Holy, Holy, Holy (Rev. 4:6b-11)
We have transitioned from the first section which included letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor (1:1-3:22), to the second section which includes the opening of seven seals (4:1-8:1). Upon ascending into heaven in his vision, John sees the throne of God—a throne of glory, grace, and judgment. The principle is that our worship must be God-centered.
In the rest of chapter four John continues his description of what he sees, including the worship that he hears. Two hymns are recorded in this section. One is declared by the four living creatures that are in the midst of God’s throne, while the other is declared by the twenty-four elders who surround the throne. These hymns clarify that God alone is to receive our worship because he alone is perfectly holy and worthy.
In his critique of Christianity in a post-modern world, David Wells writes,
God has become unimportant. He rests upon the world so inconsequentially as not to be noticeable.
But we were created to seek glory. Therefore, this radical indifference of God must be replaced by an inferior form of worship. It is inevitable that we will find something or someone to direct our affections. Our western idols tend to be related to business and entertainment. We have successful entrepreneurs, sports icons, and Hollywood celebrities. We crave to see their glory and we strive to contribute to their glory if we can only catch a glimpse of them as they walk by. There is a sense in which this is an inevitable reaction. But, obviously, it is a misplaced worship.
Phillips The quest for glory itself is implanted in the human heart by God in order to be satisfied by none other than himself.
The consequences of misplaced worship are not only significant for eternity, but they even have an immediate impact upon our present lives. We become what we worship. If you give your heart to the gods of the Big Screen, then you will become preoccupied with outward beauty and shallow popularity. If you give your heart to the gods of money, then you will seek career objectives above all else. When sports become your god, you will forsake everyone else in order to devote your love and affection to your team.
On the other hand, when we direct our worship towards God, we begin to imperfectly reflect his attributes. The primary attributes emphasized in this text are God’s holiness and worthiness. Thus, if we are indeed becoming what we worship, then…
Worshiping a holy and worthy God is how we become holy and worthy disciples.
Read Rev. 4:6b-11
I. THE GLORY OF GOD’S HOLINESS (6B-8)
Who are the four living creatures that surround the heavenly throne? There is a clear allusion to both Ezekiel and Isaiah, but none of them are identical parallels. Instead of each creature having four faces as they do in Ezekiel’s vision (Ezek. 1:5-10, 18), Revelation portrays each creature as having the likeness of one earthly being. The creatures have six wings like the seraphim in Isaiah’s vision of the throne room of God (Isa. 6:1-3).
Since we cannot reconstruct an identical image of these heavenly cherubim from the various texts, we should understand them as symbolic representatives. They are real angelic beings, but John is not providing a literal representation of them. John does not provide us with a photograph. Rather, they represent categories of God’s created order. They correspond to the four corners of the earth. They represent each of the domains of creation praising God. As is true of all God’s creation (Pss 19, 104), they were made to give glory to God. Their entire purpose for existing is to model creation giving ceaseless praise to the Creator.
Scripture portrays heavenly cherubim as guardians and bearers of God’s throne. That was true of the cherubim in the garden of Eden who guarded man from eating of the tree of life (Gen 3:24). It is true of the golden cherubim that flanked the mercy seat on top of the ark of the covenant (Exod. 25:17-22). As guardians they have numerous eyes to see everything taking place. Ezekiel portrayed the throne of God has being transported by angelic beings with wheels (Ezek. 1:16-19). God flies upon a cherub in Psalm 18:10. God’s presence could be transported wherever his people were found to be giving him glory.
As is typical in Revelation, Satan presents a counterfeit model. The hybrid locusts found in Rev. 9:7-11 have human faces, but they ascend from the bottomless pit. Later on in chapter 13, the beast that rises out of the sea of the underworld is a combination of worldly and demonic features. These serve as counterfeit alternatives to the four living creatures who combine features of creation with descriptions of heaven. Instead of bringing satanic chaos and destruction, these four living creatures bring heavenly harmony between God and creation through the continual offering of worship.
And what these creatures are forever reciting is the holiness of God. Holiness is the only attribute of God that is described with this threefold repetition. The holiness of God refers to his moral perfection. God is perfectly righteous. He is always faithful and just (Dt 32:4). God never does wrong. The psalmists frequently exhort us to sing praises to the Holy One of Israel (Ps 71:22; 78:41). He is utterly unique in his holiness (1 Sam 2:2; Exod 15:11).
Whenever we enter into the presence of a holy God we must prepare ourselves. Moses was asked to remove his sandals because the ground upon which he stood was considered holy (Exod 3:5). We prepare ourselves before taking the Lord’s Supper with an inward examination (1 Co 11:28).
