Around the throne of God are gathered “twenty-four elders” (Rev. 4:4), “four living creatures” (4:6), and “many angels” (5:11). Although he does not see them in his vision, John hears the voices of “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them” (5:13). All creation, John is telling us, unites to worship the God who made them and the Lamb who would save them (Rev. 4:6-8).
In Reversed Thunder—my favorite book on John’s Revelation—Eugene Peterson comments on the significance of the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures.
Of the twenty-four elders, he writes: “The throne assembles around itself that which has been directed Godward through centuries of living by faith: the sacrifice and obedience, the preaching and praising, the repenting and offering of the people of Israel named after Jacob’s sons, and along with them the twelve apostles sent forth by Jesus in acts of healing and blessing, feeding and helping, delivering and preaching. All are gathered around their center. The two twelves include the old and the new, prophecy and fulfillment, and everything in between: shy, hesitant looks upward to an undefined deity, along with confident and articulated praise to God who revealed himself in Jesus Christ. Every acquired strength is looking for a place to work, every impulse to love is looking for a person to meet. Every firm commitment to deny self, every clear decision to follow Christ, along with every failed resolve and blind groping are gathered around this centering throne.”[i]
Of the four living creatures, he writes: “The four creatures are all aspects of creation, just as the twenty-four elders are all the facets of faith. The noblest (lion), the strongest (ox), the wisest (human), and the swiftest (eagle) are centered in God.”[ii]
Of worship itself, Peterson comments: “In worship every sign of life and every impulse to holiness, every bit of beauty and every spark of vitality—Hebrew patriarchs, Christian apostles, wild animals, domesticated livestock, human beings, soaring birds—are arranged around this throne center that pulses light, showing each at its best, picking up all the colors of the spectrum in order to show off the glories.”[iii]
It is the glories—God’s glory—that call forth our praise. In the presence of God, we cannot help but surrender and confess that he alone is worthy (4:11, 5:9) and that Christ alone is Lord (Phil. 2:11). In worship, we are overwhelmed by the power of God’s beauty.
Therefore, with St. Francis of Assisi, I give you today this invitation:
All creatures of our God and King,
Lift up your voice and with us sing,
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
Thou silver moon with softer gleam,
O praise him! O praise him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Let all things their Creator bless,
And worship him in humbleness
Praise, praise the Father, and the Son,
And praise the Spirit, Three in One,
O praise him! O praise him!
[i] Peterson, Reversed Thunder, 61.
[ii] Peterson, Reversed Thunder, 62.