October 21, 2013

Heart and Soul: Theology

About 30 years ago, being an immigrant from Denmark to the United States, I decided it was about time to learn something about the enigmas of American football. One evening some of my church members decided to initiate me. I learned lessons about God’s judgment and our praise.

“If anyone worships the beast” (Rev. 14:9) is heaven’s warning against false christs as symbolized by the beast symbol. In our eagerness to give this last-day warning to the world, is it possible that we sometimes have had more to say about the beast than about the Lamb? The book of Revelation shows the better way, with its witness to the power of true worship.

In the Courtroom

The inspiring courtroom scene of Revelation 4 and 5 depicts the enthronement, upon His ascension, of Jesus Christ, as the rightful ruler of the universe, as the vast assembled throng declares the supremacy of the exalted Lamb. This is the core of true worship, which is “seeing what God is worth and giving Him what He is worth.”1

In Revelation 1:9 John describes himself as a fellow sufferer with his parishioners. As their pastor he had shared their trials, witnessed daily injustices, and wondered, with them, why they suffered while Rome flourished.

But now John tells about Christ’s triumphal entry into heaven itself. No earthly government could top this. To guard against misinterpreting reality as they saw it, John shares with them an infinitely larger view of reality that includes events in heavenly places; a view no doubt intended to let them know that though the wrong is oft so strong, God is the ruler yet! This look at Christ’s enthronement in heaven’s open courtroom is also for our encouragement.

To comprehend more easily some of the issues of the cosmic conflict between Christ and Satan, I find it helpful to use a paradigm from the proceedings of probate courts where last wills and testaments are challenged and validated.

24 1In Revelation 4 and 5, we find the following: (1) witnesses from heaven—four living creatures; (2) witnesses from earth—24 elders: probably resurrected saints who ascended with Christ as ‘first fruits’ (Eph. 4:8; Matt. 27:53); (3) the Judge—God the Father, qualified to hear the case, and worthy of worship because He is holy, as declared by the witnesses from heaven, the four living creatures (Rev. 4:8), who, along with witnesses from earth, declare Him to have jurisdiction in the matter (Rev. 4:11); (4) God’s last will and testament—the scroll, the Godhead’s intention to save, as expressed in the covenant established before the world’s foundation; (5) the jury—innumerable angels; the issues before the court—who is worthy to open the scroll (Rev. 5:2), and judicially qualified to dispense the covenant benefits therein to the rightfully designated.

Thinking of the scroll as a last will and testament about to be probated, we may ask, Were the testators (the Father and the Son) qualified to make a covenant of salvation for the benefit of sinners?2 Have the terms of the covenant been met? A will does not go into effect until and unless the testator has died (Heb. 9:16, 17). Who are the heirs named in the will, and how will they receive their inheritance?

Why John Weeps

Why did John weep at the angel’s challenge “Who is worthy to . . . open the scroll?” (Rev. 5:2). Was it because of his imprisonment on Patmos? Or because he was the last living and remaining apostle? Or because Jesus has not yet come back? Is he asking himself how long it will be before the heavenly Judge steps in and deals with all the world’s injustices?

Then one of the elders, a witness from earth, proclaims: “Do not weep.” Judah’s Lion “has prevailed to open the scroll [the covenant—God’s last will and testament], and to loose its seven seals” (Rev. 5:5, NKJV).3

But when John turns to look, he sees not a lion but a Lamb “as it had been slain” (verse 6, KJV). But to the assembly in the heavenly courtroom this is a cause not for weeping but for jubilant worship.

At the appearance of the Lamb in heaven’s courtroom rapturous singing breaks out. The witnesses from heaven and earth unite in giving their depositions, judicial testimonies, by singing a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and nation and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth” (verses 9, 10, NKJV). The jury of angels joins in this act of worship declaring, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing” (verse 12, NKJV).

Probate court terminology recognizes Jesus here in the dual role of both testator and executor. The benefits of the covenant, intended by the Father and the Son [the testators] are entirely valid, shown by the death of the testator, the Son, Jesus Christ. The heavenly tribunal now declares the Lamb worthy, judicially qualified, to serve in His resurrected role as executor of the will.

Thus in A.D. 31, upon Christ’s ascension, the heavenly court declared Jesus to be fully qualified, worthy, to dispense the benefits of the covenant of salvation to the rightfully designated heirs.

Worshipping Right!

The antidote to the worship of the beast is not to talk more about the beast, but to magnify Jesus, our sin-bearing Lamb. When Satan’s accusations abound, amplified by the terrors and intimidations of beastlike powers, worship the Lamb, focusing on the one who is more than able to keep us! By contemplating the cosmic implications of this worship scene of A.D. 31 in heaven’s open courtroom, we can by faith lay hold of its benefits. This will powerfully amplify our appreciation for worship in the context of the proclamation of the third angel’s message:

1. Worship is our response to our covenant-keeping God. He is utterly trustworthy, for what He said He would do, He did. We are saved because Father and Son intended to save us, even before the foundation of the world.

2. To worship is to participate in the judgment. The heavenly court has declared Jesus worthy to receive worship. The opposition, led by Satan, has throughout the ages staunchly maintained that neither Jesus nor His Father are worthy to receive worship. But these charges are shown to be without merit, and thrown out of court. This first phase of the judgment is all about the sufficiency and glory of Jesus. Our gathering for corporate worship actually participates with the witnesses and the jury already assembled in heaven’s courtroom.

