The Beast, the Book, and the Beauty of the Lamb
Passion 2016 | Atlanta
Let’s start with a roadmap of where we are going. I’ll just give the scenic stopping places—some beautiful, some horrible — and bring us finally to the destination, namely, the purpose of your life in view of this journey.
First we will travel back to eternity-past and see the Lamb of God slain before the foundation of the world in the mind of God, and then travel to eternity-future to see the slain Lamb of God as the central song of the universe, and then we will travel back to center-point of human history — not the temporal center-point, but the center-point of significance — and we will see the Lamb of God actually slain in history outside Jerusalem by the decree of Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea.
Then we will make this journey again and visit those same places, in a different order, and this time we will focus not on the Lamb but on his people. First we will stop in eternity-past and see the people whom God appointed or predestined as the people of the Lamb. Then we will travel to the center-point of history where that appointed people was purchased by the blood of the slain Lamb. Then we travel on to eternity-future where we will see the appointed and purchased people praising the slain Lamb as the King of the universe.
And finally, we will travel into these rooms in Atlanta and Houston, and see three purposes for your life that follow from the slaying of the Lamb in the eternal mind of God, in the center of history, and in the song of the universe — what it means for you to be appointed before the foundation of the world, purchased 2,000 years ago and destined to sing about it forever.
So I hope you will put your spiritual hands on the steering wheel of your minds and come with me, because, for all of its terrible turns, this is the best of all journeys, with the happiest ending.
That’s the roadmap. Now for journey.
The Strangest Book
Let’s turn to the strangest book in the Bible, the Book of Revelation. We live in very strange and, for many, unexpected and threatening times. If you were a Christian in Syria today, or Iraq you would not blink at the most horrible descriptions of these days. Millions of Christians have been killed or driven from their homes. And what the future holds for our own freedom as Christians, only God knows. But the more strange and threatening the times become, the more this book — this final book of the Bible in all its strangeness — will feel as relevant as it is.
Chapter 13. You don’t need to know who the Beast is. You don’t need to know when the Beast is. But you do need to know whether you will worship the Beast or any Beast-like contender for God’s authority in your life. You do need to know by what power you will be saved from the forces of idolatry that brood over your campus right now with supernatural powers of deception.
So let’s read the first, very strange, 10 verses of Revelation 13:
And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority [Revelation 12:9 — “The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.”]. One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints [Revelation 14:12 — “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.” = real Christians, those who believe the gospel] and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. If anyone has an ear, let him hear: If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints. (Revelation 13:1–10)
The Central Plan from Eternity-Past
In verse 8 we get our glimpse of eternity-past. You see this in the phrase, “before the foundation of the world.” “All who dwell on earth will worship it [the Beast], everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.” There was a book before the foundation of the world — in eternity-past — and the book had a name. And the name of the book was, “The Book of Life of the Lamb Who Was Slain.”
Which means that in the mind of the Author of this book — in the mind of God — the Lamb of God was already slain. The slaying of the Lamb of God was the plan of God before the universe existed — before man existed, before history existed, before sin existed. The plan to save sinners by the blood of the Lamb was in place before there were any sinners to save.
Don’t look at the world, don’t look at history, don’t look at the news the way unbelievers do. They don’t see a plan. Therefore, they don’t see reality for what it really is. Everything is moving according to plan. When Satan, with Adam and Eve, introduced sin into the world, if he thought he was wrecking the plan of God, he was a fool. Before the world existed, the plan was: a slain Lamb as the center-point of history with his foot on the bruised head of Satan. Satan didn’t wreck the plan; he set it up.
The Central Song of Eternity-Future
We’ll be back to Revelation 13:8, but now we travel to eternity-future to see the slain Lamb as the central song of the universe. Revelation 5:9-10 — this is the song of heaven when the great work of the Lamb is complete:
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.
And then in verse 12 millions of creatures are crying,
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!
And then in Revelation 7:10, a great multitude that no one could number cried out with a loud voice,
Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!
The slain Lamb is the central song of the universe forever.
In eternity-past the plan was that the Lamb of God be slain, so that in eternity future the Lamb of God, slain and triumphant, would be sung as the central song of the universe. Slain forever past in the mind of God, sung forever future in the mouth of the redeemed.
