A Lion and A Lamb
Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”
The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.—Revelation 5:1-14
Will a cure for cancer ever be found? Will there ever be a time when little children don’t go to bed hungry? Is there a way to end crime?
Don’t you just wish that someday, some way, the abuse of the very young and the very old would stop? Will anyone ever find a way to disarm all armies, to melt down all weapons of warfare—to beat swords into plowshares, as the Hebrew prophets foresaw?
We all long for peace for the entire world. We all want solutions to the misery and suffering of our world. We want the hatred and violence to end. Of course, you’re way ahead of me—but don’t get too far ahead—because what I want to talk about may surprise you. You may be thinking that one day Jesus will do all of this. Well, yes, he will.
But when desperate situations confront those who are living in Christ, there is more hope and comfort and real help available than just waiting for some future time when the entire world will be magically turned into a utopian la-la land. The fifth chapter of the book of Revelation provides some interesting and inspiring perspectives.
History tells us that when a huge problem confronts a society and culture, there are normally three institutions that attempt to provide a solution:
1) The state—the government attempts to use its power, its diplomacy, its bargaining chips and its military to solve situations it determines to be problematic, within and outside of its borders, because those circumstances are deemed to threaten their best interests. How has that worked out in human history? Not too well. Some governments have been better than others, but no government, no dynamic, wise leader nor any philosophy or methodology of government has ever transformed evil into good. In fact, many political and civil leaders down through time have been despotic dictators who raped and pillaged their own country, stealing from their own citizens and impoverishing the country for generations and sometimes centuries. That pathetic reality is happening right now in our world.
2) The market—the economy. Western, free market economic systems and methodologies generally believe that buying and selling will lead to prosperity, and prosperity will put an end to poverty, hunger, and most suffering. Many who believe in the inherent goodness of our economic systems think that a primary reason that many impoverished people behave in a depraved manner is because they are deprived. The economy is then seen as the solution for our problems—prosperity is perceived as bringing peace, because people who prosper will have nothing to fight since material possessions will make them happy. But there has never been a time in human history when prosperity solved all problems. In fact, the record of history suggests that the more people have the more selfish and greedy and nasty they become. People who are deprived are not the only ones who act as if they are depraved—the lesson of history is that those who have “everything” don’t usually share what they have with have-nots, but instead they keep trying to get richer by exploiting the poor.
3) Religion. Many people believe, including people who don’t believe in God at all, that churches and temples and mosques and synagogues are beneficial to society because they scare the hell out of people. Religion is believed to civilize people and stop them from acting in unrestrained and immoral ways. Because religion is all about control and has historically demonstrated its ability to control people, religion is seen as playing a major role in world peace. But has religion ever produced world peace—or even some lesser, less globally grandiose version of peace? No, in fact the opposite has happened. The vast majority of wars and bloodshed have come because of religious wars—history likes to call them “holy” wars.
4) Grace. God’s grace can and will solve our problems, but it has never been tried on a massive scale. The reason grace has never been tried on a massive scale is because we mortals are extremely reluctant to allow God to do for us what we cannot do. God’s grace “goes against our grain.” By nature, we resist God’s grace. The lesson of history is that human beings would “rather do it themselves.” The fourth way—the way of grace—is the answer, even though humans are loathe to accept it. We would rather believe that some politician will be our savior, rather than Jesus. We would rather think that consumerism and business and our own hard work will bring about prosperity, and then, when we are sufficiently rich, we will all be happy. We would rather sell our souls to a religious institution and its leadership, thinking that religion will provide spiritual answers.
The fifth chapter of the book of Revelation describes the triumph of the way of grace—the victory of the Lamb of God. Here is a picture of a triumphant celebration—a victory ceremony—with the Lamb being honored and worshipped as one who has gained the victory.
