideChurch.com).  A continental breakfast and lunch will be served.  If this is interesting to you, please contact Jesse or Noemi for more details.

_________________

[1] Thomas G. Long. 2001.  Beyond the Worship Wars: Building Vital and Faithful Worship.  Herdon:  Alban Institute. (www.Alban.org).

[2] Bob Kauflin.  2008. Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God.  Wheaton: Crossway.

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