More than perhaps anywhere else in Israel, the temple pulsated with music. It was here that professional singers and instrumentalists, financially supported by tithes from the entire community, lived and gave their greatest performances, day and night. (1 Chronicles 9:33)
Now the temple was more than the holiest building on earth. It is a clearly stated Biblical fact that the temple symbolised heaven itself. (Hebrews 8:2,5; 9:11 f, 23 f; cf Exodus 25:40; 1 Chronicles 28:11 f, 19 - also note Psalm 78:69 GNB and other references cited in this section)
Even the temple rituals had heavenly counter-parts. The sacrificial victims portray the once-slain Lamb now seated upon heaven's throne. (Revelation 5:6, 12) The temple incense is like prayers that soar beyond our world and permeate heaven's atmosphere. (Revelation 5:8) Moreover, John saw actual incense and a censer in heaven itself, along with a golden altar complete with horns and fire. (Revelation 8:3-5; 9:13; Isaiah 6 may also be relevant; cf Exodus 30:1-3) The 'temple of God ... in heaven' is so like the earthly one that it even houses 'the ark of His testament'. (Revelation 11:19, note also Revelation 15:5-8; Psalm 11:4)
It must surely be significant that the place, which above all others, represented heaven, was a place filled with music. If the perfect High Priest ministers in heaven's temple, (Hebrews 7:24-26; 8:1-2) perhaps the perfect choir also resides there. If dead sacrificial animals are not worthy to be compared with the risen Lamb of God; if real cherubim are vastly superior to lifeless representations in wood and fabric, (1 Kings 6:23-35; 2 Chronicles 3:14) and the size of the temple where 'ten thousand times ten thousand' minister (Revelation 5:11) make the earthly one seem microscopic, it would be astounding if the music in Jerusalem's temple outclassed heaven's sounds.
(See Appendix, Note 3.1 for a discussion of Ezekiel's temple.)
One of the most thrilling scenes from the Bible's most spectacular books is where 'a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and tribes and tongues,' clothed in blood-washed robes, stand 'before the Lamb.' Joined by angels, beasts and elders they praise God and 'serve Him day and night in His temple'. (Revelation 7:9-15)
The exact nature of our future ministry is not detailed. A vital clue, however, could be locked within the expression 'serve Him day and night.'
For anyone steeped in Biblical thought, these words have musical overtones. The book of Revelation almost constantly alludes to the Old Testament. So we are justified in looking for a possible Old Testament allusion in this expression. The closest biblical parallel is a reference to Levitical singers who served in the temple 'day and night'. (1 Chronicles 9:33)
There is a Rabbinical tradition that the wind used to play tunes on David's lyre when he hung it by his bed at night. As the wind continued, David would be inspired to write psalms to the music. This Jewish thought, though almost certainly fictitious, is significant in that it apparently reflects a desire for God, nature and man to make music together. It is understandable that such a desire developed in the minds of people immersed in the thought-patterns of Scripture.
Psalm 148 expresses a God-inspired yearning for the whole of creation - sub-human, human and celestial - to unite in a gigantic symphony of glorious praise to the Creator. In this oft-repeated Biblical theme, no part of creation seems excluded: whether in sea, land or air; on earth, in space or in heaven; animate or inanimate. (1 Chronicles 16:31-34; Psalm 96:10-13; 98:4-9; 103:20-22; 150:6; Isaiah 44:23; 49:13; Jeremiah 51:48) God's revelation to John even includes a description of this ultimate combined choir actually functioning. (Revelation 5:8-14)
Since mankind's first sin, everything on our perishing planet has been in shameful disharmony and chronically marred. (Genesis 3:17f; Jeremiah 12:4, 11) From birth, our degenerating, sin-scarred bodies have been part of this. At the resurrection, when perfect bodies supersede our worn-out ones, the whole of creation will also be renewed. (Romans 8:19-23; Ephesians 1:10; Colossians 1:20; 2 Peter 3:13) Creation's resultant torrent of exquisitely inspired praise will surely be beyond anything we could now imagine. And we will be part of that grand finale, praising God forever, with vibrant new bodies glowing with celestial splendour, radiant with God's glory; in harmony, at last, with the whole of creation.
