Worship in the book of Revelation

Worship in the book of Revelation: How true worship aligns us with God—Part 2 of 21

Explore Revelation to find ways of worship that bring us to the throne room of God.

Larry L. Lichtenwalter, PhD, is dean of the Faculty of Theology, Middle East University, Beirut, Lebanon.

Part 1 of this article (September 2016) discussed what the book of Revelation reveals about the true meaning of worship and how believers today should worship God. Those who worship God in Revelation are seen adoring God’s being, declaring the Lamb’s worthiness, celebrating God’s glorious presence, submitting to His authority, and fearing and serving Him. The concluding part of this article will focus on how true worship affects the worshiper and what kind of fruits it should produce in the worshiper’s life. T he book of Revelation, as already noted, reveals the manner and mode of worship. There is worship for God’s creative works (Rev. 4:11),2 for Christ’s redemptive activity (Rev. 5:9; 7:14, 15), for God’s righteous judgment (Rev. 14:7; 15:4; 16:5; 19:2), and for the marriage of the Lamb with His bride (Rev. 19:7–9).3

We express the worship of God in heaven through praise and thanksgiving (Rev. 4:6–11; 5:1–14; 7:12; 11:17; 19:1), songs (Rev. 5:9, 10; 14:3; 15:3; cf. 4:8, 11; 5:11, 12; 7:10, 12; 12:10–12; 16:5–7; 19:2, 3), prayers (Rev. 5:8; 6:10; 8:3–5), offering of gifts (Rev. 4:10; cf. 4:11; 5:12, 13; 7:12), response to God’s revelation (Rev. 5:8–14), anticipatory silence for divine intervention (Rev. 8:1, 2), and festive celebration of God’s goodness (Rev. 7:9, 10; 12:12; 18:20; 19:7).4

We learn much about worship in heaven by following the worship pattern of the redeemed. What hap- pens when we put the words of the heavenly worshipers into our own mouths and frame our own worship with Revelation’s worship thoughts and performance? We can only imagine the moral orientation and inner formation inherent in expressing our own worship with such language and liturgy.

Revelation’s God-centeredness is imaginative enough to enlist our bodies, minds, and emotions in our worship.5 In true worship, which Revelation portrays, self is reconstituted, character is reshaped in direct correlation to moral and spiritual truths confessed, and foundational attitudes and dispositions, such as gratitude, humility, reverence, penitence, obedience, and moral life; are engendered.6 The human being is, after all, a worshiping creature whose very act of worship, if it is not perverse, establishes or deepens belief and the desire to do what is good.7

The issue does not emphasize whether worship has an effect on the worshiper or evokes a response. Rather, it is how true worship affects the worshiper and what effect it pro- duces in the worshiper’s life.8 How true worship is misunderstood or distorted will be directly reflected in the life of the church and the lives of individual Christians.9 Worship—true or false—is a critical factor in forming or deforming character and conduct. To adapt and modify worship inevitably affects its role in forming Christian identity.10

All that happens in one’s life provides the context for worshipful response to God, and the specific response of one’s worship practices influences, both directly and indirectly, who they are as they worship through the rest of their lives.11 False worship can nurture a character inward turned, which thinks first of self rather than of God.12 Or, worship can nurture a character outward turned toward God and others.

Worship as being—character

Who and how one worships becomes inseparably linked to being. Worship involves being—both the being of the One worshiped and the being of the one who worships. Worship touches one’s inner moral and spiritual orientation and has to do with values, attitudes, motives, and ways of thinking. It is a way of being-in-the-world,13 which includes a way of thinking-in-the-world. It is character, the habits of the heart. It is a life orientation,14 a comprehensive category describing one’s total existence before God.15 In this way, worship truly describes every human activity, both cultic and otherwise.16


Revelation expresses this facet of worship—being—most profoundly in the imagery of the 144,000 who have God’s name written on their foreheads (Rev. 14:1).

