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Revelation 4:9 by Robert Dean
Series:Revelation (2004)
Duration:43 mins 39 secs

Principles of Biblical Worship Rev. 4:9


Some may not be aware of the fact that we are living in a time when for the past 20-25 years the whole concept of worship as it has been taught in many seminaries and proclaimed in many churches, as it has been understood by numerous people, has gone through a radical change. It has led to church splits, to a lot of strife and division, to a lot of changes in the basic orientation of many churches. It is part of a whole matrix of different things that have happened coming out of the late 1960s and early 70s in terms of teaching on the local church. A primary motive that underlies much of this had to do with growth and to somehow trying to make the Bible "more relevant" as if sound doctrine wasn't relevant. Bu it is not that the Bible isn't relevant to you, it is because you are a fallen, sinful, totally depraved creature and you are not relevant to God. It is the creature that needs to be conformed to God and not the church conform to the creature. There are numerous other elements that affect all of this thinking about worship and it has changed the whole concept of church music, and many of these things have created some radical divisions. There is a battle today between what is very mistakenly identified as traditional worship versus contemporary worship. And there are some problems with that, firstly because of the way "worship" is used. Worship today does not refer to what we are doing right now, i.e. committing ourselves to the teaching of the Word of God, worship is being used as a synonym for singing, and not just singing hymns to God but singing contemporary praise choruses to God. Another term for this has come under the phrase "praise and worship." So there has been a change from what has been a traditional orientation for hundreds of years in local churches. It is understood that historically there is a spectrum in terms of worship. There is high church worship that becomes so ritualized in liturgy that there is no longer teaching and instruction and completely loses its meaning or its significance to modern man because not teaching, no communication of what it is all about. Historically the church has looked at certain basic forms of worship as being biblical and that which puts the focus on God, and it theocentric rather than anthropocentric. But what has happened in the last 20-30 years is that worship has not only become anthropocentric, it has become self-oriented, it has become experientially based, and experience and emotion become the criterion for the reality of the worship. Just within the last couple of years solid Bible-teaching churches have had administrative shifts, pastoral changes, and have had brought in new pastors who have brought these in, and it is always a gradual process. 


In Revelation 4:9-11 we see the focus of the worship of these who are in heaven surrounding the throne of God. There are three groups: the living beings, the angels, and the twenty-four elders who are the resurrected church age believers. 


Revelation 4:9 NASB "And when [whenever] the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever..." The "whenever" is an important word, it indicates that this is not something that they did all the time, it was something that they did at certain times in heaven. There was a designated time in heaven where there was a convocation of creatures before the throne of God for specific purpose, and during that time there would be this worship. The living creatures are those angels associated with the holiness and righteousness of God and always viewed in the Scriptures as being the closest to the throne of God. So these are the ones who are instigating the worship and then there are others who are participants. We something of what worship is in this verse. In one sense it is a good summary of what worship is, it is giving glory and honor and thanks to God. That is one aspect of worship, it is theocentric. The focal point is not on what we are or what we are doing but upon God and what he has done, His person and His work. The 24 elders are the representatives in their priest-king function in the post-judgment seat of Christ period.


Revelation 4:10 NASB "the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying…" They would fall down before Him that sits on the throne and the Greek there is the idea that they fall upon their face, they prostrate themselves physically before Him who sits on the throne and they worship Him. This is the Greek word PROSKUNEO [proskunew], the primary words that is translated worship in the New Testament. The crowns that are cast before the throne are the STEPHANOS [stefanoj] crowns that are the rewards that were distributed by the Lord Jesus Christ at the judgment seat of Christ. They are the same kind of thing that were the wreaths that were awarded to athletes in the Olympic games in Greece, awards for achievement for that which they have done. Typically, when that athlete returned whatever rewards he had been given he would bring to the temple, to the local deity of his village or town or city, and he would put his crowns before that deity in recognition of the fact that even though he was the one who had put forth the effort and the work he owed his victory ultimately to his god. That is the idea here. They are returning these crowns to God the Father is recognition of the fact that He is the one who made it all possible. It is a ceremony that recognizes the source, the power, the energy that enabled us to live our Christian life.


