The End? The Lion and the Lamb.

In this 11th post of Revelation we come to Revelation 5, where Christ is worshiped 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.  

An important 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 scroll 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 scroll 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 is 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, and ever suffering saint since: “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.

Lion_2

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 show the worth of this Lamb.

The worth of the Lamb (5:5-7)

The elder already revealed that the Lamb is powerful (“the Lion of Judah”), has 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 perfect strength (“seven horns”)  and perfect 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 a 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 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 prophesy 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)

elders_bowing_throne2

Where chapter 4 of Revelation centers around God’s Sovereignty over creation, chapter 3 centers around God’s redemption of creation.  In chapter 4 God (the Father) is worshiped as Creator and Sustainer of creation, but in chapter 5 Christ, the Lamb of God is worshiped as Redeemer of creation.  This truth should not be brushed over too quickly.  Jesus Christ is not only applauded for his sacrifice – his is worshiped together with his Father (5:13). Yet where the Creator is worshiped with three-fold praise (4:11), the Redeemer is worshiped with seven-fold praise (5:12) – in the very presence of the Father.  here in this chapter, the Lamb is the focal point of worship.  

Yet their is no hint of jealousy or competition among the 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 reveal our God to be “eternally self-expending, other-regarding, community forming love.”  As we see here in the Throne Room scene of Revelation 4-5, with God the Father, the Seven-fold Spirit, and Christ the Lamb together, their relationship is indeed eternally self-giving and other-regarding, forming a community of redeemed ones to share in their loving joy and peace.  Truly, God is worthy to be praised forever!

The redeemed (5:9-10)

Every nation tribe tongue

“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 show 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 are 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

take_scroll

“Weep no more!”  This vision encouraged these seven suffering churches (1:4, 11) that God has a scroll – a plan for the fulfillment of his redemption and restoration of 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 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 were are more than overcomers through him who loves us.” (Romans 8:37)

But likewise the Spirit reminds us that were 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 Roman leaders, not in the way of the Lion, but in the way of the Lamb.

“Walk in the way of the Lamb!” Like Paul learn, 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 rather a reliance upon Christ to vindicate one 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! 

The End?A Throne set in Heaven.

In this 10th session in our series of Revelation, John is invited to “come up here” and see God’s throne room, and view life from his perspective (Revelation 4).   A recording of this will be made available at Shofar Durbanville’s Youtube channel.

Revelation 4 starts with the phrase “after this” – after the first part of the vision of Christ among the seven churches, addressing each of them with a specific word of comfort and correction (chapters 1 – 3).  Then John looks up – shifts his perspective from down here on earth to what is going on in heaven.  He sees “a door open in heaven” and is invited to “come up here” – to gain Godly perspective on the chaos and conflict the church endures on earth, and to identify with the Sovereign reign of God.

Imagine this! The only instruction the reader receives in this chapter is to “behold” (4:1,2) – to imagine this or picture this.  John invites the reader twice to see what he sees – because this hopeful message to the church is contained in the vision of what takes place in heaven.  John sees a throne, the Ruler, and the response of those around the throne.

A Universal Throne (4:2).  As he entered the door, John sees a magnificent throne.  the early church was familiar with a throne over many peoples and nations – and that was not good news to them. Emperor Domitian’s reign (like those before him) was egocentric and brutal.  But this throne John sees was universal over all of creation – he was the true King of kings and Lord of lords who Domitian claimed to be.  The throne was not the problem – the one who sits on the throne determines whether his subjects will weep or rejoice.  And this is what John sees next.

A Regal Ruler (4:3-5). The first thing John notes of “him who sat” on the throne, is the beauty – “the appearance of jasper and carnelian.” (4:3a)  Jasper was a clear stone like a diamond, and carnelian deep red like a ruby.   A diamond (or jasper) conveys the image of clarity, perfection, flawlessness – justice, righteousness.  A ruby (or carnelian) is deep red like blood, and conveys the image of love, sacrifice and mercy.  John sees this ruler as righteous and rich in loving mercy.  Indeed, His “kingdom is ruled by justice and fairness with love (mercy) and faithfulness leading the way.” (Psalm 89:14, CEV)

Secondly, John sees “a rainbow, appearing like an emerald.” (4:3b)  The rainbow, the sign of God’s covenant with Noah and all life, is God’s reminder to himself to never again destroy all life on earth with a flood (Genesis 9:8-17).  John sees God’s throne encapsulated in goodness and faithfullness, preserving of life.  God’s reign is “good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness endures to all generations.” (Psalm 100:5)

Thirdly John describes “around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads.” (4:4)  Unlike the egomaniac Domitian, this graciously humble Ruler chooses to share his reign, to include others to rule with him over all his realm!  In this apocalyptic genre, the 24 elders imply the fullness of God’s covenant people of the Old and New Testament (12 tribes of Israel, 12 disciples/ apostles of the church).  God’s renewed people reign over his creation, as the offspring of Adam and Eve were always meant to rule and reign with him (Genesis 1:26-28; Revelation 5:10).

