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Worshipers in the Hands of an Angry God

Worship and the Book of Revelation

We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign. “And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth. 
It is easy to assume anger is a negative thing. 

A sure sign of a fallen nature.  The carnal person might be angry.  But, the Christ-like person is not.  Love, kindness, tolerance, mercy, gentleness, and tenderness are the high water marks of Christian character.  Outrage, anger, or wrath are the clear antonyms of what we assume it means to be godly.
This presumption so permeates our thinking that we hardly know what to do with an angry God. 
Many people find the whole idea a bit embarrassing.  To suggest that the church should positively celebrate God’s wrath, making it a cause for worship, is a thought we find hard to think.  Harriet Beecher Stowe might have happily written about  God “trampling out the vineyard where the grapes of wrath are stowed” as a thought leading people to sing “Glory! Hallelujah!”  But we find the song, much less the thought, at odds with the Jesus presented in our churches week after week.  Even if we accept the reality of a coming great judgment upon the world, we are hardly eager to embrace the idea as a theme for next Sunday's worship.
A challenging realization, however, is that the apostolic church did just that.  Without hesitation or embarrassment, the wrath of God is celebrated.  It is not the major cause of worship (dominated by themes like redemption, grace, atonement, providence, and so forth).  It is not frequently referenced as a cause of worship.  But, from time to time, we cannot escape the reality that the New Testament church glorified and worshiped God because of His wrathful judgments.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the book of Revelation.  Indeed, the book of Revelation is all about worship.  Where will worship be directed?  Who or what is to be properly worshiped?  It is, more than any other New Testament writing, an entire book largely centered on worship.  Here the phrase "worship wars" takes on a whole new set of meanings.  
Here is a breakdown of worship we encounter in the Book of Revelation.  It is a table I hope you find helpful on several levels.  Certainly there is much more here than just thinking about the idea of worship and wrath.  For one thing, the descriptions of worship John records for us do much to explain how the elaborate sights, sounds, and movements of Medieval worship possibly have evolved from the relative simplicity of synagogue-style worship.  You can also find some of the greatest songs of worship presented anywhere in the Bible.  But, as I especially note in the table, it is also a listing of several occasions where the wrath and judgment of God are undeniably the basis for worship.
Worship in the Book of Revelation:

Passages related to wrath
appear in red letters
of Worship
1:5-6 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood— and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Redemption (God loves us; released us from our sins by his blood; made us a kingdom of  priests
Words of blessing
4:8 And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.”
Four living creatures
None stated
Unceasing words of praise
4:9-11 And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”
Twenty-four elders
Fell down before God
Cast their crowns
before the throne

Said (sang)[1] words of praise
5:8-10 When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”
Four living creatures and twenty four elders
Fell down before the Lamb
Held harps
Bowls of incense
(as prayers of the saints)

Sang a” new” song
5:11-12 Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.”
Angels (myriads)
The worthiness of the Lamb that was slain (redemption)
Said (sang)  with a loud voice
5:13 And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.”
God on the throne and the Lamb
Every created thing in heaven, earth, sea
None stated (redemption implied)
Said (sang) words of praise
5:14a And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.”
God and Lamb
Four living creatures
None stated (redemption implied)
Said (sang) Amen
5:14b And the elders fell down and worshiped.
God and Lamb
None stated (redemption implied)
Fell down and worshiped
7:9-10 After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
God and Lamb
Great multitude beyond counting from every nation
Stood before the throne
Stood before the Lamb
Clothed in white
Palm branches in

Cried out with loud voice words of affirmation
7:11-12 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”
4 living creatures
In response to Salvation
Great multitude involved
Stood around the throne
Fell on the faces and worshipped
Said (sang?) words of praise
7:13-17 Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “My lord, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. “For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them. “They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”
Those who have come out of great tribulation and washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb
They have come out of great tribulation
They have washed their robes white
They are before the throne of God and serve[2] Him day and night in his temple

(the nature of this temple-service is not stated)
11:13 And in that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell; seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.
God of heaven
Those who survived a great earthquake
Gave glory to God
11:15 Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.”
Seventh Angel Sounding Trumpet
The world has become the Kingdom
Sounded a trumpet
Loud voices in heaven said (sang?) words affirming the reign of God
11:16-19 And the twenty-four elders, who sit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying, “We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign. “And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.” And the temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple, and there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder and an earthquake and a great hailstorm.
24 elders
God has taken great power and has begun to reign.

God’s wrath came against the nations

And God rewarded  the prophets & saints & those who fear your name

God destroyed those who destroy the earth
Fell on faces
Worshipped God
Temple opened
Ark appeared
Lightning and thunder
12:7-12 And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war, and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death. “For this reason, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them. Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time.”
A loud voice in heaven –

Those in heaven

Those who dwell upon the earth
Dragon (devil) thrown down and his angels with him
Accuser of the brethren thrown down connected to the establishment of the authority of Christ
Loud voice affirms the rule and victory of God over the accuser.

