Two related themes run through the book of Revelation. First, Jesus calls the persecuted to resist persecution and temptation; and second, the faithful utter prayers for His coming and the trials to end. The book begins (1:4-6) and ends (22:20, 21) with the language of prayer in benediction, petition and praise.
Titles in prayers can carry special significance. Note the variation in 1:4- 5a.from the traditional early Christian blessing, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”. Instead of being introduced as “the Lord Jesus Christ,” Jesus is “the Faithful, the Witness, the First-born of the dead, and the ruler of the kings on earth.” These titles point to his death, resurrection and ascension to the throne of God. Not until the ending prayer, at 22:20b and the final blessing, 22:21, do “Lord” and “Jesus” stand united into one title!
Throughout the book are hymns of praise to God. Like praise in the stadium, prayers are shouted by the great multitudes to God, instead of the Roman emperor. The Roman author, Suetonius wrote of the cheering section that accompanied the emperor Domitian, while the Roman governor, Pliny, sends a letter to the emperor Trajan describing early Christian worship performed antiphonally to Christ as if to a god. John leads his readers in one such prayer at the onset. The mention of Jesus and his titles (1:4-5a) leads to a public ascription of praise in 1:5b- 6: “To him who loves us and freed us from our sins, and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him [that is, to Jesus] be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” Here the achievements of Jesus on the cross are elaborated in the light of his on-going love.
The final words of John’s last vision of the New Jerusalem nail down the reality of this kingdom, “…and they [the servants of God] shall reign for ever and ever.” This language makes clear that Revelation is about kingdom authority shared by Jesus’ followers. To praise the One seated on the throne and the Lamb was an act of political subversion against the claims of the Roman empire. And it was treated as such by the Roman authorities.
Mention of other prayers in Revelation link parts of the book together. The praying saints under the altar pleading for the judgment of God against their murderers (5th seal, 6:10) are remembered by God in the heavenly scene when “the prayers of the saints” ascend mingled with the incense from the altar (8:1-5). The result is the judgments of God described in the seven trumpets (chaps. 8-11). Even the prayers of the wicked are recorded in 6:15, 16, directed to the rocks and the mountains, while they utter only curses against God (16:10, 21).
For reflection and discussion:
- What is the difference between a hymn and a prayer? Are hymns directed towards God to be understood as prayers put to music?
- In the book of Revelation the choirs and the great multitude appear to know their lines. What prayers and antiphonal lines can the average Christian church say together now without stumbling over the lines?
- Read chapters 4-5 aloud as a dramatic presentation of the worshipers around the throne. Note the specific accomplishments of the One Seated on the Throne and of the Lamb.
- The early church prayed for strength to overcome the present persecution and for the coming of Christ.. For what does the church pray for today?
- In many parts of the world today prayer to the Father of Jesus is viewed as an act of political defiance. Can prayer and politics be separated? Is there such a thing as an apolitical or unpolitical prayer? What does it mean to pray, “Thy kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10) and “O sovereign Lord…how long before you judge…?” (Rev 6:10)
- At the end of the book of Revelation the servants of God gaze upon his face and worship him (22:3-5. How might our prayers and praise of God be affected by being uttered in his visual presence?