Next John notes “flashed of lightnings, and rumblings and peals of thunders” (4:5) coming from the throne. This phrase appears three more times in Revelation when God pours out judgment on the peoples (8:5; 11:19; 16:18), and it draws from Exodus 19:16 where God gave the Law to Moses atop Mount Sinai.  Therefore, here as elsewhere in Scripture (eg Psalm 77:18 and Hebrews 12:18) the flashes of lightning and peals of thunder from heaven refers to God’s perfect justice and judgmentJudgment has a negative connection in our day; but judgment is very good news when you’re the oppressed – like the church was in the first century.  Moses sang “His work is perfect, and all his ways are just. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.” (Deuteronomy 32:4)

God judges with complete knowledge and wisdom, as the next image that John describes reveal.  John sees “seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God” – an allusion to the 7-fold lamp stand in the Tabernacle (Exodus 25:31-40) and 7-fold Spirit of God (Isaiah 11:2), implying that God sees all and knows all; his judgment is true and right.

Unlike the ruler Domitian who ruler the great Roman Empire at the end of the first century AD, John caught a glimpse of this Universal Ruler who is righteous and merciful, good and faithful, graciously humble, perfectly just and all-wise.  Then John notes the response of those around the throne.

A Proper Response (4:6-9).  When John looks around the throne of God he first sees that the sea are “of glass, like crystal.” (4:6)  In the ancient world, the oceans were regarded as mysterious, menacing and full of monsters; seafarers would frequently disappear into the unknown depths of the sea, never to appear again.  The sea (4:6) here represented the worst of John’s world: that which is uncertain, dangerous, and out of control.  But suddenly he sees that, from the perspective of this Regal Ruler’s throne, even the seas are at peace and crystal clear.  The higher your perspective, the calmer the seas.  From God’s perspective, nothing is our of control, nothing is mysterious, nothing is dangerous.  All is well, and there is no need to be anxious.

Next John sees, around the throne, four awesome beasts: one with the face of a ox, one with the face lion, one with the face of an eagle and one with the face of a man.  These all have wings like seraphine.  The ox is the mightiest of domestic animals; the lion is the mightiest of the wild beasts; the eagle is the mightiest of the birds; man is the mightiest of God’s earthly creatures; and seraphine are the mightiest of the angelic beings.  Yet these four awesome beings (representing the mightiest of all God’s creation) erupt in awe-filled praise at the sight God’s glory.  They relentless cry out “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come” (4:8; compare Isaiah 6:3 and Exodus 3:14).

John then describes the complete surrender of the 24 elders around the throne: every time the four awesome beasts praise God, the elders bow down, casting their crowns and declare “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they exist and were created.” (4:11)  The elders recognize that all creatures and all powers are subject and subservient to God, created to serve his purpose.  And, rightly so, subject themselves to willingly serve him.

elders_bowing_throne2

Bringing it home

John was confused by the chaos and conflict that the church suffered – where was the reign promised by Christ?  After being assured that Christ is among his church and fully aware of what was happening on earth, John is invited to see God and look at creation from God’s perspective (ch 4, continuing in Ch 5-20).

John invites us to see that there is a door open to heaven where One is seated one his Sovereign seat.  John comforts us that this One can be trusted to reign over all: he is described as righteous and merciful. good and faithful, graciously humble, judging with complete wisdom and  perfect justice.   When we become aware of the power and presence of his reign, we are filled with peace and awe, prompting praise and surrender.

How do I respond?  Whenever the cares of the world and the chaos of our day overwhelm me, in prayer, I choose walk through that door to the throne room of God and imagine what John saw.  I see him for who he is, and allow peace and praise to strengthen my heart, that I may entrust myself to his sovereign plan.

The next post (on Revelation 5) will start to answer the questions that this vision begs us to ask: If God is in control, why do evil persist in the world?  And how does Christ’s reign fit in the chaos and conflict of our world today?