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Blessing, Glory, Honor Forever
Sunday school lesson for the week of April 29, 2018
By Dr. Hal Brady
Spring Quarter: Acknowledging God
Unit 2: All Glory and Honor
Lesson Scripture: Revelation 5:6-14
- Describe the makeup of the expanding numbers of worshippers in Heaven.
- Explain why the Lamb is worthy of worship.
Writing in his book, “Breaking The Code,” the late Dr. Bruce Metzger, American biblical scholar, speaks of Revelation 4 and 5. At the conclusion of these two chapters, Dr. Metzger states that “the author’s primary purpose is not so much to describe the liturgy of heaven as to give hope and a sense of victory to his people on earth in the struggle that lies ahead.” That is something of my understanding of these two chapters, and having said that, I am ready to move ahead with today’s lesson.
Within the throne room, John’s eyes are now riveted on the sealed scroll in the right hand of the One seated on the throne. There are two distinctive characteristics of the scroll. First, it is written on both the front and back, giving the impression of the scroll overflowing with important information. Second, the scroll is sealed with seven seals (5:1). The scroll is the book of what we may call “God’s will” – God’s final settlement of the affairs of the universe, the eternal decrees of God, the book of history written in advance. Understandably, the contents of the scroll are secret, the knowledge of God alone, hidden from prying eyes, and sealed by God himself to keep it safe (Matthew 27:66). More than likely, the seals stand for profound secrecy.
So these seven seals indicate that the scroll’s content is completely hidden so that no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth is able to open the scroll or to look into it (5:3). In other words, these seals can only be broken by one who has proper authority. Consequently, a search throughout heaven for such a person proves null and void.
John begins to weep bitterly because no one can be found who is worthy to open the scroll or able to carry out God’s plan for human history. William Barclay says that there are two reasons for John’s tears. Initially, the voice in 4:1 had told John that he would be informed concerning what is to come. It now looks that the promise wouldn’t be kept. Then, according to Barclay, the deeper reason for John’s sorrow is that there appears to be no one in the whole universe to whom God can tell His secrets and mysteries. And this is a terrible thing. In a world lost in iniquity, there is no one able to receive the message of God. John desperately wants, even needs, to know what the words of the scroll reveal.
But then it is that one of the elders states, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. Consequently, he can open the scroll and its seven seals” (5:5).
At this point what follows is mind-boggling. John looks to see the Lion, the king of the beasts, and unexpectedly sees a Lamb with the marks of slaughter upon it (5:6). As Metzger describes it, “John looked to see power and force, by which the enemies of his faith would be destroyed, and he sees sacrificial love and gentleness as the way to win the victory. The might of Christ is the power of love.”
The lamb, John sees, bears the marks of having been slain, and the sacrifice of Christ still stands in the heavenly place. As Douglas Redford, the writer of this lesson put it, “This does not mean that the Lamb exhibits a death pallor, but that it has evidence of a horrendous wound. This is John’s way of saying that the Lamb had been dead but is now alive again – a reference to the resurrected Christ.”
In verse 6, we see that the slain Lamb “has seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” The Lamb’s seven horses point out fullness of power, while the seven eyes suggests fullness of insight, thus, fulfilling the hopes of the descendent of David of Isaiah 11.
Like the multi-eyed creatures near the throne who serve as God’s witnesses of everything on the earth (4:6), the seven-eyed Lamb also has knowledge of everything. As the writer of the lesson (from henceforth designated as the writer), this is because of the Lamb’s close ties to the “seven spirits of God,” which is the book’s way of presenting the Holy Spirit (1:4; 4:5). The fact that the Spirit is sent out into all the earth calls to mind Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit (John 15:26).
In absolute astonishment, John and all the company of heaven now watch as the Lamb takes the scroll from the right hand of God! This is not out of place, however, as the Lamb alone in all the universe is able to understand the hidden decrees of God and put them into effect. In essence, the scroll and its decrees are prepared for the Lamb. He is the only one who can beak the seals and open the scroll.
Note that when the Lamb took the scroll from God’s hand the four living creatures and the 24 elders surrounding the throne fell down before the Lamb. To be sure, this action is not to recognize a transfer of power that somehow diminishes the authority of the One on the throne. Far from it! Simply put, it is a recognition of the Lamb’s authority and his unity with the One on the throne.
Verse 8b says, “Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” The four creatures and the 24 elders have harps. Among the Jews, the harp was the traditional instrument to which the psalms were sung. The psalmist says, “Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; make music to our God on the harp” (psalm 147:7). As the Jews understood it, the harp stood for the music of praise.
