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21 June 2020

Worthy is the Lamb

SynopsisThe central figure of the book is the freshly slain Lamb who alone has the authority to open the Sealed Scroll, beginning with its seven seals - Revelation 5:5-14

Photo by Bill Fairs on Unsplash
By Bill Fairs on Unsplash
In the previous paragraph, John saw a scroll sealed with seven seals held in the right hand of the “One Who Sits on the Throne.” A search was made throughout the Cosmos to find someone worthy to break the seals and open the scroll. No one “worthy” was found, whether located in heaven, on the earth, or under the earth. This caused John to weep profusely. As long as the Sealed Scroll remained sealed, its contents could not be implemented.

(Revelation 5:5-7) – “And one of the elders saith unto me—Do not weep! Lo! the lion that is of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, hath overcome, to open the scroll and the seven seals thereof. And I saw in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, a Lamb, standing, showing that it had been slain,—having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the [seven] Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth. And he came, and, at once, took [it] out of the right hand of him that was sitting upon the throne.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

One of the twenty-four “elders,” tells John not to weep - “The lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David overcame.” And because he “overcame,” he is “worthy” to take and open the Sealed Scroll.

The Lamb “overcame.” This translates a Greek term, nikaō (Strong’s - #G3528). This is the same verb rendered “overcome” numerous times in the letters to the churches of Asia (“to the one who overcomes”). Especially relevant is the final promise made by Jesus at the end of all seven letters:

(Revelation 3:21) - “He that overcometh, I will give unto him to take his seat with me in my throne, as I also overcame and took my seat with my Father in his throne.” - (The Emphasized Bible).

Jesus “overcame” by his Death and Resurrection. It is this victory that qualifies him to sit on His Father’s Throne and he calls his saints to “overcomein the same manner (Revelation 1:4-6 – “Jesus Christ,—The Faithful Witness, The Firstborn of the Dead, and The Ruler of the Kings of the Earth. Unto him that loveth us and loosed us out of our sins with his blood).

Crowned with Thorns
The “Lion of Judah” and the “Root of David” are messianic designations that identify the Lamb as the promised Messiah of Israel. In Genesis 49:9-10, “Judah is a lion's whelp” and holds the scepter until the arrival of the one to whom it belongs - “To him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” Likewise, in the book of Isaiah, a prophecy promised a time when “The root of Jesse will stand as an ensign to the peoples.” Both prophecies link the Messiah to the term “peoples,” plural. This is the verbal link used in Revelation Chapter 5 to combine the two prophecies (Genesis 49:9-10, Isaiah 11:1-10, Revelation 5:5-6).

John “heard” the “elder” proclaim the “Lion of the tribe of Judah,” however, when he looked, he “saw” a Lamb, not a lion. Moreover, the Lamb had been “slain.” What John saw interprets what he first heard. The Lamb is the Messiah, but he fulfills the role in a paradoxical manner - Not as a royal figure but, instead, as a sacrificial victim. The image of the “slain Lamb” anchors the vision in the historical event of the Crucifixion - Jesus is the “Lion of Judah” and the “Root of David,” however, he is so as the sacrificial Lamb.

Lamb” renders the Greek word arnion, a diminutive form for the more common arnén or “lamb” (Strong’s - #G721). It refers to a juvenile lamb. It becomes the primary designation for Jesus for the remainder of the book of Revelation and is applied to him a total of twenty-eight times (4 x 7). In contrast, ‘Jesus’ occurs fourteen times and ‘Christ’ only seven.

In the passage, “slain” translates sphazō (Strong’s - #G4969), a Greek verb common in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament for the Hebrew shachat, a verb for the “slaying” of sacrificial animals. The usage may reflect a passage from the book of Isaiah where Yahweh’s Suffering Servant is compared to “a lamb led to the slaughter” (sphagé, from sphazō).

(Isaiah 53:7) – “We all like sheep had gone astray, Every man—to his way had we burned,—And Yahweh! caused to light upon him The guilt of us all! Hard pressed—yet, he humbled himself Nor opened his mouth—As a lamb to the slaughter is led, And as a sheep before her shearers is dumb—Nor opened his mouth.” – (The Emphasized Bible)

The Lamb has “seven horns.” Horns symbolize power. The image portrays the completeness of the Lamb’s power and his authority to reign.

He has “seven eyes,” which are identified as “the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.” This alludes to a vision in the book of Zechariah in which a stone with seven eyes was set before Joshua to achieve the removal of sin from the land - “In one day.” Likewise, the prophet’s vision of seven lamps were the “eyes of Yahweh, which run to and fro through the whole earth.” The eyes symbolize Yahweh’s spirit (“Not by might but by My Spirit, says Yahweh”). In the Lamb, the seven eyes represent the “seven spirits of God.” The Lamb now sits on the Throne of God and, therefore, possesses His authority and sees all things that transpire on the earth – Nothing is hidden from his “seven eyes” (Zechariah 3:9, 4:10).

The seven horns and seven eyes have become the possessions of the Lamb. Previously, the “seven spirits” were observed before the Throne but, now, after his sacrificial death, they serve Jesus throughout the whole earth.

Upon arrival, the freshly sacrificed Lamb immediately approaches the Throne and takes the Sealed Scroll from the right hand of the One Who Sits on it. This parallels the vision from the book of Daniel when one, “like a son of man,” approached the Throne of the Ancient of Days to receive the authorization to reign, over “all peoples, races and tongues”:

(Daniel 7:13-14) - “I continued looking in the visions of the night, when lo! with the clouds of the heavens, one like a son of man was coming,—and, unto the Ancient of days he approached, and before him they brought him near; and unto him were given dominion and dignity and kingship, that all peoples, races and tongues unto him should do service,—his dominion was an age-abiding dominion, which should not pass away, and his kingdom, that which should not be destroyed.” - (The Emphasized Bible).

The Lamb Declared “Worthy 
The authority of the Lamb to reign and to control events unfolding in the lives of his churches is proclaimed. His sovereignty is the result of his sacrificial death. It is his submission to an unjust and violent death that made him “worthy” to take and open the Sealed Scroll, and thereby, assume his reign over History and the Cosmos. 

Each of the twenty-four “elders” holds a bowl of “incense” to symbolize the “prayers of saints.” This reinforces the image of the “elders” performing priestly functions – They represent the redeemed people of God before the Throne.

The understanding that the reign of the Lamb is the result of his death is confirmed by Verse 9. The four “living creatures” and the “twenty-four elders” sing a “new song”:

(Revelation 5:9-12) - “And they sing a new song, saying—Worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open the seals thereof; because thou wast slain and didst redeem unto God by thy blood [men] out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nationAnd didst make them unto our God a kingdom and priests,—and they reign on the earth.  And I saw and heard a voice of many messengers, round about the throne and the living creatures and the elders,—and the number of them was myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands—saying with a loud voice—Worthy is the Lamb that hath been slain to receive the power, and riches, and wisdom, and might, and honour, and glory, and blessing.” - (The Emphasized Bible).

The enthronement and sovereignty of the Lamb were accomplished in the historical events of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. The victorious scene before the reader portrays a victory already achieved, not a future event still waiting to occur. The reign of Jesus and the formation of his kingdom are declared with past tense verbs – As accomplished tasks.

The myriad of heavenly voices sang a “new song” to the Lamb. In Chapter 4, all creatures throughout the created order sang praises to the “One Who Sits on the Throne” for His creative acts. Now, a “new song” rings out in praise of the Lamb for his sacrificial act. The song is “new” because the death of the Lamb inaugurated the long-awaited promised redemption and will culminate in the New Creation (“And he that was sitting upon the throne said— Lo! I make all thing new” - Revelation 4:8-11, 21:1-5).

The Lamb is the true Messiah of Israel. However, his victory achieves the redemption of men and women from “every tribe and tongue and people and nation,” not just that of national Israel. Traditional social and ethnic boundaries that divided peoples in the past have no place in the New Creation inaugurated by the death of Jesus Christ. Note well the verbal parallel to the passage from Daniel 7:13-14 (“That all peoples, races and tongues unto him should do service).

By his death, the Lamb has constituted men and women from every nation a “kingdom of priests.” Corporately, they are a kingdom; individually, they perform priestly acts. The calling given to Israel at Mount Sinai is fulfilled now by the people from every nation purchased by the lifeblood of the Messiah of Israel (Exodus 19:5-6, Revelation 1:6, 20:6).

The redeemed men and women participate in the reign of the Lamb in their priestly capacities. Jesus promised believers who overcame would have authority over nations. But this reign is implemented through priestly acts of witness, martyrdom, prayer, and worship, not through military conquest and violence (Revelation 2:26-27).

There is a textual variant in Verse 10. Some ancient Greek manuscripts read, “They will reign on the earth” (future tense), others, “They are reigning on the earth” (present tense). The manuscript evidence is divided evenly. Whichever reading was the original one, the message remains the same. If the redeemed reign now, it is because of the death of the Lamb. If they begin to reign in the future, again, it is due to the death of Jesus (Revelation 5:10).

Previously, John presented the participation of the saints in the priestly kingdom as a present reality; already, Jesus is the “ruler of the kings of the earth”; already, his disciples are a “priestly kingdom.” The larger context of the book of Revelation favors the conclusion that the original Greek verb in Verse 10 in the present tense (Revelation 1:5-9).

This same company of redeemed men and women is seen later standing before the Throne and the Lamb portrayed as an innumerable multitude in the process of exiting the “Great Tribulation” (Revelation 7:9-17).

The entire heavenly choir breaks out in adoration of the Lamb for his act of redemption, proclaiming him “worthy” to receive “Power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” This is followed by praise for God and the Lamb from “every created thing that is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea.” The redemptive act of Jesus includes the entire created order, not just humanity. How that redemption is brought to completion will now begin to unfold as the enthroned Lamb opens the Seven Seals of the scroll.
By his willing submission to a sacrificial death, Jesus fulfilled the role of the Messiah of Israel and qualified to reign over the Cosmos. As the Lamb with “seven horns,” he has full authority. As the one who possesses the “seven eyes” of Yahweh, he has the wisdom and knowledge necessary to do so. The extent of his authority is universal - Nothing is hidden from his sight. 

All that follows in the remainder of the book of Revelation is the result of the past death of the Lamb. In the interim between his death and the New Creation, Jesus reigns firmly over events on the earth, especially the ones that impact the churches of Asia.

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