Worthy is the Lamb
14 Feb 2009, Dr Barry Wright
(Barry is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)
WORTHY IS THE LAMB
For all those living in this age of earth's history the outlook for the future would seem, at its best, to be very bleak. No one ever living has ever known such uncertainty as to the future of human events.
To understand what the future holds, God in His wisdom has allowed us an insight into the final events of the Great Controversy by showing what soon must take place.
However, to understand the context of these events the Lord was to provide an aging disciple by the name of John with a panoramic vision showing the drama of all the ages. At the time this took place he was in exile on the Island of Patmos, just off the western coast of present-day Turkey.
John had been banished to this rocky island by the Emperor Domitian because of his testimony of Jesus and while there was to endure a period of hard labour for the Romans in the mines and the quarries.
The vision given to John in this isolated place was to result in the writing of the Book of Revelation that has been seen by a number of Bible scholars as the most remarkable book in all the sacred canon of Scriptures. It is the only book in this divine library that promises a blessing not only to those who read it, but also to those who hear its words and '…take to heart what is written in it…', because it says the time is near (Rev 1: 3).
In this Book, John's words present a glorious picture of a reigning Christ. While the Gospels present Jesus as our Saviour who came to take away the curse of sin, we see here in this book where the 'Lion of the tribe of Judah' has complete and eternal triumph over the forces of evil. In Rev 5: 5 Jesus is not only seen as a Lamb that was slain, but also as the Lion triumphant in victory.
This final Book of the Scriptures is the Revelation of Jesus Christ, not the revelation of John. It is not so much the revelation of the growth of the Church as much as it is the Revelation of Jesus. It deals with the return of the Lord to this earth and the readiness or un-readiness of the Church for this great event (Mears, 1983: 623).
All that was begun in Genesis, the book of beginnings, is now to be consummated in the Book of Revelation that outlines in its pages the greatest drama of all time. It brings to a climax the great story commenced in Genesis and brings it to its true conclusion.
As we open further into its pages, I want you to imagine this morning the awesome scene of worship taking place around God's throne in heaven as described by John in Revelation Ch. 4. Those who fall down before Him cry out in v 11 that:
'You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their [very] being.'
In Revelation 5 John then directs our attention to a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals that was to be found in the right hand of God as He was seated on the throne. It would seem that this is no ordinary scroll or book as it is sealed to secure its secrecy. It also would indicate that the message contained in the scroll was to be of unparalleled significance.
In ancient times, seals represented a badge of authority and when applied to the soft clay covering the flap of a document, it would guarantee that the sender or owner of the seal was responsible for the contents therein. According to the Roman law in John's day, when a document was sealed with seven or more seals it portrayed a last will or testament and therefore was deemed to be of great significance to the owner (Strand, 1976: 55, 57).
It needs to be understood that a scroll of this nature with seals on the outside, cannot be unrolled and read until all of them are broken. As such, the contents of this scroll would not be made known until the final seal is removed.
It would also appear that the information contained therein was to be different from that found within each clay emblem. We discover later that these seals were to contain events and messages preceding the final disclosure of its contents. Each one was to represent the steps or means by which God the Father through Jesus Christ prepares the way in history for its final disclosure to the universe.
As we look at this scene described by John, a mighty angel in Rev 5: 2 proclaims in a loud voice, 'Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?'
When John tells us that the angel found no one in heaven or earth or under the earth that was worthy he becomes so distraught that Rev 5: 4 tells us he wept and wept.
However, this emotional response was to be short lived as he, at last, is told not to weep because the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed and only He is qualified to open it.
However, when John looks he sees only a Lamb looking as if it had been slain. It is this '…Lamb without blemish and without spot' (1 Peter 1: 18, 19) that now steps forward and takes the scroll from God's right hand.
There is no question as to who this is as those around the throne burst into a song of praise saying to Him in Rev 5: 9, 10 that: 'You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.'
