30 July 2012

Revelation 5:1-10

"They sing a new song: 'You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation; you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth.'" (vv. 9-10)


12-07-30 drawing 2Revelation is one of those tricky books of the Bible. Tricky to find; go too far and you end up in the biblical maps, don't go far enough and you get lost among the letters of James, Peter, Jude, etc. Then again, maybe that's just me…

It is even more tricky to understand. Revelation is filled with indecipherable imagery, arcane and metaphorical language, and implausible juxtaposition. Debate has raged for centuries whether Revelation best describes the writer's present or the reader's future.

The book purports to be a collation of visions of John the Divine whilst in the Spirit. Note the persistent use of the first person. This is a book set in a dreamscape. If you've ever struggled to put into words a complex or troubling dream, you have some idea of the task before the writer of Revelation and its readers.

Chapter 5 is a vision of one seated on a throne, flanked on 4 sides by 4 awesome creatures and surrounded by 24 elders. This one holds a scroll whose seven seals none in heaven or earth could be found worthy to open.

As John despairs that none would be found to open the seals he is told, "See, the Lion of Judah" (v. 5). When John looks, however, he sees not a Lion but a Lamb that has been slaughtered. The Lamb alone is able to open the seals. And as the Lamb takes the scroll, the elders and the creatures burst into a new song of praise (verses 9-10).

John's vision of heaven in chapters 4 and 5, on the one hand, makes use of familiar imagery; people in white robes feature, as do harps, rainbows, thrones, and angelic singing. On the other hand, it is also an unfamiliar vision of terrifying creatures, thunder and lightning, blood, and a slaughtered Lamb.

Two things remain constant throughout. First, the otherness of this vision - heaven, as envisioned by John, is not merely an extrapolation of earth. It is pre-eminently 'other' or transcendent. Second, the glory of God and of God's Christ is paramount. All creation bows in worship before the glory of God.

To Ponder

  • What is your initial emotional response to the vision of heaven described in John's account?
  • What do you think we are meant to draw out of the intertwined images of Lion and Lamb in verses 5-6?
  • In what ways can we as "saints from every tribe and language" most fully acknowledge the glory of God?
  • To what extent might the visions of John be intended as pictures of God's glory rather than pointers of what to expect in the afterlife? 


Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Calvin T Samuel

The Revd Dr Calvin T Samuel is a Methodist minister, currently stationed as Director of Wesley Study Centre, Durham - a Methodist theological institution which is part of St John's College within the University of Durham. Prior to this he was New Testament Tutor at Spurgeon's College in London and Chaplain to Farringtons School in Kent