Worthy is the Lamb

Revelation 5

March 24, 2021

“Someday 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.”

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.

This is no dream

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 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 an unending church service that goes 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.”

Heaven 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 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 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—Heaven’s Hero

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. A sea of glass surrounds the throne. 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.

You have finally reached heaven. You are in God’s presence. Nothing you heard or saw or imagined on earth prepared you for this moment. Now at last you are home. Home where you belong. At home with the Lord.

Who is worthy?

After a few moments 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 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 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,  and ultimate regal authority. He is also called the “Root of David,” a term meaning 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 has been offered as a sacrifice. 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.

The Greek word for “lamb” is used 29 times in Revelation and only once elsewhere in the New Testament. It means a young or small lamb, exactly the kind used for sacrifice by the Jews. In the Old Testament, the lamb appears on the altar. In the gospels, he is on the cross. But in the book of Revelation, the lamb is on the throne. John saw the lamb at the “center” of the throne because the lamb stands at the center of God’s plan of redemption.

As you watch and wonder, the Lamb comes to the throne and takes the scroll from the One who sits on it. He can take the scroll because, though he was dead, he has come back to life.

The Lamb is alive!

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). The answering chorus rises 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). You fall on your face before the Lamb, lost in wonder, love, and praise.

We are going to heaven because of a lamb. The lamb who was slain now stands in victory. All heaven rejoices

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. As one age dies in agony, another age is born.

The book of Revelation nowhere precisely identifies the scroll. 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. The seals, trumpets, and bowls 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.

Only Jesus can 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 to open the scroll.

No angel could open it.
No earthly ruler 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.

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.

Ten Days in Haiti

I remember speaking at an evangelistic crusade in Haiti during the week just before the national voodoo festival. The turning point came one night when I preached on ʺWho Is Greater—Satan or Jesus?ʺ That’s a big issue in Haiti because so many people live in fear of Satan’s power. During my message, I explained how Satan tried to kill Jesus when he was born, how he tempted him in the wilderness, how Satan entered Judas and caused him to betray Christ, and how the evil rulers plotted against Christ and finally nailed him to the cross. A party broke out in hell—singing, shouting, laughing, cheering. The Son of God had finally been defeated. In heaven, an awesome silence.

But on Easter Sunday morning, something happened inside the tomb. In the place where death reigned, a tiny sound. A movement, a deep sigh, a fluttering heart comes back to life, blood courses through the veins, the color returns, the fingers begin to move, then the arms and the legs, and suddenly Jesus stood up and walked out of the tomb, alive from the dead!

Satan has been defeated!

Down in hell, shocked silence, then wild screams, shrieks of terror, wailing, mourning, gnashing of teeth. In heaven and across the universe, the people of God began to cheer, the angels lifted their voices, the trumpets began to sound, all creation shouted the good news. Jesus Christ has come back from the dead!

When I said those words in Haiti, the congregation began to clap and cheer. ʺIf you’re following Satan,ʺ I said, ʺyou’re following a defeated foe. You’re following a loser. But if you follow Jesus, you’re following the greatest winner in the history of the universe. He’s the undisputed champion. He took on the pretender and knocked him out cold!ʺ

Jesus—the Lion who is a Lamb

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

Who is this Lion who is a Lamb? He stands because he is alive from the dead. He bears on his body the marks of his suffering. 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 Lion who is a Lamb

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

Think of what that means:

He came the first time in humility.
He comes the second time with power.

He experienced shameful treatment in his first coming.
He comes again in great glory.

He was crucified like a criminal in his first coming.
He returns as the Judge of the Universe.

He came once as a Lamb offered for the sins of the world. 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 history’s final events 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 the Antichrist will have his day, the Lamb still holds the scroll. It never leaves his hands.

The Lamb holds the scroll!

All of life is in God’s hands. When the very worst happens, we may ask, “Where is the Lord?”  But he is 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 armies march toward Armageddon, 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 determines the destiny of the nations. 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.”

When Christ died, his death 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 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.

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!

Jesus—the Glory of Heaven

The glory of heaven is the Lamb—Jesus Christ, whose victory is celebrated without end. John 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 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.”

Read Revelation 5 at least once a year

Yes, we will see our loved ones in heaven. Yes, the redeemed of all the ages will be 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. On 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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