JESUS THE FOCUS OF PRAISE –  Revelation 5: A Vision of the Lamb
© Rosemary Bardsley 2015
We are still in the same vision as in Revelation 4. There the only things we were directly told about God himself was that ‘someone’ was sitting on the throne who ‘had the appearance of jasper and carnelian’ [4:3]. Beyond that we are not told anything about his appearance.
Now John sees ‘his right hand’ on [the Greek is ‘on’, not ‘in’] which there lies a scroll, written on both sides, and sealed with seven seals. A mighty angel [a new character in the vision] called out in a loud voice ‘Who is worthy to break the seals and open the book?’ The challenge is not about physical ability but about qualification, about being fit or suited for the task: whoever is worthy must also be worthy of approaching the throne of God, going right up to him and taking the scroll from his hand. Going right into the midst of the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures with their overpowering voices repeatedly affirming God’s holiness and power; going right into the radiant brilliance emanating from the throne; passing by the Holy Spirit and the conviction of guilt he generates; crossing over that uncrossable sea of God’s holiness. And it is even more than that.
Not one of the millions of angels that will soon be mentioned is worthy. Not even this mighty angel who proclaims the challenge is worthy.
Not even the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders are worthy – these mysterious creatures and unnamed persons who spend all their time in the presence of God, proclaiming his holiness and his power and his worth. They do not qualify. They lack something. It is not perfection they lack … for they could not be in God’s presence if they were not perfect.
And beyond heaven, nor is anyone on earth or under the earth worthy.
There seems to be no one worthy to open the scroll or look inside it.
So John wept loudly. The angel had told him ‘I will show you what must take place after this’ [4:1]. That was the whole intention of this vision, and now it seems stalled. Within this scroll the divine purpose is sealed, locked away. Unless it can be opened that purpose will not be consummated. It is not just ‘who is worthy to open the scroll?’ like some magic book in a fairy story that the right touch can open. Within this question is a far deeper question:
‘Who is worthy, indeed, who is qualified, who is able, to bring the purpose of God for the whole universe, and for us, to pass?
Who is worthy to undo all that holds the whole universe in bondage?
Who is worthy to turn aside the wrath and the judgment of God that has sealed the whole universe under a curse?
Who is worthy to undo sin and its impacts and restore the whole universe to its perfection?
Who is worthy to unlock and demolish the barrier that has stood between God and man since Genesis 3, and re-establish that right relationship with God for which humans were created?’
John wept. He has just seen the awesome unapproachableness of God, surrounded by numerous manifestations of his prohibitive holiness and judgment. Thunder, lightning, fire, water. And those living creatures constantly saying ‘holy, holy, holy’. Unless someone is worthy, all is lost.
Then one of the elders speaks. Not the mighty angel who issued the challenge. Not one of the four living creatures. But one of the elders. Whether the elders are the twelve patriarchs and apostles, or whether they are angels representing the redeemed in the presence of God, they, out of all the beings surrounding the throne understand the anguish of John’s sobs. They alone, of all God’s creatures, understand the tragedy of human existence. Human lostness. Human despair. The elder speaks with calm reassurance with words that have the power to disperse the deep pathos and agony of the human plight before the Almighty. He knows. He knows what the Lion of Judah has done. He knows who the Lamb is and what the Lamb has done. He knows that from among all the beings in the universe there is this One who is worthy and who is, therefore, permitted to approach the throne and take and open the scroll.
A. THE LION … OF JUDAH, THE ROOT OF DAVID, HAS TRIUMPHED
David, the greatest of Israel’s kings, was descended through Jesse, from Judah, one of the twelve sons of Jacob. To David God promised that one of his descendants would reign on his throne for ever. But that is not the only thing the Bible has to say about this Son of David.
A.1 Genesis 49
The biblical germ of the concept of Jesus as the ‘Lion of Judah’ is found in Genesis 49:8-11 where Jacob described his son, Judah, as ‘a lion’s cub’. He also said of Judah:
‘The sceptre will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he comes to whom it belongs
and the obedience of the nations is his.
… he will wash his garments in wine,
his robes in the blood of grapes.’
This Genesis text draws our attention to a number of truths about Jesus:
His human descent from Judah.
The fact that he is a ruler.
The fact that rule belongs to him. It is his by right.
The worldwide obedience that is due to him.
His blood-stained clothing.
There are several other facts we can identify in Jacob’s words to Judah that are particularly applicable to Jesus Christ:
His hand will be on the neck of his enemies [verse 8], that is, he is victorious; his enemies are totally beaten.
His father’s sons bow down to him [verse 8]. Everything in heaven and on earth bows down to Jesus Christ.
He returns from the prey [verse 9], that is, the ‘prey’ does not devour him, rather he is victorious over the prey.
He is held in awe [verse 9], no one would dare to interfere with him.
As God indicates in Jeremiah 49:19-21 and 50:44-46, just as no prey can withstand the attack of a lion, so the one chosen by God will be victorious over the enemies of God. Such will be their defeat, such will be his victory, that the whole earth will tremble.
Is it any wonder that one of the twenty-four elders said to John ‘Do not weep …!’ The Lion of Judah is victorious. He could not be otherwise.
A.2 Isaiah 11
Isaiah 11 tracks the human ancestry of Jesus Christ through Jesse, a descendant of Judah and the father of David. Here Jesus, the Lion of Judah, is ‘a shoot’ from ‘the stump of Jesse’, ‘a Branch’ coming up from his roots, and ‘the Root of Jesse’.
About him Isaiah teaches us:
 The Spirit of the LORD rests upon him – a Spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, power, knowledge and the fear of the LORD [verse 2].
 He delights in the fear of the LORD [verse 3].
 He judges with righteousness and establishes justice on the earth [verses 3, 4].
 He strikes the earth with the rod of his mouth, and slays the wicked with the breath of his lips [verse 4].
 He is characterized by righteousness and faithfulness [verse 5].
 He ushers in universal peace [verses 6-9], a peace that is grounded in worldwide knowledge of God.
 All peoples rally to him and his rest [verse10,12].
Is it any wonder that one of the twenty-four elders said to John ‘Do not weep …!’ The Lion of Judah, is victorious. Not only is he victorious, but he also establishes the purpose of God.
In Jeremiah 23 and 33 the Lord introduces yet another aspect of the victorious work of the descendant of Judah, Jesse and David. Here he refers to him as ‘a righteous Branch’ [23:5; 33:15]. Here the context of the battle is human corruption and human corruption of God’s truth. But even here the Lion of Judah is victorious:
He reigns wisely and justly [23:5; 33:15].
His people live in safety [23:6; 33:16].
He himself is their righteousness – he is called ‘the LORD our Righteousness’ [23:6; 33:16].
By these few words Jeremiah refers to that amazing work of the Servant of God described in Isaiah 53. Here he associates with the descendant of Judah, this ‘Branch’ of David, that provision of spiritual victory, of spiritual rescue, that is normally associated with a sacrificial lamb, not with the Lion. But there it is. He, the Son of David, is our righteousness – our acquittal.
Is it any wonder that one of the twenty-four elders said to John ‘Do not weep …!’ The Lion of Judah is victorious … even over our sin and guilt. For the Lion of Judah is the Lamb, with the marks of slaughter upon him.
A.4 The Root of David
This phrase ‘the Root of David’ only occurs in Revelation 5:5. A similar phrase occurs in Revelation 22:16 ‘I am the Root and the Offspring of David’. It is possible that it is simply an unusual way of saying that Jesus is a descendant of David, but the word ‘root’ certainly does not mean that; rather it infers the source of something. If this is the intention of this phrase, then it refers to the deity of Jesus Christ: that he is both the Creator and the descendant of David. Such a meaning parallels the meaning of the riddle posed by Jesus to the Pharisees in Matthew 22:41-45. Thus the dual title – ‘the Lion of Judah, the Root of David’ – is a reference to the two natures of Jesus Christ – his humanity and his deity. It is only this unique individual who is both fully man and fully God who is worthy.
