This is what John sees next in his vision:
I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain …Revelation 5:6
And when the Lamb takes the scroll, all of heaven sings a new song:
“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God and they shall reign on the earth.”Revelation 5:9-10
So John turns around expecting to see the victorious Lion of Judah. The lion, of course, is known as a ferocious figure, the king of the jungle and all of that. But when John looks, he doesn’t see a lion at all; he sees a lamb. And this lamb looks as if it has been slain. A back-from-the-dead lamb.
When we put all of this together, we see that the Lion of Judah is actually the Lamb of God.
In some Jewish apocalyptic literature, there appears a figure of a heroic lamb who would come and destroy evil. In various Jewish stories, he fights bulls and treads his enemies underfoot. So in some ways, John’s vision taps into that tradition.
But then again, this image of a slain lamb is radically different. This picture takes us back to the idea of the Passover lamb, which we talked about a few weeks ago. In the book of Exodus, the death of the Passover lamb signaled deliverance from Egyptian bondage. And with His death, Jesus has brought about a New Exodus, as He sets us free from the captivity of Sin.
I like the way N.T. Wright puts it. He says the cross is an exorcism. Jesus came to earth to cast out the evil one, to cast out the demons from our world and to reconcile it back to God once again. And that’s true.
At the temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4, Satan offers Jesus the kingdoms of the world. It seems like a legitimate offer, as if they’re really Satan’s to offer up. But by the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus will say that all authority in heaven and on earth now belongs to Him (Matthew 28:18). Something has happened to dethrone the evil one and to enthrone Jesus.
What happens between Matthew 4 and Matthew 28? The death and resurrection of Jesus.
The evil one is an enemy too powerful for us to defeat. We simply cannot overcome him on our own. We need outside help.
I watched Tombstone the other day; it’s one of my favorite movies. There’s a scene toward the end where Doc Holliday stands in for Wyatt Earp in the showdown vs. the gunslinger Johnny Ringo. And Holliday does this because he knows Wyatt isn’t a fast enough draw to take down Ringo. So he stands in for his friend because he knows the enemy is too great for him.
And this is what Jesus has done for us. He knows that our foe is too great for us, so He goes before us, standing in for us and winning the victory on our behalf. If we’re not careful, we’ll only tell half of the story when it comes to the cross. We’ll confess that Jesus stood in for us and took the penalty in our place — which is 100% true. But He also wins a victory for us in place of all our failures. We need the Lion of Judah to take on the enemy who continues to defeat us over and over again.
But it’s also important to point out that even though Jesus is triumphant, His triumph takes the form of a lamb being slain. To put it another way, Jesus wins a victory, but the only blood that was shed was His own. That’s the kind of Savior we have. He’s the hero who makes the sacrifice.
Jesus infiltrates enemy-occupied territory to bring redemption from the inside-out. Some say He even descended into hell after His death to experience the full weight of sin. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it sure seems like a possibility. Where else would He be in between His death and His resurrection?
Praise be to the triumphant Lion of Judah, who is actually the slain Lamb of God.