Worthy is the Lamb

In the central vision of Revelation, John sees Jesus as the sacrificial “Lamb” whose shed blood purchases men from every nation for his priestly kingdom. Because he gave his life to redeem humanity, Creation itself proclaims him “worthy” to take and open the “Sealed Scroll,” and to receive sovereignty over all things. His reign begins immediately as the “Lamb” takes possession of the Scroll and opens its “Seven Seals.”

Lamb Sitting - Photo by Sulthan Auliya on Unsplash
[Photo by Sulthan Auliya on Unsplash]

This reality
is described at the start of Revelation when greetings are sent to the seven assemblies of Asia from Jesus Christ, the “Faithful Witness, the Firstborn of the Dead, and the Ruler of the Kings of the Earth. Unto him who loves us and loosed us from our sins by his blood, and he made us a kingdom, priests for his God and Father.”

From its first paragraph, the Book anchors its visions in the past death and resurrection of Jesus, and this is vital to understanding its visions – (Revelation 1:5-6).

In Chapter 5, the “Sealed Scroll” is held tightly in the right hand of the “One Who Sits on the Throne.” A search is made of the entire creation for someone “worthy” to open it. Alas, no one is found, causing John to weep profusely. However, one of the twenty-four “elders” tells him to cease and desist, for the “Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David OVERCAME” and therefore is worthy to open the Scroll - (Revelation 5:5-7).

The Greek term rendered “overcame” translates the verb nikaō, the same word rendered “overcome” numerous times in the letters to the “Seven Assemblies” (e.g., “to the one who overcomes…”). Especially relevant is the final promise made at the conclusion of the seven letters:

  • He that overcomes, I will give to him to take his seat with me in my Throne, as I also overcame and took my seat with my Father in his Throne” - (Revelation 3:21).

Jesus “overcame” by giving his life for his people. His sacrificial death qualified him to sit on the “Throne” where he now reigns. Ever since he has summoned his saints to “overcomein the same manner that he did.

The Elder called him the “Lion of Judah” and the “Root of David.” Both terms are messianic designations. In Genesis, the tribe of Judah is called “a lion's whelp” that will hold the scepter until the arrival of the one to whom it belongs (“to him shall be the obedience of the peoples”). Likewise, the Book of Isaiah prophesies of the time when “the Root of Jesse will stand as an ensign to the peoples” – (Genesis 49:9-10, Isaiah 11:1-10).

However, John hearD the elder declare, “Lion of the tribe of Judah.” However, when he looked, he SAW a “Lamb” rather than a “lion,” and one that had been “slain.” What he saw interpreted what he first heard.


The “Lamb” is the promised Messiah of Israel, but he fulfills that role in a paradoxical manner. Not as a royal or military figure who uses force and violence to suppress his enemies, but as a sacrificial victim.

The English noun “Lamb” translates the Greek word arnion, the diminutive form of the more common Greek term for “lamb” or arnén. It refers to a juvenile animal and becomes the primary designation of Jesus for the remainder of the Book. It is applied to him a total of twenty-eight times (4 x 7). In contrast, the name ‘Jesus’ occurs fourteen times, and ‘Christ’ seven times. The term “lion” never appears again in the Book.

The Greek term translated as “slain” is the verb sphazō. It is used often in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament for the Hebrew verb shachat, the word applied to the “slaying” of sacrificial animals in the Hebrew Bible (Strong’s - #G4969). The usage in Revelation echoes the passage from Isaiah where the Servant of Yahweh is compared to “a lamb being led to the slaughter” (sphagé, from sphazō) - (Isaiah 53:7).


Upon his arrival, the “Lamb” approached the “Throne” and took the “Sealed Scroll.” This image parallels the vision in the Book of Daniel where one “like a Son of Man” approached the Throne of the “Ancient of Days” to receive the authority to reign over “all peoples, races and tongues” - (Daniel 7:13-14).

The authority of the “Lamb” is proclaimed by Heaven and Earth. His sovereignty is the result of his death. His self-sacrifice made him “worthy” to open the Scroll and to become sovereign over the Universe. This understanding is confirmed by the “new song” sung by the four “Living Creatures” and the “Twenty-Four Elders” - (Revelation 5:9-12).

In Chapter 4, all creatures sang praises to the “One Who Sits on the Throne” for His creative acts. Now, the “New Song” rings out in praise of the “Lamb” for his sacrificial act. It is “new” because his death inaugurated the redemption that will culminate in the “New Heavens and the New Earth” (“Behold, I make all thing NEW” - Revelation 4:8-11, 21:1-5).

The “Lamb” is the Messiah of Israel, but his victory achieved the redemption of men from “every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” His sacrifice will conclude with nothing less than the New Creation.


His death constituted men from every nation as a “Kingdom of Priests.” Collectively, they are a kingdom; individually, they perform priestly acts as they mediate the victory of the “Lamb” to the nations - (Exodus 19:5-6, Revelation 1:6, 20:6).

Redeemed men participate in his reign in their PRIESTLY CAPACITIES. Jesus promised believers who overcame authority over the nations. However, their reign is implemented through priestly acts of witness, martyrdom, prayer, and worship.

There is a textual variant in Revelation 5:10. Some ancient Greek manuscripts read, “They will reign on the earth” (future tense). Others have, “They are reigning” (present tense). The manuscript evidence is evenly divided. However, in Chapter 1, their priestly reign is presented as a present reality.

Whichever reading was the original, the message remains the same. If redeemed men reign now, it is because of the death of Jesus. If they do not reign until the future, that also is due to his sacrificial death.

The heavenly choir praises the “Lamb” for his act of redemption and proclaims him “worthy” to receive all “power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” This is followed by praise from “every created thing that is in Heaven and on the Earth and under the Earth and on the Sea” since his death will also result in the redemption of the Creation when “New Jerusalem descends from Heaven to the Earth” at the end of the present age.



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