Through three chapters of the book of Revelation, things are tame enough (although the vision of the apocalyptic Christ in chapter 1 is a nice dousing of cold water). Most of our time has been spent with messages sent to seven churches, messages for the churches to endure suffering and rediscover the love that made them the Church in the first place. But in chapter 4, Revelation begins to earn its reputation for being colorful and bizarre. And I don’t use the word “colorful” unintentionally. John tells of the next stage of his vision, of being suddenly thrust into the very throne room of heaven. Yes, the real throne, the real power over our world belongs to God and to no one else. As John looks to the throne, he doesn’t describe the one seated there in bodily terms. He describes an intense experience of lights and sounds. Jasper, carnelian, ruby, emerald, crystal. Flashes of lightening and peals of thunder. The presence of God is not something to be articulated with pencil and sketchpad, but experienced and overwhelmed by.
After a moment for his eyes and ears to adjust, John notices that surrounding God’s throne are 24 smaller thrones on which are seated “elders,” representatives of God’s people. Then, there are four strange creatures present, each with six wings, many eyes, and a different type of face (one lion, one ox, one human, and one eagle), representing the variety of created beings on earth. These are singing a song: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.” Then, beginning in Revelation 5, John notices a scroll in the hand of the one on the throne, and there’s a problem: no one has been found who is worthy to take and open this scroll. The scroll contains God’s will to confront and overcome the brokenness in our world, and being the one to open this scroll and initiate God’s will for history is no simple task. It seems no one at all is worthy for undertaking this task. John is in a state of dismay until one of the 24 elders assures him, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah has conquered, so that he can take the scroll and open it.”
But when John looks, he sees not a lion, but a lamb, and a slaughtered lamb at that. Yet, the lamb lives and approaches the throne to receive the scroll. At this revelation of the lamb, those in the throne room immediately fall down and worship and sing: “Worthy are you to take the scroll.” Then, a chorus of angels (thousands upon thousands) joins the praise: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain.” And then the chorus gets even bigger! Every creature in heaven and on earth begins singing: “To the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory!” There is this primal instinct to fall down and burst open with praise at the sight of the little, sweet Lamb. It is not the lion who has evoked these blessings, but the Lamb. The one who has conquered, the one who is worthy above all, is none other than the Lamb. And it is the beauty, the sweetness of the Lamb that brings all of creation to its knees, not because we’re too intimidated to remain standing, but because we’re too in love, too overcome with awe to remain standing. It turns out a lion is not the best image to describe who God is. When all of creation bows down, it is a lamb, the ultimate image of sweetness and tenderness, at the center. That’s who our world belongs to. That’s who will move human history forward according to God’s will. We are placed within the care and power of the Lamb. No one else has any power over us. Do we believe that?