Worthy is the Lamb

Revelation 5

Some day you will read in the papers that D. L. Moody, of East Northfield, is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it! At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now. I shall have gone up higher, that is all; out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal-a body that death cannot touch; that sin cannot taint; a body fashioned like unto his glorious body. I was born of the flesh in 1837. I was born of the Spirit in 1856. That which is born of the flesh may die. That which is born of the Spirit will live forever.

During his evangelistic campaigns D. L. Moody loved to quote the first two sentences as a way of shocking his audiences with the truth that death would not be the end of his life but only the beginning.

His words came true on Friday, December 22, 1899. After decades of non-stop preaching, writing, speaking, evangelizing and traveling, his heart finally began to fail. With his family gathered round, he cried out, “Earth recedes; heaven opens before me.” His family thought that perhaps he was dreaming. Then he spoke to one of his sons: “This is no dream, Will. It is beautiful. It is like a trance. If this is death, it is sweet. There is no valley here. God is calling me, and I must go.” Then it seemed as if he saw heaven opened before his eyes. “This is my triumph, this is my coronation day! I have been looking forward to it for years.” His face lit up. “Dwight, Irene-I see the children’s faces.” He was speaking of the two grandchildren who had died the previous year. A few minutes later he took his last breath. Thus did D. L. Moody enter heaven. He died as he had lived, full of faith and ready to meet the Lord.

I’d Rather Go to North Carolina

Children have no trouble believing in heaven even though their ideas are sometimes a bit mixed up. Many of them think heaven is some sort of celestial amusement park where you can ride on the Ferris Wheel and eat ice cream all day long and never get sick. Other children picture heaven as a kind of unending church service that goes on and on and on and never seems to stop. One seven-year-old boy spoke for many adults when he said, “I know what heaven is, but I don’t want to go there. I want to go to North Carolina instead.”

Many of us would say the same thing. We know heaven is real but we’d rather go to North Carolina (or Florida or Hawaii) first. Heaven can wait as far as we’re concerned. But that attitude, common though it may be, reflects a complete reversal of the biblical picture. This earth is passing away. It is here today and gone tomorrow. Heaven (which seems almost like a fairy tale to us) is the true reality and it is “the heart’s true home.”

The book of Revelation tells us more about heaven than any other book in the Bible. Most of us probably know about the lovely picture of heaven in Revelation 21-22, but there is another picture of heaven found in Revelation 5. In only fourteen verses the Apostle John pulls back the curtain and gives us a tantalizing glimpse of our eternal home. Here we discover that the cross of Christ will still be our focus in eternity. This rare glimpse of heaven displays the victory of the Lamb who was slain.

Jesus–the Center of Heaven

Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside (Revelation 5:1-4).

The place: The throne room of heaven. The time: Sometime in eternity. The setting: A magnificent throne and a mysterious scroll. Around the throne are myriads of angelic creatures, glorious and awesome to behold. A bright rainbow encircles the throne. Twenty-four elders wearing crowns of gold surround the throne. Flashes of lightning frame the One seated there. The throne is surrounded by a sea of glass, clear as crystal. Everywhere there is singing, worship and praise. Your eye darts from one detail to another. You notice the four living creatures and wonder who they are and what they represent. There are armies of angels on every hand. There are cherubim and seraphim and other angels you cannot identify. There is smoke and incense and light and joy. Your eyes and ears cannot take it all in. “Holy, Holy, Holy” cry the four living creatures. Suddenly, spontaneously, gladly, you find yourself bowing down before the One on the throne.

The Lamb bears on his body the marks of death, but he is alive. 

You have come to heaven at last. You are in God’s presence. So this is what it is like, It was nothing like you expected but everything you dreamed, and much, much more. Nothing you heard or saw or imagined on earth prepared you for this moment, yet you feel strangely at home. Or perhaps not so strangely, for now at last you are home. Home where you belong. At home with the Lord.

After a few moments (or was it an hour? A day? A month? A year? Time doesn’t seem to be same in heaven) your eyes return to the scroll in the hand of Him who sits on the throne. What is the scroll? It appears to be a long parchment, with writing on both sides, sealed with some sort of wax. While you ponder the scroll and wonder what it means, an angel cries out, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” There is silence in heaven. No one steps forward. No one in the universe is worthy to open the scroll or look inside it. What a strange sight this is. A scroll that no one can open.

