The Revelation: Chapter 5 (Worthy Is the Lamb!)

lion-dove-lamb-yeshuaTo me, this is one the most significant passages in the entire book. It’s a turning point — a “revelation” of a deep truth.

(Rev. 5:1-5 ESV) 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.” 

Who is worthy to open the scroll? The Lion of Judah! The Root of David!

This language refers, of course, to Jesus, but does so in militarized terms.

Both titles would evoke in the Judaeo-Christian mind an image of the Davidic Messiah, God’s anointed king who would act on his behalf in the last days. Jacob’s blessing at Gen. 49:9–10 presents Judah as ‘a lion’s whelp’, from whom the royal sceptre shall not pass, and this gave birth to the expectation (just one messianic expectation among many) of a fearless warrior king who would defeat the enemies of God’s people (e.g. Pss Sol. 17). Such a figure is reflected for example in Ezra’s vision of a (Rome-like) Eagle defeated by a Lion, who is explicitly identified as the eschatological Messiah (4 Ez. 11:37; 12:31–32). The Root of David is probably an allusion to the root of David’s father Jesse, and the branch which would emerge from it (Isa. 11:1, 10, interpreted messianically by at least some Jews: e.g. 4QpIsa; 4QFlor; T. Jud. 24:5).

Ian Boxall, The Revelation of Saint John, Black’s New Testament Commentary, (London: Continuum, 2006), 97.

David was the warrior king, too bloody to be allowed to build the Temple. It was was his son Solomon who built the Temple, because Solomon ruled in a time of peace rather than war. And yet we are deliberately shown a picture of Jesus as Warrior.

(Rev. 5:6 ESV)  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, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 

But the Lion appears in heaven as a Lamb, and not just a Lamb, but a slain Lamb — a Passover sacrifice. “Slain” is a weak translation, taken from the KJV by tradition. When applied to a Passover sacrifice, the word means “slaughtered” or “butchered.” (Think: “slaughterhouse” as the term for a place where animals are killed, butchered, and prepared for shipping to a market as food.) When applied to a human, it means “killed violently.”

(Rev. 5:7-10 ESV)  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.” 

This leads to a song of praise — the Lamb is “worthy,” not because of his military victories but because of the cross. Throughout the rest of the Revelation, Jesus is pictured as a Lamb, not a Lion — and this is surely of great significance to the interpretation of the book.

(Rev. 5:11-14 ESV)  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.

And then the entirety of creation sings praise — as in Psalm 148.

I’m not sure this one uses lyrics from Revelation, but it fits the mood —

“Holy child of mystery,
Please set ablaze our hearts
With grace unending, love so pure,
And pierce the ancient dark.

“O Light! Heaven shine down on earth;
O Joy! Come and break the curse;
We praise the name above every name,
A light has come and Christ to Thee we run!”

This is a picture of the conclusion of Phil 2’s great hymn —

(Phil. 2:5-8 ESV)  5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,  6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

— which concludes with —

(Phil. 2:9-11 ESV)  9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,  10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Gorman comments thoughtfully on this chapter —

The first part of the chapter focuses on a mysterious scroll, held in the right hand of God, the hand of power and authority. It contains writing on both sides of the papyrus or parchment (highly unusual in antiquity), and is sealed with seven seals. This scroll has been variously identified as the Scriptures, the Book of Life (e.g., 20:12), and a legal document, but most often as the eschatological plan of God to judge and save the world—a plan that is, rather literally, about to unfold. This last interpretation makes the most sense in light of parallels from other apocalyptic literature as well as the narrative flow of the book of Revelation, as the seals, beginning in chapter 6, are identified with divine judgment.

Gorman, Michael J. (2011-01-01). . Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation (Kindle Locations 2567-2572). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

But in “perhaps the most mind-wrenching ‘rebirth of images’ in literature,” the vision John receives and describes for us is not what anyone would expect. It is the vision of a slaughtered Lamb, not a ferocious Lion. “The shock of this reversal,” writes Richard Hays, “discloses the central mystery of the Apocalypse: God overcomes the world not through a show of force but through the suffering and death of Jesus, ‘the faithful witness [martys] (1:5).’” As a narrative whole, Revelation first builds to this astonishing image, and then everything afterwards flows from it. The image likely draws on both the Passover lamb (Exodus 12) and the suffering servant of God, who is led like a lamb to the slaughter (Isa 53:7; cf. Jer 11:19). It is the central and centering image, the governing metaphor, the focal point of Revelation: a slaughtered Lamb, a crucified Lord.

(Kindle Locations 2581-2586).

The image of a slaughtered, (self-) sacrificial Lamb, does not, however, mean that this Lamb is powerless. In fact, the contrary is the case; the Lamb is indeed the messianic Lion who has seven eyes of perfect perception, or wisdom, and seven horns of perfect power (5:6). Like the figure in Daniel 7:13–14, he shares in the royal dominion of God. But in Revelation the nature of power is being redefined. The power of the Lamb in Revelation takes two forms: the power of his death, the symbol of which is the slaughtered lamb, and the power of his spoken word, the symbol of which is the sword of his mouth (1:16).

