Monday, January 21, 2019

The Humble and Glorious Lamb-Rev. 5:6-10

A familiar way to introduce a protagonist or hero in either a movie, show, or commercial is for a voice-over professional to say something (using their best low raspy tone) to the effect of “In a world in need of saving, he/she answered the call.” Thereafter, more often that not, someone with incredible powers or unique means is plastered onto the screen complete with scenes of physical or intellectual dominance over his/her foes. We grow excited and, if the trailer proves effective, we purchase the movie ticket or rent the film. Something similar happens on a literary level in today’s passage—Revelation 5:6-10. In this passage the hero of the Book of Revelation is witnessed for the first time (that is in the major prophetic section). One might begin the trailer that we are going to witness today of the end times with “In a world in need of judging and in desperate need of being made new, only one was found worthy and able to bring about a glorious end.” However, if we were to observe this passage play out visually, we might be surprised by what we see in the trailer provided us by John. That said, I’m convinced that what we witness in this passage will only increase our excitement and expectations for what we will continue to learn as we continue our exciting journey in this amazing book. Therefore, without any more delay, let us turn to this pivotal passage and examine two important activities that highlight the unique character of the protagonist/hero of Revelation.

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1. The Emergence of the Lamb-5:6-7

When John turns to see the regal Lion that the elder calls his attention to in verse 5, the apostle beholds something surprising—“A Lamb standing, as if slain” (5:6a). The spectacle is equal parts unexpected and profound for several reasons. First, the term used for lamb (arnion) is employed nowhere else in the New Testament to speak of Jesus. It is NOT the same word that John the Baptist uses when he says “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). There, the word is amnoV and it appears to allude to the Old Testament sacrifices that were used to temporarily cover the sins of God’s people. The Baptist’s point in John’s gospel appears to be that the “lamb” that stood before him and the one that he baptized would be the one sacrificed once for all sin forever. The word in Revelation 5:6 is also NOT the same word that the apostle Paul employs in 1 Corinthians 5:7 when he says, “Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover (Lamb) also has been sacrificed.” There, the word is pasca and Paul is making a direct connection to the original Passover lamb whose blood was spread on the lintels of the Hebrew doorways in Egypt before the angel of death and the wrath of God visited the land. Just as the blood of the Lamb saved God’s people from the wrath of God in ancient Egypt, those who apply (in a figurative way) the blood of Jesus to their lives today will be saved from the wrath of God forever. So from where does John get arnion? As best as can be determined the word simply means (etymologically) an infant sheep and its use in the Old Testament and in extra-biblical literature is relatively unremarkable. Perhaps what John is doing by implementing this term is introducing a new and more complete description of the figure he beholds—a description that no previously assigned term could possibly encapsulate. For John, the Lamb that he now sees is more than just the greatest ever sacrifice and the most complete Passover, and this realization, given what he saw, deserves a new term that can be imbued with broader connotations.

Context clues might help us ascertain what John is trying to accomplish with this term. For instance, the infant Lamb that John sees stands in stark contrast to the Lion of the tribe of Judah that was introduced earlier. Perhaps there is some sort of juxtaposition being made. After all, the Lion is a glorious image of strength and victory, a lamb hardly betrays the same. In fact, a lamb is a humble and lowly creature. Even further, the lowliness of the lamb in Revelation 5 is brought lower by means of the first descriptive phrase that is attached to it—“standing as if slain” (5:6a). This, no doubt, is an allusion to the crucifixion. The verb “slain” means “slaughtered mercilessly” and no other event in Jesus’ history, save his Passion, could satisfy this reference. The marks of Jesus’ death appear to be visible even in this glorious throne room of heaven, testifying to Jesus’ most humble act—giving up his life. With these clues in mind, John seems to be establishing a paradox. Jesus is both the most glorious and most humble being in all of history. He is BOTH the Lion and the Lamb.

