The Bible
  NT Background
  NT Books
  NT Studies
  OT Background
  OT Books
  OT Studies
  Bible Study
  Early Church History
  British Museum
  Museums
  Historical Docs
  Life Questions
  How to Preach
  Teaching
.pdf
Print
Search for page by title (auto-completes)
Advanced search
  
Google Translate
Advanced Search
Search for word or phrase within each page
Search by OT book and chapter
Search by NT book and chapter


The Description of Jesus as the Lamb in the Book of Revelation

Julian Spriggs M.A.

Introduction

The description of Jesus as the Lamb is probably the most important description of Jesus in the Book of Revelation. It makes a strong statement of the deity of Christ as well as powerfully describing the totality his work, particularly his dual role as both redeemer and judge. The word 'lamb' joins together the seemingly contradictory truths of Christ’s suffering and his victorious power. Jesus, who is lord of all, and is worthy of our worship, is also the Christ who was crucified to redeem his people. The word for lamb is used twenty-eight times in the Book of Revelation. It was originally a diminutive form, meaning ‘little lamb’, which suggests the vulnerability of the defenceless lamb on the altar of sacrifice. It describes the Jesus who was the sacrifice to attain the redemption of his people, who still bears the marks of his suffering, but who is also the risen and victorious Messiah who will come again in judgement.

Old Testament background

A sheep was the animal most frequently sacrificed under the Levitical system. Every year, over a thousand lambs were sacrificed in the regular offerings (Num 28-29). The lamb, like all regular offerings, had to be without blemish (Lev 1:10, 22:17-25), and was acceptable as atonement (Lev 1:4). At the first Passover, an unblemished lamb was sacrificed and its blood placed on the doorpost of the houses so the angel of death would ‘pass over’ the houses with the blood of the lamb (Ex 12:23). The Passover became the most important festival in Israel, as they remembered God rescuing his people from bondage in Egypt. In the NT, Jesus is described as the Passover lamb (1 Cor 5:7), thus making this connection with the original Passover. The most significant passage about a lamb was Isaiah’s description of God’s righteous servant (Is 53), where he was described as a lamb being led to the slaughter, who took the penalty for our sins as a substitutionary sacrifice (Is 53:7,11). In his gospel, John clearly identified Jesus as the suffering servant of God by quoting from Is 53:1 (Jn 12:38).

The initial appearance of the Lamb in the throne-room scene (ch 4-5)

The Lamb is first introduced in chapter five, during the second part of the magnificent throne-room scene (ch 4-5) which forms the setting for the opening of the seven seals (ch 6-7). This passage is probably the most significant description of the Lamb in the whole book, and brings a powerful message of the deity of Christ, both to John’s original readers and to readers today.

In chapter five, John sees God holding a scroll with seven seals in his right hand, and a mighty angel asks the question, “Who is worthy to open the scroll?” (5:2). The scroll probably contains God’s plans for the destiny of the world. Only the Lamb is worthy to execute the will of God, as he is the centre of God’s plans for the world. No one is found worthy to open the scroll, except the lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David (5:5). These are a combination of two Messianic titles, describing the totality of the Messianic hope in the OT. The lion of Judah comes from Jacob’s final blessing of each of his twelve sons, where he describes Judah as a lion’s whelp, and promising that the sceptre shall not depart from Judah (Gen 49:9-10). This established Judah as the kingly tribe, from whom the Messiah would come, pictured as a powerful ruling king. The root of David comes from Isaiah’s prediction of a shoot coming out from the stump of Jesse (the father of David), who will be empowered by God’s Spirit (Is 11:1-2,10). Isaiah was predicting that from the fallen royal family of David a new king will rise up. He looked forward to an ideal Messianic king who will be the son of David and will defeat evil, rule with righteousness and establish peace in the world (Is 11:3-9). Paul quoted this as a Messianic description (Rom 15:12). The elder proclaims that this ruling lion of Judah and root of David has conquered (5:5), and because of this he is has the authority to open the sealed scroll.

