Angel Songs

I’ve recently been teaching through the book of Revelation, which has been both enormously challenging and rewarding. One of the things that you notice reading through the whole thing is the number of songs it contains. It’s the Lord of the Rings of the canon! You’re trundling along towards Mordor, and then the little creatures just break into song.

It’s no real surprise. Worship is central to the book. Lines are drawn by who you choose to give your allegiance and praise to. Creatures fall down, perform rituals, pray, sing and celebrate, play instruments… the whole thing is infused with worship.

There’s the song that the 144,000 sing, which nobody else could learn (14:3), the song of Moses and the Lamb (15:3-4) but perhaps most significantly the songs of the heavenly host in chapters 4 and 5.

The scene is, as most commentators point out, designed to remind us of Isaiah 6: heavenly creatures with six wings, singing a song that declares (thrice) God’s holiness (Rev 4:8-11). But then they search for someone who can open the scroll, and the Lamb steps forward. As the crowds look at the Lamb: slaughtered, raised and now standing by the throne of God, we are told that,

‘They sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”’ (Rev 5:9-10)

This juxtaposition of old song (4:8-11; cf Is 6:2-3) and new (5:9-10) tells us a number of things: The angels have always sung the same song and never tired of it, throughout history. The splendour of God is so vast that thousands of years’ worth of repeated singing can hardly exhaust it, nor can creatures with eyes all around and within fully comprehend it to the point that they no longer feel compelled to marvel and praise (4:8).

Even before the Lamb has been found, God is declared to be supremely worthy of praise and worship. Had there been no cross, no resurrection, no means for our rescue, God would still have deserved our worship for His eternal nature and His creation of all things.

In Isaiah the angels sing that the earth is full of His glory, and yet in the New Song, there is a greater degree of glory expressed through the atoning work of Christ. God’s glory was not incomplete before the cross, but through the cross it has been made manifest in a new way. He has always been glorious, but the Earth has not always been filled with the knowledge of His glory (cf Hab 2:14). The cross changes that, and will continue to change it throughout time and into the New Creation.

We are told that the Lamb is worthy to receive power, wealth, wisdom, might, honour, glory and blessing (Rev 5:12). The number seven is significant in the book of Revelation as the number of completion and perfection. This sevenfold declaration indicates that He is completely and indisputably worthy to be worshipped and adored.

Typically in the OT a new song is sung in order to thank God for creation, for overcoming enemies, and for turning a person’s life around (Psalm 33:3; 40;3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; Isaiah 42:10). Here the death, resurrection and ascension of the Lamb evokes a New Song, which does all three. It signifies that a new era has dawned in which God’s enemies will be defeated, people’s lives can be made new, and New Creation has broken into the Old.

You’ve got to admit, that’s all worth singing about.

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