Uniform Lesson for March 23, 2014
Scripture Passage and Lesson Focus: Revelation 5:1-13
Even the majestic cadences of Handel’s chorus “Worthy is the Lamb” from “The Messiah” do not come close to capturing the breathtaking power of John of Patmos’ heavenly vision of Jesus, the Lamb of God. Although the dramatic visions described in the Revelation of John use symbolism and hyperbole that perplex modern readers, they also reflect a vibrant early Christian prophetic tradition that responded to persecution with a message of hope and redemption.
No less than 28 times in the book of Revelation is Jesus called the Lamb of God. A heavenly chorus in full voice sings the praises of the crucified and now exalted Lamb of God. This passage completes the story of God’s promise to David that the throne of God’s kingdom would be established forever (2 Samuel 7:13). John envisions a heavenly throne surrounded by living creatures, elders and angels — myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands — representing God’s people “from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
Revelation 5:1-5: Who can open the scroll?
John’s vision begins with a very unusual scroll held in the right hand of God. That scroll contains writing on both sides, a relatively rare occurrence, and is sealed with seven seals. Because nobody in the whole universe was able to open the scroll or even get a look into it, a disappointed John says that he wept bitterly.
John’s grief ends when an elder announces that “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” has conquered. These messianic titles identify the resurrected Jesus as the person authorized and empowered to open the seals and to read the scroll.
Revelation 5:6-10: The Lamb of God takes the scroll
The crucified and resurrected Jesus, the Lamb of God, is described Picasso-like as having seven horns and seven eyes. The horns are a symbol of kingly power and the eyes stand for God’s all-seeing spirit throughout the world (see Zechariah 4:10). The Lamb takes the scroll from God’s hand.
And at that point the living creatures and the elders, holding harps and incense bowls, fall prostrate in worship. The harps are their instruments for leading singing as they were in Jewish and early Christian worship. And the gold incense bowls symbolize the prayers of the faithful. The song they sing is a new song befitting the new reality brought about by the victory of the Lamb, the resurrection of Jesus.
John quotes the lyrics of this new song. It is addressed to the Lamb of God and describes the salvation accomplished by the death and resurrection of the Lamb. Using a phrase that describes the liberation of a slave by paying a price, the choir celebrates the salvation of God’s people ransomed “from every tribe and language and people and nation.” The scope of redemption is universal. The ransomed slaves become a kingdom of priests who worship God and reign on earth. Their reign is not a political reign, but the reign of service in the worship of God. The forms and varieties of service could be as universal as the redeemed people of God.
Revelation 5:11-14: The heavenly choir is augmented into a universal choir of all creation
Using terms that are beyond our capacity to comprehend, John says that “myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands” of singers joined in the celestial concert. They extol the accomplishments of the Lamb, whose victory over death has brought him power and wealth and wisdom and might. All of these are the prerogatives of God.
But the mighty choral concert is not over yet! John’s vision continues to expand the heavenly choir to include every creature in heaven and on earth and even under the earth and in the sea. They too sing of the blessing and honor and glory and might that belong to the Lamb of God eternally. In conclusion the four living creatures respond with “amen” and the elders fall down in worship.
- Can you recall a worship experience similar to the one described in Revelation 5? What elements did it contain — a mass choir, a skillfully played organ, musical instruments like a harp, a flute, or a drum, a praise band or an orchestra?
- The seventh seal of the scroll is not yet opened until Revelation 8:1. What do you think message of the scroll is?
- Can you think of other Scripture passages that make use of a lamb as a symbol? (see John 1:29. 36; Genesis 22:8).
JAMES A. BRASHLER is professor emeritus of Bible at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Va.