I suppose that this question has more than one answer. It is clear that John the prophet embraces the conviction that the Messiah Jesus is worthy. One of the best known and favorite perspectives on this topic is given in Revelation 5:12 where John relates Jesus’ worthiness to the fact that he was slain to redeem humankind: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 5:12). Believers are probably attracted to this perspective because it reminds them of Christ’s sacrificial death and bloodshed on their behalf.
In our enthusiasm for this popular interpretation of Christ’s worthiness there is a related idea given by John that has sometimes been overlooked. In Rev. 5:9 John writes, “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” There are really two points in this verse; there is the traditional understanding focused upon Jesus’ vicarious death and secondly Jesus’ worthiness because of the global consequences of his death for the Christian mission. In making this second point John tries to move the readers beyond two typical misunderstandings. The first of these tendencies is one that hides and secludes salvation from others because of feelings of nationalism or ethnocentrism. The second misconception that John’s teaching combats is the idea that converts to Christianity are there to bolster the agenda, needs, programs, and budget of the church. John’s emphasis is upon the fact that Christ’s role in the first instance is to purchase man and women “for God.” The church never owns Christian converts; their only rightful owner is God.
It has been easy for a complacent church at times to laud, magnify, and praise Christ for his redemptive work on the cross, but manifest less enthusiastic about a commitment to the style of globalism in missions contained in the words “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9b). One does not need to have advanced theological training, or even know Greek and Hebrew, to realize the necessary connection in the heart of God between a believer’s embracing the personal benefits of salvation and then showing a commitment to the globalization of those benefits.
Living in an empire such as Rome’s, a believer would clearer and frequently see the signs of Roman colonialism in Roman artwork recorded on coins, in statues, and on major monuments. Christians knew they lived in an Empire that controlled the lands and seas between the rivers Thames and Tigris. When Rome thought of “tribes and languages and peoples and nations” they imagined more areas to conquer, to dominate, and to exploit for their resources, both human and material resources. It was difficult in antiquity to surpass Rome’s activity in human trafficking. John the prophet, in contradistinction to the prevailing regime, saw “every tribe and language and people and nation” as parts of God’s alienated, but beloved, creation, longing for a partial redemption in the present, and a complete restoration and redemption in the New Heaven and New Earth (Rev. 21-22).