The Central Act of History
And now we travel back to the center-point of history — not the temporal center but the center of significance. And we see the Lamb of God actually slain outside Jerusalem.
In John’s other big book besides Revelation he said — the Gospel of John, he wrote,
John the Baptist was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:35–36)
So we know that the Lamb of God is Jesus Christ. And then John shows the resolve of the Lamb to fulfill the plan in John 10:18,
No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.
And then on the cross we watch Jesus, even in the most horrible moment of his life bringing it all to completion according to plan (John 19:28-30):
Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
He gave it up! The Lamb was slain on schedule.
The central plan for the universe from eternity-past, and the central song of the universe for eternity-future, and the central act of God in history outside Jerusalem 2,000 years ago — is the slaying of the Lamb of God.
Don’t be intimidated by brilliant people who are utterly in the dark about the central purpose of the universe. If you have seen and know these three things — the eternal plan of God, and the eternal song of God, and the all-defining, central act of God in history — you know the most important things in the world.
Placing Ourselves Within the Story
But there’s more to see at each of those three stopping places. And this time, as we visit them again, you are coming into the picture. Look for yourself in these scenes. Indeed, even now pray that you would find yourself there — a people appointed in eternity-past, and a people purchased at the center of history, and a people praising the Lamb in eternity-future.
Appointed from Eternity
Let’s go back to eternity-past—to Revelation 13. Start at verse 7 and move from war in history to eternity-past: “Also it [the Beast] was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them.” What does “conquer” mean? Revelation 11:7 makes clear what it means: “The beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them.” It means “kill them.” In this vision Christians are being killed globally — “every tribe and people and language and nation” (verse 7b).
This was already happening in John’s day. In Revelation 2:10 Jesus says to the church of Smyrna, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” So Satan, the dragon, is killing Christians by his agents. It was happening then. It is happening today in Syria and Iraq and Lybia and many other places. It has always happened, because Jesus said it will happen (Luke 21:16 — “some of you they will put to death.” Luke 23:31, “If they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”)
So the question is: Will you worship the the mighty contenders for God’s authority in your life? Or will you worship the Lamb? Do you know by what power you will be saved from the forces of idolatry that brood over your campus right now with supernatural powers of deception?
Here’s the answer you can know. Verses 7b-8,
And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.
Everyone whose name is not in the book, will worship the Beast — or in our day, the demonic contenders for your allegiance and your love. But those who are in the book will not worship the Beast. Why not? Because the name of the book is The Book of Life . . . of the Lamb That Was Slain. If your name is in the book, the blood of the Lamb guarantees your eternal life. It guarantees for you the omnipotent keeping power of God so that you will not worship any but the true God.
And all of this is rooted in eternity-past. The names were written in the book before the foundation of the world (13:8). We read the same thing in Revelation 17:8, “The dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast.” Is your name in the book of the Life of the Lamb That Was Slain? You can’t know by peeking. There is no peeking. This book will not be opened for us to see until the last judgment where the book is opened in Revelation 20:12. Can you know if your name is in the book and that God will keep you from worshiping his contenders? Yes, you can.
Remember the people in the book are the saints in verse 7. And remember how Revelation 14:12 defines the saints: “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.” There is a perfect correlation in this room right now — in Atlanta, both sites, in Houston — between those of you whose names were written in Book before the foundation of the world, and those who believe, those who embrace the Lamb of God as more precious than life — or will embrace him at some point before you die. Being in the book, and being a believer are the same. When you believe in the Lamb, you know that you have been loved and appointed for this before the foundation of the world.
Purchased in History
And now we travel to the center-point of history once more — the place where the actual slaying of the Lamb happened. In eternity-past the people of the Lamb were appointed. In center of history, where the Lamb was actually slain, the appointed people of the Lamb are purchased.
Paul said in Ephesians 5:25, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” How did he give himself up for the church — his bride? Paul gets specific for the elders from Ephesus, “Care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). That’s how Christ gave himself for the church: he was slain and by his blood he obtained his bride. And then Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:20, “You were bought with a price.” O what a price it was! The slain Lamb.
