In our last article we looked at the three songs of Revelation 5. The first song, found in verses 9–10, taught us that it is the role of the elders and the preachers to keep the eyes of the flock upon the Lamb that was slain. The second song, found in verses 11–12, taught us the glories of the gospel as angels join the church in singing the worth of the Lamb. The third song, found in verse 13, taught us that all creation will one day sing to the Lord.
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 the world? What does all of this mean for the life of the church as she lives between the first and second comings of Christ?
To answer those questions, I direct your attention to the harps and the song. The new song is sung to the accompaniment of harps. It is sung before the loosing of the seven seals. It is sung before God sends forth His judgments upon the earth.
We find the imagery of a harp and a song once again in chapter 14. In 14:2–3, we read “And I heard a voice from heaven, like the voice of many waters, and like the voice of loud thunder. And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps. They sang as it were a new song before the throne…” This song is sung before the hour of God’s judgment comes (note verse 7). It is a new song sung to the accompaniment of harps before the sending forth of judgment.
We find the imagery of harps and a song again in chapter 15. In 15:2–3, we read, “And I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who have the victory over the beast, over his image and over his mark and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God. They sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb…” Again we read of harps and a song. It is sung before the pouring out of the seven bowls of God’s wrath, those bowls in which the wrath of God Almighty is complete. A song is sung to the accompaniment of harps before the pouring out of God’s wrath.
Are you getting the picture? In each of these passages a song sung. In each of these passages a song is sung to the accompaniment of harps before the judgments are poured forth.
Do you see what this has to do with the church? The church sings a new song, to the accompaniment of instruments, prior to the pouring out of judgment! That means that even now we sing! Even now the church sings a new song! Even now the church sings the song of heaven!
As we find ourselves living in the midst of the world, between the first and second comings of Christ—the four living creatures preach Christ! Preachers proclaim the Lamb that was slain! As we find ourselves living in the midst of the world, between the first and second comings of Christ—the twenty four elders worship Christ! Elders set the eyes of the congregation upon the Lamb that was slain! Even now as we find ourselves in the world we sing the song of heaven! Even now as we await the return of the King we sing the song of heaven! Even now we sing “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain!”
In the Old Testament, the people of God sang in response to the great acts of God in history for the salvation of His people. After the crossing of the Red Sea, they sang the song of Moses, commemorating what God had done. In Psalm 33:13, we are commanded to sing a new song, because of what God has done (note verses 4 and following). In Psalm 40:3, the psalmist sings a new song, again because of what God has done (note verses 1–2). In Psalm 96:1, all the earth is commanded to sing a new song, because of what God has done (note verses 2–3). In Psalm 98:1, we are commanded to sing a new song, because of what God has done (note verses 1–3). In Psalm 144:9, David sings a new song to the Lord because of what God has done (note verses 9–10).
We turn to the opening of the New Testament, and again we find the people of God singing in response to the great acts of God in history for the salvation of His people. Mary is told that she will bear the Christ, and she sings the Magnificat (Luke 1:46–55). When John the Baptist is born, his father’s mouth is opened, and he sings the Benedictus (Luke 1:67-79). When the Christ is born, the angels of heaven sing the Gloria (Luke 2:14). When Simeon takes the Christ child in his arms he sings the Nunc Dimmitis (Luke 2:29–32). God sends His Son for the salvation of His people, and His people sing a new song!
We turn to John’s Gospel, and we find in the Prologue, verses 1–18, what appears as a hymn—a hymn to the great act of God in the giving of His Son—sending to us the One who was in the bosom of the Father, that we might return to the bosom of the Father, bringing His sheep into the bosom of the Father.
We turn to the book of Revelation, and we find songs—new songs— songs which center upon the person and work of Christ!
Again and again in the Scriptures God’s people sing in response to the mighty acts of God for the redemption of His people.
This passage has several implications, then, for the church. In the first place note the presence of the harps. Instruments can and should be used in worship, and that for the accompaniment of the singing.
Note in the second place that the song is a new song. The position of exclusive psalmody—the idea that only psalms can be sung in worship—is untenable. To be sure, as the people of God we ought to love the psalms, we ought to sing them with great regularity. But we are also called to sing a new song. The history of redemption has progressed. We live on this side of the cross and that should be reflected in the songs of the church.
Though we are called to sing a new song, we take our cue from the psalms. As the psalms were new songs sung in response to what God had done for the salvation of His people, so the songs that the church sings must be songs sung in response to what God has done in Christ for the salvation of His people. Our music and our songs must be directed, as all of our worship must be directed, to what God has done in Christ! Worship is worshiping God and the Lamb; it is not about entertaining the sheep!
As C.S. Lewis once put it: “I wish they’d remember that the charge to Peter was ‘Feed My sheep,’ not ‘try new experiments on my rats,’ or even, ‘teach my performing dogs new tricks.’” How are the sheep fed? They are fed with what God has done in Christ? How are the sheep fed? They are fed by the Lamb that was slain!
Do you need proof? Consider the songs of Revelation: 4:8, 11; 5:9–10, 12, 13; 7:12; 11:17-18; 15:3–4; 16:56.
Notice not one of those songs speaks about you or about what you have done: nothing of your works, nothing of your decisions, nothing of you or what you have done whatsoever. The songs are simply not about you! All of the songs speak about what God has done in Christ. The songs are about His work. The songs are about the work of His hands. The songs are about Him!
Indeed, the book of Revelation has much to teach us about the life of the church concerning her music and songs. There is no room in heaven for singing the praises of man! There is no room in heaven for singing of the so-called decisions of man! There is no room in heaven for singing of the works of man’s hands! And if there is no room in heaven for the singing of man-centered songs, then there is no room in the church for the singing of man-centered songs!
New songs? Yes! But new songs that are centered upon God and what He has done in Christ!
Worthy is the Lamb! That is the song of heaven. And that is the song of the church, even now, as she joins the chorus in heaven, and as she awaits her entrance into heaven! O sing to the Lord a new song!
Rev. Brian Vos is the pastor of the Trinity United Reformed Church in Caledonia, Michigan.