Today, many American congregations are casualty-strewn battlefields of the “worship wars,” in which defenders of traditional hymns, pianos, and organs face off against partisans of contemporary choruses, guitars, and drums. Such wars, I fear, reduce the worship of God to a question of style rather than substance: “How do we worship?” instead of “Whom do we worship, and why?” Revelation 4–5 counters this reductionism with a mind-expanding vision of God and his Lamb, whose character and actions call forth our unceasing, full-throated, knee-bending “glory and honor and thanks” (4:9).
Let’s take a closer look.
The worship of God begins with an invitation.
John writes, “After this, I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this’” (4:1). This trumpet-like voice is clearly that of Jesus Christ (see 1:10, 17–20), who has just dictated to John letters to the seven churches of Roman Asia (chapters 2–3).
Now, as John hears the voice, he sees an open door in heaven. In the letter to the Laodicean church, Jesus Christ said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock” (3:20). The Laodiceans had closed their hearts to Jesus, but Jesus had not closed his heart to them—nor to us. Rather, through John, he calls to us to walk through heaven’s door and into God’s presence. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).
The seven churches certainly needed help in their time. Ephesus needed love; Smyrna, endurance; Pergamum, truth; Thyatira, holiness; Sardis, authenticity; Philadelphia, courage for its mission; and Laodicea, wholeheartedness. Some of them (Smyrna, Pergamum, and Philadelphia) were tested by persecution. Others (Thyatira and Laodicea) were tempted by laxity and luxury. Whatever its situation, each church needed a fresh vision of God in order to understand its temporary circumstances in the light of his eternal glory.
It goes without saying that we need help in our time too. Like Thyatira and Laodicea, we are tempted by laxity and luxury rather than tested by persecution, as is too often the fate of our brother and sister Christians around the globe. Our lives in America are so healthy and wealthy that we forget God, neglect our prayers, loosen our morals, and live easy lives. If we see God, we will not be easily tempted to do such foolish things.
Worship is a way of seeing God. Through worship—whether by means of prayer, Scripture meditation, singing, or living a holy life (Rom. 12:1–2)—we take our eyes off our selves and focus our mental vision on God. As John looks through heaven’s door, he sees many things, including “twenty-four elders” (4:4), “four living creatures” (4:6), and “many angels” (5:11). But at the center of his vision is “one seated on the throne” (4:2) and a Lamb (5:6), God the Father and Jesus Christ his Son. Everything else exists “around the throne” (4:4, 6; 5:11). In worship, as in reality, God is central; all else is peripheral.
Peripheral, but not unimportant. Jesus says, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” The worship of God is not irrelevant to everyday concerns. Rather, worship helps us keep those everyday concerns in proper perspective.
Are you tested by adversity? Are you tempted by prosperity? Are you burdened with anxiety? Then, “Come up here”!