Worthy Is the Lamb Who Was Slain
If you’re using a pew Bible, you can find that on page 1030. This time of year, it’s common to see a nativity. A stable, a few animals, Joseph, Mary, the shepherds. Then some wise men laying gifts before the Christ child. As Matthew tells the story, the wise men come, they see the child with Mary his mother, and they fall down and worship him. They worship him.
Few realize how subversive this worship is. Again, as Matthew tells the story, not everyone worships the Christ child. King Herod claims he wants to “worship.” But we know Herod really wants to destroy any threat to his power. That’s why Herod orders all the boys two years old and younger to be slaughtered. Herod hates the worship of Jesus. The worship of Jesus subverts Herod’s politics and glory.
So, the Christmas story confronts us with a worship question. Will you surrender all loyalties to Jesus and worship him? Or will you remain part of the evil kingdoms vainly plotting to destroy the worship of Jesus?
Like Matthew’s Gospel, Revelation confronts us with the same worship question. Only, in Revelation, Jesus is no longer “child in a manger;” he is the glorious Lamb who conquered. In Revelation, it’s not just a few wise men, but myriads upon myriads, thousands upon thousands who worship. Question is, do you worship Jesus?
In chapter 4, we looked at God’s throne in heaven. He is sovereign. He is judge. He is perfect in beauty. As Holy One and Creator, he is worthy of all worship. Chapter 5 now includes Jesus within the worship of God. From verse 1…
1 Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4 and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 And one of the elders said to me, “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.” And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. 8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying, “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, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” 11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” 13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” 14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
The Scroll with Seven Seals
With 5:1 John’s vision of God’s throne continues. But we’re now told of a scroll, a Lion, a Lamb, and all heaven worshiping that Lamb. Let’s start with the scroll. God’s right hand is the place of ultimate authority. In God’s right hand, John sees a scroll. But what does it symbolize?
One clue is that the scroll has writing on the inside and outside. Ezekiel had a similar vision. In Ezekiel 2:9, God gives the prophet a scroll with writing on front and back. And “there were written on it,” he says, “words of lamentation and mourning and woe.” They were words of judgment based on God’s covenant.[i] Zechariah 5:3 also speaks of a scroll with writing on front and back; and it too contained severe judgments. So, one thing this scroll symbolizes is God’s purpose in judgment.
At the same time, another clue appears when we fast forward to Revelation 10:2—all seven seals are now broken, this same scroll lies open in the angel’s hand. He then tells John to eat the scroll, so that he can prophesy what’s in it. The rest of the book explains what’s in the scroll. Judgments against evil are certainly included. But it also speaks about God answering our prayers, God strengthening the saints, God establishing peace, God wiping away our tears. In that sense, the scroll symbolizes God’s purpose in judgment and salvation. The scroll contains God’s plan to bring history to its climax in the new heavens and new earth. But there’s a dilemma…
The scroll isn’t open. It’s sealed with seven seals. God’s purpose remains hidden. Even worse, without someone breaking the seals, his purpose wouldn’t be complete. The new heavens and new earth wouldn’t come. Worst of all, no one is worthy to open the scroll, no one is worthy to make God’s promises come true. The angel asks, “‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’ And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it…”
It leads John to weep loudly. There’s no one in all creation who’s worthy to complete God’s purpose. If no one is worthy, how will evil ever end? How will peace prevail? How will everything broken get restored? How will our tears be wiped away?
John’s weeping is like our weeping. Monday morning, some heavy things weighed on me—mainly sin and its consequences. There’s an oak tree outside my window that Luke planted when he was three. It’s about twenty feet tall now. I love watching it grow. But that morning I watched as the cold winds blew the last of the dead leaves by my window. With Andrew Peterson, I found myself singing, “Come back soon.” I was ready for Spring. More deeply, I long for total renewal on earth. We understand John’s tears, because we want the earth to blossom like the Garden again. We all long for the new creation—for someone to open that scroll and make God’s promises come true. But no one qualifies. Everybody falls short…except one.
The Lion of Judah
In verse 5, we hear about the Lion. One of the elders comes to John and says, “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.”
Lion of Judah—that comes from Genesis 49:8-12. God promised Israel a king in Judah’s family. He’s compared to a valiant lion. He would conquer all enemies and gain the obedience of all peoples. Moreover, during his reign, the earth would prosper so much that that the donkeys could graze freely on the vineyards.
