Jesus in the Apocalypse of John: The Lamb

This post is part of an ongoing series examining the Christology of the Apocalypse of John.

lambThe image of the Lamb appears some twenty–nine times in Revelation, making it John’s favorite way to visually portray Jesus.[1] A number of competing conceptions of what this Lamb–image indicated to the original audience of Revelation have been offered. David Aune argues that the Lamb functions as the narrative guide to the “mythical narrative” of Revelation, similar to Virgil in Dante’s Comedia.[2] Yves Congar suggested that the Lamb should first be understood as the Passover sacrifice and the suffering servant of Isaiah.[3] Most convincing are conceptions of the Lamb which combine these motifs of guide and sacrifice, interpreting Lamb as the central Christological focus of Revelation, the slain and resurrected Lamb now leading his people to God.[4] Revelation’s portrayal of the Lamb clearly highlights its eschatological and judicial roles, as the Lamb leads the Christian communities (7:9–17; 14:1–5; 21:9–22:5) and makes war against the enemies of God on earth (12:10–12).[5]

However, for all of the Lamb’s sacrificial and eschatological significance, devotion to the Lamb remains most noteworthy. Revelation 5:11–14 serves not just a statement of the Lamb’s significance, but also worship of the Lamb. He is worthy, mighty, wise, honored, glorified, and blessed—the same attributes of Yahweh which make Him worthy of praise. Thus the Lamb shares divine honors with God Almighty (5:13; 7:10–17; 21:6). Later, the elect are sealed with the name of God and the name of the Lamb (14:1).[6] Finally, in the New Jerusalem God Almighty and the Lamb stand at the center of all life and religious activity, illuminate the city, and provide for all who dwell there (21:22–22:5).[7] In short, the hymns to the Lamb in Revelation make clear the fact that the Lamb should be worshiped alongside God, intimately linking Jesus to Yahweh.[8] This devotion to Jesus will be explored further below. For now, suffice it to conclude that for John the image of the Lamb conveys Jesus’ sacrificial, eschatological, and devotional importance.


[1] Casey, 141. Some has been written on the terminology used here—ἀρνίον, which refers to sheep of any age—in contrast to the language employed in the Gospel of John—ἀμνὸς, a lamb or sacrificial lamb. Hillyer has suggested that ἀρνίον developed into “precious lamb” by this point, although the evidence presented for this remains scant. Norman Hillyer, “’The Lamb’ in the Apocalypse,” The Evangelical Quarterly 39, 4 (1967): 228–9. Most convincing is Lioy’s argument concerning John’s recapitulation of the “conquering lamb” motif from the Testament of Joseph 19.8–11, Testament of Benjamin 3.8, 1 Enoch 89.45, 90.6, 90.37–38. Cx. 1 Cor. 5:7; 1 Pet. 1:19; 2:24; Ex. 12:5; Lev. 22:17–25. Lioy, 119. See also J.D. Charles, 463.

[2] Aune, Apocalypticism, 211.

[3] Yves Congar, The Revelation of God, trans. A. Manson and L.C. Sheppard (New York: Herder and Herder, 1968), 97–102. G.R. Beasley–Murray, “How Christian is the Book of Revelation?,” in Reconciliation and Hope. New Testament Essays on Atonement and Eschatology Presented to L.L. Morris on his 60th Birthday, ed. Robert Banks (Carlisle: The Paternoster Press, 1974), 279. Cx. Ex. 12:2–14; Isa. 52–3; Jer. 11:19; John 1:29, 36; and Acts 8:32.

[4] Casey, 141. J.D. Charles, 461–2, 473. Hillyer, 230. Compare also the “Song of Moses” with the “Song of the Lamb” in Revelation 15.

[5] See Slater, 200–5, for some pertinent remarks on the Lamb’s “revenge upon oppressors” theodicy motif.

[6] In stark contrast to the “Mark of the Beast” in Rev. 13:16–18.

[7] Cx. Isaiah 60.

[8] Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ, 594. J.D. Charles, 464–5.

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