Interpreting Revelation 5 as an account of the moment that the Most High created the Lamb, and illuminating the reasons why the sacrifice was necessary.
Attribution for the maps of the European Union.
Passion week is always a struggle for me, and it was made harder this year in preparing to discuss Revelation 5. The book shines light into the darkness, and what is seen there is painful.
So before we begin, I want to explain some things about the crucifixion. When we love, a great power stands over us. It waits for us to prove that we won’t become selfish. Jesus proved that on the cross: he loved even those that murdered him. When the book says “the sky became dark,” don’t imagine that it was a solar eclipse. The writers of the book knew about such things, and would have written “the moon passed before the sun” if that was what had happened.
No, it became dark because the sun focused its power and sent it through Jesus.
What was that power used for? All of us that carry a burden for love do as Jesus commanded: we pick up our cross. When we reach the limits of our strength, in reaching back to the cross, we tap into the power that came from the sun. It finds us because we seek to serve others as Jesus served us. It recognizes the spirit of Christ in us, and gives us all the power that we can bear.
This is one of the great graces of love: it creates bridges through time, and sends power, wisdom and strength through them.
In his second epistle, Peter writes that to Christ “a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day.” Jesus was in the tomb for two days. It has been two thousand years since his death. We are close, my friends, very close. Love Returns, and then will return to his age, rising and making true his promise that his disciples would see the kingdom made real.
When the American colonies earned their independence from England, they didn’t make the Constitution right away. Each state feared that the other states might unite to harm it. This was because, while all the states agreed that the king was a tyrant, each state had its own way of life. The south was organized around large plantations worked by slaves; the north grew food on family farms to support manufacturing and trade in large cities. The South was populated by mostly English settlers, while the Northern population came from many European nations.
For this reason, the first federal government – known as the Continental Congress – was limited to the powers used to win the Revolutionary War. It led the state armies against enemies, negotiated with other countries, managed the western territories, and (to be completely honest) begged for money. What it never had was the power to make the states do anything they didn’t choose to do.
The states knew that the government was too weak. In foreign affairs, a trade pact with Britain was needed, but Britain tried to split the states by dealing with each separately. The states refused to fund debt payments, and began to print their own money when the national currency lost value as a result. Without funding, the army was small, and unable to provide protection against Native Americans, foreign powers, or internal rebellions. Finally, the lack of a federal court left the states to argue without end.
The problem was that no national government had yet been designed that did not rely upon the authority of a king. The US Constitution was the first plan for government that included a temporary executive.
How does this work? The US Constitution grants presidential power only if a majority agrees on the person. Even more, the Constitution assures losers that if the president doesn’t deliver, they don’t have to wait until he dies to replace him. They’ll have a chance in four years.
In coming up with this plan, the writers of the Constitution drew upon plans used by the states that shared power between executives, legislatures, and courts. In Europe, dominated by kings for thousands of years, the problem was far harder. It was only after Europe had destroyed itself twice – in World War One and World War Two – that its leaders were ready to form a European Union to build trust and maintain peace.
Resistance to good relationships reflects the fact that love changes us. In early America, the states had different attitudes to slavery. They were right to fear that difference. It came to a head seventy years later in the most deadly of our nation’s wars, the Civil War.
In people, resistance to love is seen in alcoholics and drug abusers who often seek treatment only after they have lost everything to their habit.
Given these difficulties and facing a heaven divided among twenty-four proud angels, how might love bring them together? The answer is in Book 5 of Revelation.
In reading these passages, we should remember that John is in the presence of all truth. This means that when the answer to the angel’s divisions is presented, it brings its whole history with it. It’s like bringing up the Wikipedia article on “Catherine the Great.” Wikipedia gives us the whole story of Catherine’s life, and John sees the whole story of the Lamb.
First, the Most High presents the problem:
Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?”
[NIV Rev. 5:1-2]
No angel steps forward. A great sadness mounts, causing John to weep. Why? What is in this scroll? That is revealed only when the seals are broken. For now, we are introduced to the hero of the story.
Announced with great fanfare, the hero is not what we might expect:
Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne.
[NIV Rev. 5:6]
The Lamb does not bargain for power, but simply takes the scroll from the hand of the Most High. In awe, the four great living creatures and all the angels bow down and praise the Lamb that is slain.
What is going on here? Unconditional Love wishes to do something for the angels, but they resist. The angels know that they will never know love unless they discipline themselves to receive it. But none of them can stand in the presence of Love. The only way forward is for love to create something from itself that they can use to learn to be loved. That is the Lamb.
The Lamb was created from the Most High out of itself. Described as “the Lion of Judah” and “the root of David”, it carries qualities that were known to John in the stories of King David: courage and loyalty. David’s courage was shown as a youth when he fought against Goliath. His loyalty was shown when – after long persecution – David did not take power by killing King Saul. These two qualities allow the Lamb to touch the scroll without being corrupted.
What is the wound born by the Lamb? We might imagine that the Most High keeps the angels away from the throne, but the angels may also be like the states of the Continental Congress, unwilling to grant authority to Love.
Anyone that has felt love knows the yearning to be with the beloved. What hurts is rejection – to be told “Leave me alone. Go away!” This is the wound that the Lamb bears.
The Most High cannot force the angels to accept it. It persisted, though, for billions of years, slowly wearing down their resistance and fear. It does not bind them, but holds them tenderly, hoping that they will surrender themselves to each other in ever more wondrous relationships.
As people, when know when that happens. A man and a woman marry and raise children. Nations arise to produce buildings, roads and schools.
But marriages turn sour. Nations use up their natural resources, and turn their strength to conquest that destroys everything needed for life.
This is another wound born by the Lamb – the wound of its power turned to destruction.
The betrayal of love is the hardest part of the story of the Jesus known to John. Jesus came to renew the Covenant with the Most High, to overthrow the Law that tried to prevent sin, replacing it with the healing power of Love. But Jesus was rejected by the people he loved. He was betrayed, beaten and nailed to a cross to die.
Jesus brought the spirit of the Lamb to earth in human form. He bore in his flesh the full burden of love’s sorrow, and through his courage and determination found the means through flesh to heal it. As the elders sing:
“…with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”
[NIV Rev. 5:9-10]
But why is the suffering necessary? Why didn’t the angels simply accept Love from the beginning?
That is shown in the response of the lesser angels. John numbers them as “ten thousand times ten thousand”, which is to say beyond counting. They ignore their rulers, rushing forward to praise the Lamb.
Is this what Love would desire?
Think of the mother with her newborn, kissing every little part – the fingers, the toes, the plump knees, the nose. She strokes the hair. If given these parts separately, though, would she be still so happy? Obviously not!
So with the Most High. He seeks to glorify the elders, for if they were cast down, all their skills and wisdom and knowledge would be lost!
This is why Love does its work so slowly – to give the angels time to learn to manage their yearning. As we will see soon, that begins by making them partners in the work done by the Lamb.
A Chinese wise man named Lao Tsu once said:
When the best leader’s work is done,
The people say “We did this ourselves.”
There is no greater leader than the Most High, and this is his Path. Guiding us from heaven, through the Lamb he suffers our failures, asking nothing of us in return but that we allow joy and compassion to rule our relationships.
Let’s summarize today’s study.
Even when we know a relationship will be good for us, we may resist it. A new relationship brings change. Even if we become something greater, the self that is will die. For that reason, change is hard. To avoid it, nations wage war, and people carry on with bad habits that drive others away.
The Most High, which is Unconditional Love, recognizes this, and shields us from its power until we are ready to change. To help us prepare to change, it created the Lamb that became Jesus to show us that love brings with it beautiful and powerful gifts.
Our journey is shared with the Angels. The joy and honor they shower upon the Lamb should be a sign to us as well. Love is good. All the time.