In the Bible, lambs were often sacrificed according to Old Testament Law. These lambs had to be spotless – with no imperfections – because they were sacrificed to provide temporary atonement for sins. This atonement was only temporary because animal sacrifice was meant to point to the true and lasting sacrifice of Jesus, which provided lasting purification from sin.
In Revelation 5, God is seated on the throne and is holding a scroll which is sealed with seven seals. An angel asks loudly who is worthy to open it, but it turns out that “no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it.” The Apostle John (who wrote the book of Revelation) reports that “I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it” (verses 3-4). And one of the elders around the throne came to John and said: “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
Then John continues:
“And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,
‘Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.’
Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’ And the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ and the elders fell down and worshiped” (Revelation 5:6-14).
What Does Worthy Is the Lamb Mean?
What does it mean that the Lamb was worthy? Remember that the sacrifices of the Old Testament were never meant to be permanent – that’s why Jesus came. While “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins,” we rejoice that “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:4, 10). Just like the lambs had to be spotless to be worthy to sacrifice for temporary atonement for God’s people, Jesus was also sinless and pure, “tempted just as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
There are many opinions regarding what the important scroll in God’s hand contained, but Coffman’s Commentaries on the Bible explains, “certainly, there is some bearing which the book had upon the mystery of redemption, and the long-secret device by which God would achieve it in the death of his Son.” The Greek word for “worthy” is áxios and means “deserving” or “having weight.” No human was found who could carry out God’s plan of redemption. The Lamb – God made flesh – was the only one who could.
What Makes the Lamb Worthy in Revelation 5?
The Lamb of Revelation 5 is worthy because of his sinlessness. 1 John 3:5 says: “You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.” He is also worthy because he sacrificed himself. Ephesians 5:2 tells us that “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Finally, the lamb is worthy because he was victorious – raised from the dead, triumphing over death. “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:56-57).
No one else has ever been sinless, sacrificial, and victorious over death! There is only one worthy: Jesus, the Lamb of God.
What Else Does the Bible Say about the Lamb of God?
The reference to Jesus as the Lamb of God is not unique to Revelation 5. In fact, “the Lamb” is mentioned often throughout the book of Revelation, including:
Revelation 7:9: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.”
Revelation 7:17: “For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Revelation 12:11: “And [martyrs] have conquered [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”
Revelation 19:7: “Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready.”
Revelation 21:23: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.”
Revelation 22:3: “No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.”
Jesus is also called a lamb in prophecies about his coming:
"He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth…. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:7-12, emphasis added).
When Jesus came to earth and was about to be baptized, John the Baptist “looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’” Paul refers to Jesus as “Christ, our Passover lamb” who “has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7). Peter also says that Christians “were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19).
Jesus is prophesied as the Lamb of God, and the theme of the Lamb continues throughout the New Testament. It’s particularly prominent in the book of Revelation, where the Lamb is called “worthy.” Indeed, he is the only one who was sinless, sacrificial, and victorious in this life, making him able to carry out God’s plan of redemption and make possible our eternal salvation!
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Jessica Udall holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Bible and a Master of Arts degree in Intercultural Studies. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Intercultural Studies and writes on the Christian life and intercultural communication at lovingthestrangerblog.com.