The Worthy Lamb of God
December 6, 2020 Speaker: Jeff Breeding Series: Visions of the Reigning King: Jesus Christ as Portrayed in Revelation (Advent 2020)
Passage: Revelation 5:1–5:14
The Worthy Lamb of God
One of the many unique aspects of Christianity is the belief that history is going somewhere. Scripture teaches – and we believe – that history has a goal, an end, and every event moves us toward that end. We cannot always see how the end is being worked out, but even then, this belief in the purposefulness of history is essential to the Christian faith. Scripture teaches – and we believe – that history is going somewhere.
On the other end of the spectrum, however, is the prevailing view that history is random. Life is simply meandering along, and wherever things end up, that’s just what happens. You certainly see this view in Eastern religions like Buddhism, where everything is cyclical. But you also increasingly see this view in the everyday life of our culture. Think, for example, of how often people use the word evolve. We do it almost unthinkingly, don’t we? The game of basketball has evolved, people say. A candidate’s views evolve over time. You hear it all the time – it’s commonplace – but there is a view of history behind that word. To evolve is to change without intention. Evolution just happens. There’s no end that is being pursued, no purpose behind the change. And that’s the very opposite of the Scriptural point of view that history is going somewhere.
Now, you might think this sounds irrelevant, or that I’m just being persnickety about words. But I’ll contend that understanding this difference is key to Christian faithfulness. Here’s why. If things simply evolve, then indifference or anxiety are really your only options in life. If things just happen, then eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. And if you can’t find that merry sense of indifference, then you’re left with the crushing anxiety that nothing actually matters. Neither of those responses leads to faithfulness for a Christian, and that’s why I say – in order to live faithful Christian lives, we need to embrace that history is going somewhere. And that somewhere, according to the Bible, is defined by God himself.
In fact, you could say this Christian view of history is at the heart of Advent. What we celebrate during these four weeks is the faithfulness of God to do what he promised, and to do so in the course of history. God promised, long ago through the prophets, to redeem his people from their bondage to sin and death, and in the fullness of time, God sent forth his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to accomplish that redemption. God kept his promise, but not theoretically. It’s not a legend or a myth. It’s history – flesh and blood reality – and that history, brothers and sisters, is the bedrock of our hope. Without God’s action in history, we are lost. But through God’s action in history, we have salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord. So, Advent itself is the declaration that history is going somewhere, and that somewhere is determined by God.
Our passage today is an affirmation of this central Christian truth. Here in Revelation 5, we see the grand purpose of history played out in 14 verses. And at the center of this purpose stands the Lion and the Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ. It would be difficult to overstate the importance of this chapter for faithful Christian living. Remember, John’s vision is being sent to Christians who face increasing tribulation. For these believers in John’s day, it would be easy to conclude that things are spiraling out of control. Think about it. Most the apostles have now gone to be the with Lord – perhaps only John is left. The Lord Jesus has not yet returned, Rome’s power continues to grow, and opposition to the church is increasing. It would be easy for a Christian in John’s day to conclude things are evolving in a bad direction.
But into that uncertainty and tribulation, John receives this magnificent vision of the end of all things. This is the kindness of God, brothers and sisters. As the church in every age faces tribulation, God, in Revelation 5, pulls back the curtain of history and reminds us where things are headed. And what we see is anything but random. There is no evolution in Revelation 5. There is only providence, as God brings to completion all that he has intended for his church.
So, what I’d like us to see this morning are three reminders of where the church is headed – three reminders that speak to the confidence we ought to have as we face life in this world. These reminders build on one another, so that the final reminder is also the takeaway for our lives. Let’s consider these reminders together.
History Belongs to the Trinue God
The first reminder comes in vv1-5, as John describes the setting for the passage. This is the foundation for all that follows – History Belongs to the Triune God. Revelation 5 continues the scene that began in chapter 4, where John, through the Spirit, was brought into the heavenly throne, into the presence of God himself. But as chapter 5 begins, the focus shifts from heaven’s glory to a heavenly drama. Notice v1 of chapter 5 – “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.”
Now, the big question of the chapter focuses on this scroll. What, exactly, does this scroll represent? There are a number of options, but most likely, the background comes from the OT books of Ezekiel and Daniel. In both instances, the prophets see scrolls or books that contain God’s judgment upon the earth. When these judgments are unleashed, God’s people will be vindicated and saved. And that is the best interpretation for the scroll here in Revelation 5. The scroll represents the purposeful plan of God – the plan for judgment and salvation to be displayed on the earth. The scroll is God’s blueprint, so to speak, for what will unfold throughout history.
