Read Revelation 5:1-14
To get a better handle on our situation on earth, it helps to get a fresh vision of what’s happening in heaven. We don’t do this to escape our responsibilities, we do this to gain a better perspective, a better picture of God, and greater courage to face the present challenges of our world. Having only an earth-bound perspective can lead to pessimism and even despair. Ultimately an “earthbound” perspective is limited and inadequate. Biblical truth helps us to gain the right perspective and to gain strength in the Lord to be “overcomers,” to be victorious Christians as we face the very real challenges of our day.
So, come with me as we let the exiled Apostle John, himself a victim of persecution, give us a vision beyond the limits of our world. We will not only see things beyond our limited understanding, but we will enter into the worship and wonder of heaven. Indeed, we will join in the worship of heaven by hearing afresh the words of a new song, for that is how it is described, a new song.
And here are the words of this new song directed to the Victorious Lamb of Heaven, Our Lord Jesus Christ,
“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals;
Because You were slaughtered,
And redeemed [people] for God by Your blood
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
You made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
And they will reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10 HCSB)
I hope and pray that this song will be a source of strength in order to be an “overcomer” as you face challenges similar to those faced by the early Christians receiving this song. For this book, often called the Book of Revelation, was written at a time when it was very hard to be a Christian and persecution was a reality. One of the thrusts of this book is that Jesus Christ is our Victorious and Sovereign King, and we are called to be faithful “overcomers” even in difficult times.
I want to put a magnifying glass on this “new song.” But, to appreciate this song we need to know where it is sung, and why is it sung. Then, we can consider its meaning and the lessons we can learn from it that relates to our daily lives right now.
Consider, first of all:
After the introduction of The Book of Revelation, the writer John presents a fresh and glorious description of the exalted Lord Jesus Christ in chapter one. The glorious Lord, who is in the midst of seven churches, speaks to John and then dictates seven letters to these seven churches (chapters two and three). In these letters, the Lord addresses key issues in each of the churches, and in each case, blessing and reward are promised to those who will be “overcomers” in the face of the challenges that they were facing. We will come back to this theme of victory and being an overcomer - later.
A key movement in the Book of revelation takes place at the beginning of chapter four. We now pass through a door into Heaven and we are given a vision of what is taking place in the Heavenly Throne Room and a vision of what must take place in the future. In chapter four we are viewing the worship of the One who sits on the Throne. This one is the One Eternal, Holy God, who receives worship due to who He is. He also receives worship because He is the God who created all things and by whom all things exist. We don’t have time to describe the beautiful and majestic scene with 24 elders on 24 thrones, 4 living winged creatures and all the sights and sounds depicting the sovereignty, power, and awesomeness of this heavenly throne room. The picture is of ceaseless worship that is due to the One Eternal, Sovereign, Holy God of all. The worship is beyond our full comprehension. It is glorious, it is beautiful, it is holy, and it demonstrates the worthiness of the One on the Throne to receive such continuous worship.
But, now we move to:
The attention of the Heavenly vision changes in chapter five. We are told of a scroll, written on both sides, a scroll that is upon the right hand of the One on the Throne (5:1). This scroll has seven seals that are to be opened in the following chapters. So, this scroll reveals and represents the future events and judgments of God. The scroll contains the unfolding of future events sovereignly planned and authorized. I say “planned” because they are already written, and I say “authorized” because they are upon or in the hand of the Sovereign One on the throne.
Tension in our scene is created as an angel asks, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” In other words, who is worthy to be delegated the authority to reveal and to see the accomplishing of the future plans and judgments of God. Initially, no one anywhere is worthy to have such delegated authority from the One on the Throne. This is emphasized in verse three. No one is even worthy to look at the scroll much less to open it. The scene is intensified by the tears of John as he senses the need for the scroll to be opened. Surely, it must be opened by someone. Then John is comforted by one of the elders around the Throne, who tells John not to weep anymore. Why??
