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Table of Contents
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .7

1. The Lion and the Lamb: Then . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11


The Lion and the Lamb: Now . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
The Lion and the Lamb: Questions. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .25

2. The Revelation of Jesus Christ: Then . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27


The Revelation of Jesus Christ: Now . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37
The Revelation of Jesus Christ: Questions. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .45

3. The Letter to the Church in Ephesus: Then . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47


The Letter to the Church in Ephesus: Now . . . . . . . . . . . . .55
The Letter to the Church in Ephesus: Questions . . . . . . . . . 61

4. The Letter to the Church in Smyrna: Then . . . . . . . . . . . . .63


The Letter to the Church in Smyrna: Now . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71
The Letter to the Church in Smyrna: Questions . . . . . . . . . 77

5. The Letter to the Church in Pergamum: Then . . . . . . . . . . 79


The Letter to the Church in Pergamum: Now . . . . . . . . . . . 87
The Letter to the Church in Pergamum: Questions . . . . . . .95

6. The Letter to the Church in Thyatira: Then . . . . . . . . . . . . 97


The Letter to the Church in Thyatira: Now . . . . . . . . . . . . 105
The Letter to the Church in Thyatira: Questions . . . . . . . . 113

7. The Letter to the Church in Sardis: Then . . . . . . . . . . . . . 115


The Letter to the Church in Sardis: Now . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 123
The Letter to the Church in Sardis: Questions . . . . . . . . . 131

8. The Letter to the Church in Philadelphia: Then . . . . . . . . 133


The Letter to the Church in Philadelphia: Now . . . . . . . . . 141
The Letter to the Church in Philadelphia: Questions . . . . 147

9. The Letter to the Church in Laodicea: Then . . . . . . . . . . 149


The Letter to the Church in Laodicea: Now . . . . . . . . . . . 157
The Letter to the Church in Laodicea: Questions . . . . . . . 165

Postscripts: Then . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 167


Postscripts: Now . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 173
Introduction

Introduction
As a teenage Christian, I was fascinated by the book of Revelation.
In fact, I had delusions of “cracking the code,” discovering the meaning
behind the book that no one had ever seen before. Captivated as I
was by the sights and sounds, symbols and images of Revelation, I
never paid much attention to the first few chapters. I wanted to read
of dragons and monsters, of celestial combat between angelic forces
and demonic hosts. I would skip over the first five chapters to get to
the good stuff. But some things happened that led me to take another
look at what I was missing.
As a college student, I had the chance to audit a course on
Revelation taught by Dr. Ian Fair, who was dean of the College of
Biblical Studies at Abilene Christian University at the time. Not only
did he teach me to appreciate the book of Revelation on its own terms,
but he also opened my eyes to the beauty of the letters to the seven
churches of Asia found in Revelation 2 and 3. He let me see the rich
history behind those letters, and the powerful messages contained in
those books.
About the same time, I was fortunate to join the more than one
8 Letters from the Lamb

thousand students who sat in a Wednesday night Bible class taught


each week by Steve Ridgell. One of the topics that Steve chose to
teach was the letters to the seven churches. Steve’s approach was
different from what I’d seen in the college classroom. While digesting
the scholarly material himself, Steve took the Word and made it
relevant to college students. His lessons took the powerful messages
from the past and made them speak in the present.
Through the years, I’ve continued to value these letters, continuing
to delve deeper into the message of the book of Revelation. Now my
temptation is not to skip the first five chapters; in fact, my current
struggle is to continue on from there, to make myself leave the throne
room scene in Revelation 5 and journey forth into the visions beyond.
I’ve presented this material in churches from Argentina to Texas, and
each time people have commented: “I’d never heard this before.”
My dream for this book is to allow others to experience the thrill
that I felt upon first coming to terms with the letters to the seven
churches of Asia. I will do my best to present the scholarly side of
things, the historical analysis that makes these letters come to life.
Fortunately, I have some help in presenting the rest of the message
that touched me so. Steve Ridgell is now my colleague, my companion
in ministry and in writing. I do not have to try to recreate for you the
life-changing applications that he can draw out of this material; I
have the privilege of letting Steve do that himself.
Come with me and journey back to a land and a time that are
distant from our own. Then let Steve bring you back to the present
with a message from God.

