The Songs of Revelation

‘The songs of Revelation serve as a commentary on the action of the text, somewhat as the chorus of a Greek tragedy used to explain the action of the principals in the drama. No less than eleven poetic expressions of praise can be counted, though not all are called songs.

(the order of the next part, which was originally a table is:
title, passage, participants, occasion)

1. Tersanctus: “holy, holy, holy” | (Revelation) 4:8 | Living Creatures | Constant worship

2. “Worthy art Thou” in creation | 4:11 | Twenty-four Elders | Worship by Elders

3. “Worthy art Thou” in redemption | 5:8-10 | Living Creatures and Elders | Lamb’s assumption of rights

4. “Worthy is the Lamb” | 5:11-12 | Angels, Living Creatures, Elders | Lamb’s assumption of rights

5. “Unto him that sitteth” | 5:13 | Every created thing | Lamb’s assumption of rights

6. “Salvation unto our God” | 7:9,10 | Great multitude | Sealing of 144,000

7. “Amen. Blessing . . .” | 7:11,12 | Angels | Sealing of 144,000

8. “The kingdom of the world” | 11:15 | Great voices | Seventh angel

9. “We give thee thanks” | 11:16-18 | Elders | Seventh trumpet

10. “Great and marvellous” | 15:2-4 | Victors over Beast | Seven last plagues

11. Four Hallelujahs | 19:1-8 | Great multitude, Elders, Living Creatures, Great voices | Marriage of Lamb

In these expressions may be found the essence of worship which pervades the entire Apocalypse. They breathe a sense of awe at the power of God exercised in judgment, and a deep gratitude for the work of redemption. Their contribution to the structure of the book is not so much division as integration. The eleven single stanzas divide into five groups. The first five stanzas relate to the worship of heaven as the Lamb steps forward to undertake the fulfilment of redemption in the earth. The next two echo the praise of those who, having been redeemed, stand at last in the presence of God. The third group, numbers 8 and 9, announce with thanks the arrival of the consummation. Number 10 is the song of those who emerged victorious from the last conflict with evil, and number 11, the fourfold Hallelujah, is the final song of triumph when Babylon has fallen and when the kingdom of Christ is about to be established.


Another aspect of the last act of the drama of redemption is the chorus of rejoicing (19:1-10). In the chronology of Revelation there is a close connection between this interlude and the preceding section on Babylon, for the first chorus announces that God “hath judged the great harlot, her that corrupted the earth with her fornication” (19:1,2). Insofar as it deals with action, it implies a time after the fall of Babylon. This short section of text renews the setting of the original heavenly scene, for it is placed “in heaven” (19:1), and the four and twenty elders, the four living creatures, and the throne are mentioned again. The announcements are twofold, and mark a transition from earth to heaven, from sin to righteousness, from corruption to purity, from death to life. The first announcement (19:1,2) is the voice of the great multitude declaring that the bride of the Lamb is ready, and that the nuptials are about to be declared. It marks the pivotal point in God’s climatic dealing with earth.


The action of the interlude in Revelation 19:1-10 is summed up in the four hallelujahs which are arranged so that the two longer expressions come first and last, with the two shorter between them. With the exception of the third, they are spoken by the multitude, evidently the body of the redeemed in heaven. The two longest expressions contrast with each other. The first contains praise to God for His righteous judgments on the great harlot: the last expresses praise because of the preparation of the wife of the Lamb. The second and third Hallelujahs are brief, and echo the attitude of the others. They are the watershed of action in Revelation: for before them the book builds up to its tremendous climax of judgment, and after them the denouement comes swiftly.


The third title applied to Christ is “the Lamb slain” (Rev. 5:6). In contrast to the regal majesty of the lion He has also the gentle meekness of the lamb. His lamb-like disposition, however, is not stressed so much as His sacrificial character. The word “slain” (Greek: esphagmenon) means literally “slaughtered,” “with its throat cut.” It is used in the ninth verse of chapter 6 to describe those who were martyred for the witness of Jesus. In the heavenly songs that accompany His exaltation to the position of arbiter of the universe, the reason for His worthiness is not ascribed to His regal appointment as Lion of the tribe of Judah nor to His lineal descent from David, but rather to His redemptive death on behalf of men.

Worthy art thou to take the book, and to open the seals thereof; for thou wast slain, and didst purchase unto God with thy blood men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, and madest them to be unto our God a kingdom and priests; and they reign upon the earth. (Rev. 5:9,10)


[context of the next quote: Revelation opens with a blessing on those who keep the things written in it, and ends with an invitation to the thirsty to come and take the water of life freely (22:17). The book as a whole is a rebuke to complacency, and a powerful incentive to holy living.]

Worship is one of its strongest emphases. The first vision of the book brought the writer prostrate before the figure of the living Christ  who appeared to him on Patmos. Through the long series of visions that followed there are repeated references of worship. The action of the book opens with worship of heaven (4:9-11) and continues as group after group offers adoration to God and to the Lamb (7:9-11, 11:16-18, 14:3, 15:2-4, 19:3). Worship is the main occupation of the redeemed.

The implication of the book is that worship is a token of the genuineness of spiritual life now. The contrast between the saved and the lost in Revelation could be called a contrast in worship, since the latter worship the beast (13:4,8,12,15). Man is made to worship someone, and if he will not have the true God, he will inevitably turn to a false idol. Revelation offers the true God in His majesty and redemptive power as the only source of righteousness and of courage for men when evils multiply and judgment approaches.


