A helpless lamb—the mightiest of all creatures
Revelation 5:4 I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.
Images of Jesus abound in Revelation, and one way to study the book is to follow a single image throughout. After his luminous appearance in the first chapter, Jesus is presented as a king, a child, a warrior on a horse, the Lord of the whole earth, the husband of a bride. Of all the images, however, none is so startling and unlikely as the one in John’s second vision. Yet it takes hold and appears repeatedly throughout the book.
To set the stage for this vision, the book of Revelation uses more visual drama than a science fiction movie. Lightning flashes, the sky growls and awesome creatures encircle a lofty throne. Four of the creatures (see Revelation 4:6) seem to symbolize the most impressive of all creation, for a common saying in those days went,
The mightiest among the birds is the eagle.
The mightiest among the domestic animals is the bull.
The mightiest among the wild beasts is the lion.
And the mightiest of all is man.
Only One Worthy
A question resounds in the heavens: “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” (Revelation 5:2). In other words, who is worthy to introduce the next phase of history? No one can answer, much to John’s dismay. Not one of the four impressive creatures qualifies.
But suddenly John sees another creature, “a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain” (Revelation 5:6). The image contains a great paradox. None of the majestic angels or elders or living creatures has the right to break the seals. Only a Lamb does—a helpless, slaughtered Lamb.
John records a song of celebration (“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation” [Revelation 5:9]), a song set to earthly music much later in Handel’s Messiah. And elsewhere in Revelation true believers are identified as having their names recorded in the “Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:27).
This powerful image resurfaces often in Revelation, a book of warfare between good and evil. Christ the King is also the Lamb, the One who died for us. His death on the cross, seemingly a great defeat, actually ushered in a decisive victory, for him and for us. Good was not destroyed; it triumphed.
What meaning does the image of Jesus as a slain Lamb have for you? What are your favorite “pictures” or images of Jesus?