|The Lamb of God in Revelation
THE FIGURE OF CHRIST IN REVELATION
The dominant descriptive figure of Jesus Christ in the book of Revelation is "the lamb". This appellation occurs twenty-eight times in contrast with eleven uses of "Christ" and only seven occurrences of "Jesus." The symbolic figure of "lamb" is the motif around which Christ has revealed himself.
The figure is both theologically and structurally significant. The Lamb appears at the center of the drama of the book. At every movement in the drama, the Lamb is leading the forces of God. The victory of God is the victory of the Lamb against his enemies. It is a war between the Lamb of God and the beast of Satan. The Lamb is God's champion and he wins the battle.
This chapter is arranged around four themes which reveal who the Lamb is as he is pictured in the book of Revelation. The Lamb is (1) worthy; (2) redeemer; (3) warrior; and (4) shepherd. These themes effectively summarize the message of Revelation concerning Jesus Christ. It is his self-revelation of his exalted position which he now enjoys at the right hand of God. The Lamb provides his own self-portrait.
The Worthy Lamb
The Lamb is worthy! Through comparing the hymns of Revelation 4 and 5, it is apparent that the Lamb is worthy to receive what the enthroned God is to receive. The Lamb is worshipped and enthroned with God the Father. Revelation 4 is a picture of the enthroned and sovereign God who reigns over the world. He is worthy, as Lord and God, to receive "glory and honor and power" (4:11). With these words, the twenty-four elders "fall down before him" and "worship him" (4:10). Revelation 5 is a picture of the divine throne room where the Lamb appears at the right hand of God. He too is "worthy" to receive "power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise" (5:12). Again, the twenty-four elders "fell down before the Lamb" (5:8) and worshipped him. God and the Lamb are then addressed together and to them is offered "praise and honor and glory and power for ever and ever" (5:13). The twenty-four elders then "fell down and worshipped" both the enthroned one and his Lamb. The Lamb is worthy alongside of God; they share the praise and glory of the heavenly hosts. They share their adoration and worship.
One of the clear motifs of the book of Revelation is that only God is to be worshipped. Idolatry, the worship of demons and objects of stone, gold or silver, is condemned (9:20). The war pictured in the book of Revelation is a battle between the Lamb and the beast who himself demands that the inhabitants of the earth worship him (13:4,12,15; 14:9,11; 16:2). It is a contest over who will be worshipped: God and his Lamb or the Dragon and his beast? The Lamb deserves the worship that is forbidden to the beast and appropriate to God himself. Only divine persons are to receive worship.
This motif is emphasized twice in the book by the clear message that not even angelic messengers, divine appointees, are to be worshipped (19:9-10; 22:8-9). On two different occasions the prophet John fell down and worshipped one of God's messengers, an angel. On both occasions, the angel protested that he was but another servant of God like John. The command was then given which resonates throughout the book of Revelation: "Worship God!" The implication is clear: only God is to be worshipped; only divine persons are worthy of worship. The intensity of this theme in Revelation cannot be doubted, and neither can the fundamental point that the Lamb is counted worthy of this worship which belongs only to God. God and the Lamb are worshipped together (5:13; 7:10).
The worthiness of the lamb lies in both his person and work, in who he is and in what he has done. The worthiness of his work is extolled in 5:9 and is directly related to the redemptive work of the slain Lamb. His work of redemption renders him worthy of worship. Yet, his work of redemption is intimately tied to who he is since his redemptive work depends upon his person. The Lamb was able to redeem only because of who he was -- the divine Son of God who became man. He was able to win the battle only because he was the King of kings and Lord of lords (17:14).
The worthiness of the Lamb, then, lies fundamentally in his person. The Lamb is worthy because he is divine. He is God; he is the Son of God (2:18). His deity is underscored by the titles he is given in the Revelation. Whether or not it is Jesus who is speaking in 1:8, the titles "Alpha and Omega, the First and Last, the Beginning and the End" are directly ascribed to Jesus in 22:13 (cf. 1:17). Jesus is the "Living One" (1:18) or the one "who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty" (1:8). This ascribes to the Lamb the nature of Jehovah (Yahweh) himself: "I am that I am" (Ex. 3:14; cf. John 8:58). The Lamb shares the nature of Yahweh -- he is, along with the Father and the Spirit, Yahweh. This is verified by the use of the title "First and Last" in the Old Testament. Isaiah 41:4: "I, Yahweh -- with the first of them and with the last -- I am he." Again, Isaiah 44:6 (cf. 48:12): "I am the first and the last; apart from me there is no God." The Lamb shares in this oneness of the divine nature, and he receives the worship of angels and his followers as one deserving of the worship which belongs only to Yahweh. The Lamb is worthy because he is God.
