The theme of yesterday’s reading from the Book of Revelation continues today with a new focus and a new “object” of worship. Today the “Lamb who was slain” is introduced to the heavenly court. “Whereas in the previous chapter the focus of the vision has been on the throne of God and its surroundings, in chapter five the focus is on Christ, depicted as a lamb.” (Reddish, Mitchell G., Revelation, p. 107.)
As the scene opens we notice a scroll, a scroll that had writing on both sides and was sealed with seven seals (Revelation 5:1b). Both of these characteristics bear out that this is an important document. The immediate source for John’s description of the scroll may be the scroll given to the prophet Ezekiel, which also was described as being written on the front and back. “As in Ezekiel, so in Revelation the writing on both sides may be simply an indication that the message was so long that it continued from the front of the scroll to the back. The seven seals indicate the secure nature of the scroll. This scroll will not be opened by accident or by one who does not have the proper authority. It is sealed tightly – seven times!” (Reddish, p. 108)
The seals guarantee the authenticity of the scroll and to maintain the secrecy of the contents until the time for opening it is revealed. Such documents in this culture were used to describe marriage contracts, deeds of ownership, wills and bequests, and even debts. However, other scrolls of this nature in the Scriptures usually detail plans for the future. Like those examples, the scroll of Revelation contains the purposes and plans of God for all creation.
At first it seems that no one in the heavenly court is worthy to break open the seals, a circumstance that brings John to tears. However, one of the elders soon makes it clear that this detail is added simply to heighten the tension as he reveals that there is one who is so worthy. “Do not weep. The lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has triumphed, enabling him to open the scroll with its seven seals.” (Revelation 5:b) However, John does not see a lion. Rather than the fierce conquering lion, we are introduced to a lamb which bears the marks of execution, standing in the midst of the throne and the four living creatures and the elders, a Lamb that seemed to have been slain (Revelation 5:6). The choice of a lamb may be a reference to the lambs that were sacrificed in the Temple at morning and evening prayer, the Passover lamb, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah or the conquering lamb of I Enoch. No matter what the reference, it is clear that victory comes through the self-sacrifice of the lamb (Jesus) rather than through the violence of the lion (the Roman Empire and its Emperor). Perhaps John’s intention was to include all the various references to lambs from the Hebrew Scriptures to make the point that Jesus is the faithful and true witness.
The elders and the four living creatures turn the hymn of worship to the Lamb. The harps and bowls of incense are both symbols of Temple worship, the harps being used to accompany the psalms of the people and the bowls of incense being symbols of the prayers of the people rising to the throne of God. They fall prostrate before the Lamb and continue their hymn of praise.
Once again, this scene of heavenly worship reinforces the point made in chapter four; namely, that rather than worshipping the powers of this world, our worship must focus on God and God’s only-begotten Son. The temptation that is with us every day is to focus our attention on the ephemeral concerns on this world: power, wealth, honor, knowledge, strength and the blessings of the material world. How much of our day is spent pursuing these effects? How much time and energy do we invest in pursuing the glamor of the world? Indeed, the song of the elders and the four living creatures reinforces the notion that the Lamb is the one who is to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing (Revelation 5:12b) because of the Lamb has willingly sacrificed Himself for our sake.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator