God the Son of Revelation - Revelation 5
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~~God the Son of Revelation
Let me read you something: ‘Please don’t be shocked if you hear that there is a revolution in Burundi, Uganda or Zaire. This is Africa! It’s nothing when young countries get revolution. They are going to get some more. But that doesn’t mean that the Man of Galilee has vacated the throne! Christianity has never been scared of a revolution. Satan can roar like a lion, but he has no authority to shake the throne on which Jesus is sitting.’ That was Bishop Festo Kivengere of Uganda, who was known as the ‘Billy Graham of Africa.’ And what he says is so gloriously true. And this morning John takes us by the hand into the very place where Jesus is seated on that throne, but at first sight things don’t look very promising.
First, we see a desperate need
Verse 1, ‘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.’ We are still in the throne room of heaven. God is seated on that throne in ineffable majesty, wholly transcendent, so removed from us that we cannot even contemplate approaching him because he is holy and we are not. So that raises some serious questions: how can creatures like ourselves, sinful and finite ever know this God who is holy and infinite so that we can have fellowship with him and he with us? How can God achieve his saving purposes on earth in a way that is just without consigning us all to oblivion because of our sin? Well, the drama which is about to unfold shows us how. It’s as if the camera zooms in for a close up of right hand of the one who sits on this exalted throne- a symbol of regal authority- the right hand of power. Furthermore what we see being held by that hand a scroll sealed with seven seals. This means it is a legal document of some sort. And the next two chapters tell us what the document contains, namely, the sum total of God’s purposes for redemption and judgement. This is the King’s royal decree if you will, in written form.
Now the point is this: as with any legal document which is sealed, until those seals are broken, the contents of the document cannot be carried out. So who is able to put into effect God’s will on earth? Is there anyone who can do it? That is the cry of the angel. We are told he was a mighty angel and proclaimed in a loud voice. Before the days of amplification systems the only way an announcement could be made and heard by large numbers was by having some sort of Town Cryer. Here is the angelic equivalent. So the desperate call goes out from one end of the cosmos to the other and the voice echoes like cosmic thunder throughout the universe: ‘Who is worthy to put into operation the saving work of God in sinful human history? Who is worthy to assume sovereignty over the destiny of millions? Who is worthy to lift the terrible burden of guilt and push back the powers of evil and establish the eternal kingdom of God?’ That is what is in effect what is being asked through the angelic herald. And the answering silence is one of the two great silences in the Book of Revelation. Amongst all the angels and archangels, prophets and priests, and all the world’s spiritual leaders, religions and philosophers, there is not a single person to be found. Now do you see why John weeps, why he feels as if he is trapped in a kind of celestial nightmare? Just think of the thoughts which would be going through his mind: What of all his Christian friends who have died- is there no justice for them? What of the cruelty of the Emperor- will that never be avenged? Is righteousness for ever to be excluded from God’s world with him safely ensconced on his throne while the rest of us have to suffer the abuse of tyrants and villains and ultimately Satan himself? Is that it? It certainly seems that way, if there is no one who can open the scroll to carry out God’s righteous will-hence the bitter tears of utter despair.
But it is in the midst of his tears John hears a voice of hope- a Divine provision. It is the voice of one of the elders- the higher order of angels charged with the responsibility of caring for God’s people which gives the answer, v5 “Do not weep! 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.”
John, being familiar with his OT would have immediately known who the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, was. You may remember from our series on Joseph that Genesis 49 speaks of the tribe of Judah being a ‘lion’s cub’, that is, from this tribe would come God’s appointed ruler. Similarly in Isaiah 11 the promise is made that ‘a shoot would spring up’ from King David’s line, which would also be the root of David- King David’s greater son. This is the one who can take the scroll and put into effect God’s will. Why? Because, we are told, he has triumphed- the Greek word suggesting some sort of victorious struggle which qualifies him for this unique role. And just what that struggle was we discover next as John lifts up his head to look for this Lion but only to see a lamb!