But you’ll also notice that the scroll is sealed with seven seals. What is that about? The seals symbolize God’s authority. In the ancient world, the author of a letter would put his seal on his writing. These seals were often made in wax – you’ve probably seen examples in history books – but the point was that the seal represented the author’s authority. To break the seal, you had to have the author’s permission. Here in Revelation 5, the scroll is sealed with seven seals, symbolizing that this is a solemn message. It is completely infused with the authority of God.
And so, the chapter begins with history in God’s hand. Please don’t miss that fact, brothers and sisters. The scroll represents the divine purpose for the ages, and the scroll is located where? In the right hand of the One who sits on the throne. History is written by the finger of God, as C.S. Lewis famously said. What will unfold does so with God’s authority.
But as we come to v2, some drama is introduced into this heavenly scene. A mighty angel asks, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” This is not a small question. The angel is really asking, “Who is able to carry out God’s plan for history? Who is worthy to stand in God’s place, with God’s authority, and bring to pass all that God promises – both salvation and judgment?” This is not a question, but the question of history. Who is worthy to do God’s will?
But then the drama deepens. Notice v3 – “And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or look into it.” Now, think of the creatures who are present in this chapter. There are the fantastic living creatures, but they are not worthy. There are the twenty-four elders who sit on thrones surrounding God, but they are not worthy. There are myriads of angels, even mighty angels, but they are not worthy. That’s the dilemma of v3. There is no one, it seems, who can take the scroll from God’s hand.
And so, John weeps, v4 – “and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.” Based on what John knows, this is absolutely the right response. If there is no one to open the scroll – no one to carry out God’s purpose – then the church is left to fend for herself. History is simply evolving, and the church has no confidence she will endure. That’s why John weeps – because based on what he sees so far, God’s purpose appears frustrated.
But everything changes in v5. One of the elders directs John’s attention to Another Person in the heavenly courtroom. Notice v5 – “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.’” So, the answer to the dilemma is the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no need to weep, for the Messiah is worthy to carry out God’s purpose.
And this worthiness is captured in the titles that are ascribed to Christ in v5 – the Lion of the Tribe of Judah and the Root of David. Both of those titles come from the OT, and they express the Messiah’s status as the royal conqueror who delivers God’s people.
The Lion of the Tribe of Judah comes from Genesis 49, when the patriarch Jacob, on his deathbed, describes his son Judah as a lion, powerful and ready to pounce. In fact, Judah will be so mighty, Jacob prophesies, that the scepter will not depart from his house. That is, Israel’s king will come from Judah. The Lion of the Tribe of Judah, then, is a reference to kingship. Just as the great King David came from Judah, so also the Lord Jesus, David’s Greater Son, was descended from Judah. He is the Lion, the King who has conquered.
And that second title – the Root of David – confirms this view. This title comes from Isaiah 11, where the Messiah is described as a branch growing from the stump of Jesse, David’s father. In Isaiah’s day, this was a promise that even though David’s line appeared weak – nothing more than a stump – one day, another King would come, another branch would grow from the royal stump, and this King would conquer and deliver the people of God.
So, when you put the two titles together, you can understand why the elder tells John to weep no more. There is One who is worthy to take the scroll, and that Someone is the King, the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, we’ve only begun to uncover the splendor of this chapter, but even at this early point, we’re able to see something of the unique glory of Jesus Christ. Remember what we said earlier about the seven seals on the scroll – they symbolize the authority of the Author. So, to open this scroll, you would have to share in the authority and status of the One who wrote it.
And that points to the unique glory of the Lord Jesus. He is worthy to take the scroll because shares in the authority and position of God himself. Christ is not like the creatures of God’s creation. Christ is One with the Creator, One with God the Father, sharing his very glory and nature. And so, what is true of God is true of Jesus Christ. History belongs to the Triune God – to the Father and to the Son, who together, through the Spirit, carry out their one, unified purpose for all things. Brothers and Sisters, this is the reality that upholds every breath we take on this earth – Jesus Christ is the Lord of history. History, Revelation 5 tells us, belongs to the Triune God.
The Cross of Christ is the Center of History
At the same time, you’ll notice in v5 that the elder says the Lion has conquered. That is where Christ’s worthiness is seen – in his conquest. But that, of course, raises the question – How has the Lion conquered? And our second point answers that question, this time from vv6-10. Here we see that the Cross of Christ is the Center of History. Having heard of this conquering Lion, John now turns to see him. But surprisingly, John does not see a Lion. He sees a Lamb. Notice v6 – “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 seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.”
