Pastor Scott Andrews | August 14, 2022
It is not too much to say that the chapter we are about to begin is one of the most important in the book of Revelation – more, one of the most important chapters in the Bible. While the chapter has always moved me deeply, I didn’t realize its import until this week.
We know the Apostle John, the last living of the apostles, was exiled to the rocky island of Patmos for his commitment to Jesus Christ, probably under the reign of the emperor Domitian in the mid-90’s. While there, he received several visions, all recorded for us in this last book written of the New Testament. He tells us he was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day when he heard a voice behind him – which was like the sound of trumpet. He turned to see the one speaking and received his first vision – the vision of the risen and glorified Christ. It was stunning – just like you would expect for the Son of God. Jesus told him to write the things which he had seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things.
After writing the seven letters to the seven churches, John receives his second vision. He writes, after these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet, signifying Jesus was again speaking to him, who said, ‘Come up here, and will show you what must take place after these things.’ Don’t miss it – in order to write the things which will take place after these things, he’s got to see or know the things which will take place. So, come up here and I will show you what must take place after these things, you see.
It becomes clear John will write in what we call the book of Revelation, the events of the future – things that will take place. We found lots of discussion about that – are these things which take place immediately, perhaps, or throughout the church age, many have thought so, or the last of the church age – the end of time right before the coming of Jesus Christ. After much study, we have opted for the latter. That is, the events recorded in chapters 6-19 are yet future.
In this second vision, when John was again in the Spirit, he was transported to heaven. There, in chapter 4, we saw this amazing description of heaven, the center of which is God on His throne. We also saw the incredible worship of heaven. Now, this vision sets the stage for the rest of the book. While the seven churches – in fact, churches throughout history – are facing opposition, John wants us to know, God is on His throne, and He will initiate and orchestrate all that will happen – those things which must take place. It’s a divine necessity – these things have been ordained to take place, and so they will. This throne of God will appear several more times throughout book, again signifying God is sovereign – while evil seems to reign, God is in control. His throne will be mentioned 17 times in chapters 4 and 5. It is central.
And because God is sovereign, sitting on His throne, orchestrating the unfolding events, He rightly receives the worship of heaven. While we, the church, argue over worship – those in heaven, led by the four living creatures and the 24 elders, actually do worship. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come. Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created. We noticed, true worship is ultimately about the One worshiped – not necessarily the worshipers.
By the way, while I was talking about the worship of heaven last week vis a vis worship wars – if you thought, good, I hope those old people who only like hymns are listening, or you thought, good, I hope those young people who like rock-n-roll are listening, then you missed it. Worship is not about us and our consumer-driven preferences. I was actually not focusing on either group, but the senseless battle. I hope we were both listening, because worship is about God and proclaiming His worth. I suspect the worship of heaven is at the same time loud and boisterous, meaningful and reverent. Can we do both?
So, we ended with the worship of our thrice holy God in heaven. We seem now ready to read, or to hear of the things which must be after these things. And John will get to those, but not till chapter 6. Which means, we have chapter 5 first. And I would say, if there was no chapter 5, there would be no chapters 6-19. If there was no chapter 5, we would never get to the things that must be – that is, the things God will initiate and orchestrate to happen.
Meaning, if there was no chapter 5, there would be no ultimate wrath poured out on unbelieving creation and humanity – and further, there would be no redemption of His believing people. That’s what this book is about – God bringing to ultimate glorious end, judgment and wrath, redemption and renewal. If there was no chapter 5, we would simply live on in our rebellion in a fallen and terribly broken world – with only the prospect of divine eternal wrath following death. All would go on hopelessly as it has since the Fall in the Garden with no hope of redemption.
But praise the Lord – He is the God of creation and the God of redemption. He is Creator and Redeemer, and will unfold that which must take place, which includes the judgment of rebellious creation, and the redemption of justified humanity. God is a God of creation and redemption – if He was not, that is, no chapter 5, we would be forever, hopelessly lost.
And so, the vision of chapter 5 brings to fulfillment the beginning of the glorious end – highlighting what our God and God alone has done to make it happen. So let me be clear – while many focus on interpreting the signs, figuring out the timeline, assigning meaning to the various weird images – the focus of heaven is on God who sits on His throne, the Spirit of God blazing before the throne, and His Son who is in the midst of the throne. No chapter 5, no hope. Read it with me, Revelation chapter 5. (Read through verse 4.)
Stop right there. Why did John weep greatly? That’s a question I asked this week. Because if there was no one worthy to open the book, if there was no chapter 5, God’s plan and purposes for humanity would never be realized. Which makes the rest of chapter 5 supremely important. Read it with me, verses 5 and following.
Did you notice the crescendo of praise extending from chapter 4 through chapter 5? In chapter 4, it started with the four living creatures and then went through the 24 elders. In chapter 5, it goes through the four living creatures and the 24 elders; then to the voices of many angels around the throne with the living creatures and 24 elders and myriads and myriads and thousands of thousands, we presume of angels; then to every created thing which is in the heaven and on the earth and under the earth and in the sea – a crescendo of praise by every living and dead being, To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever. And we are reminded of Philippians 2, “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
This chapter can be easily divided into four parts – seemingly intentional by John. Four times the phrase, Kai Eidon, “And I saw” appears:
Verse 1 – And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book.
Verse 2 – And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book?”
Verse 6 – And I saw between the throne a Lamb standing, who by the way, takes the book.
Verse 11 – And I saw, and I heard the voice of many angels – praising the One who took the book.
Do you see the importance of the book – of someone worthy to take it, break its seals, and read it? Further, the word worthy is central to these chapters:
4:11 – The description of heaven in chapter 4 leads to worship, Worthy are You, our Lord and our God.