Grace and peace,


Tim Archer

I have always been convinced that the Bible has lessons that make
a difference in my life, and that has always been what I have most
enjoyed in my personal study. It is how I preach. God’s Word speaks
in very real and practical ways. But I have always been insistent that
the original message must be understood to really find the lessons
that change lives today.
I think that is why I appreciate Tim Archer and the way he works
Introduction 9

to understand what the text meant when it was written. Every time I
hear Tim teach on a passage I find myself thinking: “So that is what
that means!” It is rare to find someone with the scholarly ability to
understand the message in its original context, much less be able to
communicate it in a way that keeps my interest. Tim has that gift. I
have enjoyed reading his material on these letters to seven churches
in Asia Minor two thousand years ago.
I am going to confess that I have had a hard time understanding
everything in the book of Revelation. It is fun to read but not so much
fun to find the message from God for my life. Maybe that is because
the whole book intimidates me. Maybe it is because I thought I had
to understand all of it. But I have always thought these seven letters
were rich in application to my life today. They have seemed as fresh
today as they were two thousand years ago.
As I have continued to work on this material, I have seen even
more applications to my life today. There are lessons to be learned for
my life and yours, and in our churches, that mean just as much today
as they did then. Even writing this material, I have been challenged
anew to see the core message of the Bible and to realize again how it
plays itself out in my life.
Tim and I have designed this book so that you hear two
alternating voices throughout: a Then section written by Tim, and a
Now section written by me. Tim focuses on what each letter meant
in the context in which it was written. I focus on what each letter
means for our lives today. There will be some natural overlap at times
because Tim is also very much a preacher. And part of how I learn
the message for us today is to imagine how the original message was
received and lived out then.
So we invite you into the message and into the life of these seven
churches. It is our hope and prayer that these letters will come alive
for you as they have for us.

In the love of Jesus,


Steve Ridgell
CHAPTER 1

The Lion and


The Lamb: N
THE

After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing


open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to
me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you
what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit,
and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone
sitting on it (Revelation 4:1, 2).
As the scene opens, we realize that we are in one of the most
incredible places we’ve ever been. It is a throne room, God’s throne
room. We look in wonder at the great throne where sits the Ancient
of Days. We are unable to see Him but perceive the reflection of
the “unapproachable light”1 surrounding Him which seems like the
shining of precious stones. The brilliance of the light produces the
effect of a rainbow surrounding the seated figure. Lowering our eyes
from the throne we make out smaller thrones for each of twenty four
elders. We cringe as thunder and lightning leap from the throne, and
our trancelike gaze is drawn to seven lamps which burn before the
throne. Next we contemplate a smooth, almost glasslike sea, its might
controlled by the will of the Lord who sits on the throne. We gaze upon
the four living creatures, the guardians of God’s holiness, those mighty
12 Letters from the Lamb

beings which had been seen by prophets like Isaiah and Ezekiel, whose
likenesses had been carved on Israel’s ark of the covenant. We hear the
continuing chorus of “Holy, holy, holy” that rises up before God as all
of the heavenly beings proclaim His worth.2 It is a scene of wonder,
a symphony of sight and sound that evokes praise from all who
witness it.

Heady Company
Moses and the elders of Israel had a glimpse of what we are seeing.
They even had the privilege of eating with God.3 Later Moses was
given yet another look at the glory of the Lord.4 The prophet Micaiah
witnessed this scene, but describing God’s throne room did not fit
his purpose at the time.5 Isaiah had a vision of God on His throne
surrounded by His angelic bodyguards.6 Ezekiel, too, saw the Lord
with the living creatures that John describes here.7 Daniel beheld
God on His throne with other thrones around Him and thousands
of celestial beings surrounding Him.8 We are in heady company, a
Who’s Who of prophets allowed to look upon the glory of the Lord.
We stand gazing upon wonder after wonder and try to take it all in.

