A Strange Way to Conquer
One of my favorite scenes in the book of Revelation is found in chapter five, when John saw the vision of heaven and God seated upon the throne. In His right hand was a scroll written on the front and the back and sealed seven times (5:1). In the scroll are written the decrees of God concerning salvation, judgment, and the eternal reign of our Lord and of His Christ. A strong angel then proclaimed with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and to break its seals?” (5:2). But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was found worthy to break the seals and open the scroll (5:3). And John began to weep, because no one was found worthy to break the seals and to open the scroll; no one was found worthy to execute God’s righteous decrees upon the earth. None was worthy… save one. “… and one of the elders said to me, ‘Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the scroll and its seven seals” (5:5).
Any reader of the Old Testament knows exactly of whom the elder spoke. The “Lion of the tribe of Judah” is a reference to Genesis 49:8-10, in which Jacob, upon his deathbed, prophesied that from the tribe of Judah would come a lion, a king who will rule over Israel, and indeed over all the nations of the earth. The “Root of David” is a reference to Isaiah 11:1-10, which again speaks of a descendent of David who will reign in righteousness and peace over all the nations. This is the Messianic King who is the hope of the entire Old Testament, the one who will bring salvation, righteousness, peace, joy, and life to His people. Of course He is the one worthy to open the scroll and execute God’s righteous decrees!
But then John turned and looked, and what he saw is not what we expect at all. “And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth” (5:6). We expect to see a Lion; what we find is a Lamb. We expect to see a conquering King; what we find is a bloody sacrifice. And yet the elder said that the King has overcome; He has conquered, so as to be worthy to open the scroll. And then it clicks… How did the King conquer? How did the Lion overcome? He overcame by dying… and rising again (the Lamb slain, yet standing). The King conquered by becoming a crucified and risen Savior. And when the Lion/Lamb stepped forward to take the book out of the hand of Him who sat on the throne, all of heaven erupted in praise – “Worthy are You to take the scroll and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth” (5:9-10).
This is the message of the gospel. God became man; the King became the Suffering Servant; the Lion became the sacrificial Lamb. In order to sit upon the throne of righteousness and glory, Jesus first hung upon the cross of sin and shame. Why? Because it was only by His blood that He could purchase men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. It was only by dying as our curse-bearing, sin-atoning, wrath-absorbing sacrificial Lamb that He could bring His people into His everlasting kingdom. And that is why we worship Him.