Description / Transcription
Continuing with Revelation chapter 5, verses 6 through 8.
“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. And He went and took the scroll from the right hand of Him who was seated on the throne. 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 is, famously or infamously, one of the most confusing books in the Bible. There’s all of this apocalyptic imagery and it’s very easy to get lost in the forest among the trees. But in another sense, Revelation is really one of the simplest books to understand. You can summarize Revelation in really one word, one Greek word that you may not have realized, is a Greek that almost all of you know. Some of you have it, in fact, on your feet right now. It’s the Greek word nike, or looks to us like Nike.
It’s a Greek word and it means victory. The Greek word in the verb form, nikao, appears in Revelation more than in all the other New Testament books put together, 28 times it appears in the New Testament and 17 of those occurrences are in the book of Revelation, because the book of Revelation gives instruction for the believer on how to be an overcomer.
Some of you may think of the language, may be familiar with it, from the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3, “To him who overcomes.” There’s the Greek word “nike.” This book is about how to be an overcomer instead of a succumber. That’s the discipleship theme. That’s what this book is about. Nike. Victory.
That theme is related to a Christological theme, and that Christological theme can be summed up in this passage we’re looking at this afternoon – the Lion is the Lamb.
As we’ve already heard, these are, to use Edward’s phrase, an admirable bringing together of diverse excellencies. Because we don’t think of lions as lamb-like or lambs as lion-like. If you switch the two things around, they seem dangerous, if not comical. If you have a great party to go up and have the shearing of the sheep, that makes sense, but if you say, “Let’s all go up and shear the lions,” that’s the last time you do that. It would be hard for Disney to make a best-selling movie and musical, “The Lamb King.” It’s a little less majestic. Yet here, put together, the Lion and the Lamb.
It’s a dramatic scene. Did you notice in verse 5 He’s never actually presented, John never sees Him as a lion. He’s called, indeed He is, the Lion of the tribe of Judah. But that’s what he is told. When he turns now, and you wonder what sort of surprise it might have been, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, but when the curtain is pulled back as it were, all he sees is a Lamb, a wounded Lamb at that, walking up from among the elders and the living creatures, approaching the throne. Obvious that this is no ordinary Lamb. He’s been slain, mortally wounded, but you see the conjunction here? Standing and slain.
So though He was struck, though He was killed, yet here He is in glory, standing. It’s a picture of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus is the Passover lamb by which God’s people are spared from judgment. It’s a picture of Jesus as the suffering servant.
We already read from Isaiah 53, oppressed and afflicted, led like a lamb to the slaughter, as a sheep before her shearers is silent.
The Lamb was slain. Jesus, though now interceding for us, though no longer suffering as One who is in the state of exaltation instead of humiliation, and yet the incarnation is perpetual. He is still the God-man in heaven and He bears the scars in whatever we make sense of that with a resurrected body. Here He is, a Lamb, clearly a Lamb who had been slain.
Notice, however, there’s more to this Lamb than just suffering. This is not a weak sheep. He has seven horns, that’s apocalyptic imagery to symbolize strength, honor, rule. He has seven eyes, which are seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. Again, this is not a picture to be taken literally. I tried once, tried to draw it, I’m a very bad artist, and the picture was really frightening. It’s a very strange farm animal if you put it all together. Jesus does not like look a pointy, woolly sheep with seven eyes.
No, the point is that the Lamb who was slain is powerful, wise, omnipotent, omniscient, and that He alone is worthy to approach the throne and take the scroll. Because by His death alone can you and I be saved from our sins. That’s the point. Only the Lamb of God is worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, and He is worthy, you see if we had time to go to verse 9, He is worthy precisely because He was slain.
Consider all that Christ accomplished in His death. The death of the Lamb was a work of obedience. Jesus fulfilled all the righteous requirements of the Law. He was obedient as a man, obedient unto death, and so Jeremiah calls Him the Lord, our righteousness. In His righteousness we are counted righteous.
The death of the Lamb was a work of conquest. On the cross, Jesus crushed the head of the serpent. He overpowered the strong man. He disarmed the rulers and authorities, put them to open shame, triumphing over them. He destroyed the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil. Yes, there is still a great battle to be fought, but the final victory is secure. The reason the Son of God appeared, 1 John tells us, was to destroy the works of the devil.
The death of the Lamb was a work of reconciliation. The cross set in motion nothing less than God’s work of cosmic reconciliation, and it starts here. The atonement did not make God love us. Don’t think of the cross that way. No, God showed His love for us in that while we were still sinners, God, Christ, the Son of God, died for us. So reconciliation is not about a subjective change in God, that He woke up, as if God could wake up on Good Friday and he didn’t like you and by the end of Good Friday He did like you. That’s not what happened.
Reconciliation here is about an objective change in our status related to God so that He reconciled us to Himself by not counting our trespasses against us.
The death of the Lamb was a work, also, of redemption. That’s an economic term. Just as the Lord redeemed Israel from the land of slavery, so Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law. 1 Corinthians 6 – we have been bought with a price. We have been freed from our sins. Christ rescued us from the domain of darkness. He set us free from an empty way of life.
