Worthy Is the Lamb
Last week, we looked at Christ’s messages to His people on earth. Now John’s vision shifts from earth to heaven and focuses on the “ ‘things which must take place after this’ ” (Rev. 4:1, NKJV)— the future.
The vision of chapters 4 and 5 takes place in heaven’s throne room. The scene of chapters 4 and 5 symbolically portrays God’s control of history and of the plan of salvation. Before the future is revealed, however, we are shown the centrality of Christ’s high-priestly ministry in heaven to His sovereignty over the affairs of the earth and to His redemption of the human race. In such a way, chapters 4 and 5 provide Heaven’s perspective on the meaning of future events recorded in the rest of the book.
One also may notice that while the messages to the seven churches were written in somewhat straightforward language, from now on the book employs even more symbolic language that is not always easy to interpret. This language is taken from the history of God’s people, as recorded in the Old Testament. A correct interpretation of Revelation requires a proper understanding of its symbolic language in light of the Old Testament.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, January 26.
Starting in Revelation 4:1, Jesus invites John to come up to heaven to be shown a panoramic survey of history from his time until Christ’s return.
The apostle looked through the open door into the heavenly temple and at the throne of God. The throne symbolizes God’s rule and governing authority over creation, while the rainbow around the throne signifies God’s faithfulness to His promises (Gen. 9:13–16; Isa. 54:9, 10). However, Satan, who usurped the dominion of this earth and is God’s adversary, has disputed divine authority. The central issue in the great controversy between God and Satan is about who has the right to rule. The purpose of the heavenly council that John saw gathered in the heavenly throne room was to affirm God’s rightful rule over the universe (Rev. 4:1–8, Rev. 5:11–14).
Revelation 4 gives a general description of the throne room in the heavenly temple and of the worship that repeatedly takes place there. While the worship in chapter 4 praises God’s creative power, chapter 5 celebrates the redemption provided by the slain Lamb. These chapters show that true worship recounts and celebrates God’s mighty acts of Creation and Redemption. God, who created the world in six days, has the power and ability also to restore the world to its original condition and to turn it into the eternal home for His people, all of which He has promised to do.
Think about what the gospel teaches: the One who created not just us and our world, but the entire cosmos, also was the “Lamb who was slain” (Rev. 5:12, NKJV) for us. What amazing hope does this teaching present amid a world full of pain and turmoil?
The description of the elders in Revelation 4:4 shows that they are not angelic beings. The title “elders” in the Bible always is used for humans. In contrast to angels, who invariably stand in God’s presence, these elders sit on thrones. The white robes they wear are the attire of God’s faithful people (Rev. 3:4, 5). The victory crowns (from Greek stephanos, Rev. 4:4) on their heads are reserved exclusively for the victorious saints (James 1:12). All of these details suggest that the 24 elders are glorified saints.
The number 24 is symbolic: it consists of two sets of 12, the number 12 in the Bible being a symbol of God’s people. The 24 elders could represent God’s people in their totality, from both the Old and New Testament times. The number 24 also mirrors the chiefs of the 24 divisions of priests who took turns serving in the earthly temple services (1 Chron. 24:1–19).
The fact that the 24 elders were never mentioned before in the Bible implies that they are a new group in the heavenly throne room. They perhaps are the ones who were raised from the dead at the time of Jesus’ death (Matt. 27:51–53).
If so, these 24 elders who ascended to heaven with Jesus become representatives of humanity, to witness the fairness in God’s actions in the realization of the plan of salvation. In Revelation 5:9, the 24 elders, along with the four living creatures (vs. 8), fall down in worship before the Lamb who was slain and yet lives. Together, they sing a new song, extolling the Lamb as the One who is worthy, because: “ ‘You were slain and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth’ ” (Rev. 5:8–10, NKJV).
The four living creatures symbolize the exalted beings who serve God as His agents and the guardians of His throne (Ps. 99:1). Their wings point symbolically to their swiftness in carrying out God’s orders, and their eyes point to their intelligence. Their presence, together with the 24 elders and a myriad of angels around the throne (Rev. 5:11), shows that both heaven and earth are represented in the throne room.
The Greek text indicates that the scroll was lying on the throne at the right hand of the Father. It waited for the One who was worthy to take it and “ ‘to loose its seals’ ” (Rev. 5:2, NKJV).
In the words of Ellen G. White, the sealed scroll contains “the history of God’s providences, the prophetic history of nations and the church. Herein was contained the divine utterances, His authority, His commandments, His laws, the whole symbolic counsel of the Eternal, and the history of all ruling powers in the nations. In symbolic language was contained in that roll the influence of every nation, tongue, and people from the beginning of earth’s history to its close.”—Ellen G. White, Manuscript Releases, vol. 9, p. 7.
In short, the sealed scroll contains the mystery of God regarding His plans to solve the sin problem and save fallen human beings. The full realization of that mystery will occur at the second coming of Christ (see Rev. 10:7).
