Referring back to chapter 4 of the Book of Revelation the Apostle John sees the same Person in chapter 5:1. He is the centre of attention in chapter 4, sitting on the throne in heaven, worthy of receiving adoration and worship of heavenly beings, He is the eternal Father.
In verse 1 of chapter 5 the Father is pictured on His throne with a book in His right hand that is sealed with seven seals. From the throne room a mighty angel proclaims a challenge to the inhabitants of the universe – but it is met with silence! No one is worthy enough to open the book – or look inside it to reveal its contents.
It caused the Apostle John to weep, profusely. The NIV of verse 4 says that he “wept and wept,” because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or look inside. But then, one of the elders mentioned in chapter 4, assured John that the “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” had triumphed. We read in verses 5-6 of chapter 5 that He is able “to open the scroll, and its seven seals.”
John is told to behold the Lion of the tribe of Judah, but when he looked he saw a Lamb which seemed to have been slain, standing in the centre of the throne (Rev. 5:6). In verse 29 of the Gospel of John, John the Baptist declares Jesus to be the “Lamb of God!” The author of the Letter to the Hebrews tells us in verses 11-12 of chapter 9 that Jesus entered the Heavenly Sanctuary as our High Priest he also “entered the Most Holy place, once and for all by His own blood having obtained eternal redemption.” This is what we read in verse 6 of Revelation 5: “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as though it had been slain, standing in the centre of the throne, . . .”
But in the chapter 5 we see Jesus pictured symbolically as both Lion and a Lamb! What could be more opposite in nature, in appearance and characteristics? But both of these symbols of Lion & Lamb represent Jesus Christ.
No creature could possible better represent meekness, humility, and innocence as does a lamb. Lambs are never aggressive or revengeful. They don’t complain about the way they are treated. Jesus didn’t complain about the way He was treated when on earth. In vision the prophet Isaiah said of the Christ: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all . . . he was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; He is brought as a Lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is dumb, so He opened not his mouth” (Is. 53:6-7). What a contrast in nature to that of a lion!
We can read of another contrast in Isaiah 9:6. Foretelling the birth of Jesus: “For to us a child is born, to us a child is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders, and He will be called, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Take the first two phrases: “For to us a child is born, to us a child is given;” what can be more vulnerable that a new born child? And yet further in the text it says He is the “Mighty God;” He is the One who provides and cares for His creation (See Colossians 1:16-17).
When Jesus became man, it would be a mistake to say that He was no longer the “Mighty God.” Christianity speaks of this as the miracle of the Incarnation. The two natures in one Person, the God Man. And yet those identities are still separate.
When Jesus became man, he had not ceased to be God. As the 17th century Puritan theologian, John Owen, put it in a memorable couplet, “It was not that He gave up what He was, but He became what He was not.”
We see the paradox of God becoming man in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians in chapter 2, verses 5-8. Describing Christ’s condescension the apostle Paul writes, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
‘Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness, and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death – even death on a cross.”
Just take the first phrase in verse 6, “Who being in very nature God,” and compare that with the last phrase in verse 8, “and became obedient unto death – even death on a cross.”
“Being in very nature God” contrasts with Him being human and – “death on a cross.” Divinity cannot die. Jesus had all the attributes of divinity, but chose not to use his deity in His favour when He became one of us in His humanity (John 1:14). He voluntarily “made Himself nothing,” taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness, and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death – even death on a cross.” Where Adam failed, our Messiah succeeded for our sakes. “As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22).
Divinity did not die on the cross, it was His humanity that died. Although obedient unto death He took the consequences of our disobedience and died the death we should die. And when we accept Christ as Lord and Saviour, His obedience is imputed to us, so that God looks upon us as if we have never sinned. “The wages of sin death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). The miracle of the Incarnation is not just that Jesus became the God-Man, but that He should do that to take what we deserve, to give us eternal life that we don’t deserve!
