Revelation, Lesson 7: Chapter 5

Heavenly Worship, Part 2

From the beginning, when we first see God give His people instructions on worship, we find worship to be liturgical (following prescribed patterns, not free form of one’s own choosing).  After giving His people the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), God told them to how to build an altar (Ex. 20:24-26).  Then, He told them about keeping the Sabbath (Ex. 23:10-13), the annual feasts (Ex 23:14-19), and various offerings and furnishings in the Sanctuary (Ex. 25:1-40).  God then directed them on the design of the tabernacle, the altar, the outer court, priest vestments, and instructions for daily offerings (Ex. 26-30). 

As we see in Revelation, heavenly worship is also liturgical.  But should we expect anything less?  For God told Moses to make an earthly place of worship as “a copy and shadow of what is in heaven” (Hebrews 8:5; see also Exodus 25:40 and Wisdom 9:8).  This is still true in the New Covenant, that how we worship is a copy and shadow of what takes place in heaven. 

However, Jesus, when He fulfilled the Law for us, superseded the Old Covenant with the New.  He did not abolish it but transformed and fulfilled it (Matthew 5:17).  The Lord’s Supper superseded the Old Covenant sacrifices and Passover.  Baptism superseded Old Covenant circumcision (Colossians 2:11-14).  

And so, from the beginning, the New Testament Church took God’s commanded forms of worship in the Old Covenant and adapted them to show their fulfillment in the New.  Synagogue worship became the Service of the Word.  Temple Sacrifices became the Lord’s Supper. 

Yet, unlike the Old, God did not directly command any specific “style” of worship in the New Covenant.  But He did indirectly command how we worship–in that how we worship is to show the Old’s fulfillment by Christ in the New.  

It is a presumptuous and arrogant people who take their preferences and then demand to be shown where they cannot do what they want in their worship of God.  That happened in the Old Covenant, when the people of Israel wanted to worship God using forms they were comfortable with: a golden calf (Exodus 32:5).  God called such worship idolatry–and this was even before His people received the Ten Commandments.  Beginning with such a human-centered approach begins with an idolatrous worldview of self at the center instead of God.  Revelation chapter 5 shows us that Jesus Christ is the center of our worship. 

This we will continue to explore in our study of Revelation, Chapter 5.


Read Revelation 5: 1-5

–          What is unusual about the scroll?


–          Who is holding the scroll?


–          Who is the only One worthy to open the scroll?


Lion of the tribe of Judah

Genesis 49:9-10: Jacob prophesied when he blessed his son, Judah:

Judah is a young lion–my son, you return from the kill.  He crouches; he lies down like a lion or a lioness–who dares to rouse him?  The scepter will not depart from Judah or the staff from between his feet until He whose right it is comes and the obedience of the peoples belongs to Him.

–          How does this prophecy describe Jesus?


The Root of David

Isaiah 11:1-10: The Messiahs is referred to as a branch that will grow out of the roots of Jesse, the father of David.  The name is synonymous with “the son of David.”

–          What does the description say about Jesus?


7-part structures: Four refers to man (God’s capstone of creation) and three for God.  When four and seven meet, we have seven and judgment.  God’s judgment may be a blessing or it may be a curse, but the judgment will accomplish God’s will.

–          If only Jesus can open the scroll with seven seals, what does this say about God’s judgment in relation to the scroll?

Read Revelation 5:6

–          John, instead of seeing a lion, sees a lamb–and a wounded one, but also victorious, at that.  What meaning does this carry, that is, why would a wounded lamb have the power and authority to open the scroll?


–          What do the seven horns and eyes represent?


–          What does this say about Jesus’ involvement in the Father’s sending of the Holy Spirit?


Read Revelation 5:7-10

–          How do the 4 living creatures and the 24 elders respond to what Jesus does (remember the Greek word pipto from the last lesson)?


–          What is the harp for?


–          What is the incense for?


