God is on His throne in magnificent light. He is at the center of all things. He is given the praise that is due him from the twenty-four elders, a symbol of all of God’s people signified by the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles of the Church. The powerful beasts bow before him. If this is a concert or a show, the house is pumpin’ now. There is lots of energy. The stage lights are high and hot, and we the masses are in the dark watching this unfold. The hall is loud as those gathered on stage pour all of their spirit into praising God.
Then someone new is introduced and, though it is hard to imagine, the scene erupts with even more praise. The volume increases. The back lights of the stage light up to reveal a chorus of angels more than can be numbered that join the elders in praise. The strings of harps fill the air with melodious sound, and the air is rich with the smell of incense. The Lamb has just stepped into the circle of praise.
We were expecting a lion because of what one of the elders had said:
Don’t cry. Look! The lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has won the victory! He can open the scroll and its seven seals. (5:5)
But in a poignant bit of irony, the Lion has become the Lamb. Let there be no mistake, the Lamb is powerful like a lion, but his work up until now has always been more like a lamb. One must be a lamb before they can be a lion.
As the Lamb strides up to the throne to take the sealed scroll from God, song after song of praise is sung in his honor. Sometimes the best thing to do in life is just to stop and praise before the moment gets away.
We do not yet know what is on this scroll, though we can see that it has writing on both the front and back indicating this is a full message. We can tell from the seven seals that the writer of this scroll wants to keep its contents well guarded. John was told at the beginning of chapter 4 that he would be shown what would be coming in the future (4:1), so we assume this scroll contains the future destiny of someone or even the whole world.
There has not been a lot of talking during this scene. Singing has dominated. However, all of the conversation up until now has focused on one thought: who is worthy to open this scroll? The one who takes this scroll must be deserving (5:2). As the Lamb walks onto the stage, the worthiness of the Lamb is their greatest point of praise:
You are worthy to take the scroll; You are worthy to open its seals; For you were slaughtered and with your own blood you purchased a people for God. (5:9)
The slaughtered lamb has now deserved to take the riches and the power. (5:12)
As the Lamb comes into the light emanating from God we see it possesses all power (horns) and wisdom (eyes) but that it also has the wounds of death on it. As surreal as it seems, the Lamb has died and is now alive again. In fact, this is precisely what has made the Lamb worthy to take the scroll. If it were only power that made one deserving, maybe one of the four creatures could have done it. It was the Lamb who “won the victory” by being “slaughtered” (5:5, 9). A people were purchased for God “with [his] own blood” (5:9). The Lamb is “now” deserving because it has been “slaughtered” (5:12). The Lamb is worthy because it has died.
This is a big theme in the book of Revelation. Suffering comes before praise. Power is purchased with blood. The way to overcome is by laying down one’s life. Victory comes through sacrifice, not battle. We will see this idea come back often this month. The recipients of this book needed to hear this. And we do too.