It is not a stretch to say that the Book of Revelation reveals the Conqueror and His conquerors. The defeat of evil is a theme that is visible throughout the book, and nowhere is it more clearly in view than in chapter 5.
Moreover, Revelation portrays the spiritual warfare behind human history, painting great truths about the King and His kingdom as well as the intensifying nature of spiritual warfare at the end of the age. It presents in unforgettable symbolism the spiritual warfare of Ephesians 6 and the timeless truths of passages like Romans 8:31-39.
Weeping and sorrow
As the chapter opens, we see a book in the right hand of Almighty God, who is seated upon His throne as King, Lord, and Ruler of creation. The purposes of God are sealed up in this book, and a man must open it if they are to be realized.
But no one is found who “is worthy to open the book and to break its seals.” The issue of worthiness is of critical importance in this heavenly scene, and this worthiness translates into the ability to open the book: “no one … was able to open the book or to look into it.”
So, John weeps (“greatly,” it says in vs. 4), because the redemptive plan appears to come to an abrupt, shuddering stop, leaving mankind and this world in the grip of corruption, death, and despair.
Stop and see
Yet John is told by an elder, “Stop weeping,” and see something (“behold.”) There is a truth God intends the apostle to see, and, by extension, we are to see it too. It is a truth that ends sorrow for the Christian. It is neither a myth nor a blind faith, but a truth that liberates the broken heart and places the soul on a firm foundation.
John is told that “the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals” (vs. 5).
Someone has, in fact, overcome so that the book can be opened and the redemptive plan of God can flow forth. This is why tears can cease – for the purposes of God can now triumph. God has found His champion of humanity, who can lead a new, redeemed race to its intended glorification. Only God can so act that despair is forever vanquished!
Not surprisingly, this Overcomer is portrayed as a “Lion” – a majestic, conquering warrior. He is a man of earthbound history – not myth, like Hercules – tied to the Jews as a member of the tribe that gave that people the name “Jew” itself: Judah. And He is a descendant of “David,” the greatest of Israelite kings and the great warrior poet who was a man after God’s own heart. Of course, as we know, this man is Jesus.
The price paid for overcoming
However, when John looks to see this Lion, this conquering Messiah, he instead sees “a Lamb standing, as if slain.” As commentators note, this Lamb bears the marks of ritual slaughter, killed to shed blood for the remission of sins and the redemption of those who believe. This Lamb died for us on the cross (John 1:29), and yet the Lamb is standing after slaughter – a clear symbol of the resurrection.
The switch in imagery between the Lion and the Lamb is critical to a proper understanding of the Book of Revelation:
In order to be the Lion of Judah, Jesus first had to be the Lamb of God.
When John is told that this Lion/Lamb had “overcome” in order to take the book, break its seals, open it, and look into it, it is linked to worthiness. In turn, worthiness is linked to being slain (vv. 6, 9).
Here is the key to understanding the path taken by Jesus to save lost humanity, as well as understanding the Christian life and the spiritual warfare that engulfs the church: overcoming springs out of submission.
This principle is present everywhere in the New Testament. For example, in Romans 5:12-21, Paul says that the disobedience of the earthly Adam was overturned by the obedience of Christ, who is the heavenly man (the second Adam, also called the “last Adam” in 1 Corinthians 15:45-47.)
The pride of the man in the Garden of Eden was countered by the humility of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. Adam’s grasping for equality with God (Genesis 3:5) was overturned by the surrender of Jesus Christ to the will of His Father, as Jesus did not view equality with God as something to be grasped (Philippians 2:6).
But the submission of Jesus to the Father is most powerfully expressed in His willingness to die: “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).
God in His wisdom made death the penalty for Adam’s disobedience in the garden, but God then used death to be the very instrument by which He would undo the curse of sin and break its power over the life of the redeemed.
Honor for the Overcomer
Therefore, we see in Revelation 5 that power and authority is birthed out of death. The Lion/Lamb now rules the creation of God. He is no longer bound by earthly flesh but glorified and manifesting His full divine power and nature. He is worshiped by all creation, including all obedient angels, as well as the redeemed.
He has received “power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (vs. 12), as well as “dominion forever and ever” (vs. 13).
Christ’s humility and obedience, resulting in His death on the cross, lead to the familiar words of Philippians 2:9-11, where Paul states:
For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
For the Christian then, the principle is the same. We are called to humble ourselves and obey the Lord – and expect great things as the result: out of weakness comes strength (2 Corinthians 12:9-10); if a man loses his life for Jesus’s sake, he will find it (Matthew 16:25); and only when a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies will it eventually produce much fruit (John 12:24).
Because we have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 5:9), He has made us “to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth” (vs. 10).
What a great honor for God’s people! And yet, are we to be lions without being lambs? Our victory comes through suffering and sacrifice in the context of spiritual warfare:
And they overcame [the dragon] because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death (Revelation 12:11).
Thus, the people of God are also called to be overcomers who bear their cross, submit to God, and proclaim His glorious truth – which leads to conflict with the enemy. In doing so, however, we are used by the Lion/Lamb to break apart demonic strategies, shatter prison doors, and unchain captives.
So, we must be willing to go forward into the breach and into the fray where it is the thickest and most dangerous. As we lay down our lives for the glory of Jesus Christ, we shall overcome the dragon.
Our reward for such overcoming faithfulness is that we will sit down with Christ on His throne and rule the nations with Him (Revelation 2:26-27; 3:21).