Jesus - The Lamb of God
Fr. Thomas Hopko · August 21, 2009
God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac on the altar. Fr. Tom explores this passage and others that refer to Jesus as "the Lamb."
When we were reflecting on Jesus as the good shepherd and the shepherd and the sheep, we made the point, and a very well known point, that Jesus is not only the shepherd, but he is the Lamb. Jesus is identified with the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. When we think about the lambs in the Holy Scripture, the first thing that we remember, or certainly among the first things that we will remember, is how the Lord God, in testing Abraham, asked him to sacrifice his son, his only son, the son of the promise, the son through whom all the people of the earth were to be blessed, to sacrifice him, to offer him as a living sacrifice.
Probably at that time, there [was] this practice in [Canaan] as a living sacrifice as a terrible thing, sacrificing to Moloch and others. And it may very well be that this commandment of God to Abraham was somehow or other within that context. In any case, the point is very clear: Abraham is known for his trust of God. He is known throughout all generations as the one who believed God, and that he was justified by faith. The Apostle Paul will use Abraham as that great example that we are saved by faith through grace and not by works. But when we do believe, according to James and according to the entire Scripture including St. Paul, then we show our faith and our trust in God by our belief.
There can be no greater test possible to be ever imagined on the face of the earth than a father would be asked to sacrifice his child. Even more, that the father would be asked to sacrifice his only-begotten child, his only child, and especially a child who was originally received from God as a blessing, because we know that Isaac was given to Abraham and Sarah in their old age, and that God had promised through Sarah, Abraham by way of Sarah, that all the nations of the earth would be blessed, and here she is, barren. Then, of course, the announcement is made that she will bear the son Isaac. She laughs. That’s why he’s called “Isaac,” which means “laughter.”
In any case, we know what the story is in Genesis 22 where God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son, his only son. Then we know the story that Abraham takes Isaac up to the Mount Moriah. He’s got his knife. He’s got his wood. He’s got his fire. He’s ready to do it. Isaac says to his father—I’m reading now from Genesis
“Abraham, my father.”
And he said, “Here am I, my son.”
He said, “Behold the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”
—because obviously there [were these sacrifices] that [were] going on at the time. They were offering lambs and goats and various other things to the gods, and even to God himself, the one God, as a sign of propitiation or thanksgiving or sin-offering or thank-offering or whatever the offering might be. So Isaac says, “Behold the fire and the wood, but where’s the lamb for a burnt offering?”
And Abraham said, “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went, both of them together. When they came to the place of which God had told them, Abraham built an altar there.
They laid the wood in order, bound Isaac his son, laid him on the altar upon the wood, then Abraham put forth his hand and took the knife to slay his son, but the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham.”
He said, “Here am I.”
He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And then Abraham lifted up his eyes: Behold, he looked behind him. Behind him was a ram. He [was] caught in a thicket by his horns. Abraham took the ram, offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son, and Abraham called the name of that place “the Lord will provide.”
As we mentioned already—I believe when we were reflecting on Jesus as the great High Priest—that Jesus offers the sacrifice, and the sacrifice is himself. God offers the sacrifice. God sacrifices his Son, his only-begotten Son, his first-born Son, for the sins of the world. That’s the Christian faith: that God sends his son to be perfectly innocent, perfectly righteous, perfectly just, and to be put to death by the wicked and the evil of the world in order to forgive them.
Not only [was Christ] a sin-offering, but an atonement offering, a forgiveness offering, and even a thank-offering. And then that offering of Jesus of himself, as we’ll see, as the Lamb of God, becomes the center of the Christian worship. But as we think about Abraham and Isaac, we have that expression: “Where, my father, where is the lamb?” Where is the Lamb? And Christians will answer: “God will provide the Lamb” and that’s why it’s called “God will provide.” The lamb that he provides is his own Son. When God asks the father of faith to sacrifice his son, he does not allow him to do it, but God sends his own Son as the Lamb to be sacrificed.