Loud voice announces coming doom
14:1-5 Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder, and the voice which I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders; and no one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been purchased from the earth. These are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb. And no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless.

4 living creatures


Those purchased
Follow the lamb
They have the name of the Lamb and His Father on their foreheads

They have been purchased from among men as first fruits
Loud voices
Harpists playing on harps
Sang a new song
14:6-7 And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people; and he said with a loud voice, “Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.”
Angel in midheaven

Those who live on the earth (commanded)
The house of His judgment has come
Fallen is Babylon
Commanded to fear God and give him glory
15:1-4 Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels who had seven plagues, which are the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished. And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God. And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations! “Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; For all the nations will come and worship before You, For Your righteous acts have been revealed.
Lord God Almighty
Those who had been victorious over the beast
God’s great and marvelous works.

All nations will worship before God.

Since this follows the victory over the beast – the implication is all this worship is based on that victory
Held harps
Sang the song of Moses
Sang the song of the Lamb (may be the same song)
Sang words of praise and affirmation of God’s righteous judgments and rule
16:4-7 Then the third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of waters; and they became blood. And I heard the angel of the waters saying, “Righteous are You, who are and who were, O Holy One, because You judged these things; for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it.” And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.”
Lord God Almighty
The (3rd) angel of the waters

Because God judged these things
Because those who poured out blood of the saints have been given blood to drink

True and righteous are God’s
Said (sang?) words in praise of God’s just judgment
18:18-20 and were crying out as they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, ‘What city is like the great city?’ “And they threw dust on their heads and were crying out, weeping and mourning, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, in which all who had ships at sea became rich by her wealth, for in one hour she has been laid waste!’ “Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because God has pronounced judgment for you against her.”



Because God has pronounced judgment against Babylon
Rejoicing (comanded)
19:1-3 After these things I heard something like a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God; because His judgments are true and righteous; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and He has avenged the blood of His bond-servants on her.” And a second time they said, “Hallelujah! Her smoke rises up forever and ever.”
Our God
Loud voice
of a great multitude
in heaven
God’s judgments are right and true
God has judged the harlot
God has avenged the blood of his servants
Her smoke rises forever
Loud voice proclaimed (sang) from a multitude in heaven
Said (sang?) words of praise at God’s judgment and triumph
19:4 And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sits on the throne saying,
“Amen. Hallelujah!”
God who sits on the throne
24 elders
4 living creatures
At the conclusion of the song (above) in praise of judgment (?)
Fell down

Worshiped God by saying amen and hallelujah
19:5-6 And a voice came from the throne, saying, “Give praise to our God, all you His bond-servants, you who fear Him, the small and the great.” Then I heard something like the voice of a great multitude and like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns.
A voice commands worship and a great multitude respond
A voice (commanding)
The voice of a great multitude
In praise of God’s victory – that God now reigns

Praise in response to a command
Voice of a great multitude

Sound of many waters

Sound of mighty peals of thunder
19:7-9 “Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ ” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.”
Give glory to Him (God)
Uncertain (probably an angel addressing John)
The marriage of the Lamb
The clothing of the Bride
Commanded to rejoice and be glad
Gave glory to Him
19:10 Then I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”
An Angel (rebuked)
The visions appear to have produced an urge to worship in John
Fell down at the angel’s feet to worship, but was rebuked
22:8-9 I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed me these things. But he said to me, “Do not do that. I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren the prophets and of those who heed the words of this book. Worship God.”
An Angel (rebuked)
The visions appear to have produced an urge to worship in John
(this may be a reiteration from 19:10)
Fell down at the angel’s feet to worship but was rebuked)

In the next post, I will continue this theme by suggesting two ironic ideas:  First, the wrath of God is morally worthy of worship.  Second, the early church's embracing the idea of a wrathful God empowered, rather than undermined, their own nonviolent responses to both the persecutions and the injustices of empire.

[1] The consensus of scholars in both liturgical and musical history is that the modern sharp distinction between public spoken words (non-musical) and melodically/rhythmically intoned words did not exist in the Græco-Roman world.  This blending remained widespread until the modern era.  Evidence of this can be heard in the cantillations of scripture in a synagogue, in an Islamic call to prayer, in the chanting in a Latin or Orthodox Mass, as well as in the rhythmic chant-like prayers and preaching still heard among the Old Order Amish, traditional African-American,  and isolated Appalachian worship traditions. 
[2] Λατρεύουσιν from λατρεύω frequently used of service in the sense of worship

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