Perfect bodies pulsating with the power of God would have amazing abilities. Even mortal bodies have sometimes been divinely endowed with supernatural strength, (Judges 14:5 f; 15:14 f; 16:3, 15-17, 28) sight, (Genesis 21:19; 2 Kings 6:17) endurance and speed; (1 Kings 18:46) they have defied physical laws by being instantaneously transported (Acts 8:39) or walking on water (Matthew 14:25-29) or through fire. (Daniel 3:25)
Our resurrection bodies will be as superior to our present ones as a building is superior to a tent. (2 Corinthians 5:1f) In the twinkling of an eye, mediocrity will be replaced by excellence. Every physical part of us that determines the quality of our music will be new.
The intimate connection between one's voice and the body that produces it, suggests we could think of our future voices in the same terms Scripture uses to describe our new bodies, namely: like Christ's, (Philippians 3:21; 1 John 3:2) changed, (1 Corinthians 15:52; Philippians 3:21) redeemed, (Romans 8:23) incorruptible, (1 Corinthians 15:42, 52) immortal, (1 Corinthians 15:53) spiritual, (1 Corinthians 15:44) heavenly, (1 Corinthians 15:48) powerful, (1 Corinthians 15:43) glorious. (1 Corinthians 15:43; Philippians 3:21)
Can you imagine anyone still being deaf in Paradise? (Isaiah 33:24; Revelation 21:4) Well, neither can I imagine anyone being tone-deaf.
When world-renowned English pastor, David Pawson married, his wife was tone-deaf. She later had a beautiful spiritual experience that had an unusual side-effect - she is no longer tone-deaf. 'She's got a lovely singing voice now,' says her husband. Surely this is but a distant echo of the wonders God is preparing for His people.
'The ears of the deaf shall be unstopped ... and the tongue of the dumb shall sing.' (However, see Appendix, Note 1.2)
But will only those presently handicapped have improved hearing in the new age? We could possibly all have superior hearing ranges, both in pitch and volume. Perhaps our new hearing would even allow us to divide the octave into a larger number of meaningful intervals.
Glorified ears will be caressed by an endless array of aural delights; each strain a symphonic masterpiece of incomparable beauty, supercharged with heavenly perfection. Constantly exposed to heaven's best, we will surely be endowed with a heightened musical appreciation.
A transformed body also implies new fingers and a new mouth with which to play musical instruments.
A vastly superior knowledge and insight await us. (1 Corinthians 13:9-12; John 3:2) Yet we cannot even handle the store of knowledge presently available to us! So it seems likely that God will give us a greater intellectual capacity in the new age. Many people near death have reported experiencing enormously speeded thought processes. Associated with this could easily be an unprecedented capacity for creativity. Perhaps we will reach hitherto inconceivable heights of inspired musical creativity. The supernatural praise on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:4-12) gives us an inkling of just some of the astounding abilities God can impart to us.
The details may be hazy, but all the evidence suggests we will be well equipped to express our delight at the awe-inspiring beauty of the Sovereign Lord of glory, who sacrificed His life so that we might share His incomparable joy forever.
Most musical instruments in Bible times were appallingly primitive. The music they produced would probably horrify modern musicians. (We should note, however, that God was pleased with what we might smugly consider a raucous din.) Over the centuries, earthly instruments have undergone remarkable development in quality and sophistication. Yet our most highly developed instruments must still be pathetic by God's standards of perfection. So it is fascinating to speculate about the musical instruments of the age to come. If we have made great advances in a few centuries, imagine what we could achieve throughout eternity, even if we had no more abilities, resources and divine assistance than we have had on earth.
When I first read about harps of God, (Revelation 15:2) I was sure I'd found a misprint. I had always thought we would have harps of gold, but there is no l in my Bible. You would not believe the number of times I have checked this reference, fearing I might be the victim of a typesetter's negligence! But it's no misprint. No wonder the heavenly angels sang 'no "l"' on that first Christmas!
People victorious over the beast have, not harps of gold, but 'harps of God'. (For a discussion of the uniqueness of this expression, see Appendix Note 3.2) Does this suggest, not the finest instruments earthly riches can acquire, but instruments of infinitely greater purity and quality?