The Sealed Scroll


In the midst of all this, a man weeps. John, the apostle, the one
that Jesus loved, stands and cries bitterly. Tears seem out of place in
the presence of God, in the midst of this spectacle, but John cannot
help himself. He has learned that the scroll, the one bearing seven
seals, that scroll with writing both inside and out, cannot be opened.
The seals cannot be broken and the contents cannot be revealed. It
is not idle curiosity that moves the apostle to tears. No, John knows
what is in that scroll. It is not a scroll of information nor a scroll of
teaching, although both can be found within. The scroll contains the
marching orders for the hosts of God, the commands that will set
in motion God’s unfolding plan of redemption. Until that scroll is
opened, the advance of the kingdom of God is stymied. God has
prepared great things for His people, so many plans that they had to
be written on both sides of the paper, yet none of them can come into
being because the seals on the scroll cannot be broken.
To open that scroll, one would have to be worthy. Ancient royalty
The Lion and the Lamb 13

placed seals of wax on their documents. Only those of the proper


rank could break those seals. If no one of sufficient rank could be
found, the seals could not be opened and the scroll could not be
read. It might be compared to a military security system; select
individuals have different levels of clearance. Some are cleared to
read “Secret” materials, while fewer are cleared to read “Top Secret”
documents. Some highly sensitive documents can only be read by
those of maximum rank. When a document is received for which no
one has clearance, it remains untouched until someone arrives who is
authorized to examine it. For security clearance purposes, the ancient
world often used seals, such as those we see here in Revelation. A king
or high official would put a bit of hot wax on a document, possibly
with a cord through the wax, encircling the document. While the
wax was still soft, the official would press his ring into it, leaving
an impression that bore his mark. Such a seal proved authenticity
and provided for security. Only a person of the required standing
could break the seal and read the document. This scroll has seven
such seals, requiring the presence of someone with enough clearance
to open the seals. If the seals are not broken, the orders will not be
given, and God’s plan will not be put into motion. All that is needed
is one person worthy of opening the seals, someone trusted by God,
someone who has earned the privilege of bringing God’s saving plan
to earth. But a search of heaven and earth and all of creation comes
up empty. There is none worthy. So John weeps. His tears flow freely
until one of the elders stops him. “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the
tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open
the scroll and its seven seals” (Revelation 5:5).

The Lion of Judah


The Lion of Judah! Of course! The conquering King. The
promised Messiah. Descendant of David, rightful heir to the throne.
How obvious! He was worthy. The tribe of Judah was the tribe of
kings, and the lion was the symbol of Judah.9 Of all the kings of
Israel, the greatest was David, the king of whom God had said: “Your
house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne
will be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16). Naturally his true heir
would be worthy of breaking the seals and opening the scroll. The
14 Letters from the Lamb

Lion of the tribe of Judah would be a king, no, the King. Descended
from the mighty warrior king, David, who had been God’s chosen
to push back his enemies. The Lion of Judah is certainly worthy of
taking the scroll and breaking its seals.
Lions are powerful. Awe-inspiring. A lion could tear those seals
off with one sweep of his mighty claws. King of the beasts, lord of
the jungle, the lion is one of the most terrifying animals around. His
roar sets lesser animals to flight, and his appearance strikes terror in
his prey. From culture to culture, for thousands of years the lion has
been the symbol of royalty, a representation of power and bravery.
This Lion is no ordinary lion, no brute animal. He is the Lion of the
tribe of Judah. Descendant of David. Messiah. The Anointed One,
the Chosen One. Behold the powerful creature.

The Lion Is a Lamb


“Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it has been slain” (Revelation 5:6).
Oops! We must have stepped into the wrong vision. Excuse
me, poor little lamb; we are looking for the Lion. You know, the
conquering Lion of Judah. The one who triumphed. No offense, but
the blood on your throat does not speak of triumph. Who ever heard
of a conquering lamb? In the United States, we choose mascots for
our sports teams. Lions. Tigers. Bears. Fearsome animals. Did anyone
ever choose to call their football team “the Lambs”? How about “the
Lambs with Their Throats Slit”? Would that strike fear in the hearts
of our opponents? No, this cannot be the one we are looking for. There
must be some mistake. We are looking for the triumphant Lion of the
tribe of Judah, and we find a Lamb that someone has killed. God’s
people are facing persecution. Their very existence is threatened. It is
time for the Lion to roar, for the house of David to rise up once again
with swords drawn. It is time for action. War! And someone has sent
a lamb by mistake.
But there is no mistake. In fact, this verse is the key to our
understanding of the entire book of Revelation, if not the whole New
Testament. The triumphant Lion is a Lamb. A sacrificed Lamb.
Could John have presented us with a more startling contrast? The
mighty, royal lion contrasted with the poor lamb with its throat cut.
While we may not be familiar with the meaning of a slain lamb, John
The Lion and the Lamb 15

