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"Worthy Is the Lamb!" Revelation 5

We remain in the heavenly court room, before the throne of the glorious, HOLY, HOLY, HOLY Lord of heaven and earth. Nearest his throne are the cherubim, the living creatures who reflect his majesty, carry out his will, and represent all his creatures. Seated on twenty-four thrones in a semi-circle or circle around his throne are the twenty-four elders, representative of the glorified church, seated in honor as judges, clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and honorably crowned as a sign of their victory. It is not a quiet place; lightnings, thunders, and voices proceed from God’s throne. The seven presence angels (8:2) are likely represented by the seven burning lamps before the throne. This is not the best chapter break, but we can see God’s glory only in layers and never fully. In fact, we never see him at all – the wonder of the scene is the glory of those who surround and serve him. You can always tell something about the grandness of an exalted person by his entourage. The sight of even one of God’s heavenly attendants puts us on our faces, but he is served and worshipped by multitudes. He, the living God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is glorious beyond our estimation and comprehension. We cannot gaze long upon our one sun. He is like looking upon a million suns at once. It cannot be done.

The Seven-Sealed Scroll (vv. 1-4)

A Book of Lamentations, Mourning, and Woe (Ezek. 2:10)

John sees a book, a scroll, in God’s hand. It is written on both sides and sealed with seven seals. Does this book represent the contents of the Book of Revelation? The Old Testament realized now in the New? God’s divorce papers from the nation-state of Israel? The book of God’s sovereign purposes for history? Each of these has had its advocates. Must all the seals be broken before the contents of the book can be read? Or is the scroll designed in such a way that a portion can be read after each seal is broken? The background of the scroll is Ezekiel 2:10. It is best to understand the scroll as a book of “lamentations, mourning, and woe.” It is a book of judgment – first upon the unbelieving nation of Israel for rejecting the Messiah and then upon the Roman beast for persecuting his church. The book symbolizes God’s purposes and judgments against all enemies of his Son and his Son’s bride, the church.

The Sealed about to be Unsealed (Dan. 12:4)

“Seal” is more than a literary or even legal device. Seal has to do with revelation, with the revealing of God’s word and will, both its contents and timing, or fulfillment. Daniel, for example, was told to “seal” the visions he was given (Dan. 9:24; 12:4). He was shown the timing of Christ’s birth in the vision of the seventy weeks, but told to seal it, for the time had not yet come. Since this book in God’s hand is to be unsealed, it means that the time for the vision to be realized has arrived. This is fatal to all futurist interpretations of Revelation. How could the Lamb unseal something that would take place 2,000 years after the target recipients of Revelation and its contents? This is far greater than the distance between Daniel and the birth of Christ, about 550 years. This unsealing is one of the strongest lines of internal evidence that the events of Revelation are concerned with a vision of the triumph of the enthroned Lamb of God over his first century enemies. It was the fiercest time of attack, the church’s “great tribulation” and the most dangerous (Matt. 24:21), for Satan was then but freshly cast from heaven and filled with rage and delusions of destroying the church when it was most vulnerable.

No One Worthy to Open and Read the Book

John sees a strong angel – one of the seven? (8:2) – proclaiming with a loud voice: “Who is worthy to open the book? And to loosen the seals thereof?” To open the book implies authority and ownership; to loosen the seals means to carry out what is in the book, to bring God’s purposes to fruition. Perhaps Daniel’s seal came to John’s mind, but it certainly came to the first-century readers and should come to ours. The time is come for God’s purposes of judgment against his enemies and deliverance of his church to be realized. No man in heaven and earth came forward – “there was no man.” No one was found worthy even to look upon the book. John began weeping. He felt keenly the crisis of the churches and the rebelliousness of Israel. He longed for “God’s kingdom to come and his will to be done.” He saw the glory of God upon that throne, and he wanted God’s revelation, judgments, and glory to be revealed. He was an apostle, and he had seen Jesus Christ. He forsook all to follow him. He wanted God’s gospel to be increased and God’s Son to be glorified. He wept. We should weep with desire for God’s glory to continue to be revealed in our days.

Only the Lion-Lamb Can Open and Read the Book (vv. 5-7)

The Lion of the Tribe of Judah

One of the elders, a representative of the glorified church, tells John not to weep. There is One who can open the book. He is the “Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David.” “Lion” refers back to Jacob’s prophecy and emphasizes the strength of the Messiah. “Root of David” refers to our Lord’s humbled origins, and his legitimacy. He is the promised seed of David. He has prevailed to open the book and loose the seven seals. “Seven” implies complete closure until the One authorized to open the book appears. Human history is an enigma without Jesus Christ – without beginning, purpose, or closure. When he comes to take the book and loose its seals, he is thus revealed as One who has the reins of history in his hand. He is the authorized exponent of God’s nature and will (John 1:18). He is the “heir of all things” (Heb. 1:2); in his hand are all power and authority (Matt. 28:18). He has judged the “prince of this world” (John 12:29-31) and is therefore worthy to open up God’s purposes and execute them.

