Christ Is Able to Redeem
Revelation 5:1–5, 8–14
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. List the three titles of Jesus as found in Revelation 5.
2. Identify how the titles of Jesus explain his power and authority to redeem.
3. Design a worship service that incorporates the titles of Christ.
How to Say It
Ezekiel. Ee-ZEEK-ee-ul or Ee-ZEEK-yul.
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, Apr. 16—Thanks for Redemption (Psalm 107:1–9)
Tuesday, Apr. 17—Serving the Living God (Hebrews 9:11–15)
Wednesday, Apr. 18—Life in Holiness (1 Peter 1:13–21)
Thursday, Apr. 19—Praise for Redemption (Psalm 40:1–5)
Friday, Apr. 20—That Your Love May Overflow (Philippians 1:3–11)
Saturday, Apr. 21—The Scroll Is Opened (Revelation 5:1–5)
Sunday, Apr. 22—Worthy Is the Lamb (Revelation 5:11–14)
“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.”
Why Teach this Lesson?
When I was completing my Master of Divinity degree, I had to travel about 500 miles for my oral exams. Some students from the Bible college where I teach went with me, because we were going to attend a conference as well. On the trip they knew of my anxiety concerning facing one of the professors, a well-known and well-respected man. The students kept saying that when they saw this man they would talk to him on my behalf, and everything would be fine.
When we arrived in the city, the first thing we did was go to a restaurant near the seminary for lunch. We were seated, and at the next table was this professor. I introduced these “big talking” students to him, but they said not a word beyond “It’s nice to meet you.” When they were in the presence of this professor, they were in awe and did not follow through on any of their promises.
How much more awe is due to Christ, our redeemer! An attitude of humble worship is always called for when we are in the presence of Christ. Today’s lesson will show us why.
A. Jesus as the Lamb
“Look, the Lamb of God,” proclaimed John the Baptist (John 1:29, 36). This introduces a major theme in John’s Gospel: Jesus as our Passover lamb. The apostle John (who is not the same as John the Baptist) ties the death of Jesus closely to the celebration of the Passover in Jerusalem (see John 13:1; 19:14-15).
The lamb of Passover was a tradition the Jews had observed for over a thousand years by the time Jesus arrived on the scene. It was at the center of the feast of Passover, a commemoration of God’s deliverance of Israel from Egyptian slavery. In Egypt the children of Israel had been commanded to kill lambs and smear their blood outside their doors. This act of faith caused God’s agent of death to “pass over” marked dwellings and not inflict God’s final plague: the death of the household’s firstborn son.
Paul wrote that, “Christ, our passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7). When we look at the regulations for the Passover lamb, some striking parallels to Christ are found. The lamb was to be without defect (Exodus 12:5); the apostle Peter described Jesus as “a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:19). The Passover lamb was to have no bone broken (Exodus 12:46); John included this detail into his account of Jesus’ death, telling us that his legs were not broken by the Roman executioners (John 19:36).
The most remarkable parallel is that, according to Jewish tradition, the Passover lambs were killed by priests within the Jerusalem temple precincts, and then taken to homes for the feast. At 3 pm on Passover day, the high priest would slaughter the final lamb, saying, “It is finished.” If we combine Mark 15:34 and John 19:30, we can see that it was at 3 pm when Jesus uttered the words “It is finished” as he died for the sin of the world.
The designation of Lamb is the most common way of referring to the risen Jesus in the book of Revelation, used some two dozen times there. A marvelous picture emerges if we examine these verses: the Lamb shares the judgmental wrath of God (Revelation 6:16); the Lamb’s blood cleanses his people from sin (7:14); the Lamb is the author of the book of life (13:8); the Lamb has a song akin to the song of Moses (15:3); the Lamb leads the victorious armies of Heaven (17:14); and the Lamb will be the light of new Jerusalem (21:23). A central, climactic event in Revelation is the marriage supper of the Lamb (19:7–9).
The Passover lambs of the Jews symbolized purity, sacrifice, and escape from God’s wrath. The book of Revelation uses all of these attributes in drawing its picture of the Lamb. The book adds truths that the Christ-Lamb is victorious over death and over the enemies of God. This mighty image deserves our study!
B. Lesson Background
Last week’s lesson looked at the opening scene of John’s vision of Heaven. We found a breathtaking tableau of worship before the throne of God, led by the 4 creatures that attend the throne. The worship was joined by 24 honored elders. Study of this scene allowed us to understand the heart of true worship. This week’s lesson continues in that vein, but worship has ceased temporarily. The reasons for its pause and for its resumption are key elements of Revelation 5.
