Death and Exaltation of Jesus in Revelation

Synopsis: The book of Revelation links the present reign of Jesus to his past Death and Resurrection, the immovable foundation of his kingdom.

Christian Cross Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash
Joshua Earle on Unsplash
The self-sacrificial death of Jesus and his consequent exaltation figure prominently in the
book of Revelation. His death on the cross is the foundation of its visions. The plan of God to redeem mankind and the Creation through Christ is unveiled in a series of visions. In Revelation, it is the death and enthronement of Jesus that put His redemptive plans into motion.

At the outset. Jesus is identified as the “faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the Earth. Unto him who loves us and loosed us out of our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests unto his God and Father” (Revelation 1:5-6).

In the vocabulary of the book, to bear “faithful witness” above all means martyrdom. God’s martyrs give witness by suffering unjust deaths for the sake of the Gospel (Revelation 2:10, 2:13, 12:11).

Jesus bore the ultimate witness on Calvary and became the model for his disciples to emulate (Revelation 3:14, 19:11, 1 Timothy 6:13 - “Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed the noble confession”).

Firstborn of the dead” refers to the Resurrection of Jesus. His death not only achieved the forgiveness of sins (“He loosed us out of our sins by his blood”) but, also, constituted the Church a “kingdom of priests” (Acts 26:23, 1 Corinthians 15:20-23, Colossians 1:18 1 Peter 2:5-9, Exodus 19:5-6, Revelation 5:10, 20:6).
The role of mediating the light of God to the nations originally was promised to Israel; however, it now through Christ’s Death and Resurrection is being actualized in the Church (Exodus 19:5-6, Revelation 5:6-10).
Christ’s present status as “ruler of the kings of the earth” is based on his past Death and Resurrection. His faithfulness unto death demonstrated his fitness to reign over not only the kings of the earth but, also, the entire Universe.

In the first vision of John, he saw Jesus pictured as a glorious heavenly figure. Overawed, he prostrated himself before this figure who identified himself as “the Living One, and I became dead and, behold, living am I unto the ages of ages” (Revelation 1:17-18, 2:8).

Though he reigns from the Throne of God, he remains forever the one who died and rose from the dead. Jesus possesses overwhelming authority, not because of his might and glory, but because of his past Death and Resurrection (“I have keys of Death and Hades”). Therefore, he has full authority and power to unveil to his churches “What things that must come to pass.”

Because he now has all power, this same Jesus walks among the Seven Churches. He is portrayed as a priestly figure who stands in the midst of the “seven golden lampstands” in a temple setting where he trims the wicks and the replenishes oil of each lamp as needed.

The “one who became dead and is living” encourages, corrects, and chastises his churches as needed in his seven “letters” to them recorded in chapters 2-3, and he assures every saint who “overcomes” of his or her eternal rewards.

Jesus promises Christians who “overcome” participation in his reign, “just as I also overcame and took my seat with my Father in his Throne.” He “overcame” by enduring the cross and his authority to reign is based on that sacrificial death. Christians, likewise, “overcome by the blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony, and because they love not their lives even unto death” (Revelation 3:21, 12:11).

The theme of His “overcoming” through death is prominent in Revelation 5:6-10. John saw in the right hand of the One Who was sitting on the Throne a Scroll sealed shut with Seven Seals. God’s redemptive purposes could not be put into effect until the Scroll was unsealed and opened. A search was made throughout the Cosmos for one “worthy” to open it but no worthy person could be found, which caused John to weep bitterly.

Lamb Photo by Bill Fairs on Unsplash
As he wept, John heard one of the twenty-four Elders command him to cease and desist, because the “lion from the tribe of Judah, the root of David, overcame to open the scroll and its seven seals.” When John looked, he did not see a royal military hero but “a Lamb standing as slain.” What John saw interpreted what he heard. Jesus was and is the true lion of Judah, but he fulfills that messianic role as the sacrificial lamb; he “overcame” by his death, not by killing his enemies.

From this point forward, the “lamb” becomes the dominant appellation applied to Jesus, and the central figure of the book’s visions. It is applied to him twenty-eight times (4 x 7). In contrast, he is called “Christ” only seven times and “Jesus” fourteen times (2 x 7), all multiples of seven. In each case where “Lamb” occurs, the thought of his self-sacrificial death is prominent.

In Revelation 5:6, the Lamb stood “as slain.” This clause translates a Greek participle in the perfect tense or esphagmenon. This is from the verb esphagō, commonly used for animals “slain” in religious sacrifices. The perfect tense signifies action completed in the past with results continuing into the present. Not, “he was slain,” but, “he has been slain.”

Though Jesus died once for all, the results achieved by his death remain forever. This is parallel to the Apostle Paul’s frequent identification of Christ as the “crucified” one, also using the perfect tense (e.g., 1 Corinthians 1:23, 2:2). Though exalted to God’s very Throne, Jesus remains forever identified with his death.

Bible Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
Immediately upon appearing before the Throne, the freshly slain Lamb approaches and takes the Sealed Scroll from the “right hand” of God. A heavenly choir then sings a new song and declares the “Lamb worthy to take the Scroll and open its seals.” He is authorized to open the Scroll because he was “slain and thereby redeemed unto God by his blood men from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, and made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they reign on the earth.”

