Revelation 4 presents us with God himself in the radiant glory of his enthroned being. Those who grow in their awareness of God inevitably wish to see him more clearly. Moses pleaded, “Please show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18).
Great Themes in Revelation 4
One way to approach the preeminence of God is to understand the Hebrew word for glory. The basic meaning of the word kabod is “weighty.” God is consequential, a heavyweight, not a lightweight. God is infinitely substantial, the very opposite of chaff that blows in the wind.
Revelation 4, with its vision of God in his majesty, smashes any pretensions to self-derived religion. The fact that the four living creatures have “eyes all around” and six wings each means that they have been everywhere and have seen everything.
Their sublime intelligence has concluded that God is to be the chief subject of our interest and the sole object of our worship.
Seeing God enthroned in glory means we can only follow the twenty-four elders by falling on our faces, Revelation 4:10 says that casting any crowns of ours at his feet, singing, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power” (Revelation 4:11).
A second insight we gain from this vision is the right longing of the human heart for glory. Christians sometimes see the Bible’s call to humility as opposed to a wholesome craving for glory.
Man was made for glory. This is the reason we crave even a fleeting earthly experience of the glory for which we were made. Yet the only true glory is found in the person of God and his saving works.
Christians should not only repudiate idolatry but also open their hearts to the glory of God. This is the picture we see in Revelation 4. Blazing at the center of creation is the transcendent splendor of the glorious God.
In John’s vision, this majesty has enthralled both the twenty-four elders and the angelic myriads surrounding them. Revelation holds before us an exalted vision of heaven’s glory, and we impoverish ourselves if we do not frequently refresh our souls in meditation on the splendors of our God.
The third insight from Revelation 4 pertains to the beauty that is so integral to this vision. Notice that the sights of this vision are surpassingly beautiful, and no doubt, the angel voices, together with those of the twenty-four elders, excel the loveliness of any sound heard on earth.
All this reminds Christians to value and cultivate the classical triad of virtue: The good, the true, and the beautiful.
Christians must cultivate true and godly beauty in the things that we make and do and communicate the beauty and value of people who were made in God’s image.
Revelation 4 reminds us that we are a race designed by God to bear the image of the beauty seen in this vision: In our bodies, our character, our relationships, our deeds, and especially our worship.
What Worship Is
When we think of worship, Christians should realize our great need for biblical models in honoring God. Revelation 4 provides insights into the worship of God in heaven. Its most basic principle is that worship is praise in response to God’s revelation of himself.
True Christian worship has only one target audience: The glorious God enthroned in heaven. True worship is summarized in Revelation 5:13 as being directed to “him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb,” giving “blessing and honor and glory and might” to our God.
Second, we should note that worship comes from an older English word, worthship. To worship God is to acclaim his worth: We praise God because he is worthy of our adoration.
For this reason, we see in this vision that God is worshiped for the glory of his attributes. Revelation highlights three attributes of God, which are celebrated in the worship of the cherubim: God’s holiness, power, and eternity.
The worship of the four living creatures highlights the holiness of God: “They never cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy’” (Revelation 4:8). In the Bible, repetition marks special emphasis, and of all of God’s attributes, only holiness receives threefold repetition.
Holiness is God’s transcendent separation above all creation and is his preeminent attribute. Jesus addressed God as “Holy Father,” (John 17:11). Jesus taught as our first petition in prayer, “Hallowed be your name” in Matthew 6:9.
Because of God’s holiness, Moses removed his shoes before the burning bush. We should likewise worship the holy God in reverence and awe as Hebrews 12:28–29 teaches.
The living creatures also praise God’s power, calling him “Lord God Almighty,” (Revelation 4:8). Almighty is the Greek word pantokrator, a title falsely employed by the Caesars. Yet it is God alone who is truly omnipotent and thus able to save.
We can imagine how this praise to God’s power would have encouraged the churches to which John was writing, as they were about to enter a time of persecution and testing.
The third attribute for which God is praised is his eternity: “Who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8). God’s eternity emphasizes his sovereign control since he is before and after all things.
We see this in the worship of the twenty-four elders, representing the redeemed church in Revelation 4:11. God made and even now upholds all that there is, and for this, he is rightly to be praised.
When we look into the starry sky, we see a panoply of praise to God’s glory, just as Psalm 8:1 declares. 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.
The God who reveals himself to us in the Bible and sent his Son to make an atoning death for our sin is the God who made this glorious universe and sustains it now in accordance with his will.
When we consider how great is God’s glory as Creator, we remember why our praise is given to him alone. The Christians of the first century refused to acclaim Caesar as God, suffering death for their exclusive devotion to Christ as Lord.
Christians must refuse to bow before the idols of our age. Revelation suggests that the best way to keep ourselves from idolatry is to gather with fellow believers to praise the holy, almighty, and eternal Creator God.
What Worshipers Do
Having seen what worship is from John’s vision of heaven, we should conclude with observations about what worshipers do.
The four living creatures and the enthroned elders show us three things. First, their example urges us to humble ourselves in the presence of the holy, almighty, and eternal God.
When God is lifted up, human pride is always cast down, and so it should be in worship. This is why, whether or not we are physically able to kneel in the presence of God, our hearts ought always to be prostrate before him, especially in gathered worship.
The Bible says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you,” (James 4:10).
Second, God’s people rejoice in worshiping him. This attitude is urged throughout the Psalms. Psalm 97:12 urges: “Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name!” We can infer joy in Revelation 4 through the songs that the worshipers were singing.
These songs are the first of the many hymns recorded in Revelation, all of which joyfully celebrate the glory of God’s person and works, especially as he saves his beleaguered people. Congregational singing in praise to God should thus be one of our chief joys on this side of heaven.
Finally, we worship God by confessing him as Savior and Lord. The twenty-four elders gave their confession by “cast[ing] their crowns before the throne, saying, ‘Worthy are you, our Lord and God’” (Revelation 4:10–11).
They were acclaiming their submission to God as the only true Sovereign. They confess that any glory of their own as Christ’s people has come from God and is for his praise only.
How exciting it is for Christians to realize that by God’s grace in Christ, we are in this life gaining crowns to cast at his feet, adding the testimony of our lives to the praise of the entire creation forever.
For further reading:
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Iyan Kurnia
Dave Jenkins is the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the Executive Editor of Theology for Life Magazine, and the Host of the Equipping You in Grace Podcast and Warriors of Grace Podcast. He received his MAR and M.Div. through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. You can follow him on Twitter at @davejjenkins, find him on Facebook at Dave Jenkins SOG, Instagram, read more of his writing at Servants of Grace, or sign to receive his newsletter. When Dave isn’t busy with ministry, he loves spending time with his wife, Sarah, reading the latest from Christian publishers, the Reformers, and the Puritans, playing golf, watching movies, sports, and spending time with his family.