|The Names of Jesus #5
"Worthy Is the (Triumphal) Lamb!"
April 12, 1998 / Revelation 5:6-12
John the Baptist identified Jesus as "the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). With the time for the annual Jewish Passover drawing near (cf. John 2:13), it was significant both to John and to his hearers that Jesus should be identified that way.
Exodus 12 gives the historical setting for Passover. The Israelites were in cruel bondage to the Egyptians, but God had begun acting on their behalf through Moses. The man who would later receive the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai was told to challenge the powerful Pharaoh in Yahweh’s name. "Let my people go!" was the Lord’s word to Egypt’s leader. As an earthly ruler continued to harden his heart against the cosmic ruler, contests of power between the false gods of Egypt and the living God of the Jews moved toward one final plague against the land. These were Moses’ words to Pharaoh:
This is what the LORD says: "About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the slave girl, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt — worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any man or animal." Then you will know that the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel (Ex. 11:4-7).
The way Yahweh showed the "distinction" he made between Egypt and Israel — rebellious oppressors and the Chosen People — was clear on that fateful night. He had instructed Moses to have the head of every household to take an unblemished lamb, kill and eat it, and put its blood on the top and sides of the door. The salvation promise was put in these words: "The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt" (Ex. 12:13).
It is from that event of God’s "passing over" the houses marked with blood that the Feast of Passover is named. The issue that night was not the size or style of the house; the issue was blood. The issue that night was not male or female, young or old; the issue was blood. The issue that night was not even good or bad, pious or wicked; the issue that night was the blood of a lamb strategically placed around the door of the house. All who were on the inside were saved. All on the outside were under judgment.
Standing Under the Blood
Jesus is our Passover Lamb. Paul wrote: "For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed" (1 Cor. 5:7). For the sake of his blood, God "passes over" the sin of and spares just judgment against believers. When the Holy God of heaven looks down on us Earthlings — rich and poor, males and females, Orientals and Westerners, mature and naive, good and bad — who have consented to stand under the blood of Christ, he is reminded of the cross. Because Jesus was offered on that cross as the lamb of God to take away the sin of the world, those who stand in that blood-protected place are exempted from judgment. We go free when we deserve to be nothing better than slaves! We live when we should die!
What a price Jesus paid as the sacrificial lamb for my sake. I will never be able to take it in. I shall never be able to say enough in his praise. I don’t have the ability to give him the service he deserves. It is of grace — totally of grace that he saves. But there is more to the story . . .
Jesus is the lamb taken to the slaughter without protest or resistance. He is the compliant, submissive Savior. But he is also the triumphal lamb who stands now in glory to receive our praise and adoration. He is no longer nailed to a tree. What did the angel tell the women at the tomb on that first Easter morning? "He has risen!" (Mark 16:6). He is alive! He reigns forevermore!
The Triumphal Lamb
When John was on the prison island Patmos near the end of the first century, the Lord Jesus — both for John’s own sake and for the sake of those discouraged saints back on the mainland of Asia Minor — gave him a series of apocalyptic visions. Those visions took John from the mundane to the glorious, from dismay to ecstasy. He was allowed to see beyond the moment into the future.
Surely you’ve been in situations where you wished you could see the outcome of some crisis. If you believe things will turn out all right, you can endure anything in the meanwhile. If you give way to despair, there is no point to hanging on any longer. Give in, give over, give up! Accept a cruel fate and die!
A little over a month before he died, the Existentialist writer Jean-Paul Sartre looked into the abyss of his uncertain future. Fighting against the despair so evident in his novels, he said he strongly resisted such negative feelings for himself. He would say to himself, "I know I shall die in hope." Then, in profound sadness, the atheist lamented, "But hope needs a foundation."
Job had suffered terrible losses. He was suffering terribly and was expecting to die soon. He was experiencing such a range of feelings — confusion, dread, anger, and despair. But above all these was hope. He kept believing that God was loving toward his children. He kept affirming that God does what is right. He expressed this groping-for-understanding faith:
I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
with my own eyes — I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:25-27).
In John’s day, it was not simply one man who was suffering but an entire generation of the church that was under siege. The Roman Empire had made Christians into non-persons. It was hounding, arresting, and persecuting people for the "crime" of faith in Jesus of Nazareth. The last living apostle had been taken into custody and put in isolation from the frightened Christians who were looking to him for instruction and encouragement. Would the infant church be able to survive this ordeal?
In the apocalyptic visions given to John, he saw a scroll in the hand of God the Father. That book contained the answers to a frightened church’s anxious questions. Written front and back on the scroll were the secrets to the future. Sealed with seven seals, God himself knew its contents. When John first saw the book and discerned its contents, he was excited about getting answers about the future. Then, as an angel asked this question, John’s excitement turned into gloom: "Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?" (Rev. 5:2). When no one could be found worthy to go into the throne and receive the scroll from God, John began to weep. There was no human agent worthy to receive and reveal the mind of God.
