Monthly Archives: January 2018

The Divinity of the Lamb (Enthronement 7)

We noted in the previous blog that Jesus Christ in the New Testament is included by the apostles in the one God of Judaism. He is not a “second God,” neither is He the Father Himself. He is somehow distinct from the Father, yet in the full sense included in all that monotheism asserts about the distinctions between the one God and everything else (John 1:1-5, 18). This led the church fathers to the traditional formulation of the Trinity, in which God is one, yet in another sense is three. Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully human, one person with two natures. The word trinity does not appear in the Bible, but the traditional doctrine is thoroughly grounded in the evidence of the New Testament text.

One of the strongest biblical evidences for the divinity or deity of Christ is found in the progression of five hymns in the vision of Revelation four and five. The first two hymns are found in chapter four (Rev. 4:8, 11). In them praise is offered to the One sitting on the throne because He created all things. The third and fourth hymns, on the other hand, are offered in praise of the Lamb (Rev 5:9-12) because He was slain and purchased humanity for God. The fifth hymn offers worship to both the One sitting on the throne and to the Lamb (Rev. 5:13). The fifth hymn is the clear climax of the series, in which the Lamb joins the Father on His throne and receives the acclamation of the whole universe.

A second feature of these hymns also highlights the climactic nature of fifth hymn (5:13). The last hymn is the climax of a grand crescendo of singing. Each hymn is offered by a larger and larger group of singers. The first hymn is sung by the four living creatures (Rev. 4:8). The second hymn is sung by the twenty-four elders (4:11). The third hymn is sung by both the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders together (Rev 5:9-10). The fourth hymn is sung by more than a hundred million angels (Rev. 5:11-12). The fifth hymn is sung by every creature in the entire universe (Rev 5:13). So the fifth hymn is the climax of a great crescendo as all attention focuses on the throne, affirming the divinity of the Lamb.

Why does the divinity of Christ matter? Because if Jesus is fully God, then the human life He lived on this earth is the most important event in the history of the human race. God Himself came down and lived among us (Rev 1:1-3, 14). In the humanity of Jesus we see the character of God on full display in a form that we can understand. This means that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the clearest revelation of God that human beings have ever had or ever could have. It means that when we have seen Jesus, we have truly seen the Father as well. If the Father Himself came down to earth and lived a human existence among us, He would be no different than Jesus was. Jesus Christ clarifies the picture of God in a way that nothing else possibly could.

The Worthiness of the Lamb (Enthronement 6)

The Lamb is brought forward as the one who is uniquely worthy to open the scroll (Rev. 5:5-6). The key qualities of the Lamb in the chapter are two-fold. The Lamb is slain, which is a pointer to His human nature. On the other hand, the Lamb is worshiped along with the one sitting on the throne (Rev. 5:13). This points to His divinity. The Lamb is represented as both human and divine, a God-man who is unique in all of history. Of all created beings (see John 1:3, 14, where it is not Jesus the person who is created, but His human nature), only the human Jesus could fully reveal the character of God and atone for human sin, because he was fully equal with God. So embedded in this symbolic vision is a profound Christology, a doctrine of Jesus Christ, who is both fully human and fully divine.

It is unlikely that the earliest Christians had the kind of sophisticated and complicated view of Jesus that the church fathers developed in the fourth and fifth centuries. But one can see the essential elements of that sophisticated view in Revelation five. Jesus is one person with two natures, one fully divine and the other fully human. It is not clear from Revelation five alone whether Jesus’ divinity was inherent to His person or whether it was somehow bestowed upon him at His enthronement. That Jesus’ divine nature was there from eternity and that His person was distinct from the Father is outlined in the opening chapter of John (John 1:1-5, 18).

The earliest Christians were Jews, strict monotheists. How did they come to accommodate a second “person” (the Greek word persona did not originally carry all the weight that the church fathers put on it) into their view of God? It is clear that they did not think in terms of two gods, that would have been a total abandonment of Judaism, something they were clearly not willing to do (Acts 15). But as they became convinced of the two natures of Jesus, they included Him in their understanding of the one God of Judaism.

This is clear the attributes applied to Jesus in the New Testament. The one God of Judaism was distinguished from everything else in the universe by four characteristics. He was the sole Creator, the unique Ruler of the universe, He had a unique name and was the only One worthy of worship. In the New Testament, all four of these characteristics are applied to Jesus. Two of these are clearly described in Revelation five. The Lamb is acclaimed as in the midst of the throne, sharing in the rulership of the universe, and is clearly considered worthy of worship (Rev 5:12-13), something that is appropriate only with God (Rev 19:10). Jesus is seen as distinct from the angels and worthy of the attributes Jews attributed only to God (Rev 19:10; 22:9).

