The book of Revelation has much to teach us concerning the life of the church. We have seen that already in chapters 4 and 5. These chapters have much to teach us concerning the role of the elders of the church—those elders represented by the twenty-four elders. These chapters have much to teach us concerning the role of the preaching of the Word— the office of preaching represented by the four living creatures. These chapters have much to teach us concerning the power of prayer—that power represented by the golden bowls, held in the hands of the elders and filled with incense, even the prayers of the saints. The book of Revelation has much to teach us concerning the life of the church.
And now we find that the book of Revelation has much to teach us concerning the life of the church in terms of her music and song. We find no less than five songs in chapters 4 and 5.
The first song is found in 4:8, where the four living creatures do not rest day or night, saying, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!” Here the four living creatures sing to God because He is holy.
The second song is found in 4:11, where the twenty four elders in response to the song of the four living creatures, fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.” Here the twenty four elders sing to God of His worth as the Creator of all things.
Now, in chapter 5:9-14, songs are sung in response to the victory of the Lamb. We have been introduced to the Lamb in verses 5-7, where one of the elders instructed John, pointing him to the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David, the One who has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals. The Lion of the Tribe of Judah, powerful like a Lion, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.
We have noted the drama of verse 6, where John turns, expecting to see a Lion, but instead beholds a Lamb, a Lamb as though it had been slain. Here we see that the Lion of the Tribe of Judah is the Lamb that was slain. He conquered in His death. In being slain, He won the victory. Because He has prevailed, He has the right and the authority to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.
Note the opening words of verse 8, “Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song…” When He had taken the scroll… It is only after the Lamb takes the scroll that we have the singing of the new song. It is only after the Lion of the Tribe of Judah prevails that we have the singing of the new song. It is only after the Root of David conquers that we have the singing of the new song. It is only after Jesus Christ—the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David, now pictured as the Lamb that was slain—only after Jesus Christ takes the scroll do we have the singing of the new song.
In Revelation 4, songs are sung because of who God is. He is holy. He is Creator. In Revelation 5, songs are sung because of what God has done in Jesus Christ. Only after the Lamb takes the scroll are the songs of Revelation 5 sung. Only after the Lamb takes the scroll do we find the new song in heaven. The new song is sung in response to the victory of the Lamb that was slain!
Having noted that the songs of Revelation 5 are sung in response to the mighty acts of God in Jesus Christ, we need to note as that there are three songs in Revelation 5. The first song is found in verses 9, 10.
The second song is found in verses 11-12. The third song is found in verse 13. Let us consider each of them in turn.
The First Song
The first song is that of verses 9, 10.
It is a new song. It is a song sung to the accompaniment of harps. It is a song sung by the twenty four elders and the four living creatures. We have been stressing the point throughout our treatment of chapters 4 and 5 that we have in the four living creatures and the twenty four elders the government of the church. The twenty four elders are representative of the ruling office in the church: they are symbolic of the elders. The four living creatures are representative of the office of the preaching of the Word: they are symbolic of preaching. Thus, we have in Revelation 5:9-10, a new song, sung to the accompaniment of harps, sung by the officers of the church. This new song is sung by the elders and the preachers.
Does that mean that the elders must form a choir and sing in the church or that the preacher must be able to sing solos in the church? Perhaps we should add to the list of qualifications for elders and preachers the ability to sing? Many of you (myself included) will be relieved to learn that the fact that this new song is sung by the elders and the preachers does not mean that the ability to sing is one of the qualifications for office. You do not need to be a good singer in order to be an elder or preacher.
It is the content of the song that is to be emphasized. The song is directed to the worth of the Lamb. The twenty four elders and the four living creatures—the elders and the preachers—sing to the Lamb, and they sing of His worth. “You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth.” In the content of the song, then, you see the role of the elders and the preachers, and that role is this: to extol the worth of the Lamb! In the office of the elder we are called to see the supremacy of Christ. In the office of the preaching of the Word, we are called to see Christ and Him crucified.
