Book of Revelation's "Hymn of the Redeemed"

Christ Is the Great Interpreter and Lord of History, Says John Paul II

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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 31, 2004 ( Here is a translation of the address John Paul II gave at today’s general audience, which he dedicated to comment on the «Hymn of the Redeemed,» taken from the Book of Revelation.

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1. The canticle we have just heard and on which we will now meditate forms part of the liturgy of vespers; we have been commenting on its Psalms systematically in our weekly catecheses. As happens often in the liturgy, some prayer compositions are created by joining biblical fragments from ampler pages.

In this case, some verses have been taken from Chapters 4 and 5 of the Book of Revelation, which depicts a glorious and grandiose heavenly scene. A throne rises at the center on which God himself is seated, whose name is not pronounced out of veneration (see Revelation 4:2). Subsequently, the Lamb, symbol of the risen Christ, is seated on the throne: mention is made, in fact, of a «Lamb that seemed to have been slain,» but standing upright, alive and glorious (5:6).

Around these two divine figures is spread out the choir of the heavenly court, represented by four «living creatures» (5:6), who seem to evoke the angels of the divine presence in the four cardinal points of the universe, and «twenty-four elders» (4:4), in Greek «presbyteroi,» namely, the leaders of the Christian community, whose number recalls the twelve tribes of Israel and the Twelve Apostles, that is, the synthesis between the first and the new covenant.

2. This assembly of the People of God sings a hymn to the Lord exalting his «glory and honor and power,» which are manifested in the creation of the universe (see 4:11). At this point a symbol of particular relevance is introduced, in Greek a «biblion,» that is, a «scroll,» which is, however, totally inaccessible: There are, in fact, seven seals which impede its reading (see 5:1).

Therefore, it is about a hidden prophecy. That scroll contains the whole series of divine decrees that must be carried out in human history to make perfect justice reign. If the scroll remains sealed, these decrees can neither be known nor acted upon, and wickedness will continue to propagate itself and to oppress believers. Therefore, there is need for an authoritative intervention: It will be accomplished, precisely, by the slain and risen Lamb. He will be able «to receive the scroll and to break open its seals» (see 5:9).

Christ is the great interpreter and Lord of history, who reveals the hidden thread of divine action that runs through it.

3. The hymn then indicates the basis of the power of Christ over history: his paschal mystery (see 5:9-10): Christ was «slain» and with his blood he «delivered» the whole of humanity from the power of evil. The verb «to deliver» refers to Exodus, to the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian slavery. For ancient legislation, the duty of deliverance devolved on the closest relative. In the case of the people, it was God himself who called Israel his «firstborn son» (Exodus 4:22).

Christ, therefore, carries out this work for the whole of humanity. His redemption does not just have the function of delivering us from the evil committed in the past, of healing our wounds, and of relieving our miseries. Christ gives us a new interior being, he makes us priests and kings, participants in his own dignity.

Alluding to the words that God had proclaimed on Sinai (see Exodus 19:6; Revelation 1:6), the hymn confirms that the redeemed people of God is made up of kings and priests who must guide and sanctify the whole of creation. It is a consecration that has its origin in Christ’s Pasch and that is realized in baptism (see 1 Peter 2:9). From it follows an appeal to the Church, to be aware of its dignity and mission.

4. Christian tradition has constantly applied to Christ the image of the paschal Lamb. Let us listen to the words of a second-century bishop, Meliton of Sardis, a city in Asia Minor, who expresses himself in his Easter Homily thus: «Christ came down from heaven to earth out of love for suffering humanity, he took on our humanity in the womb of the Virgin and was born as man. … He was caught as a lamb, and as a lamb was slaughtered, and in this way he delivered us from the slavery of the world. … He drew us from slavery to freedom, from darkness to light, from death to life, from oppression to eternal royalty; and made of us a new priesthood and a people chosen forever. … He is the silent lamb, the slaughtered lamb, the son of Mary, lamb without stain. He was taken from the flock, led to death, slain toward evening, buried at night» (Nos. 66-71: SC 123, pp. 96-100).

At the end, Christ himself, the slain Lamb, addresses his appeal to all peoples: «Come then, all you race of men who are stained by sins, and receive the remission of sins. I am, in fact, your remission, I am the Easter of salvation, I am the Lamb slain for you, I am your ransom, I am your way, I am your resurrection, I am your light, I am your salvation, I am your King. I am he who will lead you to the heights of heaven, who will show you the Father who is from all eternity, who will deliver you with my right hand» (No. 103: ibid., p. 122).

[Translation by ZENIT]

[At the end of the audience, one of the Holy Father’s aides read the following summary in English:]

The canticle which we heard at the beginning of today’s audience is drawn from the Book of Revelation. It depicts a glorious heavenly scene with the entire People of God singing a hymn of exultation before the Lord enthroned in glory. Christ crucified and risen is portrayed as the Lamb who was slain and now lives forever. It is he who breaks open the seals of the book which reveals God’s saving plan in history.

Through the paschal mystery Christ has redeemed all humanity from the slavery of sin and given us new life in Baptism. By giving us a share in his own dignity as priest, prophet, and king, he calls us, as members of his Body, the Church, to build up and sanctify all creation.

[The Pope then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

I offer a warm welcome to the Felician Sisters from various countries meeting in Rome for their biennial assembly. My greeting also goes to the priests of the Institute for Continuing Theological Education at the Pontifical North American College.

I also welcome the Lutheran pilgrims from Sweden and Finland. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s audience, especially those from England, Denmark, Japan and the United States, I cordially invoke God’s blessings of grace and peace.

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