and his readers would have been. We might think of an animal that
had been attacked by a coyote or one that was struck by a vehicle. We
might even picture a slaughterhouse scene, with lambs being killed
to provide meat for humans. But to readers in the first century, the
image of a slain lamb was one of sacrifice. While other animals were
used in sacrifice, the lamb was by far the most common. The image
of a lamb with its throat cut evoked the image of the altar, the image
of men offering sacrifice to their God. The Lion of the tribe of Judah
is the Lamb of God. The triumph of the Lion comes about through
the sacrifice of the Lamb. If we have any doubt about the matter, the
four living creatures and twenty-four elders remove it by singing:
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
(Revelation 5:9, 10).
Then tens of thousands of angels join the chorus, singing “Worthy
is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom
and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (Revelation 5:12). The
Lamb is worthy not in spite of being slain; He is worthy because He
was slain. The sacrifice of the Lamb is the triumph of the Lamb.
John tells us that this is no ordinary lamb; He has seven eyes
and seven horns. Later on we will see some of the details of the
interpretation; for now let us just say that John is telling us that the
Lamb has perfect power and perfect vision or knowledge. And the
Lamb stands on His feet, although He triumphed by allowing His
own slaughter. The Lamb lives. The Lamb conquered through
His death and the Lamb conquered Death itself. His life is a
promise to all who would follow the sacrificial path to triumph.
All-powerful, al-knowing, the Lamb allowed Himself to be
slaughtered, knowing that through that sacrifice He could bring
to light life and immortality.10 This is the message of the vision that
John saw.

The Triumph of the Lamb


All that we have heard about triumph and kingdoms and glory,
16 Letters from the Lamb

all that was prophesied about the Messiah, all that we understand
about power, all must be filtered through the vision of the Lion that is
a Lamb, through the triumph of sacrifice. In the book of Revelation,
the term most commonly used to describe Jesus is “lamb.” The image
of the one who conquered through sacrifice is what John wants us
to have in the forefront of our minds. As we read the book, we must
remember that God’s people triumph by completely giving up their
lives; and by being faithful to the point of death and beyond. The
Lamb triumphed by being slain. He gave His life. God’s people are
called to do the same. And they can do so knowing that the sacrifice
is temporary, that death is a momentary transition, that the Lamb
has triumphed over the tomb and offers the same victory to all who
would imitate His sacrifice.
This is not just the message of Revelation. It is the great mystery
of Jesus’ coming and Jesus’ sacrifice. John is telling us plainly: When
you read “lion” in Old Testament scripture, insert “lamb.” When you
read of “conquering,” insert “sacrifice.” Those who had studied the
Old Testament were waiting for the Messiah. There was some debate
whether He would be a king or a priest, but there was no doubt about
this: the Messiah would come in power, sweeping His enemies before
Him and restoring the nation of Israel to its former glory. That is why
it was hard for people to understand Jesus when He came. “For even
the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his
life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). The servant Messiah. The
Messiah who gives His life. That is not what people were expecting.
But that is who Jesus was—and is. He calls His disciples to be like
Him: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and
take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will
lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save
it” (Mark 8:34, 35). Lose your life to gain it. Jesus specializes in going
against conventional wisdom. Soren Kierkegaard compared Jesus to
a burglar who enters a store by night. Instead of stealing, He merely
changes all the prices. What was once expensive is now inexpensive;
what was once without value is now costly. That is what Jesus did
with the values of this world. He says that we come to greatness
not through asserting ourselves but by serving others. He declares
that we save our lives by losing them. He calls people to suffering
The Lion and the Lamb 17

and hardship, rather than offering politicians’ empty promises. He


chooses the weak, the poor, the lowly and the foolish. He teaches His
people that suffering is the path to glory. He calls Himself a Lion but
comes as a Lamb to be slaughtered.