Dear friends, Christ's victory on the cross renders possible our victory and enables Him to break the seals that will finally reveal the contents of the scroll to a watching universe. It is He who is described as the Lion of the tribe of Judah and also as the Lamb of God.
As the dramatic moment arrives and each seal is opened we see a succession of events within historical time that precede the opening of the scroll. We witness human beings in many of these events who have often been inhuman in their actions to one another causing a trail of great suffering.
The Christian Church throughout its history was also to see periods of great intolerance. Many faithful Christians because of their loyalty to the simple principles of Scripture were to suffer at the hands of other professed Christians. We see the spiritual vitality of the early church giving place to apostasy and doctrinal error and those who refused to accept these compromising changes often paid for their resistance with their lives.
With the opening of the first four seals we see the launching forth of four horsemen that traditionally have been shown to represent the Church in its various stages of development and decline. While there are many commentators today that see these horses and their riders in a more general sense representing various adverse conditions under which the church has lived and survived, for our purposes this morning we will follow the first view.
As such, the first seal was to show a rider on a white horse with a bow and a crown moving forward '…conquering and to conquer.' Acts 1: 8 tells us that the preaching of the gospel of Christ was launched in Jerusalem and was then destined to spread '…in all Judea, and in Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth'.
Horses and horsemen were used in a symbolic sense in the Scriptures, to not only typify strength and speed, but also exemplify courage in the face of conflict. As such, these images present an appropriate picture of the triumphs of Christianity in apostolic times under the power of the Holy Spirit. No other event in the history of the Church fits into the scene described by the first seal. While the white colour represents the purity of the gospel, the horse represents the speed at which Christianity spread to the then known world (Rudy, 1981: 130, 131).
We need to remember that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was to mark the beginning of the Christian Church. It was a day of miracles and the birth of the Church at that time was certainly no human act. It was a divine working that would bring into existence a church upon the earth that would stand against all the powers of evil (Ibid: 131). Jesus was to declare in Matt 16: 18 that 'The gates of hell shall not prevail against it'.
During this period the apostles had faithfully laboured and ultimately given their lives in the spreading of the gospel. Paul had already stated in Col 1: 23 that in his time the gospel had been '…preached to every creature under heaven'.
However, by the end of the first one hundred years, Christianity had to make its way without apostolic aid and in face of obstacles that for most must have seemed insurmountable (Newman, 1933: 148). The symbolism of the second horseman, according to the traditional view, now portrays the conditions under which the Gospel was proclaimed during the second and third centuries (100-313 AD).
With the opening of the second seal a red horse comes forth - a symbol of war and bloodshed. It was given power 'to take peace from the earth, to cause men to kill each other and to wield a great sword.
The change in colour from white to red was now seen to symbolise the apostasies that were rapidly entering the church that would affect it for centuries to come.
Even during the time of Paul, he noted a 'falling away'. In writing to the Thessalonians in 2 Thessalonians 2: 3, 7 he says: 'The mystery of iniquity doth already work.'
As the gospel message spread to the uttermost parts of the earth it was to encounter more and more non-Christian elements. As one historian observed, this stream of religious mixture was to flow into the early church threatening to wash away its saving historical faith (Rudy, 1981: 132).
The great sword given to this rider could be seen in the culmination of the great persecution of the Christians by the Roman Emperor Diocletian in AD 303-313. This slaughter came to an end with the rise of Constantine to the throne leading to an era of comparative peace lasting a number of centuries (Ibid: 133).
However, something more sinister now enters the scene with the opening of the third seal. A rider on a black horse rides forth and in his hands there is a set of balances that were to symbolize the conditions in the church and the world during AD 313-538 (Ibid). The Black colour tends to symbolise the drastic change from purity and power to moral and spiritual darkness (Anderson, 1974: 65).
With Constantine's so-called conversion, a fateful union with the state was now begun. While giving a reprieve from persecution this union was now to be fraught with all sorts of dangers for the Christian Church. While persecution, in its own way, tended to purify and strengthen the faith, a state-church union was now seen to open the floodgates to worldliness and a loss of spirituality. Commercialism of its activities reached an all time high replacing any sense of piety that it may have had.
