I used to think that the question “What is worship?” was an easy one to answer. As a child, I would’ve probably said that worship was singing songs to God. If you asked me a week ago, I might have told you that worship is glorifying God in anything we do. It’s not reserved to music, but is lived out in our lives through our thoughts, actions, and priorities. We worship God by the way we use our time, money, possessions, and gifts.
But just this past week, I attended a chapel service at Providence Theological Seminary that provided me with yet another approach to worship. During the service, we were taken into the book of Revelation, which can be intimidating for many people. But if we begin to understand the context and purpose of Revelation, it actually becomes a book of hope rather than one of doom and gloom.
Revelation fits into the genre of apocalyptic literature. The word apocalypse wasn’t first intended to mean the complete destruction of the world. It actually means an “unveiling.” And so, in Revelation, the author John is privy to an unveiling of another dimension and of things to come.
I know it sounds like science fiction, but let me elaborate. Christians, and most people of faith, have always believed that the physical world isn’t all there is. Even in our scientific age, we still believe that things can exist without empirical proof. For Christians, there’s another dimension or alternative reality that we’ve sometimes called heaven, the after-life, or the Kingdom of God. The premise is that when life ends on this side, it continues to another side. Physical death is not the final word.
It’s safe to say that none of us have really experienced the other dimension. We don’t know what comes after death or what heaven actually looks like. But the book or Revelation is an unveiling of that dimension for us. John is letting us in on the alternative reality that exists apart from our physical world.
Now, should we take Revelation literally? Well, we answer that by asking whether or not apocalyptic literature is supposed to be taken literally. The simply answer is no. But we are supposed to take it seriously. John, in his context, uses so much imagery that wouldn’t make sense for us to interpret literally in our context. In fact, if we try to do that, we may miss the whole message of the book.
The unveiling John received didn’t freak out his readers; instead, it offered them immense hope in trying times. Let me provide a short snippet. In Revelation, the heavenly realm is unveiled to John. In Chapter 5, we get an inside look at the “throne room” of God. We’re given a sneak peak into the kind of worship that’s happening there. Verses 11-14 read:
“Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying:
‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honour and glory and praise!’
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:
‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honour and glory and power,
for ever and ever!’
The four living creatures said, ‘Amen,’ and the elders fell down and worshiped.”
Again, there’s a lot of imagery in this passage that needs to be unpacked. But even if we understand that the Lamb is Jesus, it can start to make sense. Imagine you’re a 1st century Christian on the run because you heard that Emperor Nero was killing as many Christians as he could get his hands on.
For you, it would’ve seemed like God wasn’t in control. In fact, it would’ve seemed like God was losing. What was the point of holding on to the faith in the midst of such trials? Maybe what the Romans were saying was true - that the Emperor himself was god. Maybe you should join the rest of the empire in worshipping Caesar as saviour and lord.
But in the midst of such times, John offers an inside look at the alternative reality - which is not just alternative, but also true. The reality is that even though things seem to be going horribly wrong on our side, God sits on the throne in the other side. Jesus is victorious and all the heavenly beings constantly worship and give honour to God, the creator and sustainer of the universe.
Revelation tells the rest of the story of how God will win over evil and death in the end and how God’s throne has never actually been threatened by any other being. For all of time, 99.9% of creation (in all dimensions) has worshipped God the creator. So even when it might seem like God isn’t in control on this side, we can never forget what’s really happening on a cosmic scale.
So what is worship? Well, from this perspective, when we worship, we join in together with all the other beings and created things that have come before us in declaring that Jesus is Lord and that God sits on the throne in majesty and power. We remind ourselves that what we might experience in this life is not the cosmic reality, and that there is something far greater for us to work towards.
So when you worship, whether in song, words, or actions, remember that you are joining in on something huge. Remember what’s going on right now in the other dimension. Don’t let worship be just about us, our feelings, or the magnitude of our expressions. It’s about living into the cosmic reality that God is the King who sits of the throne, who’s all powerful and will be victorious over evil, through Jesus our Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen!