In this 11th post on the apocalypse, we come to Revelation 5, where Christ is worshipped as the One who is worthy to unfold God’s redemptive plan for all creation. A recording of this session is available here.
John and the oppressed church in his day struggled to make sense of their suffering in the light of their belief that Christ is Lord of all. Then, while in prayer, John receives the comforting vision that the resurrected Jesus is still among his church (Chapters 1-3), and that God is indeed sovereign over all of creation (Chapter 4). His vision of the throne room in heaven continues in chapter 5 as he sees a scroll and a shared throne.
A paramount scroll (5:1-5)
In keeping with the apocalyptic genre of Revelation, the importance of the scroll is indicated in several ways. (The opening of this scroll sets the script for the next eleven chapters). The manuscript is “on the right hand of Him who sits on the throne”, a position of prominence and power. It is inscribed on the front and back – an unfamiliar practice in John’s day – meaning the scroll was full and complete, with nothing to be added or taken away (compare 22:18-19). The manuscript is sealed perfectly “with seven seals” so that no one could lift a corner to peek into it. When “no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll”, John “began to weep loudly.” John’s response should be our response because this scroll’s unfolding is of paramount importance to end the tyranny, seduction and deception under which the church and the world are bent.
What is this scroll? The following chapters will reveal that this scroll contains God’s redemptive plan for his creation – the King’s decrees for the restoration of his Kingdom. Chapter six through sixteen will show how this progressive unfolding of God’s redemption of creation aligns with the opening of the scroll. The scroll is his victory over sin, Satan, and the gentile kingdoms that resist his reign and oppress his church. As such, this scroll contains the answer to the cry of John and the church in his day, as well as all suffering saints since then: “Lord, don’t you care, don’t you see? If you are the Christ, when will your kingdom come?”
Who then is this champion for God’s redemptive quest with creation? “Who is worthy to open the scroll?” This question reveals the central figure of Revelation – the only one who is worthy to unfold this scroll. John hears the elder’s reassurance “Weep no more! 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.” The elder’s words paint the picture of a mighty Messianic figure, a lion-like leader from the loins of David.
But like so many times in Revelation, what John hears and what John sees are two different things. Christ hints that things are not like they seem, church! When John joyfully turns around to look at this valiant freedom fighter, he sees a slain Lamb (5:6). The rest of this chapter is devoted to showing the worth of this Lamb.
The worth of the Lamb (5:5-7)
The elder already revealed that the Lamb is mighty (“the Lion of Judah”), has a prestigious rank (“the root of David”), and has been victorious (“has conquered”). John notes that the Lamb is “amidst the throne” – in the place of rule and judgment; God regards this Lamb worthy to share his throne with! The Lamb is said to have full strength (“seven horns”) and full wisdom (“seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God”, refer Isaiah 11:2).
In addition to who the Lamb is (Messiah), where the Lamb is (amidst the throne), and what the Lamb has (perfect strength and wisdom), the Lamb is worthy because what he has done and what he does. The Lamb is described as “slain” – killed as a sacrifice. The image portrayed is of violent death. The Lamb is worthy because of what this all-mighty, all-wise Lamb had willingly endured. As Jesus said, “no one takes my life from me, but I give it of my own accord.” (John 10:18)
The slain Lamb points back to Egypt, to the Passover Lamb that was slain for the redemption of God’s people from the oppressor (Exodus 12; compare John 1:29). It reminds the reader of Isaiah’s prophecy of the Messiah who “was oppressed, and afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” (Isaiah 54:7, see verses 1-6 for context). This vicarious Lamb is worthy of honour!
Yet John points out that this Lamb is not only worthy because of what he had done, but what he is doing. He is slain, yet “standing”! He had endured and overcome the worst the enemy could do to him, yet he stands victorious over sin, suffering and death!
Because of his worth, his honour, the Lamb “took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.” This act causes all of Heaven to erupt in worship.
The worship of the Lamb (5:8-14)
Where chapter 4 of Revelation centres around God’s Sovereignty over creation, chapter 3 hones in on God’s redemption of creation. In chapter 4, God (the Father) is worshipped as Creator and Sustainer of all things, but in chapter 5 Christ, the Lamb of God, is glorified as Redeemer of the creation. This truth should not be brushed over too quickly. Jesus Christ is not only applauded for his sacrifice – he is worshipped together with His Father (5:13). Yet where the Creator is praised with three-fold praise (4:11), the Redeemer is adored with seven-fold adoration (5:12) – in the very presence of the Father. Here in this chapter, the Lamb is the focal point of worship.
