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REVELATION OF ST. JOHN THE DIVINE - Chapter 5 - Verse 7

Verse 7. And he came and took the book out of the right hand, etc. As if it pertained to him by virtue of rank or office. There is a difficulty here, arising from the incongruity of what is said of a lamb, which it is not easy to solve. The difficulty is in conceiving how a lamb could take the book from the hand of Him who held it. To meet this several solutions have been proposed.

(1.) Vitringa supposes that the Messiah appeared as a lamb only in some such sense as the four living beings (Re 4:7) resembled a lion, a calf, and an eagle; that is, that they bore this resemblance only in respect to the head, while the body was that of a man. He thus supposes, that though in respect to the upper part the Saviour resembled a lamb, yet that to the front part of the body hands were attached by which he could take the book. But there are great difficulties in this supposition. Besides that nothing of this kind is intimated by John, it is contrary to every appearance of probability that the Redeemer would be represented as a monster. In his being represented as a lamb there is nothing that strikes the mind as inappropriate or unpleasant, for he is often spoken of in this manner, and the image is one that is agreeable to the mind. But all this beauty and fitness of representation is destroyed, if we think of him as having human hands proceeding from his breast or sides, or as blending the form of a man and an animal together. The representation of having an unusual number of horns and eyes does not strike us as being incongruous in the same sense; for though the number is increased, they are such as pertain properly to the animal to which they are attached.

(2.) Another supposition is that suggested by Professor Stuart, that the form was changed, and a human form resumed when the Saviour advanced to take the book and open it. This would relieve the whole difficulty, and the only objection to it is, that John has not given any express notice of such a change in the form; and the only question can be whether it is right to suppose it in order to meet the difficulty in the case. In support of this it is said that all is symbol; that the Saviour is represented in the book in various forms; that as his appearing as a lamb was designed to represent in a striking manner the fact that he was slain, and that all that he did was based on the atonement, so there would be no impropriety in supposing that when an action was attributed to him he assumed the form in which that act would be naturally or is usually done. And as in taking a book from the hand of another it is wholly incongruous to think of its being done by a lamb, is it not most natural to suppose that the usual form in which the Saviour is represented as appearing would be resumed, and that he would appear again as a man?—But is it absolutely certain that he appeared in the form of a lamb at all? May not all that is meant be, that John saw him near the throne, and among the elders, and was struck at once with his appearance of meekness and innocence, and with the marks of his having been slain as a sacrifice, and spoke of him in strong figurative language as a lamb? And where his "seven horns" and "seven eyes" are spoken of, is it necessary to suppose that there was any real assumption of such horns and eyes? May not all that is meant be that John was struck with that in the appearance of the Redeemer of which these would be the appropriate symbols, and described him as if these had been visible? When John the Baptist saw the Lord Jesus on the banks of the Jordan, and said, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world," (Joh 1:29) is it necessary to suppose that he actually appeared in the form of a lamb? Do not all at once understand him as referring to traits in his character, and to the work which he was to accomplish, which made it proper to speak of him as a lamb? And why, therefore, may we not suppose that John in the Apocalypse designed to use language in the same way, and that he did not intend to present so incongruous a description as that of a lamb approaching a throne and taking a book from the hand of Him that sat on it, and a lamb too with many horns and eyes? If this supposition is correct, then all that is meant in this passage would be expressed in some such language as the following: "And I looked, and lo there was one in the midst of the space occupied by the throne, by the living creatures, and by the elders, who, in aspect, and in the emblems that represented his work on the earth, was spotless, meek, and innocent as a lamb; one with marks on his person which brought to remembrance the fact that he had been slain for the sins of the world, and yet one who had most striking symbols of power and intelligence, and who was therefore worthy to approach and take the book from the hand of Him that sat on the throne." It may do something to confirm this view to recollect that when we use the term "Lamb of God" now, as is often done in preaching and in prayer, it never suggests to the mind the idea of a lamb. We think of the Redeemer as resembling a lamb in his moral attributes and in his sacrifice, but never as to form. This supposition relieves the passage of all that is incongruous and unpleasant, and may be all that John meant.

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