The Apocalypse of John and True Worship

A significant motif can be found in nearly every chapter of the Apocalypse of John which does not seem to appear, with the same emphasis, in the other letters of the NT: the theme of worship. False worship is rebuked while true worship is encouraged. A number of scholars have emphasized the extent of the Apocalypse’s stress on this subject (for further reading, see the bibliography at the bottom).   

In the fourth chapter John describes his visionary experience concerning the throne of God. Within this description is a statement concerning the four living creatures and their activity. Revelation 4:8 states that these creatures sing the Holy Holy Holy song, 

“day and night they do not cease”

The Greek phrase here, ἀνάπαυσιν οὐκ ἔχουσιν ἡμέρας καὶ νυκτὸς, struck me as odd when I read it a few month back in preparation for my dissertation. It was interesting when I saw the parallel phrase in the Greek text in another passage, Rev. 14:9-11, 

Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” 

The phrase here, used to describe the duration of those who pursue false worship (of the beast, his image, and his mark) is οὐκ ἔχουσιν ἀνάπαυσιν ἡμέρας καὶ νυκτὸς. Both Rev. 4:8 and 14:11 have the same phrase (slightly different order) and these are the only two occurrences in the entire Bible! The rhetorical point would be clear for John’s original audience, many of whom were daily tempted to compromise and join in the pagan worship at the local temple or even of Domitian: worship the true God and don’t worship the beast or his image!  


My mini-bibliography on the subject of worship in the Apocalypse of John: Otto A. Piper, “The Apocalypse of John and the Liturgy of the Ancient Church,” CH 20 (1951): 10; Lucetta Mowry, “Revelation 4-5 and Early Christian Liturgical Usage,” JBL 71 (1952): 75-84; Massey H. Shepherd, The Paschal Liturgy and the Apocalypse (London: Lutterworth Press, 1960) ; John J. O’Rourke, “The Hymns of the Apocalypse,” CBQ 30 (1968): 399-409; Vernon Kooy, “The Apocalypse and Worship – some Preliminary Observations,” Reformed Review 30 (1976): 198-209; Richard L. Jeske, “Spirit and Community in the Johannine Apocalypse,” NTS 31 (1985): 452-66; David L. Barr, “The Apocalypse of John as Oral Enactment,” Int 40 (1986): 243-56; Fred B. Craddock, “Preaching the Book of Revelation,” Int 40 (1986): 270-82; David Aune, “The Influence of the Roman Imperial Cult Ceremonial on the Revelation of John,” BibRes 28 (1983): 5-26; idem, “The Apocalypse of John and Graeco-Roman Revelatory Magic,” NTS 33 (1987): 481-501; David G. Peterson, “Worship in the Revelation to John,” RTR 47 (1988): 67-77; Thompson, Apocalypse and Empire, 53; idem, “Hymns in Early Christian Worship,” ATR 55 (1973): 458-72; Eugene H. Peterson, “Learning to Worship from Saint John’s Revelation,” in Christianity Today, October 28, 1991, 23-5. 


5 thoughts on “The Apocalypse of John and True Worship

    1. I am indeed. Having examined the arguments for both sides (I am still willing to be persuaded) I feel that the case for a date in the 90’s is the strongest.

  1. Thanks Dustin. For some reason I guess I wrongly assumed you were a full Preterist. Glad you’re still willing to consider an early date. First, the bookends imminence time statements indicate a significant event was to happen soon after John wrote. Nothing soon after the oft cited date of 95 matched that. Second, I’ve seen no arguments for a late date that didn’t ultimately reference Irenaeus. The following 2 links are from a FP source, but many sources are referenced:
    And this one from a non preterist:
    I hope you will weigh these against whatever has persuaded you of a late date. Blessings.

    1. Thanks. I dont think the persecution of some Roman Christians under Nero (in Rome) and the destruction of the Temple (in Jerusalem) really involves the crisis involved in Asia Minor, which John and his audience were experiencing. The designation “Babylon” for Rome makes no sense prior to 70 CE. 1 Clement 1:1 (circa 96 CE) who speaks of “the sudden and repeated calamities that have befallen us.” Pliny’s letter to Trajan (circa 112 CE) concerning those (in Asia) who have apostatized from the following Christ, “a few as much as twenty-five years ago” (in the late 80’s CE, toward the beginning of Domitian’s reign). Pliny’s letter indicates those who have renounced Christ were doing so under the threat of severe punishment, likely execution.

      These are some of the reasons which seem to strongly indicate the late date.

  2. You’re right, the designation “Babylon” for Rome makes no sense before 70 (OR after) but “Babylon” for Jerusalem does. An excerpt from an old post of mine:
    Re 11:8 And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.
    Despite the mystical name, the “great city” where the Lord was crucified can be none other than Jerusalem. In chapter 17 we learn of a “great harlot,” a mystery woman:
    Re 17:5 and on her forehead a name was written, a mystery, “BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” Much fanciful speculation has been made as to the identity of this mystery woman, Babylon, but the very next verse identifies her:
    Re 17:6 And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus…
    We saw in Mt 23 who Jesus said would be guilty of the blood of those He would send. Where were those guilty leaders located? Jerusalem! In Re 17:7 the angel begins to tell John the mystery of the woman and the beast that carries her. As to the point being considered here, the important verse is the last one:
    Re 17:18 “The woman whom you saw is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth.”
    It must be noted, many claim this verse proves 1st century Jerusalem not intended as she never reigned over the kings of the earth (known world, not planet). Technically this is true as the known world at that time was ruled by Rome, but consider that the verse refers to the religious, political and economic power and influence Jerusalem historically had over the known world. Most think of Jerusalem as a slightly larger version of humble Bethlehem or some such, but she was indeed a great city. She was much desired by kings of the earth, and she was very accommodating as we see in:
    Re 17:1 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, 2 with whom the kings of the earth committed acts of immorality, and those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality.” (cf Re 18:9; Eze 23:1-20).
    Many powerful men have been seduced and ruled by SEX! The verse also must be understood in context with 3 other verses in Revelation that directly link “great city” to “Babylon:” Re 16:19; 18:10,21 (plus 14:8 in KJV), as well as Re 18:16,18,19 which speak of the same “great city” (in the NT this term found only in Revelation). Just as “Sodom and Egypt” are metaphors for Jerusalem, so is “Babylon.” Their use show she had sunk lower and became even more evil than they. Ch. 18 describes the fall of Babylon citing her “immorality” (NASB) or “fornication” (KJV). The term comes from the Gr. porneia (noun) and porneuo (verb) which can mean illicit sex, but more properly regarding Oholibah/Jerusalem, adultery by idolatry. The chapter continues the vivid description of her judgment and the lamentations of her suitors concluding with:
    Re 18:24 “And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth.”
    Compare to Mt 23:34,35 “… I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify…, so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth…
    Babylon = Jerusalem! The harlot was executed within the generation Jesus spoke His Olivet Discourse to.

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