So we see that already in the Abraham-Isaac story. Then we have the Exodus, the Passover Exodus, where again you have a lamb. Where God is leading the people out of Egypt. He’s freeing them. He’s delivering them. This is the prefiguration and the prototype of Pascha itself, the New Passover, the death and the Resurrection of Christ. Then, of course, we know the story. Hopefully, we know the story that when God is going to lead the people out, finally, and just do his thing by delivering the people, taking them into the wilderness, he says to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall be for you the beginning of months.” It’s Exodus 12:
It shall be the first month of the year to you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month, they shall take every man a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then a man and a neighbor next to his house will take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat, you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male, a year old. You shall take it from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs in the evening.
Then shall they take some of the blood, put it on the doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat them. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted, with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled with water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. And you shall let none of it remain until the morning. Anything that remains until the morning you shall burn.
In this manner you shall it eat: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, your staff in your hand, and you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night. I will smite all the first-born in the land of Egypt, man and beast. And on all the gods of Egypt, I will execute judgment. I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you upon the houses where you are, for when I see the blood, I will pass over you and no plague shall fall upon you to destroy you when I smite the land of Egypt. This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord throughout all generations.
Of course, we all know that for Christians, the old Passover is a typos and prefiguration of the New Passover. We know that the Apostle Paul, in the letter to the Corinthians, will say it very, very specifically. This is actually read in the Orthodox Church on the Matins service of Great and Holy Saturday, the eve of Passover, the eve of Christ’s Resurrection, and this is what it says: “Cleanse out the old lump.” Well, I should read above.
Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the leaven that you may be a new lump as you really are unleavened, for Christ, our Paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5:6-8)
So the line here is: “Christos, our Pascha, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival. Let us keep the feast.” The point is that the Paschal lamb is Christ. It’s his blood that saves us. When we are marked with his blood, the angel of death passes over. God delivers us, not from Egypt into the promised land, across the Jordan, but he delivers us from, as we sing on Pascha night, “From death unto life, from earth unto heaven, has Christ our God led us.” Christ is our Pascha.
Of course, when we sing on Pascha all those hymns about Pascha—“O Pascha, Pascha of beauty, Pascha, the new Pascha, the Pascha of the Lord”—that Pascha is Christ himself. He is the Passover Lamb that is killed. So Moses called the elders in Egypt and he said, “Select lambs for yourself according to families. Kill the passover lamb.” It is God himself who kills the Passover lamb providentially, because he sends his Son as the Lamb of God to die for the life of the world.
The Old Testament Passover Exodus was the center of the Old Testamental faith, and the main feast of the year was Pascha to remember that. And in the Christian Church we have the New Pascha, celebrated also on the Passover of the Jews, and this is the Pascha of Christ himself. We mention that in St. John’s Gospel, the crucifixion of Christ, the passion of Christ—his crucifixion and death—takes place on Pascha, and it patterns all the acts of Pascha, so that even when the Passover lamb was being in the Temple on Pascha, that’s when Pilate is saying to the people, “Behold your king.” So there is this connection between Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God who is slain and the Passover lamb, which is connected to the lamb that is replacing Isaac on Mount Moriah, because they see that ram in the thicket, they take it, and they offer it.
This same imagery is used throughout the Old Testament, and we’ll just take another example that will be the one that many know. That’s about the suffering servant of Yahweh, the suffering servant of the Lord, the emet of the Lord, the pesach, the sacrificial slave of the Lord, the Lord’s servant. We all know the songs there, but let’s just read the whole thing just to refresh our memory very precisely.
In the Prophet Isaiah, you have this written, in the end of the 52nd chapter, going into the 53rd:
Behold, my servant shall prosper. He shall be exalted and lifted up and shall be very high. As many were astonished at him, his appearance was so marred beyond human semblance, his form beyond that of the sons of men. So shall he startle many nations. Kings shall shut their [mouths] because of him. For that which has not been told them they shall see, and that which they have not heard they shall understand.
And this is the amazing thing:
He shall be exalted. He shall be lifted up. He shall be very high.
But it will be on the Cross.
They will be astonished at this, because “his appearance was so marred beyond human semblance, his form beyond that of the sons of men; he shall startle all the nations. Kings will shut their [mouths] because of him, and that which has not been told them they shall see, and that which they have not heard they shall understand.” Then the prophet continues:
Who has believed what we have heard? To whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground.
