I once decided I would be very cautious about preaching on Revelation. I even flirted with the idea of never preaching on anything from Revelation after chapter 3. Chapters 2 & 3 are encouragement to churches enduring suffering and struggles. The call to the seven churches seemed appropriate, but after that things get dicey with metaphor and symbolism and issues of genre and imagery. But I’ve come to realize a real value to Revelation pastorally. John is writing while in exile, he’s been captured, and persecuted, and sent off to an island, away from public view. The churches he helped plant and lead are being attacked. This guys needs encouragement. And what we see in Revelation is God’s way of encouraging a troubled church.
In Chapter 4 we see the entrance into the throne room of the Universe. John is given this grandiose vision of the Heavenly dwelling place of God. This is God’s Kingdom “headquarters”. The throne is mentioned 17 times in 4 & 5. These chapters are about the rule of God over all things. “The one who sits on the throne” = God. God is on the throne, so it will be ok. Somehow, some way it will be ok for God’s people.
There is a story about a mother who noticed that her six-year-old son was deeply engrossed in trying to draw and color an elaborate picture. “What are you drawing, dear?” she asked. “I’m drawing a picture of God,” he answered. “That’s very nice, dear,” she said, “but you know, no one really knows what God looks like.” “They will now,” was the triumphant reply.
We think of Revelation as about the end times. It’s not really. The real, main point is Jesus. It’s a revelation of Jesus. Jesus revealing himself and the Father to John and to the church.
The people of God had a very real, and valid concern. They were experiencing the very real threat of destruction. Jesus provides this revelation in a pastoral sense. John is a pastor. We should understand Revelation as a pastoral book. John is passing along encouragement and instruction. Of course, the encouragement comes in the form of and has to do with this end times stuff; God will take care of everything, it may look bleak now, but God is good and will deliver us- we are told these things that we might find comfort and direction now.
So we have this grand vision of the throne room of the universe in chapter 4. There is God, he is holy, he is worshipped, and he is on the throne.
In verse 1 of chapter 5, John tells us that the one on the throne is holding a scroll with writing on both sides, sealed with seven seals. But no one in heaven is worthy to open this scroll (why God doesn’t open it himself, I can’t explain).
So John weeps. He wants to know what’s inside. Most scholars conclude that this scroll has to do with God’s will and plan for history. This is the unfolding of how God works. No one can reveal God’s plan to the world. John and the people of God are clinging to hope that God will act to save them and deliver them. When and how God? God’s people want to know. We need to know. We need to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
So that brings us to today’s passage. We’re gonna start going through beginning at verse 5.
“Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.'”
The Lion of Judah. The root of David.
The Lion of Judah refers back to Gen. 49- Jacob’s blessing. Judah was to be a young lion, and the sceptre would not depart from Judah. In other words, the rulers of God’s people and God’s Messiah would be descendants of Judah. In this descendant of Judah (Messiah) rests power, authority, “regalness” (my spell check tells me this is not actually a word).
The root of David refers to Isa. 11, where the Messiah would be a descendant of Jesse & David, though the line was cut of by Nebuchadnezzar, a branch would grow up out of the stump. There was one coming, a descendant of David who would once again lead God’s people.
So, this elder tells John, hey, Messiah has come. Messiah has triumphed. Messiah has defeated the enemies of God and his people. He has triumphed, and he will reveal what’s in this scroll. Any good Jew, upon hearing these words would leap for joy. Finally, the line of David will be back in control. Israel will be liberated.
But, “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain”. Wait, you just said the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David… who is this lamb? You told me Messiah had won… now all you’ve got is a Lamb? How on earth can a lamb help us… especially one who’s been slain. Is this some cruel joke?
But this Lamb is “standing at the centre of the throne” This is incredible on two fronts.
1. How can a lamb look like it’s been slain while standing.
2. He is in the centre of the throne. This slain lamb shares the throne with the Lord Almighty.
He isn’t slain. He’s not dead. He is alive, and he reigns with God. Jesus has already revealed, “I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” (Rev. 1:18)
The Lamb has won. Not just defeating those nasty Romans, but he beat evil, sin and even death. You want a lion, but a lion can’t do what this Lamb can do. 2 Tim. 1:10 tell us he has “destroyed death and brought life”. Just when it looked like evil had won and Jesus had been crucified, God was actually winning a victory. By entering into death, God is able to destroy it.
That’s why he is in the centre. He is the centre of attention. The victory has been won- and everyone gathers round him. He is now in the middle, with the Father.
Ok, still we look around and say wait, where’s this victory? Well, it isn’t finalized yet. But, “the future and final victory of Messiah is but an extension of the rule he now enjoys by virtue of the victory already won” (Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John, 85). Battle’s over. He’s already won. The rest is just details. Suddenly, Christians can find real comfort in this. You have very real sufferings, but they are temporary and God will vindicate you. It will be ok, and here’s the proof. God has raised him up, and given him the name above every name. Jesus, the Lamb of God, has triumphed. He is bigger, and stronger, and more glorious than any Lion of Judah. That title isn’t big enough. He’s not just king of Israel, but King of everything.