See these conquerors triumphantly standing on the fiery sea of glass, overwhelmed with gratitude to the One who made them victors. We can expect God to have perfected them in every way. Surely, they will also be given perfect instruments with which to praise their perfect Creator and Redeemer. No more 'horse-hair scraping cat-gut!'
As to what ethereal instruments would sound like, we can only wildly speculate. Unfortunately, I haven't heard of a careless angel leaving his harp behind after visiting this planet.
Nevertheless, a divinely made musical instrument has been subjected to scientific analysis. It was found to be capable of an estimated 173 million different sounds. I'm not qualified to comment on the latest advances, but at least until recently, the versatility of this instrument was unrivalled by any human invention. (Saunders - I have yet to meet a computer that can speak as well as we can, let alone rival human ability in singing lyrics.) I refer, of course, to the human voice; a divinely crafted instrument that we perhaps take too much for granted. Though it may have cracked when humanity fell, human vocal capacity gives us an inkling of the Creator's ability to produce sophisticated instruments.
Basking in eternal glory, united in infinite love, the 144,000 redeemed from the earth form a mass choir unlike any we have ever heard. (Revelation 14:1-5) There is a supernatural element in their 'new song' - no outsider could learn it.
Is this ethereal song unlearnable because it contains no repetition? This would make it a continually new song, with possibly the words and music constantly changing under the inspiration of the Spirit.
Perhaps this is the ultimate fulfilment of humanity's longing to praise the Lord with a new song. (Psalm 33:1; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; 149:1; Isaiah 42:10) The obvious problem with previous attempts is that once a song is sung, it is no longer new.
The sound of music came from heaven, while the redeemed stood on 'Mount Zion'. (Revelation 14:1f) Some commentators locate 'Mount Zion' on earth. (But note verse 3a) This interpretation would imply their song was linked either with God Himself, or with celestial musicians.
Of particular significance is the singers' moral purity and devotion to the One who redeemed them. (Revelation 14:4f) The Lamb is the Source of their sinless perfection.
We can expect every aspect of heavenly music to be Spirit-inspired and Spirit-controlled, both originating from, and proceeding to, the Creator of all beauty, the Source of all perfection. (Cf Romans 8:26; 11:26) Our future music will be freed from time's limitations, untainted by deceit, rivalry and pride; undistracted by worldly pressures, unhindered by fallen man's inability to attain musical perfection. In the splendour of His holiness, with divinely exquisite music cascading through glorified lips, we will worship the majestic Lord of creation with never-ending inspiration and fulfilment, in a world of indescribable beauty.
'Music is another planet', declared Alphonse Daudet. We have to agree that there is much that is other-worldly about it.
It exists because the eternal King is musical. He originated it and endowed His creation with musical ability. Music's ultimate function, like that of the whole of creation (Psalm 19:1; 148:2-12; Isaiah 43:7, 21; 60:21) is to glorify its omnipotent Creator.
Perhaps it will be as a grub becoming a butterfly, but human music will survive the passing of this planet. Music bears the divine seal of approval; now and forever.
Viewed from eternity, many fundamental human institutions seem like passing fads. Births, deaths and marriages will all cease. (Luke 20:34-36; Revelation 20:14) Evangelism, prophecy and spiritual warfare will come to an end. (1 Peter 3:9-13; 1 Corinthians 13:9f; Revelation 20:10) So will baptism, visiting the sick, and denominationalism. But music will endure.
Mark Twain claimed to have enjoyed an opera 'in spite of the singing'. Aural delights beyond the grave, however, are unlikely to be so easily dismissed!
To heaven's ears, the latest sound synthesiser might seem as sophisticated as a child's broken whistle; a Steinway piano little better than a stone-age product. No wonder our Father is more impressed by heart attitudes than our musical finesse!
Human music is far from being the lone instance of cultivated sound in a universe of wild noise or bleak silence. Nor has it yet reached its highest pinnacle. It will ultimately become a divinely perfected medium with which to extol the glorious majesty and endless virtues of its Creator. We will then, with sweeter voice, unite with the transformed musical powers of the entire creation, in worshipping the King of kings in purity, forever.
Imagine, if you can, music worthy of our matchless King!
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