The Redeeming Lamb
The worthiness of the Lamb also lies in his redemptive work. The symbolism of the "lamb" derives in part from the sacrificial background of the Old Testament and Isaiah 53:7. Even though the words for "lamb" are different in the Gospel of John (cf. 1:29) and Revelation, the significance overlaps. The sacrifice of the Lamb is redemptive in purpose. Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. "You are worthy," the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders sing, "because you were slain and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation" (5:9)
The essential kerygma of the book of Revelation is the redeeming blood of the Lamb which the love of God has provided under the sovereignty of his own purposes (cf. 1:5). The key text of 5:9-10 proclaims that the blood of the Lamb purchased a people for God who would be kings and priests in order to serve God. A people has been bought; a kingdom was inaugurated through the blood of the Lamb (11:15).
The kerygma envisions a world dominated by evil and plagued by sin. It is a world destined for judgment. Sins are to be punished. The world, with its bloody thirst, must be destroyed (11:17-18). The wrath of God is to be released upon the earth for their sins. The wedding supper of the Lamb in chapter 19 is itself an act of vengeance and wrath on the part of God. God is to be praised (Hallelujah!) because "he has avenged on her the blood of his servants" (19:2). Sin must be judged; Babylon must receive "double portion" (18:6). Therefore, the call to God's people is eloquently given in 18:4b-5:
Come out of her, my people,
so that you will not share in her sins,
so that you will not receive any of her plagues;
for her sins are piled up to heaven,
and God has remembered her crimes.
God is, therefore, just when he gives to the inhabitants of the earth the wrath they deserve. When the bowls of wrath are released in chapter 16, an angel breaks out in praise. God is the Holy One whose judgments are just. Since the inhabitants of the earth have "shed the blood" of saints and prophets, God "has given them blood to drink as they deserve" (16:6).
The kerygma, the good news (14:6), however, is that God has acted in Christ to remove our sins. The Lamb who was slain has purchased a people for God. Instead of demanding our blood as we deserve, God has received the blood of the Lamb in our place. This was accomplished through the sacrificial blood of the Lamb which "freed us from our sins" (1:5). Our soiled robes have been made white in the blood of the Lamb (7:14). As a result, the promise is that the followers of the Lamb will not suffer the plagues due to the inhabitants of the earth. God will not remember the crimes of his people because he has already remembered them in the Lamb who was slain for their sins. They have been "redeemed from the earth" (14:3) and are able to sing the new song of redemption. They sing about a new Exodus; the sing the song of Moses and the Lamb (15:3). They will not suffer the plagues of the earth nor the destiny of the wicked. On the contrary, they will share eternal life with the enthroned Lamb (2:7; 3:5,21).
The cross is the only act of the earthly Jesus mentioned in the book of Revelation. It is the central focus of the earthly ministry of Jesus as it is seen from the vantage point of the exalted throne room. It is that act which made him worthy to take the book out of the hand of God and settle the destiny of God's people (5:6-7). It is the slain Lamb who is victorious over the enemies of God. It is a victory rooted in the Lamb as a slain Lamb. The cross was a victory, not a defeat. It was a victory because it provided the ground of redemption for the followers of the Lamb. Its redemptive power emboldens saints to look beyond this life, beyond death and beyond martyrdom. They will pass through the great tribulation and reign with Christ because they have been freed from their sins through the blood of the Lamb (1:5; 7:13; 20:4).
THE WARRING LAMB
The Lamb is at the center of the judgment scenes in the book of Revelation. The image of the Lamb is not only drawn from the sacrificial background of the Old Testament, but is also drawn from the powerful images of the militant and powerful lamb of apocalyptic literature. This Lamb is horned -- seven horns (5:6). Horns are an apocalyptic symbol of power. Seven horns is an apocalyptic symbol for perfect power -- omnipotence. The Lamb is also a Lion (5:5), a powerful beast which is able to overpower and destroy its enemy. The horned lamb, therefore, picks up the encouraging message of a mighty Messiah, a powerful King who will rule the nations (cf. Gen. 49:9-10).
The Lamb, in the book of Revelation, is not a symbol of weakness, but of strength and power. Even the blood of the Lamb is not understood as some sort of victimization of a powerless individual, but the definitive expression of the power of the Almighty God. The cross is the expression God's love (1:5) and power (5:6). The Lamb is Christus Victor through the cross. He expresses his power, not his weakness, through the shedding of his blood.
This is cross was God's victory over Satan. It was the event that threw the accuser out of heaven itself. While Satan stands as the accuser of the people of God by pointing to their soiled garments (Zech. 3:1-10), the work of Lamb on the cross overcomes him. The voice in heaven proclaimed that "salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ" had come when they overcame Satan "through the blood of the Lamb" (12:10-11). The war has been won; it was won at the slaying of the Lamb. It was not weakness; it was victory. It was not victimization; but triumphant redemption!