Some might tell you that this scene is yet to happen. Some insist that this victory ceremony scene will only happen after the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Let’s briefly discuss this fifth chapter of the book of Revelation:
• Verses 1-4 open the chapter with a scene from heaven. A mighty angel cannot find anyone who is worthy to open the scroll with writing on both sides, sealed with seven seals. No one, an all-inclusive, dogmatic statement—in heaven or on earth, was worthy to open this scroll. John, the human author of the book of Revelation, saw this vision and wept. It seemed like God’s grace was stymied and frustrated. There didn’t seem to be any way for the human predicament to be solved. There was no answer.
• Then verse 5 describes one of the heavenly elders pointing out the triumph of the Lion of the tribe of Judah. The Lion of Judah is, of course, part of the picture of the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament. Jesus, the Messiah, came from the line of David. The Lion of Judah came to save his people.
• Verse 6 reveals John, who has accepted his Lord and Savior as crucified and as risen, looking in the direction indicated by one of the heavenly angelic elders unable to see the Lion of Judah. When John looks for the Lion of Judah he sees the Lamb of God instead.
Is there a difference? No—the Lion of Judah and the Lamb of God are one and the same. The Lion of Judah and the Lamb of God are two descriptions of Jesus, God in the flesh. But in another sense—there is a huge difference. Before John’s eyes it seems as if the Lion has morphed into the Lamb. John seems to observe a metamorphosis taking place. Then John sees a paradox. The Lamb that morphs from the Lion is alive, standing at the center of the throne, even though the Lamb is looking as if it had been slain (verse 6).
The slain Lamb depicted in verse 6 is not the conquering king of the jungle. John is further confused. This is a Lamb who ought to have been dead—yet the Lamb is standing. He is standing in the absolute center of the throne, as the king.
God’s grace is not easy to comprehend—as profoundly wonderful and incredibly amazing as it is. God’s grace is hard to accept and receive and it’s difficult to see and perceive.
When John (and all of us for that matter) carefully consider the throne described in chapter five, we see that this is not an insignificant, second-rate throne room. This is the most royal and regal and glorious of all courts. This is the throne room of heaven and there is the slain Lamb in the very center of the throne— the place of honor, power, reverence and prestige.
What is being revealed to John in this passage, and to all who read these words down through the ages, is that Jesus, the Lamb of God, the slain Lamb is the absolute center—ground zero—the rock and foundation of authentic Christianity.
We are looking at faith alone, grace alone and Christ alone. We are seeing a Lamb looking as if it had been slain (Revelation 5:6). By all logic and experience the Lamb should have been dead, but the Lamb was standing, in heaven, on the throne, worthy of all honor and praise.
In one brilliant word picture, this vision revealed to John illustrates what Paul calls the foolishness of God (1 Corinthians 1:18, 21-23, 25) and what he calls the mystery kept hidden for ages (Colossians 1:26)—Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). It’s the paradox that makes grace-based Christianity so difficult for us to understand.
This fifth chapter of the book of Revelation is revealing absolute triumph and victory—absolute holiness and perfection. Absolute worthiness that could not be found anywhere else in heaven or on earth (Revelation 5:3) is being depicted.
The Jews looked for a Messiah who would be a conquering king—the Lion of Judah. Instead, Jesus came as a suffering servant, a servant of man, who, though he was rich became poor that we might become rich—rich in God’s grace. The Jews of that day wanted someone who would kill and avenge. Instead, Jesus, God in the flesh, the Lamb of God, came to be crucified. He willingly allowed himself to be led to the slaughter, without protest.
The Lamb was seen by the religion of that day as absolutely powerless—power and control is what religion is all about. For them, the cross of Christ and his resurrection were not what they were looking for. The cross was a humiliation—it was shameful—anything but the Lion of Judah they were looking for.
Revelation chapter five shows us that the Lion of Judah morphs into the Lamb of God and in:
• Verses 7-8 we see that the slain Lamb, who is the resurrection and the life, is not hesitant. He takes the scroll from God the Father, from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. This is a picture of the enthronement of the crucified and resurrected Lamb of God. He is the only one who is worthy to open the scroll—and all of heaven falls down to worship.