This is the hinge point of the chapter, and indeed of all history. This is how the Lion conquered – by laying down his life as the Lamb of God. This connection is key, brothers and sisters, so we should reflect on this for a moment. John hears of the Lion, v5, but he sees the Lamb, v6. Understand, there is no contradiction here. These two images, taken together, capture the glory of the gospel. Like a conquering Lion, Christ has defeated death, but he has done so by suffering as a sacrificial Lamb. The Lion’s fierceness is revealed in the Lamb’s meekness. The Lion’s power is poured out through the Lamb’s blood. The Lion’s victory comes only through what appears to be the Lamb’s defeat.
Brothers and Sisters, this is the beauty and mystery of the gospel. Christ defeated death by death. Christ crushed sin by being made sin himself. Christ won life for his church by losing his own life at the cross. In fact, that is the central point of Revelation 5. It is only through the cross of Christ that God’s purpose for history has been fulfilled. It is only through the cross that Christ’s worthiness has been established. The Lion conquers as the Lamb slain.
And that means, brothers and sisters, there is no Christianity without the cross of Jesus Christ. Many people in our day find the cross offensive. They find the idea that the Son of God would suffer and shed his blood to be barbaric. Some even claim that such an idea belittles the goodness of God. If God is good, why would he make his Son suffer in such a way? Many people find the cross offensive.
But that perspective misses the very heart of Christianity. The cross does not belittle the Son of God. It exalts him. The cross does not question the love of God. The cross displays it. Apart from the slain Lamb of God, there is no Christianity, there is no church, there is no salvation, there is no hope. But through the cross, the Son of God stands in our place, displaying his worthiness and bringing to pass every good promise of God. Not one word of God’s promises will fall short, brothers and sisters. They will all come to pass, and they do so only through the cross of Jesus Christ. The Lion conquers as the Lamb slain.
But still, there is more to say about the cross of Christ, brothers and sisters. The glory of the cross is seen not only in the paradox of Christ defeating death by death. The glory of the cross is also seen in what it accomplishes. And that’s what John describes in vv8-10. The Lamb has stepped forward, and now, the inner circle of the heavenly court breaks out into praise. V8 says that the living creatures and the elders fall down and worship the Lamb. If you look back at v10 of ch4, you’ll see they did the same thing before God. So, the Lamb receives the worship of God. Again, Revelation leaves us without doubt – Jesus Christ is the fully divine Son of God.
But the key part of their response comes in vv9-10, where we see what the cross has accomplished. Notice in v9 that the elders sing a new song to the Lamb. In the OT, God’s people would sing a new song any time God rescued his people in a mighty way. So, think of Israel on the shore of the Red Sea, Exodus 15. How did they respond to God saving them from the Egyptians? They sang a new song. Or, think of passages like Psalms 96 that Laura read earlier – “Oh, sing to the LORD a new song…tell of his salvation from day to day.” So, right away, the new song here in v9 tells us we’re dealing with salvation, with a mighty act of redemption, accomplished by God himself.
But the content of this new song makes this even clearer. What did Christ accomplish at the cross? The new song highlights two things – redemption and consecration. Look at v9, where it says that “by your blood your ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” That is the language of redemption. Before Christ’s death, God’s people were in bondage to sin. We were slaves to sin, with no hope of rescuing ourselves. Indeed, our situation was so hopeless, that our future promised only the wrath of God.
But at the cross, Christ delivered us from that bondage. He accomplished a much greater exodus – not from earthly slavery, like the Israelites in Egypt, but from spiritual, eternal slavery to sin and death. Through his blood, Christ satisfied God’s wrath against our sin, and by his blood, he has purchased us for God. You cannot understand the cross without this atoning redemptive work. We are no longer slaves to sin, but slaves to righteousness. We have no spiritual taskmaster; instead, we belong to a spiritual Father, having been adopted as God’s own sons and daughters. And God’s family now includes people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. The blood of Christ transcends all barriers and breaks the chains of sin in every culture across the globe. This is what the church means when she celebrates that we have been redeemed – through his blood, Christ has purchased us for God.
And as glorious as that is, brothers and sisters, it is still only one side of the cross. Not only has Christ redeemed us, but through his blood, he has also consecrated us. Notice v10 – “and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” Again, the OT is the background here. You may remember how in Exodus 19, God told Israel that they were to be a kingdom of priests. Israel’s task, in other words, was to represent God’s rule on earth. As priest-kings, Israel was to show the world the light of God’s salvation.