The Lamb Looking As If It Had Been Slain

John sees something he has not seen before – in the middle of the throne, closer to the throne than the four living creatures, in the midst of the elders. It is a Lamb, “as if it had been slain.” The Lamb bore the marks of having been sacrificed. This Lamb also has seven horns, which symbolizes fullness of power (1 Sam. 2:10; 2 Sam. 22:2; Ps. 132:17; Dan. 7:8; 8:5,21). The seven eyes remind us that he “searches the hearts” (Rev. 2:23) and knows all things. He possesses the “seven spirits.” It is traditional to interpret this as a reference to the Holy Spirit, and the opening ascription of grace from these “seven spirits” is the best support for this interpretation. The seven-fold Spirit shows the glory of our Savior as the Mediator that because he “loved righteousness and hated iniquity he was anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows” (Ps. 45:7 Heb. 1:9). He has the Spirit “without measure” (John 3:34), and he shares the fullness of the Spirit throughout his body so that he may dwell with us, help and be with us always, and apply the blessings of redemption to us in union with him. Nothing the beast can do is able to prevent the powerful, Spirit-filled Lamb from saving his flock.

And yet, the Lion is a Lamb. This is a very different way to conquer – by being the sacrificial Lamb. This is the nature of God’s purposes of grace and salvation – to save sinners through the sacrifice of his beloved Son. He overcame by his blood. He removed our curse by bearing our curse on the cross. He conquered death by dying to the power of death and rising to newness of life. Even in his exaltation, he bears the marks of his humiliation, for his kingdom does not come or advance in the normal way – by din of arms, force of human power, worldly glory and domination, or machinations of men – it moves forward upon the foundations of the Lamb’s once-for-all shed blood. This is the way the HOLY, HOLY, HOLY God humbles man’s pride – by bringing us under his Lamb. We rise as he did, only by humbling ourselves unto death – the death of sin, the death of death, and the death of our pride through the crucified Lamb. He is the most moving sight we shall see in Revelation. Heaven’s response shows this is not an exaggeration.

He Came and Took the Book (Dan. 7:14)

The Lamb came and took the book. In a vision of symbols, we do not need to ask how a Lamb can hold a book. To take Revelation literally does not mean to embrace the absurd but to take the symbols as they are intended to be taken – symbolically, as setting forth rich truth behind the symbol. What does his taking the book mean? Investiture with power and exercise of dominion. The Lamb of God is now “exalted, extolled, and very high.” The Son of Man came up to the Ancient of Days and was given universal dominion and authority and power (Dan. 7:14). It is Philippians 2:9-11 set forth symbolically. The slain Lamb is now the reigning Lord of all. By taking the book, he is the personal, historical executor of God’s purposes. He will come on the clouds to judge his enemies (Mark 14:62).

The New Song (vv. 8-14)

The Cherubim and the Elders Worship

After the Lamb took the book, the four beasts and twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb and worshipped him. The church victorious and the holy cherubim open and close (v. 14) the heavenly worship. They held harps and golden censors filled with the aroma of the saints’ prayers. This is not because they are intercessors of the church on earth; this office belongs to Christ alone. Since these elders represent the whole church, we have here a picture of the whole church united in prayer and of how close our prayers are to the throne of God and the Lamb, who intercedes for us. And they sing – playing music, praying, singing – what a glorious picture of the church at worship – and all focused upon the worthy Lamb, clothed in our flesh, now exalted and having the name above every name. The Lord of glory loves his people playing and singing and praising him. We can do no better than to say and sing with Thomas: “My Lord and my God.”

You Are Worthy to Take the Book and Open the Seals

They sing his worthiness to take the book and to open the seals. It is a new song because he is newly ascended and doing new works of glory. Why is he worthy? The focus here is not upon his essential deity but upon his mediatorial work. He is worthy because he has purchased us for God by his blood. The holy One was struck down to bear the curse of condemned criminals. If we knew ourselves better and more honestly, we would sing more fully and weep more deeply. And the Lamb has redeemed men and women from every family, language, people, and nation. Of one blood, Adam’s, the Father created all men. Of one blood, Christ’s, sinners are redeemed and united around God’s throne. His blood is so worthy and efficacious that he has not only obtained our redemption from sin but also our elevation to be kings and praises. “Shall reign” does not mean a future, millennial kingdom in Palestine, for neither Revelation nor Scripture teaches that Messiah’s Davidic throne is anywhere but in heaven, at God’s right hand. The saints reign now as a kingdom of priests and our co-reign with Christ will be more realized in the future when he returns in glory.

