THE MUSIC OF HEAVEN based on Rev.15:1-8
By Glenn Pease
Most of us are not gifted in the realm of music. Many of us feel pathetic in our ability to sing, and even more so with our ability to produce music. We can easily envy those to whom it comes easy. Elizabeth Resen, at four could listen to music in a play at school, and then go home and play it on the piano. A classmate asked her how she did it, and she said , "I hear it in my ear then I hum it in my mouth. And then I play it with my fingers." If only it were that easy for all of us.
The good news is, we have every reason to believe that all of God's people will be so gifted in their new bodies in the eternal kingdom. God is a great lover of music, and He will want nothing but the best for all eternity. Everyone is expected to sing His praises, and so we can expect to be given unique abilities to do so. The fact that the Bible reveals there is so much singing in heaven implies that all who are there will be able to sing well. The book of Revelation has a host of happy hymns of harmony as part of the heavenly scene. Poems of praise are part of paradise. Joyful songs of jubilation to Jesus, and songs of salvation to the Savior are a major part of this book. It tells us about the adoration that is always an activity around the presence of the Almighty.
It makes sense that there will be a lot of singing in heaven. If there is plenty on earth, how much greater will be our desire to praise God, when all His promises are fulfilled, and we are enjoying the fullness of our salvation? It is also logical, because song is the best way known to unite a large number of people in a common activity. Hundreds and even thousands can join in one accord, as they sing the praises of the Lord. Singing is something a number of people can do together, and produce what is beautiful sound to the glory of God.
The interesting thing about the particular song in heaven, we are focusing on in Rev.15 is, it is both old and new. It is both the song of Moses, and the song of the Lamb. The song of the Lamb was fairly new, but the song of Moses was well over 1200 years old when John wrote. We see ads all the time for records and tapes of songs that were popular in the 50's and 60's. They bring back memories, and people buy them by the thousands to relive the good old days.
Now we see John is telling us, they do the same thing in heaven. The great victory of the Exodus was the birth of Israel as a nation, and that event produced the first great song of Israel. It became like a national anthem. John said the dead in Christ go on singing that song of Moses, for it is a song of celebration, just like the song of the Lamb, which is the celebration of the ultimate Exodus--the Exodus of Jesus, as the Lamb of God, out of bondage to the flesh, out of bondage to matter, out of bondage to sin, death, and hell--into the liberty of the Kingdom of God. Jesus was our Moses, and He led the way, and was the pioneer of our faith, and enabled us to pass out of the Egypt of our bondage into the promised land of liberty.
What Moses did for the Old Testament people of God, Jesus has done for the New Testament people of God. The result is their songs are the top two on the charts of heaven, and they always will be, for all other songs are based on these two. The Old Testament saints sing the song of the Lamb too, for their exodus out of Egypt would have meant nothing if Jesus had not led the way out of death. On the other hand, the New Testament saints sing the song of Moses, for if he would not have led God's people out of Egypt to become a unique people, the plan for a Savior never could have been fulfilled.
Both the Old Testament and the New Testament plan of God are vital parts of the whole, and the songs of heaven prove it. The new will be with us forever. We will sing endless new and enjoyable tunes, and music will be an endless progression of new songs. But the fact is, the old will never be obsolete, for the old will always be the foundation for all the new. The old songs of Moses and the Lamb will be enjoyed one hundred billion years from now, and we will appreciate them all the more, because we will have enjoyed so much more of what their salvation means. Don't waste your time trying to figure out which is best--the old or the new. They are both best, for they are both vital to the whole. The song of Moses and the song of the Lamb--cease to sing either and you rob the other of it's fullness of joy.
There is a major lesson for life here on the music of heaven. There is no conflict between the classical and the contemporary. There is wisdom in heaven, for they see the validity and the value of both. Christians should appreciate the heritage of their old hymns, and yet enjoy the endless possibilities of new songs, by which to praise their Lord. God is always the same, and so whatever was valid once, will always be valid. But God is also infinite, and so there is no end to what can be discovered, and so the new is always valid also. The wise Christian will learn from the heavenly singers to preserve the old, and pursue the new.
C. S. Lewis says this is the only way to grow. It is not growth to abandon the old for the new. That is merely change, not growth. Growth is like a tree adding rings. It is not growth for a train to leave one station behind and puff on to the next. That is change but not growth. Growth is when you add the new to the old. He loved fairy tales as a youth, and later in life he learned to love novels. But he still loved fairy tales, and so that was growth. Had he lost his love for fairy tales, that would have been change only, and not growth. Growth is a process of loving the old and the new. Growth is what we see in the music of heaven. They sing the song of Moses, and the song of the Lamb.
