For the Love of God, Volume 2/June 3
From Gospel Translations
Deuteronomy 7; Psalm 90; Isaiah 35; Revelation 5
THE SETTING OF REVELATION 4 gives way to the drama of Revelation 5. In the right hand, the hand of power, “of him who sat on the throne”—the transcendent, awesome God described in chapter 4—there is “a scroll with writing on both sides.” This scroll contains all of God’s purposes for justice, judgment, and blessing. Most people wrote on only one side of a scroll, the side with the horizontal strips of papyrus. Those who wrote on both sides were perhaps too poor to afford another blank scroll—or, as in this case, they had a great deal to say and wanted it to remain within the confines of one scroll. So this scroll in the hand of the Almighty embraces the fullness of God’s purposes for judgment and blessing— that is why it has writing on both sides. Yet the scroll is sealed: this means that the purposes of God recorded in this scroll will not be enacted until the seals are broken.
The angel’s dramatic question (5:2) is fundamental to all religion: Who is the agent who has attributes so rich, life so pure, capacities so unexcelled, as to be able to approach this God—the God before whom even the highest order of angels hide their faces—and to take the scroll from his right hand and bring to fruition all of God’s purposes? When no one is found who is worthy, John weeps and weeps (5:3-4). His tears stem not from frustration at being unable to see into the future, but from his awareness that, in the symbolism of this vision, God’s purposes will never be carried out. There will be no justice in the universe, and no salvation. This is the despair of concluding that history is meaningless, that God is dead.
But an interpreting elder consoles John (5:5). The Lion of the tribe of Judah has “prevailed” (5:5, KJV) to open the scroll: the verb suggests a horrendous struggle, but the Lion has won. This Lion is the king of the Davidic line. So John looks up and sees—a Lamb. The Lion is announced, and what John sees is a Lamb. This is not a separate animal. Apocalyptic literature delights in mixed metaphors. Here the Lion is the Lamb—at that, a slaughtered, sacrificial lamb, yet one with a perfection of kingly power (the seven horns). Here is the Messiah, the utmost in self-giving, the utmost in power, emerging from the very center of the throne. He alone brings to pass all of God’s purposes. Small wonder that the entire universe explodes with a new song, the song of redemption (5:9-14). The triumph of the Lord God and of the Lamb is what stands behind the transformation of Isaiah 35.