A central item in this chapter is a certain scroll (compare Isaiah 29:11). This scroll represents the mystery of God’s gracious salvation and of his judgmental wrath. The scroll is closed by seven seals.
The breaking of each seal in the following chapters brings about symbolic events tied to the grim judgments of God. While the images are terrifying, we who are in Christ can rest assured that God’s punishing anger will not be visited upon us. Our names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. We have overcome by the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 12:11).
I. Lamb Revealed in Heaven (Revelation 5:1–5)
The first part of Revelation 5 focuses on a mysterious scroll. We are not told where it originated. We (like John) desire to know its hidden meanings. But we cannot know the scroll’s content unless it is revealed and “decoded” for us.
A. Scroll (v. 1)
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.
The scroll in view has leaves sewn end to end and rolled around a wooden rod. This makes it possible to seal the outer edge. This is similar to what we find on a new roll of paper towels, where the beginning of the roll is stuck to the main body and must be peeled away for use. Another theory is that the seven seals are found one after the other, in a sequence, as the scroll is unrolled a little at a time.
The seven seals give a high sense of the importance to the scroll’s contents. The book of Revelation uses the number seven 55 times. Seven is this book’s number for perfection. The number seven here tells us that the scroll contains the perfect message of God. It awaits its revelation to John and the heavenly audience.
A further intriguing detail is that the scroll has writing on both sides. We can imagine the practical difficulties in using a scroll that has text on both sides, so this is not the common practice of ancient scribes. Usually a scroll has writing only on the inner side for ease of use. Writing on both sides gives the sense that the scroll is crammed with very important information, more data than a normal scroll can contain (compare Ezekiel 2:9-10). This heightens our desire to know the contents.
B. Crisis (vv. 2–4)
2. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?”
The scroll cannot be opened without breaking the seals. The seal on government correspondence in the ancient world is more than a way of keeping the document closed. The nature of the seal determines who has the authority to break it and read the document. For example, a document sealed with the emperor’s imprint can be viewed only by an official of the highest level (compare Esther 3:12; 8:10).
This scroll is rated top secret, and not just anyone can break its seals. The one who opens it must have the proper authority—that is, must be found worthy. This question of worthiness is tied to worship in these chapters. The one with ultimate authority is worthy, and therefore properly deserving of worship.
3. But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it.
Presumably, the one seated on the throne (God) can open the scroll. But he is the one who has prepared and sealed it in the first place. God waits for someone with adequate authority to come for it, someone having authority approved by him. John is aware that none of his fellow creatures, whether human or angelic, has the requisite authority to break the seals and open the scroll. This is because none of them is worthy.
4. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.
The facts of verse 3 cause what we may deem to be a strange reaction in John: weeping. He feels the crisis deeply. We can infer that he is sad for two reasons. First, he has a strong desire to know the contents of the scroll, both for himself and so that he may be able to share the contents with his fellow believers (see Revelation 1:1). When that happens, humans may know better how to proceed with God’s plans. Second, John realizes that no human is worthy of this task, not even him. Much like Isaiah, John is overwhelmed by his own unworthiness (Isaiah 6:5). God has established the standard of worthiness, and apparently no one measures up to it.
What Do You Think?
In what ways could an observer tell by your actions that your heart has ached because God’s plans were seemingly thwarted and that he was not being glorified as he deserves?
C. Lion and Root (v. 5)
5. Then one of the elders said to me, “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’s weeping is short-lived. There is indeed one worthy to break the seals and unroll the scroll. He is called the Lion of the tribe of Judah (compare Genesis 49:9) and the Root of David. Both of these are obvious titles for the Messiah, the risen Christ. However, the exact phrase Root of David is not found in the Old Testament (see Isaiah 11:10, “Root of Jesse,” realizing that Jesse was King David’s father). Sometimes the Old Testament prophets refer to the Messiah as the Branch of David who originates from David’s dynasty (see Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15). This was true of the earthly Jesus, a rightful descendant of David (Matthew 1:1).
But in his eternal fullness, the Messiah is not derivative of the house of David. Rather, just the reverse is true: that house is dependent upon him. The preexistent Christ is the source of the promise to David. This was taught by Jesus when he pointed out that David prophetically referred to the Messiah as “my Lord” (Luke 20:41–44).
