Then I saw a Lamb

In chapters four and five of the Book of Revelation, the Apostle John records an unfolding vision of life as it is in heaven. There is a magnificent throne on which Almighty God is seated, surrounded by 24 lesser thrones occupied by 24 elders, and four mysterious “living creatures,” ceaselessly rendering praise and thanksgiving to God.

And there is a scroll, held in the right hand of God, sealed with seven seals, and John despairs because it seems no one is able to open the scroll. But his despair is short-lived, for he notices something more, and he writes, “Between the throne and the four living creatures, and among the elders, I saw a Lamb…” (Rev 5:6).

Who remembers “show and tell” activities from their school days? Some of us are better than others at such activities. The kind of objects I brought to school were important to me, but evidently not to others, and were usually of laughter-inducing quality to my classmates. It remains a mystery to me, but I do remember their laughter.

Sometimes, though, it was the teachers who did the “show and tell,” as an object lesson, and one of these instances is indelibly etched in my mind. It was a Sunday School lesson, which in those days we held on a large plastic mat in a suburban park, and the teacher brought in a lamb, petrified with fear, attached to a rope so it wouldn’t run off and get run over by passing petrolheads as they circled the park in their HQ Holdens and GTS Fords. And there was an important spiritual lesson, which I forget.

The next week, he brought in the lamb’s fleece, and I never forgot that. He had sacrificed its life to illustrate another important spiritual lesson.

In the Bible, lambs are associated with two main themes. First, lambs are associated with gentleness, innocence, dependence, and stubborn stupidity in human experience.

For example, in Isaiah 40:11, God gathers lambs in his arms because they are helpless; later Isaiah observes that we are all like sheep that have gone astray (Isa 53:6). When Jesus wants his disciples to understand the vulnerability of their mission in the world, he sends them out, he says, “as lambs in the midst of wolves” (Lk 10:3). And in the millennial utopia to which history propels us, there are images of lambs joining with wolves to feed and rest in perfect peace and harmony.

Second, lambs are associated with sacrifice. In Genesis 22:7, the young Isaac says to Abraham his father, “Behold the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”

In Exodus 12, to escape the divine wrath about to be poured out on everyone living in Egypt, each Israelite household is instructed to kill a lamb and apply its blood to the doorposts and lintel where they sleep, and so they will be preserved from judgment. In the New Testament, John the Baptist points out Jesus, fresh from his temptation in the desert, as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29, 36). And in the Book of Revelation, the word “Lamb” is associated with Christ no less than 28 times. This Lamb that John sees is one of those occurrences.

There are two apparent incongruities here: first, that an animal such as a lamb should be wandering these hallowed halls, and more astonishing still, that it should be “seated in the midst of the throne,” the throne of God; second, that the Lamb has been slain: it has been killed, and yet it lives. James M. Hamilton, Jr. explains the incongruity well:

The slain Lamb represents the image of a conqueror who was mortally wounded while defeating an enemy … This verse, with the slain Lamb elevated to the throne of God, describes Christ’s death as not only redeeming humans, but also conquering the power of the enemy. His enthronement is a reference to His resurrection and ascension into heaven. The theme of this chapter is that Christ, as [the Lion of the tribe of Judah], overcame by being slaughtered as a Lamb.[1]

But this is not merely fine literature, and bold literary imagery. It is reality. Have you seen the Lamb, who was mortally wounded for you? He is your only hope for today and tomorrow, the world’s only hope: “The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”

Let us pray.

Lord Jesus, the Lamb who died and rose from the dead, once humbled through incarnation and now enthroned in glory and majesty and power, give us grace to see you more clearly, and to love and follow you according to your will. Amen.


Image source: Agnus Dei

[1] James M. Hamilton, Jr., Revelation: The Spirit Speaks to the Churches (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 114.

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