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The Worship of the Lamb, Revelation 5

Worship and adoration are the appropriate responses to the revelation of the Lamb who has prevailed to open the scroll of God’s judgment. In fact, falling down before the Lamb, presenting prayers before the Lamb, singing to the Lamb, and worshiping the Lamb are all consistent with the revelation of His glory. This activity is not confined to the twenty-four elders (representatives of the church), but extends to “many angels around the throne” along with the “living creatures” and encompassing a great number of worshipers, “and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands” (Rev 5:11).

Christ is praised with a “new song” because He is “worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals” (Rev 5:9a). Notice one significant difference between the worshipers in heaven and worshipers on earth. Some of God’s professing people on earth do not often talk about God’s judgment and some even seem embarrassed by the Lord’s judgments and try to explain them away. They do not usually admit embarrassment, but their words and actions evidence the disposition of their hearts. Contrary to that attitude the worshipers in heaven see Christ’s execution of vengeance as a reason to sing a new song to Him and praise Him. There is need for the church today to recover this attitude; not with a petty and vindictive spirit, but with a desire to see the justice of God manifested.

Christ is praised because He “was slain, and [has] redeemed us to God by [His] blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev 5:9b). This is the Christ of v. 5 who is described as the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” who interestingly appears to John as “a Lamb as though it had been slain” (v.6). The King-Priest of Psalm 110 has accomplished the work the Father had given Him, ascended to heaven, and now receives praise from His people. Revelation 5:9 also indicates another difference between the worshipers of heaven and the worshipers on earth:  the multitudes in heaven do not have a problem with particular redemption. Christ did not come to make redemption possible, He came to actually redeem the elect of God by His blood and this glorious truth elicits the praise of the “ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands!” The “Five Points of Calvinism” are not only a soteriological formulation; they are also a doxological foundation. The knowledge of a Holy Redeemer who crushed the head of the serpent ought to promote praise and worship for Christ by His church.

Christ is praised because He has “made us kings and priests to our God; and [has enabled us to] reign on the earth” (Rev 5:10). This statement highlights something of God’s covenantal plan:  the nation of Israel was to function as a kingdom of priests in order to mediate God’s blessings to the rest of the earth (Ex 19:6). Of course, Israel failed to execute this because of their sin. Christ as the true Israel fulfills all of His covenantal obligations, saves His elect, and enables them to function as the Israel of God by virtue of their union with Him. The church’s calling is a glorious one because of the redemptive work of her Head, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Christ is praised for having received “power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev 5:12). In Daniel’s description of Christ’s ascension, he writes “Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him” (Dan 7:14). Christ as victor receives great blessing from His Father and the worshipers in heaven ascribe worthiness to Him “who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing” (v.12). This is not a potential Savior or one who helps His people save themselves; Christ saves to the uttermost and is worthy of the praise of His people.

Christ is praised as the One who sits with His Father on the throne “forever and ever” (Rev 5:13b).  This praise comes from “every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea” (Rev 5:13a).  This is a vivid application of Ps 103:  David calls on the entirety of the moral universe to bless the Lord (Ps 103:20-22). The church militant ought to join the church triumphant in that blessed refrain, “Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb, forever and ever” (v.13).

Revelation: The Vision of the Son of Man

The first thing to notice about John’s vision is Christ’s location.  He is “in the midst of the seven lampstands” (Rev. 1:13).  The lampstands are the seven churches of Asia Minor (Rev. 1:20).  Christ is present with His church!  He is not an absentee king, ruler, head, or prophet, but He fulfills all of these functions within the context of His churches.  This is not an isolated theme in the NT but is repeated for the encouragement of the people of God.  In commissioning His church to make disciples, Christ promises “and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20).  In Acts 1:1, Luke highlights that his previous book (the gospel) was a record of “all that Jesus began both to do and teach.”  The implication is obvious:  Acts is a record of all that Jesus continues to do and teach in His church.

When John reports Christ’s location, we 21st century readers are not to miss the significance.  It is especially encouraging when we consider the makeup of the churches addressed in Rev. 2-3.  Not only does Christ not de-church some of those less-than-perfect churches in Asia Minor, He is actually found among them!  This should encourage us to come to church in order to meet with Christ.  Secondly, we ought to see the centrality of the church in God’s redemptive plan.  And thirdly, we must recognize that Jesus really is the ruler over all things and that He has a special concern for His body.

The description of Christ given in Rev. 1:13-16 is symbolic.  When we compare Dan. 10:5-6, we note several things.  Firstly, Daniel’s messenger had His “golden band” around His waist, whereas Jesus here has His about the chest (Rev. 1:13).  Secondly, the “voice” in Daniel was like a multitude; here it is compared with the sound of many waters (Rev. 1:15).  Thirdly, the “countenance” in Daniel had the appearance of “lightning” but here it is “like the sun shining in its strength” (Rev. 1:16).  Absent in Daniel are references to “white head and hair” (Rev. 1:14), a sword coming from His mouth (Rev. 1:16), and “seven stars” in His right hand (Rev. 1:16).  What do we make of this description?  Steve Gregg writes,  “The general character of the vision is one of the glory of Christ, the shining face being reminiscent of that which John had seen on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:2).  According to the various expositors, the golden band worn across the chest is an emblem of high rank in the ancient world, and the long, linen garment is probably priestly.  White hair is the emblem of age and honor – and possibly wisdom.  The flaming eyes convey the idea of piercing vision, and the feet like fine brass suggest the irresistibility of His judgment as He will later tread the “great winepress of the wrath of God” (Rev. 14:19).” So, we have a glory-filled Christ who possesses the highest rank who is also a priest and who is from everlasting and who is the embodiment of wisdom and who is sovereign and who will execute judgment upon His enemies – hallelujah, what a Savior!

It is important to recognize the weapon employed by Christ:  “out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword” (Rev. 1:16).  He rules and reigns and saves and damns by His word.  This is not surprising for students of the Bible (compare Is. 11:1, Hos 6:5, and Heb. 4:12 for illustrations).  In Revelation, Jesus calls the church in Pergamos to repentance and threatens His coming to them and fighting against them “with the sword of My mouth” (Rev. 2:16) if they continue impenitently.  And of course, the Rider on the white horse of Revelation 19 makes war with the sword that proceeds from His mouth (Rev. 19:15, 21).  Is there not a present temptation to de-value the weapon of Christ’s warfare?  We need to give heed to John’s description:  Jesus reigns now and wields almighty power now and that power is wielded through His word and Spirit.

John is not novel.  He is very Old-Testamentish, not only in the way he writes, but in the way he responds to God.  In Rev. 1:17, he says “And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead.”  John differs from those in our generation who have claimed to see Jesus but were not moved to tremble.  John is just like Ezekiel, “So when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard a voice of One speaking” (Ez. 1:28).  John is like Daniel, “Therefore I was left alone when I saw this great vision, and no strength remained in me; for my vigor was turned to frailty in me, and I retained no strength” (Dan. 10:8). John is like Isaiah who was ushered into the throne room to behold the glory of the pre-incarnate Christ and his response was “Woe is me, for I am undone!  Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (Is. 6:5).  Whenever sinful man is given a view of the holiness of God, humility is the biblical response.

Christ’s response to John is also typical of the God who is seen.  Jesus laid His right hand on John and said “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last.  I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore.  Amen.  And I have the keys of Hades and of Death” (Rev. 1:17b-18).  Is this not the Lord’s way in dealing with His servants?  He comforts and equips them for service.  His holiness humbles them; His mercy enables them.  He comforts John with a declaration of His eternality.  He comforts John with a declaration of His death and resurrection.  He comforts John with a declaration of His absolute authority over all things, including Hades and Death.

Revelation: The Commission of John

John’s Relationship With His Audience

John writes in Rev. 1:9, “I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island of Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.”  John identifies with his audience in three important aspects of Christian living:  tribulation, kingdom, and patience.  John spoke as one who shared in the sufferings of Jesus Christ.  He was not immune from the tribulation facing his audience; he shared in it.  D.S. Clark writes, “He stood with them on common ground.  Every hardship they bore, he endured.  Every prospect of martyrdom they faced, he had already contemplated.  He was even in the vanguard bearing the first baptism of fire and blood.  They would listen to the words of one who suffered in their sufferings, and stood in the forefront of their dangers.”

It is important to notice that John’s worldview does not involve tribulation only, but he is a partaker along with his audience of the kingdom of Jesus Christ.  From John’s vantage point, the kingdom of Christ is not a future event waiting to happen; it is a present reality that God’s people currently enjoy.  The kingdom of Christ was inaugurated at His ascension (Acts 2:30ff and Rev. 12:5) and was in place in the first century when John wrote.  While he sat exiled on Patmos, John was a partaker of a glorious kingdom!  The church today needs to recover the vision promised in the prophets (see for example Is. 9:6-7 and Dan. 7:13-14), celebrated in the Psalter (see Pss. 2, 22, 45, 72, and 110 for a sampling), and fulfilled at the first advent of Jesus Christ (see Mt. 28:18-20; Acts 2:29-36; 1 Cor. 15:20-28; 1 Thess. 2:12; Eph. 1:20-23; Col. 1:13).  The Lord Christ bestowed a kingdom upon His disciples (Lk. 22:29) and we ought to proceed as loyal subjects.

A fitting summary statement of the book of Revelation is Jesus’ words in John 16:33, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” Revelation addresses the tribulation Christians face in the world.  God does not lie.  He tells it like it is.  He does not hide the difficulties associated with following Christ in a hostile world.  The Christian life can be a life punctuated by suffering and trial and tribulation and torture and persecution and imprisonment and death.  But Revelation always directs us back to the throne of Christ who has overcome the world and therefore bids us to “be of good cheer.”

This participation in tribulation and kingdom produces patience.  John says he is a brother and companion in the tribulation, and kingdom, and patience of Jesus Christ.  The patience John refers to means “patient endurance; bearing up under pressure” and is translated “perseverance” in Rev. 3:10 (cf. also Rom. 5:3-4).  Is this not God’s way?  He gives us a kingdom but we dwell in a hostile land.  This promotes perseverance on the part of His children as they strive to be faithful and imitate their Master who was tried while a King.  G.K. Beale writes, “This is a formula for kingship:  faithful endurance through tribulation is the means by which one reigns in the present with Jesus.  Believers are not mere subjects in Christ’s kingdom.  ‘Fellow partaker’ underscores the active involvement of saints not only in enduring tribulation, but also in reigning in the midst of tribulation.”

John’s Commission

While John was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day,” the glorified Christ commissioned him to write the book of Revelation.  Commenting on the phrase “in the Spirit,” D.S. Clark writes, “We cannot describe this psychological state other than to suppose that all the channels of his being were open toward God, ready for the reception of any divine communication.”   The reference to the “Lord’s Day” is commonly understood to be a reference to Sunday, the Christian day of worship.  As James Durham noted, “As the Lord’s Supper is for the remembrance of His death till He come again; so is this day for remembering the work of redemption, and His resurrection, till He come again.”

The nature of John’s commission is consistent with much of what occurred in the Old Testament when a man of God was called to proclaim the message of God.  G.K. Beale and Sean McDonough state, “The introduction of John’s commission is coined in the language of the prophet Ezekiel’s repeated rapture in the Spirit, thus identifying John’s revelation with that of the OT prophets (cf. Ezek. 2:2; 3:12, 14, 24; 11:1; 43:5).  His prophetic authority is enforced by the description of the voice that he heard as “a great voice as a trumpet,” evoking the same voice that Moses heard when Yahweh revealed Himself to him on Mount Sinai (Exod. 19:16, 19-20).”

The commissioning of John was enjoined with a vision of the Commissioner, as was the case in the OT.  John is given a vision of the glorified Christ who has come to use John to set forth His word to the tried and troubled churches in Asia Minor.  John’s message is relevant for us today as we are still called to tribulation, kingdom loyalty, and perseverance to the end.

Revelation: A Theological Greeting to the Churches

The Apostle John begins the book of Revelation with a theologically rich greeting to the seven churches of Asia Minor.  In many ways, the greeting sets the foundation for the remainder of the book.  The people of God are experiencing trials and they need to be reminded of the source of their comfort:  the triune God who dwells in heaven and rules the nations.

John begins with a statement concerning the triune God.  In a time of tribulation and suffering, God’s people stand in need of grace and peace.  John highlights the source of all grace and peace:  the triune God.    The glory of our eternal Father is referenced in the words, “from Him who is and who was and who is to come.”  The Holy Spirit in His manifold glory is referred to:  “and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne.”  John then describes Jesus in a biblically familiar manner:  His threefold office as prophet, priest, and king.  We learn from this greeting that the doctrine of the Trinity is not an abstraction for infrequent consideration, but it is “the foundation of all our communion with God, and comfortable dependence on Him” (LBCF 2:3). May the church imbibe something of Gregory Nazianzen’s trinitarianism,

“No sooner do I conceive of the one that I am illumined by the splendor of the three; no sooner do I distinguish them than I am carried back to the one.  When I think of any one of the three I think of him as the whole, and my eyes are filled, and the greater part of what I am thinking escapes me.  I cannot grasp the greatness of that one so as to attribute a greater greatness to the rest.  When I contemplate the three together, I see but one torch, and cannot divide or measure out the undivided light.”