Root of David is the other title. That comes from Isaiah 11:1. You may recall that God chops down the nation like a lumberjack chops down a forest. And all that remains are stumps. Then, as you’re looking out over this leveled forest, Isaiah 11:1 says, “there shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” Jesse was David’s father. A new David would take the throne.
Isaiah 11:2 tells us: “The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD…” His rule even creates a new world. Isaiah 11:6, “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them…They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain…” He reverses the curse and makes the world into a new Eden. Even better, he makes the entire earth the Lord’s sanctuary: “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.”
Revelation is saying that in the person of Jesus, this King has come, this King has conquered, and that qualifies him to open the scroll.
The Lamb Who Was Slain
But notice, when John turns to see the lion-like King from Judah, he doesn’t see a Lion. He beholds a Lamb. Verse 6, “And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain…” Who is he—Lion or Lamb? Answer: Yes![ii] The point is to get you thinking about how the lion-like King conquered. How did Jesus conquer?
He didn’t conquer through military might. He conquered by being slain like a Lamb. Now, already John told us in 1:5 that Jesus “freed us from our sins by his blood.” And I told you that John wants us to understand Jesus’ death in light of Passover. By seeing Jesus as a slain Lamb, that Passover theme continues here.
So, think back to Exodus. God’s people are in slavery. They’re slaves to Pharaoh’s tyranny. Nine plagues of judgment come, but it’s not till the tenth plague that Israel experiences freedom. That tenth plague is the death of all the firstborn. As part of freeing his people in relation to this plague of death, God institutes the Passover. Exodus 12-13—each household was to take an unblemished lamb and sacrifice it. They had to paint the lamb’s blood on the doorposts. When God passed through the land of Egypt to kill the firstborn—if he saw the blood, he’d pass over your household. Everyone under the protection of the lamb’s blood would not suffer God’s judgment in death. And if you escaped death that night, guess what also happened? You were liberated from slavery. The Passover lamb’s blood saved from death and liberated from slavery.
That’s how God conquered Pharaoh and liberated his people. By calling Jesus the Lamb, John is telling us that Jesus conquered in a far greater way. By sacrificing his life, Jesus conquers far more than foreign oppressors. He conquers the tyranny of sin and Satan. Not only is he one with our flesh and blood, but he was perfect, like the unblemished lamb. He conquers the tyranny of sin by never giving into it. He then conquers the tyranny of sin in our lives by spilling his blood to free us from slavery to sin. And by freeing us from sin, he also defeats Satan’s power over the lives of his people. This is how he conquers; he conquers by the cross. He’s slain.
The imagery doesn’t stop there, though. This Lamb is also standing. He wasn’t slain to stay dead. He was slain and then rose again. Notice also where he’s standing. He’s standing between the throne and the four living creatures. He’s at God’s right hand. God has exalted him to the place of highest honor.
More than that, he has seven horns. In the Old Testament, horns often stood for the power of kings and nations.[iii] Having seven horns means Jesus stands as the King with fullness of power. He also has seven eyes, “which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” These seven spirits are the same as the seven spirits before God’s throne in 4:5. Again, John is following Zechariah 4, where the seven torches and the seven eyes represent God’s Spirit. With seven eyes/spirits, Jesus has the fullness of the Spirit to accomplish God’s purpose, to build God’s kingdom on earth.
One more thing to notice is verse 7: “he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.” The scene recalls Daniel 7:14. Daniel sees God enthroned and then one like a son of man being presented before God’s throne; and it says, “To him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him…” By taking the scroll, the Lamb reveals his worth and ability to do just that. He will enact God’s purpose to establish his forever kingdom.
The Worship of the Lamb
For this reason, all heaven worships the Lamb. Verse 8, “When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp [common instrument for praise in the Psalms], and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints [we’ll talk more about that in 8:3]. And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals.”
When the Lamb takes the scroll, a new song is born in heaven. When that phrase appears in the Psalms, God’s people have been freshly reminded of his saving activity. Outside the Psalms, it appears one other time in Isaiah 42:10; and there it’s a call to praise God because he “shows himself mighty against his foes.” Here, Jesus shows himself mighty against his foes in the redemption of his people.
They sing first of Lamb’s past work of redemption: “for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God…” This is the same Exodus/Passover imagery we discussed earlier. Ransom has to do with payment being made to loose from captivity.[iv] God loosed Israel from captivity at the cost of the firstborn. Except, he didn’t take Israel’s firstborn. In their place God provided the lamb. Their freedom came at the cost of the lamb. Fast forward to Jesus—our freedom from sin comes at the cost of Jesus’ life. More than that, Jesus’ sacrificial death doesn’t just free Israel from captivity, he frees a people from every tribe and language and people and nation. Jesus’ death frees a countless, multiethnic host of people from their sins.