Navajo Code Talkers
Navajo code talkers took part in every U.S. Marine battle in the Pacific between 1942 and 1945. Fewer than 30 non-Navajos could speak the language at the time. One of them was Philip Johnston, son of a missionary who grew up on a Navajo reservation. He persuaded the U.S. government that Navajo was the perfect code language (www.history.navy.mil). An unwritten language, Navajo uses a very complex syntax and tonal system.
To make the code work, a series of unrelated Navajo words were first translated into English equivalents. Then the first letters of the equivalents were used to spell English words. To make the code even harder to crack, most English letters could be signified by more than one Navajo word. The skilled Japanese code breakers couldn’t break this one!
Some have seen the Bible as a book of codes—codes that we should try to “break.” Indeed, the idea of mystery or secret is found in many places in the Bible (examples: Daniel 2:18-19, 27, 30; Romans 11:25; 16:25; Colossians 1:26-27). The secrets of the book that John saw revealed were more inscrutable than those protected by any human code. We should not be surprised that only God can reveal those secrets. This might also be good advice to heed when someone offers the supposedly “one-and-only true” interpretation of the book of Revelation!
II. Lamb Worshiped in Heaven (Revelation 5:8–14)
The Messiah now appears. But he is not as a muscle-bound superhero. He is a lamb. He is not a cute, docile lamb, however, but a powerful, bold being. He has the appearance of having been slaughtered (Revelation 5:6, not in today’s text), probably meaning his white wool is smeared with blood. He has seven horns, symbolizing perfect, absolute authority. He also has the seven spirits, the Holy Spirit of God, at his disposal (again, 5:6). His authority and worthiness are unquestioned. The enthroned God gladly allows him to take the scroll in preparation for its opening (5:7).
A. Beasts and Elders (v. 8)
8. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
With the appearance of the Lamb on the scene, the worship resumes. Now, however, the Lamb himself is the object of worship as signified by the elders bowing before him. There are two added elements: harps and bowls. Now we can imagine the beautiful strains of a heavenly harp orchestra. Present in the bowls are the prayers of believers, which add the aroma of sweet incense to the worship (compare Psalm 141:2).
Visual for Lesson 8
This visual can remind your students that there are more than six billion people on the earth. Ask, “How will we reach them?”
B. New Song (vv. 9, 10)
9. And they sang a new song:
“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.
Further evidence of the level of worship given the Lamb is found in the singing of a new song. In the Old Testament, the new song was always sung to God as an act of worship (Psalm 33:3; 40:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; Isaiah 42:10).
What Do You Think?
Do you think we should limit the types of our praise to the model found in the book of Revelation? Why, or why not? (In addition to Revelation 5, see also chapters 4 and 7.)
Two things motivate this great worship celebration for the Lamb. Most basic, He appears in Heaven as the redeemer for the people of God. He has been slain as an atoning sacrificial victim. The price of his blood has brought redemption to many, both Jew and Gentile. Jesus’ death is not seen as a defeat but as a victory (Revelation 5:5, he has “prevailed”). Second, he is acclaimed because his triumphant sacrifice has made him worthy to solve the current crisis: break the seals and open the scroll.
10. “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”
What Do You Think?
How can your church use the imagery of Jesus’ sacrifice to persuade young people to enter missionary service? How hard would it be for you personally to see your child go overseas for missionary work?
The idea of a priestly kingdom has already been introduced (Revelation 1:6; compare 1 Peter 2:5, 9). This was the ideal for Israel as God’s holy nation (see Exodus 19:6). The promises we see here are encouraging to John’s first readers, who are under persecution from the Roman Empire.
C. Host of Angels (vv. 11, 12)
11. Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders.
The song of the elders is now joined by a seemingly infinite host of heavenly angels. Saying ten thousand times ten thousand is not a precise mathematical formula but is more like our exuberant expression “gazillions.” They are innumerable (compare Daniel 7:10; Hebrews 12:22). This glorious scene is beyond our imagination.
12. In a loud voice they sang: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”
The worship from the angels is sevenfold, the perfect combination. It encompasses vitally important qualifications for worthiness: power (ability), wealth (riches), wisdom (intellect), strength (might), honor (esteem), glory (majesty), and praise (approval). See 1 Chronicles 29:11-12.