Jesus–the Victorious Lord

Then one of the elders speaks up: “See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals” (Revelation 5:5). Judah was the tribe from which the Messiah would come (Genesis 49:9). The “Lion” of the tribe of Judah speaks of its greatest Son who combines within his own being power, wisdom, majesty, greatness, and ultimate regal authority. He is also called the “Root of David,” a term meaning that he is a direct descendant of David, Israel’s greatest king. But who is this “Lion” who is also called the “Root of David?” “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (Revelation 5:6). As you look toward the great throne, a lamb stands in the center of the angelic creatures and the 24 elders. But not an ordinary lamb. This lamb appears to have been offered as a sacrifice. He seems meek and gentle yet there is about him a power and greatness that seems more like a lion. He is standing, which means he is alive but he appears to have been slain, which means he once was dead. The Lamb bears on his body the marks of death, but he is alive. Thus anyone who looks at him knows that he was once offered as a sacrifice, and because he is standing, they know that he has come back from the dead.

As you watch and wonder, the Lamb comes to the throne and takes the scroll from the One who sits on it. The thought comes quickly that the Lamb can take the scroll because he is worthy and he is worthy because he was slain and he is able to take the scroll because, though he was dead, he has come back to life. At that moment the silence in heaven is broken as millions of angels begin to sing together: ‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (Revelation 5:12). Then an answering chorus seems to rise from every corner of the universe: ‘‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13).  “Amen!” cry the four living creatures. You fall on your face before the Lamb, lost in wonder, love and praise.

This description of heaven comes from Revelation 5. At the center of the action is a scroll with seven seals. When the seven seals are opened, they bring forth various judgments on the earth. When the seventh seal is opened, it contains seven trumpets of judgment. When the seventh trumpet sounds, it brings forth seven bowls of judgment. The seals, trumpets, and bowls describe the end-time catastrophes that will come upon the earth in the last days before the return of Jesus Christ to set up his kingdom. The remainder of the book of Revelation describes those convulsive judgments that will be like the death throes of the present age and the birth pangs of the coming kingdom of Christ. As one age dies in agony, another age is born.

The book of Revelation nowhere precisely identifies the scroll. A variety of suggestions have been put forth. Certainly the scroll contains within it those final judgments, but that does not exhaust its meaning. During the Roman Empire deeds or contracts were often sealed with seven seals. This included marriage contracts, rental and lease agreements, and contract bills. Perhaps this scroll is the title-deed to the earth and the convulsive judgments describe the events that prepare the earth to receive its rightful owner. If so, then what was lost by Adam when he sinned has now been reclaimed and redeemed by Jesus Christ.

That explains why no one but Christ could take the scroll. The Apostle John mentions the three great realms–In heaven, on earth, and under the earth, yet no one was found worthy

            No angel could open it.
            No earthly ruler could open it.
            No spirit creature could open it.
            No demon could open it.
            Not even Satan himself could open it.

But Jesus can take the scroll. The Lamb who was slain is now the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. He has triumphed over death and hell and all the forces Satan could throw against him. Only a worthy victor could take the scroll and open it. He has fought the fight, won the battle, now the spoils of war belong to him.

Who is this Lion who looks like a Lamb? He is none other than Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 

Stop and think about this great point. The Lamb has already won the battle. It’s over. He’s won. The victory is His. From God’s point of view, Satan is already defeated.

Jesus–the Lion who is a Lamb

That’s what Revelation 5 means when it says that Christ has triumphed. He won the battle. The victory is his.  Therefore, he and he alone is worthy to open the scroll and break the seven seals. 

Who is this Lion who is a Lamb? He is standing because he is alive from the dead. He bears on his body the marks of his suffering. He is in the center of the throne and thus equal with God the Father. He is surrounded by the four living creatures and the elders and is the object of their worship. He has seven horns, symbolizing his complete authority. He has seven eyes that together represent the fullness of the Holy Spirit.

Who is this Lion who looks like a Lamb?  He is none other than Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He is a Lion in that he is the mighty King of All Kings.  He is a Lamb because he was offered up as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.   

A mighty Lion!
A meek lamb!

Christ the Lion is victorious because Christ the Lamb made the perfect sacrifice.

The Lamb holds the scroll in his hand. 

The Lamb speaks of His First Coming.
The Lion speaks of His Second Coming.

