Summary: John, in the book of the Revelation has a brilliant vision of heaven in which Jesus as the Lion of Judah and the Lamb Slain is shown as triumphant, sharing his victory over evil with the Christian believer.
THE LION HAS CONQUERED
I once saw an interesting series on television with the title, “When I get to heaven.” A bishop interviewed various personalities about their religious lives and experiences and their expectation of heaven. There was a variety of views but very little was anchored to the only source that is at all authoritative – the Bible, and especially the book of Revelation. It’s a record of visions seen by the Apostle John. It’s been compared to a magnificent sound film. It’s a series of colourful pictures accompanied by sounds, voices and songs. It’s one of these vivid pictures that we’re to focus our attention is upon where we hear the words: ’The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has conquered’ (Rev 5:5). Let’s look first at the:
SCENE that caused John to exclaim: ’the Lion has conquered’. The vision that the Apostle John witnessed is set at the centre of the universe, in heaven. He had to try to describe the indescribable. What he describes in terms of physical, material forms are his means of conveying spiritual truths to Christians from the beginning of the Church at the Day of Pentecost to the Day of the Lord when time gives way to eternity. We mustn’t make the mistake of taking what are obviously symbols or figures of speech as literal descriptions of heavenly things. There can be a great difference between work produced by a photographer and an artist.
Ask both of them to capture a scene and what is the result? The camera operates mechanically and the finished result is predictable dependent on the light, exposure and so on. But an artist communicates an impression of the image he has seen, trying to convey a message. That’s what John has given us in his picture in words inspired by the Holy Spirit. What did John see in his vision? ’I saw a throne in heaven,’ he writes. John’s readers were familiar with earthly thrones - it was these earthly powers that were giving the Christians a hard time. John himself was enduring exile at the hand of Caesar but the throne that John sees is in heaven - it’s a throne above every throne.
John tells us that there was ’One seated upon the throne’ (4:2). There on the throne sits in majesty, God the Father. Of course God can’t be described for he is a Spirit, so John gives a word picture of precious stones sending out rays of brilliant light symbolising God’s holiness, justice and mercy. Here is where the real power-centre of the universe is - a throne, the seat of a king, God himself. How John’s heart must have been filled with awe and wonder at this spectacle accompanied by lightning and thunder. How can anyone be flippant in God’s presence? One of the characteristics of John’s writing is the reverence that is shown - he never dares to be familiar with God. There’s nothing here of the modern trend to treating God as ’Almatey’ - no, he was and is God Almighty.
John proceeds to describe the heavenly beings that surround the throne. There are 24 elders and 4 ’living creatures’ that are constantly rendering homage to God. Who are these created beings? Many suggestions have been offered but perhaps the most likely is that the elders are representatives of the whole church both of Old and New Testament saints which one day in glory will worship in the presence of God himself. The living creatures possibly are the cherubim, one of the highest orders of angels. But the identity of these groups around the throne is of secondary importance compared with the function they perform. They fall down before the living God, worship and throw their crowns before him. All these are ways of giving him the chief place, expressing the truth that he alone reigns. John recorded their song; ’You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and dominion’ (4:11). What a vision! What a scene! What a song! What an example to us of true worship!
I’m sure John’s worship of God was never the same again for John after witnessing the scene in his vision? Every time he sang a hymn his thoughts would surely turn to the angelic hosts ceaselessly, day and night, offering worship: ’Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was, and who is, and is to come’ (4:8). John would never be satisfied in the future with the mere repetition of words in his prayer life after seeing in his vision how the living creatures rendered praise and honour and thanksgiving to the Occupant of the throne.
It was this reality of God which he wanted to convey to his readers in the 7 churches of Asia. Very few, if any of them had seen Jesus in the flesh. Hostility and indifference, materialism and false teaching pressed them in. Some of the believers had lost their first love of Christ and others were in danger of having the light of Christian witness snuffed out of their lives. How like our situation today. We’re nearly 2000 years on from the life of Jesus on earth - if we’re not careful he can be toned down in our thinking to merely a historical figure, quite remote from the reality of our daily lives. How could John redirect the attention of these Christians from the grim and sordid world in which they lived to their heritage of co-heirs with the risen, glorified Saviour? Surely the vision would be a stimulus to continued faith and loyalty to Christ. That’s the vision God would have us capture.