Pastor Scott Andrews | August 21, 2022
It’s great to have many of you back this weekend – students returning to school, families returning from vacation. If you are new to ASU – a freshman or transfer student – welcome. If you were here last year – welcome back – it’s one of my favorite Sundays of the year – and yes, we’re still in the book of Revelation.
Speaking of favorites, my favorite kind of movies are those with plot twists – the ones that keep you guessing till the very end. I looked up movies with surprising endings – you know, movies with totally unexpected plot twists. I found several lists of them. On one comprehensive list, number six was called The Others in which this family moves into a house that turns out to be haunted. But, you get to the end of the movie and find out, they’re dead – they’re the ghosts that make the house haunted.
Number five we talked about a few weeks ago called The Sixth Sense – which, when it ends, you find out one of the two main characters in the movie is actually dead. But number one on the list was in the original Star Wars trilogy – The Empire Strikes Back. Anyone remember the crazy plot twist? Luke, I am your father. Who ever would have guessed Darth Vadar was Anakin Skywalker – Luke’s father. Remember, Vader also said, “Join me. Together we can rule the galaxy as father and son.” Wow, Geroge Lucas had fun with that one.
The number one plot twist of all time – but, actually there’s another – a true one, an actual Father and Son who rule, not just a galaxy, but the universe. And in our study of Revelation, we have one of the most surprising plot twists of all history. We’ve made it to chapter 5 – undoubtedly the central chapter to the book, and one of the most important chapters in the Bible – even though it catches us completely off guard. You want to say, “What just happened?”
Let’s back up a bit to catch you up. We know the Apostle John was exiled to the island of Patmos for his commitment to Jesus Christ. While there, he received several visions, all recorded for us in this last book of the New Testament. He starts the book by telling us, he was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day when he heard a voice behind him – which was like the sound of trumpet. He turned to see the one speaking and received his first vision – the vision of the risen and glorified Christ. It was stunning – just like you would expect for the Son of God – a robe down to His feet, a golden sash, eyes of fire, a voice like the sound of many waters. Jesus then told him to write the things which he had seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things.
After writing the seven letters to the seven churches, John receives his second vision. He writes in chapter 4, after these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet, meaning Jesus was speaking to him again, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.’ Don’t miss it – in order to write the things which will take place, John’s got to see them. So, come up here and I will show you. So, in this second vision, when John was again in the Spirit, he’s transported to heaven. There, in chapter 4, we saw this amazing description of heaven, the center of which is God on His throne. It’s another amazing view of God – just like you’d expect. We also saw the incredible worship of heaven.
Now understand, this vision sets the stage for the rest of the book. While the seven churches – in fact, churches throughout history – are facing opposition, John wants us to know, God is on His throne, and He will initiate and orchestrate all that will happen – those things which must take place. It’s a divine necessity – these things have been ordained to take place, and so they will. This throne of God, mentioned 17 times in chapters 4 and 5, will appear several more times through book, again signifying God is sovereign – while evil seems to reign, God is in control.
John then gives a glimpse of this heavenly throne room. Before the throne was something like a crystal sea, and seven lamps, which we found to be the perfect Spirit of God. Around the throne were four living creatures and 24 elders who proved to be worship leaders – leading in the awesome worship of heaven. This was important, because we get a glimpse of what the true worship of God is like – that is, not necessarily our consumeristic, self-focused ideas of worship, but worship that has God at the center. If you’re visiting, looking for a church, find one that has God at the center. Not you, not me. I read a Charles Spurgeon quote this week, “If a pastor can preach a sermon without ever mentioning Christ, it ought to be his last.”
The four living creatures cease not day and night to say, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.” At which point the 24 elders sitting on thrones surrounding the throne cast their crowns before the one sitting on the throne, saying, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of your will they existed and were created.” So don’t miss it – the worship of heaven is directed to the God of heaven. The purpose of worship is to proclaim the worthiness, the glory, honor, power and holiness due His name.
So, chapter 4 ended with the worship of our thrice holy God. Last week, I mentioned, we now seem now ready to read, or to hear of the things which must be after these things. And John will get to those, but not till chapter 6. You see, we have chapter 5 first. And I said, if there was no chapter 5, there would be no chapters 6-19. And as I said earlier, this chapter 5 contains an amazing plot twist. Something you would never expect that catches us completely off guard. So let’s read it again this week – Revelation 5.
Did you see the plot twist? It’s incredible. And I will suggest, what John saw and how Jesus overcame are the same answer. Now, this chapter can be easily divided into four parts – seemingly intentional by John. Four times the phrase, Kai Eidon, “And I saw” appears:
Verse 1 – And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book.
Verse 2 – And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book?”
Verse 6 – And I saw between the throne a Lamb standing, who by the way, takes the book.
Verse 11 – And I saw, and I heard the voice of many angels, praising the One who took the book.
We see the importance of the book – of someone worthy to take it, break its seals, and read it. Further, we notice the word worthy is central to these chapters as well:
4:11 – The description of heaven leads to worship, Worthy are You, our Lord and our God.
5:2 – Who is worthy to open the book?
5:9 – Worthy are You to take the book.
5:12 – Worthy is the Lamb that was slain.
Oh wait – that’s interesting, worthy is the Lamb that was slain. The Lamb is worthy not because of might or power, or even moral strength, but because He was slaughtered – that’s the word – murdered, butchered. That’s not typically how we consider worth, is it? What is our measure of worth? Power, might, wealth, influence, the number of Instagram followers, celebrity status, economic or ruling power. Worthy is the Lamb that was slain – who lost everything – the implication is He is worthy through death.
Also, don’t miss that the one who sits on the throne is worthy, and so is the one who takes the book to open its seals. The same praise is offered to God and the Lamb. Because, chapter 4 ascribes worship to the Creator, chapter 5 worships the Redeemer. To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb. Here’s the outline of the chapter, which more or less follows the four “And I saw” statements:
- The Seven-sealed Scroll (1) – And I saw in the right hand
- The Search for One Worthy of the Scroll (2-4) – And I saw a strong angel
- The One Found Worthy of the Scroll (5-7) – And I saw between the throne
- The Worship of the One Found Worthy (8-14) – And I saw and I heard the voice
Last week, we looked at the seven-sealed scroll, and the search for the one worthy to take the scroll. Remember, a universal search was made throughout time and space, and no one was found worthy to open the book and break its seals. So, John wept greatly – understanding that this book symbolically represents the fulfilment of God’s purposes for His creation. You see, that’s what this book is about – God bringing to ultimate glorious end, judgment and wrath, redemption and renewal. If there was no one found worthy to open the book, we would simply live on in our rebellion in a fallen and terribly broken world – with only the prospect of divine eternal wrath following death. All would go on hopelessly as it has since the Fall in the Garden with no hope of redemption.
But, good news, one of the elders said to John, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of the great warrior-king David has overcome so as to open the book and it seven seals.”
Bringing us to our text today, and the greatest plot twist of all history. You see, it’s a plot twist, because it’s not the way we would have written the script. How do I know that? Look at all the Marvel movies, the Star Wars movies. Here, it’s not what we’re expecting. We would have had a majestic lion, a warrior-king appear as the hero of the story. And indeed, He is those things. But when John turned to see the lion – there’s not lion, but a Lamb standing as if slain.
By the way, this is the third use of the “And I saw” – marking this as the third major section of the chapter. The contrast between what he heard from the elder and what he turned and saw is incredibly significant. He expects a victorious regal lion, but instead, he sees a sacrificed Lamb. One author calls it the most beautiful mixed metaphor in the Bible – the lion and the lamb. What are we to make of this? The ironic contrast is breathtaking – literally, sucks the wind right out of our lungs. It is not at all what we expect, and not the way we would have written the script – not the way you would have conquered. You would have conquered by the death of the enemy, not the death of the hero. There is so much here – let’s break it down piece by piece to try and capture the magnificence of the scene, and what it communicates.
When John turned to see the lion, there between the throne and the living creatures and 24 elders was the lamb standing. Remember as we’ve looked at this heavenly scene, the throne with God sitting on it is at the center. Moving out from there in concentric circles is emerald rainbow, followed by the living creatures, followed by the 24 elders. We’ll soon add myriads of angels and all created beings to the scene. But between the throne and the living creatures is the Lamb – meaning, He is closest to the throne. By the way, chapter 3 told us He sat with God on His throne. Later chapters – 7 and 22 – will have the Lamb at the center of the throne. All of this speaks to His divine majesty.
