Jesus’ best friend on earth was a man named John (the Apostle). Jesus recruited John and his brother James out of their family fishing business to follow Him and become “fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). After Jesus died, rose again, and ascended, John wrote one of the four gospels, and (according to tradition) played a significant leadership role in the church at Ephesus. While a pastor there, he wrote the gospel that bears his name and 3 brief letters to the church (1, 2 and 3 John), which survive as part of the New Testament. Ultimately, the Apostle John was banished to the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea — likely during a wave of persecution by Roman Emperor Domitian c.AD 95 — where he received and wrote down a dramatic revelation from God about the end of history and the final triumph of God’s Kingdom. What John wrote down about his vision survives today as the Book of Revelation, the last book of the New Testament.
In Revelation 5, John records three songs sung to God in His vision which will be sung throughout eternity. I was so moved by this passage recently that I wanted to share these songs, the surrounding text, and a few expositional thoughts of my own (few of which are in any sense original). I wrote not long ago on Revelation 5:1-5 and its description of God’s holding a great scroll, on which is written God’s judgment and the consummation of human history in the bringing about of the uncontested Kingdom of God upon the earth. I’ll pick up where that post leaves off…
Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals. And there, before the throne, I saw Him … a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.
Jesus is both a lion and a lamb … a fierce Ruler, and a sacrificial offering … who takes away the sins of the world, and who will rule over it in power and justice. He was crucified, sacrificed on a Roman instrument of torture, to bear the sins of the entire world in all of history … but now He stands before God, risen from the dead, and utterly victorious! As the number 7 in Scripture often symbolizes perfection, many Bible scholars that the seven horns represent perfect power (omnipotence), the seven eyes represent perfect vision (omniscience), and the seven spirits represent the perfect Spirit of God which goes out into all the earth (omnipresence). This is the Messiah, the Lord Jesus.
The Song of the Saints
He went and took the scroll from the right hand of God the Father, who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures [perhaps types of angels or representing eras in history] and the twenty-four elders [likely representing the Church] fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp [the worship of God’s people] and golden bowls full of incense, the prayers of God’s people. And they sang to God a new song, saying…
“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
The final judgment of God and culmination of human history will be in the final establishment of God’s Kingdom. God has been advancing His Kingdom since the dawn of time, but John’s vision depicts, in the final moments of history, the old world passing away forever and the new one coming in power, unmarred and uncontested by the rebellious sin of man. And Jesus, the Son of God, reigns as King. He is worthy to open the scroll, judge the earth, and establish His Kingdom with authority and finality … because …
He was slain
Jesus became a man (the second Adam) and took death upon Himself for all creation, thereby vanquishing death forever, and redeeming all creation — not just people, but the very rocks and stars and distant galaxies — from the curse of the first Adam.
And by His blood, he ransomed us for God
Jesus bought us back from slavery. He paid our debt with His very blood, that we might be reconciled to God.
From every tribe and language and people and nation
And not just a few of us, but the great diverse throngs of those who have humbled themselves, turned from sin to love and obey Jesus, even suffering for His Name, all through history… We will all gather before the throne of grace as one people, just as Jesus and His Father are one. (John 17:20-23)
To be a kingdom of priests
Christians are adopted into God’s family, and therefore have become sons of God, brothers with Christ, and co-heirs in His inheritance (rule in the Kingdom). We carry on the work of the Father here, to be priests — the mediators between God and man. And in heaven, we reign with Christ. I have no idea what that really means, and neither does anybody else. But we do know that when He appears, we will be like Him (1 John 3:2), and that’s good enough for me.
And so we sing!
The Song of the Angels
Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”
God doesn’t “receive” anything from anybody, in the sense that they have something He wants or needs. In His infinite fullness, it is nonsensical to talk about God’s receiving anything into Himself from the outside. But the angels declare, and we should take note, that God is worthy of His already-possessed infinite power, His infinite wealth, and wisdom, and might, and honor, and glory, and blessing. All this and more is due to God, and it is right and good that He possesses them in infinite abundance. It’s like saying that the sun is worthy to shine brilliantly. Of course it is!
And although we do not add anything to God in doing so, we are compelled by God’s greatness to lay down whatever power and wealth, wisdom, might and all the rest at God’s feet. He is worthy to outshine us in all these way. It is our privilege and responsibility to surrender our self-perceived glory, and instead reflect His! Not only that, but He deserves to receive honor and glory and blessing from our others, who observe our lives as His children and cannot help but acknowledge how exceedingly great our Father really is. (Matthew 5:14-16)
And so they sing!
The Song of Creation
And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
It isn’t just people and angels who sing to God. The heavens declare His glory (Psalm 19:1-6), and the very elements of creation would declare His praise if men and angels failed to do so (Luke 19:40). Whether birds or fish or earthworms or the great leviathan in the depths of the sea, God’s glory rings out. They all proclaim His greatness. They know that He is both king [seated on the throne] and savior [the Lamb who was slain]. They bless and honor Him. They tremble at His power. And, knowing that they themselves are dust, they bow before Him as everlasting.
And so they sing!
Worship the Lord
And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” [so let it be!] and the elders fell down and worshiped.
We must take our queue from the angels and the elders. In fact, if you are a blood-bought child of the King of Kings, then perhaps one of the “elders” John saw in His vision represent you directly. It’s possible you could even know him. He’d probably be old and gray, poor but content, and almost certainly unremarked, if not downright despised, in this world. But he won’t be someday, and neither will you. I hope you are looking forward with great hope to that day. And in the meantime… let us sing!