Next, we see that the four creatures and 24 elders have golden bowls, full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. The likening of prayers to incense also comes from the psalms. Read Psalm 141:2! As smoke from incense rises and creates a pleasing aroma, so incense represents prayers rising to God.
According to Dr. Metzger, this is John’s first hint of the participation of the church’s worship on earth with that of the church in heaven. And this same idea appears also near the close of the Apostles’ Creed, when Christians confess that they believe “in the communion of saints.” John is speaking here of more than simply enjoying the fellowship of other Christians in worship, but of the unity of worship of the church on earth with that of the church triumphant in heaven. The prayers of believers on earth are mingled with the worship of angels and all the hosts of heaven, in adoration of God and the Lamb.
In verse 9 we are told that they sang a new song. One of the characteristics of the Revelation is that it is the book of new things. For example, we read in Revelation 21 that there is a new Jerusalem (2), a new heaven, and a new earth (1), and that God is making everything new (5). William Barclay states that the new song is always a song for new mercies of God and the song will be noblest of all when it is a song for the mercies of God in Jesus Christ.
In words that recall the praise offered to God for having created all things (4:11), so now a new song is sung in praise of the Lamb (v.9). “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased [humankind] for God, from every tribe and language and people in nations.” The song John hears acknowledges the worthiness of the Lamb to receive this praise and worship. The writer says that the fact that the Lamb is eligible to be worshipped goes hand in hand with the fact that he is eligible to take the scroll and to open its seals. Because he was slain, people are purchased for God, sin’s price having been paid by the Lamb’s shed blood (Romans 3:25). Yet he is a living Lamb, the one who has conquered death. There is no one more worthy to open the scroll than the Lamb.
Speaking of diversity, we see here that those who have been redeemed are truly diverse. This diversity includes every tribe, language, people (cultural group), and nation (ethnic group). This heavenly mix is composed of all the people of the world. And, according to the writer, it is a mix that should characterize the church on earth.
Because of Christ’s redeeming, sacrificial death, the purchased people of God now enjoy another enormous benefit. They have now been made to become “a kingdom and priests (1:5,6). And this designation takes us back to the Old Testament designation of Israel as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). The point is we have become priestly representatives who assist the King in inviting others to become part of that greater Kingdom, the Kingdom of God.
When we ponder what the life and death of Jesus Christ have done for humankind, it is no surprise that the living creatures and the elders burst into praise of Him.
Suddenly the power of the scene and the song is picked up by an innumerable host of angels, numbering “myriads of myriads and thousands upon thousands (5:11). In all probability, John simply means an infinite number. Metzger points out that the angels repeat three of the elders’ terms of praise: glory, honor and power, and add wealth, wisdom, might, and blessing (5:13). The seven terms symbolize the fullness of the praise and include every possible justification for worthiness (see 4:11; 7:12).
At this point, we reach the thrilling crescendo and climax of the angelic singing and worship. The chorus of praise goes as high as it can go, for it reaches the entirety of the universe and the entirety of Creation. All through the word, there is one mammoth song of praise to the Lamb.
William Barclay notes here that in this grand chorus of praise, God and the Lamb are joined together as they both receive it and share it. Nothing could better show the height of John’s conception of Jesus Christ. In the praise of Creation, he sets Christ by the side of God.
As the chapter concludes with the great “amen,” John’s attention is drawn back to the four living creatures. The writer points out that what John sees and hears in this half verse and the next is a repeat of Revelation 4:9-10. The “amen” voiced by the creatures is derived from a Hebrew word that means “it is true” or “it is correct.” Absolutely nothing is out of place in this scene.
Next, we see that “amen” of the four living creatures is followed by 24 elders bowing down in worship. The Lamb’s sacrificial death and resurrection has released God’s people from the bondage of sin and death. The Lamb is truly the one worthy of our worship, and we can never worship him enough.
And so with the strong affirmation of the goodness of God and the Lamb, John is now confident to face the trials and tribulations that are about to be let loose on the world.
Notations on the Conclusion
- God alone is worthy of receiving worship. May all glory be given to the one seated on the throne and the Lamb forever (Acts 12:21-23).
- Under the new covenant, we Christians are called to carry out the role as “a royal priesthood” (I Peter 2:9).
- Worship must never be about us. Worship should always have an audience of only one: the Lord himself.
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries (halbradyministries.com).
- What would it be like if Jesus were the touchstone of all of your thoughts? In business context? In family context? In your entertainment choices? Other?
- What steps can a church take to achieve the diversity seen in Revelation 5:9?
- Specify how his or her church can better fulfill the calling of Christians to be a “kingdom of priests.