Worthy is the Lamb
Sunday school lesson for the week of March 23, 2014
By Dr. Hal Brady
Lesson Scripture: Revelation 5:6-13
How do we celebrate the fulfillment of a dream? Perhaps we take a trip to celebrate a wedding anniversary or throw a party to mark a milestone in our education or have an open house to note the completion of a new facility. But the emphasis of today’s lesson is on how Christ’s victory and worthiness as “The Lamb of God” is celebrated in extravagant praise and worship by the multitude of the redeemed.
Before noting John’s specific vision, a word about the Book of Revelation seems appropriate. The Book of Revelation is comprised of a series of visions witnessed by John, who identifies himself as “a servant” (1:1) and “your brother” (1:9). John is imprisoned on the isle of Patmos in the Aegean Sea off the coast of what is today Turkey. In sharing his visionary experiences, John frequently uses symbolic language which seems extremely strange to us: beasts, dragons, four dreaded horses, etc. Yet, for all that symbolizes the power of evil, evil is not the theme of the book. Rather, from start to finish, Revelation resounds with the glory and triumph of Jesus Christ.
In chapters 4 and 5, the focus is heaven. These chapters describe John’s vision of God on the throne and of the Lamb of God which is Jesus Christ.
John begins by saying that he sees a door standing open in heaven and hears a trumpet-like voice again, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” (4:1). Being transformed and transported by the Spirit, John is enabled to pass through the door into heaven and gaze on the majestic spectacle of a throne and of the Lord God Almighty seated on the throne (4:2). In what follows, John attempts to describe the glory and grandeur of God and the response, worship and activities of those around the throne.
Now, John’s vision continues to unfold in chapter 5. Here John’s attention is drawn to a scroll that is held in the right hand of the One seated upon the throne. Written on the inside and on the back, the scroll is sealed with seven seals (5:1). As scholars suggest, the scroll is the book of the eternal decree of God.
Suddenly, John begins to weep because no one can be found worthy enough to open the scroll – to carry out God’s plan for human history. Then one of the elders says, “Don’t weep. Look! The Lion of the tribe of Judah, and the Root of David, has emerged victorious so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” (5:5). The images of the “Lion of Judah” and the “Root of David” were traditional Old Testament prophecies referring to the coming of the Messiah (Genesis 49:9; Isaiah 1:1, 10).
Most Jews were expecting a Messiah who would come in power and might to conquer their enemies and establish a new kingdom. But with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and his death, these traditional messianic expectations were turned upside down. This Jesus would conquer alright, but not by might. Rather, he would conquer through the power of self-sacrificial love. The might of Christ is the power of Christ. Thus, it’s the image of a lamb, rather than a lion, that is used to describe the Messiah.
But back to John’s vision! When he looks up, he sees a slaughtered lamb on the throne. He sees a gruesome bloody figure who has endured a violent death but who now lives and reigns, surrounded by worshipers. This wounded Lamb is seen as having seven horns and seven eyes. Scholars tell us that seven horns mean that Christ has complete power and the seven eyes mean that he sees and knows all things. To be sure, this prophesied and victorious One is worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals.
Upon opening the scroll, however, the Lamb is about to disclose what the scroll contains. In short, Jesus does not change the divine plan; he unfolds its eternal and unchangeable nature by his obedience, even to death on the cross.
Now, the Book of Revelation makes a significant transformation in the way the “Lamb of God” is portrayed. The image of the lamb as a poor, helpless creature is no more. The Lamb represents the triumphant presence of God who wins the victory over evil. In fact, we are told that the Lamb becomes the earthly embodiment of the power of God! Again, I repeat, this power does not come from strength or force, but from self-sacrificing love. Jesus, the Worthy Lamb, conquered both evil and death by giving of his own life.
So, what is the response to this triumphant “Lamb of God” who is worthy of opening the scroll and its seven seals? Praise! There is glorious praise in heaven that is accompanied by incense and harps. The 24 elders fall down before the Lamb and offer “golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (5:8). As we are reminded, this is John’s first hint of participation of the church’s worship on earth with that of the church in heaven.
We confess this same idea in the Apostles’ Creed. Among other statements of faith, we say, “I believe in the communion of saints.” The communion of saints, as John expresses it here, is the unity of worship of the church militant on earth with that of the church triumphant in heaven. The prayers of the believers are mixed with the worship of the angels and archangels and all the host of heaven, in adoration of God and the Lamb.
Momentarily, the power of worship is picked up by immeasurable host of angels, numbering in millions. Not only do the four living creatures, the elders, and the angels unite, but all creation joins in adoration and praise to God and to the Lamb.
What a picture of hope and sense of victory for all John’s hearers (including us) as we face the continuing earthly struggles that are before us.
Certainly, one of the hallmarks of John’s glimpse into heaven is worship. He sees persons, groups, and multitudes gathered together in song, adoration, and praise. And you and I are invited to partake of that heavenly experience right here on earth. It is at least one element of the hereafter that we can engage in here and now.
Now, knowledge of this profound unity of heavenly and earthly worship should bring about better planning and stronger participation for of our own worship experiences. Using Revelation chapter 5 as our guide, the following are a few things to note about worship in heaven:
First, note that “all creatures are worshiping.”
Second, recognize the importance of singing. As we have long suspected, singing and music are not just uniquely human experiences. When we join our voices in music we are part of a larger chorus of praise that is eternal in the heavens. That old excuse, “I can’t carry a tune in a bucket” is no longer valid.
Finally, and most important, the focus of heavenly worship is directed toward the throne of God and the Lamb that was slain. There are no distractions or diversions. All eyes are on the Lord, the one who said, “I’m the root and descendent of David, the bright morning star” (Rev. 22:16). So let it be with us!