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 with seven seals; and I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’ And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it. And I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 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.’
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 went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. 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. 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 every tribe and language and people and nation;
you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God,
and they will reign on earth.’
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, singing with full voice,
‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honour and glory and blessing!’
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 honour and glory and might
for ever and ever!’
And the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ And the elders fell down and worshipped.
John’s Revelation is a picture book in words.
The Gospels tell stories, but Revelation paints pictures. They are pictures of one man’s vision of how this chaotic world is ultimately seen as being under the sovereignty of God –past, present and future. It is a picture book of sometimes violent and threatening images, but always returning to the promise of eternal glory accompanied by the alleluias of the heavenly choirs. And it has inspired other artists down the years.
If you have ever been in Ghent Cathedral in Belgium, you will have seen one of those pictures: The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb by the van Eyck brothers. It is a representation of this chapter 5 of John’s Revelation and tries to express in painting, the picture John has put into words. The Lamb stands in the centre of the altar surrounded by the Saints, Elders, Evangelists and the heavenly host. The Lamb has been sacrificed, but stands brazenly alive and triumphant as his blood pours from the sacrificial wound into the chalice, and the world is saved. It is an image which has fascinated and puzzled generations of believers and unbelievers alike.
This is the story of the scroll and the Lamb. The scroll contains God’s plan for the world – all that has been and shall be; but the scroll is sealed 7 times. No-one can open it, and John weeps in his vision because he cannot see how we, the saints, clothed in the white robes of suffering, can be sure of the ultimate victory which he is convinced is written there. Surely the suffering saints shall be victorious over the forces of darkness and disorder. That has to be our eternal hope, and that is what this chapter promises, but not in the picture of the roaring Lion of Judah , the Old Testament conquering hero, but in the shape of the Mystic Lamb, giving his life-blood for the world. Our hope lies in his suffering. It is only the Lamb who can open the scroll and set the world free, and from this moment in chapter 5 of this strange picture book, the Lamb plays an increasingly central part, until at the end the righteous find their names written in the Lamb’s book of life in the new Jerusalem. The Lamb is in the midst of the throne, bearing the marks of suffering and slaughter, and victory. In our comfortable lives we forget the suffering and slaughter that the saints endure, have endured and will endure. It may be that our turn will come, but we have here the picture of the Lamb, who was once a Lion, but whom we see as the bleeding saviour of the world.
Our world seems too trivial,
too violent, too chaotic
for us to know your presence.
Give us the vision to see through the smoke of war,
the pangs of hunger,
the sufferings of disease and the pains of death
and live the life of the faithful saints
who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb,
so that we may with confidence stand before your throne
at the Last Day.
Blessing, glory and honour and might be to Him
who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb forever.
The Rev’d Peter Moth is a retired minister in the Northern Synod.
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