What was the price for your freedom and my freedom? Over and over we are told the price is blood. There’s no way around a bloody cross, if we want to have a biblical Christ.
We have redemption through His blood. God purchased the Church with His blood. We have been redeemed through the precious blood of Christ. The death of the Lamb was a work of substitution and sacrifice. He became sin for us. He gave Himself up for us. A fragrant offering. A pleasing aroma in the nostrils of God.
The work of the high priest in the Old Testament was to offer gifts and sacrifices for sin, but Christ presented Himself as the best, the true, the final high priest because through the eternal Spirit He offered not a woolly lamb, but Himself, the perfect One without blemish. Jesus died for our sins, gave Himself for our sins, bore our sins in His body on the tree. He gave His life as a ransom for many.
The death of the Lamb was a work of satisfaction. Now in one sense God takes no pleasure in the blood of bulls and goats, at least those offered in perfunctory obedience, but the death of Christ was different. It was that pleasing fragrance. Sin is lawlessness, John tells us, but because of Christ’s death, God is faithful and just. Not simply merciful, but just. It is an act of justice that God would forgive all of those in Christ and cleanse you from your unrighteousness.
Why is that an act of justice and not only mercy? Because of satisfaction. The death of Christ is enough to win appeasement, forgiveness, and redemption, such that God would be untrue to His own character if He did not forgive you if you belong to Jesus.
The death of the Lamb was a work of expiation. That means Christ’s sacrifice purged away sin. Expiated, rubbed out the spot, did away with sin, removed our sin. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Finally, the death of the Lamb was a work of propitiation. We have an advocate and a propitiation for our sins, 1 John 2:2. That latinate word simply means, break it apart, propitious, that God is pro-us, He is for us because of the cross. On the cross, God’s righteous anger against sin and against sinners was pacified. It was placated. It was appeased.
Now in the history of the Church, some people even today object to this idea, thinking, “Well, that’s not befitting a God of love,” and they think this makes God look like some petty, blood-thirsty, pagan deity and He must be bought off with a bribe. But God’s wrath is not an arbitrary or emotional experience in God. It’s a part of His immutable justice and holiness, and this is at the heart of the Good News. Jesus did not merely turn away the wrath of God, as if to say, “Look away.” No, He sustained in His body and in His soul the full measure of God’s wrath.
We can put it this way – God’s wrath on Good Friday was not withdrawn, it was spent. It was spent, so that God and His justice, not appeased by some bribe, but purchased in love with blood. Christ is a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, making propitiation for the sins of the people, so that He does not make excuses for us. No, He presents His vicarious work on our behalf.
Don’t miss how good the Good News is. Sometimes we think that it’s just Jesus and sort of, God’s angry, Jesus is happy, Jesus says, “No, come on, they mean well and just look the other way.” That’s not what Jesus does to intercede. Jesus knows full well that you and I are deserving of punishment. He knows all that we have done. He does not ask God the Father to somehow turn away. He says, “No, turn Your just anger upon Me.” In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
The death of the Lamb was not one thing, it was everything. Everything we need to be forgiven. Everything we need to be right with God. Everything we need to have peace of conscience. Everything we need to live forever. So it’s no wonder that the four living creatures and the 24 elders fall down before the Lamb and they worship.
Two final words for you as we close and turn to a final verse and hymn. One final word for the believer and one here for anyone who is seeking.
To the believer, I want to say this – Be deliberate and diligent to focus on these diverse excellencies of Christ’s glory. It may be by virtue of your upbringing, your church, your personality, you’re drawn to Jesus’ strength or His unyielding commitment to the Word of God, or His unspeakable power. If that’s you, wonderful, but also take time to meditate on Jesus’ mercy, His identification with the poor in spirit, His unspeakable suffering. And if you are drawn to Jesus and you think of Him solely as your best friend or your confidant or your comforter, be sure to worship Him as your King, Lord, righteous Judge.
Finally, a word for any who are seeking, anyone here exploring Christ, maybe it’s been a long time since you’ve been to church, maybe you’re looking for ultimate meaning in your life, or just wandering in here thinking maybe someone will give some direction to make sense of your life and the world. A God that is only a Lion or only a Lamb is only half the God of the Bible. And you know that you suffer and you hurt, and so you need more than just a king to rule over you and give you orders.
But if you’re honest about yourself, you also lack wisdom and direction and you need more than just a tender hand and a hug to comfort you. You sin and you struggle, and so you need a lamb to bear the guilt that you feel when you dare to put your phone down for a moment and turn off the TV and you’re alone with your thoughts and your conscience and you know that you have guilt and shame and you need a substitute.
But you also need a lion who can devour the evil that works within you and the evil that works against you and the evil at work in the world. What good is a lion-like God if He doesn’t take care of sin? If He only rules with a roar. And what good is a lamb-like God if He does not triumph over suffering and deal with wrongs in the universe?
So listen for Jesus calling you. Can you hear His voice in the Word? There is no voice like His because only in Jesus will you find a God who is both a strong Lion and a Lamb who was slain.
Let’s pray. Father in heaven, we give thanks for Your Word and we pray that we would hear in it, by Your Spirit, the voice of Jesus Himself, in whose name we pray. Amen.