Jesus is the “slain Lamb,” the true Messiah of Israel sent by God to redeem humanity and “shepherd” the nations.
The Book of Revelation is addressed to the “churches of Asia” and begins with salutations from God, the “seven spirits that are before His throne,” and especially from Jesus Christ, the “faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” These labels not only establish his royal “credentials,” but point to how he obtained sovereignty over the earth.
“Faithful witness” refers to his sacrificial death and “firstborn of the dead” to his resurrection. This is borne out when the passage describes how he “loosed us from our sins” and made us a “kingdom of priests” by “his blood” – (Revelation 1:4-6).
Not coincidentally, he reiterated this claim to the church at Smyrna, where “my faithful witness, Antipas” was martyred and the congregation was facing even more “tribulation” – (Revelation 2:9-10).
At the end of his letters to the “churches of Asia,” Jesus promised that every saint who “overcame” would be seated to reign with him on his throne, “just as I overcame and took my seat on my Father’s throne.” And he “overcame” and received his right to rule through his death and resurrection – (Revelation 3:21).
This sets the stage for what is arguably the most pivotal vision of the book. After describing the “throne” at the center of the universe, John saw a “scroll sealed shut with seven seals” in the right hand of the “one who sits on the throne.” When no one could be found in the entire Cosmos who was “worthy” to open it, John began to weep bitterly – (Revelation 5:1-4).
At that point, one of the “twenty-four elders” ordered him to cease weeping, “for the lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome to open the scroll and its seven seals.” THAT is what John HEARD. But instead of a lion, what he “saw” was a “Lamb standing, as though slain.” What he “saw” interpreted what he first “heard.” Jesus is the Messiah from Judah, the son of David destined to rule the nations, but he fulfills that role as the “slain Lamb” – (Revelation 5:5-5).
In doing this, Revelation subverts many traditional and popular expectations about a militaristic and conquering Messiah. The Greek term rendered “overcome” can also mean “conquer,” but Jesus has “conquered and qualified to reign from the Davidic throne by sacrificing his own life rather than taking the lives of his enemies.
This is the first time he is called “Lamb” in Revelation. Elsewhere, the name “Jesus” occurs fourteen times (7 x 2) and the title “Christ” seven times (7 x 1), and not coincidentally, both numbers are multiples of seven. Yet from this point forward, “Lamb” becomes the primary designation for Jesus, right up to the final vision of New Jerusalem, appearing a total of twenty-eight times (7 x 4). And in the book, the number ‘7’ points to completion and the number ‘4’ to that which is universal (e.g., the “four corners of the earth”). Thus, most likely, the mention of “Lamb” twenty-eight times points to his sovereignty over all things. In contrast, neither “lion” nor his descent from “David” is ever mentioned again.
Immediately upon his arrival at the “throne,” the “Lamb” took the scroll and began to “open its seven seals.” That his elevation to the “throne” was based on his sacrificial death was confirmed when the “four living creatures” and the “twenty-four elders” sang a “song” declaring him “worthy” to open the scroll because “you were slain and purchased for God with your blood men from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, and made them a kingdom, priests for our God.”
Moreover, this “song” of praise was followed by a myriad of voices from throughout the creation declaring the “Lamb that has been slain” worthy to receive all power and dominion – (Revelation 5:11-14).
As he began to reign from the “throne,” Jesus did not cease to be the “slain Lamb” or transform himself into an all-powerful tyrant. In chapter 6, it is the “Lamb” who breaks open the first six “seals,” not the roaring “lion of Judah.”
This does not mean that he is no longer connected to or concerned with Israel. In chapter 7, the “servants of God” are “sealed,” twelve thousand males from each of the “twelve tribes of Israel.” Not just from Judah, but from the entire nation of Israel. But that is the “number” that John “heard,” a total of 144,000 Israelites. But when he looked, he “saw” was a multitude so vast that “no man could number them,” and it was comprised of men and women redeemed from every nation and people. As before, what John “saw” interpreted what he first “heard” – (Revelation 7:1-8).
Yahweh always intended for Israel to become the “first-fruits” of the earth. If the nation kept His covenant, He would make Israel His very own “possession from among all peoples, for all the earth is mine, and you will be for Me a kingdom of priests” to mediate His light in all the earth.
What Israel failed to do the “slain Lamb” accomplished. In the interpretation provided in chapter 7, the image of the 144,000 males from the “tribes of Israel” is transformed into a vast multitude of people from every nation that have “washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb,” and they now stand before him in New Jerusalem, where the “Lamb…shepherds and guides them to fountains of living water.” The original call of Israel has not been abandoned, but instead, transformed by the “Lamb” into something far grander and more glorious than anyone could have imagined – (Revelation 7:9-17).
Later, the same group was seen “standing with the Lamb on Mount Zion,” where they were singing a “new song before the throne.” No one else could learn the song, only those men who had been “redeemed from humanity” as a “first-fruit for God and the Lamb” – (Revelation 14:1-5).
When Satan was expelled from heaven, a great voice declared victory. The “accuser of the brethren” had been cast out of heaven. This was accomplished when the messianic “son” was caught up to the “throne,” pointing to the same reality as the image of the “slain Lamb” who approached before the “throne.” And the “brethren” overcame the Devil “by the blood of the Lamb,” not through brute force or military might – (Revelation 12:1-11).
And the saints also “overcame” Satan by “the word of their testimony, and because they loved not their lives unto the death.” This points to their faithfulness when witnessing to their neighbors and before their persecutors, even when doing so meant deprivation and even death.
The “slain Lamb,” is certainly the Davidic Messiah promised to Israel. As the Psalmist predicted and Revelation confirms, He is the one destined to “shepherd all the nations with a scepter of iron.” Only, John has followed the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible which changed the original verb for “rule” to the Greek term for “shepherd.” Jesus does not tyrannize the nations by shattering them with his great iron “scepter.” Instead, he uses it to “shepherd” them.
And THAT begins to explain how the “nations” and even the “kings of the earth” are found in the book’s final vision offering worship to the “Lamb” in “New Jerusalem.”
The “shepherding” work of the “Lamb” is seen again in the vision of the “rider on the white horse.” He was riding across the heavens with his army, “judging and making war.” The members of his army were all clothed in priestly robes made from “fine linen, white and pure.” This identified them with the saints who were redeemed by the “blood of the Lamb” and constituted a “kingdom of priest” – (Revelation 19:11-21).
The “rider” was called “faithful and true,” leaving no doubt that he represents Jesus. But the only “weapon” he carried was the “sword” that flashed from his mouth. It was identified as the “word of God,” and with it, he was “shepherding” the nations. And rather than a sword hanging over his thigh was a name written, “King of kings and Lord of lords.”
What is most remarkable is that the rider’s robe was stained with blood BEFORE he engaged in “combat” with the “beast” and his armies. The blood did not belong to any of the enemies he was poised to slay with his great “sharp sword.” Yes, he would “tread the winepress of the wrath of God,” but he had not yet done so. So, whose blood was it, and how did it get there?
The appellation “king of kings” was applied previously to the “Lamb.” The kings of the earth ally themselves with the “Beast from the Abyss” to wage war with Jesus, but it was the “Lamb” who conquered them “because he is Lord of lords, and King of kings” – He holds that awesome position because he is the “slain Lamb.”
Finally, in the vision of “New Jerusalem,” he is never called “lion,” “Messiah,” or even “Jesus.” The city is first represented as the “bride of the Lamb.” It was built on twelve foundation stones that bore the names of the “twelve apostles of the Lamb.” There was no temple in it for the “Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb were its temple.” Neither was there any need for outside illumination for the “lamp of the city was the Lamb.” The “nations” and the “kings of the earth” were there, everyone whose name was “written in the Lamb’s book of life.”
And the “river of water of life” flowed from the “throne” and from the “Lamb,” and the “tree of life” brought “healing to the nations.” The “curse” caused by Adam’s sin was no more, and the “throne of God and of the Lamb” was in it.
Not surprisingly, “Lamb” occurs seven times in the final vision. Jesus does not at any point cease to be the “slain Lamb.” It is in that role that he governs the nations and redeems men from every nation. As the author of Hebrews wrote, “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever.” That did not refer to his eternal nature but to the fact that the very same Jesus who died for our sins is now the heir who, “having achieved the purification of sins, sat down on the right hand of the majesty on high,” where he has reigned ever since.
By transforming the traditional image of the Davidic Messiah into the “slain Lamb,” Revelation undermines every concept of him as a militaristic hero who coerces the nations into submission. In fact, that is the modus operandi of the “Beast from the sea,” not that of the “Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world.” Jesus is the Great Shepherd who uses his “iron scepter” to redeem the nations, not to grind them into dust.