Sadly, the Christianisation of the State throughout this period was to largely result in the paganisation and secularisation of the Church (Rudy, 1981: 134). Paganism that seemed to have disappeared was only to re emerge again in many aspects of the Christian Church. Superstition abounded and ceremonies were to multiply. The Scriptures were laid aside for legendary tales and these were to become part of the mounting traditions of the established church.
However, from around God's throne there comes a voice of prohibition saying not to hurt the oil and the wine. Far beyond the reaches of the established church are groups of loyal witnesses being shielded in the mountains and valleys isolated from the rest of the world. Here, the gospel is still being shared under the power of the Holy Spirit.
This sad period of earth's history was to now lay the foundations for the rider on the fourth horse described by John in Rev 6: 7, 8. John's description was of a pale horse whose rider was named death with Hades following closely behind him.
During this next dark period of earth's history, millions of God's faithful people were to be martyred for their faith as the apostate Church reached a fearful climax in its spiritual decline (Rudy, 1981: 136).
Those who would not compromise their faith to engage in practices contrary to the Word of God were classed as heretics and the fires of persecution were to continue brightly until the formal outbreak of the Protestant Reformation in 1517.
Secular history confirms the atrocious record of torture that was to inflict mental agonies beyond description upon God's people confirming the terrible fulfilment of the horror symbolized by the rider on the 'pale horse' whose name was death and hell followed with him. It is on this sordid note that the first four seals come to a close.
With the opening of the fifth seal the symbolism changes and we hear the cries for justice coming from the souls at the foot of the altar who had been slain for the Word of God. Rev 6: 10 tells us that their blood like that of Abel's was crying out to God, 'How long, O Lord, How long…'. It was a cry to God for spiritual power and an appeal for vindication of the truth for which they had died (Anderson, 1974: 68, 69). The question of 'how long' would remain a perplexity right through until the last seal is broken. It is only as the scroll is unrolled that God's ways will then be fully open to our understanding (Bainbridge, 2007: 57).
John now watches as the sixth seal is opened and we are told in Rev 6:12, 13 that with its passage 'There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of Goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to the earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind.'
It becomes self-evident that with this seal the symbolic language of the previous five now gives way to literal description.
It would seem that a very special time in earth's history had arrived. The transition from the Medieval Age to that of modern times was now taking place. As noted by one contemporary Bible Scholar 'The Protestant Reformation, the wars of the Counter-Reformation, the American and French Revolutions, the coming of the modern state, the rapid growth of a new social and intellectual order had ushered in a new period in the history of all mankind' (Rudy, 1981: 142).
The time had now come for God to show the world the signs preceding the Second Coming of Jesus indicating that this final climactic event was to be close at hand. These signs, prophesied in both the Old and New Testaments Scriptures were given to mark earth's final days and the return of Jesus. Beginning with the words of Isaiah 13: 9, 10 and Joel 2: 31 and later in the words of Jesus in Matt 24: 29 and Luke 21: 11, the apostle John now sees these signs confirmed in his vision with the opening of this sixth seal.
These events that were to unfold in the natural world were believed to have taken place within the eight decades from 1755- 1833.
They read as follows:
The great Lisbon earthquake of November 1, 1755
The darkening of the sun: May 19, 1780
Moon became as blood: May 19, 20, 1780
The falling of the stars: November 13, 1833
Western countries, who were experiencing a multitude of social and religious upheavals during this period, were to recognise the significance of these events. With a new interest in the area of prophetic interpretation, theologians and philosophers were shaken into the realization that the 'time of the end' had arrived.
Consequently, these events were to be faithfully recorded by contemporary writers as divine omens of the Second Coming of Christ.
Since 1755, earth's inhabitants have been living under the canopy of the sixth seal showing Bible scholars and students that the time leading to the opening of the final seal was to be very short. This time period of the modern world has not only been seen as an age of great intellectual light with new discoveries and inventions, but also an era where the light of truth has been shining in steady rays upon the people of God (Haskell, 1987: 125).
