Next, the Lamb who is worthy takes up the scroll – and all of heaven breaks forth into song and praise (vv. 7-8). The court of heaven understands the meaning of history and the program of God. The realm of heaven rings with worship, and at the center of that worship is the Lamb who was slain. Each of the twenty-four elders has a harp, and there are bowls of fragrant incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
The harp mentioned in verse 8 symbolizes the music of inanimate creation. Not only will all human and angelic beings in the universe glorify God, but all of creation – the rocks, the trees, the mountains, the hills, and the sea – will give praise and worship to God the Father and His Son, Jesus the Redeemer.
Notice that the elders are depicted as holding the golden bowls of incense. The elders are, in fact, presenting the prayers of the saints to God. There is a profound and exhilarating truth for you and me in this image: we, the redeemed, actually contribute to the work of redemption through our prayers! Of course, we cannot lay the foundation for our redemption. Only Jesus could do that, and He has accomplished that task perfectly.
But we do have a role in applying God’s redemptive power throughout the earth (1 Tim. 2:1-4). When you care about another person and you bring that person before the throne of God in prayer, you become part of the process of applying God’s work of redemption to that human heart. You actually become a partner with the God of the universe in changing and redeeming lives! The fact that you and I can become a part of God’s eternal program for human redemption should ignite, excite, and transform our prayer life.
In the next verses of this passage (vv. 9-10), the apostle John hears a new song. In these verses John hears the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders, their voices joined as a heavenly choir, sing this new song. Why is this song called a new song? It is new to the elders and the four living creatures because, they have never sung such a song before for, as angels, they have never been redeemed! They have learned about redemption by watching God’s grace applied to sinning human beings.
For centuries these angels have observed the human race – willful, rebellious, defiant, sinning men and women like you and me, selfishly seeking our own way while rejecting the patient, forgiving love of God. They also have watched God calling to us, pleading with us, sacrificing His only Son for us, forgiving and redeeming us from our sin. Now, as the end of human history approaches, they join together to sing a song they have never known before, a song they learned from the saints – the song of the redeemed. That’s why heaven bursts forth in praise and worship: the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus!
As John watches, the entire universe is caught up in the wonder of God’s sacrificial love for mankind. He hears a great, swelling chorus – the voice of millions upon millions of angels! The apostle Paul refers to this same scene in his letter to the Philippians. After encouraging his readers to imitate the humility of Christ – who willingly took the form of a servant, humbled Himself, and died for our sakes – Paul writes, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:9-11).
Note that the divisions Paul mentions – heaven, earth, and under the earth – are the same divisions John sees in his vision. And in each of those realms, throughout the entire extent of the universe, there is the sound of praise and worship offered to Jesus the Redeemer. The allusion of those “under the earth” refers to those who have already died, including those who die in unbelief and are in hell. So even hell must join with heaven and earth in acknowledging the lordship of Jesus Christ.
Clearly there will be some in eternity who gladly confess the lordship of Christ because they have appropriated the sacrifice of Jesus for their own eternal lives. But others will be forced to reluctantly confess His lordship. Those who scoff at the Scriptures, who ridicule biblical morality, who mock or persecute godly people will one day be made to see they are wrong and their lives have been wasted. When the illusions and delusions upon which they based their lives have all been stripped away, they will have no choice but to join the rest of creation in openly confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord.
John sees all this in a vision. It has not yet happened, but it will. When the seven-sealed scroll in finally opened, all of creation will join in acknowledging God and His Son, Jesus. That is the goal toward which all of history is quickly rushing. Every historic event that occurs, end every day that passes, is linked to the moment John witnesses in Revelation 5. All the momentous events that stream across our TV screens and social media headlines do not take place in a vacuum. They take place in a grand and cosmic context. They are being woven into an eternal plan. You and I are woven into that plan as well. We have choices to make. We cannot escape the eternal consequences of those choices.
Someday every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. There will be no exceptions. You will confess His lordship, and so will I. The question is: When that moment comes, will our hearts be filled with joy and gladness – or with regret? It is not a choice for the future, but a choice we must make today.
Revelation 5:8-14 Study Questions:
What happens when the Lamb takes the scroll (vv. 8-14)?
Why are the elders holding harps and bowls of incense in the presence of the Lamb?
How does this scene invite us to participate in what is happening in the very throne room of God and the Lamb?
How many creatures does John hear join in the third song of worship (v. 13)?
Why is it significant that in these songs the Lamb shares the worship which belongs, and uniquely and only belongs, to the one Creator God?
In what ways might the expressions of worship found in these songs inform and inspire us as we too join in the worship of the Lamb?