Troublesome Times
All of this has special relevance for the first recipients of the book
of Revelation. As members of the Lord’s church in the province of Asia
(located in modern day Turkey), they were about to undergo a time
of persecution at the hands of the Roman government. Specifically,
they were about to be pressured to deny their faith and accept the
worship of the emperor as a divine being. Domitian, who reigned
as Caesar at that time, was a tortured, paranoid man with a deep
sense of inferiority. He sought to overcome this inferiority through
cruelty, called “the replica of Nero’s cruelty” by Tertullian, and by
forcing his subjects to worship him. Emperor worship caught on in
the province of Asia as it did nowhere else in the Roman Empire. It
became a test of loyalty; all citizens would be called upon to honor
the emperor Domitian as Dominus et Deus, Lord and God. For most
Romans, this was no problem, whether or not they really believed the
words. They worshiped a multiplicity of gods; adding one more to the
group was not a problem. But Christians could not do it. They could
in no way deny their Lord. Jesus is Lord; there is none beside Him.
To call Domitian “Lord” would be a betrayal to the true Lord. Many
Christians refused to do their civic duty. They refused to worship this
false god.
Because of their unwillingness to worship the emperor, Christians
in the province of Asia would come under persecution. They would
be threatened with prison and even death. From an earthly point of
view, such times of persecution represent a triumph for the enemies
of God and a defeat for the church. When Christians are imprisoned
and killed, it can seem like Satan is winning. That is why John is
writing: to replace that earthly point of view with a heavenly point
of view. These Christians need to see that the path to triumph is
not through armed uprisings and military resistance. They are to
emulate the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Lion who was willing to
be sacrificed as a lamb. They are to be lambs unto slaughter, faithful
18 Letters from the Lamb

witnesses who will not deny their testimony that Jesus is Lord, even
if it costs them their lives. Just as Jesus triumphed through His death,
their deaths will help bring about the triumph of God’s kingdom:
Now have come the salvation and the power and the
kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the
accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God
day and night, has been hurled down. They overcame him
by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death
(Revelation 12:10, 11).
They will overcome Satan by the blood of the Lamb and by the
word of their testimony. It will be their willing sacrifice that brings
about the downfall of the demonic kingdom.
So John is instructed to write to these Christians, to share with
them not only this vision of the throne room, not only the story of
the Lion who is a Lamb, but to share with them a special revelation
from Jesus, a special message for His embattled saints. That message
begins with seven letters to seven churches, seven communiqués from
the Lamb to His followers. The letters were addressed to churches
in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and
Laodicea. Seven churches which symbolically represented all the
others. Seven letters written specifically to those churches, to those
believers at that point in time, but letters with an eternal message
for all followers of Jesus in every age. A timeless, heavenly message
that still echoes today, almost two thousand years later. Let us take
up those letters and hear the message. Let us pledge ourselves again
to follow in the steps of the Lion, even as they lead us like lambs to
the altar of sacrifice. Let us hear the words the Spirit says to the
churches.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to
the churches.”
The Lion and
The Lamb:
NOW

So what does it mean for me? The scene of Revelation 4 and 5


is full of wonderful imagery: stones, thrones, storms, creatures and a
lamb. But so what? What is the point? Why does it matter to me? If
John’s recording of the revelation of Jesus has meaning in the here
and now, then what is the message of two chapters devoted to a scene
from heaven? Is it to show me what I have to look forward to after
this life is over? Or is it to help me see the fundamental truth about
Jesus—and about me?
I appreciated reading Tim’s work on the background of this text.
It is his conviction that this passage holds the key to understanding
the Revelation of John. The more I read it, the more convinced I am
that this view of heaven shows the core message of the Bible. In fact,
it shows us the message of good news that God wants us to know,
understand and accept.

What Am I Doing Here?


Have you ever been somewhere you did not belong? It happens to
me occasionally with golf. I am not a good golfer. I am one of those
guys who has trouble breaking 80, and that is before I play the last six
20 Letters from the Lamb

holes. When I am asked what I “lie,” I take it as permission and not


as a question. However, I sometimes get invited to really nice courses
to play with friends. That is how I learned what a golf shirt was. I was
told to wear my golf clothes. Helpful hint: cut-offs and a t-shirt are
not golf clothes.
I am always intimidated. Even if I hit my first shot straight, it may
not make it past the ladies’ tee box. It is so hard to make a swing and
miss look like a practice shot. I know everyone watching is wondering
what someone like me is doing in a place like this. I certainly know
I am not good enough to be in a place like that. Even worse, I will
never be good enough to play those courses. Ever.
I feel somewhat the same way when we are invited to view the
throne room of God in Revelation 4. The physical description is
amazing. Just reading about it is intimidating. Read that passage
again. I certainly do not belong in a place like this. Nor do I belong
among such company. I am not in any way worthy to be among the
twenty-four elders. I am overwhelmed by the four powerful creatures
assembled. I sense that even this word picture is inadequate to convey
how awesome this place is.

