The Selection of the Worthy One
and one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.” And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. (5:5–7)
Because his tears were inappropriate, one of the elders told John to stop weeping. Then he drew John’s attention to a new Person emerging on the scene, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David. No human and no angel can redeem the universe, but there is One who can. This Person, of course, is the glorified, exalted Lord Jesus Christ, described here by two of His messianic titles. The title the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah derives from Jacob’s blessing on the tribe of Judah given in Genesis 49:8–10:
Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down to you. Judah is a lion’s whelp; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He couches, he lies down as a lion, and as a lion, who dares rouse him up? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
Out of the lionlike tribe of Judah would come a strong, fierce, and deadly ruler—the Messiah, Jesus Christ (Heb. 7:14). The Jews of Jesus’ day expected the Messiah to be powerful and to liberate them from the heavy hand of their oppressors, at that time the Roman rulers. It was partly because Jesus failed to live up to those expectations that they rejected and killed Him. He had no political aspirations (cf. John 6:15; 18:36), nor did He use His miraculous powers against the Roman oppressors. Instead, He offered a spiritual kingdom.
Tragically, the Jews completely misjudged their Messiah. He is a lion, and will tear up and destroy their enemies. But He will do so according to His timetable, not theirs. His lionlike judgment of His enemies awaits the yet-future day that He has chosen—the day that begins to unfold in Revelation chapter 5.
Jesus is also seen here as the Root or descendant of David (cf. 22:16; Jer. 23:5–6; 33:15–17). That messianic title derives from Isaiah 11:1, 10: “Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.… Then it will come about in that day that the nations will resort to the root of Jesse, who will stand as a signal for the peoples; and His resting place will be glorious.” As the genealogies of Matthew 1 and Luke 3 reveal, Jesus was a descendant of David both on His father’s and on His mother’s side. In Romans 1:3 the apostle Paul said that Jesus was “born of a descendant of David according to the flesh.” The term “Son of David” is a messianic title used frequently in the Gospels (e.g., Matt. 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30–31; 21:9, 15; 22:42; Mark 12:35).
Jesus is the One worthy to take the scroll because of who He is, the rightful King from David’s loins; what He is, the Lion from Judah’s tribe with the power to destroy His enemies; and also because of what He has done—He has overcome. At the cross He defeated sin (Rom. 8:3), death (Heb. 2:14–15), and all the forces of hell (Col. 2:15; 1 Pet. 3:19). Believers are overcomers through His overcoming (Col. 2:13–14; 1 John 5:5).
As he looked at the incredible scene before him, the glowing, blazing reflection of God’s glory emanating from the throne, the bright green rainbow surrounding it, the brilliant pavement on which it sat, the flashes of lightning and peals of thunder foreshadowing fearsome divine judgment, the worshiping four living creatures and twenty-four elders, John’s attention was irresistibly drawn to what he saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders. Instead of the anticipated mighty Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the all-conquering Davidic King, John saw a Lamb. The Lord Jesus could not be the Lion of judgment, or the King of glory, unless He was first “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
Arnion (Lamb), the diminutive form of arnos, refers to a little lamb, or a pet lamb. The imagery derives from the Passover, when Jewish families were required to keep the sacrificial lamb as a household pet for four days before sacrificing it (Ex. 12:3–6). While every lamb sacrificed under the Old Covenant pointed toward Christ, He is only referred to as a lamb once in the Old Testament (Isa. 53:7). In the New Testament outside of Revelation, He is only called a lamb four times (John 1:29, 36; Acts 8:32; 1 Pet. 1:19). But in Revelation He appears as the Lamb thirty-one times.
Several features indicate that this was no ordinary lamb. First, He was standing, alive, on His feet, yet looking as if He had been slain. The scars from the deadly wound this Lamb received were clearly visible; yet He was alive. Though demons and wicked men conspired against Him and killed Him, He rose from the dead, thus defeating and triumphing over His enemies.
At first glance it seems a disastrous mismatch to pit a lamb against a dragon (12:9) and the hordes of hellish locusts (9:3), frogs (16:13), and human soldiers (19:19) who follow the dragon. But this Lamb is more than just a willing sacrificial offering for sin; He is also a Lion and the “King of kings, and Lord of lords” (19:16). He has already defeated Satan (1 John 3:8; cf. John 12:31; 16:11; Rom. 16:20; Heb. 2:14) and his forces (Col. 2:15; 1 Pet. 3:22) at the cross and is about to consummate that victory.
Another feature about this Lamb that John noted was that it had seven horns. In imagery drawn from the animal world, horns in Scripture symbolize strength and power (e.g., 1 Sam. 2:1, 10; 2 Sam. 22:3; Pss. 18:2; 75:10; 89:17, 24; Jer. 48:25; Mic. 4:13). Seven, the number of perfection, symbolizes the Lamb’s complete, absolute power. The Lamb in John’s vision also had seven eyes, again denoting perfect omniscience and complete understanding and knowledge. Those eyes, John noted, represented the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. As noted in the discussions of 1:4 and 4:5 earlier in this volume, the phrase seven Spirits of God describes the Holy Spirit in all His fullness. Here, as in 4:5, the Holy Spirit’s fullness is seen in relation to judgment, as He goes out into all the earth searching for guilty, unrepentant sinners to be judged (cf. John 16:8).
Verse 7 records the final, monumental act in the heavenly scene. Everything John has been describing since this vision began in 4:1 had been building toward this moment. This views the great, culminating act of history, the act that will signal the end of man’s day. The ultimate goal of redemption is about to be seen; paradise will be regained, Eden restored. Before John’s wondering eyes the Lamb came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.
This is the same scene described by Daniel in Daniel 7:13–14, although Daniel does not mention the scroll:
I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.
The worthy One has arrived to take back what is rightfully His.
5 John’s sorrow is assuaged. One of the elders announces that there is one who has “triumphed” (nikaō, “overcome, conquer, win a victory,” GK 3771—the same word as in 2:7; 3:21; etc.). He has triumphed because of his death (v. 9). Two figurative titles are used of the one who is worthy—“the Lion of the tribe of Judah” and “the Root of David.” Both are familiar OT messianic titles (Ge 49:9–10; cf. Isa 11:1, 10; Jer 23:5; 33:5; Rev 22:16). But they are linked together only here and in the Qumran literature (cf. 4Q252; Trudinger, “Some Observations Concerning the Text,” 88). In Jewish apocalyptic literature contemporary with John, the figure of a lion was used to designate the conquering Messiah who would destroy Rome (4 Ezra 11:38). Close attention should be paid to John’s understanding of the role and function of the Messiah, observing where it is similar to the Jewish understanding of the Messiah and where it differs.
The worthiness of One (vv. 5–7)
John’s weeping is halted by these words from one of the elders: ‘Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals’ (v. 5). And John sees ‘a Lamb as though it had been slain’ take the scroll out of the right hand of the One on the throne (vv. 6–7).
This ‘Lamb’ is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. He is ‘the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David’ (v. 5). When he came to earth, he came as a descendant of Judah and of David. He came as a lion, which means he came to conquer all foes that would thwart the purpose of God.
But, amazingly enough, it is in the capacity of ‘a Lamb’ that the Lord Jesus is able to take the scroll. The lamb is, of course, the animal of sacrifice. Although innocent, it was put to death, symbolically taking the penalty that was due to the one who was offering it. Animals could not truly pay for human sin. They could only picture and anticipate the One who could do so—Jesus, the perfect Lamb. In this vision, John sees him with seven horns and seven eyes (v. 6). As we have seen, the number seven represents perfection, while horns are to be associated with power and eyes with discernment. Christ, then, is perfect in power and perfect in discernment. His perfect discernment is due to the fact that he has ‘seven Spirits’, that is, he is perfectly filled with the Holy Spirit.
By virtue of his death on the cross, Jesus is uniquely qualified to explain what has been and will be happening to his people in this world for this reason: they are his people. And they are his people by virtue of his death—that is how he made them his people.