The living creatures were the ones who said in v. 8, "HOLY, HOLY, HOLY {is} THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME." These 24 elders are the ones who said: Revelation 4:11 NASB "Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created." There is an antiphonal thing going on here. The living beings say one thing and the 24 elders say something else. Remember, the focus was glory and honor and thanks from the living creatures, here is it glory and honor and power attributed to the Lord. Why? This is a basis for worship. First of all, You are worthy because you created all things. There is an emphasis on the creator-creature distinction. Because God is the creator of all things He is in His being worthy to be honoured and glorified. That brings us to a pause in the action, but although there is a chapter break here there should not be one because it all flows together in one scene.


But what we are focusing on here is the worship, for that is the word that is used in 4:10, which is a summary word. The concept of worship is extremely complex because worship involves a lot of different things, as we will see. So you don't restrict worship to just one kind of activity or another kind of activity, it is a very broad term. This is one form of worship. In the first phrase of verse 11 where they say, You are worthy, it recognizes the inherent integrity and virtue of the Father as the unique one of the universe. The English translation "worthy" comes from the same root that we get our English word "worship." If we go back into old English we see that the word comes from "worthship" which indicates attributing to someone worth and value because of what they have done. But that is the English etymology; both the Hebrew and the Greek words go far beyond that. Worthiness is certainly part of it in ascribing that to God and recognizing His being the only one worthy of our worship, honor and devotion, but it goes much beyond that.


A number of years ago Donald Grey Barnhouse, a famous Bible teacher, was travelling in Texas. This was the era before there was air conditioning. He was in Beaumont and there was this large signb which encouraged people to go to the church of their choice and worship God. He pulled up at a stop sign and there was this large billboard there and a car pulled up alongside. He could hear the conversation in this car next to him and this little boy asked his father, "Daddy, what does worship mean?" His father replied, "It means to go to church and listen to the preacher preach." Unfortunately, that is what most people think that worship is. On the other hand, a lot of people today think that what worship is is going to church and singing choruses or songs, or primarily singing, for about 40-45 minutes and that that is something different from what the preacher does when he stands up for 15-20 minutes in these kinds of churches and gives a little devotional. Neither of those views are biblical concepts of worship. What happened in previous generations is that the standard churches, the mainline denominational churches, shifted to liberalism. With the influence of liberalism they got away from the Bible and so there was a lot of well-meaning moral based homilies on Sunday mornings but nobody was learning the Bible. Consequently people got bored with shallow, superficial sermons, or they reacted to services that always ended up dunning everybody for more money, and eventually by the 60s and the rise of the baby boom generation they reacted to that as just dead, meaningless form, and it didn't have any real life. At the same time as baby boomers were coming up they were being inculcated with the beat and the rock from Elvis all the way up to the Beatles, and they felt they could really liven the church up a little bit if we just take the music we listen to on the radio every day and add a bunch of Christian lyrics to it and then bring that into the church. So there was the development and origin of what is called contemporary Christian music in that and it came into the church and by the early 80s it was making significant inroads. Today you are called a dinosaur, carnal, and Pharisaic legalists if you do not get involved in contemporary Christian music.


So today we live in a generation of so-called Christianity where the historic, biblical patterns of worship that were hammered out by great Bible students over the centuries has been denigrated as just dead tradition with no spiritual value, and these are being replaced by forms of worship that are influenced by what is popular in the market place of the unbeliever in order to make the unbeliever feel comfortable when he comes to church. There is a deep connection between the rise of contemporary Christian music and contemporary Christian worship to the whole church growth movement. All of these things are interconnected historically because the goal is to have music that doesn't turn off the unbeliever. Hmm!