He came once as a Lamb offered for the sins of the world.  He came to save us from our sins.  He came meek and mild.  He comes again as a Lion to judge the world and to deliver his people. The key event occurs in Revelation 5:7 when the Lamb takes the scroll from Him who sits on the throne. This signals that his victory is complete and that the final events of history are now about to unfold. The rest of the book of Revelation follows from this symbolic gesture. From this point on, the Lamb is in control of all events. Although much suffering will come to the earth, although death and destruction, famine and pestilence seem to run unchecked across the earth, although the Antichrist will have his day, the Lamb still holds the  scroll.  It never leaves his hands. 

Once again we are reminded that all of life is in God’s hands.  When the very worst happens, we may ask, “Where is God?” But he is there, where he has always been, on the throne of the universe, watching over every detail of life. Nothing escapes his gaze. While the world seems to be falling apart, he holds the scroll.  While the nations rise up against one another, he holds the scroll.  While famine spreads from the Sahara to the Middle East, while armies march toward Armageddon, while Babylon the Great rears its ugly head once again, he holds the scroll.

In the midst of perplexing circumstances, let this thought bring you hope. The Lamb holds the scroll in his hand.  He controls the destiny of the nations.  Nothing is out of control.  Everything-even the most despicable evil-is under his control.

Jesus–the Lord of All Nations

Verses 9-10 contain a short course in Christian theology. You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”

It is a song of praise for redemption.  Jesus Christ had to die and his blood must be shed, but it had a definite purpose. The blood of Christ purchased a great host of men and women for God. Jesus came as God’s purchasing agent to the earth.  He searched through every tribe, every nation, every region, every continent, every country, every state, every province, every city, every village, going up and down every street, searching out men and women he might purchase for God.  

Jesus is the focal point of heaven and the center of all attention. 

It happens that I am writing these words from my hotel room in Manila, in the Philippines. We came to this beautiful land a week and a half ago to minister in three churches and to speak at a pastors’ conference. Coming to the Philippines has been a dazzling sensory experience. You see and hear and taste things that are brand new to you. And you experience the remarkable diversity of the body of Christ. Here in the “pearl of the Orient” you see a remarkable blending of cultures, languages, traditions, textures, ethnic backgrounds, and of course, you experience the amazing cuisine of the Philippines, with its mixture of Spanish, Korean, Chinese, Indonesian, Arab, Indian, Malay, and who knows how many other elements. Among the 7100 islands that make up the Philippines there are several major languages and a bewildering variety of dialects. We have experienced the bountiful kindness of the people-from Davao City to Bukidnon to Manila. Everywhere you go you are reminded that the world is flat, that we have more in common than we think, and that in Jesus Christ there is true unity that transcends all the barriers that separate us.

When Jesus came to purchase men for God, he included the Filipinos! What a happy thought that in Christ, we are part of God’s family no matter where we are. So let us put aside as beneath us any sub-Christian thinking that our Lord will be defeated.

He will not be defeated!
He has already won the battle!

And now we see the harvest of men and women coming to Christ, in the Philippines and around the world.

Jesus–the Glory of Heaven

The glory of heaven is the Lamb-Jesus Christ, whose victory is celebrated without endJohn is very specific about the geography of heaven. He saw the Lamb standing “in the center” of the throne. Jesus is the focal point of heaven and the center of all attention. Without Jesus there would be no heaven at all. And without him none of us would ever have a chance to go there. As we the famous hymn says, “When we’ve been there 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing his praise than when we’ve first begun.”

The glory of heaven is Jesus. As the long ages roll on, we will never tire of singing his praise. 

We will live there, work there, serve there, rejoice there, fellowship there, eat there, and serve throughout the regions of the universe at the bidding of our great God and his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Yes, we will see our loved ones in heaven. Yes, the redeemed of all the ages will there.  But the central fact will not be reminiscing about the old times on earth. The central fact will be that Jesus himself is there-the Lamb that was slain on our behalf.

It would do us good to return to Revelation 5 at least once a year and contemplate the wondrous scenes opened for us. We would be less prone to complain, less tempted to give up, less inclined to dabble in the things of the world. 

One final word. The glory of heaven is Jesus. As the long ages roll on, we will never tire of singing his praise.  We will see him still bearing the marks of his suffering on our behalf.  In that day the redeemed saints of God will sing with one united voice, “All hail the power of Jesus’ name, let angels prostrate fall.  Bring forth the royal diadem and crown Him Lord of all.” Let the song begin in your heart this very day. 


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