Scripture Revelation 5:9-10 NRSV
9 They sing a new song:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God
saints from every tribe and language and people and nation;
10 you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God,
and they will reign on earth.”
- “They” in verse 9 are the four living creatures and twenty-four elders of John’s vision of the throne of God
- “You” is the Lamb that was slain (Jesus)
- The worth of the Lamb to open the unopen-able scroll is from his being slain and ransomed saints from every “tribe language and people”
- The Lamb has made these ransomed ones into a “kingdom and priests” (only place in the Bible this phrase occurs). However in Revelation 1:5-6 John says “To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever.” This construction is echoed in the passage here
- What does it mean exactly to be “a kingdom and priests?” This kingdom is more than the Jews alone but people of all the earth who will now reign over it
- Priests – no longer needing priests? Or a special class of them?
Looking back almost 2,000 years to John’s time it is hard to imagine the society in which the recipients of this vision lived. The seven churches mentioned in the opening of his vision were in modern-day Turkey. In John’s vision many see depicted the context of his time – Babylon (Rome) and its demands contrasted with those of the kingdom of God as symbolized in the New Jerusalem. Where would they put their first allegiance? How can a people whom John styles as a “kingdom and priests” bow its knees to the all-powerful, all-demanding Rome which, among other things, demands sacrifice to the emperor and therefore to his state.
For me today this reminds me that my first allegiance as a follower of Jesus is not to America – of which I am proud and grateful to be a citizen. But to the King of Kings, to the Lamb Who Was Slain. My fellow-citizens are others who follow this Christ and whose allegiance also lies with Christ. This gets messy because while Caesar may no longer demand my sacrifice to him, the powers of this world demand similar loyalties and even sacrifices in other ways.
It is no wonder that the first century rulers and authorities didn’t know what to do with these Christians. They were seen as disloyal, subversive, even dangerous. Perhaps we need to reclaim some of that in our time – to be seen by the culture as out of sync and out of the mainstream. My own faith doesn’t seem very subversive or dangerous but tame and even pale by contrast.
O Lamb Who Was Slain.. I offer you today that allegiance that you alone can demand and that you alone deserve. You will have no place but first… and will not allow us to put other allegiances before this ultimate one if we are to follow faithfully. We are the one nation under God, the nation of those from every nation who believe and who have been ransomed by the Lamb. Amen.