The Meaning of the Sealed Scroll (Enthronement 5)

Students of Revelation through the centuries have some up with some 125 different explanations for the sealed scroll of Revelation 5. The more solid biblical options include a last will and testament, the constitution of Israel (Deuteronomy), a record of human history, an emblem of the Lamb’s right to rule, a record of human deeds, the Book of Life, and a list of rewards and punishments for human behavior (that would make it a scroll of judgment).

Many Seventh-day Adventists, based on a comment in a letter of Ellen White, suggest that the scroll contains the history of God’s providences, and the prophetic history of the nations and the church. If one takes that approach, the sealed scroll would represent the plan of salvation. John weeps (Rev. 5:4) because the plan of salvation will not be implemented unless someone is found worthy to open the scroll.

My own view, in harmony with Stefanovic, is that the sealed scroll must be understood in the context of an enthronement scene in heaven on the day of Pentecost. In some sense it could have elements of all the above. But in particular it represents God’s covenant with Israel (both OT and NT) that is ratified in the context of the death of Israel’s Messiah, the Lamb, Jesus Christ. Taking the scroll demonstrates the Lamb’s right to rule and to implement the covenant, including its rewards and consequences (further elaborated in the four horsemen of Revelation six). He is in control of history and implements God’s plan of salvation. The acclamation of the heavenly host (Rev 5:12-13) anticipates the great acclamation at the End (Rev 15:3-4) which affirms the character of God as a major element of the plan of salvation.

How do we know the book (Rev. 5:2, Greek: biblion) is a scroll and not more typical of books today? The codex, the form of a book where pages are glued together at one side, was an invention that took place somewhere around the time of Revelation. Before that books were rolled up scrolls or clay tablets. The form of the book in Revelation 5 and 6 is affirmed in Revelation 6:14 where the “sky receded like a scroll (Greek: biblion) rolling up.” For the author of Revelation a book and a scroll were one and the same thing. So sealing the scroll (by wrapping a piece of cloth around it and sealing it with wax) would hide the entire content of the scroll. All the seals would have to be broken before the content would be revealed. That means that the events unleashed when the seals were broken in chapter six are not the content of the scroll but events that are unleashed when each seal is broken. The scroll cannot be opened until all seven seals are broken.

The Identity of the Twenty-Four Elders (Enthronement 4)

The number twelve in the Bible is often used as a symbol of God’s people. The most natural reading of the twenty-four elders, therefore, is that they represent God’s people on earth in their totality from both Old and New Testament times. There are a number of biblical evidences that support this assertion. For starters, in Matthew 19:28 Jesus tells His disciples that they would one day sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. This verse ties together the number twelve (half of twenty-four), thrones, the apostles, and the twelve tribes.

In Rev. 21:12 the names of the twelves tribes are written on the gates of the New Jerusalem, while the twelve foundations have the names of the twelve apostles written on them (Rev. 21:14). This shows that the association between the number twelve, the tribes and the apostles can all be combined together in the book of Revelation. The number twenty-four in Revelation 4 and 5 adds twelve to twelve, as occurs also in Revelation 21.

In Revelation 7:4-8, furthermore, the people of God are described in terms of twelve times twelve times a thousand (144,000). The multiple of twelve is mentioned also in the height of the walls of the New Jerusalem, they are 144 cubits high (21:17). Combining all of this evidence confirms that the best explanation of the twenty-four elders is that they represent the people of God in both Old and New Testaments.

The most popular rival to the interpretation that sees the twenty-four elders as a symbol of the totality of God’s people is that they refer instead to a group of angelic beings along the lines of the four living creatures and the ten thousand times ten thousands of 5:11. The fact that they are in heaven and associated with other groups of angels stands in favor of such a view. But there are serious problems with such a conclusion. The twenty-four elders wear victory crowns (Greek: stephanos), are seated on thrones and are called elders. In all of the ancient world elsewhere angels are never depicted as wearing crowns, they are never seated on thrones and they are never called elders. If that were John’s intention here, it would be unique in the ancient world, which would require him to spell out his intention. It is not the way these symbols would naturally be read back then.

I conclude, therefore, that the twenty-four elders are not a group of angelic beings, but represent redeemed humanity taking up its role as “kings and priests” in the heavenly throne room. Since this scene occurs in the context of Jesus ascension to heaven, they elders may refer to the select group of “saints” that were raised from the dead at the time of the crucifixion and ascended with Jesus to heaven. But Jesus delays His entrance into the throne room to allow the elders to be seen there first and to be part of the entourage which welcomes the Lamb back to the throne.