The Lion and the Lamb – Thursday, 33rd Week in ordinary time – Revelation 5:1-10
Chapter 4 introduced us to heavenly worship around the throne of God. The focus shifts from the throne and the one who sits on the throne, to the scroll in the right hand of the one who sits on the throne, in chapter 5.
The one on the throne holds a seven-sealed scroll with writing on both sides (Rev 5:1). No one in all of creation can be found worthy to open the scroll except the “Lamb that was slain” (5:2-5). This scroll is an important symbol in this chapter, but also for chapters 6-7 since a series of things occur as the seals on the scroll are opened. How did John intend for us to understand this scroll?
The scrolls have unique qualities. The first unique characteristic is its seven seals. This indicated its degree of total inaccessibility to the unauthorized, hence no human could open the scroll. The scroll is fully sealed until the proper time and the proper person to open the scroll. The scroll which was a papyrus roll, possibly contained a list of afflictions for sinners (cf. Ez 2:9–10) or God’s plan for the world. Some suggest it is his final settlement of the affairs of the universe. This is based on the idea that customarily, under Roman law, wills were sealed with seven seals, each from a witness in order to validate the will.
We will also notice as we continue our study of Revelation in future lessons, that as each seal is broken (6:1), an event happens on the earth. This imagery will be important to keep in mind as we study through the book. The seventh seal is broken in 8:1.
The other unique aspect of the scroll is that it has writing on both sides. Usually a scroll had writing on only one side. The simple meaning of the image presents itself to us. A scroll with writing on both sides pictures a complete message. The whole scroll has writing, even on both sides. Therefore, God’s complete message is ready to be revealed. The image of a scroll with writing on both sides is not unique to the scriptures. In Ezekiel 2:9-10 we read that in Ezekiel’s vision he is given a scroll that has writing on both sides.
But, John weeps when he realises that no one is found worthy to open and reveal the contents of the scroll, until one of the 24 elders tells him that there is someone who can open the scroll and read it. He is “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David”. The Lion of the tribe of Judah comes from Genesis 49:8-10. The “Lion of Judah” is a messianic title found where Judah is referred to as a “lion’s cub” and promised the right to rule “until he comes to whom it belongs”. The “Root of David”, from Isaiah 11:1, 10, points to a future saviour-king descended from King David. Our Lord Jesus, of course, is indicated here.
John now turns to see the Lion of the tribe of Judah, but instead sees a Lamb bearing the marks of having been sacrificed (slain), for this is the Passover Lamb sacrificed to save God’s people. The word “slain” is from the Greek root word sphazō, which may also be translated as “slaughtered or butchered.” It describes the violent death Jesus endured on the cross to take away our sin. Revelation uses a word for “lamb” (arnion) 29 times, which is found only once elsewhere in the New Testament, in the scene after the resurrection where Jesus tells Peter to feed his “lambs” and “sheep” – John 21:15.
In Old Testament times lambs served as sacrifices for sin, but these only foreshadowed Jesus, who shed His blood as the perfect, once-for-all sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 9:11–12) Do you see the great picture? The conquering Messiah does not conquer by military muscle but through his sacrificial death. Jesus does not conquer through armies or by physical strength. Jesus conquers by enduring hostility and dying as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Victory has been achieved, not by sword, but by sacrifice. Christ is the conqueror but his victory was won on the cross. The wounds are the badges of his victory over sin and death.
The Lamb now comes forward to take the scroll from the hands of God sitting on his throne. When the Lamb took the scroll, the response was immediate, the four creatures and the 24 elders all prostrate themselves. They give the same worship to the Lamb as they do to the One on the throne.
They each have a harp, used to accompany the songs of praise they sing. They also have bowls of incense representing the prayers of the whole Christian community. Incense was a normal feature of Hebrew ritual. In later Jewish thought, angels often present the prayers of saints to God (e.g. Tob 12:15). As one might expect, this is the passage that started the idea that people in heaven will have harps. But of course, our future life with God should in no way be seen as being like this!
The passage concludes with the “new” hymn of the creatures and the elders, a hymn in praise of the Lamb, who alone is found worthy to open the scroll. In the days of the Apostle John, Roman Emperors were celebrated upon their arrival with the Latin expression vere dignus, which is translated, “You are worthy”. Here the true Ruler of the world is honoured.
Also, in the Old Testament, a ‘new song’ celebrates a new intervention of deliverance or blessing by God. Here it is the Lamb who has earned the right to open the scroll by the sacrificing and pouring out of his blood which bought back people of every race and nation and “made them a line of kings and priests to serve our God and rule the world”. ‘Kings and priests’, previously an Old Testament designation of Israel, is now applied in the New Testament to the whole Christian community.