Some people see that “root out of dry ground” as prefiguring the virgin birth, out of a woman who has not known the seed of man. Then it says:
He has no form of comeliness that we should look at him, no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised. He was rejected by man. A man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, as one from whom men hide their faces. He was despised and we esteemed him not. Surely [he] has borne our griefs (or that could be translated [as] “our pains, our sicknesses, our wounds”), carried our sorrows (or pains or wounds), yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions.
That could be translated also: “He was wounded because of our trespasses, because of the fact that we are sinners.”
He was bruised (because of our iniquities) for our iniquities. Upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and by his stripes we are healed.
So by his wounds we are made whole. By his afflictions, we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
So we are the straying sheep, and the Lord comes searching for us, and he finds us: curséd, sinful, dead, and he takes us to himself. He identifies with that particular condition.
He was oppressed. He was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth.
Here you have the line we want:
Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.
He was oppressed. He was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth. Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.
Here, of course, Christians see that at the Passion of Christ, when Jesus remains silent, when he doesn’t speak. Pilate asks him, “Won’t you speak?” Jesus says, “I’ve told you everything. Why do you want me to tell you more? I spoke openly. I was in the Temple. I said everything. You heard it. I didn’t hide anything from anyone.” And then, in the end, he remains silent. He remains silent, especially when Pilate says, “What is truth?” Jesus remains silent.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away, and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living.
Actually, the Septuagint says, “As for his generation who can declare it?” And that was interpreted as meaning we don’t know where he’s come from, like Melchizedek, we don’t know where he comes from. We don’t know what his generation is, and that’s why in the New Testament it often said about Jesus: “We know where he came from; how can he be the Messiah?” Because it’s written, when the Messiah comes, we won’t know he’s coming from. We don’t know who he is. But this guy, we know who he is. He’s the son of Mary and Joseph. We know him.
He was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people. And they made his grave with the wicked, and with a rich man in his death.
The “grave with the wicked” very often is interpreted that he’s killed with the malefactors. With the two thieves he’s crucified. And that line: “a rich man in his death”: it’s often interpreted as being Joseph of Arimathea, the rich man who gave Jesus his tomb, his sepulcher.
Although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth, yet it was the will of the Lord to bruise him. He has put him to grief (or I could say “has made him sick”) when he made himself an offering for sin (it could also say “when he gave his life or his soul as an offering for sin”). He shall see his offspring. He shall prolong his days. The will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. He shall the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied. And 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 great. He will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his soul, his life to death, was numbered with the transgressors (the thieves), yet he bore the sin of many (“the multitude”: that means everyone), and made intercession for the transgressors.
Jesus is this Lamb led to the slaughter, the Sheep who does not open his mouth, the Man of sorrows, the suffering Servant, afflicted, wounded, rejected, yet innocent, righteous, mocked, ridiculed, ugly to look upon, hanging on the Cross in his exaltation, acquainted with grief, smitten, afflicted, wounded for our transgression, because of our transgression. Here you have Jesus as this suffering Servant-Lamb.
In St. John’s Gospel in the New Testament, this is referred to directly. In the first chapter of St. John’s Gospel, John the Baptist comes baptizing. When he sees Jesus, coming toward him, he says, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, for he was before me. I myself did not know him.’ ” That’s an amazing line, when John says, “I myself did not know him, but for this I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.”
And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him,” he says again, a second time. “But he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
So John says, “I did not know him.” I don’t know what that means. It could mean that he had no personal acquaintance with him. It may be that he wasn’t even too aware of his existence, because, don’t forget, John went out to the desert very early in life, and he was raised there in the desert, away from his family. He was a Nazarite in that sense. He was a person totally committed to God, but he was inspired by the Holy Spirit, by God himself, to say, “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
Sometimes that’s even translated “The Lamb of God who takes upon himself the sin of the world.” And that line will be used liturgically by Christians. Certainly it’s used in the Great Doxology that we sing. In the Orthodox Church we sing it every day. We sing it at Matins. We sing it or say it at Matins. We sing it at feasts. We say it at Compline. We say, “O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, who takes upon himself the sin of the world.” And that prayer is also used, certainly in the Western tradition, it was used at Holy Communion time. “The Lamb of God who takes upon himself the sin of the world”: the “Agnus Dei” in Latin; “Agnets” in Slavonic. “The Lamb of God.”
