Rev. 14:13 – Then I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write: The dead who die in the Lord from now on are blessed.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “let them rest from their labors, for their works follow them!” (HCSB)
The dead who die in the Lord
This section ends with a voice from heaven saying, “Write: The dead who die in the Lord from now on are blessed.” This is followed by the Holy Spirit, who speaks, “Yes, let them rest from their labor, for their works follow them!”
Certainly, those who “die in the Lord” are blessed. Their names have been written in the Lamb’s book of life. The angels have rejoiced at their entrance into the kingdom. Jesus has gone to prepare a place for them in His Father’s house and will return to resurrect and glorify them. They will live forever with Jesus in the new heavens and new earth. Meanwhile, at the moment of death, they are absent from the body and present with the Lord. And they will be wherever Jesus is forever and ever. These are blessings for which every believer may rejoice for they are gifts of God’s grace, secured through the finished work of His Son.
But what does the phrase “from now on” mean? It cannot mean that those who previously have died in the Lord are lesser citizens of the kingdom or are denied the full benefits of eternal life. Nor can it mean that God withholds His promises from particular saints just because they lived in a different chapter of human history. Rather, the voice from heaven seems to be assuring those who remain faithful to the Lord during a time of extreme persecution that in death they are spared further suffering. Even more important, they are reminded that “their works follow them,” meaning they will be richly compensated in eternity for what they willingly sacrificed in time.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that scientists have zapped an electrical current to people’s brains to erase distressing memories, part of an ambitious quest to better treat ailments such as mental trauma, psychiatric disorders and drug addiction.
Author Gautam Naik explains: “In an experiment, patients were first shown a troubling story, in words and pictures. A week later they were reminded about it and given electroconvulsive therapy [ECT], formerly known as electroshock. That completely wiped out their recall of the distressing narrative” – without erasing other memories.
At least two important questions emerge for Christians. First, if painful memories can be erased, should we seek this therapy? And second, in the afterlife, does God erase our most disturbing recollections?
Rev. 12:11 – They conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not love their lives in the face of death. (HCSB)
They conquered him by the blood of the Lamb
Verse 11 reads: “They conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not love their lives in the face of death.” There are two ways in which the “brothers” (v. 10) have achieved victory over Satan, according to the voice in heaven. Both of them involve death, a seemingly counterproductive way to win a battle – at least by the world’s standards.
First, the brothers conquer Satan by the blood of the Lamb. Satan’s desire to kill Jesus, or even to prevent his birth, is evident throughout scripture, most recently in Rev. 12:4 as the dragon is poised to devour the male child. Ironically, Jesus comes into the world to die, but on His terms, not Satan’s. There is a specific time and place for the Son of Man to give His life as a ransom for us. And when Jesus declares, “It is finished,” just before His death on the cross, He makes it clear that His purpose in coming to earth has been fulfilled. The apostle Paul summarizes this beautifully in 2 Cor. 5:21: “He [the Father] made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
For believers, the victory and the cross are inextricably bound. The apparent end of a radical rabbi on a hillside outside Jerusalem is thought by His enemies to be a magnificent triumph. Yet the bloody and gruesome death of Jesus of Nazareth is in fact the fulfillment of the Father’s eternal plan of redemption. Jesus may exult, “It is finished,” and be completely vindicated. Just as the high priest declares, “It is finished,” on the Day of Atonement when sacrifices will no longer be accepted, and just as the Roman general booms, “It is finished,” from his perch above the battlefield when he sees the enemy has been routed, Jesus shouts for all the world to hear that salvation has come to a lost and dying world because of His death.
Rev. 5:6 – Then I saw one like a slaughtered lamb standing between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent into all the earth (HCSB).
John sees Jesus as “one like a slaughtered lamb” (v. 6). He stands near the throne and amidst the four living creatures and the elders. He has seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God. Is this really how the exalted Son of God looks – like a baby sheep with multiple horns and eyes? Of course not. John is using apocalyptic language to describe the same person he earlier depicted as having white hair, eyes like blazing fire, feet like fine bronze, and a mouth giving way to a two-edged sword (Rev. 1:14-16). So, what’s the significance of these new traits?