• Verses 9-10 we read the first verse of a heavenly chorus, a choral composition sung by the living creatures and the 24 created angelic elders. They sing of three credentials of the Lamb:
1) You were slain (verse 9)
2) With your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation (verse 9)—the word picture is that of a commercial transaction, as when someone purchased slaves from their master.
3) Your death inaugurated a kingdom that will reign on the earth (verse 10).
• Verse 11 says that many angels—thousands upon thousands, and then thousand times the thousand join the four living creatures and the twenty-four angels singing this majestic chorus.
• Verse 12 provides the lyrics to the next refrain and emphatically pronounces Worthy is the Lamb. This passage reminds us of one of the powerful, soaring choruses of Handel’s Messiah. If we had lived when John lived, and read these words as the original readers did, we would have recognized these terms being used for the Lamb of God were solely reserved in the Roman Empire for Caesar—the head of state.
• Verse 13 then describes that every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them join this heavenly chorus, proclaiming in this grand finale praise and honor and glory and power for ever and ever to the Lamb!
Worthy is the Lamb—the crucified and resurrected Lamb of God who is both Lord and Savior! He is risen. He is alive. He is here, with us, now and forever. Earlier I mentioned that some believe that this entire chapter is yet future, assuming that this scene is yet to happen. But according to such a perspective, Jesus won the victory over death and the grave through his cross and glorious resurrection, but the victory ceremony is on hold.
Can you imagine witnessing an incredible victory of some kind—and then not having a celebration until at least 2,000 years later? Why? Furthermore, such a view suggests that this ceremony will happen only once. I believe that what we have read in Revelation chapter 5 describes a party in heaven that is ongoing. I believe this victory celebration, these soaring and majestic sounds and choruses are resounding throughout heaven as they have been for almost 2,000 years and they will continue, throughout eternity.
You see, Jesus came to this earth and brought the kingdom of heaven. It came to us in the person of Jesus. It never left. The kingdom of heaven, like that mustard seed in one of his parables, has not grown to the point that it covers this entire earth. But it has been growing—and it continues to grow.
Those who fully and unreservedly accept Christ, have the victory—Christ-followers live in his grace. But those who are spiritually united in and with Christ continue to live in this physical world. The kingdom of God has not yet, in its final fulfillment, been brought to this entire world—that will happen in the Second Coming of our Lord and Savior. But we should not simply sit and watch, in the spiritual grandstands, awaiting the day when Jesus will come and solve all the problems of this world.
God’s grace is alive and well— it is dynamic—it is the fundamental description of our relationship with God. God’s grace is unique—no religion, other than authentic Christianity—teaches and believes in God’s amazing grace.
Years ago, during a British conference on religion, experts from all over the world debated about what was unique to biblically based Christian faith. Was it the idea of the incarnation—God, in the person of Jesus, coming to be one of us? No, other religions have teachings about gods who appear in human form. What about the resurrection? No, other religions believe in a return from death.
The debate was raging until a man named C.S. Lewis came into the room. If you are not familiar with the writings of C.S. Lewis, you need to make that a priority. Read his books—like Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce—among others.
C.S. Lewis asked, “What’s all the rumpus about?” When the delegates to the conference told him that they were discussing what authentic, biblically based Christianity teaches and believes that is truly unique to all world religion, Lewis replied, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”
The teaching that God’s love is given to us, without strings attached, free of charge, goes against every human instinct. All other religions—the Jewish old covenant, the Muslim code of law, the Buddhist eightfold path and the Hindu doctrine of karma all offer a way to earn God’s approval by human performance.
Authentic, biblically based Christianity is unique in its teachings and beliefs that God’s love is given to us by faith alone, grace alone and Christ alone.