D. Universal Chorus (vv. 13, 14)
13, 14. Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing:
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”
The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
The worship chorus is now joined by every creature. The celebration is so great that even heaven cannot contain it! The acclamation of the creatures is fourfold, symbolic of the entire world, repeating four of the items from the angelic song.
This song is also reminiscent of the original song of God’s worthiness in Revelation 4:11, with one key difference: the worship now includes the Lamb—Jesus Christ, the risen one. The redeemer of humanity is worthy of worship, and no human king is similarly deserving. The scene ends on a high note with the worship by the 4 living creatures and the 24 elders. They worship unreservedly, counting the Lamb as worthy as the one who sits on the throne.
What Do You Think?
There is no doubt: Christians have specific preferences about how worship should be conducted! How can we help one another become more open to different ways of worship?
This powerful, moving description of heavenly worship is as inspiring today as it was when John first wrote it. We see in it the great esteem and worthiness that all Heaven accords to the risen Jesus, our redeemer and Lord.
Is there any piece of music composed by a human being that would be worthy of being sung before the very throne of God? Some believe that the “Hallelujah Chorus” could be it!
Handel composed this chorus in 1741 as part of his famous Messiah oratorio. That was a difficult year for Handel. He was trying to get by on a very small income and it was bringing him to despair. Creditors were hounding him. But one day he received a thick envelope from Charles Jennens, a wealthy admirer of Handel’s music. Inside the envelope was page after page of carefully chosen Scripture passages that Jennens thought should be set to music.
Handel was inspired! Over the next few weeks he worked day and night on the piece of music that was burning in his soul. When he had finished, he exclaimed, “I do believe I have seen all of Heaven before me and the great God himself!” Audiences since Handel’s day have seemed to agree, especially given the tradition of rising to one’s feet during the “Hallelujah Chorus.” We may be sure that the great chorus of praise in Heaven will be even more glorious! —C. R. B.
One of the burning issues of John’s day was the danger of worshiping false gods. Under the reign of Emperor Domitian, citizens were required to do a yearly act of worship to the “genius” of the emperor—something Christians refused to do. For this they were persecuted, some even to death. John knew that one of the seven churches of Asia had suffered the martyrdom of a faithful member named Antipas (Revelation 2:13). Revelation tells the horrible story of people who worshiped a false god. This may be code language for emperor worship (see Revelation 19:20; 20:4).
What Do You Think?
How does today’s text provide you hope to face ongoing struggles? In what ways does it help you resist the temptation to follow another religion and the temptation to trust materialism instead of Christ?
There are two sides to the coin of worship. On one side is the principle that worship is for God and only for God. If there is another recipient of worship, worship has become idolatry, the most grievous sin in the Bible. When John falls down to worship an angel, he is admonished, “Do not do it … worship God!” (Revelation 19:10). This is an absolute in the Bible. There is only one God, and he alone is worthy of worship.
The other side of the coin is that acts of worship clearly reveal who a person’s god is. We may claim to worship God, but the way we live our lives will show what we really count as worthy. It may be ourselves. It may be a political philosophy. It may be wealth and pleasure. We see Paul’s awareness of this when he writes of those whose “god is their stomach” (Philippians 3:19).
With these principles in mind, we are confronted with a difficult dilemma. If there is only one God, and he alone is worthy of worship, where does Jesus, the redeeming Lamb, fit in? If we worship God and his Son, are we guilty of worshiping two Gods?
We may not have an exhaustive answer to this question because it hinges on the mystery of God’s Trinitarian nature. The doctrine of the Trinity defies human logic, because it claims in a certain sense that 1+1+1=1. Some have therefore had an aversion to doing anything that seems like direct worship of Jesus.
This is not what we find in the picture of worship supplied by John. Once the Lamb enters the scene, worship is directed, unreservedly, to the one sitting on the throne (God) and to the Lamb (Revelation 5:13). This combination appears several times in the book (example: Revelation 22:1). It is proper and fitting to worship Jesus the Lamb, who redeemed us by taking away our sin. This is the Jesus we have a relationship with today. He is seated at the right hand of God in Heaven. Jesus should be counted as worthy in our hearts and in our worship.
Thought to Remember
Honor Jesus in your worship.
To God, the one who sits on the throne, we offer our praise, our honor, and our blessings. To the Lamb, our redeemer, we offer our deepest thanks and devotion. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Underwood, Jonathan ; Nickelson, Ronald L. ; Underwood, Jonathan: New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2006-2007. Cincinnati : Standard Publishing