Revelation 5. This is a vision of/ from heaven, not a literal event in heaven. It is a pictorial prophecy. Just to explain again, the vision doesn’t mean that if we “go to heaven,” then this is what we will see. We will not see a Lamb with seven horns and seven eyes, as Rev 5 depicts. We will not see 24 elders on literal thrones, the kind of thrones we see on earth. We will not see a scroll, or a bowl that contains the prayers of the saints. How could John have seen 24 elders in heaven, literally, when he was one of them, still on earth?
If you ask, “What would we see if we went to heaven?,” then the bible doesn’t answer that question. The Hebrew people didn’t speculate on that issue, like we do today. That is more a Greek culture kind of question. The Hebrews’ only interest in heaven was, how was heaven going to renew this cosmos, this creation? They didn’t think about going to heaven, but heaven’s government and wholeness coming to earth. Even the pictures in the book of Hebrews, of a heavenly tabernacle, are figurative of a new heaven and new earth, meaning reconciled relationships between God and men.
The scroll in Rev 5 contained the judgements that were coming upon Jerusalem, to end its old covenant era, its temple age. The only one worthy to open this scroll, to declare God’s final judgement on Israel, would be the one who was both God and man. It would be Jesus the Christ, because he had come to the temple, as we see in Matthew 23, and he had pronounced the judgement, which was carried out from heaven. Such a grave judgement could not be left to a prophet of the Old Testament.
Jesus was worthy to open the seal, because he had come in the flesh. He had suffered as a man, tasted all our temptations. He had walked in our shoes. He was judging, both as righteous God, and as the one who knew the feeling of our infirmities and the passion of our sufferings. Only the Lamb of God, the God who had suffered in the flesh, was able to judge mankind fairly and righteously.
We also see here the nature of God and the way he wins his battles. He is the seed of David, meaning the one to fight our battles, and he is the Lion of Judah, meaning the one who conquers. But when John looks, he doesn’t see a lion, but a lamb, and a lamb that has been slain. So, this is how God conquers, as the lamb that takes away our sins. His battle was fought and won on the cross. God doesn’t fight his enemies in violence. He doesn’t fight satan with satan’s tools of hatred and killing of others. He fights with different weapons, by the giving up of his own life.
This is a major part of what “revelation” means. This is what was hidden, that is being revealed through the gospel of Christ. God’s nature, how that the one who made all things, who has all power, doesn’t use that power to destroy his enemies, but rather comes in flesh to serve them. This is how he overcomes darkness, with light.
He overcomes evil with good. This is the revelation, that natural man doesn’t see and doesn’t like to follow. This is what has been hidden since the foundations of the earth, since man took up violence to punish others, in the name of his gods, thinking that that is the nature of God. (Matthew 13:35)
Sometimes people think Revelation condones our violence, but it was written to overcome our violence. It is the story of the Lamb overcoming the beast, by his own blood, not by shedding the blood of others. When the blood of others is shed, those who do it, do it to themselves, because they have not yielded to the love of God.
“Those who live by the sword, die by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52) The only one who is worthy to untie the seal of Israel’s judgement is the one who has no evil, who has no violence in himself: who has no hatred, no unforgiveness towards his own enemies, no satanic, murderous method of conquering others, no desire for the blood of others, who has suffered and has overcome with self-giving love, revealing the true nature of God. Only this one can judge, no one else. Therefore, no believer was permitted to take life.
Next in Rev 5, followed the prayers of the people on earth, represented by the four beasts and the elders. The judgement that was to follow was for the sake of these people and for the sake of the earth. The judgement would come in God’s perfect timing, as 2 Peter 3 showed, after all the Jewish diaspora of that generation had the chance to hear the gospel of Christ and repent. The song of the elders that followed showed what the judgement was for, in its renewing work.
“You are worthy to receive the scroll and open its seals, because you were killed. And with your own blood you bought for God people from every tribe, language, nation, and race. You let them become kings and serve God as priests, and they will rule on earth.” (Rev 5:9-10)
Why did God redeem the earth through Christ? To make us a kingdom of priests, to rule upon the earth. As Romans 8 says, to deliver the creation from its destruction, from its bondage to corruption. This shows what the gospel is about. It isn’t an escape from the earth to heaven, but the restoration of the Adamic commission, to have an image-of-God bearing people, bringing wholeness to the world. And this image of God is seen in the cross, by our love for one another, just as Christ loved us.
And so, this is the reason, from this chapter onwards through the Revelation, that the number “seven” continues to come up. In this chapter we have seven horns, seven eyes, seven spirits. Later we see seven seals, seven plagues, seven trumpets, seven heads of the beast, seven vials, etc, like the seven days of creation. This is a continual reminder that the purpose of these horrific judgements is the renewal of the creation, through a new image-of-God bearing priesthood.
And what is the result of this renewed priesthood and creation?
Rev 5 flashes forward to the resurrection of our bodies, the completion of the new creation. In it, all creatures on the earth, under the earth (worms, etc) and in the sea, give praise to God.
That is, all creatures fulfil their created purpose and bring glory to God in their unified wholeness. And the Lamb receives this honour.
The one that was slain in weakness is made head of all creation, receives all power, wealth, wisdom and strength. This is the creation we see described in symbolic form at the end of the book of Revelation.