Christ, the Lamb of God, is worthy. He is worthy because He was slain. He is worthy because He has redeemed His people to God. He is worthy because He has done this by His blood. Elders must point the flock to the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep. Similarly, in the preaching of the Word, the flock must hear the voice of the Good Shepherd. Elders may be many things, but if they are not shepherding the flock that Jesus purchased with His own blood, bringing the flock to the Good Shepherd, they are not worthy of the name. Preachers may be many things, but if they are not keeping the eyes of the flock upon the Lamb that was slain, they are not worthy of the name.
Furthermore, in the content of the song you see the role of the elders and the preachers in teaching the flock what it means to be redeemed to God by the blood of the Lamb. It means that you are kings who reign upon the earth. How do you reign as kings upon the earth? Do you take up the sword? Do you go on crusades? Not at all! You reign through weakness, even the (apparent) weakness of prayer. You reign through the power of prayer: your prayers set in motion the advance of the kingdom of God. You pray and the seven seals are loosed; you pray and the seven trumpets sound forth; you pray and the seven bowls of God’s wrath are poured out. It is through prayer that you reign, even now, upon the earth.
What does it mean to be redeemed by the blood of the Lamb? It means that you have been made priests to your God. How are you a priest to your God? Well, what do priests do? They offer sacrifices. What are you called to do but to present your body a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God? This is your reasonable service (Romans 12:1). Such sacrifice may even mean the giving up of your body to the point of death in conformity to the Good Shepherd, being counted as sheep for the slaughter (Romans 8:36).
The Second Song
The second song is found in verses 11-12. Notice who sings this song, verse 11: “Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands…”
Notice first of all that you have once more the living creatures and the elders, but this time something is missing: their number. We do not read of the four living creatures, but of the living creatures; they are now without number. We do not read of the twenty four elders, but of the elders; they are now without number. What are we to make of that? Simply this: the people of God are represented here by the living creatures and the elders. That is to say, in view here are the people of God in terms of her office bearers—those who are called to give an account for the souls entrusted to them. In view here, then, is the church. The second song is sung by the church.
But the church is joined by the heavenly hosts—it is joined by the angels who surround the throne— and the number of those angels is ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands. The angels of heaven join the church in singing the worth of the Lamb. That the angels of heaven join the church in singing ought to come to us as no surprise. Paul writes in Ephesians 3:10 that the manifold wisdom of God is made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:10 that the gospel has been preached to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, and that gospel contains things which angels desire to look into.
Do you understand, O Church of Jesus Christ, the privilege that is yours in knowing the mysteries of the gospel?! You will teach angels! Angels know not the redemption that comes by the blood of the Lamb—they rejoice in it to be sure, but they do not experience it. It will be the privilege and the joy of the church to teach the angels the glory of redemption, and the angels will join us in singing praises to the Lamb who is worthy!
The Third Song
We have moved then from the officers of the church singing in verses 9-10 to the church and the angels singing in verses 11-12. We move now in the final song to all of creation singing. “And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying, ‘Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!’” (verse 13).
Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. All things will be put under His feet. Christ will be acknowledged and confessed by all of creation as the King of kings and Lord of lords. To be sure, the language of the song is poetic. We are not to suppose that the wicked and the inhabitants of hell will confess Christ as King willingly, but they will confess Him as King. The One who sits on the throne, together with the Lamb, will receive all blessing and honor and glory and power, and that forever and ever! God is glorified both in the redemption of the elect, as well as in the condemnation of the reprobate. God is glorified both in the display of His mercy, as well as in the display of His justice. God is glorified both in the display of His love, as well as in the display of His wrath. In that sense, all of creation will sing!
But what does all of this have to do with us? What does all of this mean for the life of the church? What does all of this mean for the life of the church as she lives in the midst of this world? What does all of this mean for the life of the church as she lives between the first and second comings of Christ?
We will answer that question, the Lord willing, in our next article. For now, let us be content to lift up our voices in song, singing of the all-sufficient worth of the Lamb!
Rev. Brian Vos is the pastor of the Trinity United Reformed Church in Caledonia, Michigan.