Those who do not repent of their sin (9:20-21), glorify God (16:9), or follow the Lamb (14:4), will suffer the wrath of this powerful and triumphant Lamb. It is the "wrath of the Lamb" (6:16) that is poured out on the rebellious inhabitants of the earth. The metaphor of a Lamb's wrath immediately strikes the reader as inappropriate. The "lamb" is a gentle figure whose innocence is most apparent; a lamb would not harm a fly. But this Lamb is horned, powerful and righteous. He is a just judge. His anger will be vented upon those who make war against his people, against those who worship the beast. The wrath of God is the wrath of the Lamb, and "with justice he judges and makes war...He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty" (19:11,15). This wrath is poured out on those who worship the beast when it is the Lamb whom they should worship (14:9-11).
The Lamb makes war against the beast who makes war against his people, his followers. This is clearly pictured in Revelation 17:14. While the kings of the earth gather with the beast "to make war against the Lamb," the Lamb will overcome them "because he is Lord of lords and King of kings -- and with him will be his called, chosen, and faithful followers." The Lamb's victory is certain because he is "Lord of lords and King of kings." This is a divine title which belongs only to God. The Lamb will be victorious because he is the Almighty, and he will win the victory for his people.
The Lamb of God, therefore, is not only a sacrificial victim, but a reigning and victorious King. He rules with a rod of iron to punish the wickedness of the nations and to rescue his people (2:26-27; 19:15). He is the warrior Lamb who leads the heavenly hosts in the battle against evil. His victory is final.
THE SHEPHERDING LAMB
The image of the Lamb as a warrior is evocative, but so is the image of the Lamb as a shepherd who leads his people into rest and peace (cf. 1 Pet. 2:25; Heb. 13:20). This picture of the Lamb is given in chapter 7 where John sees the great multitude that no one can count in the presence of the throne room of God. They are praising God and the Lamb, and wearing robes made white in the blood of the Lamb. One of the twenty-four elders describes the condition of these saints -- they are being shepherded by the Lamb (7:17). The Lamb is at the center of the throne and he "will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." As a result, they will never hunger or thirst again. Instead, they will serve God day and night in his temple because God has spread his tent over them and dwells with them as with his own people.
The imagery of 7:17 is drawn from the twenty-third Psalm and Ezekiel 34:23. The Lamb is one who will lead his people through the wilderness into times of refreshing through living water. Those who are thirsty can answer the invitation of the Lamb who will provide for them living water (22:17) which flows from the throne of God and the Lamb (22:1).
The people of God are followers of the Lamb. They follow him in his witness for God; his martyrdom. They follow his patience and his martyrdom. This picture is vividly portrayed in 14:3-5. The faithful followers of the Lamb are pure, chaste, blameless, and they are "offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb." The saints are called to the same patient endurance that characterized the Lamb himself (12:17; 13:10). They are God's chosen and his called (17:14). Their names have been written in the book of life since the creation of the cosmos (13:8).
Christ is a shepherd to his people. His people are sheep to their shepherd. They follow him; they follow him even to the point of giving the same witness he gave. They follow him to the point of death, to martyrdom (2:10; 12:17; 20:4). Yet, his victory is their victory. Just as in death the Lamb was exalted to reign with his Father, so also in the death of the saints they are exalted to reign with the Son on his throne (3:21). Their Shepherd leads them to rest and peace (14:13).
The image of the "lamb" in the book of Revelation is a complicated one. It is drawn from both Old Testament and apocalyptic sources to describe the multi-dimensional character of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the sacrificial Lamb whose death frees the inhabitants of the earth from their sins. Jesus is the victorious Lamb who wages war against the beast and defeats him in the struggle for the destiny of the Lamb's followers. Jesus is the Lamb who shepherds his own people and leads them to victory, peace and rest. He is a Lamb who is both victim and victor; both sheep and shepherd. He is the redeemer God who both identifies with and rescues his people.
The image of Jesus Christ as the Lamb in Revelation is an apocalyptic and Levitical designation of the enthroned and exalted Jesus who became man and redeemed a people for God from every nation. He is the glorified Christ who is destined to be victorious and leads his people to victory. He is the God who was slain; the Lamb who waged war; and the Shepherd who watches over his flock. Though he was dead, now he is alive and he holds the keys to death and Hades. He is the Lamb who was slain only to be victoriously enthroned by his Father. He now awaits his followers who will join him in his reign throughout eternity.
Delivered as "The Figure of Christ in Revelation," Harding University Lectureship (September 28, 1992).
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