What the Apocalypse Reveals About Worship
Lessons from the Book of Revelation
After watching the 1972 film A Thief in the Night in church as a child, I grew up scared to death of the Book of Revelation.
Nevertheless, one of my fondest memories from my days at Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri, was singing parts of Handel’s Messiah and watching audience members stand to their feet during the “Hallelujah Chorus.” Revelation was Handel’s inspiration for this familiar chorus.
The apostle John wrote Revelation in the late first century to a network of seven churches in Asia Minor. We derive the title from the opening words: “apocalypse [Greek apokalupsis] of Jesus Christ.” The word “apocalypse” means an unveiling or revealing.
This is how many Pentecostals have read the Book of Revelation — as a tale of terror to be revealed in the last days. Yet the book is the “apocalypse of Jesus Christ.” It comes from Jesus and reveals Jesus.
Some branches of the Church ignore Revelation, while others pore over its pages to develop end-time charts. Either way, we often miss what Revelation reveals about honoring, exalting and worshipping the Lord.
Revelation 1:9 references John’s experience on the island of Patmos, where he was an exile “because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” John says he was “in the Spirit” when he heard a voice and saw a vision (verse 10).
Despite his circumstances, John’s focus was on God and His presence. This is how ordinary places — like Patmos or Ephesus or our own local churches — become sacred spaces, where we encounter the Spirit and meet with Jesus (Revelation 1:13–20).
Worship is not about performance but about experiential participation in the Spirit. We can’t be so concerned with being relevant that we squelch the Spirit’s active work in our services.
When reading Revelation with an eye toward worship, we discover images of worship, such as the incense (5:8), altar (8:5), and temple (11:19). We encounter familiar worship elements: congregational blessings (1:3; 14:13), a doxology (1:5–6), and a closing benediction (22:21). We hear liturgical words, including “amen” (5:14) and “hallelujah” (19:1). We discover calls to repentance (2:5), worship songs (4:8; 5:9–10; 7:10), the posture of prostration (4:10), prayers (5:8), proclamation (14:7), and instruments (15:2). We even see the use of color and architecture (4:3–4; 21:10–21).
Elements of worship are woven into the structure of Revelation, reminding us that worship is more than singing.
A theological theme of Revelation is that worship belongs to God alone. God is the Holy One; the Creator; the One who was, and is, and is to come; the Almighty; the One on the throne; and the Judge. Each of these titles is a reason to worship God.
Too many of our prayers, songs and sermons focus on our feelings and desires. Such worship is shallow and narcissistic.
Revelation also reveals that Jesus is worthy of worship. Jesus is the Lamb, Shepherd, Faithful Witness, King of kings and Lord of lords, Rider on the White Horse, the One who is coming, and the Alpha and the Omega.
The Lamb receives the same worship as the One on the throne. As the elders fall down in worship before the throne of God, they also fall before the Lamb. Songs of worship rise to both. In Revelation 5:13, all of creation breaks out in thunderous worship: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”
To worship Jesus is to worship God — not as two gods but as One. God and the Lamb are distinct yet act in unison throughout the book. Likewise, the Spirit is depicted as the seven spirits before the throne (1:4; 4:5) and as the eyes of the Lamb (5:6), leading us to see that the Spirit is an inseparable member of the godhead. As such, He too is worthy of worship.
All of worship — our songs, prayers and sermons — must be theologically grounded in and directed to the Triune God. Worship is not about us. Yet too many of our prayers, songs, and sermons focus on our feelings and desires. Such worship is shallow and narcissistic. Robust worship declares who God is and what God does.
Hymns are among the most recognizable forms of worship in Revelation. The songs often appear in heavenly worship scenes embedded in the hair-raising cycles of judgment. This juxtaposition reminds the Church to worship, even in difficult times.
The lyrics in Revelation are profoundly theological, proclaiming the nature, character and work of God. These hymns interpret the narratives around them, suggesting that worship songs have a teaching function.
For example, why is the Lamb worthy to open the scroll? It is not until the elders and living creatures sing in Revelation 5:9 that it becomes clear:
You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and
people and nation.
Jesus is the Redeemer. That’s why He is worthy!
Revelation 13:15 says those who refuse to worship the beast will face execution. How are believers to deal with this type of persecution? Song lyrics in Revelation 12:11 have already anticipated this question:
They triumphed over him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death.
Jesus holds the keys of death itself (Revelation 1:18). Therefore, Christians need not fear physical death. This song is a reminder of that timeless truth.
Worship songs that are theologically focused sustain us, infusing our present situations with the assurance of the coming Kingdom and reminding us that our God reigns (Revelation 19:6).
Worshipping theologically shapes us into the cruciform way of life. We are to emulate the martyrs in Revelation by fearlessly worshipping God — no matter the cost.
While worship includes more than music, the sheer number of songs in Revelation underscores the vital importance of singing. Therefore, worship leaders should continually evaluate the content and function of their set lists and catalog of songs to ensure they are theologically grounded and God-focused. Revelation 15:3 provides an example of such a song:
Great and marvelous are your deeds,
Lord God the Almighty. Just and true are
King of the nations.
This is a song of those who overcame the beast. In Revelation, worship is the language of resistance against anything opposed to God’s kingdom.
The Church’s songs reinterpret suffering in light of heaven’s correct perspective that God’s judgments are true and just (19:2).
Corporate worship should be about participating in heaven’s culture of worship so we can resist the pull of earthly cultures that seek our allegiance. Such worship joins us through the Spirit to the global Church in anticipation of the day when every nation, tribe, people and language will worship around the throne of God (Revelation 7:9).
This kind of worship breaks through the boundary between heaven and earth, bringing us, like John, to the very throne room of God.