And So I Weep
We have all been there. We have done something that we knew
we could not fix. Sometimes something is said that you would give
anything to take back but cannot. Sometimes something is done
that is not repairable. If you ever totaled a vehicle you know what
that means. It is wrecked beyond repair. Sometimes we fail to do
something. No matter how much we regret our actions, no matter
how many times we apologize, some things are beyond our ability
to repair.
That is exactly how I feel seeing the throne room of the holy God.
I have done things I know I should not have done. I have failed to do
things that I know I should have done. A holy God is not going to put
up with the likes of me. Sin and holiness do not go together. And so
I weep. I cry for the things I have done that make me unholy. I cry
because I know that my life does not fit in a holy throne room.
God is holding a scroll that reveals His plan for the reign of His
kingdom. How exciting it must be. Maybe there is even a place for me
The Lion and the Lamb 21

in that plan. How I want to be a part of something this exciting. I long


for my life to have purpose. I desire to belong to something greater.
And so I weep.
John cries because there is no one worthy to open the scroll. There
is no one who can set this plan in motion. He knows he himself is not
worthy. If John is not worthy, then there is no use even looking my
way. I feel that way about my own life. Who can fix my life? Who can
open the scroll of my life? And so I weep.
Who is worthy? Who is it that can connect unholy me with the
holy God who made me? That is the question for all people every-
where: Who can pay the price for the sin that makes us unworthy to
be in God’s presence? I wish I could do that for the people I love. I
would pay the price for them, but I cannot. I am not worthy either. I
have my own debt of sin. I do not even know how to pay off my own
debt of sin. I would work off my debt, but how? What do I have to
offer? I need someone worthy to pay my debt. And so, like John, I
weep.

Worthy Is the Lamb


This is the best news we could ever hear: the Lamb has been
slain. Jesus is worthy. The sinless Lion of Judah is worthy to open the
scroll. He can initiate God’s plan. The triumphant Lion is a sacrificed
Lamb. Before the throne of God, in the midst of thrones and fear-
some creatures is a slain Lamb. The One who will change weeping
into rejoicing has been slain, yet now lives. The Christian message
that changes my life here and gives life forever with God is built
upon death.
Listen to the song of praise sung in heaven about Jesus:
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
(Revelation 5:9, 10).
There is the answer to my need. Jesus purchased me with His
blood. He is worthy to pay for my sins. That is the crux of Christian-
ity. That is how I become worthy to enter the throne room of heaven.
22 Letters from the Lamb

That is how I can live forever in the presence of God. The unholy me
becomes holy; not because of what I have done, but in spite of what I
have done. I am holy because my sin is gone. I am sinless before God
because the blood of the Lamb has purchased me, paid my debt, and
redeemed me. No wonder Revelation 5 bursts into songs of praise. I
was able to sing at least nine songs from this very text. When I read
this chapter, I am reminded that I am part of a kingdom greater than
any kingdom this world has ever seen; a kingdom that transcends
borders. We are not citizens of any earthly kingdom. I remember
what the writer of Hebrews said:
[T]hey admitted that they were aliens and strangers
on earth. People who say such things show that they are
looking for a country of their own. If they had been think-
ing of the country they had left, they would have had op-
portunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a
better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not
ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city
for them (Hebrews 11:13-16).
We see a visual of that city in Revelation. I am a priest. I am a
holy man. So are you. So what do we do? We serve God. We are part
of the reign of God on this earth.

The Lion Is a Lamb


Lions are not lambs in this world. We have a hard time grasping
the concept of unholy people becoming holy by the act of someone
else. Christianity is counter cultural by nature. Our world does not
get it, and they hate what they do not understand. So persecution
becomes inevitable. The world is scared of us. We reject its standards.
We will not submit to its rules. We do not accept its logic. We will not
fight about it, but we will give our lives for it. We have. The world
believes so much in the power of the lion that it never understands the
power of the slain lamb. That is why Revelation became so important
to the early church. They were about to undergo intense persecution
because of their conviction to follow the Lamb of God.
It still happens. To follow Jesus is to reject the world. It is to live in
a radically different way than the culture around us. And the world
The Lion and the Lamb 23

will hate us for it. So we too need this book. We need to hear the mes-
sage of Revelation.