However, this Lamb is not just any humble ewe. John is not nearly finished loading this term with profound literary and theological connotations. This Lamb, though humble in death, is “standing.” In other words, Though the marks of death are visible (“as if slain”) they are not debilitating as this Lamb is alive and well. Where he is standing is also significant—“between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders” (5:6a). If, as was argued earlier in this study, the elders represent the people of God and, as was determined in chapter 4, the One on the throne is God the Father, this Lamb standing in between these two parties appears to serve as a mediating presence.

1 Timothy 2:5-“For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.”

Jesus betrays his office as mediator between God and man even here in this throne room as he takes his place between the 24 elders and the throne.

In addition to his placement and posture, John also describes several peculiarities of the Lamb that reveal even more concerning his character and purpose. Verse 6 continues by saying, “having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, send out into all the earth” (5:6b). Horns are often used in the OT as symbols of strength, power, and violence (Deut. 33:17; 1 Kings 22:11; 2 Chr. 18:10; Ps. 22:1). The number of horns (7) seems to demonstrate the totality of the Lamb’s power and authority. Something similar may be said about the seven eyes which indicate the inescapable view by which the Lamb discerns the world and all that happens within it. Because the eyes are also referred to as the “seven Spirits of God” one can see a clear connection Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Christ’s omniscience and omnipresence is afforded him by his partnership with the Holy Spirit who is sent out into all the earth. Robert L. Thomas and others have concluded concerning this Lamb—that “not only is he omnipotent, as indicated by his seven horns, he is also omniscient” (Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 392).

Like a wild roller coaster, this passage takes us from the peak of the Lion of the tribe of Judah (regal, glorious, victorious) to the depths of humility (a Lamb standing as if slain) to the heights of omnipotence and omnipresence (the seven horns and seven eyes) and associates the entire theological thrill ride to one character who stands in the center of the throne room and in the center of this book and in the center of the end—Jesus Christ. A similar ride is witnessed in Philippians 2.

Philippians 2:5-11-“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Because Jesus is the humblest and therefore most glorious character, he alone is worthy to do what he does in verse 7—“and He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who say on the throne” (5:7). Remember, this “book” or “scroll” is the title deed to the universe, the opening of which will set in motion those events that will bring about the new heavens and the new earth in the end. Therefore, the interpretation of this passage and its most central term (Lamb), especially given the context in which it is found, involves Jesus’ unique ability to set in motion the end and thereby the ultimate salvation (glorification) of his people. This ability is afforded him because he (the Lion of the Tribe of Judah) humiliated himself to the point of death (a Lamb standing as if slain) and as such has been given all power (seven horns) and perception (seven eyes), to continue to perform God’s will. The christological statement made here (accentuated by the image of the ἀρνίον) successfully portrays Jesus in his humblest and therefore most glorious light.

Interestingly, this term for Lamb will appear 28 more times in the book of Revelation (more than double any other label/title used for Christ). Every occurrence of “Lamb” from this point on also possesses a definite article (“the”) that seems to reference this first occurrence here in Revelation 5:6. In other words, John enjoys using this term more than any other for Christ and this he does because this term, as presented here, involves a paradox of humility and glory that is capable of housing all of the activities and revelations that Jesus will perform as the book of Revelation moves forward.

2. The Restoration of the Worship-5:8-10

What happens next is a response to the introduction of the Lamb in verses 6-7—worship in heaven is restored. This worship is re-instigated “when He had taken the book” (5:8). Now that things are no longer stalled and can move forward (see 5:1-5), now that this scroll can be received and opened, the worship that was interrupted can once again ring forth.

Participants in this worship include “the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders”—i.e. those same characters introduced in chapter 4 who were seen worshiping the one who sits on the throne. “This momentous transfer of the scroll” evokes a response from the people of God and other heavenly creatures.

However, the worship that began in chapter 4 and was interrupted in chapter 5 and has restarted here in verse 8 suffers one important change—it is extended to the Lamb—“fell down before the Lamb,…” (5:8c). This demonstrates that like the One who sits on the throne, the humble and glorious Lamb is just as worthy to receive glory and honor and praise. This is because the Lamb is equal to the One on the throne. In other words, Jesus and God are co-equal members of the same Godhead and as such are both worthy of worship.