The Worshipping Hosts of Heaven and Earth Sing a New Song

Our elevation does not make us proud or presumptuous but praising! All the angels around the throne, the beasts and the elders – the ranks of angels and saints – hundreds of millions – begin confessing, likely responsively: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain!” His praise is sevenfold: power, riches, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, and blessing. Then, all the creatures in heaven and earth, under the earth, and in the sea (Ex. 20:5; Phil. 2:10) – the entire creation responds in kind: “Blessing and honor and glory and power be unto him that sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever.” The scene concludes with the beasts saying “Amen,” and the twenty-four elders on their faces worshipping. This vision is the closest on earth we shall be to the glory of our risen Lord. To hear one minute of this praising, to see all the heavenly creatures worshipping God and his exalted Son would melt our cold hearts and rekindle love! May we see it by faith, take it into our souls, and be transformed by the glory of Jesus Christ!

The Scroll and the Lamb Now

At His Ascension, Our Lord Took the Book

This is one of the most important scenes in Scripture and one’s interpretation of the vision sets the direction for the remainder of this particular book. What is John seeing? What is being unsealed? When did Christ come to the throne of his Father and receive the book of God’s purposes? The apostles are uniform in their understanding of the ascension. It was then that our Lord Jesus Christ “went up” and took the book out of God’s hand – the right and authority and power to execute the purposes of God his Father in judgment and salvation (Acts 2:30-36). He is not a king-in-waiting but reigns on the throne of his father David, at his greater Father’s right hand. Having humbled himself unto death, he is now exalted in majesty and honor. The church desperately needed to keep this reality clear. The dragon and the beast were attacking them. Who is ruling? Is there any hope of victory, any point to enduring, to spilling our blood?

Yes, for Jesus Christ has unsealed the seals of God’s purposes. The nation of Israel with the beast of Rome will be the first of his victims, as he marches and makes war. How else do we think those earliest believers were emboldened to endure such atrocities? They were persuaded that Jesus Christ was the risen King and that by their blood they would seal his truth, obtain the crown, and contribute to the fuller manifestation of his kingdom. This is the vision of the Lamb we have lost.

Worthy Is the Lamb Now and Forever

Let us not spiritualize away this vision. We must not leave this throne room the same as when we entered it. We must see again the holy God upon his throne, the Lamb at the center of the throne, the worshipping church gathered around. We must hear them confessing and singing of our Savior’s worthiness. He is worthy now. He will save us now, for he has all power in heaven and earth. Call upon him. Tell him your grief and sorrow, your fears and regrets, your hopes and failures. Then, turn from these and look upon him. He is the exalted Lord. Treat him as such. Tell him how worthy he is, that though we have not had him very high in our thoughts and affections, we would have him so. Tell him. Confess to him. Go out and find some quiet place this afternoon and come before the Lamb of God. He is the center and meaning of your life and mine. If you are not living for him and in fellowship with you, you are really nothing but dust in the wind, for you have no purpose and no good future. Kiss him, confess before him, and submit to him as Lord, and have him be your Shepherd and direct your life. What John saw as a vision in heaven is the reality to which each one of us must come. He is the way, the truth, and the life. He is the peace, the righteousness, the light, the glory, and the joy, and the beauty. He is life sent down from heaven, the bread of God, the Son of God.

Worship him. He is your Lord and Savior. Devote your life to serving him, every day, one day at a time, one relationship at a time, through one trial at a time. Stop thinking so much about why you do not like this or that, how miserable you are, how different you wish your life was. These are dead ends to depression. Fight to think of the glory of the Lamb of God, that his purposes are being worked out in your life, that your life has meaning when you live unto him. Whatever you withhold from him and try to keep for yourself will be lost forever. Whatever you give up for him will be replaced many times over by his fellowship. Will he call you to bear your cross? Yes. But if we see him in his loveliness, that cross will be light. It will be worth every ounce. We will wish to have born more for him, to have praised him more, endured difficulty more patiently, undertaken more for him, forgiven more, forsaken the world more, forgotten more of men’s slights. Do not wait until you see his face in the future to get serious about him. See him on the throne and come before him now. Ask him to humble and change you, from glory to glory, as you set your affections upon him. He is worthy.

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