Like the beatitudes, there are a number of songs or poetic expressions of praise to God scattered through Revelation. All of them, except for the “Four hallelujahs,” belong to the second vision of the book. They express the reaction of witnesses to the divine procedure of judgment, and thus help to explain the meaning of the action.

The first five constitute a group by themselves. Each is uttered by a different company of personages or by a different combination of companies. The first, spoken by the four living creatures around the throne, defines the character and power of God:

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come (4:8).

God’s holiness, omnipotence, and eternal being are given public recognition because they are basic to His rule.

The second “song,” addressed to God by the living creatures, declares His worthiness to receive glory and honor and power because of His creative work.

Worthy art thou, our Lord and our God, to receive the glory and the honor and the power: for thou didst create all things, and because of thy will they were, and were created (4:11).

The magnificence of God’s creation is itself a tribute to His greatness, and makes Him worthy of the worship of His creatures. His ownership of creation gives the authority for His activity and obligates Him to rid the world of usurping evil.

The removal of this evil can be effected only through the redeeming power of the Lamb of God. The fourth song celebrates His effectual salvation.

Worthy art thou to take the book, and to open the seals thereof; for thou wast slain, and didst purchase unto God with thy blood men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, and madest them to be unto our God a kingdom and priests; and they reign upon the earth. (Rev. 5:9,10)

The song of the elders is called “new” (5:9), for creation is old, but redemption is recent. Creation began with the universe; redemption rescued it. The Lamb has effected deliverance from ruin, has given sovereignty in the place of slavery, and has brought order out of chaos. Consequently the angelic choir is saying:

Worthy is the Lamb that hath been slain to receive the power, and riches, and wisdom, and might, and honor, and glory, and blessing (5:12).

He is exalted to the throne of the universe because He has retrieved the creation of God from unspeakable loss. All the created universe, therefore, joins in the formal paean:

Unto him that sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb, be the blessing, and the honor, and the glory, and the dominion, for ever and ever (5:13).

These five songs or five parts of the heavenly anthem introduce the opening of the seals (6:1). They explain that because of the double authority of creation and redemption God alone is worthy of worship. All other worship is false, and has no place as a rival to the adoration of Him. The worship of the image of the beast is therefore a wicked parody of the reverence that should be paid to God.

Another song of worship rises from the redeemed themselves.

Salvation unto our God who sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb (7:10).

It is chanted by the great multitude out of every nation, standing before the throne. They are earth’s addition to heaven’s citizens, brought there out of the great tribulation. To their praise the heavenly host responds:

Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen (7:12).

By the arrival of this multitude in heaven the people of God have been removed from earth, and the final judgments commence. When the consummation is reached at the sounding of the seventh trumpet, there rises another song:

The kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ: and he shall reign for ever and ever (11:15).

To this the elders add:

We give thee thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who art and who wast; because thou hast taken thy great power, and didst reign. And the nations were wroth, and thy wrath came, and the time of the dead to be judged, and the time to give their reward to thy servants the prophets, and to thy saints, and to them that fear thy name, the small and the great; and to destroy them that destroy the earth (11:17,18).

Once again out of the judgments emerges another group of those who have been victorious over the beast and over his image, joining in “the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb”:

Great and marvellous are thy works,
O Lord God, the Almighty;
Righteous and true are thy ways,
Thou king of the ages.
Who shall not fear, O Lord,
And glorify thy name?
For thou only art holy;
For all the nations shall come
And worship before thee;
For thy righteous acts have been manifest (15:3,4)

The song is expressive of supreme faith in the justice and in the triumph of God.

The last lyric expression in Revelation is in the nineteenth chapter. As Babylon falls and as the bribe of the Lamb is prepared for her marriage, the great multitude and the elders and living creatures unite in one final paean of praise:

 Salvation, and glory, and power, belong unto our God:
 For true and righteous are his judgments;
 For he hath judged the great harlot,
 Her that corrupted the earth with her fornication,
 And he hath avenged the blood of his servants at her hand.
 Amen: Hallelujah!
 Give praise to our God, all ye his servants,
 Ye that fear him, the small and the great.
 For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigneth.
 Let us rejoice and be exceeding glad,
 And let us give the glory unto him:
 For the marriage of the Lamb is come,
 And his wife hath made herself ready.
 And it was given unto her
 That she should array herself in fine linen, bright and pure:
 For the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. (19:1-3,4-8)

In these Hallelujahs thanks are given for three great accomplishments:

He hath judged the great harlot.
He hath avenged the blood of his servants.
The Lord our God, the Almighty, reigneth.

God has vindicated His cause completely, and the victory is near.

These songs and expressions of praise rise above the undertones of judgment as a clear carol may be heard above the roar of a city street. They give new optimism to a book of doom by showing that not once does the heavenly faith in God’s power and goodness falter. He must be victorious.’

Source: Source: Merrill C. Tenney, Interpreting Revelation (1957). Taken from pages 36-37, 87, 88, 128-129, 132, 199-200, 182-185 (in this order) by typing manually (emphases added to the quotes of pages 36-37 & 199-200). The author of this website tried to reproduce these pages as faithful to the original as possible. He highly recommends this commentary. Check out the store for more recommendations.

The Scripture quotations in this publication are from the American Standard Version of the Bible, copyrighted 1929 by the Division of Christian Education, National Council of Churches, and are used by permission.



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