Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.
This passage is the punch line of Trinity Sunday. It’s why this Gospel has gone with Trinity Sunday. The “We” is capitalized for a reason, because it’s a reference to the Holy Trinity.
Jesus sets up the situation in this passage. No one has ascended to heaven, but He who came down from heaven. Only Jesus (and of course He with Whom He is one, the Holy Spirit) has a witness of the heavenly mysteries.
This states verbally what the book of Revelation describes in picture language: “And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals. …And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll, or to look at it. …And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth. Then He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. …And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth.’”
“We shall reign on earth.” There’s our “see the kingdom of God” once being born from above through earthly water. In any event we see here the biblical context of the liturgical canticle, “This is the Feast.” It’s a celebration that Jesus has revealed the divine mysteries, causing us to be born from above and receive a vision, by the Holy Spirit, of the Kingdom of God, so that we reign even on earth. As St. Paul writes at the end of Romans, “And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly.”
Interesting, but reference to a “new song” suggests there’s an “old song.” What is the old song? The “old song” also centered on a new people created through water, the Song of Moses, inspired after Israel crossed the Red Sea. But, as John writes, “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Something “new” came through Jesus; a “new” song is penned, and revealed, as well.
God’s purpose in liberating Israel from Egypt – instigating the “old song” – was that they might “serve” Him in the wilderness. As He said, “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’”
You shall be a kingdom. And a kingdom they were made once passing through the waters, ruled by God Himself. It was truly the “Kingdom of God.” As the “old song” of Moses sang, “Your right hand, O LORD, has become glorious in power; Your right hand, O LORD, has dashed the enemy in pieces. … You will bring [the people whom you have purchased] in and plant them In the mountain of Your inheritance, In the place, O LORD, which You have made For Your own dwelling, The sanctuary, O LORD, which Your hands have established. The LORD shall reign forever and ever.”
Yes, reign forever and ever. That, again, is the Kingdom of God, which, upon a new situation (Jesus the bringer of grace and truth in fulfillment of Moses’ Law) comes with a new song and is seen upon being born of water and the spirit. Passing through another Red Sea!
So what’s new about the “new song” that wasn’t there in the “old song” of Moses? What’s new is exactly what Jesus said, “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.”
That is, in Moses’ old song, we get hints of Trinitarian characters. We hear of a “right hand” which has become glorious and has dashed the enemy. We get hints of a “purchasing,” a redemption, going on. Of course just previous to this event we had a hint of this lamb’s blood which protected Israel from God’s wrath.
In the new song, given with the new vision, filled by the Holy Spirit, who bears witness of the heavenly restoration of Christ at God’s right hand – the scroll sitting at God’s right hand – we are given a full revelation of the mystery of the Holy Trinity at work for our salvation. That’s what’s new about the new song – the Holy Trinity had been fully revealed, and bestowed in the waters of Holy Baptism. This is “the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints.”
And just as the book of Revelation is a vision of how, even in the midst of a world of suffering and persecution, Christ reigns forever and ever, and He is engineering everything for the glorious triumph of His people, so do we receive this vision by faith. We see the kingdom of God!
A study of the “new song” in Scripture tells us other things are going on with the new song, that makes it new relative to the “old song” of Moses.
Psalm 96 tells us all the earth will sing it, not just Israel. Psalm 98, referencing the new song, tells us “All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.” Isaiah 42, same theme: “Sing to the LORD a new song, And His praise from the ends of the earth.”
Evidently the “new song” sounds “like the voice of many waters, and like the voice of loud thunder. And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps.” Hmmm, many waters and loud thunder; water and sound; water and Spirit. Along with harps, referencing Psalm 144, “I will sing a new song to You, O God; On a harp of ten strings I will sing praises to You.”
The New Song is a Trinitarian anthem confessing how Christ manifests the great things going on at God’s right hand, what He has done to save us from our sins, and how we reign before the throne, even on earth. In the New Song, Jew and Gentile alike “Sing to the LORD, bless His name; Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.”
It is the sound of many waters and thunderous sound, water and Spirit. It’s the song of victory having passed through these waters, these waters which have buried our enemies and given us new life.
It is a witness on earth of what is in heaven, a witness expressed through the word, as Jesus says, “We speak what We know and testify what We have seen.”
I would challenge anyone to study what the Scriptures teach about the New Song, and explain to me if there is a better fulfillment of the New Song in the world today than what is given in the Divine Liturgy. The liturgy is a testimony of heaven on earth, of God’s people from all nations glorifying His name (Gloria Patri) and confessing the great things going on at His right hand (Gloria in Excelsis), proclaiming the good news of salvation (sermon; creed), all centered on Christ’s redemption in His blood (absolution; communion), and all founded on the many waters from which the Voice of the Lord has called forth His new creation (invocation of baptismal name).