The Apostle John gives us the same picture of the divine human nature – the God/Man, in John 1:1. There he says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Verse 3 tells us that, “Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.” And then in verse 14 of the same chapter he tells us under inspiration, “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
But we see the paradox expressed in verse 10 as well, “He was in the world,” in His humanity; but then we read, “and though the world was made by Him,” – there we read of His creativity as deity, but then, back to, “the world did not recognise Him.” He became one with us, and despite His goodness and purity verse 11 says, “He came to that which was His own, but His own received Him not.” One senses the hurt and pain in the text as the rest of the Gospel of John recounts how He was dismissed as a nobody and an upstart, who ended up on a cross made for a criminal (John 19: 18- 37).
Speaking of the events which fulfilled the Isaiah 53 prophecy, the Apostle Peter said: “Who when he was reviled, He reviled not again; when he suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to him who Judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23).
In that text we see the sympathetic Jesus, “the Lamb that was slain.” But what about the Lion? I would not want to meet the king of the jungle head on! There is power and strength and a fearlessness with a Lion that you have to respect. Although gentle, meek and humble at heart, Jesus had no fear of wicked men nor devils. Devils were afraid of Him! There was no fear of the scribes and Pharisees! He rebuked them for their hypocrisy. He called them “fools,” and “hypocrites,” and “blind guides.” He likened them to “serpents” and “whited sepulchres” and a “generation of vipers.” That’s tough fearless talk! That is one thing we can’t copy Jesus in, calling people names. He is the only perfect one who can read minds and hearts, we can’t.
He was not afraid to overturn the tables of the greedy money-changers when they robbed the poor through the Temple exchange rates at Passover time. He was not afraid to drive out all who were making His Father’s house a “house of merchandise” and a “den of thieves.”
He was no coward. Genuine meekness shouldn’t be confused with weakness or timidity. He could face down His detractors. He wasn’t afraid to meet people face to face, either to win them or rebuke them. Jesus possessed both meekness and courage and strength that is symbolized by both a lamb and a lion.
Divinely meek His very life was in harmony with God. So He could meet every obstacle. . . .
The one who knows He is one with God – does not permit trivialities to bother him. We read sometimes of Christians who forgive people who have been subject to such atrocities. We read it of Iraqi Christians who have suffered so badly at the hands of ISIS.
Anything we put up with in the Western world must be just slight irritations compared to pillaging, torture and killing suffered by Christians in the oppressive regimes of our world. When we know what so many people in this world have to put up with, are we offended at comparative trivialities? Can we withhold forgiveness?
Jesus warned His disciples of what they would have to face in the future, but He also promised them a peace that only He could give them (John 14:27). It is only Jesus who can give that peace of mind and a self-control that is evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Such people are masters of their emotions rather than mastered by their emotions.
This was true of Jesus. He neither gave offence nor stored up offences. He was too great for that, too busy going about His Father’s business.
Jesus has been described as the meekest of the meek, but there will come the day when the presence of the Lion of Judah will be felt by those who oppress His people. Said Jesus to His disciple John in the closing chapter of the Revelation: “Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy. Behold In am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.”
The purpose of the gospel is to prepare us to live out the manifesto of His kingdom to come (Matthew 5:1-12). He has gone to prepare a place for those who appreciate the reason for His first mission (John 14:1-3) and are looking forward to enjoying His unchallenged rulership in a world made new (Revelation 21:1-5).
One day, what we read in chapter 5 of Revelation will repeat itself. I can never forget being included in a massed school choir of around 700 at the National Eisteddfod in Caerphilly back in 1952. Said to have held about 7000 people the portable pavilion was erected alongside the girls’ grammar school, and opposites Caerphilly Castle (the second largest in Europe next to Windsor).
Everyone was standing for the next chosen piece, the Hallelujah Chorus (sung in Welsh of course). In my late teens I attended the Albert Hall with friends to hear Handel’s Messiah conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent. But it did not compare with my schoolboy experience, being part of the 700 schools choir, accompanied by the BBC Welsh Orchestra. It’s different being part of it than listening, as thrilling as that may be. But even that will not compare with the collective voices of the redeemed who will one day be part of that massed choir of the universe numbering thousands upon thousands, who will sing in all their different parts, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise”
Easter reminds us of the Lamb, who would go as far as to die for us! He became the Lamb that was slain! – For all who will accept Him not just as Creator but as Saviour and Lord, and will praise the Lamb, as verse 13 of Revelation chapter 5 describes of those who are gathered from heaven and earth, “singing: ‘To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever!” What an experience that will be!