They sing also of the Lamb’s present work of redemption: “you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God.” Again, this recalls Exodus. The Passover Lamb also set Israel apart for God’s service in the wilderness.[v] The whole point of the Lord breaking the yoke of slavery was so that Israel could be freed to serve him and worship him and enjoy a covenant relationship with him.[vi] That’s why God eventually sets them apart as a treasured possession in Exodus 19:6—what he further describes as a kingdom of priests. That’s what Jesus makes us. Because of his death, sin no longer rules us. In Christ, we’re free to serve God as we were created to serve him.
Those around the throne also sing of the Lamb’s future work of redemption: “and they shall reign on the earth.” Here’s one reason I believe in the perseverance of the saints. Those whom Jesus ransomed—he will also ensure they will reign. His death has already secured their eternal destiny. The kingdom will be theirs forever; and for all this heaven erupts with a new song. [Here we encounter a theme that we also see develop in John’s Gospel. In John’s Gospel, God reveals his glory most clearly in the person and work of Jesus. In his redeeming work, the Lamb so reveals the glory of God that it causes the creatures who know that glory most intimately to worship the Lamb.]
The worship doesn’t stop there, either. Verse 11, “Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” Seven attributes regularly ascribed to God elsewhere in Scripture, but now ascribed to the Lamb. Even in 4:11, God was the one to receive glory and honor and power. But here the same attributes get applied to Jesus.
The worship broadens even more in verse 13: “And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’ And the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ and the elders fell down and worshiped.” This scene should floor you. Revelation is a book in which God’s creatures must recognize his glory in worship.[vii] The flipside of that truth is that terrible judgments fall on those who worship anything besides God.[viii] Yet here all of heaven and earth doesn’t hesitate to worship Jesus. The point? Jesus receives their praise without compromising true worship. His worth includes him within the worship of God.
Worshiping the Lamb and the Christian Life
What, then, does this mean for us? How should John’s vision of the Lamb move us and stir us in the Christian life? One is this: acknowledge your unworthiness. Sometimes we get into these patterns of thinking that we’re worthy. Perhaps we subtly believe God’s kingdom on earth wouldn’t succeed without my unique contribution. We wouldn’t dare say that, but why else do we get angry or take personal offense when someone points out a weakness in our plan? Or perhaps it’s a mindset of entitlement, a mind that believes God owes us something for our efforts.
Maybe you’re like the Jews in Luke 7:4, who measure a man’s worth by what he accomplishes for their nation. Maybe you feel pretty good about your achievements in the church, and you think they set you apart as something special. Maybe it stands behind the surprise you feel when you sin, thinking, “Huh, where’d that come from?”
If that’s you, revisit verse 3. No one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was found worthy to open the scroll. Before the Lord, there’s only one who is worthy. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus Christ alone has conquered; and we’re all indebted to him. True faith is characterized by a deep sense of unworthiness before Christ. Some of our interactions with each other (and also with outsiders), could use a healthy dose of acknowledging that Jesus alone is worthy; that everything I am and have before God, I am and have because of what God has accomplished in him.
Second, see in the person of Jesus the revelation of God. Chapters 4-5 stand together as one unit. God and the Lamb share the one throne. God and the Lamb share the fullness of the Spirit. God and the Lamb share the same attributes. God and the Lamb also receive the same worship. The major Creeds have been right, then, to affirm that Father and Son are one in essence and yet distinct in person. All religions that say otherwise—for example, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses—these are wrong.
But more than serving as an apologetic for the Trinity, this serves how we know the true God. If you want to know the fullness of who God is, study his self-revelation in the person of Jesus. Jesus tells the whole story about God. Don’t believe these lies that paint God as wrathful Father while Jesus is loving Son. No—in and through the Son’s work, we see the Father’s love…and holiness. The climax of God’s self-revelation comes in the person and work of Jesus. To see him is to see the Father.
Third, having seen the revelation of God in Jesus, devote yourself to the exclusive worship of Jesus. I don’t mean showing up Sunday to sing. That’s important. But worship is more than Sunday. In Revelation, worship has more to do with loyal devotion that materializes in truthful witness, holy ethics, and sacrificial engagement. If you sing on Sunday without those other things, you don’t understand worship.
