In this blog, I will examine another passage from The Revelation, with a view to discovering new insights into the imagining of God by biblical writers.
The Revelation chapter 5
Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll written on the inside and on the back, sealed[a] with seven seals; 2 and I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it. 4 And I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
6 Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. 8 When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 They sing a new song:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God
saints from[b] every tribe and language and people and nation;
10 you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving[c] our God,
and they will reign on earth.”
11 Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 singing with full voice,
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”
13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,
“To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might
forever and ever!”
14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped.
In an sense this is the central vision in The Revelation, for here we are introduced to the heavenly court from which God creates the future, and to the scroll with the seven seals which contains the revelations of that future. And, as I shall argue, we meet the Lamb who is the interpreter of all that is revealed.
The scroll written on both sides comes from Ezekiel 2:9, where the prophet is asked to eat it, although it is full of grief and lamentations. Here it is a symbol of the sufferings which precede the victory of the Lamb. Although the scroll contains the future God has willed, it needs to be opened, that is, it requires cooperation. No angel or demon or human being is found worthy to open the scroll.
But the prophet is told that the victorious Lion of Judah has won a victory which makes him worthy to open the scroll. The next sentence is an imaginative marvel: “Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” He is told to expect a lion and he gets a lamb. That’s because the victory of Jesus has not been won by force but by suffering love. The seven horns and eyes symbolise the power and wisdom of the Lamb, who takes the scroll and is praised by the heavenly court. The living creatures come from Ezekiel and stand for the best of creation, while the 24 elders stand for the people of God, whose prayers are pictured as bowls of incense.
The Lamb is developed from the lamb in Isaiah 53 v 7 silent as it is led to the abattoir, and from the passover lambs which were sacrificed every year The suffering of the Lamb is hailed as buying a people for God from all races, who become a royal line of kings and priests to rule the earth.
The worthiness of the Lamb is twice mentioned, because it is the word associated with God who alone is worthy of wor(th) ship. The Lamb shares God’s power and holiness, and is honoured by all created beings.
The imaginative triumph here is the double image of lion and lamb standing for Jesus. He is lion, in that he has fought for God’s goodness and won the victory; he is Lamb, in that he is gentle and has suffered. God’s victory is not achieved by force but by the relentless, suffering love of which the Lamb is the symbol. But what then of all the violent victories attributed to God in the rest of The Revelation?
We are to let the Lamb interpret them, as only the Lamb is worthy to open the scroll. All the victories of God over the Whore, the Beast and the Dragon, are to interpreted as flowing from the sacrificial love of the Lamb and of the followers of the Lamb. No matter how triumphalist the language, the final completion of God’s work is through the sacrificial love of Jesus and the people who have shared it.
This is such a fine and surprising piece of imagination, that hardly any interpreters have consistently used the key that the author has provided to his visions.
In this passage a human being reimagines God in the light of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. The Lamb is at the “heart” of the throne, that is, of the power of God.