Worthy is the lamb (Revelation 5-6 and 8:1-5)

Do you find life bewildering and overwhelming? It would be unsurprising if you did. We are barely half-way through the year and already we have been hit with so much. Front and centre has been the coronavirus outbreak and in the last few weeks turmoil, passion and anger resulting from racial tensions. Life is challenging to navigate as it is without these things and we already had Brexit, climate change and the American Presidential election to keep us awake at night.

So, it is good to know that the book of Revelation is not an esoteric fantasy and not something to be ignored until the end of days but a book written to help us understand life today from the perspective of heaven.

We now move into the meat of Christ’s revelation for and through John.  The pattern or structure of the book can be portrayed as follows.

Prologue – A vision of the risen Jesus (ch 1)

Seven Churches -a series of letters to the churches of Asia Minor (ch 2 -3)

Seven seals – The lamb is the only one worthy to open the scroll and read it (ch 4:1 -8:5)

Seven Trumpets – Warning sounds that announce judgement and terror (Ch 8:6-14:20)

Seven bowls -God’s wrath is poured out (ch 15-16)

A tale of two cities – the fall of Babylon and the rise of the New Jerusalem. New Creation -a New heavens and a new earth (ch 17:1-22:6)

Epilogue – Jesus is coming (ch 22:7-21).

You will notice a pattern here, there are several sets of seven, churches, seals, trumpets and bowls. The number seven represents wholeness or completeness, so the first section looks at seven specific and literal churches but also sums up Christ’s word to the whole of his church. These next three revelations now give us Heaven’s view of all creation and all of history from different perspectives. Here we look at the Seven Seals and see how they help us to make sense of life here now.

The answer is very simply that we can make sense of life now as confusing and bewildering at it is through knowing Christ and knowing his word.

  1. Wanted someone to make sense of things (Revelation 5)

The first vision cycle has a scroll with 7 seals no-one can open them. The scroll points to revelation, it represents God’s word revealing what will become of this world.  To be able to bring this worthiness requires worthiness or holiness and no-one is found who qualifies (v1-4).

 However, we are told that the Lion of Judah is able and worthy. The image of the lion is important it speaks of kingship and of power. Judah was the kingly line and therefore its lion was the king, ruler or champion of God’s people (v5).  John looks to see this lion but in front of him is a lamb that has been sacrificed (v6).  In the Old Testament, lambs were offered as sacrifices for sin and eating at Passover remembering that the blood of the lamb was sprinkled on the doorposts to show that a substitute had died in the place of the firstborn.  Most famously, Isaiah 53 talks about the suffering servant who was led like a lamb to the slaughter and was pierced for our sin or transgression. When John the Baptist sees Jesus coming towards him, he points to Christ and announces that he is the lamb who takes away the sins of the word (v6).

The lamb opens the scroll, breaking each seal in turn this takes us through to chapter 8. Each seal is associated with a vision.

It is important to remember at this stage is that the purpose of opening the seals is not so that we can spend our time investigating and interpreting them but so that we can read the scroll. The revelation is not the seals it is the scroll itself. We can so easily be caught up with trying to second guess and interpret signs and events that we forget it is God’s word we need. Other it is the signs and events, the seals that hinder us from hearing God

This applies both to those who obsess about hidden codes, schemes and plans within the book of Revelation, trying to second guess where we are in relation to the Rapture. It also applies to those who attempt to interpret events such as the pandemic today to work out if God is judging and punishing or not. We should focus on those things that Scripture has clearly revealed (see v 7-11)

We need to know and to speak the truth about the consequences of sin and evil in the world (ch 6)

The lamb begins to break the seals and as he does, four horsemen are sent out int the world. These represent conquest. war, economic crisis, famine and plague (cf Zechariah 6:2). The white horse representing conquerors is probably about conquering kings in general but the image will focus on Christ in ch 19 as the ultimate conqueror (6:1-8)

Under the altar are martyrs, -witnesses who have given their lives for Christ. The altar as the place of sacrificial worship. The altar represents safety through Christ’s sacrifice. These martyrs are safe in Christ from judgement and from persecution yet they still lead plead for vindication against the mockery and slander of their accusers (6:9-11)

Then earthquakes, eclipses and blood moons are unleased.  We can describe this as the shaking of the Universe or of “earth shattering events.” The final judgement will see physical universal upheaval but cosmic language about the final end here is probably more focused on political upheaval in the present time. It has the sense of our world being shattered and turned up side down (6:12-17)..

The final seal is broken in ch 8: 1-5 following a vision of God’s people which we will  come back to next time. There is silence, trumpets then sound and we see an overlap between the two sets                                                                  of overlapping the visions. Incense is offered as worship.

Whilst we should not second guess special revelation from events, it is helpful to remember that the events around us remind us that this world is under judgement because of our sin.  We will of course be motivated to communicate the Gospel more and more.  We should also be encouraged to keep trusting God who remains sovereign even if it does not appear so to us.

Conclusion

We can conclude the following important implications from this section.

  1. The revelation of the solution needs truth to be told about the reality of life on earth caused by the problem of sin and evil[1]
  2. The seals are not the revelation itself -the revelation is the scroll. War, famine, trouble etc may seem to hinder us from seeing God’s goodness and plan but the Lamb is sovereign and so these things cannot hinder his word. The Gospel will succeed
  3. Our focus in the midst of chaos should be on the Lamb.