But there is also a reflective component to worship. Remember the precious gemstones that we’re described in relation to the glory of God (Rev. 4:3). Whenever the high priest would perform his mediating duties in the temple, he wore an ephod which contained twelve precious stones. The priest was reflecting the beauty of God’s glory. Now, under the new covenant, whenever the priesthood of all believers enter into the presence of God in worship we reflect something of his glory as well. In heaven, what is now a dim reflection will be perfected. Part of that reflection is the “splendor of holiness” (Psa. 29:2).
As Greg Beale argues in his book titled We Become What We Worship, “What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration.” If you worship idols, you become spiritually deaf and dumb like them (Psalm 115:4-8). You resemble them to your ultimate ruin. But when you worship a holy God, you begin to resemble him for your restoration.
We are being progressively sanctified, transformed into his likeness (Rom 12:1; 1 Thes 4:3-7). This requires diligence (2 Pe 3:11, 14) to put off our old self…and to put on the new self (Eph. 4:22-24). It requires a striving for “the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14).
In addition to declaring the glory of God’s holiness, we also declare…
II. THE GLORY OF GOD’S WORTHINESS (9-11)
To engage in worship is to declare the worthiness of the object of our adoration to receive our praise (it is literally worthship).
Johnson (The twenty-four elders) prostrate themselves before the Lord and cast their crowns at his feet, acknowledging that all authority derives from him, belongs to him, and returns to him.
As we discerned with the four living creatures which represent God’s creation, now we see with the declaration of the twenty-four elders, that God’s worthiness is grounded in the fact that he “created all things” (11). Because God’s created all things, he has the authority and power to bring it back into complete order. But, to do that, he will need to eliminate every last vestige of sin which brings evil and misery.
The reason that no one is harmed by “the flashes of lightning” (5), and the chaos of the sea is glassy and tranquil (6a), and the four living creatures do not prey upon each other, but praise their Creator (6b-8), and the twenty-four elders are not fighting for position but submitting themselves in humble adoration, is because the Lord God Almighty is on his throne in the center of it all. Where God is central in worship, his creation enjoys peace and harmony.
When we consider the glory of the heavens, are they not worthy of our amazement?
Phillips Among the starry host are entire galaxies, shining as one because they are so distant. With the aid of telescopes, our eyes can see millions and billions of stars and galaxies. Our own galaxy, the Milky Way, contains at least two hundred billion stars and rotates majestically in space, spanning over seven hundred thousand trillion miles.
Yet, God has set his glory above the heavens (Psalm 8:1). As the twenty-four elders bow before God, worshiping him in heaven, his Church bows her heart before the Lord worshiping him on earth (Heb. 12:28-29).
Here we read about the worthiness of the Father (4:11). In the next chapter we will read about the worthiness of the Son (5:12). This is critical to understand, because it is the lack of worthy individuals that is cause for John’s weeping that no one could take the scroll and read it (5:4). All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). The Lamb alone was worthy to receive the honor.
However, just as the holiness of God begins to have an impact upon the worshipper, so does his worthiness. Remember what Isaiah said in his vision of the heavenly throne room? Upon hearing the seraphim declaring “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isa. 6:3), Isaiah responding by saying, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Then God declared his guilt to be taken away and his sin atoned for. Thus, he was made worthy to be God’s prophet.
We are given numerous examples of people God considers to be worthy. Those who deny themselves and make God their priority are worthy of him (Mt 10:37-38). Those who suffer persecution for the sake of Jesus Christ are worthy of him (2 Th 1:5). Those who bear “fruit in every good word” walk in a manner worthy of the Lord (Col. 1:10).
When we recognize the worthiness of God to receive our praise, he makes us worthy to be recognized as his disciples.
Joining together in worship to declare the holiness of God does a genuine work of transformation in us toward holiness. Like Isaiah, we are not worthy in and of ourselves, but God makes us worthy to become good and faithful servants. Paul exhorted Christians in Thessalonica to “walk in a manner worthy of God” (1 Th 2:12) and later prayed that God would make them “worthy of his calling” (2 Th 1:11). What I’ve tried to show you this morning is how God does that.
Worshiping a holy and worthy God is how we become holy and worthy disciples.
That is why it is so important that we take our worship seriously. We come with reverence and awe. We do our best to eliminate all distractions. We come frequently, especially when we are aware of the sin that encourages us to isolate ourselves. We come to worship because we know that by the manifestation of God’s holiness and worthiness, He is being glorified and we are being edified.