Evidently expecting to see a lion, John then saw a lamb that had been slaughtered (5:6). Instead of the strongest animal, the king of the beasts, he saw the what could be considered the weakest and most pathetic animal, a slain lamb with its throat cut as in a sacrifice. This verse gives a profound revelation of the paradoxical heart of Christian theology. This image takes the Jewish hopes and expectation of their Messiah as king and son of David, and sees their fulfilment in the sacrifice of Jesus as the Lamb of God. This represents the central theme of the NT, the revelation that victory comes through sacrifice. The picture of the lion and the lamb shows that power comes from weakness, and ruling comes through suffering (2 Cor 12:9). The lion of Judah conquered because the Lamb was slaughtered (5:5,6,9). His conquering comes through a sacrificial death. This would have been a powerful message to the original readers, that they too will conquer the forces of darkness even if they give their lives sacrificially in martyrdom, maintaining their faithful witness to Jesus.

The Lamb is described as having seven horns and seven eyes (5:6b). Horns are often used as a symbol of strength and power in Revelation, and the number seven denotes perfection or completeness. So for the Lamb to have seven horns shows that Jesus is all-powerful. The seven eyes are defined as being the seven spirits of God (5:6). Earlier in the throne-room scene, they are also depicted as seven flaming torches before the throne of God (4:5, 1:4). This is almost certainly symbolises the Holy Spirit, implying that through the Holy Spirit, Jesus is all-seeing and all-knowing.

After the Lamb took the scroll, the living creatures and elders fell in worship before the Lamb, singing that he is worthy to take the scroll (5:8-9). The Lamb is worthy of worship because it was slaughtered (v9), and by his blood he ransomed saints from every tribe, language, people and nation. The word 'worthy' is a key word in this throne-room scene: God is worthy of worship because he created the world (4:11), the Lamb is worthy to open the seals (5:9), and worthy of worship because he was sacrificed (5:12). Through the next chapters, it is the Lamb who opens each one of the seven seals on the scroll (6:1,3,5,7,9,12, 8:1).

The blood of the Lamb

The Lamb is first introduced as one that had been sacrificially slaughtered (5:6), showing that victory has come through his death. His sacrificial death for our sins is also described twice in the book by the phrase “the blood of the lamb”. The great multitude before the throne are described as those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (5:14). This paradoxical concept of making robes white by washing them in blood is a vivid pictorial description of the forgiveness of sin and cleansing made available to all who believe. It uses the Greek aorist tense which shows that this cleansing is a single action which took place in the past, but which has continuing effects. The dragon (Satan) is conquered by the blood of Lamb and word of their testimony (12:11). The death of Christ on the cross defeated Satan and caused him to be expelled from heaven, as well as giving victory to the believers who maintain their faithful witness to him even in the face of martyrdom. The lifting up of Christ on the cross brought judgement to the world, the overthrow of Satan and the inauguration of the kingdom of God (Jn 12:31-32).

The victory of the Lamb

The victory song sung by the believers who conquered the beast by not worshipping its image is called the Song of Moses and the Song of the Lamb (15:3). This is a song of deliverance and victory, praising God for his righteous acts of redemption. There are many parallels between this song and the original song of Moses following the crossing of the Red Sea (Ex 15), which was regularly sung on Sabbath evenings during the synagogue service, so would be very familiar to Jews. The deliverance celebrated by Moses and the Israelites foreshadowed the greater deliverance achieved by the Lamb. Through his sacrifice, Jesus the Lamb of God conquered the world (Jn 16:33), and his followers can celebrate with him.

The deity of the Lamb

The Book of Revelation makes many profound statements about the deity of Jesus. It proclaims that the Lamb is equal with God by using the same titles, names and descriptions of the Lamb as it does for God the Father. Both God the Father and the Lamb are described as being on the throne. The great multitude stand before the throne (where God sits) and before the Lamb (7:9). The Lamb is given an equal position with the Father. He is with God and is God (Jn 1:1). The river of the water of life flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb in the heavenly city Jerusalem (22:1,3). Both God and the Lamb are on the throne as the rulers of the universe. The Lamb first appeared between the throne and the four living creatures (5:6) and the Lamb is described as being at the centre of the throne (7:17) where God sits. The great multitude cry out that salvation belongs to God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb (7:10).

Both God the Father and the Lamb are seen as those who brought salvation, which was achieved through the sacrifice of the Lamb, followed by his resurrection and exaltation to power and glory. In similar proclamations by the redeemed, salvation is linked with glory and power (19:1), and with the coming of the kingdom and authority of the Messiah (12:10). Salvation is seen as a work of both the Father and of the Son. In a similar way, Paul also described both God and Jesus as the Saviour (Titus 1:3-4), and that God showed his love to sinners through Christ’s death (Rom 5:8). Again, this demonstrates the deity of Jesus as the co-saviour with the Father.

