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Why Is God Called "Holy, Holy, Holy" (Revelation 4:8)?

Why Is God Called "Holy, Holy, Holy" (Revelation 4:8)?

In Revelation 4:8, readers stumble across a verse that says, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty.” Popularized in worship songs, this short passage in the last book of the New Testament seems to have captivated many Christians today.

What does Revelation 4:8 mean? Where does the verse fit in the context of Revelation and the biblical narrative? Where else does "holy, holy, holy" appear in Scripture and how can we apply it to our lives today?

"Holy, Holy, Holy...Lord Almighty" Word Meaning

The verse, in its entirety, goes on to proclaim about God’s work in the past, present, and future (who was, and is, and is to come). Holiness in Scripture means “to be set apart” or blameless. The verse points to God’s perfection.

In addition, the fact the verse mentions the word holy three times has a significance. Often, in Scripture, repetition means to draw reader’s attention to a certain quality or phrase in a passage, a hallmark of ancient writing.

Thrice mentioned, holiness not only draws the eye to God’s perfection, but the three times could point to a trinity of holiness or to the holiness of the Trinity.

"Almighty," in this verse, in the Greek means God “holds sway over all things.” In other words, He’s all powerful. The rest of this verse points to His omnipresence, ability to transcend time and have control over the past, present, and future.

Worship and Praise in the context of Revelation

John experiences a series of visions on the island of Patmos. After the seven churches mentioned in Revelation receive messages, he witnesses a scene in heaven in front of the throne of God.

Four living creatures (Revelation 4:6-9), otherwise known as cherubim or six-winged angels, repeat this without ceasing.

Surrounded by twenty-four elders who time and time again fall down to worship Christ, it seems as though all of heaven engages in unceasing praise. As for the twenty-four elders, scholars have not come to a conclusion on their identity. Some have said twelve are the sons of Jacob and twelve faithful disciples, but no matter the personhood (or beinghood) of the twenty-four elders, we can conclude that all creatures in heaven revert praise back to God.

Revelation seems contingent on the theme of praise. All of heaven awaits God’s work in bringing heaven down to earth and worships Him as they wait in anticipation.

"Holy, holy, holy" Repeated in the Bible

Isaiah 6:3 almost seems like a replica of this passage as the angels repeat this mantra about God: “holy, holy, holy.” Isaiah appears to have a similar vision to that of the Apostle John. Like John, he sees the creatures who appear to be the same cherubim.

Nowhere else in Scripture does this triple holiness appear, but holiness is mentioned several times. For instance, through our relationship with Jesus, we become holy because of His holiness imputed on us.

Scripture speaks countless times about the holiness of God. Some examples include Peter telling Christians to imitate the holiness of God (1 Peter 1:15). Another instance is when God refers to His people as holy people (Ephesians 5:3). We’re also called to use our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God (Romans 12:1).

All in all, everything connected with Christ is connected with holiness.

What does this mean for us? Applying Revelation 4:8

This means a few things for us as Christians.

First, we can have assurance our God has power over everything. The Almighty controls time, the plan for our lives, and everything else in the universe. When everything seems in limbo or chaos, Christians can rest in the fact God has, literally, the whole world in His hands.

Second, we can rest in the fact that we have a holy God. Unlike the so-called deities of ancient cultures, He does not change based upon emotions or whims of circumstance. Perfect and without fault, He will not shift in character. Always honest, always sinless, always holy, no one else can take care of all creation quite like God.

Third, a relationship with Christ can lead to imputed holiness. We cannot enter heaven because our sin separates us from God. But through Christ’s holiness, God will see Christ in us as we enter, see that holiness, and will allow us to spend an eternity with him.

Fourth, we have an expectation of holiness. Because a holy God lives within us, we need to make strides toward living a holy life. We cannot continue to sin so grace may abound. Understanding the cost of our salvation, we strive to live blameless lives, so others may see the good deeds and glorify the Lord in heaven.

Fifth, we need to understand God will set everything right at the end and continue to worship Him. The four creatures do so in heaven before he makes his second coming and makes every sad thing untrue. They continue to worship Him day and night, knowing He will fulfill His promises as He has done in the past, the present, and in the age to come.

Like those angels and twenty-four elders, we can continue to praise God, even when bad turns to worse, and we wonder when the events of Revelation will ever take place. We have a hope, a holy, holy, holy hope, named Jesus.

Photo credit: Unsplash/Ben White