John proceeds to the threefold office of Christ.  The Apostle communicates the fullness of our divine Savior.  He satisfies every demand of His Father and every need of sinful man.  His prophetic office is in view with the words “the faithful witness.”  Christ identifies Himself in like manner when speaking to the church in Laodicea (Rev. 3:14).  The people of God are to be faithful in the midst of all things as is their Savior.  In Rev. 2:13 the church in Pergamos is commended for holding fast “My name” and in Rev. 6:9 the martyrs are described as those who “had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held.”  In Rev. 12:11, the people of God are those who “overcame him [the devil] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.”

John describes Christ’s role as priest with the statement “the firstborn from the dead.”  The word “firstborn” does not mean that Christ is a creature; it means He is the preeminent One.  The word is used in the Septuagint in Ex. 4:22 and refers to the preeminence of Israel over the nations of the earth.  It is used by Paul in Col. 1:15-18 where he sets forth the supremacy of Christ in all things.  The primary background the use here is Ps. 89, especially verse 27:  “Also, I will make him My firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.”  This is the “majestic covenant Psalm” according to C.H. Spurgeon and all three descriptions of Christ used in Rev. 1 are found in Ps. 89.  G.K. Beale comments, “John views Jesus as the ideal Davidic king on an escalated eschatological level, whose death and resurrection have resulted in His eternal kingship of his ‘beloved’ children (cf.v.5b), and this idea is developed in v.6.”  David was not the first king of Israel in terms of chronology, but rather he was the first king in terms of preeminence; this is John’s point regarding Jesus.  The fact that He is the firstborn from the “dead” points to His priestly role:  Christ was both priest and victim in the sacrifice at Calvary.

John further describes Jesus as “the ruler over the kings of the earth.”  Sometimes the church operates as if Christ is waiting to reign or as if He is an absentee king.  John says that Jesus currently possesses all authority in heaven and on earth.  He has sovereign control over all earthly rulers.  This perspective is foundational for the book.  Throughout Revelation, John shifts from the earthly perspective to the heavenly and his instruction is clear:  we must learn to interpret the earthly by the heavenly and not the other way around.  While people rage against the church (chapters 2-3), Christ sits in the heavens and holds them in derision (chapters 4-5).

John moves from who God is to how we should respond:  worship.  The doctrine of God should lead to doxological praise.  In Rev. 1:5b-6, John praises Christ for who He is and what He has done in saving His people from their sins.  John addresses His praise “to Him who loved us.”  This is one characteristic of our Lord Jesus, He loves sinners!  John indicates this in his gospel at Jn. 13:1.  Jesus exhorts His disciples to love one another in the Upper Room discourse and uses His love for them as the standard (Jn. 15:12).  Paul prays for believers to comprehend the love of Christ that “passes knowledge” in Eph. 3:18-19.  We learn from John that Christ’s love should be a means of promoting praise, worship, and adoration.

John moves from Christ’s love for His people to the grand demonstration of that love for His people:  redemption through His blood.  John praises Jesus because He “washed us from our sins in His own blood.”  The book of Revelation refers to Christ as the “Lamb of God” twenty-nine times.  This is consistent with John’s Gospel wherein the Lord Jesus is identified as “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn. 1:29).  The point is clear:  we are to worship, praise, and adore the One who died for us in order to cleanse us from our sins.  The atonement produces worshipers!

John continues in his praise for Christ for His role in the new creation, “and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father.”  Ex. 19:6 is the background for this assertion and indicates that the church is the new or true Israel because of her Redeemer.  What Israel of old failed to accomplish, Christ accomplished perfectly and in Him, believers share that blessed privilege of being a kingdom of priests.  G.K. Beale comments, “Christ’s death and resurrection (v.5) established a twofold office, not only for Himself (cf. also vv.13-18) but also for believers.  Their identification with His resurrection and kingship (v.5a) means that they too are considered to be resurrected and exercising rule with Him as a result of His exaltation.”

John closes this greeting with the words of praise, “to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever.  Amen.”  May the wonderful description of Christ given in these verses cause the church to worship Him in like manner.