Their worship takes the following form—they “fell down, … each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints,…” (5:8c). The “falling down” of those present depicts the “awful solemnity of the occasion” (Smith, Revelation, 114) and is consistent with the responses of those before God the Father in 4:10; 5:14; 7:11; 11:16; and 19:4. This reverent posture is coupled with “a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (5:8), perhaps indicating that in prayer and in song, praises and adoration are offered to the horned Lamb here.

This is confirmed in verse 9-10--“And they sang a new song…” (5:9a). The song in chapter 4 was offered to the Father on the throne and praised God for his holiness, permanence, and creative and sustaining power.

Revelation 4:8b, 11-“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come…Worthy are You, our Lord and our God to receive glory and honor and power; for you created all things and because of Your will they existed and were created”

This song was sung unceasingly in the heavenly halls up to this point. However, once the Lamb enters the spectacle, a new song is sung and in celebration of him.

“Worthy are You to take the book and break its seals…” (5:9b). While the Father was worshiped in chapter 4 for his role in creating and sustaining the universe, Christ is worshiped here for his role in recreating the universe—something afforded him by taking and breaking open the seven sealed scroll. Again, this ability is afforded him because he is, at the same time, the humblest and, by proxy, the most glorious figure there ever was/will be.

In fact, this theme of glory in humility is confirmed in the rest of the song that is sung. First, Christ’s unique humility is celebrated—“for you were slain and purchased for God with your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (5:9c). Christ’s greatest act of humility provided salvation for humankind and for this he is celebrated and praised in the heavens. The Lamb is a humble Savior.

However, that is not all He is and that is not all that he is praised for in this song. The stanza continues by saying “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God and they will reign upon the earth” (5:10). The Lamb is depicted here as not merely a king, but a king who appoints other priestly rulers (the “King of kings”). Those same beneficiaries of salvation that the Lamb saved in his humble death will be reigning rulers over a new heaven and new earth because of the same Lamb’s glorious victory!

In this song and in so many coming passages in Revelation, the Lamb is revered and worshiped because he is BOTH the humble savior who sacrificed it all as witnessed in his first coming AND the glorious victor who leads his people to a new heavens and new earth in his second coming. This paradoxical connotation is literarily fixed to the unique term John employs here (“Lamb”) and is referenced every other time “Lamb” will be used from this point on.

So What?

In reflecting on this passage and how Christ is described therein, Augustine once said “Who is this, both Lamb and lion? He endured death as a lamb; he devoured it as a lion. Who is this, both lamb and lion? Gentle and strong, lovable and terrifying, innocent and mighty silent when he was being judged, roaring when he comes to judge” (Sermon 375). In his humility he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped; in his glory he is worshiped as God in the heavenly throne room. In his humility he came as a baby boy; in his glory he will return as a victorious King. In his humility he purchased your salvation by dying on the cross; in his glory he offers new life and hope for a glorious future. In his humility he sympathizes and understands our struggles; in his glory he directs us to perfect hope and ultimate satisfaction. Because of this He alone is capable of bringing an end to the world as we know it and ushering in a new world for those who follow him. This is a major revelation that is given to us in John’s apocalypse—the humility and glory of the Lamb.

Such a presentation is not just given to help us advance a more robust Christology; it is also offered to inform the way that we live as followers of Christ as we endure the tribulations of this world. If our greatest ambition as Christians is to be like Jesus, what must be sought in the Christian life is our own humiliation. Like John the Baptist (a man that Jesus refers to as “the greatest man who ever lived”—Luke 7:28) we must say with the way that we live “he must increase and I must decrease” (John 3:30) When we do this, we follow the example of the Lamb. When we do this, we persevere in the way that God intends. When we do this, we glorify the One who is worthy of worship.  

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