A music program that is Biblical, will be just what Paul urges that it be, in Eph.5:19, where he writes, "Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord." Again, he writes in Col.3:16, " Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God." The three Greek words Paul uses for singing are salmos, hymnos, and ode. Ode is a word we do not use much, and it is used only 7 times in the New Testament. Two of them we just read by Paul, and the other 5 are in the book of Revelation. Two of these we have right here in our text--the ode of Moses and ode of the Lamb. How an ode differs from a psalm, or a hymn, is not easy to say, but what it seems to mean is this--the ode appears to be more like what we call a chorus. The odes of Revelation are all very short, simple, and not repetitious like a hymn. The ode is newer music, like the hymn, which are in contrast to the age old psalms, but the ode is less formal than the hymn, and thus, more like a chorus. The point is, singing that is Biblically balanced will be a combination of all three. This gives us the old and the new, the formal and informal, the solemn and the joyful. All the emotions are to be touched by songs.
The one area where churches have been weak, is in the area of the ode, or chorus. They have become popular in recent years, and this is more in conformity to the music of heaven. None of the songs in the book of Revelation are called psalms or hymns. They are all called odes. If these short little enthusiastic praises are good enough for heaven, then we are being spiritually snobbish if we feel they are not good enough for our worship. I have to admit, psalms and hymns seem more dignified for a worship service, but this is because I have been conditioned by tradition. The music of heaven, however, has made me realize worship has other perspectives. It can be worshipful to laugh and clap, and be informal in our praise. Mac Davis sang, I Believe In Music, years ago, and the second stanza says,
Music is love, love is music if
you know what I mean.
People who believe in music are
the happiest people I ever seen.
So clap your hands, stomp your
feet, shake your tambourine,
Lift your voices to the sky. God
loves you when you sing.
God not only loves a cheerful giver, He loves a cheerful singer, and often the chorus helps us be more cheerful in our singing. D. L. Moody said, "Singing could do as much as preaching to proclaim God's Word." Martin Luther said, "Next to theology I give the first and highest honor to music." Luther began to use secular music, for he was convinced the devil should not have all the good tunes. Not everyone agreed with Luther. John Calvin was worried people would just have fun singing, and not really be worshipping, he put the brakes on, and even melted down organ pipes for other uses. John and Charles Wesley agreed with Luther, however, and they promoted Christian singing that would match anything the world had to offer. Listen to their instructions--
Sing lustily and with good courage.
Beware of singing as if you are half
dead or half asleep, but lift up your
voice with strength. Be no more
afraid of your voice now, nor more
ashamed of it's being heard, than
when you sang the songs of Satan.
Music and singing have infinite potential for pleasing God and benefiting man, and it is the obligation of every Christian to work at making music important in their lives, and in their worship. Balance is the key. Robert Shaw, who was America's leading choral director, said years ago, "Ninety per cent of the music written since Beethoven is not worthy of being offered in praise to God." This is too high brow an attitude. Excellence and quality are values to be considered in praising the King of Kings, but we must also remember God is not pleased with quality if the heart is not right. Better a simple chorus of doubtful quality, from a joyful heart that is truly grateful to God, than a Beethoven song, from a cold and thankless spirit.
God made it clear to Israel, through His prophet Amos, that quality of worship is worthless, without a heart that really loves the Lord and His will. God says in Amos 5:21-23, "I hate, I despise your religious feast; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Thou you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps."
God who loves music so much, detested the music that came from a people who did not care about His will. They had become indifferent to His laws for justice. They trampled on the poor, took bribes, and deprived people of justice. They oppressed the righteous. Then they would come to church, and sing quality songs to excellent music. If was just meaningless noise to God, for songs that are pleasing to Him are songs that come from the hearts of people who want to please Him, not just in church, but in life. Beautiful songs will not whitewash a life of disobedience. But the most simple of songs will please God, when they come from hearts that truly love Him.
Coming back to the ode song in heaven, by those who are victorious over the beast, and all the forces of evil, we see a very simple song. It is not new or unique, or in any way a profound piece of poetry. Yet it is a part of the perfect worship of heaven. It is a radical contrast to much of the music in the Old Testament temple. It was accompanied by just one instrument, whereas, all types of instruments were used in the temple on earth--Azor, Dulcimer, Psaltry, Harp, Pipe, Trumpet, Cornet, Organ, Flute, Shofar, Sackbut, Cymbals, and Drums.
