Worthy Is the Lamb (Rev. 5:8-14)
We talk about coming before God in worship with reverence and awe. He is holy, majestic, and worthy to receive our praise. But, we are sinful, defiled, and unworthy in and of ourselves. The first thing we need is the cleansing blood of Christ to make us worthy. Then we need the enabling work of the Spirit to empower our worship. And when you have both, you will engage in worship with your whole being. Do you worship? Are you currently worshipping? Will you continue to worship? I hope this passage will help you answer those questions.
John is receiving a vision of the throne of God in heaven that is meant to be revealed to the church as a means of encouragement to persevere. The Lamb is worthy to execute God’s eternal plan because he alone was able to satisfy God’s legal demands.
Jesus, upon ascending to the Father after his death and resurrection, received authority. Revelation 5:7 is the fulfillment of the vision recorded in Dan. 7:9-10, 13-14. We have seen some of this language already, and we will see it again later on in Revelation. It is clearly in the background of John’s mind as the Spirit inspired him to write this vision down for us.
The hymns that conclude chapters four and five help us interpret the vision. In chapter four, God is worthy to receive praise because he is sovereign in creation. In chapter five, Jesus is worthy to receive praise because he is sovereign in redemption and judgment.
This passage reflects upon the various segments of heavenly praise that engage in the worship of the Lamb. The praise that begins with the inner circle of the four living creatures and twenty-four elders, extends to the outer circle of a myriad of angels, and concludes with all creation joining the chorus.
Why did the Holy Spirit breathe out this account for us? What is God teaching us through this vision? It seems fitting to receive examples of heavenly worship in order to deepen our understanding and practice of earthly worship. This passage teaches us how to give praise to the Lamb for who he is and what he has done.
Read Rev. 5:8-14
I. WORSHIP IS DOCTRINAL (8-9)
The prayers of God’s people are represented as the contents in the bowls of incense that the twenty-four elders are holding (8). I close each evening worship service with a benediction from Psalm 141:2. You can imagine the sweet smell of incense ascending to heaven as a fragrant offering that is accepted by God because they are offered in the name of his Son, through the Holy Spirit.
This is such an encouraging truth to consider as we stumble and stutter through our own prayers. We have a permanent High Priest who “always lives to make intercession for” those who “draw near to God” (Heb. 7:23-25). Not only that, but when we don’t know how to pray, we have the Spirit who “intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom. 8:26-27).
I love the illustration Spurgeon provides of this concept. He imagines a child wanting to bring a bouquet a flowers to his father. So he goes out into a field and collects a handful of flowers and weeds. The mother meets him at the door and picks through the bunch removing the weeds and inserting more flowers before handing the bouquet back to the child to present to his father. That’s how Jesus works to sanctify our prayers as they ascend to the father like a fragrant offering. What makes the aroma so pleasing to the Father isn’t the eloquence of our speech, but the kindness of our gracious and compassionate Savior.
In verse nine, the four living creatures and twenty-four elders begin to sing a new song regarding the new age of redemptive history that has been ushered in by the Lamb. This was common practice for the saints throughout the Old Testament. Beginning with their deliverance from Egypt, upon crossing the Red Sea Moses composed a song of praise (Exod. 15). We see the same language in Isaiah 42:10 and several of the Psalms (i.e., Psalm 96:1). This new exodus, accomplished by the Lamb through his death, is certainly grounds for singing new songs. Apparently, John and these heavenly representatives did not practice exclusive psalmody.
Just as God was worthy to receive our praise and adoration (4:11), so the Lamb is worthy to take the scroll (5:9). It was the blood that was shed upon his death that ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. In this way, Jesus can serve as our permanent High Priest. It is because “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12). Are prayers and our praise are dependent upon the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
The doctrinal component of this verse is that the blood of Jesus actually ransomed people. It didn’t simply make ransom possible, but accomplished the work. This means that the atonement of Christ was limited by the number he intended to ransom to himself. Blood of infinite and eternal value would not be shed unnecessarily for those who would reject it. Jesus actually ransomed those whom he chose to save (Eph. 1:4).
They sing what is doctrinally accurate in order to teach about the worthiness of Jesus. Doctrine is another word for teaching. It is what we believe about someone or something. Our worship must not only be God-centered, but it must also teach us something about him so that our minds are transformed by these truths.
The songs we sing in worship are first and foremost evaluated for their doctrinal accuracy. Are they in accord with the revelation of God’s word? Are they consistent in thematic language and devotional depth?