Here it’s interesting that in the Christian tradition, the bread for the Holy Eucharist—we will speak about Jesus as “I am the bread” in due time; that’s another one of his titles: “I am the bread, the bread from heaven, the living bread, the bread of life”; but here we’re now talking about the Lamb of God—but the bread in church is called “the Lamb” in the Orthodox tradition. The part of the bread that is consecrated at the Holy Communion at the Divine Liturgy is called “the Lamb of God.” On that particular lamb, there’s a seal: Iisus Christos Nika: Jesus Christ, the Savior; Jesus Christ, the Victor; Jesus Christ, who triumphs; Jesus Christ, the Conqueror. And we will see in the Book of Revelation, that every one of those things is said about the Lamb of God, that “nika,” the one who conquers.
In the West, that bread is called the “hostia,” or the “host,” and “host” means “what is offered in sacrifice. It also means “a lamb” in that sense. And then of course, in the Western Church, they do have these wonderful hymns about Jesus, the Lamb of God.
You have John the Baptist saying, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Then it continues in the first chapter: “The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples and he looked at Jesus as he walked and he said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God.’ ” He says it a second time. This time it says:
The two disciples heard him say this and they then followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What do you seek?”
They said to him, “Rabbi,” which means teacher, “Where are you staying?”
He said, “Come and see.”
So the disciples of John the Baptist—Peter and Andrew, James and John—they then go and follow Jesus, and they say he is the Messiah, the Lamb of God who suffers. The one through whom all the sins are forgiven is already borne witness to in the first chapter of the Gospel according to St. John. Then, of course, John the Baptist will say, “He must increase; I must decrease. He is the Bridegroom; I am the friend of the Bridegroom. He is the light; I am the lampstand. He is the Word; I am the voice.” This is the way the Liturgy will speak about Jesus and John the Baptist. In any case, John’s disciples leave John and they follow the Lamb of God who takes upon himself the sin of the world.
In the New Testament, you definitely have, after the Gospels, the use of the term “lamb” and the reference to Isaiah quoted in other books of the New Testament. For example, the Acts of the Apostles: In Acts 8, you have the story of Philip and the Ethiopian, the Ethiopian eunuch, that Philip runs into this Ethiopian, a eunuch, who had come to Jerusalem to worship. He was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the Prophet Isaiah. The Holy Spirit inspired Philip to go up and join this chariot. So Philip ran to the man, heard him reading Isaiah the Prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I understand unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and to sit with him in the chariot. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:
As a sheep led to the slaughter, or a lamb before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. In his humiliation, justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken up from the earth.
And then it continues in Acts:
The Ethiopian eunuch says to Philip, “About whom, tell me, does the prophet say this? About himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and, beginning with this scripture, he told him the good news of Jesus, the Gospel of Jesus, beginning with this scripture about the Lamb of God.
As they went along the road, they came to some water. The eunuch said, “See, here is water. What is to prevent my being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop. He went down into the water. Philip and the eunuch both went into the water, and Philip baptized him. Then the Spirit of the Lord led Philip away, and the Ethiopian continued on, now as a baptized disciple of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes upon himself the sin of the world.
We mentioned also Paul, identifying Jesus with the Paschal lamb. In the letters attributed to Peter, you have also this reference being made. In the letter of Peter, I Peter, this is what we find written in that letter. The Apostle writes:
You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers. 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. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake.
We are at the end of the times in Jesus. Once Jesus is crucified, raised, glorified, and the Holy Spirit is poured out, it’s the end of the ages. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “The ends of the ages have come upon us because of the crucifixion of the Messiah.” His being raised, his being glorified: that, in a sense, is the end of human history.
