By Lisa Samra, Crosswalk.com
My heart longs for the beauty and peace of heaven, although sometimes it is difficult to wrap my mind around life there because so much about heaven remains a mystery. Recently, I was delighted to discover one important feature – heaven will be filled with music.
Reading through the book of Revelation, the Apostle John’s vision of the end of human history, we read about sobering judgments and epic struggles between good and evil. But the very last book of the Bible includes the lyrics to many songs that appear to be sung continually by the inhabitants of heaven.
God even appears to encourage the singing of songs. A glimpse of his heart can be seen in Revelation 15:2 where the singers are using “harps given them by God.” God is the one supplying instruments to eager musicians in the hallways of heaven!
Of all the important insights we can take from the amount of music in the book of Revelation, one of the most significant realizations that has implications for us now is that worship in heaven includes both old and new songs.
Biblical Themes Shared by Old and New Worship Songs
In Revelation 15, Christians who died for their faith sing a song. Their song selection is called the “song of God’s servant Moses,” which is a reference to one of the very first books of the Bible. In Exodus 15, the “song of Moses” is the first time in the Bible that the word “song” or “sing” is used. So, some of the songs sung in heaven are the oldest songs in salvation history. After thousands of years, God has not grown tired of hearing the song of Moses. In the same way, God does not grow tired of hearing historic hymns or other classic songs. He loves when the psalter, or the book of Psalms, is set to music and sung. These are the songs that the church has been singing for centuries. Since we will likely be singing them in heaven, now is a good time to learn the words.
But it’s not just old songs. In Revelation 5, angels and the elders sing “a new song.” Later in Revelation 14:3, we read again that “they sang a new song.” Even though Christian history is filled with meaningful and powerful songs, all the songs written to date cannot express every aspect of who God is and how He has worked in our lives. God is worshipped in heaven with new music that is still being written. The encouragement for today is that we should keep writing and singing new songs that express new experiences of grace and the new ways that God is at work in our lives and communities.
If we are going to be singing old and new songs for eternity, let’s explore some important Biblical themes in both old and new songs.
Praise is the human’s response in word, action, and song to God’s character and the ways that he has demonstrated love and grace to humanity. Songs of praise fill heaven in Revelation and are frequently sung when the church gathers today.
Embracing an Old Song: “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty”
Written in 1680 by Joachim Neander, one of the first hymn writers of the German Reformed Church, “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” is a joyful celebration of God. Neander based his hymn on the words of Psalm 150 that encourage believers to praise the Lord when we gather together. Restating the words of Psalm 150, Neander wrote, “Praise to the Lord! O let all that is in me adore him! All that has life and breath, come now with praises before him.”
Singing a New Song: “Every Praise”
Brooklyn-based gospel singer Hezekiah Walker also brings Psalm 150 to life in the exuberant 2013 song “Every Praise.” This joyful song written to be sung by a chorus of voices reminds us that “every praise is to our God.”
2. The Holiness of God
Throughout the book of Revelation, the residents of heaven sing to God songs describing him as “holy.” Holiness is one of the fundamental qualities of God that highlights that he is exalted above all of creation and completely separate from sin.
Embracing an Old Song: “Holy, Holy, Holy”
One of the most beloved hymns still being sung in churches around the world, “Holy, Holy, Holy” reminds us of the staying power of old songs. Written by English vicar Reginald Heber to teach his congregation about the holiness of God, Heber based his song on the words from Revelation 4:8, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.” First published in 1826, it speaks of the day when we will join the angels in heaven to worship a holy God.
Singing a New Song: “Echo Holy”
Worship collective Red Rocks Worship released the 2021 song “Echo Holy” that begins by imagining being welcomed to heaven with “an anthem I have always known.” The song invites us to join with the angels in a new song as we echo, or repeatedly sing together, one of the oldest songs, “Holy is the Lord” (Revelation 4:8) in a new way.
3. Eternity in Heaven
One of the great assurances of salvation for Christians is that we can know that our eternity in heaven is secure if our names are written in the “book of life” (Revelation 3:5), whether we enter heaven at death or when Jesus returns.
Embracing an Old Song: “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder”
Written in 1893 by James Milton Black, there are more than 500 online versions of this popular hymn. A prolific hymn writer (more than 1,200 songs!), Black taught music and edited hymnals in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Black looked for a song that “spoke of what a sad thing it would be when our names are called from the Lamb’s Book of Life if one of us should be absent.” When he couldn’t find a song that spoke to this idea, he simply wrote one.
Singing a New Song: “I Will Rise”
The assurance that “I will rise when He calls my name. No more sorrow, no more pain” anchors the 2008 song, “I Will Rise” by Chris Tomlin. Tomlin reflected that this song is a song of hope because, “this life, the physical flesh is not the end, but God has given us life everlasting.”
4. Goodness of God
To declare that God is good is to affirm that there is no evil in his actions, thoughts, or deeds. God’s goodness means that all his ways are for our ultimate blessing and good.
Embracing an Old Song: “God Is So Good”
“God is So Good” was a traditional African song known to have been widely sung on the continent in the first half of the 20th century. Transcribed and then translated into many languages, it quickly made its way into church hymnals around the world with the reminder that God loves us, answers prayers, and cares for us because “He’s so good to me.”
Singing a New Song: “Goodness of God”
Released in 2019, the single “Goodness of God” celebrates that God “has been so, so good” to us, both when we are singing in gratitude and as we navigate the struggles of life. Singer-songwriter Jenn Johnson said that the song was an impromptu “overflow of my heart,” a new song to sing about God’s goodness.
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Lisa M. Samra graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Texas and earned a Master of Biblical Studies degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. Lisa now lives in Grand Rapids, Mich., with her family. She leads several ministries at Calvary Church, with a focus on encouraging church leaders and training people for ministry. She is a regular contributor to Crosswalk.com, Our Daily Bread, and her work has also appeared in a variety of publications and online sites. Lisa looks forward to traveling again, as she often finds inspiration from experiencing the beauty of diverse cultures, places, and people. Lisa enjoys good coffee, running, and reading, just not all at the same time.