In the book’s apocalyptic vision of the final conflict between good and evil, everyone will be stamped on their foreheads with one of two names: the name of God (and the Lamb) or the name of the beast (Rev. 14:1; 13:17).17 In ancient times, a name represented character, being.18 Revelation’s moral vision portrays two types of character: likeness to God, personified in Christ, the Lamb; and likeness to Satan, personified in the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet. These two opposing types of character are symbolized either by the seal or name of God written on the foreheads of the followers of God, on the one hand (Rev. 3:12; 7:3; 14:1; 22:4); and by the mark or name or number of the beast written on the foreheads and hands of the followers of the beast, on the other (Rev. 13:16, 17; 14:9; 16:2; 20:4). Thus the primary meaning of the seal of God or the mark of the beast (consisting of the names of God and the beast respectively) stamped upon individuals means that “everyone has become conformed to either the image of God or the image of Satan. Everyone bears the character of the divine or the demonic.”19 This comes as a matter of being, moral and spiritual orientation. It comes down to mind and heart—indeed, character (Rev. 2:23).

The implications of the seal and mark include fixity of character and the fundamental link between being and doing. 20 The eschatological sealing or mark depicts characters fixed in loyalty to either God or the beast. As those with the mark of the beast no longer experi- ence repentance or change of character and their characters are permanently fixed in hatred and opposition to God (Rev. 9:20, 21; 16:2, 9, 11, 21; cf. 22:11), God’s servants likewise become unmov- able in their loyalty to God (Rev. 3:12; 7:14, 15; 12:17; 14:1). The forehead and the hand as the sites for receiving the seal or the mark are significant in that they point to the total response of the mind, emotions, and behavior. The forehead symbolizes the mind, the thought life and character, and the right hand indicates deed or action.21

This focus on character and the fundamental link between being and doing is nuanced dramatically toward the book’s close (Rev. 22:11, 12; cf. 2:23; 19:8; 22:15). Throughout its apocalyptic discourse, Revelation stays full of imagery, symbols, and visions (like the 144,000 on Mount Zion) that take us beyond immediate physical reality. In the conclusion, however, it suddenly turns personal and insistent as it enters our present reality:22 “ ‘Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy; and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy’ ” (Rev. 22:11).

From John’s perspective, the end remains so close that there is hardly any time left (if any at all) to alter a person’s character and habits.23 There are two declarations about the destiny of the unrighteous and two about the destiny of the righteous. In these twin-paired declarations, one phrase in each emphasizes character while the other highlights behavior. The “Semitic poetic structure,”24 together with the Greek parts of speech, link our being and doing. 25 Being is ontological. Doing is existential. Being and doing are related to spheres of moral orientation and action. Deeds are mentioned first, then character, thus emphasizing that the unchangeable destiny of all persons is determined by their character as demonstrated by their deeds.26 The bent of one’s choices (actions) forms an unchangeable character so that the imperatives have the sense of “be what you always have been as you face judgment.”27 The most straight- forward reading of the imperatives shows that “sinners are commanded to continue sinning and the righteous to continue doing righteousness.”28

Both the righteous and unrighteous will continue in their present condition unless the person makes a radical, moral decision to reorient oneself to be (and do) otherwise.29 Here worship has expressed its most profound implications.

Worship and celebration of God’s character

Worship inevitably expresses our own inner relation toward God whom we confess. Worship becomes instructive because it celebrates God’s deeds and character. It expresses, at the same time, commitment to the God it celebrates.30 We acknowledge God’s character and purpose, as revealed in His mighty acts.31 When we describe God’s action and affirm His character, we thank God, bless Him, and praise Him; we express our own relation toward Him and who He is in the world. Such worship brings “reverent alignment with God’s character from which God’s actions spring forth.”32 By aligning with God’s character and purposes in worship, one also aligns oneself with God’s ways and purposes in the world.33 We align whom we are with who God is. Within this inner alignment process, one’s own action in the world is given direction.34

This is what the ethic of following the Lamb points to (Rev. 14:4)—not just doing (conduct, behavior, words, action) but thinking, being.