What we want to see right now is what Peter says. What does he say? He says, “Like a lamb without blemish or spot. You were ransomed from the futile ways by the Blood, the precious Blood of Christ.” And it says:
He was destined before the foundation of the world but was manifested at the end of times for your sake. Through him you have confidence in God who raised him from the dead and gave him glory so that your faith and your hope are in God.
Right here you have this specific reference to Jesus as the Lamb without blemish or spot. This “without blemish or spot” is very important, because it has to be innocent; it has to be pure. We remember that in the Old Testament the prophets chastised the priests for offering afflicted animals, sick ones, lame ones. “No, no, it’s got to be perfect.” The lamb has to be perfect. Gregory the Theologian will even say it must be a male lamb, because it was a male lamb who had to be offered as the Passover lamb. Sometimes people say that’s even one of the reasons the Christ has to be male. It’s got to be a male lamb that’s offered. We sing in the Orthodox Church on Pascha in the Paschal hymns that definitely it was a male lamb, not a female lamb.
Let’s go to the book of Revelation. In the book of Revelation, the term “arnion, to arnion” is used almost 30 times. I think I counted 29. I can’t remember now exactly how many I counted, but we’re going to go through them all right now. There are just so many. 29 times is what I counted [that] you have the term “lamb” being used in the book of Revelation.
It begins in the fifth chapter. In the fifth chapter, you have for the first time the identification of the Son of God, who was dead and is alive again, the one who appears as one [and the same] as the son of man in the beginning, the one who conquers according to the seven letters in the Apocalypse, he who conquers, those who conquer with Christ, the Son of God, the root of David—this one is called specifically for the first time in the Apocalypse “the Lamb.” So here we are in the fifth chapter of Revelation. It says:
I saw a Lamb, standing as though it had been slain, with seven horns and seven eyes and the seven spirits God sent out into the world. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.
He who was seated on the throne in the Apocalypse is always God. It’s God the Father.
When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the 24 presbyters fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp with golden bowls full of incense and the prayers of the saints and they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy art thou” (it’s the Lamb) “to take the scroll and to open its seals, for thou wast slain and by thy blood didst ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation and has made them a kingdom and priests to our God who shall reign upon the earth.
The visionary sees all these angels singing, myriads and thousands of thousands, and they’re singing with a loud voice: “Axion estin: worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” And every creature on heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea and all of them were saying to him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb: “Blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever.” “Eis tous aionas ton aionon,” as we would say in Greek. And the four living creatures who stand for the whole of the cosmic creation say, “Amen.” And the presbyters who stand for the Jews and the Gentiles—that’s why there’s 24 of them: twelve and twelve—they fell down and they worshiped.
So you have the vision of the Lamb as though it had been slain. Why seven horns? Why seven eyes? Why seven spirits? Because seven is the symbol of fullness, completion, perfection. Seven horns means full power. Seven eyes means full knowledge. Seven spirits means full of life. Total perfection that God had sent into the earth! So that’s the first vision of the Lamb that you have in the Apocalypse: standing. And all the way through the Apocalypse it will say that glory and honor and blessing and wisdom and power are given to him who sits upon the throne—that’s God—and to the Lamb who in this book is identified with the Son of God and, obviously, identified with Jesus Christ himself.
In the sixth chapter, it begins:
Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice of thunder, “Come!” and I saw.
And then you have the vision of these openings of the seals, and every time, it says, “Come! Come!” “Come! Come!” every time, and each of the seals is opened until you get to the sixth seal, which is the penultimate one, and it says, “All the kings of the earth, the great men, the generals, the rich, the strong, everyone, slave and free, they hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains.” Such a terrifying thing is happening, and they’re calling out from the mountains and the rocks: “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated upon the throne”—that’s God—“and from the wrath of the Lamb!”
So you have the wrath of the Lamb. Now you have the peace of the Lamb, too. You have the Lamb’s war, because the Lamb who conquers conquers only by goodness, only by love, only by truth, only by innocency, only by sinlessness, only by purity, but yet that is experienced as wrath by sinners. They can’t stand it. “For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand before it?” it says.