Yet there is no hint of jealousy or competition among the Godhead. In his study of the Christian Triune God, Daniel Migliore (Faith seeking understanding, 1991:177) concluded that the relationship between the Three Persons of the Trinity reveals our God to be “eternally self-expending, other-regarding, community forming love.” Here in the Throne Room scene of Revelation 4-5, the Father, the Seven-fold Spirit, and Christ the Lamb are seen together. Their relationship is shown to be eternally self-giving and other-regarding, as together they form a community of redeemed ones to share in their loving joy and peace forever. Indeed, God is worthy to be praised forever!
The redeemed (5:9-10)
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood, you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”
As part of the procession of worshipers, the elders sing this song (5:9-10). Much can be said about these two verses, but I want to highlight only three things. Firstly, their song shows that the Lamb’s work of redemption is rooted in the Old Testament Messianic expectation that the Christ would deliver his people from the woes of the evil kingdoms of this world like he did when he saved the Hebrews from Egypt in the evening of the Passover.
Second, seven times in Revelation this phrase “from every tribe and language and people and nation” is used in variant forms (5:9; 7:9; 10:11; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6; 17:15). Israel had a messianic expectation that the Christ will rule over every nation (Genesis 12:3; Psalm 2:8-9; Isaiah 49:6; 56:6-8, to name a few). Christ’s commission to his disciples was to proclaim his reign “to every nation” (Matthew 24:41; 28:19). All these were redeemed from various ethnic groups by the blood of Christ (compare Mark 10:45; 1 Pet 1:18-19). This universal reach of his redemption is to showcase both his grace and glory (Romans 15:9).
Thirdly, these redeemed ones are not only forgiven but are given the right and responsibility to reign with God, as these crowned, enthroned elders depict (4:4; 5:8-9). They praise Christ for making them “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). This image of Christ’s full redemption, where mankind is invited to reign with God, is an allusion to the original intent God had with Adam and Eve: created in his image, to rule and reign with him (Genesis 1:26-27; Psalm 8). Christ has come to restore all things, including man’s original position in God’s kingdom.
Bringing it home
“Weep no more!” This vision encouraged these seven suffering churches (1:4, 11) that God has a scroll – a plan for the fulfilment of his redemption and restoration of a fallen creation – and that Christ was championing this charge. They could stop their weeping: Christ is on the move! (The next 11 chapters reveal how).
“Reign with me!” But these churches understood that their redemption did not merely mean that they were reconciled with God; they were also rightful rulers with God in Christ. Even now, they were kings and priests to reign on earth with him. They were privileged and empowered to participate in his Kingdom witness and work.
Today also, to a church afraid, bewildered and confused by the mess the world is in, the Spirit says “Weep no more! Don’t despair! There is a Champion at work!” We will see in the chapters to follow how all the calamities and confusion is serving Christ’s conquest, and how “in all these things we are more than overcomers through Him who loves us.” (Romans 8:37)
Likewise, the Spirit reminds us that we are not helpless victims or passive onlookers in this struggle – we are positioned to “reign with Christ” (Romans 5:17) over sin in this world, now and forever. However, our reigning is not meant to be in the way of the earthly leaders with force and intimidation like a lion, but in the meekness of the Lamb.
“Walk in the way of the Lamb!” Like Paul learnt, we rely on his grace to reveal his power – not ours. This means that like Christ, we who reign with Christ should humble ourselves (Philippians 2:5-10). It means that we should consider ourselves merely as “jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7) It calls us to be content and patiently rely on the sufficiency of Christ’s grace during suffering, to “boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (1 Corinthians 12:8-10). This does not imply resignation to all the world throws at you, but a reliance upon Christ to vindicate one rather than self.
My friends, weep no more – there is Champion! The Lamb has conquered, and has redeemed and esteemed you to reign with him over evil in this world – today and always. But he calls us to walk in his way – in the way of gentleness, meekness and sacrifice. Be of good cheer – His grace is sufficient for all you face today, and will return to wipe every tear and banish every fear. He makes all things new!
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