“The Babe, the Lamb, and the Lion of Judah” An Exposition of Revelation 5:1-14

“The Babe, the Lamb, and the Lion of Judah” An Exposition of Revelation 5:1-14

The vision of the heavenly throne ends with all of creation and all of God’s redeemed worshiping the one seated upon the throne and the Lamb. When Daniel’s vision was sealed, when Ezekiel and Isaiah saw the throne, their visions were incomplete because they did not yet see the Lamb who was slain. For it is only after Jesus was born of the virgin, only after he has died for our sins, only after he was raised for our justification, that we can fully understand how Jesus can be both the Lamb who was slain and the Lion of the tribe of Judah, from whom the scepter (the symbol of his rule) never departs. This is why heaven sings a new song which centers upon what God has done in Christ to free us from our sins, to make us a kingdom of priests and to ensure that one day we will rule with Christ upon a redeemed earth.

The Babe in Bethlehem

In their opening chapters, the synoptic gospels give us a wonderful picture of God incarnate, a helpless babe in a manger, virginally conceived, and born to a young woman named Mary. When we see him in Bethlehem, the Christ-child is like a defenseless lamb, anything but a roaring lion.

Yet, in Revelation chapters 4 and 5, the Apostle John gives us an entirely different perspective on this newborn’s true identity. John recounts being caught away by the Holy Spirit where he was given a vision of God’s throne in heaven–a much different perspective upon our Lord’s advent from that given to us in the gospels.

A Different Perspective–The Throne of Heaven

Struggling to describe the scene he is witnessing, John sees one who is both a lion and a lamb. The glory of the one sitting upon the throne, says John, has the appearance of precious gems and reflects virtually every color of the spectrum. A rainbow encircles the throne, from which emanate flashes of lightening and peals of thunder. Surrounding the throne are twenty four elders, representing God’s redeemed people from both testaments. Also present are four living creatures (angels) who have six wings and who are covered with eyes. The living creatures represent all of creation. Together, with the elders, the living creatures worship the one seated on the throne. But they also worship another—a Lamb who was slain and yet who is also the Lion of Judah (Revelation 5:5). He alone is worthy to open the mysterious scroll containing God’s plan for the future chapters of redemptive history.

In what follows, we will consider the coming of Jesus Christ from the perspective of God’s throne in heaven. From this heavenly vantage point, we get a glimpse of the eternal glory of the Son of God, who then veiled that glory in human flesh when he came to earth to be born of Mary in a creche in Bethlehem.

Like the Old Testament prophets Ezekiel, Daniel, and Isaiah before him, John is caught away by the Holy Spirit and given a vision of God’s throne room in heaven. What John sees is beyond human description. This vision will give comfort and encouragement to Christians then suffering under persecution from the Roman empire and its emperor. John is given a glimpse of heavenly glory to remind us in the midst of our struggles against our earthly foes that God’s will is being done in heaven–just as Jesus instructed us to pray (Matthew 6:9-13). The birth of Jesus points ahead to that day when God’s will is done upon the earth just as it is in heaven. Our Lord’s first advent guarantees that he will return a second time to complete his redemptive work.

The Glory of the Heavenly Scene

In the opening chapters of the Book of Revelation (1:12-3:22), John is given a vision of the resurrected Christ walking in the midst of his churches. Let us consider John’s second vision, recorded in Revelation 4-5. The vision in chapters 1-3 depicts Christ’s presence with his church on the earth, while the second vision gives God’s people a heavenly perspective upon their earthly struggles. The vision of Jesus Christ’s heavenly glory and power in Revelation 4-5 would be a great encouragement to those whom God has called to fight the good fight of faith during times of trial and uncertainty.

Keeping this heavenly scene before our eyes reminds us that despite the wrath of Satan against the offspring of the woman, as well as his hatred toward us, God’s people will be victorious in the end. Through the birth of the seed of the woman (“her offspring” as foretold in Genesis 3:15), the serpent’s head was crushed by Jesus when he died upon Calvary’s cross, a victory which became evident when Jesus was raised from the dead three days later. Jesus’ victory over the serpent dominates the vision in Revelation 5.

As the vision unfolds, John’s focus is upon an incarnate Savior, the babe who was born of the virgin, now depicted as the Lamb who alone is worthy to open the scroll. Because the Lamb has already triumphed over Satan upon the cross and has been raised from the dead, one day the Lamb’s triumph will extend to all the earth. At the end of the redemptive drama, when Jesus returns, Satan and his evil henchmen (the beast and the false prophet), will be cast into the lake of fire, never to torment God’s people again.

Revelation 5 continues the vision of the heavenly throne begun in chapter 4. The focus shifts from the scene in the opening verses of chapter four in which all of creation–represented by the four living creatures–praises the one seated on the throne, to the image of the representatives of the redeemed (the twenty-four elders) praising God, to God’s re-creation of all things as seen in Revelation 5:1-14.[1] We can see this pattern with the intensified focus upon the Lamb who not only redeems his people from sin and death, but who is also the one in whom all things will be re-created by virtue of his resurrection from the dead. The Lamb was slain, but now he is alive forevermore. Just as he rose from the dead, so too he will make all things new.

The Broad Panorama of Redemptive History

In this vision, the broad panorama of redemptive history–creation, fall, redemption, re-creation–is displayed in summary form. We can view redemptive history as moving forward from the moment of Adam’s fall (the reason for Advent) to the crushing of the serpent. In John’s vision we view Christ’s advent from the vantage point of heaven–the box top to the 5000 piece jig-saw puzzle so to speak. John sees the seed of the woman (depicted here as both a lion and a lamb) as that one who is alone worthy to open the mysterious scroll and its seals (the theme of Revelation chapters 6-8).

In the fourteen verses of Revelation, we should note that there are many Old Testament messianic prophecies alluded to by John–including several from the Book of Zechariah. In Revelation 5:1, John reveals that the one upon the throne is holding something in his hand. “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.” The scroll which John sees has writing on both the front and the back. This reminds us of the scroll given the prophet Ezekiel in the opening chapters of his prophetic vision. The same was true of the flying scroll in Zechariah 5:1-4. Because Ezekiel was called to preach the contents written upon the scroll to the people of Israel, he was commanded to eat the scroll, a symbolic act pointing to his preparation to preach its content.[2] But the scroll which John sees is sealed–and someone must be found who is worthy to open it. This sets in motion the great drama of this vision as John laments that no sinful human is worthy to take the scroll and open it.

Worthy to Open The Mysterious Scroll

Some historical background to this is helpful. People living in John’s day (late first century) would have understood the significance of the fact that the scroll was sealed. Such scrolls often served two functions in the ancient world; an official document, or a last will and testament. When an official document was sealed with wax, the seal was made with the author’s official and personal mark, usually from his signet ring or his official seal, to ensure both the authenticity and the authority of the sealed document’s contents. The seal not only ensured privacy, it ensured that only one who had recognized authority could open the document and read its contents. If the heavenly scroll is a last will and testament, this explains the double-sided writing, a common Roman practice in legal documents.

A will had to be witnessed and sealed by seven witnesses–explaining why the seven-fold Spirit of God is present before the throne. The terms of such wills could be executed only upon the death of the testator. In this case, the seven seals contained in the scroll are to be opened by the Lamb who was slain, and who, by virtue of his death for his people, is reckoned worthy to do so.[3] The Lamb is the author of this heavenly scroll, and by virtue of his death and resurrection, he alone is worthy to open it and execute its instructions.

What is this mysterious scroll all about? Why is it that no one can be found who is worthy to open it? As we read in verses 2-4, that no one was worthy causes John great anguish.

And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.

We must look back to the Old Testament for an explanation. In verse 4 of Daniel 12, the angel tells Daniel, “but you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.” Daniel is perplexed about the meaning of the angel’s words and so he asks in verse 8:

I heard, but I did not understand. Then I said, “O my lord, what shall be the outcome of these things?” He said, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end. Many shall purify themselves and make themselves white and be refined, but the wicked shall act wickedly. And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand.”

Those who are wise and who understand are the same ones whom Jesus says have been given ears to hear.

The Sealed Prophecy Now Opened

Daniel’s prophecy was to be sealed until the time of the end, because the Old Testament saints could not possibly understand how God would bring about the blessings of the messianic age without knowledge of the person and work of Jesus Christ. But with the birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ seen as accomplished facts, the time has finally come for the scroll to be opened. Once Jesus Christ takes upon himself a true human nature in Mary’s womb, and then conquers death and the grave, human history enters into its final phase. The time has come for that which was sealed in Daniel’s day (until the time of the end) to be revealed with the coming of Jesus at his first advent. But we still have not answered the critical questions, “what is on this scroll and why is no one able to open it?”

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