The crisis in the throne room is related to Satan’s rebellion. This planet, although created by God, has been under the dominion of the usurper, Satan. John’s tears expressed the longing of God’s people, since Adam, for salvation from the bondage of sin. The sealed scroll comprised God’s plan for resolving the sin problem. No doubt with His immeasurable power God Himself could realize that plan. However, the redemption of the fallen human race required something special, and that was Jesus, who did “overcome” and thus was worthy to open the book, to assume the lordship over this earth, and become our Mediator in the heavenly sanctuary.
As Christ the Lamb approaches the throne, He takes the scroll. This act shows that all authority and sovereignty belong to Him (see Matt. 28:18, Eph. 1:20–22). At that moment, the whole universe acknowledges Christ’s rightful rule over earth. What was lost with Adam has been regained with Christ.
When Christ takes the scroll, it shows He holds the destiny of all humanity in His hands. The four living creatures and the 24 elders fall down before Him and worship, as they did in Revelation 5:9: “ ‘You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain’ ” (NKJV). By this act of adoration, the exalted angels and the representatives of redeemed humanity affirm Christ’s sacrifice on behalf of humanity. With His blood, He has paid the ransom for fallen human beings and offers them all the hope of redemption and the promise of a future we barely can imagine.
The four living creatures and the elders are now joined by the countless number of the angelic host surrounding the throne and directing praises to the Lamb that had been slain and now “lives to make intercession” for the fallen race (Heb. 7:25, NKJV). In unison, the occupants of the throne room exclaim with a loud voice: “ ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing!’ ” (Rev. 5:12, NKJV).
At this point all creation in heaven and on earth joins together in offering royal adoration both to the Father and Christ: “ ‘Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!’ ” (Rev. 5:13, NKJV). Their praise is met with an “ ‘Amen’ ” by the four living creatures and the prostration of the 24 elders, thus concluding this rapturous veneration in the heavenly throne room.
In the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Acts 2:1–4 confirms one of the most decisive events in the history of the plan of salvation: the inauguration of Christ into His post-Calvary ministry as High Priest and King in the heavenly sanctuary (see also Acts 1:4–8; Acts 2:33). Through His high-priestly ministry at the right hand of the Father (Rev. 5:6, 7), Christ is able to carry out the plan of salvation to its ultimate realization. As our Mediator in the heavenly sanctuary, Jesus works to save us. Through Him, believers may have free access to God and receive forgiveness for their sins.
The exaltation of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary was followed by the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. Revelation 5:6 mentions the seven Spirits that are “sent out into all the earth” (NKJV). As we saw in an earlier lesson, the seven Spirits denote the fullness of the activity of the Holy Spirit in the world. At Christ’s enthronement the Spirit is sent to the church. This sending of the Holy Spirit is one of Christ’s first acts as our High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit meant that Jesus had appeared before the Father and that God had accepted His sacrifice on behalf of humanity.
“Christ’s ascension to heaven was the signal that His followers were to receive the promised blessing. . . . When Christ passed within the heavenly gates, He was enthroned amidst the adoration of the angels. As soon as this ceremony was completed, the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples in rich currents, and Christ was indeed glorified, even with the glory which He had with the Father from all eternity. The Pentecostal outpouring was Heaven’s communication that the Redeemer’s inauguration was accomplished. According to His promise, He had sent the Holy Spirit from heaven to His followers as a token that He had, as priest and king, received all authority in heaven and on earth, and was the Anointed One over His people.”—Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 38, 39.
Further Thought: Read Ellen G. White, “ ‘To My Father, and Your Father,’ ” pp. 829–835, in The Desire of Ages; “The Gift of the Spirit,” pp. 47–56, in The Acts of the Apostles.
The message of Revelation 4 and 5 is particularly important to the people of God living at the close of earth’s history. The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost marked the beginning of the preaching of the gospel to all the world; the central message was about Jesus, who had been exalted as Priest and King at the right hand of the Father. This truth about Jesus was the heart of the early Christians’ belief (Heb. 8:1) and the cornerstone of their preaching (Acts 2:32, 33; Acts 5:30, 31). It also was their motivation and the source of their faith and courage in the face of persecution and difficult life situations (Acts 7:55, 56; Rom. 8:34). As a result, many people responded to their preaching. From that time on, the kingdom of God manifested itself, and keeps on doing so, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
We never must forget that it is only the good news of salvation in Christ that can reach and transform human hearts and lead people to respond to the call of the eternal gospel to fear God, give Him glory, and worship Him (Rev. 14:7). Our only hope is in our Savior, who is our Priest and King in the heavenly sanctuary. He is with His people, and He always will be with them until the very end (Matt. 28:20). He holds the future in His hands.
Let us, therefore, never forget that keeping the essence of the gospel in mind will bring full success in preaching the final message to lost and suffering humankind. Nothing else we preach is more important than the Cross and what it teaches us about God.