Depending on the Greek text used, the word “Lamb” appears in Revelation 28 or 29 times. Why is Jesus identified so frequently as the Lamb? There’s obviously a rich Old Testament and Johannine background to that title, but, as James Jordan has pointed out, the key seems to be the rather obscure feast of the first sheaf (Leviticus 23:9-14). Israel could celebrate Passover with either a lamb or a kid, but when they came to the feast of the first sheaf they had to offer “a male lamb one year old without defect for an ascension to Yahweh” (Leviticus 23:12). This is the only feast on which a single male lamb, and a single male lamb alone, was offered. The male lamb marked the beginning of the harvest, the first of the firstfruits.
That fits the sequence of Revelation quite nicely. When John first ascends to heaven in chapter 4, there is no Lamb. The Lamb appears in chapter 5, having ascended in sacrifice to the One Enthroned. In Leviticus 23, the first sheaf rite is followed by Pentecost, another partial harvest feast that includes leavened bread and multiple sacrifices. That too is the sequence of Revelation. The grain-and-grape saints are eventually harvested (Revelation 14) and gathered up to heaven along with the first-sheaf Lamb. In short, the fact that Jesus appears as a Lamb marks Revelation as a story of first-sheaf leading to Pentecost and eventually leading to the harvest of the feast of Booths.
Jesus is also identified as a Lamb because through most of Revelation He is operating in terms of the Old covenant system, which was an animal and angelic covenant.
Cherubim surrounded the throne before the Lamb’s appearance (4:6-7). The four living creatures are last mentioned in 19:4, singing praise to God for avenging the blood of the saints. Their work done, they disappear from the narrative and have no place in the new Jerusalem. By the end of Revelation the saints rather than the living creatures are with God in heaven (20:4-6). The same for the 24 old ones; they yield their place to new rulers, the faithful witnesses who reign with Christ. The movement of Revelation is thus from animal-angelic to human administration of creation. That is the movement of redemptive history as a whole: From animal sacrifice to living human sacrifice, from the “little while” that angels were above men to the exaltation of humanity.
Jesus Himself undergoes a similar transition in the course of the book. When John weeps because no one can open the scroll, one of the 24 elders tells him that he shouldn’t weep because the “lion from the tribe of Judah” has overcome and will take the book (Revelation 5:5). When John looks to see the lion, however, he sees a Lamb (v. 6). Jesus is depicted as a composite creature, a Lion-Lamb, and thus is symbolized as the true cherub (cf. 4:6-7). He is still called the Lamb at the end of Revelation (19:7, 9; 21:9, 14, 22-23, 27; 22:1, 3). But in the last few chapters the Lamb doesn’t appear in person; he is spoken about in the third person and doesn’t appear as an actor. Instead, Jesus appears as the Rider on a white horse (19:11-16) is called by the name “Jesus.” Of the 14 uses of the name in Revelation, 5 occur in chapters 19-22 (matching the 5 in the prologue, 1:1-9). Only in the final chapters does Jesus identify Himself as Jesus (22:16; cf, 22:20). In short, the depiction of Jesus moves from animal-angelic to human.
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Tuesday, June 12, 2012 at 5:22 am
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