If our worship is doctrinal it will also be triumphant…
II. WORSHIP IS TRIUMPHANT (10)
Those who have been ransomed from every nation have become “a kingdom and priests.” This was the description of Israel in Exodus 19:5-6. John associates that with the Church Universal who are now reigning with Christ. There is some ambiguity in the original text regarding the phrase “shall reign”. It could be taken as a present or future tense verb. The difference is rather minimal. If it is present, the emphasis is upon Christ’s present reign through the church militant. If it is a future reign, then it is a reference to the eternal reign of Christ’s with his people in the new heaven’s and new earth (22:5).
Several points seem to favor a present tense reading:
- The Church has already been referred to as “a kingdom, priests to his God and Father” in the present time (1:6).
- The Lamb is presently worthy to open the book because he has already ransomed people for God.
In either case, what has begun in the present will be fully fulfilled upon the consummation at Christ’s return. So this reign could be a future reign in the new heavens and new earth, or a present reign that is a taste of the final and full reign that will be enjoyed for all eternity (already and not yet). The triumphant reign of the saints is doctrinally expressed in this hymn.
Martin Luther understood the importance of linking doctrine with singing. This is why he wrote so many rich hymns. They were one of the means God used to reform the Church in his day. After elaborating upon the beauty and value of music, Luther wrote,
A person who gives this some thought and yet does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God, must be a clodhopper indeed and does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of donkeys and the grunting of hogs.
If our music is doctrinally accurate and filled with triumphant praise, then the only question is whether or not we follow the heavenly model in practice. Are we trusting in Christ as we sing? Has the blood of the Lamb cleansed our impurities so that what we offer is not perfect, but made acceptable by Christ?
The blood of Christ continues to restore us for worship. So be sure to join in loudly. Sing boldly not because of the beauty of your tone, but the kindness of your Savior! Our worship should express something of our awe in his redeeming grace.
In addition to worship being doctrinal and triumphant…
III. WORSHIP IS DOXOLOGICAL(11-14)
Doxology is giving praise to God for who he is and what he has done. This relates to all of the Psalms and songs we find in Scripture. And these next two songs are perfect examples of doxology.
Then John saw and heard a vast number of angels singing a hymn of their own to the Lamb. A myriad is ten thousand, so one myriad times one myriad would be 100,000,000 angels. Obviously, John didn’t take the time to count each one, but we can imagine that he couldn’t see to the end of the crowd.
The Lamb is worthy to receive praise for seven attributes (12). This is the third hymn with the theme of worthiness. The first was in reference to the One seated on the throne, while the second and third refer to worthiness of the Lamb. Seven attributes are associated with the Lamb recognizing the fullness of praise that he is worthy to receive. If we had the time we could consider how Christ is the superior expression of each attribute. Nothing in this world compares to Him. The power and wealth of Babylon are gained through self-promotion whereas Christ’s wealth and power were obtained through self-sacrifice.
After two hymns for the One on the throne, and two hymns for the Lamb, the concluding chorus is sung to both “him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb” (13). There is no distinction between the worthiness of the One who is seated on the throne and the Lamb who was slain. The Father and the Son are equal in power and glory. All of creation will join in the singing of this hymn at the final consummation.
Worship Is doctrinal, triumphant, and doxological.
When there wasn’t anyone found worthy to take the scroll from God’s hand, John wept loudly (4). Once the Lamb had shown himself to be worthy, John saw and heard thunderous praise. The gospel of Jesus Christ turns our weeping into triumphant songs of praise.
This was a message of hope that the early church needed to hear in order to endure the trials that awaited them. It is a message of hope that we need to hear in light of the trials that await us. You may be enduring a trial even now.
Rick Phillips was an assistant pastor at Tenth Presbyterian Church during the last years of the ministry of James Boice. Boice was preaching through this very section of Revelation when he learned of his cancer, and that he only had a few weeks to live. He announced how quickly the cancer was taking over his body. He was not going to be able to preach or do much speaking at all. But he did leave them with one final word of encouragement that God is sovereign and good. After making the announcement and asking the congregation to stand for the opening hymn, Boice set down his hymnal for the last time and began to walk to the back of the stage where he could slip out.
Phillips As he approached the door, he passed in front of me as I was struggling with my emotions. Boice stopped, looked me in the eyes, grasped my arm, and, smiling, said, “Press on, brother. Fight the good fight.” That…is the message of Revelation 5…Let us press on in faith with the priestly work of worship, witness, and prayer for the sake of his kingdom of salvation here on earth.