You can see this, for example, by observing how Satan and the Beast lure the world into false worship. When people surrender their loyalty to Satan and the Beast, that false worship materializes in false words like slander (Rev 2:9). It materializes in unholy ethics like sexual immorality and economic exploitation (Rev 2:14, 19; 13:15-17). It also materializes in political power plays, destroying the earth, and murdering God’s people.
However, when people surrender their loyalties to Jesus, that true worship materializes in true witness about Jesus, even when faced with death. Take the church in Smyrna—their worship of Jesus gets tested when faced with imprisonment and death. Where will their loyalties remain? Where would your loyalties remain?
True worship also materializes in holy living—not staining your garments with the world. That means when the world pushes sexual promiscuity, when the world suppresses the truth about their being only two genders, when the world murders children in the womb, when the world operates by “whatever means necessary,” you don’t participate. You don’t bow to rainbow flags nor compromise with corrupt character. Our loyalties are with the Lamb; we follow the Lamb wherever he goes.
That will also mean your worship materializes in self-sacrifice. The Beast’s people worship with lies, hatred, and murder. The Lamb’s people worship with truth, love, and self-sacrifice. When we worship Jesus, we become like Jesus in pouring out our lives to see others saved. Speaking of sacrificial engagement…
Number four, let the Lamb’s purposeful, global redemption fuel missionary activity. I’m stressing two aspects of Jesus’ finished work in verse 9. One is that Jesus’ death was central to God’s purpose to redeem a people. They are the same people whose names were written in the Lamb’s book of life before the foundation of the world. By dying, the Lamb fulfilled God’s purpose to secure their freedom from sin. He died not to make possibilities for their freedom; he died to free them—he ransomed for God.
The other aspect is that Jesus redeems a people from every tribe and language and people and nation; and they will reign on the earth. He doesn’t die in vain. He did ransom them for God. They will reign. That means some from every tribe and language and people and nation will believe the gospel when you take it to them. God’s purpose won’t fail. The Lamb will receive the reward of his sufferings.
Therefore, go and spread the word about Jesus’ glory. Go and make disciples; and don’t just make disciples of those who are just like you, those in cultures that are easiest for you. Make disciples from all the nations. We must keep sending missionaries to those who’ve never heard, to those who don’t have access. They may be harder to reach. It may require years of education and hard work, months of disappointment and sacrifice, it may mean facing persecution more directly—the cost will be high. But the glory will be great! Is the Lamb not worthy of our efforts?! Is the Lamb not worthy of worship from all peoples and not just us? He is! He is worthy of world-wide worship; and he has guaranteed it will happen. So, let’s go. Find the way God has gifted you to participate in his global purpose and give yourself to it whole-heartedly. Send and support; or go and spread. The mission can’t fail.
Last point: in your weeping, point each other to the Lamb. Again, we can all identify with John’s sorrow. With him we long for God’s purpose to be complete. We long for the land to rejoice and the trees to clap their hands. We look around and see brokenness and the horrific consequences of sin. We experience regrets for the tragedies our own sins have caused. We’re powerless to restore things. And so we weep. We cry out to God, asking for a new day to dawn. We cry for him to restore all things.
In our grief, we must point each other to the Lamb of Revelation 5. Through death and resurrection, he has conquered. He’s now exalted at God’s right hand; and he controls all history. The scroll is in his hands; history is in his hands. Evil people will not thwart his purpose. The key triumph over evil has already happened at the cross. Our failures have not undone the way history will end. Jesus is sovereign, and he is guiding all history toward the universal recognition that he is Lord. For those who belong to him, you will reign forever. You will dwell with God. You will have their tears wiped away. Jesus’ prayer that you see his glory will be answered, and your joy will be full. Don’t lose heart, beloved. God sits enthroned and the Lamb has conquered.
[i] Ezekiel was supposed to eat that scroll, so that he could then speak God’s judgment to Israel (Ezek 3:1).
[ii] From this point forward, John calls Jesus the Lamb; but that Lamb also causes nations to tremble at his wrath like a Lion.
[iii] Ps 92:10; 112:9; 148:14.
[iv] See Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 11-64.
[v] Exod 11:7; 12:31.
[vi] Exod 5:3; 6:7-8; 7:16.
[vii]Rev 4:9, 11; 7:12; 11:13; 15:4; 19:1, 7; 21:24, 26.
[viii]Rev 14:7; 16:9; 18:7.