At that point in the narrative, one of the twenty-four elders around the throne of God said, "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" (Rev. 5:5). That is messianic imagery from the Old Testament (cf. Gen. 49:9-10). So John looks, expecting to see the powerful ruler who would come in power and might to scatter the enemies of the people of God and establish righteousness on Earth. But the imagery is changed in a surprising fashion to reveal the one who is worthy above all others.
Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He came 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 the saints. And they sang a new song:
"You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased men for God
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 sang:
"Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!" (Rev. 5:6-12).
God’s purposes from eternity past have come to their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. The shadowy anticipations and types of the Old Testament have become reality in him. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world for John the Baptist is the Lamb of God who has triumphed over death for John on Patmos. Prepare-the-way John announces Jesus as the one who is coming for the sake of being laid on the altar of the cross. Hold-the-faith John is permitted to see him as the one who has conquered death and who holds out the hope of victory over that enemy to all who follow him.
John, describe the lamb you see! Why, he has death marks across his throat — but he is standing. He is alive! He has triumphed over death! In this Worthy and Triumphant Lamb, we see the fullness of God’s purposes realized for humankind!
By this one stroke of brilliant artistry John has given us the key to all his use of the Old Testament. . . . Throughout the welter of Old Testament images in the chapters that follow, almost without exception the only title for Christ is the Lamb, and this title is meant to control and interpret all the rest of the symbolism. It is almost as if John were saying to us at one point after another, ‘Wherever the Old Testament says "Lion", read "Lamb".’ Wherever the Old Testament speaks of the victory of the Messiah or the overthrow of the enemies of God, we are to remember that the gospel recognizes no other way of achieving these ends than the way of the Cross.1
The Lion-Lamb Jesus was worshiped with this song: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals . . ." Please notice that it begins with the same words as the song offered to God the Father one chapter earlier: "You are worthy" (Rev. 4:11). If the Creator-God and the Lion-Lamb are worshiped by the same "living creatures" (i.e., four creatures representing all of creation) and the twenty-four elders (i.e., representing the total covenant community), what are we to conclude? Both share the status of deity, and both are worthy of homage and adoration.
By virtue of Jesus’ death, his blood has "purchased men for God" (cf. 1 Pet. 1:18). By virtue of his status as deity, those belonging to him are constituted a "kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth."
Resurrection Worthiness of Jesus
Because of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, we know he is who he claimed to be. He is the unique and incomparable Son of God. Through the prophets, God promised a number of things "regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 1:3-4).
Because of Jesus’ bodily resurrection, we know that those who are under his blood are saved. Slain as our Passover, he has been raised as proof that his sacrificial death was accepted as a full atonement. "He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification" (Rom. 4:25).
Because of the resurrection of Christ, there is gospel for us to share with the world today. The Easter faith is bogus without the Easter event. Only because he has been raised to life never to die again does the persecuted church of the first century or today’s church have a message for the world.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them — yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed (1 Cor. 15:3-11).
Because of the resurrection, Jesus can be experienced today as alive and available to us. If he was truly raised and is now alive, he is the Lord over his people and can be known today. And if he can be known today, he is available for the crisis situations in our lives — as he was for those in John’s life — and will give us courage and assurance in our trials.
Because of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, we have a sure foundation for hope that permits us to face this life with courage and to look to a life yet to come with absolute assurance. "But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive" (1 Cor. 15:20-22).
Well over three hundred verses in the New Testament deal with the resurrection in the New Testament. Whether it is Easter Sunday or August 9, the proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection is Christianity’s central tenet of faith. Without it, everything collapses. With it, everything makes sense.
The triumphal Lamb of God seen in Revelation 5 is the anchor of Christian faith, sign of Christian hope, and stimulus to Christian love. It puts all else into perspective, for those who see reality through resurrection faith.
The worst that man can do is only a prelude to the best that God has to offer. Rebellious humanity though it had shrieked the final word at Calvary, only to find that God had had the last word on Easter morning. The illusion that death had the ultimate power over life was exposed as false. The resurrection made death a helpless comma in eternal life and put an exclamation point in every event of daily living. Christ’s hope-filled assertion to Martha became the charter of a bold people: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26).2
Indeed, do you believe this?
1 G. B. Caird, A Commentary on the Revelation of St. John the Divine (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1966), pp. 74-75.
2 Lloyd J. Ogilvie, The Communicator’s Commentary: Acts (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983), p. 92.
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