The Excellency of Christ is one of Jonathan Edwards most powerful and beloved sermons. As you read, you will notice chapter divisions. These are mine, not Edwards’, and are simply used as markers to help break the text up a bit.
Disclaimer: This is a lengthy sermon. My best guess is that it took Edwards over two hours to preach it. Happily, in spite of its length, the modern English rendering allows for a smooth read. Keep in mind, it is not only a long sermon, but a very good sermon, worth every investment people are willing to put into it. In fact, this sermon is essentially an exercise in making much of the Lord Jesus Christ. It will lift your thoughts to him, focus your heart on him, and, especially in the application, make you long for him to be your Savior and Friend. It is a sermon designed to invoke true, heartfelt worship. That’s why it is worth the read. Edwards’ complete title is The Admirable Conjunction of Divine Excellencies in Christ Jesus. His version can be read at the Jonathan Edwards Center. Edwards preached this message in August 1736.
The Excellent Qualities of Christ
The Lion and the Lamb
Revelation 5:5-6 And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain.
This passage describes events the apostle John saw as God presented various revelations to him. God had providentially planned all these things to happen in the future.
The first vision presented in Revelation 5 was of the book of God’s decrees. All the future events that God had planned and that John was witnessing are recorded within it. The one sitting on the throne was holding this book in his right hand. It is described as “written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals.”
In those days books were usually made of broad leaves of parchment, paper, or some similar object. The pages were joined on one edge and rolled up together. Then the pages were sealed or fastened together in some other way, so that they would not unfold and open. We find a reference to this kind of book in Jeremiah 36:2, where the prophet speaks of the “roll of a book,” seemingly the same kind of book John saw in the vision.
Because of the way it was constructed, John noticed that it was “written within and on the back.” It had writing on the inside pages and also on the outside page, the one that was used to roll the entire book up together.
It was also “sealed with seven seals.” This indicates that the words contained within the book were perfectly hidden and secret. God’s decrees of future events are sealed and closed up. It is impossible for them to be discovered by created beings until God wants to reveal them.
Why seven seals? In Scripture the number seven is often an indicator of perfection. It signifies the superlative, the most perfect degree of something. It most likely has this meaning because of what took place on the seventh day of creation. God had finished bringing all things into existence and observed his creation, complete and perfect. He rejoiced over what he had made, resting from his work.
Upon seeing this book, John informs us of a dilemma:
Revelation 5:2-3 I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it.
Then he “began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.” John’s heart was broken by this painful dilemma! However, his tears were soon cleared away. He tells us how:
Revelation 5:5 One of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered.”
There was someone who could open the book! The elder declared that Christ the Lord was both able and worthy to open it. This was the tear-drying reality that comforted the beloved disciple.
The next chapters in the book of Revelation account for how Christ actually opened each of the seven seals one at a time. As he opened them, God’s decrees regarding the future were revealed.
Also in Revelation 5, Christ is seen coming and taking the book from the right hand of the one on the throne. When that happened, those in heaven and on earth erupted in singing, lifting joyful praises from everywhere.
Of course, many other observations could be made from this text. However, my only purpose for now is to focus on the two distinct labels used of Christ in this passage. He is called both Lion and Lamb.
In verse 5 the elder commanded John to look carefully at the one who could open the book, saying, “Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah.” This particular designation for Jesus Christ seems clearly to refer back to Jacob’s blessings on the twelve tribes of Israel. Do you remember that passage of Scripture? Jacob blessed each of them as he lay upon his deathbed. When it was Judah’s turn, Jacob compared him to a lion:
Genesis 49:9 Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?
This prophecy is clearly connected to the designation of Christ as the Lion in Revelation.
There is another connection between a lion and the tribe of Judah. According to ancient Jewish tradition, the tribe of Judah displayed a lion on their standard as they camped in the wilderness. This connection is extremely significant when we remember that Christ was born as a member of this very tribe of Judah.
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The Excellency of Christ:
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Jacob’s prophecy in Genesis 49 also pointed ahead to the valiant acts of King David, who was also part of the tribe of Judah. Jesus was a descendent of David, and in our text he is called the “Root of David.” These are some of the reasons our passage calls Christ the Lion of the tribe of Judah.
John was told that this great Lion had prevailed to open the book of God’s decrees. So he probably expected to turn and see a lion in his vision. However, in spite of his expectation, he turns and sees the Lamb open the book! But a lamb is a much different kind of creature than a lion! A lion is a dreadful meat-eater that slaughters and devours other animals. In fact, the lamb falls prey to him more easily than any other creature! Furthermore, Christ is represented not only as an extremely vulnerable lamb, but also as a “Lamb…as though it had been slain.” His body was marked with deadly wounds. Christ, therefore, appears to us possessing both lion-like qualities and lamb-like qualities.
In the next chapter, I will make several doctrinal observations from this text. We will focus especially on how wonderful it is that Christ is both the Lion and the Lamb at the same time.