Let’s look first at the lamb. Jesus is called “the Lamb” nearly 30 times in the Book of Revelation. The Greek word literally means “a little pet lamb,” and the meaning becomes clear as we follow the lamb through scripture. Jesus identifies Himself to John as “the Living One” who was dead but now is “alive forever and ever” (Rev. 1:18). This is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The Lord’s Servant, as Isaiah depicts Him, is like a lamb led to the slaughter (Isa. 53:7), bearing the iniquities of all mankind:
He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities, punishment for peace was upon Him, and we are healed by His wounds. We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way; and the Lord has punished Him for the iniquity of us all (Isa. 53:5-6).
The apostle Peter writes:
For you know that you were redeemed from your empty way of life inherited from the fathers, not with perishable things, like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the times for you …” (1 Peter 1:18-20).
John’s view of Jesus as a slaughtered lamb is not to be taken literally but conveys to his first-century readers – and to us – the key truth that Jesus’ suffering and death is both a great sacrifice and a great victory. God became flesh and died for us, defeating Satan and his works and reclaiming all that was lost in Adam’s fall. How vulnerable, how defenseless Jesus made Himself for us – just like a sacrificial lamb. Yet God the Father was “pleased to crush Him” (Isa. 53:10). Jesus, in His humanity, “learned obedience through what He suffered” (Heb. 5:8). And, “for the joy that lay before Him,” Jesus “endured a cross and despised the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne” (Heb. 12:2).
One other note: It is significant that the resurrected and glorified Jesus bears the marks of His crucifixion. John’s description of Him as “a slaughtered lamb” (v. 6) is consistent with Zechariah’s prophecy of the glorious appearance of the Messiah, who has been “pierced” (Zech. 14:10). It’s also in tune with Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, in which He invites followers like Thomas to both examine and touch His wounds (John 20:27). But why does Jesus retain earthly scars when we are assured perfect bodies in the future? Two reasons seem clear. First, Jesus’ scars are an everlasting testimony of His sacrifice for us. Second, we are cautioned that many false Messiahs will arise; when Jesus returns, His crucifixion scars will identify Him as the true Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8). Surely John’s description of Jesus as a slaughtered lamb resonates with believers of all ages.
But what about the seven horns? In scripture, horns symbolize great power. David pens these words after the Lord rescues him from his enemies: “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my mountain where I seek refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation” (Ps. 18:2). In Daniel’s vision of the four beasts (Dan. 7), the 10 horns on the fourth beast symbolize 10 kings. And in Zechariah’s night visions, he sees four horns, symbolizing the power of Israel’s enemies (Zech. 1:18-21). No doubt, the seven horns on the slaughtered lamb in John’s vision portray the full power of deity that resides in Jesus.
Finally, we read that the Lamb has seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent into all the earth. As we learned earlier, the phrase “seven spirits” ties back to Rev. 1:4 and may be translated “the seven-fold Spirit,” likely a reference to the Holy Spirit. Christ has “received the Holy Spirit without measure, in all perfection of light, and life, and power, by which he is able to teach and rule all parts of the earth” (Matthew Henry, Re 5:6-14). The emphasis here seems to be on Christ’s place in the Godhead and His authority as the One who has all the fullness of the Spirit (see Isa. 11:2-5). The number seven represents fullness or completeness; it is the number of God. No doubt the Lamb’s knowledge and authority extends through all the earth.
Warren Wiersbe summarizes well the portrayal of Jesus as the Lamb: “The description of the Lamb (Rev. 5:6), if produced literally by an artist, would provide a grotesque picture; but when understood symbolically, conveys spiritual truth. Since seven is the number of perfection, we have here perfect power (seven horns), perfect wisdom (seven eyes), and perfect presence (seven Spirits in all the earth). The theologians would call these qualities omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence; and all three are attributes of God. The Lamb is God the Son, Christ Jesus!” (Re 5:1).
Next: Worthy is the Lamb (Rev. 5:8-10)