What the Doctrine of the Trinity Means for Our Corporate Worship


The Trinity is definitive for corporate worship. Apart from the being and works of the triune God, corporate worship would not exist. Accordingly, the church directs its worship to the Trinity in praise of the Trinity because of who he is and what he has done. Though the entirety of Scripture confirms the preceding points, Revelation 4–5 displays them with particular clarity and beauty.

1.) Corporate worship exists because of the Trinity.

Although the external works of the Trinity are undivided, Revelation 4–5 appropriates to distinct persons of the Trinity the distinct phases of the Trinity’s work of bringing corporate worship into reality. [1] According to these chapters, the Father wills corporate worship, the Son enables corporate worship, and the Spirit empowers corporate worship.

The Father wills corporate worship. Revelation 4:9 describes the first person of the Trinity as “him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever.” According to Revelation 5:1, the first person of the Trinity holds in his right hand a “scroll,” which is best understood as a symbol of God’s sovereign decree for creation. In light of Isaiah 6, to which Revelation 4–5 repeatedly alludes, we may conclude that God’s decree for creation includes his desire to be worshipped on earth as he is worshipped in heaven (cf. Isa 6:3).

The great crisis of Revelation 4–5 is that no creature in heaven or earth is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals (Rev 5:2–3). In other words, no creature is worthy to understand God’s sovereign purpose for creation and no creature is worthy to bring that purpose to pass. For this reason, John weeps loudly (Rev 5:4). The good news announced in Revelation 5 is that the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, is “worthy” to bring the Father’s doxological decree to pass (Rev 5:9) because of what he has done: “Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals” (Rev 5:5). The Son of God, who sees and shares his Father’s purpose for creation, was born of the seed of David and slain as a sacrificial lamb to enable corporate worship. As a result of his triumphant work of redemption, all creatures in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, led by a ransomed kingdom of priests, offer praise to God and the Lamb (Rev 5:9–14): “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Rev 5:13).

The worship willed by the Father and enabled by the Son is empowered by the Spirit. The Spirit who proceeds from the Father (Rev 4:5) and the Son (Rev 5:6) brings to pass the Father’s purpose for creation by applying the finished work of the Son to a ransomed people. The Spirit ushers John into the heavenly throne room, enabling him to witness heavenly worship (Rev 4:2). And the Spirit is “sent out into all the earth” (Rev 5:6) to indwell and empower the kingdom of priests ransomed from every tribe and language and people and nation to praise the triune God (Rev 5:9–10). By the Spirit’s empowering presence, the Father’s purpose is fulfilled and the effects of the Son’s work are actualized: the triune God is worshipped on earth as he is in heaven.

2.) The Trinity is the object of corporate worship.

Because the triune God makes worship possible, the triune God—and the triune God alone (Rev 19:10; 22:8-9)—is the object of corporate worship. In Revelation 4–5, worship is offered to the first person of the Trinity: “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things and by your will they existed and were created” (Rev 4:11; 5:13). In Revelation 4–5, worship is also offered to the second person of the Trinity: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (Rev 5:12-13). Where, we may wonder, is the third person of the Trinity in this chorus of praise?

Perhaps because Revelation 4–5 emphasizes the Spirit’s role in empowering the worship of God and the Lamb, his status as the object of worship is not emphasized. But earlier chapters in Revelation leave no doubt that the third person of the Trinity is also the object of Christian worship. Not only is the Spirit named in John’s opening benediction (Rev 1:4; cf. Num 6:24–27). Seven times in Revelation 2–3 the church is summoned to heed the Spirit’s voice, rendering to him the first and fundamental act of corporate worship (cf. Deut 6:4): “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). With the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit is worshipped and glorified in the Revelation, as he is throughout Holy Scripture.

3.) The Trinity is the reason for corporate worship.

By offering a vision of worship in heaven, replete with preaching (Rev 5:5), trisagion (“Holy, holy, holy,” Rev 4:8), and various doxologies (Rev 4:11; 5:9–10, 12–13), Revelation 4–5 both suggests normative patterns for how the church on earth should worship the Trinity and demonstrate why the church should worship the Trinity. They teach us to give “glory and honor and thanks” to the blessed Trinity for his being, as the one “who was and is and is to come” (Rev 4:8–9). They teach us to praise the blessed Trinity for his attributes, as the thrice-holy one, who lives forever and ever, and who rules all things in heaven and earth by his sovereign wisdom, goodness, and power (Rev 4:8–9). And they teach us to praise the blessed Trinity for his works, as the one who created and preserves all things (Rev 4:11), who ransomed sinners and made them a kingdom of priests (Rev 5:9–10), and who promises that the redeemed will one day reign on the earth (Rev 5:10). All that he is, all that he has done, and all that he has promised to do in the future are reasons to worship the Trinity both now and forever (Rev 5:13).

Week after week, across the globe, the vision of Revelation 4–5 is fulfilled as congregations praise one God in three persons, our Maker, our Redeemer, our Reward. If the Trinity is not central in our own congregation’s worship, then it’s time to repent of our impiety and join the cosmic chorus: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow; praise him, all creatures here below; praise him above, ye heavenly hosts; praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!”

[1] For further discussion of the biblical pattern and logic of “appropriating” distinct aspects of the Trinity’s undivided works to distinct persons of the Trinity, see Scott R. Swain, The Trinity: An Introduction.

Scott Swain

Scott R. Swain is President and James Woodrow Hassell Professor of Systematic Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida.

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