Next, myriads of angels declare him “worthy” to receive all power, honor, and dominion because he is the “Lamb that has been slain.” The Lamb “as slain” is the central figure of this heavenly vision (Revelation 5:9-12).

Throughout the rest of the book, the Lamb and God act in concert. Together they reign over the Cosmos, judge the impenitent, destroy God’s enemies, inaugurate the New Creation, and grant rewards and everlasting life to the righteous who have been redeemed by the Lamb (Revelation 6:16-17, 7:9-17, 14:1, 14:10, 15:3, 21:22-23, 22:1-3).
The basis for the Lamb’s authority to open the Scroll is declared to be his self-sacrificial death, not any (yet) future event. That the Lamb begins immediately to break open the Seven Seals infers a process that began after his death, resurrection, and exaltation.
John sees a vision of an innumerable multitude comprised of men and women from every nation, tribe, people, and tongue standing before the Throne and the Lamb. They are arrayed in white robes, carrying palm branches, and they proclaim loudly, “salvation to our God who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb.” This group is identified as men and women who come out of the “Great Tribulation, having washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” This is the same multitude that was redeemed from every nation and proclaimed the Lamb “Worthy” (Revelation 5:6-12).

The company of the redeemed stands forevermore before the Throne and the One Who Sits upon it. They will never know hunger, thirst or pain again, “Because the Lamb that is in the midst of the Throne shall shepherd them and lead them unto life’s fountains of waters.” Redemption, victory and everlasting life are founded on the past sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, the Lamb.

John sees a vision of a Dragon poised to destroy a male figure, a “son,” about to be birthed by a Woman “arrayed with the sun and the moon beneath her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.” This picture and the number twelve identify her as God’s covenant community (Genesis 37:9, Revelation 12:1-11).

Her “son” is the promised Messiah destined “to shepherd all the nations with a scepter of iron.” Before the Dragon can destroy the child, he is “caught away to God and to his Throne,” resulting in “war in heaven.” The Dragon is defeated and expelled from heaven (Psalm 2:7-10).

The interpretation of this vision is given in Revelation 12:9-11. The Dragon is Satan. His defeat results in his banishment to the earth and the loss of his prosecutorial power. No longer is he able to “accuse the brethren” before the Throne. The “son” is explicitly identified as “Christ.”

A loud heavenly voice proclaims, “Now has come salvation and power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ!” The brethren overcame Satan “by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony, and because loved not their life even unto death.” Victory over Satan has already been achieved in the past Death and Resurrection of Jesus.

Thus, the vision of the Woman’s “son” seized and taken to the Throne of God looks at the same reality as the vision of the slain Lamb that stood before the Throne, though here, from a different perspective. In both visions, victory, and redemption for the saints are proclaimed because of the Lamb’s sacrificial death.

Mountain and Sky Photo by Marc Thunis on Unsplash
By Marc Thunis on Unsplash
Next, John sees a vision of the redeemed portrayed as one hundred and forty-four thousand righteous males who stand victorious with the Lamb on “Mount Zion.” Each one has the name of the Lamb and his Father “written upon their foreheads.” Before the heavenly Throne they “sing a new song” that no one outside their company can learn. Only those who belong to the Lamb and participate in his victory can sing the song of redemption (Revelation 14:1-5).

The one hundred and forty-four thousand are identified as those “who have been redeemed from the earth.” Though viewed from a different perspective, this is the same group seen already in the vision of the Throne where “they sing a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the Scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain and by your blood redeemed unto God men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.”

The redeemed company consists of men who “follow the Lamb wherever he goes.” They have been “redeemed from mankind as a firstfruit to God and the Lamb.” Once again, the cause of this great victory is the past death of Jesus.

The book of Revelation culminates in a vision of the New Creation that replaces the “first heaven and the first earth,” and the sight of the “holy city, new Jerusalem,” descending to the earth from heaven. All God’s enemies have been defeated, sin and death are no more, and overcoming saints now inherit everlasting life. Yet in this vision of final victory Jesus continues to be identified as the “Lamb” (Revelation 21:1-3).

New Jerusalem is the “wife of the Lamb.” The apostles are the “Twelve Apostles of the Lamb.” In the city, the “Lord God, the Almighty, is its temple, and the Lamb.” The city is illuminated by the “glory of God, and the lamp thereof is the Lamb” (Revelation 21:9-23).

Only those whose names are “written in the Lamb’s book of life” gain access to the holy city. The “river of water of life” flows out from the “Throne of God and the Lamb.” At the center of the Universe is the “throne of God and of the Lamb.”

The portrait of the heavenly Throne is the central vision that governs all the other visions of the book, and its central figure is Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb who “overcame” and, thereby, achieved victory over the Dragon. He is the one who began and continues to implement God’s redemptive plans and purposes.

By means of his death, the Lamb fulfilled the role of the Davidic Messiah and was installed to reign over the Universe. By his self-sacrificial death, Jesus has attained the full authority to open the Sealed Scroll, unveil and execute its contents. By his blood, he has redeemed men and women from every nation and ethnic group and constituted them a priestly kingdom that participates in his messianic reign.

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