In the first 5 verses of this chapter John had begun to adjust to the normals of heaven. God the Father was there in all his majesty. The four living creatures were there as were the twenty-four elders representing humanity. Angels were there and the entirety of the focus was upon God the Father who was receiving the honor due him for his exploits of creation and direction of the universe..
Maybe you have been to a great celebration or sports venue or ceremony. After the pomp and circumstance settles down, after the clapping and standing and honoring dwindles a bit your eyes begin to take in the smaller features that make up that moment. While the emotion of John the Apostle began to settle his notice drifted to something else about God the Father. He was holding a scroll, a sealed scroll with writing on both sides.
The implication of the sealed scroll was that its contents needed to be revealed. A mighty angel began broadcasting for anyone, anywhere to come forward and take this book from the hand of God and open it. As it turned out none was up to that task. None had sufficient strength or righteousness devastating John, and he wept bitter tears of grief.
An elder, a fellow man, came to John, and comforted him saying that there was someone who could take the book. He was given a title unique to this book: the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and was connected to King David.
So put yourself into John’s experience: disappointed, fearful, saddened, hopeless, weeping. The comfort from his fellow man would have turned that on its head. Ask yourself what you think John might have seen as he looked back up toward the throne. I will not put words into your imagination. Just recall how the elder described him: the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.
Are you serious?
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. (Revelation 5:6–ESV)
A lamb? A slain lamb? A slain lamb that was standing up and among these most powerful representatives around the throne of God Almighty?
Put yourself in that heavenly scene. You have just spoken with an elder about the Lion of the tribe of Judah and you look up to see that lamb. Surely this seems more incongruous than one would imagine. A lion was what the elder spoke of, but it was a lamb standing there, a slain one no less. Surely you would look up expectantly as if to see one mighty being. Forget not that it was a mighty angel who had made a loud proclamation. A new being was now there. This other being was not present before the angel called out, but most certainly was now. The lamb was not even a large one. The Greek that John used suggested that he saw a little lamb, a small, baby sheep.
The astounding vision did not stop there but went further. This lamb had the marks of one slain, sacrificed, but clearly was not dead, but standing among the agents of the universe both powerful and exalted. Standing, closer to God, even, than these other living things, and upon it were 7 horns and eyes proclaiming strength and omniscience.
Maybe John chuckled as things fell into place
I wonder, though, if the veil over John’s understanding was torn down the middle. The Aha! The Eureka! hit and so many things must have clicked into place. Read the following verses from John 1.
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29–ESV)
35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:35-36–ESV)
40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. (John 1:40–ESV) 1
From the earliest days of John the Apostle’s acquaintance with Jesus he had been called a lamb. Another John, the Baptist, had connected this man as the one who took away the sins of the world. John the Apostle had followed, witnessed the miracles, the transfiguration, the betrayal and seen him die on a cross. Here in Revelation is this slain lamb seen as one who had already accomplished the taking away of the sins. He had conquered, triumphed over sins. Recall how Paul the Apostle said that as a result of his having become obedient even unto death he was exalted to the highest point? Well, here he is at the highest point and he is exalted. The elder called him a Lion, and a monarch of the order of David. John saw him as that, but also as the lamb slain for sins and come back to life.
Such a completion as this
The Alpha and Omega Jesus called himself. The number 7 is that of completion. In Genesis 3 was recorded the fall and in Genesis 49 a ruler was predicted to arise from Judah. Centuries after Jacob came Moses who put in place the God given laws of the Jewish nation. When the time was right the world received Christmas, but 33 years later that world executed its creator. God the Father, though, is not thwarted by the deeds of men and here in the final book of his word to us we see the offspring of Eve has indeed crushed the head of the snake and is now ready to reveal the future. That future will be nothing less than the final crushing of Satan’s rebellious head.
What more would a person want? Great it is. Complete it is. The alpha and omega he said and it was real.
The mighty angel is answered
7 And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. (Revelation 5:7–ESV)
The mighty angel called out, but no one in creation came to take the scroll. No one even offered themselves to try their hand at taking the scroll. John, at least, was heart-broken over this, but somehow this lamb came into the very middle of the scene. The lamb, with its credentials of having triumphed over sin came forward. John did not reveal any details of this great hand-off, but just stated it as a matter of fact.
No reluctant hero here
Can you think back to the legends of King Arthur and that famous sword Excalibur? Recall where legend placed that sword: in a stone. The legends have it that nobles came from far and wide to try their hand and removal of this sword. Why? If you could remove the sword then you were the rightful king of Britain.
Take that legend back to this scene in heaven. No one came from far and wide to try their hand and taking this book. They just did not come.
When Jesus came in demeanor as a sacrificial lamb resurrected from the dead he came without trepidation. He came in confidence. It was fitting that he come. He knew it and there was no fear in it. The real Messiah was no reluctant hero, but it is useful to draw those similarities. Think of these characters if you have been a movie watcher: Neo from The Matrix, Spiderman, Luke Skywalker from Star Wars. If you google reluctant heroes many more come up: Harry Potter, John McClane from the Die Hard series are a couple of the more common, but characters I am less able to vouch for.
If you are more of a Bible reader than a movie watcher think of Esther and her presenting herself before the king. She did not know the outcome. She did right, and behaved with great courage and purpose, but it was different than Jesus before God’s throne.
When I watch movies and see the reluctant hero I always find my mind harking back to the real hero: Jesus. He was neither reluctant nor doubtful. I think that the real Messiah should not be. Indeed Jesus was like us in many ways, but was far different in other, more crucial ones. Here in this scene as told in Revelation 5:7 the lamb is not mired in trepidation. He is not out to give ‘the old college try’ with this book. It was correct. It was right for him to do this. A fitting thing it was.
Jesus the Messiah
Jesus knew he was the Messiah and in propriety took the book from God the Father. They acted out the proper fit of Father and Son. One held out and the other took. God the Son understood the decisions of God the Father and did what was fitting, what was right.
Some of the audience there that day did also understood, although John did not. At some point the role of Jesus as Messiah, Redeemer, became known to all in heaven: the four beings, the thousands upon thousands of angels and the elders. John knew Jesus as Messiah, but his knowledge of it was not so complete, so magnificent. Perhaps it was still so personal it fell short of the grandiose.
A side trip into Operation Overlord
Stephen E. Ambrose was a historian and author. One of his many books bears the title: Eisenhower: Soldier, General of the Army, President-Elect, 1890-1952. I have been remodeling my kitchen for the last probably 6 weeks. While placing additional supports under some joists in my kitchen to level the floor Ambrose went through the D-Day invasion. Three days after D-Day (June 6th, 1944) Eisenhower’s son, John, graduated from West Point as a Second Lieutenant. General George Marshall, the Army Chief of Staff under Roosevelt, arranged for Second Lieutenant Eisenhower to spend his graduation leave with his father.
Keep in mind that Ike Eisenhower was the Supreme Commander of Allied forces in Europe and had just successfully executed Operation Overload: D-Day, as we more frequently refer to it.
When John arrived he had not seen his father for around 2 years. He had heard of his father’s role, but he had not experienced it. When he arrived at Eisenhower’s headquarters (Bushey Park outside of London) and his adjoining residence (Telegraph Cottage) he did experience it and was amazed at the sheer number of people surrounding his father devoting their energies to his every need. Beyond those his father was interacting and conducting himself on a familiar basis with people who were figures on the world-wide stage in their own right.
John Eisenhower had a personal relationship with the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces. John the Apostle had a personal relationship with the Son of God. When John the Apostle saw that no created being in the universe could take this book and then Jesus did Jesus became more than the one who stood among the candlesticks. He became more than the resurrected Jesus, and more than friend. Think a bit on that and apply it to yourself.
What happened when that book was taken
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. (Revelation 5:8–ESV)
Ike Eisenhower was but a player on the world scene for a few years. He had authorities over him: George Marshall as the Army Chief of Staff and Franklin Roosevelt as President. Jesus Christ has been exalted to the highest place and given the name above all names. You and I are given little windows like the book of Revelation to look in, but a time will come when we, too, if we have cast our allegiance with Jesus, will see like John the Apostle saw.
The response will be worship and that was what the heavens were devoted to at the time we look in on here.
All beings from the most powerful four living creatures to humanity as represented by the twenty-four elders fell down before Jesus the slain lamb who had been resurrected. They brought incense and harps to this service as well as the requests of the saints. They would bow down and then offer up music. The incense would not just be of burning of aromatic woods and oils, but the pleadings of praying people. Worship was a transaction of willing hearts, thought, sound, activity.
Here is the things they were singing
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.”
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.
In chapter 4 worship was given to God the Father. The four living creatures gave eternal praise to God the Father and then the elders gave their worship. God was worshiped because he conceived of all things, made them and continued to sustain them.
In chapter 5 worship was given to God the Son. It started after God the Son made his own way to God the Father and took the scroll. After this was done the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders bowed down. Then, they began to worship. The worship of the son was as a result of his being slain to ransom people for God. Beyond the ransoming they were made into a kingdom and priests to God.
After the living creatures and the elders gave worship they were joined by the hosts of heaven: the angels. Then the rest of creation joined in and now praised both God the Father and God the Son. The four living creatures closed it out by pronouncing the Amen and the elders again fell down and worshiped.