All of these events were to deepen the impact made by a Baptist lay preacher by the name of William Miller who began preaching in 1831 that Jesus would soon return.
There are those who would suggest that there has never been a time apart from the birth of Christ when greater spiritual light has shone upon the world (Ibid). As such, this seal would now seem to focus on those who are not ready to meet their God.
Before the sixth seal closes Christ will come, and His coming will then be consummated under the seventh seal (Rudy, 1981: 146). It is significant to realise that our generation is now situated between verses 13 and 14 of Revelation 6.
As part of the sixth seal, John now describes this earth shattering event in Revelation 6: 14-17 (NIV). Let's read what it says:
He says that: 'The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?"
John concludes this terrifying description with a hopeful question 'Who shall be able to stand?'
Dear friends, this question is posed for each person now living when history is still seen to be in the making between those fulfilled signs of Christ's coming and the end of the world.
WHO WILL BE ABLE TO STAND?
It is obviously going to be too late for anyone who has not made the necessary preparation to meet the Lamb in peace and to stand among that great multitude of the redeemed when the heaven departs 'as a scroll when it is rolled together' (Ibid: 146).
The crucial question that will finally determine where you stand in that great day is 'What you have done with Jesus, the Lamb of God [who was] slain for your sins? (Bainbridge, 2007: 59).
As we see the flowing forth of the Gospel message across the world, the stage is being set for the greatest and final surge to take place under the power of the Holy Spirit (Rudy, 1981: 147).
This final phase of the world-embracing work of the 'Gospel of the Kingdom' is described in Revelation 7 and answers the question of the martyrs in the fifth seal of 'How long, O Lord, how long?' and the question 'Who is able to stand?'
This interlude between the sixth and the seventh seal offers hope by revealing the results of God's plan with the salvation of His people bringing an end to the suffering they have been through (Moore, 1982: 15).
Rev 8: 1 says: 'And when He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour'.
The number seven in Scripture is believed to represent 'completeness' and we see in the opening of the seventh seal a point in time that marks the completion of earth's history and God's work for the inhabitants of this world. The door of mercy is closed in heaven and there is silence.
There are those that suggest on the basis of Matt 25: 31 that the silence in heaven is a result of the fact that when the Lord comes back, every angel in heaven will accompany Him. The continuous voices of praise and worship around the throne of God will be silent because of their absence (Anderson, 1974: 73).
However, with the breaking of the seventh and last seal, the scroll is finally unrolled and its contents made known. The judgements of God are now explained and the mysteries of life opened for all to see. The perplexing questions that have concerned us while here on earth are finally unravelled. The major issues involved in the Great Controversy dealing with the fairness of God, His government and His law are now resolved. The accusations first made by Lucifer and his fallen Angels and the debate surrounding them are now ended for all eternity (Bainbridge, 2007: 59, 60).
No wonder there is silence in heaven with all of God's creatures overawed as they understand His marvellous purposes and acts. It is finally ended with a song of praise found in Rev 5: 12, 13 as they acknowledge that He is worthy of our praise and allegiance:
'Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!
This is then echoed by all of His creation throughout the universe: 'To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever.' WORTHY IS THE LAMB
Anderson, R. A. (1974) Unfolding the Revelation. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association
Bainbridge, G. H. (2007) From Patmos to Paradise. Broadway, Australia: Garth Bainbridge, Breakout Design & Print.
Mears, H. C. (1983) What the Bible is all about. California, USA: Regal Books
Moore, M. (1982) The Bible's Book of Revelation-Hope for Earth's Last Days. USA: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
Newman, A. H. (1933) A Manual of Church History Vol I in Rudy H. L. (1981) The Message of Revelation. College Place, Washington: Color Press
Rudy, H. L. (1981) The Message of Revelation. College Place, Washington: Color Press
Strand K. A. (1976) Interpreting the Book of Revelation. Naples, Fla.: Ann Arbor Publishers.
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