“The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals” (5:5 ESV) Of course, this clearly points to our Lord Jesus Christ. His Jewish, tribal, and royal roots are declared. There is no question as to who this is. He is the Lion who is also a Lamb! He is the only One worthy in the universe to be handed the scroll, to take it and to open its seals. The vision of our Lord Jesus Christ is actually a vision of a Lamb, a Lamb who has been slain, and who has seven horns and seven eyes. The death of the Lamb must be seen in the type of wounds that the Lamb bears. But, there is more to this Lamb than the fact that He was slain.
He is a Lamb having authority and sovereignty represented by the seven horns. The seven eyes are identified with the seven spirits, which probably speak of the Holy Spirit sent out into all the world. This is a unique all-powerful, all-knowing Lamb. He is the Conqueror and becomes the focus of this heavenly scene. It is because He has prevailed. It is because He has overcome. It is because He has been victorious that He has the right to “take the scroll,” and open its seals. This is the act that is celebrated in the New Song we are going to view shortly.
So, consider with me:
The heavenly creatures and elders are celebrating in a new song the worthiness of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, to be delegated the authority to unfold the future events described in the opening of the seals and beyond. In a very real sense, the future plans and judgments of God are shown to be in the hands of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is worthy to be the Lord of the future and especially here the future righteous judgements of God. This “authority” taken reminds me of the Risen Lord’s words at the end of Matthew’s gospel, “All authority has been given unto me” (Matt. 28:18). But, here in Rev. 5, the authority is expressed in our Lord’s worthiness to execute the future will and judgments of God, the One on the throne. If you are wondering who is in charge of the future, wonder no more! This scene helps us to understand that justice and righteousness are in His hands, and the future is His to unfold.
Saying that His sovereign worthiness is to be acknowledged - is saying that He is worthy of our worship. This is shown clearly as the scene in heaven is described further. Just after our new song in this heavenly scene is sung, the Lamb receives the worship of all Heaven (5:12). The Lamb receives the same worship that the One on the throne receives (5:12). Then, the worship of the One on the throne and the worship of the Lamb are brought together as this heavenly scene ends in a crescendo of praise:
“To Him who sits on the Throne and to the Lamb be blessing, and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (5:13 ESV). Chapter five ends with this glorious worship in heaven.
The main truth for us to grasp as we return to view the new song is the worthiness of the Lamb to take authority, and He is praised for taking authority in the light of the specific truths mentioned in the new song. Looking closely we will see three truths that contribute to His worthiness to take the scroll and open its seals. These truths or reasons are the focus of the lyrics of this new song.
(1) The Victorious Lamb is Worthy Because He Suffered for Us (5:9)
“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals;
Because You were slaughtered,
Jesus died for us. He, the glorious Son of God, chose to submit Himself to suffering as a man and God’s Lamb. He suffered rejection and humiliation. But, most directly in our song, is the acknowledgement of His death. The song simply says that He was slaughtered or slain. Indeed, He was slaughtered as a sacrificial Lamb. He suffered for you and me. He suffered due to His willingness to do what was necessary for our redemption.
The very sufferings of our Lord for us should cause us to worship Him. The Apostle Paul climaxes his description of the humility of our Lord, by speaking of His obedience, even to death on a cross (Phil. 2:8). He suffered. He was slain. He was slaughtered. Of course, death could not hold Him, but that should never erase from our worship the fact that the Lord had to go through the path of suffering to accomplish His work on our behalf. Suffering had to precede glory, not only for Jesus Himself, but also to open the pathway to glory for His people (as the writer of Hebrews emphasizes – ex. Hebrews 2:9-10)
For those going through specific suffering for the Lord as was probably the case for the initial readers of this Book, they would know that they were following in the path of their victorious Lord. And that is true for the Lord’s people today. We can thank Him right now – simply for His sufferings?! Yes, He had to suffer, but he chose obediently to suffer as part of the Divine will for our salvation.
“Lord Jesus, thank you for your sufferings. You chose to be slaughtered for us. Ultimately Lord, you were slain for me. Thank you. I worship you. Amen”
But, these sufferings accomplished something very important. This leads us to our second reason for worship.
(2) The Victorious Lamb is Worthy Because He Has Redeemed Us (5:9)
“….And redeemed [people] for God by Your blood
from every tribe and language and people and nation,”
It is due to the shed blood of the Lamb that the sacrifice for sin was paid. Jesus paid the penalty of our sins and through His blood, He “purchased” us to God. This means that He did what was necessary for us to be redeemed and reconciled to God. As the Lamb slain for us, He made our deliverance and freedom from the slavery of sin possible (1:5-6). This idea of the redeeming Lamb is pictured many times in our Bibles. The blood of the Lamb saved the children of Israel from death as God’s judgment fell upon the firstborn of Egypt. The sacrificial Lamb led to the deliverance of God’s people from slavery.
Through the death of our Reigning Lamb, we were delivered from the kingdom of darkness and all the slavery associated with it. Indeed, it is through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, through faith and by His shed blood, that we are justified, declared right with God (Romans 3:23-26). We had to be redeemed and forgiven due to our sinfulness (Romans 3:23). And our Lord Jesus Christ died and gave His blood that we might be freed from the penalty and enslavement brought about by our sin. This song celebrates His worthiness of authority and our worship due to His redeeming sacrifice for us. Through His sacrificial death, He victoriously accomplished our redemption. His death was not just a tragedy, a harsh injustice. His death accomplished victoriously God’s plan of redemption for the ages. With John the Baptist, we can say, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:30 NKJV).
And praise the Lord, this redemption reaches across all human descriptions and boundaries as people are redeemed from every tribe and language and people and nation. This means that we, wherever we come from, can be brought to God as a forgiven and delivered people. We are part of a global plan of salvation. Notice how this redemption is explained, “people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” The plan of God through our Lord Jesus Christ was to redeem a people from every corner of our world. No group of people are left out of His redemptive plan. This is a global plan of a global God through a sovereign Lord Jesus. God’s plan was and is one people called out to worship Him and to live under His sovereignty.
There is so much division in our world these days. We tend to view people in the light of our external characteristics and circumstances. We divide ourselves nationally, racially, culturally, sexually, and even physically. We often emphasize our differences. Prejudice and divisiveness is seen between races, and nations, and various groups. God’s plan has been and continues to be to bring together a worshipping people from every part of the world. Every tribal group is to be represented. Every language is to be represented. Every people group and every ethnic group are to be represented. His redemptive work is a global work. This means that His worship should be offered from every part of the world. That means, also, that under our Lord’s authority, we must make disciples of all nations. The Song of Redemption includes people redeemed from every part of our world.
We should always be ready to praise the Lord for His redeeming work on our behalf.
“We praise you Lord Jesus for accomplishing our redemption through your blood shed for us.”
But, the new song is not over. The redeeming work of the Lamb has done more than provide forgiveness and redemption. And that is spoken of in the next phrase of this new song.
(3) The Victorious Lamb is Worthy Because He has Elevated Us (5:10)
“…..You made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
And they will reign on the earth.” (HCSB)
The work of our Lord was even more impactful than our forgiveness and redemption. In keeping with God’s plan from Genesis to Revelation, God has made us into His people, a Kingdom of people. By His grace and for His glory He has made us His special people to be a part of His Kingdom. Also, we are called priests to God, meaning (at least) that we are His special people who can serve Him and offer various appropriate sacrifices to Him. This priesthood is for all of us. It is not a group of elite Christians. This work of redemption and salvation has elevated all of us to be part of His kingdom and to serve as priests. Praise His Name! The Apostle Peter put it this way:
(1 Peter 2:5 “… A holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…. (2:9) “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light” (NKJV).
He has elevated us to be His Kingdom and His priestly service. And His Kingdom and His service will be realized and celebrated anew on the earth in the future. The song says “and they shall reign on the earth.” Our ultimate future is in His hands. He has plans for us that are beyond our comprehension. His plans for the future are as certain as the promises of God. With this in mind, can’t we trust Him for our individual futures? Is this not the case? We can have hope and confidence in our futures because our futures are in His hands.