No greater act of worship can be given God than to align our thinking with His and in our own heart of hearts mirror God’s values, attitudes, purposes, and ways of thinking—that is, to have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16; Deut. 6:5; 10:12; Matt. 22:37). This shows the wor- ship essence of what it means to “fear God and give him glory” (Rev. 14:7).

1 This two-part series is an excerpt from the author’s larger discussion “Worship, Eschatology, and Ethics: The Revelation of John and the Worshiping Imagination,” in Meeting With God on the Mountains, ed. Jiří Moskala(Berrien Springs, MI: Old Testament Department, Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, forthcoming).

2 All Scripture passages are from the New American Standard Bible.

3 See Mazie Nakhro, “The Manner of Worship According to the Book of Revelation,” Bibliotheca Sacra 158 (April–June 2001): 165–69.

4 Nakhro, “The Manner of Worship According to the Book of Revelation,” 169–180.

5 Eugene H. Peterson, “Learning to Worship From Saint John’s Revelation,” Christianity Today, October 28, 1991, 25.

6 Michael R. Weed, “Worship and Ethics: Confession, Character, and Conduct,” Christian Studies 13 (1993): 52.

7 Vigen Guroian, “Seeing Worship as Ethics: An Orthodox Perspective,” Journal of Religious Ethics 13, no. 2 (Fall 1985): 333.

8 Weed, “Worship and Ethics,” 51.

9 Ibid., 49.

10 Ibid., 53.

11 Marva J. Dawn, “Worship and Ethics,” Dialog 32, no. 4 (1993): 297.

12 Ibid., 298.

13 Miroslav Volf, “Worship as Adoration and Action: Reflections on a Christian Way of Being-in-the-World,” in Worship: Adoration and Action, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1993), 207.

14 David Peterson, Engaging With God: A Biblical Theology of Worship (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 17.

15 Ibid., 18.

16 Jean-Pierre Ruiz, “The Politics of Praise: A Reading of Revelation 19:1–10,” in Society of Biblical Literature Seminar 1977 Seminar Papers (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1977), 375.

17 The names of the Lamb and the Father inscribed on Christians’ foreheads (14:1) is equivalent to the seal placed on the foreheads of the 144,000 in 7:1–8. The mark (= seal) of the beast on the foreheads of unbelievers in 13:17 is identified as “the name of the beast,” and in 14:9–11 a mark on the beast worshiper’s forehead is also called the mark of the beast’s name.

18 Beatrice S. Neall, The Concept of Character in the Apocalypse With Implications for Character Education (Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1983), 150.

19 Neall, The Concept of Character in the Apocalypse, 150.

20 G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, ed. I. Howard Marshall and Donald A. Hagner (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), 734; Neall, The Concept of Character in the Apocalypse, 150–154.

21 Neall, The Concept of Character in the Apocalypse, 87.

22 Jacques B. Doukhan, Secrets of Revelation: The Apocalypse Through Hebrew Eyes (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 2002), 201.

23 Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, ed. F. F. Bruce (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977), 1132.

24 Ibid.

25 Neall, The Concept of Character in the Apocalypse, 87.

26 Kendell H. Easley, Revelation, ed. Max Anders (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 419.

27 Edward A. McDowell, The Meaning and Message of the Book of Revelation (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1951), 220; Beale, The Book of Revelation, 1132.

28 Beale, The Book of Revelation, 1131.

29 Ibid.

30 William Hendricksen, More Than Conqueror: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1982), 182.

31 Volf, “Worship as Adoration and Action,” 210.

32 Peterson, Engaging With God, 270.

33 Volf, “Worship as Adoration and Action,” 210.

34 Ibid.

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Larry L. Lichtenwalter, PhD, is dean of the Faculty of Theology, Middle East University, Beirut, Lebanon.

November 2016

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