It is that last point that should captivate us. Jesus is the Lord of history and so viruses and marches have not caught him off guard. We should be thankful that we can trust in Christ, cling to him and get to know him more and more through his word.


[1] NT Wright, Revelation for Everyone (Kindle version: location 1042).

So, it is good to know that the book of Revelation is not an esoteric fantasy and not something to be ignored until the end of days but a book written to help us understand life today from the perspective of heaven.

We now move into the meat of Christ’s revelation for and through John.  The pattern or structure of the book can be portrayed as follows.

Prologue – A vision of the risen Jesus (ch 1)

Seven Churches -a series of letters to the churches of Asia Minor (ch 2 -3)

Seven seals – The lamb is the only one worthy to open the scroll and read it (ch 4:1 -8:5)

Seven Trumpets – Warning sounds that announce judgement and terror (Ch 8:6-14:20)

Seven bowls -God’s wrath is poured out (ch 15-16)

A tale of two cities – the fall of Babylon and the rise of the New Jerusalem. New Creation -a New heavens and a new earth (ch 17:1-22:6)

Epilogue – Jesus is coming (ch 22:7-21).

You will notice a pattern here, there are several sets of seven, churches, seals, trumpets and bowls. The number seven represents wholeness or completeness, so the first section looks at seven specific and literal churches but also sums up Christ’s word to the whole of his church. These next three revelations now give us Heaven’s view of all creation and all of history from different perspectives. Here we look at the Seven Seals and see how they help us to make sense of life here now.

The answer is very simply that we can make sense of life now as confusing and bewildering at it is through knowing Christ and knowing his word.

  1. Wanted someone to make sense of things (Revelation 5)

The first vision cycle has a scroll with 7 seals no-one can open them. The scroll points to revelation, it represents God’s word revealing what will become of this world.  To be able to bring this worthiness requires worthiness or holiness and no-one is found who qualifies (v1-4).

 However, we are told that the Lion of Judah is able and worthy. The image of the lion is important it speaks of kingship and of power. Judah was the kingly line and therefore its lion was the king, ruler or champion of God’s people (v5).  John looks to see this lion but in front of him is a lamb that has been sacrificed (v6).  In the Old Testament, lambs were offered as sacrifices for sin and eating at Passover remembering that the blood of the lamb was sprinkled on the doorposts to show that a substitute had died in the place of the firstborn.  Most famously, Isaiah 53 talks about the suffering servant who was led like a lamb to the slaughter and was pierced for our sin or transgression. When John the Baptist sees Jesus coming towards him, he points to Christ and announces that he is the lamb who takes away the sins of the word (v6).

The lamb opens the scroll, breaking each seal in turn this takes us through to chapter 8. Each seal is associated with a vision.

It is important to remember at this stage is that the purpose of opening the seals is not so that we can spend our time investigating and interpreting them but so that we can read the scroll. The revelation is not the seals it is the scroll itself. We can so easily be caught up with trying to second guess and interpret signs and events that we forget it is God’s word we need. Other it is the signs and events, the seals that hinder us from hearing God

This applies both to those who obsess about hidden codes, schemes and plans within the book of Revelation, trying to second guess where we are in relation to the Rapture. It also applies to those who attempt to interpret events such as the pandemic today to work out if God is judging and punishing or not. We should focus on those things that Scripture has clearly revealed (see v 7-11)

We need to know and to speak the truth about the consequences of sin and evil in the world (ch 6)

The lamb begins to break the seals and as he does, four horsemen are sent out int the world. These represent conquest. war, economic crisis, famine and plague (cf Zechariah 6:2). The white horse representing conquerors is probably about conquering kings in general but the image will focus on Christ in ch 19 as the ultimate conqueror (6:1-8)

Under the altar are martyrs, -witnesses who have given their lives for Christ. The altar as the place of sacrificial worship. The altar represents safety through Christ’s sacrifice. These martyrs are safe in Christ from judgement and from persecution yet they still lead plead for vindication against the mockery and slander of their accusers (6:9-11)

Then earthquakes, eclipses and blood moons are unleased.  We can describe this as the shaking of the Universe or of “earth shattering events.” The final judgement will see physical universal upheaval but cosmic language about the final end here is probably more focused on political upheaval in the present time. It has the sense of our world being shattered and turned up side down (6:12-17)..

The final seal is broken in ch 8: 1-5 following a vision of God’s people which we will  come back to next time. There is silence, trumpets then sound and we see an overlap between the two sets                                                                  of overlapping the visions. Incense is offered as worship.

Whilst we should not second guess special revelation from events, it is helpful to remember that the events around us remind us that this world is under judgement because of our sin.  We will of course be motivated to communicate the Gospel more and more.  We should also be encouraged to keep trusting God who remains sovereign even if it does not appear so to us.

Conclusion

We can conclude the following important implications from this section.

  1. The revelation of the solution needs truth to be told about the reality of life on earth caused by the problem of sin and evil[1]
  2. The seals are not the revelation itself -the revelation is the scroll. War, famine, trouble etc may seem to hinder us from seeing God’s goodness and plan but the Lamb is sovereign and so these things cannot hinder his word. The Gospel will succeed
  3. Our focus in the midst of chaos should be on the Lamb.

It is that last point that should captivate us. Jesus is the Lord of History, so viruses and marches have not caught him off guard. We should be thankful that we can trust in Christ, cling to him and get to know him more and more.


[1] NT Wright, Revelation for Everyone (Kindle version: location 1042).

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