It would take too much time and it is not my expertise to present the details of this future or eschatological reign. But, we can affirm the truth that is repeated in the Scriptures that as His faithful people, overcomers, we will reign with our Lord. There is a future reign (and future blessings) that are promised to God’s overcomers. This is the calling of the people of God. More fundamentally, this passage teaches us that our future is in the Lord’s hands. That is a truth that we need to grasp from this heavenly scene. Our Lord, the Lamb, is victorious and He is sovereign over the future and our future. Yes, judgments are coming for those who reject Him and reject His redeeming work. Our Lord is just. At the same time, our Lord is a sovereign and purposeful Lord who was slain for us, He has redeemed us, and He has elevated us to be the people of God, His Kingdom, His priests, and His people are destined to reign.
This promise of reigning with the Lord has already been presented in Revelation 3:21 to the overcomers. It is interesting that this is the last promise and blessing in the letters to the churches because it comes at the end of the last letter. It is a strong statement and promise because the sitting with the Lord on His throne is compared with the Lord’s sitting with His Father on His throne. What ties the promise of reigning with the Lord’s reign is being an overcomer or conqueror even as the Lord was a conqueror or overcomer (see also Revelation 2:26-27). Then, in Revelation 20, there is described a future reign of judges on thrones and the martyrs’ reign at the first resurrection. Here again, is the idea of those who were faithful unto death reigning with Christ. However this is interpreted, the specific reign of these martyrs who have not worshipped ‘the beast” is stated in terms of a thousand-year reign “with Christ.”. Then, when the New Heaven, the New Earth, and the New Jerusalem are described reigning is mentioned again. Of course, the “throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it and his servants will worship him.” (Revelation 22:3 ESV). But, the text goes on to speak of God’s servants: “they will reign forever and ever.” Revelation 22:5 ESV).
This idea of reigning is stated briefly but clearly by the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 2:12 (ESV) “….if we endure, we shall also reign with Him.” And this seems to be the emphasis in Revelation as well. And this is the primary truth that we can hold onto as we consider our future.
What encouragement this vision of the future and this new song of redemption must have been to God’s persecuted people receiving this Book of Revelation. But, what encouragement it is for us today. No matter how bad the world scene seems to be, we are the Lord’s people through faith in Jesus Christ. We are a people who have been redeemed through His sacrificial death. We are an elevated people because He has elevated us into His Kingdom. We are delivered and we are designated to be those who serve as His kingdom and serve Him sacrificially now in order to reign with Him.
Praise to the One on the Throne. Praise to the Sovereign Lamb, our redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ.
As we conclude, we need to consider some applications of this song and its message to our lives.
1) The Lord Jesus Christ is Worthy of our Worship
Even as heaven praises our Lord, we must do likewise. Worship is not an option. It should be motivated by the worthiness of the One we worship, but ultimately it is a responsibility because of who our Lord is. And when we worship the Lord we join with the heavenly worship above. It is helpful to have this picture in mind as we sing our songs unto the Lord. He is also worthy of our prayers. These prayers are acknowledged in the throne room of God as Rev. 5:8 indicates, and this truth is not limited to the fifth chapter of Revelation. The Lord hears our prayers and the cries of those longing for His righteous acts, His judgements, His return in glory and the consummation of His eternal plan. So, our worship joins the worship of heaven, and our prayers are appreciated as incense in the throne room. Our prayers are heard. Praise matters, Prayer matters. And our prayers are ultimately answered as our Lord executes His will on the earth.
2) The Lord Jesus Christ is Worthy of our Faithfulness
Let’s return to verse five in our text. It reads that the “Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered.” Jesus, as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah and the Root of David, had to overcome all evil and opposition against Him to fulfill God’s plan. He was victorious in His life, death and resurrection for us. In order for Jesus to do His work on our behalf, He had to be faithful. He had to be obedient. Jesus Christ is the Overcomer, who is exalted and glorious as our redeeming Lamb. He is worthy to take the scroll and worthy of our worship because He is THE OVERCOMER!
