And when [the Lamb standing in the center of the throne] had taken [the scroll from the hand of him sat on the throne], the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song:
“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing:
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”
The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped. Revelation 5:8-14
Have you ever had a situation in which some moment of drama impacted you and the story of that event lived in your memory? You may have even recounted it for others. It could have been a happy event or a traumatic one. Either way, it is your story. You lived the moment. What happens when you encounter someone who witnessed the same event and tells their story? They may weight the significance of the details differently than you. Their version doesn’t necessarily negate yours, but it may illuminate the event beyond your previous awareness. If your part was nearer the center of events and they were observing from a more objective vantage point, they may have been able to perceive a broader view of the event.
That’s what I experience when I read this passage from Revelation 5. The inhabitants of heaven are all witnesses of the most important event in human history and their perceptions are the song that is sung before the Throne. They sing the significance of the sacrifice of Christ in terms that go beyond what we often include when we tell our personal version of the story. Anyone who has experienced restoration with God through the blood of Christ, shed for the forgiveness of their sins, joins the song of praise. But do we recognize the magnitude of the event as all of heaven does?
The first significance of the sacrifice of Christ is that it has made Him worthy to take and open the seals of the scroll. This scroll is the authorization for the events that lead to the end of this earth and the advent of the new heaven and new earth. “You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, because you were slain…” If you read the rest of Revelation, you realize that opening those seals unleashes the systematic destruction and judgment of life as we know it. It is so severe that twice the account says, “This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints…” (Rev 13:10, 14:12) If we live through those days, will the work of the Cross be the testimony of our lips and the source of the necessary patient endurance that will keep us faithful? I suggest that broadening our story to include this significance, to acknowledge that Jesus as Savior means that He is Judge as well, is important to a healthy eternal view. The Book of Revelation ends with Jesus saying, “Yes, I am coming soon.” We ought be those who, with eyes wide open, say with sincerity, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”
The next significance that is sung in heaven is that “with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” I am currently living in a foreign country. I speak the language with the eloquence of a toddler and know only a rough sketch of the culture. There are many nuances that I am oblivious to because I do not know the stories, legends and historical events that shape and inform the ideas and values of the people. These cannot be underestimated and take time to learn. Therefore, there are many things that I observe without understanding and sometimes with aversion. It is Holy Week right now, Semana Santa, and the traditions enacted have their roots in the same history of the Church that mine do, but are colored by a different tribe, language, people and nation so that it is sometimes hard to recognize our shared DNA. Though I love living here and I love the people and am striving to understand, there are moments when it feels so FORIEGN. It is too easy, and I think too common, for us to be so committed to our way and our version that we dismiss or even discredit that of others. Yet the second significant detail of the sacrifice of Christ is that He purchased a very diverse lot of humanity and that carries weight and adulation in heaven.
Next, heaven sings, “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God…” Ask ten or a hundred Christians what resulted from Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross. How many do you think will say that it has made them a priest to serve God? Our version of the story usually highlights forgiveness, freedom and peace, all of which are valid, but it takes a while, if ever, for it to occur to us that we were saved to become priests and servants. We are often too preoccupied with just being a better or happier person.
“And they will reign on the earth.” Now we’re reaching the outer limits for me. Just being honest. I acknowledge priesthood, but reigning is hard for me to conceive. One approach to this is to focus on the word ‘will’, indicating a future condition that, in the meantime, calls for patient endurance. This I can wrap my brain around. But I know believers whose wisdom and maturity is beyond mine who live and speak of reigning as their present responsibility. From their words and lives I see those who are not subject to the opinions or influences of the world, but who live only at the pleasure of God and have conquered their flesh. In this way, they reign. I believe that this is the beginning and that there is more to come.
I have been in Christ and a part of the Church for over forty years. I have observed many Holy Weeks and celebrated many Resurrection Days. I always want them to be special, weighty, worthy recognitions of the importance of the event it commemorates. I seek to live in the shadow of the Cross and under the blood of the Lamb, for there only do I have life. But I do not want the significance to myself to be the whole and the end of my testimony. The center of the event is not saved little me but triumphant and glorious Him. As you celebrate, hear the resounding echoes of the thunderous song of heaven that sings in a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” Say, with them, “Amen” and, with them, fall down and worship.