This ‘human Lamb’ whom John sees is ‘standing in the centre of the throne’ probably meaning he is standing in the space no angel could occupy, that is standing on the God-side of all authority, standing with God in the centre of the circle of angelic worship. Jesus is no godlet- he is God. He is not just the God of Christians, since he is the One by which everything was made and for whom it was made, he is sovereign over all people whether they realise it or not or care to admit it or not. The fact that many are in rebellion against him doesn’t make him any less their rightful ruler, in some ways the rebellion underscores the terrible nature of their lawlessness, that they should spurn someone who is as kind and as glorious as this- as we all did at some time or other.
And so the vision of a conquering lion is displaced by a vision of a slaughtered lamb. It is a sacrificial lamb, like those used during the Exodus to ensure that the Angel of Death passed over God’s people, or those used on the day of atonement in the Temple to atone for sins. What is more, this is a powerful Lamb, having seven horns-horns being symbols of princely strength, and seven eyes-which are the seven spirits of God-indicating omniscience-he knows everything- perfect in both knowledge and power.
So what is to become of the people on earth subject to unseen spiritual forces often operating through political structures? Will they be crushed between conflicting forces or lost in world events? No, because this One has the knowledge and insight of God as well as the power and might of God. He can strengthen because he is strong; he can see who needs his help because he is all-seeing. That is the message of the horns and the eyes of the exalted Lamb. And how does he strengthen but by sending his Holy Spirit who is pictured here as ‘the seven Spirits of God’ not because there are seven Holy Spirits but because he is the perfect Spirit of God, complete in all the power and goodness of the Godhead. Do you see how in this one version we are being presented with the Triune God- Father, Son and Holy Spirit in complete control over all things, working together in all things for the sake of the people for whom the Lamb of God was slain in order to save? If he has gone to such lengths for his people, there are no greater lengths to which he will not go to preserve his people- that means you and me. Jesus is now Lord of the Spirit; the Spirit of God is if you like his ‘everywhere-agent’; which means there will be no failure of communication or operation.
But it is important to notice where Jesus, the Lamb, comes from. He comes from the throne itself, he is already standing at the centre of the throne; he doesn’t have to approach it. And so it is God himself, in the person of his Son, who takes the initiative. You see, God has first of all to deal with the fundamental cause of the rot in his world, which is sin. All that corrupts and separates us from him has to be settled. And God cannot do this by mere ‘say so’ from heaven. He has to step down from the throne, as it were, into the grime and muck of our world in order to deal with it. The Lion has to become the Lamb so we can be saved. So the Good news is that there is one who is worthy to take the scroll by virtue of his sacrificial death which lies at the heart of all God’s purposes for the world and that is the Lord Jesus Christ-the Lion who is the Lamb. Do you see?
So how is he working his purposes out? The answer-through Christ who has been given executive power by the Father to enact his will on earth in saving and judging and he will do both perfectly.
Earlier on I mentioned Bishop Festo Kivengere who used to tell this, his favourite, story; "One day a little girl sat watching her mother working in the kitchen. She asked her mummy, 'What does God do all day long?' For a while the mother was stumped, but then she said, 'Darling, I'll tell you what God does all day long. He spends his whole day mending broken things.’ That is what the Triune God is doing- spending the whole day mending broken things like you and me and ultimately a broken universe.
Will you notice what happens the moment the Lamb takes the scroll to enact God’s will: there is spontaneous and unsolicited worship, a dramatic response-v8. The four living creatures and the elders, who have previously been prostrate before the one seated on the throne, now offer exactly the same worship to the Lamb! This is an unambiguous affirmation of the divinity of Jesus for only God is to be worshipped. The two figures of the one seated on the throne and the lamb standing in the midst of the throne characterise God as creator and redeemer. The two are never merged because if they were it would mean there is one being but in two guises, which is a heresy. There is only one God as there is only one throne, but occupied by two persons who share the same divine nature. This is Trinity together with the seven fold Spirit who proceeds from Christ.