Jesus walked on this earth just as we walk. He faced temptation as we face and was victorious. He suffered in ways that are beyond our sufferings. He faced direct opposition on the human and the spiritual levels. And in overcoming all, he accomplished our redemption, salvation and he has given us a future and eternal hope.
He is the Overcomer, the Victorious and Sovereign Lamb.
In addressing the seven churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3, the overcoming Lord ends each letter by promising blessings for those who overcome. We are to be overcomers like Him and because of Him. This is a primary thought in the Book of revelation. We are called to overcome faithfully the challenges, the difficulties, the temptations, and the evil of our world.
As overcomers, as faithful ones, we are not to lose our fresh love for the Lord.
As overcomers, we can be faithful through sufferings and the attacks of Satan himself.
As overcomers, we can be victorious over sexual immorality and false teaching.
As overcomers, we can stay spiritually alive and patiently endure in times of trials.
As overcomers, we can be whole-heartedly devoted to the Lord.
And as we overcome, we can sing the new song of “The Overcomer.” We are to be singing overcomers, singing His new song. This is possible as we fully grasp the truths that we have heard in this new song.
2) The Lord Jesus Christ is Worthy of our Obedience
God’s people are encouraged to be faithful to obey in the Book of Revelation. After all the Lord is sovereign. So, I want to emphasize some ways we need to obey the Lord in the light of His worthiness to sovereignly oversee future judgments.
As I mentioned this Prophetic Book was written to Christians facing difficult times and persecution. How are we to respond in such times? Reading chapters two and three of this prophecy will present many challenges for obedience as we have seen above in our previous point. But, I’d like to remind us of some straightforward instructions given by the Apostle Paul. These instructions are especially relevant for those living during challenging and difficult times. These instructions are found in Romans 12:17-19 (ESV).
As obedient “overcomers,” we are to:
“Repay no one evil for evil,
but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.
If possible, so far as it depends on you. Live peaceably with all.
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God,
for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.”
Then notice the wording,
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21 ESV)
Our Lord is sovereign. He is in control. Our future is in His hands. Our future is a wonderful one, even if we have to face all sorts of trials and troubles. Let’s choose to worship Him. Let’s choose to be faithful to Him. Let’s be obedient to Him, even as we trust Him to be the sovereign judge of our World. Our task is to live under His sovereignty and to live lives of love and peace with those around us. Leave the ultimate judgment in the Lord’s hands. He is worthy and able to handle these matters. Yes, we should be concerned for justice, but we should leave vengeance and judgment in the Lord’s capable hands. And we are to live as overcomers. This means not being overcome by the evil around us in any of its subtle or “beastly” forms. Rather as overcomers, we are to be faithful to the Lord and His Word as we live according to His Word and will.
By trusting Him and worshipping Him, and living under His Lordship, we can be overcomers in this troubled world. And we can overcome because He has suffered for us and been victorious. Through His death and resurrection He has redeemed us and made us His People. He has given us all we need to be overcomers ourselves in this hard, evil, and hostile world.
As an overcomer, we are able also to be a part of His continuing plan of redemption for this needy world. Let’s also be a part of His grand redemptive plan for this entire globe of people.
Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Him in heaven and earth.” So, we must go and make disciples of every tribe, and tongue and people, and nation. We do this knowing that He is with us. And we can do this singing the new song, giving Him praise and glory, knowing that He is the Victorious Reigning Lamb, the Lion of the tribe of Judah!.
Footnote: When developing and preaching this message, I used different English translations at different times. Usually, I stay with one version throughout a message. In this case, I did not follow my usual practice. I am satisfied with the different translations I used. The HCSB puts the word “people” in brackets [people] because some manuscripts have the word “us” instead of “people.” Although the word “people” is obviously very different from the word “us,” the different words do not change the overall meaning of that phrase in context or the meaning of the song (in my opinion). Also, I have NOT sought to present a full or specific Biblical eschatological timetable or system of thought because I do not think it is necessary in this message for the primary applications of the text we have considered.