Worthy is the Lamb

The central figure in John’s visions is the slain Lamb who alone is worthy to open the sealed scroll and receive sovereignty – Revelation 5:5-14. 

Next, John sees the “sealed scroll” held tightly in the right hand of the “One Who Sits on the Throne.” A search is made of the entire creation for someone who is “worthy” to open the scroll. Alas, no one is found, causing John to weep profusely. If the scroll remains sealed, its contents will not be implemented.

But one of the twenty-four “elders” tells John not to weep because the “lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David overcame.” And because he did so, he is “worthy” to take the “sealed scroll,” break its seals and reveal its contents.

  • (Revelation 5:5-7) – “And one of the elders said to me: Do not weep! Behold, the lion from the tribe of Judah, the root of David has overcome to open the scroll and its seven seals. And I saw in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders a Lamb, standing, showing that it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth. And he came and took it out of the right hand of him that was sitting upon the throne.


The Greek term rendered “overcame” translates the verb nikaō, the same word rendered “overcome” numerous times in the letters to the “seven churches” (“to the one who overcomes…”).

And especially relevant in this context is the final promise made at the conclusion of the seven letters - “He that overcomes, I will give to him to take his seat with me in my throne, AS I ALSO OVERCAME and took my seat with my Father in his throne” - (Revelation 3:21).

Jesus “overcame” through his death, and that victory qualified him to stand in the “midst of the throne.” And since then, he has been summoning his saints to “overcome” in the same manner that he did.

He is identified as the “Lion of Judah” and the “Root of David.” Both are messianic designations. In the book of Genesis, the tribe of Judah is called “a lion's whelp” that will hold the scepter until the arrival of the one to whom it belongs (“to him shall be the obedience of the peoples”). Likewise, the book of Isaiah prophesies of the time when “the root of Jesse will stand as an ensign to the peoples” – (Genesis 49:9-10, Isaiah 11:1-10).

John HEARS the elder declare “Lion of the tribe of Judah,” but when he looks, he SEES the “Lamb” rather than the “lion,” and one that has been “slain.” What he sees interprets what he first hears.


The “Lamb” is the Messiah, but he fulfills that role in a paradoxical manner. Not as a royal or military figure, but as the sacrificial victim. The vision is anchored in the historical events of the crucifixion and resurrection.

Here, “lamb” translates the Greek word arnion, the diminutive form of the more common term arnén for “lamb.” It refers to a juvenile animal and becomes the primary designation for Jesus in the remainder of the book. It is applied to him a total of twenty-eight times (4 x 7). In contrast, ‘Jesus’ occurs fourteen and ‘Christ’ seven times.

The Greek term rendered “slain” translates the verb sphazō which is used often in the Septuagint version for the Hebrew verb shachat. And this word is applied to the “slaying” of sacrificial animals (Strong’s - #G4969).

The usage in Revelation echoes the passage in Isaiah where the Suffering Servant is compared to “a lamb led to the slaughter” (sphagé, from sphazō) - (Isaiah 53:7).


The “Lamb” has “seven horns and seven eyes.” Horns symbolize power. The “seven eyes” were identified previously as “the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth,” an allusion to the vision in Zechariah where a stone with “seven eyes” is set before Joshua to remove sin from the land.

And in Zechariah, the “seven lamps” are the “eyes of Yahweh that run to and fro through the whole earth.” They symbolize His spirit (“Not by might but by My Spirit, says Yahweh” - Zechariah 3:9, 4:10).

Thus, the “Lamb” now sits on the “throne” and possesses the authority of God, including the “seven eyes” that see all things. Nothing is hidden from his sight.

Upon his arrival, the “Lamb” approaches the “throne” and takes the “sealed scroll.” The image parallels the vision in Daniel when one “like a son of man” approached the throne of the “Ancient of Days” and received the authority to reign over “all peoples, races and tongues” - (Daniel 7:13-14).


In the vision, his authority is proclaimed by heaven and earth, and his sovereignty is the result of his sacrificial death. His submission to an unjust death has made him “worthy” to open the scroll and begin his reign over the creation.

Each of the twenty-four “elders” has a bowl of “incense,” symbolizing the “prayers of saints.” Thus, they perform priestly functions and represent the redeemed people of God before the “throne.”

The understanding that his sovereignty is the result of his death is confirmed by the “new song” sung by the four “living creatures” and the “twenty-four elders”:

  • (Revelation 5:9-12) - “And they sing a new song, saying, Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals; because you were slain and redeemed for God by your blood men from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, and made them for our God a kingdom and priests, and they reign on the earth.  And I saw and heard a voice of many angels, round about the throne and the living creatures and the elders, and the number of them was myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive the power, and riches, and wisdom, and might, and honor, and glory, and blessing.

Heavenly voices sing the “new song.” In chapter 4, all creatures sang praises to the “One Who Sits on the Throne” for His creative acts. Now, the “new song” rings out in praise of the “Lamb” for his sacrificial act.

The song is “new” because his death has inaugurated the long-awaited redemption that will culminate in the “new heavens and the new earth” (“Behold, I make all thing new” - Revelation 4:8-11, 21:1-5).

The “Lamb” is the Messiah of Israel, but his victory achieved the redemption of men and women from “every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” Traditional social and ethnic boundaries have no place in his kingdom. Note well the verbal parallel to the passage in Daniel 7:13-14 - “That all peoples, races, and tongues should render service to him.”

By his death, he has made men from every nation a “kingdom of priests.” Collectively, they are a kingdom; individually, they perform priestly acts - (Exodus 19:5-6, Revelation 1:6, 20:6).


The redeemed participate in his reign in their priestly capacities. Jesus promises that believers who overcome will have authority over nations. But this reign is implemented through priestly acts of witness, martyrdom, prayer, and worship.

There is a textual variant in verse 10. Some ancient Greek manuscripts read, “they will reign on the earth” (future tense), while others have “they are reigning” (present tense). The evidence is divided.

Whichever reading is original, the message remains the same. If the redeemed reign now, it is because of the death of Christ. If they are to begin their reign in the future, it also will be due to his death.

The heavenly choir adores the “Lamb” for his act of redemption and proclaims him “worthy” to receive all “power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” This is followed by praise from “every created thing that is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea.” How this redemption will be achieved will be unveiled as the “Lamb” begins to open the “sealed scroll.”


Two Little Horns?

Language of the New Testament