Then you get to the seventh seal, and the seventh seal is the mystery of mysteries. If something is sealed, and it’s sealed seven times, it means you don’t have a greater mystery than that. It’s the greatest, most marvelous mystery there can possibly be. When they get to the seventh seal, the visionary of the Apocalypse says they saw the number of the seal was 144,000. That means the whole multitude of the saved: twelve times twelve and then thousand. It’s not literally 144,000 in arithmetic. 144,000 stands for twelve times twelve. That’s why you have 24 presbyters, 144,000 saved and sealed. Then it says:
Behold a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues (and here you’ve got it again) standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands and crying out with a loud voice: “Salvation” (which also means ‘victory’ or ‘triumph’ or ‘conquering’) “belongs to our God who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb.” All the angels stood and around about the throne with the presbyters, the elders, and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and they worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever.”
Eis tous aionas ton aionon. Always. And then it continues:
The elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes? Whence have they come?”
I said to them, “Sir, you know.”
He said to me, “These are they who have come out of great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white” (and here you have it again) “in the Blood of the Lamb.”
Now that white robe, it symbolizes the resurrected body. That’s why in church the priests wear white robes underneath their vestments. And by the way, it should always be white. It shouldn’t be red or gold or purple. God forbid. “Alba”: it means “white.” It’s a resurrectional imagery. But the robes are washed white in the Blood of the Lamb. It’s the Blood that makes them white and it’s the Lamb’s Blood. And that glory, honor, and worship are given to him. So it continues:
Therefore are they before the throne of God who serve him day and night within his temple, he who sits upon the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more. The sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.
Why? Because the Lamb, in the midst of the throne, will be their shepherd. Actually, what it literally says is: “The Lamb, in the midst of the throne, will shepherd them.” It’s a verb again. It’s not a noun. It’s not “will be their shepherd,” but it’s “to arnion poimanei”: will shepherd them, will relate to them as a shepherd. And he will guide them to springs of living water—that’s the Holy Spirit, according to St. John’s Gospel, who many think also wrote this Revelation book—and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. That’s a reference to Prophet Isaiah.
So it’s this Lamb who’s now shepherding the people, and they’ve all come before him and they’re washed in his Blood. Then the eighth chapter continues:
When the Lamb (again) opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.
That means that ultimate mystery is totally silent. It’s the mystery of mysteries.) Then there’s seven angels. There’s seven trumpets. There’s the incensers. There’s the first angel, the second angel, the third angel, the fourth angel. All of this goes through. These great mysteries of God are being revealed in this apocalypse, in apocalyptic language which you have to know the key to be able, really, to understand it.
So you have this “Blood of the Lamb” there. And then it continues, all the way through with the same imagery. For example, we’ll just continue and read this. In the twelfth chapter, you have again that all the evil people are overcome and conquered by the Blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony for they loved not their lives even unto death.
So you have this Lamb. Salvation and power and kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, and it is the Lamb who conquers. And then you have: it continues in the 13th chapter. It says again the very same thing, repeated over and again. It says:
All who dwell on earth will worship the [beast]. Everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation [of the world] in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.
So the beast is worshiped by those whose names are not written—and this is the expression—“in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain.” And then it claims there that the beast, who symbolizes anti-Christs—and by the way, the word “anti-Christ” is not used in the book of Revelation. Some people think it is, but it’s not. It’s found in I John, and in I John it even says there’ll be many anti-Christs. But it’s interesting that it says here that the beasts imitate the Lamb. It says:
I saw another beast which rose out of the earth, had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon.
You see, they’re imitating the Lamb. But then it continues:
And I looked, and behold: on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his father’s name written on their foreheads.
So that means the multitude of the saved. The twelve times twelve, that’s what the 144,000 means. And then they sing a song before the throne, and it says:
And those who have not defiled themselves with women, those who are chaste, those who are virgins, those who follow the Lamb wherever he goes, these have been redeemed from out of humanity as the first-fruits for God and for the Lamb. And in their mouths no lie was found, and they are spotless.