The Lamb is described as being Lord of lords and King of kings (17:14), the name inscribed on the robe and thigh of the rider of the white horse (19:16). In Deuteronomy, God is described as God of gods and Lord of lords (Deut 10:17). This title should be seen in contrast to the Roman Emperor, Domitian, who claimed to be 'Lord and God' and Saviour of the world. Only the Lamb can truly claim this title as he is both the redeemer of the world and the one who has conquered evil through his sacrificial death.

The 144,000 standing on Mt. Zion with the Lamb had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads (14:1). Again the Lamb and the Father are being placed in equality with each other, strongly showing the deity of the Lamb. As Jesus himself said, “I and the Father are one” (Jn 10:30), and “to know me is to know the Father” (Jn 14:7). The Book of Revelation affirms the great truths about the deity of Christ stated elsewhere in the New Testament.

Worship of the Lamb

The deity of the Lamb is also shown in the frequent worship scenes. One of the great themes of the book is worship, and it contains many songs of worship sung to God and to the Lamb. Humanity is divided into two groups, between those who worship the beast and receive his mark (14:9), and those who worship the Lamb and receive his seal (14:1). The readers of the book are urged to remain faithful to Jesus and not worship the beast. In several places John describes the heavenly worship of the Lamb and of God the Father together. To worship the Lamb is to worship the Father, and to worship the Father is to worship the Lamb. There is absolutely no competition between them. At the climax of the throne-room setting for the seven seals, every creature in heaven and earth is singing worship to God seated on the throne, and to the Lamb (5:13). The Lamb is worthy of seven-fold (complete and perfect) praise because he was slaughtered (5:12).

The Lamb and his people

The Lamb is described as being the shepherd who will guide the great multitude who have come out of the great tribulation to the springs of the water of life (7:17). Jesus is the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep (Jn 10:11), and who will lead them to the Father (Jn 14:6). Immediately after the revelation of the dragon (ch 12) and the two beasts (ch 13), which demand worship and persecute the believers who refuse to worship it (13:12,15), John received a vision of the Lamb standing on Mt Zion with 144,000 of his people (14:1). In stark contrast to the inhabitants of the earth who worship the beast and receive its mark on their foreheads, which is the name of the beast (13:16-17), the Lamb’s people worship him and have his name and the Father’s name on their foreheads (14:1).

The Lamb’s people are described in several ways. Firstly, they have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins (14:4). It is best to interpret this as meaning spiritual purity, and abstinence from sexual immorality. They resist being seduced by the whore Babylon, with whom the kings of the earth commit fornication (17:2). Elsewhere, the believers are described as the bride of Christ and those invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb (19:7,9). They are also described as those who follow the Lamb wherever he goes (14:4). This is a vivid description of Christian discipleship, showing complete commitment and devotion to Christ. They have been redeemed from humankind as first-fruits for God and the Lamb (14:4). In the OT, the first-fruits of the harvest was considered holy and was dedicated to God (Ex 23:19). Here, the church belongs to God, and is consecrated to him, and should be free from human entanglements. We should also note that the church belongs to both God and the Lamb, again showing the deity of the Lamb.

The marriage of the Lamb

The Book of Revelation continues the picture developed in the prophets (eg. Is 54:5, Ezek 16, Hos 1-2), the gospels (eg. Matt 22:1-10, 25:1-13), and the letters (eg. Eph 5:25-33) of the relationship between God and his people being described as husband and wife. The people of God are described as the bride, the wife of the Lamb (21:9), in contrast to the people of the beast described as the whore (17:1). John is invited to see the bride, the wife of the Lamb (21:9). The church is both the pure and spotless bride of Christ, as well as enjoying the intimacy with Christ as the wife of the Lamb. The heavenly rejoicing following the judgement of the whore Babylon declares that the marriage of the Lamb has come (19:7), and proclaims a blessing on those invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb (19:9). The believers are pictured as both the bride and the guests at this great feast, which should be seen in contrast to the great supper of God at which the unbelievers are the food! (19:17-18). The marriage supper pictures the full coming of God’s reign and the consummation of his kingdom achieved at the second coming of Christ. In the present time the church is the bride of Christ, eagerly anticipating her marriage when the bridegroom comes to take her to be with himself.