(Kindle Locations 2593-2597).

And here follows great wisdom:

It is critical that we not miss the paradoxical significance of this Lamb of God sharing in the identity and sovereignty of God. In his exaltation Jesus remains the Lamb, the crucified one. He participates in God’s identity and reign, making him worthy of worship, as the slaughtered Lamb, and only as such. This is the consistent witness of the New Testament: that the exalted Lord remains the crucified Jesus. And this one is “the true face of God.”

When this witness is neglected or forgotten, trouble follows swiftly. Any reading of Revelation—and any practice of theology more generally—that forgets this central New Testament truth is theologically problematic, even dangerous, from its very inception. It is doomed, not to failure, but to success—and that is its inherent defect. Human beings, even apparently faithful Christians, too often want an almighty deity who will rule the universe with power, preferably on their terms, and with force when necessary. Such a concept of God and of sovereignty induces its adherents to side with this kind of God in the execution of (allegedly) divine might in the quest for (allegedly) divine justice.

(Kindle Locations 2623-2632).

It may be true that every single theological error in the Churches of Christ is a product of a misunderstood God. We often worship a God who is spiteful and petty — looking to trap his own children in technical, minor mistakes in hopes of damning them. And have become like the God we worship.

But the true God, the God of the New Testament and Old, is best imagined as a slaughtered Passover Lamb, sitting on a throne — but sitting as one crucified for those who don’t deserve it.

And this is where we struggle — because we so want to deserve it so we can condemn those who don’t. But none of us do. Which is why Jesus assures us that only the humble may enter the Kingdom.

(Matt. 18:1-4 ESV) At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them  3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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4 Responses to The Revelation: Chapter 5 (Worthy Is the Lamb!)

  1. John says:

    When we look at others as those who must “obey” Christ before we see Christ in them, then it becomes easy to expect perfection. But there is something about looking at an individual and allowing God to gently whisper “Christ” to our spiritual ear that reminds us of our own humanity and frailty, a humility that first accepts being the lamb for others, that evolves into being the lion for others. Being the lion is never for self.

  2. rtylerlee says:

    This language refers, of course, to Jesus, but does so in militarized terms. Yet he is entering the gate to the city on a colt – donkey. This is the depiction of a king entering the city portraying the opposite image to the Romans, and proclaiming this idea from the Jews is so far from the truth. The image portrayed to the is the continued misunderstood truth flaunted directly in their faces. Proclaimed from the beginning of time, all who proclaimed the message of the life and death of the “Christ”. Only in the Spiritual depiction in Revelation is it made visually defined for the utmost time that the battle that were supposed to be concerned about escapes us completely. If one is trying to flee from the mighty force coming to kill Jesus while he is but just a baby, or not even born yet. Would you grab a donkey to escape. Isn’t the point depicted here, that Jesus is in no real danger. The new King that threatens all the foolish Kings appointed on earth with all there might and power are truly a great concern of our Lord. The point that is portrayed as he enters Jerusalem on a donkey “the animal that all Kings would ride on as they come to claim there kingship” really? Why is it that the Romans understood the image depicted here, which is that he is not entering as a threat to any kingdom here on earth. Remember the palm branches proclaimed to the Romans that I am coming in peace, while the entry on the donkey proclaimed a King that was clearly no threat to the Roman Empire. After all the prophecies proclaiming the very sacrificial event that is coming to perdition somehow is not understood by the Jews of that time and clearly continues to be misunderstood. by them today. Could it be as simple as the veil that covered Moses face “that was fading quickly” prevented the Jews from understanding? Clearly Paul explains in 2 Corinthians chapter 3-7. This is not a “pun” unfortunately today the same is true of us. In the Bible is living words that without the veil being torn would prevent us from understanding the importance of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. With the glorification of Jesus portrayed here in Revelation is the lamb “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.” Remember Revelations mentions at the beginning of this book that this for those who have an ear to hear the mysteries written in this book are but a stumbling block for us to stumble over. Thanks to the worthiness of the Perfect Lamb we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit that is the indwelling of Jesus dwelling in this tabernacle of temporary tent. This gift reveals the truthful mysteries that we stumbled over into word of Life eternal Life.

  3. rtylerlee says:

    Sorry for all the errors!!! I am in need of a better method of typing the message and better proof reading effort. Stumble through and I think the message is still heard.


  4. Dwight says:

    The concept of Jesus as the slain Lamb is powerful and is counter to how we think a righteous person should be. His strength was in his weakness and in his sacrifice towards others. We think our strength is in what we do for ourselves, not in what we give up and do for others, even when we fail in our problems.

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