You know, it was customary in the first century to stand for prayer, both in Graeco-Roman practice as well as for Jews and Christians, so this prostration demonstrates extreme reverence or urgent supplication. The four living creatures representing the perfections of God reflected in what he has made, and the 24 elders, the angelic creatures representing the whole people of God, sing a new song- that is a new kind of song (kaine) in the sense that all of God’s creative and saving purposes now find their climax and fulfilment in the Lord Jesus Christ: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons 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.’
Why is Christ and Christ alone worthy of our trust and worship?-v9 tells us, ‘because you were slain and with your blood you purchased men for God.’ It’s all about atonement- bringing together God and man by sacrifice.
There are three things about Christ’s atonement.
First, it was a bloody atonement. Blood had to be split for our wounds to be healed. A price had to be paid for us to be brought back from bondage to sin and the devil. And the blood spilt was of infinite worth- the blood of the infinite Son of God himself. All the money in the world could not buy one drop of that blood-for you cannot put a price upon God’s Son. But I tell you this, he would freely give every last drop of that blood so that men and women, boys and girls could be set free from the consequence of sin which is despair on earth now, and misery in hell later.
This is also is a broad atonement, ‘from
every tribe, language, people and nation.’ Christ did not die just for
bad people, but good people, black people, white people, yellow people, red
people, the educated, the illiterate, the cruel, the kind, the sexually pure,
the sexually deviant. Whatever social, racial, political or moral group you
may care to name, in heaven they shall be singing God’s praises with
representatives from every group who have repented and put their trust in him.
You want to talk about being inclusive? It is only the Gospel which offers
real inclusion. The inclusion of the politically correct is a fake inclusion
as it includes only those who subscribe to its authoritarian dogma, the rest
are automatically excluded. Not so the Gospel of the Lamb. How does Wesley
put it, ‘his blood can make the foulest clean, his blood availed for
Thirdly, this is bountiful atonement. Not only are we freed from our sin but freed for service-v10. All believers are priests, representing people to God in prayer and representing God to people in proclamation, pleading with people to put down their arms of rebellion and fall into the arms of Jesus. The song repeats the affirmation from 1:6 that Jesus, the Lamb, has made the people to be a kingdom and priests, but adds the future promise that they will reign on the earth. This fulfils the creation intention that humanity should exercise dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:26) and points to the final victory at the End. The verb ‘to reign’ is used seven times in this book (5:10; 11:15; 11:7; 19:6; 20:4; 20:6; 22:5) always of God, the Lamb and his followers, and anticipates their shared reign in the New Jerusalem. That is the destiny of those of us who follow the Lamb.
Notice what happens next- not only is the whole of heaven caught up on the praise of the Lamb, but the whole of the universe- ‘Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever!” The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshipped.’ What a glorious scene!
Let me end with two points for us to take home.
First, even in heaven the cross is central. It is not so much the teaching of Jesus, or the example of Jesus, or the miracles of Jesus which are to the fore- it is his death and resurrection of Jesus- the Lamb ‘standing’ (that is, risen, and ruling) ‘as though it had been slain’ (crucifixion). You know the words of the hymn: ‘Lest I forget Gethsemane’? ‘Lest I forget Gethsemane, Lest I forget thine agony, Lest I forget thy love for me, Lead me to Calvary.’ In heaven we will never forget, we can’t forget, for whenever we gaze upon Jesus we shall be led to Calvary for we shall always see his scars, the marks of the nails which held him there for us.
Second, there is the comfort of Christians. Many of the Christians to whom the Ascended Jesus is speaking through His Spirit are undergoing unimaginable persecution. They feel they are swimming against the tide by refusing to bow down in Emperor worship, and in the bargain losing their jobs, their freedom and in some cases their families and lives, whilst the rest of humanity is swept along by the great deception of Satan. That is the territory in which many of our brothers and sister find themselves around the world and in which we are now finding ourselves too in the UK. But this vision switches the perspective radically for it shows that we are on the right side of history, because God is directing history with Jesus at as its centre and goal, and what is more we are in the majority as all of creation is caught up in the worship of the God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
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