Last week the church rejoiced in the victory of Christ’s resurrection and His opening words of consolation to the seven churches (Revelation 1:4-18). Now we rejoice in the fullness of God’s promise for us in the resurrection of God’s Son. No one could break the seal of death. No one could open to us the courts of Heaven. No one could enter the Holy of Holies, namely, the heavens. No one could open the scroll of God’s salvation, save Christ alone. He alone is worthy!
This reading, as you will see, will serve as your Old Testament text for the week. I recommend you preach the extended version (5:1-14) for the sake of context and continuity. The question looming over this Sunday is, “Who is this?” John’s Gospel account is about the identity of the risen Christ. “Who is this who commands the sea and its swarming creatures and who sits on the shore with breakfast already prepared?” John says, “It is the Lord!” And Peter dove in. Saul on that Damascus Road asks the voice: “Who are you?” Saul found it was Jesus, whom he persecuted.
Revelation 5 brings the Church into the great stream of Messianic proclamation and exegesis of Genesis 49:8-12 and the identity of the Savior of Israel and the world. A careful study of this prophesy points us to our Savior’s true identity. Both the Prophets and Apostles tracked with all diligence Jacob’s prophesy of Judah’s Messianic line. Who is He? St. John’s vision traces the exposition of that prophesy here in Revelation 5:1-14. The heavenly worship in verses 8-14 is the result of finding out who He is.
Let us consider a few lines of exegesis which stem from Genesis 49, Jacob’s prophesy concerning Judah:
1) Judah is portrayed as a lion’s cub, and the Messiah who comes from him will bear the title “the Lion of the Tribe of Judah” (Revelation 5:5). The Lion is, so to speak, Judah’s tribal seal. Move down through sacred history, further down Judah’s line, and the Promised One is also called “the Root of David” (Revelation 5:5; Isaiah 11:1). He is the King! David adds to the family coat of arms the image of a root—a mighty lion and a root.
2) Zachariah picks up on Jacob’s messianic promise and sees Him in the triumphal procession as the King who comes humble and riding on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9). He even ties this joyful procession to the Blood of the Covenant (Zechariah 9:11; compare with Exodus 24 and Matthew 26). Add a donkey and blood to that family seal.
3) Isaiah picks up the same prophesy from Genesis 49 and concentrates primarily on the garments drenched in blood and wine. “Who is this who comes from Edom in crimsoned garments” (63:1)? Add vines and wine presses to the family seal, and garments stained with blood. I can picture it in my mind; I just cannot draw it. And if you cannot paint this image before your hearers, you might consider pulling out your TLHs (The Lutheran Hymnal, 1941) to sing Thomas Kelly’s fabulous Easter hymn, “Who is This Who Comes from Edom” (TLH #209). For appropriate liturgical context, the Sacrament of the Altar is needed. This will be a very awkward sermon to preach, if the saints will not have the opportunity to receive the Sacrament. The blood of the New Testament is the context for reading these prophecies and their fullness in Revelation 5. The heavenly host are gathered around the Paschal Lamb who was slain. Worthy is the Lamb is Lord’s Supper talk. Your people will know it when they hear it.
4) St. Matthew, you may remember, does not miss the prophetic exegesis of Genesis 49 and conflates both Isaiah (62:11—just before the Lord appears with bloody garments in chapter 63) and Zechariah 9 in his account of the Lord’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:5). But notice the question which follows Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem: “Who is this?” In Matthew 21, His coming shakes the city—a seismic event. They all ask: “Who is this?” The Psalmist cries: “Who will ascend the Mount of the Lord? Who will stand in His holy place?… Who is the King of Glory” (Psalm 24)? Isaiah asks: “Who is this who comes from Edom?” And in Revelation 5, the angel cries out: “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” That is the question! To know the answer is to know salvation.
Here the Law can go in several different ways. The sin of despair causes Christians to abandon hope in Christ and His salvation. We become overwhelmed by sorrow over our repetitive sins or we are chilled by the death of a loved one, etc. It is not that we feel ashamed over our sins, it is that our sins make us ashamed to enter into God’s presence and, like a frightened child, we are prone to run from Him. But Christ sees. With His seven eyes, He sees! His word has gone out through His church into all the earth to find you, O frightened children of God, those who are near and those who are far off, to gather them in to where they belong. Christ is here to unlock the scroll and cleanse us with the Blood of His Covenant. The creatures and the elders show us what to do now. They hit the deck, sing, and worship, so that we would know what the liturgy is supposed to look and sound like.
As you preach this text, you will be painting for your people Jesus, the Lamb who was slain for us. You will be wooing them into seeing what St. John sees and what all the prophets longed to see. You will also be painting a picture of Heaven as the Spirit opens it to us. The image-rich text calls for image rich preaching. Use the text to paint the picture of God coming to the ones who are farthest away from Him (we all are in one way or another) and are scared to approach Him or have somehow resigned ourselves to our sins. Preach to them about the One in their midst, who alone is worthy for us all. And then lead them to the Feast in festal procession (Psalm 118!).
Concordia Theology: Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Revelation 5:1-14.
Text Week: A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Revelation 5:11-14