A. 5 See … he has triumphed
In the Greek text the sentence reads ‘See, he has conquered, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, to open the book and its seven seals’. The positioning of ‘he has conquered’ first draws attention to the key thing: the fact that he has ‘conquered’. And the purpose and result of that conquering is to open the book and its seals. The verb, ‘has conquered’, is in the Aorist Tense, indicating a decisive, once-for-all conquering. The words ‘he is able’ are not in the Greek text; the fact that he has conquered with this end in view, speaks for itself. He has done what he set out to do.
It could not be otherwise. And it cannot be otherwise. Our God is in heaven, he does whatever pleases him [Psalm 115:3]. Neither human rebellion, nor Satan’s rebellion, can stand against him in the end. They are inherently doomed to failure.
Read Psalm 2
How does this Psalm describe human rebellion against God?
How does it communicate the inevitable failure of this opposition to God?
Why is such opposition so useless?
Read Isaiah 40:15-17, 21-24
How is the weakness of nations and princes contrasted to the power of God?
The elder says to John ‘the Lion of the tribe of Judah … has triumphed.’ This triumph, this victory, this conquest, was embedded in the eternal purpose of God and the very nature of God himself. The Lion has overcame [the same verb used in chapters 2 and 3 when Jesus said ‘he who overcomes’.] The victory is already won. The enemy is already defeated. That was always the plan. The Lion has conquered. He could not do otherwise.
A.5.1 The context of the victory
Any conquest, any triumph, any victory infers that there has been a battle and that there was an enemy. We are not told here who or what the enemy was, or what the battle was. In Revelation 3:21, where Jesus encouraged the Laodiceans to overcome, he added ‘just as I overcame’. This infers that there are at least some common factors between the overcoming that is required of believers and the overcoming accomplished by Jesus Christ. When we look at battle in which the seven churches of Revelation 1 to 3 were involved we can identify a number of struggles, where pressure is exerted upon believers to give in and give up:
The pressure of persecution that leads to financial hardship for believers.
The pressure of persecution that threatens believers with death.
The pressure to believe false teaching and distort God’s truth.
The pressure to conform to the norm by relaxing moral standards.
Read Hebrews 2:9-18 and 4:14-16.
These verses from Hebrews teach us that Jesus experienced the same temptations that we do. Yet he did not sin. He won every battle. The pressure, the temptation, lost. He conquered. In every one of the seven letters to the seven churches, which are also letters to us, he is commanding us to follow him, to imitate him, in his victory, in his triumph, over these perennial pressures that engage believers in battle. He is not asking us to do something he knows nothing about: he has already ‘been there’. He has experienced poverty and rejection; he has experienced persecution that led to death; he has experienced constant confrontation with corruptions of the truth and the deceptive lies of the enemy; he has experienced pressure to relax his commitment to the revealed will of God. And he has conquered.
But there is also a deeper level to his battle, and a more significant aspect to his victory. He does not ask us to follow him here, for it was a battle that only he was qualified to fight, and in which only he was able to conquer. This is the battle that he fought for us: the battle against sin, death and Satan.
We have already seen that Jesus conquered sin [1:5]. By this victory he rescues us from its guilt and its penalty.
We have already seen that Jesus conquered death; he rose from the dead and he holds the keys of death and Hades [1:5,18; 2:8]. By this victory he rescues us from death.
We will see in later chapters, that Jesus has already conquered Satan, as affirmed in other parts of the New Testament [John 12:31; Colossians 2:15; Hebrews 2:14; 1John 3:8]. By this victory he rescues us from Satan’s dominion, freeing us forever from his authority [Colossians 1:12].
The Lion of Judah has triumphed, has conquered. He has broken the chains that bound us, that held us captive – the chains of sin, the chains of death, the chains of Satan. He has set us free to live with God.
The Christ whom we saw walking in the midst of the church is also, at the same time, the Lion of Judah who has conquered. From the perspective of earth, the battle still rages against the Church; from the perspective of heaven, the battle has already been won.
B. A LAMB … STANDING IN THE CENTRE OF THE THRONE
John stops his sobbing and looks, and sees something that wasn’t there before. Not the lion he expected, but a lamb. Not something with obvious pride and power, but something obviously weak and helpless.
