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Revelation 5:1-14

Lesson Focus

Revelation is about worshipping the one who remains so faithful that our greatest sins are not held against us but forgiven.

Lesson Outcomes

Through this lesson, students should:

  1. Understand that the dominant image of Jesus in revelation is as one who has been slaughtered yet who has triumphed over sin and death.

  2. Understand that worship of the slaughtered lamb is central to understanding Revelation.

  3. Understand that in the middle of suffering, worship of the slaughtered lamb is how we can remain faithful.

Catching up on the Story

John’s vision takes place in the heavenly throne room, where he is confronted by a myriad of creatures from God’s created order. The vision proper begins with Jesus commanding him to write a letter to seven churches. Most of chapters two and three have to do with these letters. Each letter contains an assortment of encouragement, identifications, and critiques.

While churches certainly existed in the cities named by John, the letter written are not just for them. The letters should be understood as being sent to the universal church. This is true for John’s time in the first century, and it continues to be true for us today. Each letter contains things the church today (yours, mine, and everyone else’s) needs to hear.

As chapter four begins, the vision shifts ever so slightly. John looks and sees through a door the throne room with the throne and its occupant. It is important not to get bogged down in the descriptive details, as John’s language is metaphorical mainly at this point.

Even if what John describes the heavenly throne room to look like is accurate, it is hardly the total of the point he seeks to make.

“This means we are to take this not as a picture of what heaven looks like but as a vivid description of God's character and influence. The images cannot and were not meant to be pressed to yield information on the inhabitants or nature of heaven.” (Witherington III, 116).

John’s main aim is to describe the nature of the worship that takes place in the throne room.

Unending praise and worship of the one who was and is, and is to come. The “Lord and God” (4:11) is worthy to be worshiped because the earth and everything in it is his. He is worthy of being praised because, despite what the rulers of this world claim, God is truly in charge, working toward the redemption and restoration of all things.

Chapter 4 ends with the 24 elders in the throne room taking off their crowns and casting them before the throne. This is an act of submission to the true ruler of all. The image should stick in our minds as we read the rest of John’s revelation. Ultimately, this is what we all will do, abdicate our supposed rights to self-rule and submit ourselves to God.

Worship, then, is the natural outflow of our submission.

The Scroll and the Lamb

At the beginning of chapter 5, the scene shifts ever so slightly. The focus moves from the elders who have given themselves in service and worship to the God of the universe to the one who sits on the throne.

John looks and sees a scroll sealed with seven seals in the right hand of the one seated on the throne. The fact that the scroll is sealed means that the scroll's contents are authentic and valid (Koester, 76). It also is intended to communicate that the document has not been tampered with and that only the intended recipient can open it.

As John is watching the one on the throne, an angel calls with a loud voice, seeking if there is anyone worthy to break the seals and reveal the contents of the scroll. The response was silence from all in heaven above and on earth below. No one was worthy.

John reacts to the lack of response with bitter weeping. But all is not lost. One of the elders we saw casting down their crowns in worship and submission before God introduces the one about whom this work is genuinely concerned, Jesus.

The angel introduces Jesus not by using his name but by calling him the “Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David.” Throughout John’s revelation, he will use images and allusions taken straight from the Old Testament. Frequently, these images and allusions come from books written as apocalyptic literature, particularly Isaiah, Daniel, and Ezekiel.

In Israel’s literature, God was often referred to as the “Lion of Judah.” As time went by, the image took on messianic overtones and indicated the Jewish belief about the type of messiah who would come and the nature of the salvation that Messiah would bring. The image communicates power and authority.

Similarly, the “Root of David” image is drawn from passages like Isaiah 11 “which announces a branch from the root of David, and was understood in the first century to promise a David-like warrior Messiah who will fight God’s battles and wreak vengeance on ‘God’s’ (our) enemies.” (Boring, 108).

Jesus is worthy to open the scrolls, not because of the violence he would unleash on God’s enemies, but because his power is made perfect in weakness.

As John stops his weeping and lifts his head, he sees not a lion but a lamb who had been slaughtered, standing in the middle of the throne room surrounded by the elders and the four living creatures. A few things need to be said about John’s description of Jesus.

First, John and his readers would have expected to see a roaring Lion, perfect in power. The image of a slaughtered lamb would have been startling to John’s readers as the picture is the polar opposite of their hoped-for savior.

“Although readers of the Bible may have become so accustomed to it that the effect is lost to us, this is perhaps the most mind-wrenching “rebirth of images” in literature. The slot in the system reserved for the Lion has been filled by the Lamb of God.” (Boring, 108)

Second, our English translations go something like, “as if it had been slaughtered,” but the participle is in the perfect tense, which communicates an action that occurred in the past but has continuing effects. Boring notes that “In Revelation, the participle “slaughtered” is always in the perfect tense.” (Boring, 109). Jesus never stops being the slaughtered lamb, the one who conquers, not by violence but by intentional self-sacrifice.