Too Good To Be True


He was one of the best athletes I have ever known: all-state in foot-
ball and recruited to play baseball at a major university. As happens
with so many athletes, he used pharmaceutical help to play through
pain. Then he became addicted. His life began to be controlled by
that addiction to the point where he ended up losing his scholar-
ship and returning home a shell of the man he used to be physically
and emotionally.
I was one of the first people he came to see. Some of his family
knew me and suggested I would be a good one to talk to. So we talked
about the power of Jesus to change lives. We visited about God’s love,
His forgiveness and His grace. We talked about surrendering all of
ourselves so we might really find ourselves. I told him how it had
worked in my life. We talked, prayed and cried. And he did absolutely
nothing about it.
It was just over one year later that it all clicked. He realized one
night that he wanted to be baptized and die with Jesus. He was ready
to act on what he knew. He was ready to have his sins washed away.
Then he got “cold feet.” He could not get up and go into the baptis-
tery. After visiting for some time, the real issue came out. He said:
“This is just too good to be true. There is no way God can forgive all
I have done.” That is when I knew he got it. He was right. It really
does seem too good to be true. That is the whole point. I am not good
enough but Jesus is. And by the way, we did baptize him. Because he
was not good enough either, but Jesus is!
So who am I to stand in the throne room of heaven? I am a child
of God, adopted into the family of God by the sacrifice of Jesus.

No More Tears
At the end of the book of Revelation, we read where God will
wipe away every tear from our eyes (Revelation 21:4). In many ways,
that is the story of God’s work among us—to wipe away our tears.
It reminds me of the woman who encounters Jesus in Luke 7:36-50.
Jesus is reclining at the dinner table when this woman comes and
stands behind Him. She is crying so hard that her tears begin to wet
24 Letters from the Lamb

His feet.
I think I know why she is crying. She has “lived a sinful life in that
town” (Luke 7:37). What a reputation. You can imagine what people
thought of her. Yet she heard about Jesus, heard where He was and
showed up. Then all she can do is stand there and cry. Why? Maybe
she understands how unworthy she is to be in His presence. Maybe
she cannot believe that forgiveness is possible for someone like her.
Maybe it is emotional overload at the contrast between her life of sin
and the sinless Son of God. Or maybe she gets it. Maybe she realizes
that someone worthy will enable her to come into the presence of
God as a clean, forgiven child.
Then it happens. Jesus forgives her sin, commends her faith, and
sends her out with a blessing of peace. I understand this story because
I am her: a sinner unworthy to be in the presence of God. I under-
stand because I have been forgiven, and I stand in the throne room
of heaven forgiven and pure. God has wiped away my tears. There is
someone worthy to justify my presence among the holy.
Worthy is the Lamb.

Endnotes
1
1 Timothy 6:16
2
This scene follows the description of Revelation 4:1-8.
3
Exodus 24:9-11
4
Exodus 33:18—34:7
5
1 Kings 22:19
6
Isaiah 6:1-3
7
Ezekiel 1:1-28
8
Daniel 7:9, 10
9
From Genesis 49:9
10
2 Timothy 1:10
The Lion and
The Lamb:
?

The Lion and the Lamb: Then


1. Why do you think certain men (Moses, Isaiah, John, etc.) were
given glimpses of God’s throne room while others were not?
What is the significance of seeing God in this way?

2. What is the significance of the scroll and the seven seals on


the scroll? Why is Jesus worthy to open the scroll when no one
else is?

3. How would things be different if we only knew Jesus as the Lion


of Judah and not the Lamb? How do you think that His teach-
ings would change?

4. As Christians, how do we respond to situations in a “lamb way”


rather than a “lion way”? Give some examples.

5. Do you agree or disagree with this statement: “The church


grows better in times of persecution.” Give reasons to support
26 Letters from the Lamb

your answer.

The Lion and the Lamb: Now


1. Do we ever think we are worthy to enter the throne room on
our own merits?
2. How do we sometimes “justify” ourselves to God?

3. A number of hymns and contemporary praise songs have been


written based on this material. How many can you think of?
Why do think this material lends itself to praise?

4. Discuss the difficulty of belonging to the kingdom of God while


living among the kingdoms of men.

5. What is the most difficult challenge in your life in terms of liv-


ing counter-culturally?
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