The prayers of Revelation have inspired hymns and praise songs. In my last blog, I quoted the hymn “Worthy art Thou” by Tillit S. Teddlie. The prayers and praise songs of Revelation chapter 5 inspired the words of that hymn. The “Thou” of the title is Jesus, or as he is described in Revelation 5, the “Lamb that was slain,” “the Lion of the tribe of Judah,” and “the Root of David.” He is worthy because in that chapter, no else in the heavenly court was. No angels, no “living creatures,” no elders were worthy to open the seven seals that secured a scroll. Even John the Apostle wept because it could not be opened. Then the Lamb entered and took the scroll from the one who sat on the throne (God the Father). Heaven exploded in praise and adoration. All fell down before the Lamb. The elders held bowls of incense, which are identified as “the prayers of the saints.” Then they sang a prayer song, a new song:
“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9-10).
The Lamb was worthy because he had purchased men for God from all of humanity. The themes of Revelation 1:4-5 emerge again. No race, no ethnic group, no special interest group merited superior or lesser attention. The Lamb/Messiah had purchased them, but he then transformed this complex mess of peoples into a united body with a common cause: “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God.” He had given them a purpose, “Serve,” and a hope, “They shall reign.”
The prayer of the elders and living creatures ignites a crescendo of praise. Many thousands of angels now encircle the elders, creatures, and the throne, singing praise to the Lamb. The praise builds still more as every creature “in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them,” sing and pray,
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb, be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever.”
In a world where imperial authority demanded worship and claimed absolute power, Revelation proclaimed, that only God and Christ were worthy of praise and adoration. The prayers of the heavenly court testify that Christ has shattered walls of divisive bigotry, that he has united people to give their lives purpose and their future hope. The lure of cultural assimilation and threat of divisive personalities endangered groups of Jesus’s disciples in the Roman province of Asia. It may have seemed that everyone was against the disciple who remained faithful. Focus on the only one worthy of praise would restore spiritual balance.
Assimilation still lures Christians away from Christ today. The longing to fit in with the crowd, the temptations of power and fame, the scent of lust and hunger for food distract us, as they did early disciples, from the One who with his blood “purchased [us] for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
Revelation 5 resembles Philippians 2:1-14. Paul urged the Philippians to unite in love and the imitation of Christ. Jesus, though divine, had humbled himself and submitted to death. God had exalted him, “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” (Philippians 2:10¬-11). The greatest persecutor and most entrenched opponent of Christ and his people will some day drop to his or her knees in shock, awe, and adoration, and confess, “Jesus Christ is Lord” and “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory ad power, for ever and ever!” The prayers of Revelation 5 anticipate the victorious outcome of the cosmic conflict to follow in later chapters. Despite all that is to follow in the drama of the Apocalypse, these prayers contain no petitions for security, only confessions of praise and rehearsal of what God has already accomplished in his Messiah. The content of these prayers provokes a question, “When was the last time you or I prayed, and asked for nothing?” Yes, these creatures, angels, and elders are in the heavenly court, but some later prayers from the same location will contain requests for action. The prayers of Revelation 5 teach how to pray prayers of praise that worship while asking nothing in return.
The lyrics of a prayer poem/hymn written by Theodore Baker in 1927 reflect the prayers of Revelation 5:
“Christ, we do all adore Thee, and we do praise Thee for ever; Christ, we do all adore Thee, and we do praise Thee for ever, for on the holy cross has Thou the world from sin redeemed; Christ we do all adore Thee, and we do praise Thee for ever. Christ, we do all adore Thee.”