The Greek text mentions the position of the Conqueror before it identifies the Conqueror – Then I saw, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures and in the midst of the elders a lamb standing …. Where the Lamb is, is the significant thing. Someone, the Lion of Judah spoken of by the elder, has got past the twenty-four elders that encircle the throne. Someone, this Lion of Judah, has got past even the four living creatures, those prohibitive cherubim that exclude from God’s presence and from life all who are imperfect, all who are sinners. The barriers, the exclusion zone, have been penetrated. Someone is there in the very presence of the Almighty, holy God. Someone who is worthy to reach out and take the scroll from the hand of the holy God.
B.1 A Lamb, looking as if it had been slain
John sees not the Lion, but a Lamb. A lamb at any time appears soft, fragile, vulnerable. But this lamb is even more so. Its simplicity and its purity have been violated. There is something of an ultimate tragedy here in this brief description. Something of an intense incongruity. An unspoken wrongness. The marks of a violent death are upon it.
And here we track back through the pages of the Old Testament where we are repeatedly confronted by such lambs [or their equivalent] and such death.
Why were the lambs [or their equivalent] slaughtered in these scriptures?
In each of these a substitutionary death took place. In each of these the death of the lamb, or its equivalent, secured the life of the human(s) for which it was the substitute. In each, apart from the first, the blood of the substitute plays a significant role. In the two Leviticus references the purpose of the substitutionary death is the forgiveness of sin.
But the Letter to the Hebrews teaches us that the blood of animals cannot remove sin and guilt, that it provides only a ritual [and therefore symbolic] cleansing [Hebrews 9:13,14; 10:3,4]. It teaches us that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the perfect man, entered the presence of God with his own blood, by which both our sin and our guilt are removed, no longer held against us because they were held against him [Hebrews 9:11-15; 10:1-18]. Jesus Christ is the real Lamb, anticipated and predicted by all the sacrificial lambs in the history of Israel. From him, not from themselves, they took their meaning and their power.
What do these texts teach about the significance of the death and the blood of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God?
Ephesians 1:7; 2:13
In these Scriptures the full force of the incongruity and the wrongness is intensified. This is not just a lamb dying here – one among many lambs, which can be easily replaced by another: the one who dies here is the one and only Son of God, beloved by the Father. Unique. Irreplaceable. This is not just a lamb that is going to die sometime in any case: the one who dies here is the eternal Son of God, the source of all that exists, the life-giver of all that lives.
Here the Creator is killed by his creature, man.
Here the Saviour is killed by the ones he dies to save.
Here the Lord of Glory is subjected to the ultimate dishonour.
How do these texts depict the incongruity and wrongness of the death of this Lamb?
But this horrific tragedy, this death of the Lamb, is the very thing, the one thing, that is able to bring reconciliation between man and God. From the human perspective it is the ultimate sin, the ultimate wrong. But from God’s perspective it is the ultimate expression of his love and his grace, planned before the beginning of time, determined before the creation of the world, for our redemption:
This death – this substitutionary, sin-bearing death – was the purpose, the reason, for which Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, came into the world:
The Lamb has been slain. The saving death has happened. The marks of it are still upon him. There he stands in the presence of God the Father. Worthy. Worthy to break down all the barriers. Worthy to open all the doors. Worthy to be our substitute and representative in the presence of God. Worthy to take and open the scroll.
B.2 A Lamb standing …
Although he has the evidence of slaughter upon him, the Lamb is standing. The Greek text uses a Perfect Participle, inferring that the Lamb has stood, past tense, and is still standing – with the meaning that this is his fixed and present position and action. He has obviously died – the evidence of that is clear – but he is now, and forever, alive. Resurrection followed crucifixion. Life triumphed over death, just as he had said it would.
As we have already learned in Revelation:
He is ‘the firstborn from the dead’ [1:5].
He is ‘the Living One’ who was dead and is now alive for ever and ever [1:18].
He ‘died and came to life again’ [2:8].
And as other Scriptures teach us:
‘… it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him’ [Acts 2:24].
‘… death no longer has mastery over him’ [Romans 6:9].
‘Christ Jesus … has destroyed death’ [2Timothy 1:10].
‘He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit’ [1Peter 3:18].
