Bishop's Message, Features, Highlights

The Lamb of Heaven

IF WE WERE TO CHOOSE the best symbol for Jesus as He reigns in heaven, we would probably choose the symbol of the lion. Jesus as the Lion of heaven would be, to our minds, a most appropriate picture – what with the majesty, power and ultimately victorious roar of the lion.

It is interesting, therefore, that the apostle John, in his sweeping vision of all history and eternity, of earth and heaven, and of the reign of God in heaven, chooses to use the image of the Lamb to depict Jesus. In the book of Revelation, Jesus is referred to as the Lamb no less than 28 times – a significant fact indeed.

The Old Testament has a rich theology of the Lamb. e endless line of sacrificial lambs in the Temple and Passover lambs at home created a lamb-shaped pattern in Jewish spirituality. When Jesus arrived at the scene 2,000 years ago, John the Baptist, representing the whole prophetic tradition of Israel, declared Jesus to be the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn. 1:29).

When we read Isaiah 53, we begin to understand this more clearly, for it becomes clear that Jesus, the Lamb of God, was anticipated by the prophets of the Old Testament. He would be the “man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering”. Jesus “carried our sorrows” and “was pierced for our transgressions (and) crushed for our iniquities”. He did not resist when “he was led like a lamb to the slaughter”. The punishment that He took upon Himself, in our place, brought us peace and salvation.

After the death and resurrection of Jesus, the early Christian writers and preachers understood the truth of Jesus as the Lamb of God and made numerous references to Old Testament teachings (especially Isaiah 53) and practices.

The prototypical Lamb-shaped Jewish spirituality became a far clearer Lamb-shaped Christian spirituality centred in Jesus the Lamb of God.

It is no surprise therefore that the apocalyptic peering into the future by the elderly apostle John sees a future shaped by the Lamb, and an eternity that strongly bears the mark of the Lamb. The Lamb sits on the centre of the throne of heaven (Rev. 7:17) – in other places we see two Persons occupying the throne – the Father and the Son, or God and the Lamb (Rev. 5:15; 7:10). The Lamb has the power and authority to unfold the future (Rev. 6) and He oversees the judgement that awaits us all in the future. He is also waiting to be united with His bride, the church (Rev. 19:7-9, 21:9). The church comprises all whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of life (Rev. 13:8).

A central feature of the Lamb in heaven is that He will be remembered and described as the Lamb “who was slain” (Rev. 5:12). His blood will be cherished (Rev. 7:14; 12:11) as the reality that produces holiness and righteousness, qualities necessary for permanent residence in heaven.

What can we learn from John’s vision of the Lamb? The apostle wrote his book at a time when Christians were going through great trials and persecution. Was there any comfort or hope to offer in such dire circumstances? The Spirit of God opened John’s heart and eyes to see a reality that over-rides the temporary breaking news of the day. He sees a future that is bathed with the reality of the Lamb. The Lamb is in control for He sits on His throne.

The Lamb is also with His suffering people – His blood remains fresh and efficacious – it continues to bring healing and salvation, comfort and strength. The Lamb will triumph over all the forces that may be strong today. No power or authority can prevail over the Lamb. The future will be entirely shaped by the Lamb on the throne. Meanwhile the Lamb’s people must realise that the thorns of the cross are connected intimately with the throne of heaven – in their Lord, and take comfort and draw strength.

Everybody aspires for the future, but the perfect future is elusive in this world. The man who aspires to be the wealthiest man in the world finds an empty heart to contend with when he reaches his materialistic dream. The man who seeks health finds that such health is only transient; there are so many things that he cannot control. The man who seeks knowledge finds lessening evidence of wisdom in the growing rainstorm of knowledge. And the man who seeks to be forever young finds that old age and death catch up with him quickly.

All futures, other than the one that is shaped by the Lamb and which is ruled by Him, are bound to fail – they are merely illusions. If we want a real future, it has to be the Lamb’s future. And this future is rooted in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The idea of Jesus as the Lamb points eternally to His cross and what he did there for us. The idea of the Lamb on the throne points to His resurrection, His victory over death and all that is designed by the evil one against His universe.

In other words, if we want a real future we have to take Jesus – His death and resurrection – seriously. We cannot simply sing or say the right words, but we have to live accordingly. We have to show that the death and resurrection of Jesus is the central reality of our lives.

In the two sacraments of the church, we are connected with the death and resurrection of our Lord. We die to sin and rise to life (with Christ) when we are baptised (Rom. 6:5). When we gather around the Lord’s Table, we remember His death and look forward to the resurrection (Mt. 26:27-29). How important it is to recognise why this is so central to our worship and discipleship.

Half measures will not bring us the Lamb’s heaven. If He is not your Lamb, His heaven cannot be yours too. If He is your Lamb, then He will also be your Shepherd – the one who rules and guides you daily (Rev. 7:17). Then His death and resurrection will be integral and central in your life. If it is not, is it not time to do something about it? The ball is in your court.