Ellen White wrote, “The church of God below is one with the church of God above. . . . In the inner court of heaven they listen to the testimony of the witnesses for Christ in the outer court on earth, and the praise and thanksgiving from the worshipers below is taken up in the heavenly anthem, and praise and rejoicing sound through the heavenly courts because Christ has not died in vain for the fallen sons of Adam.”4

3. To worship is to declare whose side we are on,and we do this by accepting heaven’s gift of salvation to us. Through our worship of the Lamb we participate in settling the agelong cosmic conflict between Christ and Satan that “the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10, NKJV).

4. Worship is all about Jesus—not about consumer ratings or contemporary versus traditional. Traditional worshippers nailed Jesus to the cross. Worship is our entire lifestyle declaring that our highest worth is found in the worth of the slain Lamb of God. The Lamb can receive the worth due Him only as we give it to Him. We do this by giving up self-seeking and finding our satisfaction in Jesus. Christian author John Piper noted that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”5

5. To worship is to witness. Worship is evangelism of the highest order: “God wants worshipers before workers; indeed the only acceptable workers are those who have learned the lost art of worship.”6 Christ “has put a new song in my mouth—praise to our God. Many will see it and fear, and will trust in the Lord” (Ps. 40:3, NKJV). To witness is to make others glad in God.

6. In worship we recognize our identity as God’s very own children. Consider the implications of this statement: “All the favors He [the Father] has shown to His Son in His acceptance of the great atonement are shown to His people. . . . God loves them as He loves His Son.”7 Judgment-hour living fears neither the future, nor the beast, nor any counterfeit saviors. Joyful living in the judgment hour will take full advantage of our new identity as children and heirs as we now start receiving all benefits of our inheritance obtained and dispensed by our heavenly Executor, Jesus Christ.8 “Centuries, ages, can never diminish the efficacy of  [Christ’s] atoning sacrifice. The message of the gospel of His grace was to be given to the church in clear and distinct lines, that the world should no longer say that Seventh-day Adventists talk the law, the law, but do not teach or believe Christ.”9

7. To worship is to declare the victory of the Lamb over the beast.

One evening about 30 years ago I attended a football game at Arizona State University, accompanied by church members who were determined to teach their pastor about American football. As I watched the various plays, the formations, the running, the tackling, even with helpful comments from my friends, I was unable to make much sense of it all.

But as I watched the spectators at the conclusion of the game, I learned something significant from American football. As the game concluded, thousands of spectators cheered and shouted with exuberance, “We won! We won! We won!”

Not a single one of them had been on the field playing. Not a single one of them had touched the football or scored any points! Yet they were so absolutely and totally identified with the winning team, that without apology or embarrassment they could joyfully exclaim, “We won! We won!”

It is but a feeble illustration about how the events of Calvary’s cross should affect us. We were not there at the cross, but Jesus was there as our representative. And He won! We were not present in the heavenly courtroom in A.D. 31, but through Jesus Christ as our legal representative and advocate, we are even now in Him legally seated in heavenly places (Eph. 1:3; 2:6). And through our close identification with Him, He wants to share with us the benefits of His victory, so we will also be able to enthusiastically declare, “We won! We won!”

No wonder John, in telling the story of the great controversy, could write, “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony” (Rev. 12:11, NKJV). There is no better way of overcoming the beast than to bear a living testimony to the saving power of the Lamb.

Judgment-Hour Living—Join the Singing!

Have you heard the singing of the witnesses in heaven’s courtroom (Rev. 5) streaming through heaven’s open doors in declaring Christ’s victory? “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain!” There’s no better way of living in the judgment hour than to join the singing in heaven’s courtroom. Redeemed! How I love to proclaim it; His child and forever I am! n

  1. Tim Keller, in Leadership 15, no. 2.
  2.  “Before the foundations of the earth were laid, the Father and the Son had united in a covenant to redeem man if he should be overcome by Satan. They had clasped Their hands in a solemn pledge that Christ should become the surety for the human race. This pledge Christ has fulfilled. When upon the cross He cried out, ‘It is finished,’ He addressed the Father. The compact had been fully carried out. Now He declares: Father, it is finished. I have done Thy will, O My God.  I have completed the work of redemption. If Thy justice is satisfied, ‘I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am.’ John 19:30; 17:24”  (Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages [Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898], p. 834).
  3. Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
  4. Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), vol. 6, pp. 367, 368.
  5. www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/god-is-most-glorified-in-us-when-we-are-most-satisfied-in-him.
  6. Harry Verploegh, Signposts—A Collection of Sayings From A. W. Tozer (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1988), p. 227.
  7. Ellen G. White, in The Bible Echo, May 22, 1899.
  8. There is no conflict here between A.D. 31 and A.D. 1844. The covenant benefits of salvation were released and made available to believers in A.D. 31 upon Christ’s ascension. The purpose of the pre-Advent judgment, commencing in 1844 (Dan. 8:14), is to determine who have availed themselves of the covenant benefits made available in A.D. 31 at Christ’s ascension and through His continued intercession.
  9. Ellen G. White, Evangelism (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1946), pp. 190, 191.