The Slain Lamb

The central figure of Revelation is the slain Lamb who alone is worthy to open the sealed scrollRevelation 5:5-14

John saw the sealed scroll held tightly in the right hand of the “One Who Sits on the Throne,” and then a search was made of the universe for someone who was “worthy” to break the seals and open the scroll. Alas, no one worthy was found, causing John to weep profusely. If the scroll remained sealed, its contents would not be revealed and implemented.

However, one of the twenty-four “elders” told John not to weep because the “lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David overcame.” And because he did so, he was “worthy” to take the scroll, break its seals, and reveal its contents.
  • (Revelation 5:5-7) – “And one of the elders said to me: Do not weep! Behold, the lion that from the tribe of Judah, the root of David has overcome to open the scroll and its seven seals. And I saw in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders a Lamb, standing, showing that it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth. And he came and took it out of the right hand of him that was sitting upon the throne.


The term “overcame” translates the Greek verb nikaō, the same one rendered “overcome” numerous times in the letters to the “seven churches” (“to the one who overcomes”). And especially relevant in this context is the final promise made at the conclusion of the seven letters:
(Revelation 3:21) - “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.

  • Jesus “overcame” by his death, and that victory has qualified him to stand in the “midst of the throne,” and ever since, he has been summoning his saints to “overcomein the same manner.

Lion of Judah” and the “Root of David” are messianic designations that identify him as the promised Messiah of Israel.

In Genesis, the tribe of Judah was called “a lion's whelp” that would hold the scepter until the arrival of the one to whom it belonged, and “to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”

Likewise, Isaiah prophesied of the time when “the root of Jesse will stand as an ensign to the peoples” – (Genesis 49:9-10, Isaiah 11:1-10).

John heardLion of the tribe of Judah,” but when he looked he saw the “Lamb” rather than the “lion,” and one that had been “slain.” What he saw interpreted what he first heard.


The “Lamb” is the Messiah, but he fulfills that role in a paradoxical manner. Not as a royal or military figure, but as the sacrificial victim. This anchors the vision in the historical event of the Crucifixion.

Lamb” translates the Greek word arnion, the diminutive form of the more common term arnén for “lamb.” It refers to a juvenile lamb and becomes the primary designation for Jesus for the remainder of the book. It is applied to him a total of twenty-eight times (4 x 7). In contrast, ‘Jesus’ occurs fourteen and ‘Christ’ seven times.

Slain” translates the Greek verb sphazō used often in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament for the Hebrew verb shachat which, in turn, is applied to the “slaying” of sacrificial animals (Strong’s - #G4969).

And the usage in Revelation echoes the passage in Isaiah when the Suffering Servant of Yahweh is compared to “a lamb led to the slaughter” (sphagé, from sphazō).

  • (Isaiah 53:7) – “We all like sheep had gone astray, every man to his way had we burned. And Yahweh caused to light upon him the guilt of us all! Hard pressed, yet he humbled himself nor opened his mouth, as a lamb to the slaughter is led, And as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, nor opened his mouth.


The “Lamb” has “seven horns and seven eyes.” Horns symbolize power. The “seven eyes” were identified previously as “the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth,” an allusion to the vision in Zechariah when a stone with “seven eyes” was set before Joshua to achieve the removal of sin from the land.

In Zechariah, the “seven lamps” are the “eyes of Yahweh that run to and fro through the whole earth,” and the eyes symbolize Yahweh’s spirit (“Not by might but by My Spirit, says Yahweh” - Zechariah 3:9, 4:10).

Thus, the “Lamb” now sits on the “throne” and possesses all the authority of God, including the “seven eyes” that see all things that transpire in heaven and on the earth. Nothing is hidden from his sight.

Upon his arrival, the “Lamb” approached the “throne” and took the “sealed scroll” from the “right hand of the One Who was sitting on it. The image parallels the vision in Daniel when 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).


In the vision, his authority is proclaimed by heaven and earth, and his sovereignty is the result of his sacrificial death. His submission to an unjust death has made him “worthy” to open the scroll and assume his reign over the Cosmos.

Each of the twenty-four “elders” holds a bowl of “incense,” symbolizing the “prayers of saints.” Thus, they perform priestly functions and represent the redeemed people of God ministering before the “throne.”

The understanding that his sovereignty is the result of his death is confirmed by the “new song” song by the four “living creatures” and the “twenty-four elders”:

  • (Revelation 5:9-12) - “And they sing a new song, saying, Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals; because you were slain and redeemed for God by your blood men from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, and made them for our God a kingdom and priests, and they reign on the earth.  And I saw and heard a voice of many angels, round about the throne and the living creatures and the elders, and the number of them was myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive the power, and riches, and wisdom, and might, and honor, and glory, and blessing.

The enthronement of the “Lamb” was accomplished in the sacrificial death of Jesus, and the scene before the reader portrays the victory that already has been achieved. His reign and kingdom are declared with past tense verbs for they are accomplished facts.

Heavenly voices sing the “new song.” 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.

The song is “new” because his death has inaugurated the long-awaited 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 true Messiah of Israel, but his victory has achieved the redemption of men and women from “every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” Traditional social and ethnic boundaries have no place in his kingdom. Note well the verbal parallel to the passage in Daniel 7:13-14 - “That all peoples, races and tongues should render service to him.”

By his death, he has made men from every nation a “kingdom of priests.” Collectively, they are a kingdom; individually, they perform priestly acts. The calling once given to Israel is fulfilled from now on by the men from every nation who have been purchased by the lifeblood of Jesus - (Exodus 19:5-6, Revelation 1:6, 20:6).


The redeemed participate in his reign in their priestly capacities. Jesus promised that believers who overcame will have authority over nations. But this reign is implemented through priestly acts of witness, martyrdom, prayer, and worship.

There is a textual variant in verse 10. Some ancient Greek manuscripts read, “they will reign on the earth” (future tense), while others have “they are reigning” (present tense). The evidence is divided. Whichever reading is the original, the message remains the same. If the redeemed reign now, it is because of the death of Christ. If they are to begin their reign in the future, it will be due to the death of Jesus - (Revelation 5:10).

Previously, John presented the participation of the saints in the priestly kingdom as a present reality; already, Jesus is the “ruler of the kings of the earth”; already, his disciples are “priests.” And this larger context indicates that the original verb in verse 10 was in the present tense - (Revelation 1:5-9).

The entire heavenly choir adores 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.” And this is followed by praise for God and the “Lamb” from “every created thing that is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea.” The redemptive act of Jesus includes the entire creation, not just humanity. How that redemption will be brought to completion will be unveiled as the “Lamb” breaks the “seven seals” and begins to open the “sealed scroll.”

By his willing submission to death, Jesus fulfilled the role of the Messiah and qualified as the Sovereign over heaven and earth. As the “Lamb” with “seven horns,” he has full authority. As the one who possesses the “seven eyes” of Yahweh, he has the wisdom and knowledge needed to reign. The extent of his authority is universal, for nothing is hidden from his eyes.

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