And yet, we have the Lamb standing as if slain. Now, Jesus is referred to as the Lamb 28 times in this book. The Lamb is a central figure – not the Lion, the Lamb. Notice, the Lamb is as slain. The word is a strong one – it speaks of being slaughtered. There are several Old and New Testament allusions and references to this picture.
First is the Passover Lamb, when the children of Israel were delivered from Egypt. The tenth plague unleashed against Pharoah and the Egyptians was death of the firstborn. The Israelites were spared as they sacrificed a lamb and spread the blood on their doors – the death angel coming through the land would see the blood and then pass over them. Later, Paul calls Christ our Passover lamb who has been sacrificed – His sacrificial blood has been shed for us, and when applied by faith, God’s judgment will pass over us.
The second allusion comes a little later, when the Law was given at Mt. Sinai, the morning and evening sacrifice of lambs in the burnt offering was given to bring atonement.
The third significant OT allusion is in Isaiah 53:7, speaking of the suffering servant, “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth.” Of course, in Acts 8, this text is applied to the sacrifice of Christ. The eunuch was reading this particular text, and Philip used the text to preach Jesus to him.
There is also the time when Jesus first appeared on the scene, and John the Baptist knew who He was. He cried out, “Behold, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Peter wrote in his first letter (1:18-19), “knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.”
Christ was slaughtered for our redemption – but notice, this Lamb was standing, He was no longer dead, which speaks of His resurrection. Which means, in this image, Jesus bore in His body the marks of slaughter, the marks of crucifixion. You see, when Jesus took on human flesh, to die for the sins of His people, it was an eternal decision – to live on in gloried human flesh. Yes, He was raised from the dead, the first fruits of them that follow. And He received a glorified body, but still bearing the signs of death. I believe it will be an eternal reminder of the price paid for our salvation.
Which brings us to the significant irony of this picture. Jesus overcomes not by military might, not by sword, although that is coming, but by sacrifice. He overcomes, not by mauling His opponents, but by giving His life for sinners. Which also means that the victory over Satan has already happened – the cross is the central point of history where victory over Satan was won. The final battle is the culmination of the victory already won at the cross. In truth, Armageddon is simply Satan’s final act of defiance – before he is cast forever into the lake of fire. Right now, Jesus is the Victor, but His victory came through sacrifice.
This is the way of the Christian faith – the cross before the crown, suffering and sacrifice before life, humiliation before exaltation. He who would follow Christ must take up his cross daily, and follow Him.
The picture, interestingly, goes on. This Lamb has seven horns and seven eyes. Horns in antiquity were symbols of strength and authority. We don’t normally think of a Lamb as having strength – but this One does – seven speaks of perfect strength. Rams have horns, and we will see throughout this book the strength of the ram. He also has seven eyes, which speaks of His perfect omniscience – total wisdom and understanding to see everything perfectly, through the seven Spirits of God – the Holy Spirit – sent throughout the earth. These are divine attributes – omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence.
Bringing us to the proclamations in verses 8-14. These three songs of praise come in crescendo – first from the worship leaders, the living creatures and the 24 elders. Then from the myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands of angels, then from every living and dead creature – those in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. God and the Lamb are worthy of universal praise from everything created.
We see in verse 8 that the living creatures and elders have two things – harp and golden bowls full of incense, which we find to be the prayers of the saints. The harp was an ancient stringed instrument used throughout Scripture in worship – Reminding us once again these are worship leaders. And the golden bowls full of incense, symbolically represent the prayers of the saints. Think about that – your prayers are presented before the throne by these closest to the throne. The prayers are likely, in this case, prayers of praise, and perhaps prayers of need as we’ll see in chapter 6.
And they sang a new song, stop right there. Why or how is it new? As we study a new song throughout Scripture, we find a new song sung whenever there is a new act of mercy on God’s part – whenever God intervenes, saves and delivers His people – causing a new song. This new song is sung to the Lamb for His sacrifice, producing the New Covenant. Now, they sang a new song, saying – again, we note style was not the issue – at least not the issue we make it. They used stringed instruments, and they sang – but the emphasis was on the content of what they say.
Worthy are you to take the book and to break its seals – which means, they are singing a song of worship – remember, the old word for worship is worthship – they are proclaiming the worth of the Lamb just like they had the One who sits on the throne. Interesting, later we will find John falls prostrate before an angel and is immediately rebuked with the words, Worship God. In other words, God alone is worshiped – as the One on the throne, and the Lamb are worshiped.
Notice again why He is worthy to take the book, “for You were slain [again, slaughtered, and in doing so] purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” You purchased or ransomed which speaks of redemption – paying a price to buy someone’s freedom – from slavery, for example. We were purchased from the slave market of sin. The price? By His blood. It’s not total freedom, by the way. We were redeemed from the slave market of sin – for God. We were bought with a price, therefore, glorify God.
We are also supposed to see the universality of the gospel – it is not for all without exception – no, it is for those who believe, but it is for all without distinction. Hendriksen suggests people from every tribe, that is ethnicity, tongue, that is language, and people, that is political, and nation, that is national. The point is, the gospel is for everyone, without distinction. It’s not a white man’s religion – it’s for all who believe. And when they believe, we become part of one family, the family of God. And those distinctions don’t matter anymore – we remember the words of Paul to the Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” We remember his words to the Ephesians, that the gospel tears down walls that separate us, and make us one new man or person together. Racism is a big issue in our world today – there is one answer – the gospel.
And Jesus, the Lamb by His sacrificial death, has made us to be a kingdom and priests – kingdom speaks of our corporate identity – we are together a kingdom – and priests speaks of our individual standing before God – priests by whom we share in the mission of God, to take the gospel to the ends of the earth – to every people group.
And we see, they, His people, will reign on the earth. That’s an interesting phrase. While it could speak of a current reign, what the church was experiencing and has experienced through the centuries hardly speaks of a reign during the church age. It could speak of reigning with Christ during an earthly millennial kingdom, or reigning with Him in the new heaven and the new earth. The point is, He had promised the overcomers of Thyatira authority over the nations, to rule them with a rod of iron.
As John continued looking, we see the fourth, “and I saw” in verse 11. He saw many angels around the throne – he estimates, the number of them was myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands. That comes right from Daniel 7:10, where Daniel has vision of heaven. We read, “A river of fire was flowing and coming out from before Him; Thousands upon thousands were attending Him, and myriads upon myriads were standing before Him. And the court sat, and the books were opened.” This isn’t meant to be precise number. John simply used the highest number used in the Roman Empire – myriads, which is about ten thousand – the idea being this was an innumerable number of angels, because God is worthy of infinite worship – around the throne, saying with a loud voice:
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” Three of those are given to the One sitting on the throne in chapter 4. They are ascribed here to the Lamb that was slain. We see again divine attribution. To these are added four more – making a total of seven. Seven ascriptions of praise to the Lamb – perfect praise to the Lamb. Some note the first four can be celebrated as attributes of Christ, the second three celebrating the worship due Him as a result. (Blessing – eulogia)
And then, every created thing – we know from chapter 4, they were all created by and for Him – every created thing in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea. We are used to hearing the three places – heaven, speaking of all heavenly beings, on the earth speaking of all living beings, and under the earth speaking of all dead beings in the place of the dead. The point is – every being throughout the universe gives praise to the Lamb.
But what is this “on the sea” thing? In the Scripture, the sea is a place of chaos, even the abode of evil. We notice, by the way, that the sea like crystal, like glass, is not found in the new heaven and the new earth, because all things will be made new. Gone will be any vestige of evil. But we also note that even the forces of evil will one day bow the knee to God and to the Lamb.
And they will say, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.” We remember that doxologies have four parts: the addressee of praise, the ascription of praise, the duration of the praise, and the affirmation of praise. This one has all four:
- The One(s) addressed: To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb – both worthy of doxological worship
- The ascription of praise: Be blessing and honor and glory and dominion
- The duration of praise: forever and ever
- The affirmation of praise comes in verse 14, “And the four living creatures kept saying, ‘Amen.’ And the elders fell down and worshiped.”
What else can be the response to the One who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, who purchased or redeemed us by His blood. One commentator writes, “Just the thought that the lion becomes the slain lamb that becomes the conquering ram is enough to keep us on our knees for the rest of our lives.” (Osborne)