“You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant” (vv. 22–24).
John 4:20–24 tells us that God seeks worshipers who will worship Him in spirit and truth. In our studies on that text, we noted that among other things, the passage explains that there is no central place where all Christians are obligated to offer worship under the new covenant. Yet we must now qualify this assertion slightly. Actually, John 4:20–24 reveals that there is no single earthly location where we must gather for worship. But when we look at worship from a heavenly perspective, we see something different.
We are talking about the reality that no matter where we gather with God’s people on this earth, we are actually at the same time in heaven worshiping God. As Dr. R.C. Sproul has often stated, when we enter into worship, we cross the threshold from the secular to the sacred, from the common to the holy. And this means more than just setting apart an earthly gathering place. Christian worship takes place simultaneously on an earthly and a heavenly plane. Though it is not normally discernible to our five senses, heaven and earth come together when we join with God’s people in worship.
Today’s passage is one of several texts that support this belief. Hebrews 12:18–24 is not only about worship, for it appears in the immediate context of encouraging us to press on as we run the race of faith in our earthly lives (see vv. 1–17). Nevertheless, the passage certainly assumes our worship in heaven. In speaking of our coming to “the spirits of the righteous made perfect” and “the heavenly Jerusalem,” the author clearly has in view our entry into God’s presence in the heavenly temple. And we can connect this with worship both in the text itself—verse 28 points us to the offering of acceptable worship—and in the larger context of Hebrews. After all, the author encourages us to draw near to the throne of grace where Jesus, our Great High Priest, intercedes for us (4:14–16). But where is the throne of grace besides heaven itself, and how do we draw near except through prayer, which is an act of worship? Clearly, there is a heavenly reality in which we participate when we worship God.
We should also mention Paul’s comment in 1 Corinthians 11:10. Women should have their heads covered in worship “because of the angels.” This enigmatic statement continues to confound interpreters, but surely it is not a stretch to suggest that we may infer from it that we are worshiping alongside the angels in heaven when we join with others to praise God.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
That our worship takes place simultaneously in heaven and on earth has ramifications for how we plan and conduct worship. Our worship should be worthy of heaven itself and should reflect the things that are valued in heaven—sincerity, truth, beauty, dignity, and so forth. We will avoid much impiety and silliness in worship if we remember that we are actually worshiping in heaven every Lord’s Day.