So at the center-point of history, the Lamb of God purchased the church, the people who believe in Lamb, the people written the book of the Life of the Lamb That Was Slain from the foundation of the world.
Praising the Triumphant Lamb Forever
And then we travel once more to eternity-future. And here we see the appointed and purchased people praising the Lamb forever. And what are they praising him for, mainly? Because he was slain and by being slain ransomed the people in the book from every tribe and tongue and nation (Revelation 5:9).
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.
3 Implications for Your Life
So in the first part of our journey we saw the Lamb before the foundation of the world, slain in the mind of God; then, in eternity-future, we saw the slain Lamb as the central song of the universe; and then, at the center-point of history, we saw him actually slain outside Jerusalem.
Then we took the trip again and we saw a people appointed from eternity in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain, then purchased in history by the actual slaying of the Lamb, and then praising the slain and triumphant Lamb in eternity-future with everlasting joy.
And now our journey ends here in Atlanta and Houston. It ends with three implications for your life. Three effects of having your name in the “Book of the Life of the Lamb That was Slain.”
1) Your name is in the book of life so that you will see the glory of the Lamb.
That’s the effect of being in the book. Seeing the Lamb as beautiful is the great vocation of the Christian. This is the fountain of all all that is godly in your life — seeing the Lamb as supremely beautiful — more magnificent, more satisfying than anything else. And the devil knows it. That’s why Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:4, that Satan “has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” Seeing the glory of the Lamb is the first, and all-decisive, purpose of your life — if your name is in the book.
So the risen Lamb says to us — everyone of us — from Revelation 1:18, “I died, and see I am alive forevermore.” And again in Revelation 5:5 the elder says to John, “Weep no more; see, the Lion of the tribe of Judah has conquered.” And again from Revelation 22:7 the Lamb says, “See, I am coming soon.” This is our great calling — to see the Lamb for who he is.
And so John tells us in first chapter of Revelation what he saw when he saw the risen Lamb:
His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. (Revelation 1:13–16)
If your name is in the book it is your great and first calling — to gaze on the revelation of God until you see the glory of the Lamb (see John 1:14; 17:24) — more beautiful, more precious, compelling than anything else.
2) And this means, second, that since your name is in the book, you will live and die humbly and happily to show that Jesus is better than life.
If your name is in the book, your calling is not to stay alive, but to stay in love. To love the Lamb more than you love life. The Beast was killing Christians globally by the thousands. He was doing it in the first century. And the beastly contenders with God are doing it today. And what does heaven say about these saints who see the glory of the Lamb as more precious than life. It says this: “And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (Revelation 12:11). No. They loved Jesus unto death. Not their lives. So while they were being killed, they were conquering!
And by their life and by their humble and happy death, they showed that the Lamb is more precious than life.
And what does the Lamb say to those about to die such a death (Revelation 2:10)? He says, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” “Do you hear me?” Jesus says. “I will give it to you. No, I will not send ten thousand messengers to crown ten thousand martyrs! I — I myself, will come to you. I will carry you to my home, and I — I myself, will crown you. Because you trusted me as more precious than life.”
Is your name in the “Book of Life of the Lamb That was Slain”? If it is, then your calling is to see him as more beautiful than all, and to live and die humbly and happily to show that he is more precious than life.
3) Which leads to one last great privilege of being in the book — you will share in his glory.
You will “eat of the tree of life in the paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7). And beyond all imagination the triumphant Lamb says to you, “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Revelation 3:21). Sitting with the Lamb of God on the throne of God is what it means — in the end to have your name in the book.
John saw his face “like the sun shining in full strength” (Revelation 1:16). Yes, and we sitting with him on the throne, what of our faces? Jesus answers: “The righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43). The Lamb will “transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:21). And you will be free from all sinning and all sorrow and all sickness and shame. And you will be as happy in the presence of the Lamb as you can possibly be.
And if you are afraid, and you do not know that your name is in The Book of the Life of the Lamb that was Slain, listen to what God wants you to hear. This is from the final chapter of this final strange book of the Bible — God’s final word to you in the Bible and in the message: “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Revelation 22:17). The Lamb paid the price. If you will have him as your Treasure, your name is in the Book. And you will not worship his contenders.