Jesus doesn’t stop being the slaughtered lamb; that is what he still is. Boring highlights how the lion emerges first, what was expected, and then the lamb. Popular eschatology has it the other way around. We want the lamb to offer forgiveness and grace, and then we want the lion to arrive to rain judgment on those who refuse to be repentant. But “[l]ove was not a provisional strategy of the earthly Jesus, to be eventually replaced by transcendent, eschatological violence when “they’ve had their chance” and love has not “worked.” (Boring, 111). Suffering love continues to be the way of Christ and of those who seek to follow him.

It is only the slaughtered lamb who conquers through the cross and resurrection who is worthy to open the scroll. It should be noted, however, that the word John uses is nikao and can also be translated as “overcome,” “prevail,” “triumph,” and “win the right.” For John, nikao is a Christological term. Several of these options are less militaristic than “conquer” and perhaps communicate a fuller sense of Jesus’ victory as being more than violent subjugation. “Jesus conquered not by force but by death, not by violence but by martyrdom. The Lion is the Lamb!” (G. B. Caird, 72-73).

The lamb who was slain walks over to the one seated on the throne and takes the scroll. The elders and the four living creatures all fall before the lamb holding a harp and bowls of incense. John tells us that the incense that burns in the bowls is the prayers of the saints crying out to God because they suffer because of their faithfulness.

At this point, saints from all over, the angels, and every creature in heaven and on earth begin to sing a praise and worship song.

So What?

The opening scenes of Revelation, especially chapters 4-5, set the stage for everything that follows. If we read the rest of John’s work without paying attention to these two chapters, we will miss the point. Many interpreters over the years have made just that mistake leading them to make fantastic claims and predictions about the end of the world and God’s judgment. If, however, we keep a few things in mind as we read the rest of Revelation, we’ll come away with an altogether different picture.

First, the setting and context are one of worship. John’s work was meant to be read during a gathering of faithful believers as they worshiped God. Not only that, but the flow of Revelation is all about worshiping the God of creation, the one who spoke the world and everything in it into existence. Revelation is about worshipping the one who remains so faithful that our greatest sins are not held against us but forgiven.

Second, Revelation is written to the faithful who were at that very moment suffering greatly under Roman persecution. While Revelation might be a general picture of the end of all things, it speaks a word of hope to those who are persecuted. It does so by loudly proclaiming that forces of darkness and evil have not and will not win the day.

Third, we must remember that the primary image of Jesus depicted in John’s revelation is the slaughtered lamb who overcomes and wins the victory, not through violence and destruction, but through suffering, love, and sacrifice. Jesus remains the slaughtered lamb, and the final victory will come the same way as the first.

John’s work encourages us toward faithful worship amid trouble and hard times. As we enter into worship in those times, our faith is strengthened.

Discussion Questions

Read the text aloud. Then, read the text to yourself quietly. Read it slowly, as if you were very unfamiliar with the story.

  1. In verse 4, why does John weep bitterly when no one is found worthy to open the scroll? What do you think John thinks is on the scroll?

  2. Take a moment and read Isaiah 11:1-11. How is the Isaiah passage similar to today’s passage? Is John connecting what he sees in today’s passage and what Isiah wrote about? If so, why?

  3. Referring to God as “the Lion of Judah” was a familiar Old Testament image. Why might John use that image now?

  4. The angel says that the Lion is the only one worthy to open the scroll, but what John sees isn’t a lion but a slaughtered lamb. This image is likely familiar to us but would not have been to John’s readers. Note some of the differences between a lion and a lamb who has been slaughtered?

  5. What could John be trying to communicate with such a dramatic shift in imagery?

  6. We’re also told that the slaughtered lamb has seven eyes and seven horns. Remember, the imagery in Revelation is largely symbolic. Why would the lamb have seven eyes and seven horns? What do they represent?

  7. After the slaughtered lamb takes the scroll, those in the throne room break out into worship, singing a new song found in verses 9-10. Describe the contents of the new song. What does it mean?

  8. Toward the end of the chapter, all of the angels and creation begin to sing. Describe the contents of the new song. What does it mean?

  9. The focus of this chapter is clearly on Jesus as the slaughtered lamb who triumphs over sin and death. What does the focus on Jesus as a slaughtered lamb (as opposed to the lion image) say about the nature of God’s salvation?

  10. What might God be calling us to do?

  11. Who might God be calling us to become?

Works Cited

Boring, M. Eugene. Revelation. Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1989.

Keener, Craig S. *Revelation.*The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000.

Koester, Craig. Revelation and the End of All Things. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans,