April 22, 2008

Revelation - week 6

Since it is so crucial to the reading of the rest of the book, and since it's been a while since the last post, let's look once more at Revelation 5 and the introduction of the central character in the book.

5:1 Then I saw in the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne a scroll written on the front and back and sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a powerful angel proclaiming in a loud voice:

"Who is worthy to open the scroll and to break its seals?"

3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or look into it. 4 So I began weeping bitterly because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.

In ch.4 we witnessed the worship of the One seated on the Throne as the all-powerful Creator God. We are now told that this God who is Creator also has a sovereign royal decree to be put into effect. He is holding a book/scroll (the Greek word can mean either) that is literally full of writing--to the point of using up even the outside as a writing surface. It is also sealed completely with "seven seals". A seal in the 1st century would be a blob of hot wax or clay that was attached to the seam on a scroll or book into which the person sending it would impress a signet (usually in the form of a ring they wore) pattern into the soft wax or clay. As it dried and hardened, the only way to open the scroll or book would be to break the seal. This was how documents were kept private. Only the person or persons authorized by the one sending the message were allowed to break the seal and open the message.

John is overcome with grief because God's royal decree, His plan for the Kingdom is sealed up completely with no one worthy enough to open it in all of creation!

5 Then one of the elders said to me,

"Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah,
the root of David, has conquered;
thus he can open the scroll and its seven seals."

All is not lost! There IS someone worthy to open God's message and put His plan into effect! The "Lion of the Tribe of Judah", the "Root of David"--the Messiah!

These are allusions to images of the coming Messiah from the Hebrew Scriptures. And they depict him as a mighty warrior king who is fearsome and strong!

"You are a lion's cub, Judah,
from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He crouches and lies down like a lion;
like a lioness– who will rouse him?
The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler's staff from between his feet,
until he comes to whom it belongs;
the nations will obey him."
--Genesis 49:9-10

"A shoot will grow out of Jesse's root stock,
a bud will sprout from his roots.
The LORD's spirit will rest on him–
a spirit that gives extraordinary wisdom,
a spirit that provides the ability to execute plans,
a spirit that produces absolute loyalty to the LORD.
He will take delight in obeying the LORD.
He will not judge by mere appearances,
or make decisions on the basis of hearsay.
He will treat the poor fairly,
and make right decisions for the downtrodden of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and order the wicked to be executed.
Justice will be like a belt around his waist,
integrity will be like a belt around his hips."
--Isaiah 11:1-5

This is who John HEARS is able to open the book/scroll by breaking the seals.

But what he SEES when he looks at this Messianic figure is completely baffling:

6 Then I saw standing in the middle of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the middle of the elders, something like a slaughtered Lamb. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.

John HEARD "mighty conquering warrior king" descriptions. But what he now SEES is "a slaughtered lamb"--the most weak and pitiful image imaginable! What is going on here??

This is one of the most important passages in all of Revelation because it provides an example of Revelation's most dominant theme of them all: When seen from a Heavenly perspective, what looks like weakness and defeat is actually strength and victory. The mightly conquering messianic king conquers and reigns THROUGH suffering and dying, not in spite of it! And like the Lamb they claim to follow, Christians--from the first century up to the present--are called to do the same.

This is, however, no ordinary Lamb or merely human messiah. No. We see that the Lamb possesses "seven horns"--a symbol of "complete power"--and "seven eyes which are the seven spirits of God"--complete wisdom and knowledge (for both of these as symbols, see Week 1 of this study). We also see that this Lamb is "in the middle of the the throne and of the four living creatures and in the middle of the elders"--the location occupied by the One seated on the Throne! Some how, in an inexplicable way, the Lamb and the One seated on the Throne TOGETHER are the fullness of God. The Lamb is Divine. This understanding of Jesus' divinity goes all the way back to the very beginning of the Christian faith, despite the attempts by recent revisionist scholarship to dedclare otherwise (i.e. Crossan, Pagels, Ehrman, Tabor, Spong, etc.)

7 Then he came and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne, 8 and when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders threw themselves to the ground before the Lamb.
Each of them had a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 They were singing a new song:

"You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals
because you were slaughtered,

and by your blood you ransomed for God persons from every
and nation!

10 You have appointed them as a kingdom
and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth!"

11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels in a circle around the throne, as well as the living creatures and the elders. Their number was ten thousand times ten thousand– thousands times thousands– 12 all of whom were singing in a loud voice:

"Worthy is the lamb who was killed
to receive power
and wealth
and wisdom
and might
and honor
and glory
and praise!"

13 Then I heard every creature– in heaven, on earth, under the earth, in the sea, and all that is in them– singing:

"To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise,
and power
forever and ever!"

14 And the four living creatures were saying "Amen," and the elders threw themselves to the ground and worshiped.

The One on the Throne was worshipped as Creator in ch.4. The Lamb is now worshipped as Redeemer in ch.5. Together they are worshipped as God by all of creation in 3 songs of praise. Again, as we saw in ch.4, this is not a picture of what will happen in the future for all eternity in Heaven--it is a picture of the universal worship of God the creator and redeemer in Heaven IN THE PRESENT. Of course this worship has not extended to every person on earth at John's time, or even 2,000 years later in ours...

But this is why Jesus' followers have always prayed for God's will to be done "on earth, as it is in Heaven."

Now that the Lamb has approached the Throne and taken the book/scroll that He alone is worthy to open, it's time to start opening the seals and putting God's sovereign redemptive plan for Messianic Judgment, Justice, and Kingdom into action!

It all begins to hit the fan next week! :)


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