And yet, Israel failed dramatically in that task. In fact, they didn’t even make it past Mt. Sinai! Before the book of Exodus ends, Israel is already deep in idolatry. And so, this question hangs over the rest of the OT – how will God’s rule be seen on the earth? Where will the light of God’s truth shine, if Israel, like Adam, failed so dramatically?
The gospel of Christ is the answer. That’s the point of v10. Where Israel failed, Christ succeeds. Through his blood, Christ creates and consecrates a new covenant people of God. The church now serves the world as a royal priesthood in Christ’s name. Our mission is to make God known through the proclamation of Christ’s gospel. But that task is possible only because of the cross of Christ. Through his blood, Christ has redeemed us and consecrated us to serve the Living God.
So, if you put all that together, there is really only one way to summarize the work of Christ. It is a new creation, founded in and through Christ’s blood. By his cross, Christ has brought forth a new people for God – a new covenant people, the church. This is why the Lamb alone is worthy to open the scroll – because it is his cross that stands at the center of history, fulfilling the plan of God.
Triune Worship is the End of History
And so, that brings us to the final reminder of the passage, which is also the point of application for us. From vv11-14 – Triune Worship is the End of History. The worship that began in v9 now expands. In vv11-12, the angels of heaven join the living creatures and the elders in worshipping Christ. Notice their song, v12 – “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” We should again appreciate the centrality of the cross in heaven’s worship. The angels are not simply praising the Lamb; they are praising the Lamb who was slain. That is eternity’s theme, brothers and sisters. For all time, we will worship the Christ who bore our shame at the cross.
But then notice, vv13-14, how the worship expands again, this time to include every creature in creation. We’ve gone from the inner circle of heaven – the living creatures and the elders – to the angelic choir of heaven to now the entirety of creation, praising God in Christ. Look at their song, v13 – “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” That is as clear as Scripture can put it – God the Father and God the Son, equal in nature and glory, receiving together the worship of all things. One of our convictions as a church is that everything exists for the glory of God. Everything we do is meant to display the worth and majesty of God. And here we find biblical affirmation that this conviction is true and right and good. At the end of all things, what we find is the worship of God in Christ.
And notice, brothers and sisters, that everyone in this heavenly scene is filled with joy. The living creatures declare, “Amen,” the elders fall down in worship, the angels are breaking out in praise – indeed, every aspect of creation experiences the thrill for which it was made – the praise and glory of God. Brothers and Sisters, this is our hope, as it has been for the church in every age. Notice that John sees this scene playing out as though it is occurring even now. If you know the rest of Revelation, you know that John will also see much tribulation to come. There are difficult times ahead for the church. But it is striking that before John sees the tribulation of the church, he first sees the worship of heaven. Before John learns of the trials of history, he first sees the end of history – the worship of God in Christ.
Why is that? Why does Revelation 5 occur at the beginning of the book, rather than the end? The answer is to encourage Christ’s church. History is not random. Things are not merely evolving in some happenstance way. No, history is purposeful. There is an end, and that end is certain. It is the worship of God in Christ. And therefore, we do not have to fear that God’s purpose for the church will be derailed. We do not have to weep in dread that God’s plan might not come to pass. And we do not have to cling so tightly to the things of this world, afraid that if we lose them, we won’t make it. We see here in Revelation 5 that the future is sure, the victory is certain. As sure as Christ shed his blood, so also will we join in giving worship to God and to the Lamb. Everything else may crumble and fade, but this end remains sure and unchanged.
And so, the grand takeaway for this week is simply this – give yourself to the worship of Christ. Last week, we were called to courage in Revelation 1, and this week, we’re called to worship. Understand, brothers and sisters, worship is an act of confident expectation. When we use our lives to worship Christ, we’re telling the world that we believe the future is secure. We’re telling the world that our hope rests not on things of this life, but on the Lamb who was slain and by his blood ransomed people for God.
And in living this way, we’re not only giving testimony to the world of our confidence in Christ. We’re also encouraging our own hearts to remain faithful to Christ to the end. You live for what you worship. Or, to say it another way, worship binds your heart to the object of your praise. So, by devoting our lives – every moment and every aspect – to the worship of God in Christ, we are also binding our hearts, by God’s grace, to the Christ whom we praise. And brothers and sisters, that is where life is found. To put it plainly, this is what we were made for – to join in this triune worship, and in doing so, to find that there is no satisfaction greater than Jesus Christ.
History belongs to the Triune God. The scroll is in God’s hand, and the Lion takes it for himself. The cross of Christ is the center of history. The Lion conquered as the Lamb slain. And triune worship is the end of history. All creation joins together to praise God in Christ. May we join them as well, brothers and sisters, to the glory of Lamb who was slain. Amen.