He has 7 horns and 7 eyes… ok, what’s that all about? 7 is generally symbolic of completeness, wholeness. Horns are symbolic of power, authority (e.g. 1 Sam. 2:1) and eyes suggest knowledge/insight. He sees everything, and has complete authority. His reign is perfect.
Because he is perfect, he reaches out takes the scroll from the one on the throne. The Lamb is entrusted with the whole direction of the universe. Jesus is given what belongs to the Father. Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, holds the authority of God.
When he takes it, everything stops… heaven stands still, and everyone drops. They fall down and they worship the Lamb. Each one has a harp and a bowl of incense. Worship and prayers are taken to the Lamb. Worship shifts. This victory of the Lamb is so monumental, that the one on the throne is suddenly going to share worship. The idea of it is scandalous.
And they sing a new song.
The very nature of heaven is altered by this event. Jesus’ victory changes the universe. Heaven and Earth are reoriented. He is worthy, they sing not because he is David’s descendant. He is worthy because he was slain. He was slain, but he isn’t now. He was dead but now he lives. He has marched out of death victorious, but by dying, he purchased men for God… purchased.
You have been purchased.
With a price.
You belong to him and his Kingdom.
But wait I thought Jesus set us free? We North Americans have a serious dislike for being told what to do- to think anyone but “I” is in control. I make my own decisions. I am independent. I am autonomous. You can’t tell me what to do. How can God “own” me?
You’re not as independent as you may think.
He has purchased a people. A collective group. Salvation in the New Testament is depicted more like the creation and deliverance of a people. Salvation is communal.
Being God’s is not bondage. It’s not restrictive or evil. It’s beautiful. It’s liberating. By being his you are free.
Wait isn’t there an inherent contradiction there?
Dead to self; that’s what we’re called to do and be. Be dead to self and alive in him. He gives you life in abundance. He doesn’t buy you to own and enslave you. He buys you so you may live in and through him. To give you what you couldn’t have on your own.
We are a kingdom and priests to serve God. We get to have direct access to the throne room. We get to reign with Christ.
Thousands upon thousands and ten thousand times ten thousand come to worship. That’s over 100,000,000. It’s a lot. They all gather around. Everybody shows up for this celebration. Imagine a church service of over 100,000,000.
Worthy is the lamb to receive power, wealth, wisdom, strength, glory, honour and praise; 7 things he receives. He deserves perfect worship.
Then suddenly, as if 100,000,000 isn’t big enough, all of creation joins the song of praise of the Lamb and the one who sits on the throne. The two are held in worship together.
So why does this Lamb image matter?
Jesus’ death is unique. It is able to accomplish what no military, political victory can do. Jesus’ death is a response to the bigger and deeper issue. Israel wanted this Davidic king to rescue them from Caesar. The early Christians wanted God to save them from persecution. But God says, no there’s a much deeper issue here. The liberation from political strife won’t fix the problem.
John the Baptist proclaimed Jesus to be “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”. So what does John the Baptist mean when he calls Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”? What does it mean that Jesus takes (not will take, literally it reads he is “one who takes away”) away the sin of the world?
Perhaps the key is the fact that in John 1:29 “sin” is singular. Collective, single unit sin. Jesus death is not about taking away sins (in Mark 2:5, he refers to forgiven sins- plural, which are forgiven pre-Calvary) but sin as a single entity (we could say sinfulness) from mankind, not by dying in the place of the one who has committed sins, but by carrying sin and putting it to death. He is curing the root/source.
May seem to some like a distinction without a difference, but I see something big here. Jesus, the Lamb lifts our very nature, or at the very least the evil aspect of our beings. He doesn’t just take the blame and punishment for wrong actions, he redeems us, he purchases us. He doesn’t just “pay our tab”. He crucifies that which leads to death.
1 Peter 1:18-19 says “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” He doesn’t just take our place. He is not just an atoning sacrifice. He is High Priest and atoning sacrifice, redeemer, saviour, deliverer. We have such a narrow view of the cross sometimes that we miss how big this is. It is so much bigger than dying in our place, so we don’t have to receive the wrath of God poured out, sending us all to hell. It is a wholesale overhaul of who we are; a death to the old order of things, to be replaced by the Kingdom of God living in and through us. He lifts up and takes our sin onto himself, puts it to death, and then is raised from death to life.
Sin and evil and death are put to death.
He doesn’t just want to forgive the awful nasty things you’ve done. That’s just the start of it- he looks to remove the source of wrong actions from our world. He takes away the part of us which leads to death. His death is about putting to death an old order of things, in which we are enslaved to the sinfulness which lies in us all. He removes that identifying mark on us- that inescapable poison which lives in us, and gives us a new identity- a kingdom of priests, and the righteousness of Christ. “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Cor. 15:22).
You are not just a sinner saved by grace… no, you were a sinner, who is saved, and is now the righteousness of Christ- the Lamb of God.