5:5–6 / The situation is not as hopeless as John first imagines: one of the elders points out the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David. This title combines two ot texts (Gen. 49:9; Isa. 11:1, 10), forming the biblical promise of a future messianic deliverer. From his heavenly vantage point, the elder identifies the one who already has triumphed. His Christology is formed “from above,” where the results of Christ’s triumph are already realized. Since his perspective accords with Jewish expectation of a messianic lion (cf. 4 Ezra 11:37–12:34), he may well provide a foil for John’s Christian (and for Jews, scandalous) faith in a crucified Christ.
The Greek word for Christ’s “triumph” is nikaō from which “overcomer” comes. The elder’s confirmation of Christ’s triumph responds to the earlier messages to the seven churches in which the triumphant Christ exhorts the believers to “overcome.” Now the reader understands the full force of Christ’s exhortation: the hope of the church’s eschatological triumph with Christ is rooted in the heavenly confirmation that he has already triumphed over the same evil powers which now threaten the church. The Lord overcame the powers of sin and death, and so will his true disciples (cf. 14:1–5).
Yet, John, whose Christology is formed “from below” and whose apprehension of the Lamb is formed by the traditions of the historical Jesus, does not see at first glance what the elder sees: he finds not a Lion but a Lamb. Neither does the Lamb appear as one who has triumphed but as if he had been slain. Here is, then, the scandal and the foolishness of Christian proclamation: Christ is revealed as a slain Lamb, and not a triumphant Lion (cf. 1 Cor. 1:22–24); a crucified one fulfills the ot promise of messiah. Concerning this interpretative crux in Revelation, Mounce concludes that “in one brilliant stroke John portrays the central theme of nt revelation—victory through sacrifice” (Revelation, p. 144).
It might be that John is at first confused by what he saw; there is a certain tentativeness in his words, as if it had been slain. His is the same ambivalence found within his audience, who on the one hand confess with the elder a triumphant Christology “from above,” and who, on the other hand, share in the costliness of a servant Christology “from below.” Rhetorically, this moment in John’s christophany, full of tension and ambiguity, underscores both the spiritual crisis and its solution for John’s readership.
John, at first confused, does find the slain Lamb standing, evidently no longer dead. He also finds him in the center of the throne of God. Thus, it is where John finds the Lamb, as much as what he finds there, that confirms him as worthy to open the scroll: the Lamb is one with God (cf. 5:13; John 10:30–38). Further, John’s initial ambivalence calls attention to a reversal in the way power is conventionally defined: Lordship is given to a Lamb.
Upon closer examination, John finds that he has seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God—the specific indicators which link the Lamb to God’s kingdom as the mediator of its power and truth. The Lamb currently conveys the truth and power of God’s reign to all the earth through the sevenfold Spirit of God, the Paraclete (cf. John 14:17; 16:7–11). This collection of images envisions the conflict between violent death and triumphant might and portrays the Christian idea of a slain but exalted Christ. At a more implicit level, the scene also portrays the experience of Christian martyrs who one day will be enthroned with Christ (cf. Rev. 6:9–11; 20:4).
5:5. One of the twenty-four elders now answers the question originally asked by the mighty angel in verse 2. First, John is ordered, “Do not weep!” or more exactly, “Stop crying.” Someone has at last been found who is able to open the scroll. John hears two unique titles for this worthy one: the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David. (Later he sees this one as a Lamb.) Neither of these exact phrases is found anywhere else in the Bible, although there are similar ones. In Jacob’s blessing on his sons, he proclaimed, “You are a lion’s cub, O Judah; you return from the prey, my son” (Gen. 49:9). This is often taken as a prophecy that Judah’s line would provide kings for the entire nation of Israel, ultimately fulfilled by the Messiah.
In Isaiah 11:10, the coming Messiah is called the ancestor or “root of Jesse,” who was King David’s father: “In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples.” (In Isaiah 11:1, the same Messiah is called the Branch or descendant of Jesse. How the Messiah could be both Root and Branch of Jesse was a mystery until it was fulfilled in Jesus.) On the basis of Isaiah 11:10 we understand that the “Root [ancestor] of Jesse” is also the Root [ancestor] of David. The two titles of Jesus, then, point in the direction of both his deity (as the ultimate divine source of David) and his humanity (as the royal lion from Judah).