There are two primary words that are used in the Old Testament, two primary words that are used in the New Testament, and they are very similar to one another in their meaning. There are some secondary words that are termed worship here and there but these are the two main words. The first Hebrew word that is translated "worship" is the word abab, the word for work, the basic word for labor. Forms of this word refer to servants. It refers to a slave in some forms of the word and is translated "worship" is the sense of serving God. This is how it is used in Deuteronomy 6:13 NASB "You shall fear {only} the LORD your God; and you shall worship [serve] Him and swear by His name." Note the connection between these two concepts: fearing the Lord and serving Him. Serving God is an outgrowth of fearing Him. What does it mean to fear God? Fearing God is much more than having respect for God. It is a recognition of the consequences of all the things that can happen to you as a result of disobedience. So there is an element of real fear and dread in the fear of the Lord. So there is a connection here between fearing the Lord your God and serving Him. It is a fear that is motivated by a recognition of His authority and the consequences of disobedience. It the idea of personal service to God as a form of worship.


The second word used in the Old testament for worship is the Hebrew word shachah, which means to fall prostrate or to be despondent. It is something that would take place when an inferior was before a superior and would fall down upon his face. The idea of being despondent is one that is related to that concept of fear. There is that concept here that going into the presence of one who has authority is not one that is taken lightly, not something that is treated casually. The word shachah is used three times in Genesis where they give us interesting insight into the meaning of the word. The first time we see it is in Genesis 22:5, which is the final test that God gave Abraham when He called upon Abraham to bring Isaac his only son to Mount Mariah, and to bind him and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on the altar. "The lad and I will go yonder and worship." He is giving something that means a lot to him, and that is defined as worship. That was the act of completely submitting one's authority to God. That is the core idea that we are going to see here. Both abab and shachah point to the idea of being willing to do everything that God says, to being in complete submission to His authority.


The next time we have the word "worship" mentioned is in Genesis 24:26, 48 where Abraham is sending his servant to go find a bride for Isaac. On his way to Haran in order to find a bride for Isaac the servant stops and prays that God will guide him and direct him. Once that has taken place and he has identified Rebecca we read that he bowed down his head and worshipped the Lord. In this sense it has the idea more of giving thanks. Notice that in both of these instances worship is more individual than it is corporate. Corporate worship doesn't begin to be developed until you get into the ritual instructions of the Mosaic law, and then later there are additions made to that under king David as he develops the musicians and the choirs that would sing the great psalms involved in the worship of the temple.


When we come into the New Testament we have the word PROSKUNEO [proskunew]. This is the rough equivalent to shachah, it means to kiss, to adore, to throw a kiss in respect of someone, to worship or to prostrate one's self before a superior. One dictionary gives an interesting illustration. He says: "The ancient oriental, especially the Persian, mode of salutation between persons of equal rank was to kiss each other on the lips. When the difference in the rank was slight they kissed each other on the cheek. When one was much inferior he fell upon his knees and touched his forehead to the ground or prostrating himself, throwing kisses at the same time toward the superior. It is this latter mode of salutation that Greek writers expressed by the verb PROSKUNEO." In the New Testament it means generally to be reverent or to do homage to someone, usually by kneeling or prostrating one's self before him. In the LXX it means to bow down, to prostrate one's self in reverence and homage. So what we have here is a parallel to shachah and it has that idea of being completely obedient or submissive to authority. It is a recognition of our complete subservience as creatures to the authority and direction of the will of God.


The first place it is used in the New Testament is Matthew 2:2 NASB "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him." What did they do when they came to worship Him? Matthew 2:11 NASB "After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh." So the presentation of gifts to God is a part of worship.


The fourth word that is used in the Scriptures for worship is LATREIA [latreia] which, like abab in the Old Testament, focuses on serving God, to place ourselves under His authority. This is the word that is used in Romans 12:1 NASB "Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, {which is} your spiritual service of worship."


The basic concept of worship is to submit or subordinate our opinions, preferences, thoughts, philosophy of life, finances, politics, emotions, relationships, attitudes, actions, time, and priorities to the authority of God's Word. That is why when we have corporate worship the focal point is the Word of God because the Word of God is that which teaches us how to think as God thinks what those priorities are, what those viewpoints are to be, what our preferences are to be, what our opinions should be, how we can tell truth from error. And it is the Word of God that is that which God uses to conform us to the thinking and the character of the Lord Jesus Christ. So the highest form of worship is to come and study the Word of God and to learn the Word of God, because as Jesus prayed to the Father the night before he went to the cross: "Father, sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth." It is the Word of God, the truth, that is the means of our sanctification.