So those who are sexually pure and do not lie, they belong to God and to the Lamb. And it’s always “God and the Lamb.” The Lamb and God: they go together. And if anyone follows the beast and does evil, then he suffers from the presence of the Lamb. The Lamb’s presence causes torment to him. And this is what you find in Isaiah also, that when the Messiah appears, his glory and beauty will cause torment to those who are evil.
And then it continues on: They see this one who is not called like a Son of Man. He’s in glory. And they are singing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and, it says, the song of the Lamb. So again you have all of these righteous people who are honoring God [who] are singing the song of Moses now, the servant of God, and they’re singing also the song of the Lamb. So you have Moses in the Old Covenant, and Lamb—Christ, the New Moses—in the New.
And what do they sing? They sing:
Great and wonderful are thy deeds, O Lord God the almighty. Just and true are thy ways, King of the ages. Who shall not fear and glorify thy name, O Lord? For thou only art holy. All nations shall come and worship thee for thy judgment had been revealed.
The Apocalypse continues, and then when you get toward the end of the book, it says that all the wicked of the world will make war on the Lamb. They will try to destroy the Lamb, but they won’t be able to do it. So it says:
They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with him are those who are called and chosen and faithful.
It’s a wonderful expression. It’s called “klitoi, eklektoi, and pistoi.” In Slavonic, I always remember it: “zvanih, izabranih, i vjerni.” There’s even a book by that title by a woman who’s still alive in Russia. Her son is the archbishop of Volokolamsk, Hilarion Alfeyev; he’s the head of the external affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church. His mother wrote a book when she was very young and when he was a little boy, and the title of her book was these words from the Apocalypse: “called and chosen and faithful.” And they are the ones who conquer with the Lamb: those who are called, those who are chosen, those who are faithful. They conquer with the Lamb, and it says, “He is the Lord of the lords and the King of kings.”
Then it says that he will destroy all the kings who fornicate and lie and cheat and all the merchants and all the evil-doers of the world, and then, finally, the end will come. And the end in the Apocalypse is called “the marriage supper of the Lamb” or even simply “the marriage of the Lamb.” For example, it says:
Alleluia! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns. Let us exalt and give him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready. Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.
So the marriage supper of the Lamb is when Christ marries his bride. He is the Bridegroom; he marries his Bride, and that’s the marriage supper of the Lamb. And the Church, the faithful, who are called and chosen and faithful, they become the Bride of the Lamb. It’s interesting, by the way, in [the] Russian Orthodox Church, that Fr. Sergius Bulgakov, a great theologian, a controversial man, too, he wrote a book about the Church, and the title of the book was Neviesta Agntsa: “The Bride of the Lamb.”
So we are all the Bride of the Lamb. The New Jerusalem is the Bride of the Lamb. She comes down like a bride for her husband; and her husband is the Lamb who was slain, who was also called in the Apocalypse the Word of God, the Logos of God is the Lamb of God. Then it says the Logos is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. And God is the King of kings and Lord of lords. And the Lamb is the King of kings and the Lord of lords.
Some people have pointed out that in the Liturgy of the Orthodox Church, you have Christ present as the Logos and Christ present as the Lamb. At the Liturgy of the Word, he is the Word of God, and during the Liturgy of the Faithful, he is the Lamb of God. These are the two words liturgically used for Jesus: the Word of God and the Lamb of God. And the Word is the Lamb, and the Lamb is the Word, and both of them are Jesus Christ.
The Apocalypse ends by saying that he conquers. The Lamb conquers. He wipes away every tear. Those who are righteous are with him. They reign with him. And then you have the visionary [being told]:
“Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb,” and in the Spirit, he carried me away to a great high mountain, and he showed me the holy city of Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like the most rare jewels.
And the Apostles of the Lamb are there, and then you have:
I saw no temple in this New Jerusalem that comes from heaven, “for,” the Scripture says, “its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and (again) the Lamb.” The Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb. And then it says, “The light in the city will be the light of the Lamb.” It says, “And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” And that’s why Orthodox sing on Pascha, “Shine, shine, O New Jerusalem, for the glory of the Lord has appeared upon you!”