–          Break the hymn they sing down into two categories.  What does the first part of the hymn describe?


–          What does the second part of the hymn describe?



What we see in heaven does not have perfect correlation to earthly worship because of several reasons:

  1. The saints in heaven are sinless; we are not.  And so we have confession of sin and absolution; the saints in heaven are sinless and so this aspect of worship is not needed in heaven.
  2. They have full knowledge; we do not.  And so we still have to be instructed in the faith.  And so we still need hymns to “teach and correct” us (Colossians 3:16); the saints in heave do not.  We still need sermons and teaching.
  3. John brings to us what he saw in visions.  Thus, there is a metaphorical element to his descriptions, which we need to understand to properly learn how heavenly worship is to shape our earthly worship.

Nonetheless, so far, we can see these aspects of heavenly worship apply to our earthly forms.



Excursus on Incense

In the Old Covenant, God called incense a pleasing aroma to Him (Leviticus 6:15) and commanded that it be burned in Temple worship (Exodus 30).

Aaron will burn sweet-smelling incense on the altar every morning when he tends the lamps.  He will burn incense again when he lights the lamps at twilight, so incense will burn regularly before the Lord for the generations to come.  (Exodus 30:7-8)

During the Old Testament sacrifices, incense was also burned during the grain offering (Leviticus 24:5-9).  In that sacrifice, burning incense highlighted that the showbread was set before the Lord.  The showbread, the bread of presence, got its name because it testified that God Himself was present at His altar.  Through sight and smell, the burning frankincense also testified to God’s presence in the Temple.

Now, no one can dispute that God’s people burned incense during Old Covenant worship.  But what does that mean for us in the New Covenant?  Is burning incense a work of the Law that is done away with?  Should it have disappeared from the earth like the sacrifice of animals in the Temple?

Since Scripture testifies that our worship is to be a mirror of what takes place in heaven (Hebrews 8:5), then what Revelation has for also applies to us in the New Covenant.  In Revelation, the Apostle John sees a vision of Heaven, with the saints assembled before the throne of God.  As the prayers of the faithful are said, a censer with burning incense combines with their prayers (Revelation 5:6, 8:3-4).  Note that in Revelation, this burning of incense is in the presence of a crucified, resurrected, ascended, and victorious Lord (Revelation 5:6).  That means the burning of incense still applies to us today, when our worship is to mirror the worship taking place in heaven.

So then, incense testifies to the presence of God and His grace–in both the Old and New Covenants.  In the Old, Isaiah described what he saw of heavenly worship, which included the angels and the smoke of incense (Isaiah 6:4).  John described what he saw in the New.  And so we, in the New Covenant, also show forth God’s presence among by burning incense.

Let incense, then, be your teacher.  Let it remind you of your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who was sacrificed for your salvation.  Let the incense also help you recall these words of our Lord: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am among them” (Matthew 18:20).

–          Historically, Christians would rather face death than burn incense to Caesar.  Why?  What does this imply about early Christian worship practices?


Read Revelation 5: 11-14

–          Whom also do we join in our worship of God?


–          Why is the Lamb worthy to receive power, wealth, wisdom, might, and honor, especially considering what Jesus gave up when He humbled Himself in His incarnation?


–          From the view of eternity, who (or what) also praises God?


–          In verse 13, who receives equal praise and worship?


As in Chapter 4, we see the 24 elders fall (pipto) and worship God by being prostrate before Him (proskeneuo).  Unlike much of our worship today, the Bible includes positioning one’s body to show humility and reverence.  Still what we find in Revelation are not commands but descriptions.  John is describing how Christians worship.


Hymn: Sing LSB 670


Homework and/or Discussion

–          How do we falter as God’s people when we assert our freedom to do what we want because something isn’t forbidden or commanded?


–          What does this say about our approach to God?


–          Consider ways we can modify our worship so it grows out of the biblical witness we are seeing.


Click here to go to Lesson 8.