It was not an organized choir, but just a mass of people who had been overcomers, and who did not submit to the antichrist, and get branded by his number of 666. There were many organized groups of people, however, in the Old Testament who were specialists in music. David set apart 4,000 Levites, who would become specialists on various instruments for temple worship. They never had to worry about someone getting sick, for with 4,000 there was always a backup. I.Chron.23:5 says, "four thousand are to praise the Lord with the musical instruments I have provided for that purpose." Imagine, 4,000 ministers of music. Today we would consider this over staffing, even in the largest of churches.
Music was important to the Old Testament worship experience. We have duets in the Old Testament. In Judges 5:1 we read, "On that day Deborah and Barak....sang this song." We have women's choruses in I Sam.18:6-7, "...The women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with tambourines and lutes. As they danced they sang: Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands." This was just a little chorus that someone wrote for the occasion. It was an impromptu song for the days events. It was not a song or hymn, but an ode the women picked up on, and sang.
The preaching was often done to music in the temple. In I.Chron. 25:1 we read, "David, together with the commander of the army, set apart some of the sons of Asaph, Hemen and Jeduthun for the ministry of prophesying, accompanied by harps, lyres and cymbals." You can imagine how the guy with the cymbals could really emphasize a point in the message. It is of interest to note, that the man who sounded the cymbals on a regular basis, was none other than the author of 12 of the Psalms. We read in IChron.16:5, "Asaph was to sound the cymbals."
The point of looking at all the organized singers and musicians of the Old Testament, is to contrast that with the songs of heaven, where there is no specialized group, but all believer's are involved. Everyone gets a harp, and everyone joins in the songs of heaven. The implication is, all the redeemed become singers and musicians in heaven. There will be no non singers, and no non musicians in heaven. There are millions of Christians who are neither in time, but all will be both in eternity.
Anything we do to improve our musical skills will be a long range investment, for we will use these skills forever. Preaching will cease, but praising never will. The idyllic image of the family around the piano has faded into the past in our culture, but it will return forever in the Father's House, for God has always loved His family to sing in His presence, and He always will. The book of Revelation is loaded with songs to give us this clear impression. Spurgeon saw public worship as preparation for eternal singing. He preached--
".... it seems to me that public worship on
earth is a rehearsal for the service of heaven. We shall
sing together there, not solos, but grand chorales and
choruses. We shall take parts in the divine oratorio of
redemption. It will not be some one melodious voice
alone that shall lift up the eternal hallelujah. We shall
all have to take our parts to make the harmony com-
plete. I may never be able to rise to certain notes unless
my voice shall be wondrously changed; but some other
sinner, saved by grace, will run up the scale, nobody
knows how high; and what a range of melody the music
will have in heaven! I believe that our poor scales and
modes of singing here are nothing at all compared with
what there will be in the upper regions. There, the bass
shall be deeper and yet the notes shall be higher than
those of earth; even the crash of the loudest thunders
shall be only like a whisper in comparison with the
celestial music of the new song before the throne of God.
John spoke of it as "the voice of many waters." The waves
of one ocean can make a deafening, booming noise; but in
heaven there shall be, as it were, the sound of sea on sea,
Atlantic upon Pacific, one piled upon another, and all
dashing and crashing with the everlasting hallelujahs
from the gladsome hearts of the multitude that no man
I expect to be there, and I remember that verse in one
of our hymns that says:
I would begin the music here, And so my soul should rise;
Oh, for some heavenly notes to bear My passions to the skies!
But you cannot sing that heavenly anthem alone be-
cause, however well you can sing by yourself, that is not
the way you will have to sing in heaven, there you will
have to sing in harmony with all the blood washed hosts.
Therefore, let us often come to the Lord's house; and
when we are gathered together, let us again take up the
words of Dr. Isaac Watts, and say:
I have been there and still would go,
'Tis like a little heaven below.
That little heaven below shall help to prepare us for the
great heaven above."
Spurgeon's whole point is, singing in church is to be a foretaste of the songs of heaven, and, therefore, they should be joyful praises most often. For that is the kind of songs that will characterize heaven. We have an obligation to teach our children to sing praises to God, for that is education that will prepare them, not just for time, but for eternity. Music should not be an elective, but a required course for Christians, for that is to be the language of heaven.
"Some day or other I shall surely come
Where true hearts wait for me;
Then let me learn the language of that home
While here on earth I be:
Lest my poor lips for want of words be dumb
In that high company."
Music is vital for taking in the Word of God, and for giving out the praises of God. It is by music that we inhale the Word of the Lord, and exhale the praise of the Lord. Some are better at it than others, but all of us need to be ever growing in our use of music and song, for all of us are going to be a part of the singing and music of heaven. All of us, that is, who have let Jesus make our lives a symphony, by asking Him to come into our lives, as Savior and Lord. If you haven't done so, do it now, so you can be assured of being a part of the music of heaven.