That glory is the light of the Lamb, and as the Paschal hymn says, that’s used at the Divine Liturgy, “O Pascha of the Lord, great and holy, grant us to have communion with you, more truly in the neverending day of your kingdom, the day that has no night, the day that’s filled with light.” The light is the Lamb. And then the Book of Life which is in the city is called the Lamb’s Book of Life or the Book of Life of the Lamb.
And the river, the water of life, the Holy Spirit, that flows through the city, flows from the throne of God and from the Lamb. And then the Tree of Life in the city is watered, again, in that city and bears all the [kinds] of fruits, and “there shall be no more anything accurséd; everything will be full of life and fruitful.” Why? Because the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it.
And the servants shall worship him, and they shall see his face, and his [name] shall be on their foreheads. And the night shall be no more. They need no light or lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign forever and ever.
So it says the Lord God will be their light, and it says the Lamb will be their light. It’s, again, this identification of the Lord God with the Lamb, and the Lamb with the Lord God.
This is what we see and this is how the Apocalypse ends. In the very last chapter, it says, the throne of God and the Lamb shall be in the New Jerusalem which is the Bride, the wife of the Lamb, and they will be filled with light, and it will be coming soon, and that we are to worship God.
And the Spirit and the Bride say, “Come,” let him who hears say, “Come.” I am the root of the offspring of David, the bright morning star. I, Jesus, have sent my angel to you.
And then it says a fantastic thing. It says:
I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book, if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, the New Jerusalem, the Bride of the Lamb, which are described in this book.
And then it ends:
Behold the Lamb coming soon, and we pray, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”
Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus. And it’s interesting to note that that particular expression comes from Deuteronomy in the Old Testament: “Cursed is anyone who adds, and cursed is anyone who takes away.” And that was the kind of way that Orthodox used to speak in relationship to, as a matter of fact, simply speaking, to other Christians. The claim was that the Latins had added things that don’t belong there, and the Protestants, Reformed, have taken away things that do belong there. So you shouldn’t add and you shouldn’t take anything away, that’s how the Apocalypse ends.
But the Apocalypse ends with the marriage supper of the Lamb, the New Jerusalem, the Bride of the Lamb, coming down from heaven, and then in that New Jerusalem there is no temple and no sun and no moon and no light, because God, who sits upon the throne, and the Lamb are its light and its temple.
So the Lord Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God, and he is the Lamb of God the Father who sits upon the throne. He is glorified, and to him is given honor, glory, dominion, majesty, power, and thanksgiving forever and ever. So what is given to God who sits upon the throne, who is his Father, the Father of the Word, the Father of the Lamb, is also belonging to the Lamb.
That’s why the Christians will say that Jesus Christ is “Light from Light, true God of true God, begotten, not created, of the very same divinity as God the Father.” However, this Son comes on earth, to take the place, so to speak, of Isaac. To be the perfect sacrifice. To be the Passover lamb. To be the suffering servant, the Lamb of God, who does not open his mouth. To be the one who is sacrificed and dies.
And by being the Lamb, he becomes the Shepherd. As we mentioned when we spoke about the Good Shepherd, the Good Shepherd saves the sheep, gives his life for the sheep, but he gives his life for the sheep by becoming a sheep. He saves all his lambs by becoming the Lamb of God, taking their sins and straying and wandering and evil upon himself in order to save them. Those who know his voice, those who follow him, those who are marked with him, those who are chosen and called and faithful to him, and those who then foreconquer with him, they have all of the honor and glory and worship that belongs to God himself and to the Lamb.
And to God and to the Lamb of God, the Son of God, in the Holy Spirit, belongs all power, dominion and glory eis tous aionas ton aionon, unto ages of ages. And that Lamb of God, the victorious Lamb of God, is our Lord Jesus Christ who is himself the Lamb of God who takes upon himself the sin of the world, and by doing so, is glorified together with God his Father, seated upon the throne with him, and receiving all the glory of the totality of creation. The Lamb of God who was slain and is alive again, called from before the foundation of the world, to redeem the world by his precious Blood: Jesus Christ, God’s Lamb—the Lamb of God.