Rev. 13:8 – All those who live on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name was not written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slaughtered. (HCSB)
The sovereignty of God and the freedom of human beings are two seemingly irreconcilable biblical truths. Just as Satan acts freely to empower a beast who acts freely, those who worship these evil beings act freely as well. They make choices for which they are held accountable, and unbelievers will join Satan, the beast and the false prophet in the lake of fire. At the same time, their deeds are known to God and always have been known by Him, just as the willful acts of believers always have been in God’s view.
While some argue that God merely foresees the faith of the righteous and the rebellion of the unrighteous, and others contend that God has determined all things (without becoming the Author of sin or the Creator of a fixed game), it appears the ways of God are beyond human understanding. If God can allow Satan and his minions to slaughter countless Christians for no other reason than their staunch faith in His Son, and through these sinful acts enable believers to conquer the dragon by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony, can He not also allow unbelievers to worship a false Messiah and vindicate Himself in their judgment?
We do God a disservice when we accuse Him either of dispassionate sovereignty or spineless foreknowledge. He is sovereign. He knows all things. He has all power and authority. And in the midst of this mind-boggling transcendence, He created people in His image and entrusted them with the ability to make choices for which they are held responsible. Though the beast-worshiping unbelievers of Revelation 13 are excluded from the Lamb’s book of life, they would never have signed their names anyway – even if the Son of God opened the pages Himself and offered them a pen.
Rev. 5:12 – They said with a loud voice: The Lamb who was slaughtered is worthy to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing! (HCSB).
The word “worthy” appears four times in the chapter, and each time it is connected with the Lamb who is slaughtered. It is hard to imagine an unworthy Jesus. He existed in eternity past as the perfect second person in the triune Godhead – the uncreated Creator – and He lives today as the exalted and holy Son of God. Even His 33 years on earth were unmarred by the slightest impropriety. So when was He ever unworthy?
There are two truths we need to examine to answer this question. First, Jesus has always been sinless. The fact that He “became sin for us” (see 2 Cor. 5:21) does not mean He became a sinner, any more than a sacrificial lamb becomes a liar, thief or murderer at the time his throat is cut and his blood is spilled as an atonement for a person’s sin. Jesus bore our sins and became guilty of them on our behalf yet retained His sinless perfection. Those who argue that the Son of God became a sinner on the cross misread scripture and denigrate the perfection of the Father’s plan and the Son’s obedience.
Second, while Jesus has always been sinless, being worthy requires something more; it requires identifying that for which someone is worthy. Throughout the New Testament, we see people who are worthy to receive the disciples into their homes (Matt. 10:11); unworthy to be a disciple of Jesus (Matt. 10:37); worthy to have Jesus perform a miracle (Luke 7:4); and worthy of honor (1 Tim. 6:1). The Greek word axios carries with it the idea of something that is weighed to evaluate its fitness or appropriateness. On the cross, Jesus is “weighed” and found uniquely qualified to bear the sin debt of mankind. Now, in heaven, as He approaches the Father, He is the only One who is “worthy” to reclaim the world, which for far too long has been Satan’s domain.
Notice that Jesus is proclaimed worthy of seven-fold tribute. Few on earth ascribe these qualities to Him during His earthly ministry because He has set them aside in His humiliation. Note how the apostle Paul describes Jesus in His incarnation: “Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead he emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross” (Phi. 2:5b-8).
Simply stated, the heavenly host exclaims that Jesus is worthy to receive:
- Power. The Greek word here is not the same as “authority.” Jesus announces after His resurrection and before His ascension that “all authority” in heaven and on earth has been given to Him. But the word used here is dynamis, from which we get the English word “dynamite.” He not only holds authority over all creation; He has the power to vindicate His holiness and punish evil.
- Riches. During His earthly ministry, Jesus shows no interest in building personal wealth (but a great deal of interest in teaching stewardship). He has no place to lay His head, and He must borrow on donkey on which to ride triumphantly into Jerusalem. Today, He still has no need of bank accounts or investment portfolios, for like His Father He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. Heaven is a place where every desire is graciously met, and every desire is toward the King, even to the point where redeemed people cast the very crowns He has given them at His feet.
- Wisdom. Accused of being mad, or even demon-possessed, Jesus endures the slander of those who are wise in their own eyes. Often in scripture we are warned about the wisdom of this world, and of the fools who claim to be wise (Rom. 1:22). But the creatures in heaven around the throne worship “the only wise God, through Jesus Christ” (Rom. 16:27).
- Strength. Unable to carry His own cross up the rocky incline of Golgotha due to the severity of His physical abuse, Jesus today not only saves His own but keeps us by His infinite power (1 Peter 1:5), and we rest in the strength of His promises. The Greek word here is ischys, which may be translated “capability.” As the writer of Hebrews puts it: “He is always able to save those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to intercede for them” (Heb. 7:25).
- Honor. Despised, spat upon, denigrated, Jesus suffers the most painful and humiliating form of death known to the Roman world – crucifixion – yet today He is seated at the Father’s right hand, in the highest place of honor. This is not merely the honor of receiving human accolades or ascending to universal fame; this is the honor of approaching the Ancient of Days, taking from His hand the title deed to earth, and having all creation remember the words uttered long ago from this very throne, “This is My beloved Son, I take delight in Him!” (Matt. 3:17).
- Glory. His humble life, many sorrows and inglorious death are now replaced by the glory of heaven’s throne room. Though Jesus once aside His glory to put on the flesh and live among sinful people, He remembers, in the hours before His sacrifice, His former position next to the Father and prays, “Now Father, glorify Me in Your presence with that glory I had with You before the world existed” (John 17:5). It happens just as Jesus prays, and John sees it in his vision.
- Blessing. As He walks the dusty roads of Galilee, Samaria and Judea, Jesus blesses others while on the cross He becomes a curse for us. Today, as exalted Savior, He is to receive all blessings from the grateful recipients of His grace.
Matthew Henry remarks, “He is worthy of that office and that authority which require the greatest power and wisdom, the greatest fund, all excellency, to discharge them aright; and, He is worthy of all honour, and glory, and blessing, because he is sufficient for the office and faithful in it” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, Re 5:6–14).
Next: I heard every creature (Rev. 5:13-14)