Not only is the slain Lamb now standing, he is standing in the very presence of God. His presence there guarantees God’s acceptance of all who are united to the Lamb by faith. The Lamb is our substitute. The Lamb is our representative. The Lamb, by his death, by his own blood, has purchased, and guarantees, our forgiveness. Because he is there, accepted and worthy in the presence of God, all who believe are also there, in the presence of God without guilt and without fear.
We have peace with God [Romans 5:1]
There is no condemnation [Romans 8:1]
We have access to God [Ephesians 2:18]
We stand before God holy in his sight, without blemish, and free from accusation [Colossians 1:22]
We have complete confidence in God’s presence [Ephesians 3:12; Hebrews 4:16; 10:22].
Here, in the presence of God, before the throne, stands the Lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world, who has taken away our sin.
B.3 He had seven horns and seven eyes
‘Seven’ points to perfection. ‘Horns’ indicate power and authority. Thus ‘seven horns’ is a reference to the perfect power and authority of Jesus Christ. What he achieved by his death was done perfectly, authoritatively, and powerfully. It lacks nothing, and no one has the authority to undo or reverse it. And what he will yet do will also be accomplished by the perfection of his power and authority – even this opening of the scroll and its seals, even the final victory and the judgment embedded in the scroll and revealed as its seals are opened.
The ‘seven eyes’ are interpreted for us: they ‘are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth’ [5:6]. We have already noted in earlier studies that the ‘seven spirits’ are a numeric symbol for the perfection of the Holy Spirit. We have also already noted the unity and synergy of the Trinity. Here we see this again in the omniscience [all-seeing, all-knowing] and omnipresence [being everywhere] of the Lamb and the Spirit.
[As we have already seen, the Jesus walking among the churches on earth is also at the same time the Lamb standing in the centre of the throne of God in heaven. Because he is with us on earth does not mean that he is not also ‘in heaven’. Because he is in the presence of God in heaven does not mean that he is not also with us on earth.]
B.4 when the Lamb took the scroll …
The Gospels record the ascension of Jesus Christ and his return to his rightful glory. The New Testament teaches us that Jesus has been given ‘all authority’, and that he has sat down at the right hand of God the Father.
Hebrews 10:12; 12:2
All of this is something that has already happened. Jesus Christ, the One who has conquered, is at the right hand of God the Father in the position of power, authority and glory. What these New Testament scriptures teach in plain language Revelation 5 teaches by the symbols of the slain Lamb taking the scroll from the right hand of the one who sits on the throne. Jesus Christ, having died, risen and ascended, is here given ‘all authority’. By his incarnation, death and resurrection he has accomplished the eternal purpose of God that was planned before time began. That this is the case is obvious from the immediate response of the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders.
(a) They fell down before the Lamb [verse 8]
Such homage is due only to God. This is a clear affirmation of the deity of Jesus Christ.
(b) The sang a new song [verses 9,10]
This song had never been sung before, neither on earth nor in heaven. It was not possible for it to be sung before because its content, prior to the triumph of the Lamb, existed only in the eternal purpose of God. But now that purpose has been accomplished. What God planned before the creation of the world, has now become a reality in time and space. The price for human redemption has been paid. Now that the Lamb has triumphed in his work of human redemption the new song is being sung [the Greek is present tense].
The Lamb is worthy because he was slain. Here is the power and the glory of his death. His death was not accidental. His death was not something out of his control. Rather his death was a death by choice, a death he deliberately and purposefully accomplished in obedience to the Father [Matthew 26:52-54; Luke 9:51; John 10:18; 18:11; Hebrews 10:9,10].
The Lamb is worthy because with his blood he has purchased people out of every tribe and language and people group and nation for God. Here is the key trans-national impact of his death: the Lamb purchased people for God. The blood of the Lamb is the ransom – the purchase price necessary to set us free from our bondage to sin, death and Satan and restore us to God, our rightful owner [1Peter 1:18,19].
The Lamb is worthy because he has made these people, those who believe in him, ‘a kingdom’ and ‘priests to serve … God’ [see also 1Peter 2:9]. This was the eternal purpose of God, this trans-national kingdom in which both Jew and Gentile are heirs together under the headship of Jesus Christ [Ephesians 3:6] and this trans-national priesthood in which Jew and Gentile share a common identity and a common access to the common Father whom they serve [Ephesians 2:11-22].
