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)
Rev. 5:8 – When He took the scroll, the four living creatures and the 24 elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9And they sang a new song: You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals; because You were slaughtered, and You redeemed [people] for God by Your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10You made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign on the earth (HCSB).
And they sang a new song
Matthew Henry argues that the remainder of chapter 5 consists of a song in three parts: 1) the song of the church; 2) the song of the church and the angels; and 3) the song of all creatures. The church sings about its redemption by the slaughtered Lamb.
His blood has purchased people from every tribe and language, people and nation. Imagine the scene in heaven when the Arapaho joins the Armenian in praise, the Chilean lifts her voice in harmony with the Chinese; and the Hebrew worships Yahweh with the Hmong. There are no forgotten people in God’s economy, no lost civilization on earth. The same God who created all people sent His Son to redeem them, and no matter how diverse the human population becomes, it is well represented in the throne room of heaven.
Warren Wiersbe writes: “John affirms that the Lamb died for the whole world! (John 1:29) The more you meditate on the power and scope of Christ’s work on the cross, the more humbled and worshipful you become. This song was also a missionary song. Sinners were redeemed ‘out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation’ (Rev. 5:9). Kindred refers to a common ancestor and tongue to a common language. People means a common race, and nation a common rule or government. God loves a whole world (John 3:16) and His desire is that the message of redemption be taken to a whole world (Matt. 28:18–20)” (The Bible Exposition Commentary, Re 5:1).
A textual challenge
It should be noted that there is a textual problem in these verses. The King James Version says, “Thou … has redeemed us to God … and hast made us unto our God kings and priests” (v. 9), while modern translations such as the New International Version say, “You purchased men for God … You have made them to be a kingdom and priests …”
If the song is impersonal, as the NIV suggests, then it’s possible that the 24 elders are not men but angels. If, however, the correct translation is personal in nature, then the elders most certainly are human, and either the four living creatures represent mankind or only the elders are singing. In any case, angels are not redeemed and could not legitimately sing personally about being purchased by Christ’s blood.
“While scholars differ on this point, it would seem that since the elders are on thrones and are crowned as victors, they represent the church rather than angels. Angels have not been judged and rewarded at this point in the program of God. But angels soon join the creatures and the elders in praising the Lamb (5:11-12). The two different interpretations here should not mar the beauty of the picture and the wonder of this song of praise” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, Re 5:9-10).
A slaughtered Lamb
Two words come into play repeatedly in chapter 5: worthy and slaughtered. In verse 6 John sees Jesus as “a slaughtered lamb.” In verse 9 He is “slaughtered.” And in verse 11 He is “slaughtered.” These words take us back to Isaiah’s prophecy more than 700 years earlier: “Like a lamb led to the slaughter and like a sheep silent before her shearers, He did not open His mouth” (Isa. 53:7).
While the slaughter of Jesus remains the most heinous crime ever committed, it is not a senseless loss of life but a purposeful payment for the sins of fallen people. Because Jesus is slaughtered – get this, because He is slaughtered – He is worthy: Worthy to take the scroll (the title deed to earth); worthy to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing. A Messiah who is only a conquering king is not worthy to take the scroll, but a slaughtered Lamb is worthy to become a conquering king and receive all things from His Father.
Take note of what Matthew Henry writes about the redeemed being made kings and priests unto God: “Every ransomed slave is not immediately preferred to honour; he thinks it a great favour to be restored to liberty. But when the elect of God were made slaves by sin and Satan, in every nation of the world, Christ not only purchased their liberty for them, but the highest honour and preferment, made them kings and priests – kings, to rule over their own spirits, and to overcome the world, and the evil one; and he has made them priests, given them access to himself, and liberty to offer up spiritual sacrifices, and they shall reign on the earth; they shall with him judge the world at the great day” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, Re 5:6–14).
The new song of Revelation 5 is simply and profoundly a new chapter in the old, old story. The slaughtered Lamb is proclaimed worthy to take the scroll from the right hand of the same Father who sent Him to die. The sending itself was neither cruel nor reactive; it was foreordained and carried out in love, securing eternal life, priesthood and kingship for people from every tribe, language, people and nation. Indeed, worthy is the Lamb.
Next: The voice of many angels (Rev. 5:11-12)