The Lamb’s book of life

In the description of the beast that demands worship, it is stated that all the inhabitants of the earth will worship it, those whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb (13:8). This divides humanity into two groups: those who worship the beast, whose names are not in the book of life, contrasted with those who do not worship the beast, whose names are written in the book of life. The book of life can be seen as the register of those who have been saved by faith in the crucified Lamb of God. The Lamb knows who belongs to him. God sovereignly planned the sacrifice of his Son even before the creation and fall of mankind, so in no way should salvation be seen as an after- thought. In a similar way, Peter stated that Christ was destined before the foundation of the world (1 Pet 1:20). The sacrifice of the Lamb was planned by God for all eternity. Later, in the description of the heavenly city, it is only those written in the Lamb’s book of life who may enter the city (21:27), anyone whose name is not in the book of life will be thrown in the lake of fire (20:15). Just as Paul so strongly and consistently states in his letters (eg. Rom 3:21-22), salvation is not on the basis of works, and justification is only to be found through faith in the Lamb.

The battle against the Lamb and his people

The Book of Revelation vividly describes the great battle between good and evil. It shows that even though evil appears to be victorious, it is certain that the believers will share in the Lamb’s final victory over the forces of evil, because of his sacrificial death. The enemies of Christ, including the beast and the kings of the earth make war on the Lamb, but the Lamb, together with his called, chosen and faithful people, will conquer them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings (17:14). Participation in his victory depends not only on divine election, but also on continued loyalty and commitment to him. The only time the word 'lamb' does not describe Jesus is when the beast from the earth is described as having two horns like a lamb (13:11). This second beast is also referred to as the false prophet (19:20), who deceives people, calling them to worship the first beast (13:12-14).

The wrath of Lamb

The Book of Revelation focusses on the central role the Lamb played in the act of redemption associated with his incarnation, but it also describes his future role. In two places, John describes the wrath of the Lamb, indicating that the slain Lamb will also be God’s agent in the final judgement on God’s enemies. The sixth seal describes the great day of wrath, including the cosmic catastrophes characteristic of OT descriptions of the Day of the Lord (6:12-14). Different groups, including the rich and powerful, attempt to hide on the great day of wrath, calling the mountains and rocks to fall on them and hide them from both the face of God (the one seated on the throne), and from the wrath of the Lamb (6:16). In another judgement scene, the angel announces that those who worship the beast and receive his mark will drink the wine of God’s wrath, and be eternally tormented in the presence of the Lamb (14:10). The Lamb will be the witness of God’s punishment of the wicked, especially those who reject him in this life and persecute his followers. Jesus, at his coming, as the rider on the white horse, will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty (19:15).

The Lamb in the heavenly city Jerusalem

As the book reaches its climax in the vision of the heavenly city Jerusalem, the Lamb is mentioned seven times (between 21:9 - 22:5). The fundamental message is that the heavenly city Jerusalem is where God and the Lamb are in their glory, and where his people will be with him eternally. There is no temple in the heavenly city, because it does not need one. The temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb (21:22). The city is cubic (21:16), rather like a huge holy of holies (1 Kg 6:20), the place where God dwelt in his glory in the OT. The city is full of the glory of God and of the Lamb. He will dwell with his people (21:3), and they will see his face (22:4). The Lamb’s people will be priests and kings in the heavenly temple (1:6). In the city, the sun and moon are replaced by the glory of God and the Lamb (21:23, 22:5), as Jesus is the true light of the world (Jn 1:9, 9:5). The shekinah glory of God and the Lamb fills the city, just as it filled the original tabernacle (Ex 40:34). The city also contains the throne of God and of the Lamb (22:1,3). The city is built on the foundation of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (21:14), just as the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Eph 2:20).

Conclusion

In the Book of Revelation Jesus is introduced as the Lamb that was slain. This title becomes the most distinctive description of Jesus, portraying one paradox between his suffering and his victory, and another paradox between his humility and his kingship. It is also used as a profound statement of his deity, showing his equality to God the Father, and therefore worthy of our worship and dedication.