The Lamb is worthy because he has enabled the restoration of human dominion over the earth. [Notes:  Some ancient manuscripts have the present tense for ‘reign’ in verse 10, some have the future tense.  Where and when believers ‘reign on the earth’ is a point of debate among Bible teachers.] For biblical reference to this role see Genesis 1:26,28. Note that this role was impacted by sin [Genesis 3:14-24], and that the whole of creation is currently in anguish, waiting for its final liberation at the coming of Christ, when humans again occupy their intended role [Romans 8:18-25].
The concept of singing a ‘new song’ is not itself new. The Psalms exhort us to do so. Isaiah commands it in response to the trans-national work of the Servant of the Lord.
Identify the reason given in these Scriptures for singing a new song:
(c) Each one had a harp and they were holding bowls full of incense …
The living creatures and the elders each had a harp and a bowl. The harps relate to their exultant worship. The golden bowls full of incense, we are told, represent the ‘prayers of the saints’. We will meet these bowls and these prayers in later chapters, and discover there their unexpected power. But here, from the perspective of God on the throne and the triumph of the Lamb, the suffering, the weakness, the insignificance of the saints seen previously from the perspective of earth, dissolves. The prayers of the saints have come through to the throne of God and to the conquering Lamb. These prayers are not lost. These prayers are not ineffective. Even while the saints cry out to God in their suffering on earth, their prayers are here in heaven in the hands of the living creatures and the elders as they praise and magnify the Lamb for the redemption purchased by his blood.
(d)… the voice of many angels …
John looks yet again, and the more he looks the more he sees. First, in the centre he saw the throne with someone sitting on it [4:2]; encircling this, the rainbow [4:3]; surrounding this, the four living creatures and what looked like a sea of glass [4:6]; encircling that, the twenty-four elders [4:4]. The next time he looked he saw in the centre of the throne the Lamb [5:6], the focus of praise of the living creatures and elders. Now he looks again and sees yet another group encircling all that he has seen so far – this time a group so large that it cannot be numbered – thousands upon thousands and ten thousand times ten thousand.
The number ten signifies completeness. Here we have multiples of ten:
A thousand is the cube of 10 – 10 x 10 x 10. There are ‘thousands upon thousands of angels’.
Ten thousand is 104 – 10 x 10 x 10 x 10, and we are looking at ten thousand times ten thousand.
By these numbers John communicates not the exact number of angels, but the completeness of the angelic hosts gathered here: all the hosts of heaven are here assembled giving praise to the Lamb. With one voice they declare his worthiness. He, the Lamb who was slain, is worthy of the same praise and acknowledgement as God the Creator [compare 4:11]. By these words the authority and position and worth of the Lamb are recognized and extolled. He is given the honour, glory and praise that is his by right, his by conquest and his by worth.
(e) Then I heard every creature … [the Greek ktisma – refers to any created thing, not only to a living creature]
John has barely time to process the song of the angels when another song bursts forth. Every created thing in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them join in the song. Here the whole universe joins the new song of praise to the Lamb. This victory of the Lamb is what the whole universe has been waiting for since Genesis 3.
In the past the heavens and the earth have been called upon to witness with horror the sinful rebellion of humans against their Maker:
But now the whole of creation rejoices because of the victory of the Lamb and his exaltation. This praise, this honour, this glory coming from all of creation had always been the expected and commanded outcome:
This praise is affirmed by the ‘Amen!’ of the four living creatures and the worship of the elders [verse 14].
The Son of God, the Lamb who was slain, triumphed, conquered, overcame, by his death and resurrection. He has returned to his Father and there has been restored to the eternal glory that he shared with the Father before the world began. This is what he prayed for:
‘Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began’ [John 17:5].
He also prayed:
‘Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world’ [John 17:24].
Here in Revelation 5 John was given a vision of the divine glory of Christ, not for himself alone, but to write down for us, the church of the Lamb. Here we see his glory, and it is nothing less than the glory of God. This is the One walking in the midst of the church on earth: the One who shares the throne and the glory of the Father. Both are present realities.