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Lamb and Shepherd

Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Revelation 7.16-17.

Centuries before John had his vision on the island of Patmos, the prophet Isaiah had looked forward through time and had also seen the day of God’s salvation that John is now seeing. In almost exactly the same words as John uses, he describes that day as one in which God will gather his people from the four corners of the earth, Jews and gentiles, and when “they will neither hunger nor thirst, nor will the desert heat or the sun beat upon them. He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water” (Isaiah 49.10). The difference is that “He who has compassion on them” in Isaiah has become, in Revelation, “the Lamb at the centre of the throne” who is now “their shepherd”.

I remember that, in about 1977, my wife who was then a music student at Nottingham University, working from the RSV, set to music the words “For the Lamb in the midst of the throne shall be their shepherd” in the style of Handel as part of her course-work. I can sing it still! And what a beautiful joining of images it is. Jesus, “the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1.29) and who as our “passover lamb” sacrificed for us (1 Corinthians 5.7) forever bears in his glorious resurrection body the marks of that sacrifice (John 20.20, 27), now becomes the shepherd who leads his flock to springs of living water. The “good shepherd” who has laid down his life for the sheep (John 10.11) now becomes “the great shepherd” of those sheep (Hebrews 13.20).

And he leads them not only to the living water but to the Father … for it is the Father who wipes away every tear from the eyes of his people. Again John is echoing Isaiah: “The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces” (Isaiah 25.8). And as Alan F Johnson has said, “only through the resurrection can all this become real”. Disembodied souls cannot drink from springs of living water and insubstantial spirits certainly cannot have tears wiped from their eyes. The ultimate destination of God’s people is a new heaven and a new earth to which the heavenly city comes down (Revelation 21.1-2) … a real conjoined heaven and earth in which we shall have real resurrection bodies from which real tears can be wiped (Revelation 21.4).

The King of love my Shepherd is
whose goodness faileth never …
Good Shepherd, may I sing Thy praise
within Thy house for ever!

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