5:2 – Who is worthy to open the book?
5:9 – Worthy are You to take the book.
5:12 – Why is He worthy? Worthy is the Lamb that was slain.
Worthy is central to worship because the old word for worship was worthship. You see, worship is ascribing worth – blessing and glory and honor and power to the One who is worthy. Because worship is about the one worshiped.
Well, chapter 4 ascribes worship to the Creator, chapter 5 ascribes worship to the Redeemer. To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb. Let me give you the outline of the chapter, which more or less follows the four “And I saw” statements:
- The Seven-sealed Scroll (1) – And I saw in the right hand
- The Search for One Worthy of the Scroll (2-4) – And I saw a strong angel
- The One Found Worthy of the Scroll (5-7) – And I saw between the throne
- The Worship of the One Found Worthy (8-14) – And I saw and I heard the voice
We won’t try to cover the whole chapter today – we’ll simply look at the scroll and the seemingly fruitless search for One worthy to take the scroll. Why would I stop there? Because I want us to feel the impact of the fruitless search, and the emotional toll it took on John, and should take on us. I want us to understand the infinite importance of this chapter.
Starting with the Seven-sealed Scroll in verse 1. John says “And I saw” – my translation leaves out the word and, but the chapter begins with the conjunction, tying it to what came before. In other words, we are still in the throne room of heaven. And John saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne – that is, he saw in the right hand of God. The right hand was a position of strength and honor. We see that over and over in Scripture – for example, Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father.
He sees literally on the right hand, as if God is holding the book in an open palm, ready for someone to take and open it. The word book could speak of a book like we think of a book – but more likely it was a scroll since it was sealed with seven seals. Now scrolls at this time were made of papyrus reeds. They would be stripped, glued and then pressed together – with the reeds at 90-degree angles. Not woven – but on the front side where you wrote with the reeds going horizontally, and the reeds on the back side vertical for strength. These scrolls could then be rolled up, and be up to thirty feet long. It was normal for them to be written on one side – it was unusual – not unheard of – but unusual to have writing on both sides. That spoke of either lots of material, so it was written on both sides, or that it was a testament, with the contents summarized on the outside, and signed by the witnesses, in some cases, seven witnesses. The seal, by the way, would be a wax or clay blob, sometimes pressed with a signet ring, to keep the contents safe – kind of a “for your eyes only” statement.
The question is, what is this scroll? The OT allusion is found in Ezekiel 2. Remember, in chapter 1, Ezekiel was given a vision of God, which contained a lot of the same things that John sees – the four living creatures, the indescribable appearance of God, the crystal sea. And in chapter 2, God gives Ezekiel a scroll which was written on the front and back, and it contained lamentations, mourning and woe. That’s important, and perhaps a clue to this scroll in Revelation 5. Again, what is it?
There have been lots of guesses through the years: Some suggest it is the Lamb’s Book of Life which contains the names of the redeemed. And while that may make some sense, there is no indication that’s what it is, and when the seals are opened, they produce judgment. Further, the Book of Life isn’t opened until chapter 20.
Another guess is that is contains the Law by which the people would be judged. Possible, but there are no indications in the context that it speaks of the Law. Most others, with which I agree, suggest this is a heavenly book containing God’s redemptive plan and the future of God’s creation, to include coming judgments. When you read the rest of the book, this makes most sense, as we go through the seven seal judgments, seven trumpet judgments, seven bowl judgments followed by the battle between the forces of evil and God, the second coming of Christ, the judgment, and the new heavens and the new earth. While the book isn’t technically the book of Revelation, it does contain God’s plan of judgment and redemption. Which is why, I suggested earlier, it is one of the most important chapters in all the Bible.
And since it is so important – and sealed – it must be opened and must be read to accomplish God’s final and glorious purposes for His creation. You say, I don’t understand this – it’s apocalyptic literature, full of symbolism and meaning. The meaning here is that it took someone worthy to accomplish God’s purposes.
Which brings us to point two – the search for one worthy to open the book. Look at verse 2, “And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?”
While all angels are strong – look at the havoc they wreak in the rest of the book – this one is identified as an especially strong angel, which perhaps speaks of his higher authority – perhaps like Michael or Gabriel, the archangels. Why did he have to be strong? Because the question he asks must be heard everywhere.
The question, of course, is who is worthy to take the book and open the seals? Notice, the issue is not that of power or strength, but of worth. We’re not looking for someone strong to wrest the book from God’s right hand of power and authority. Certainly no being is strong enough to take a book from the omnipotent God – that’s not the point. Who is worthy enough to take the book – that’s the question.
A quick search is conducted. Look at verse 3, “And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able – that is, was worthy enough – to open the book and look into it.” There was no one in heaven, that is, not an angelic being – not the cherubim, not the seraphim, even a strong angel like archangels Gabriel or Michael – who was worthy enough to open the book.
A search was made among the living on earth – and none was found worthy there: not the most powerful ruler, not the president or any dictator, not any person of wealth or influence or power or celebrity status, not any noble no matter how noble, not any religious leader from the pope on his throne or the mightiest of orators or greatest of spiritual leaders, not even the lowest of the low, the most humble, the most serving, the most self-effacing. Mother Theresa need not apply. No one was found worthy among the living.
No problem, lets go under the earth – that is, to the place of the dead. Certainly some great and noble person of the past will suffice. Nope. Not Abraham or the patriarchs, not Moses, not Elijah, not Elisha, not David, none of the great prophets, not even Peter or Paul, who were under the earth by this time. A complete search is made – the voice of the strong angel was loud – and not one was found worthy to take the book. At this point, John is drawing us to an inevitable conclusion. Humankind is lost and without hope. God’s purposes in redemption will not – cannot be met. The book of history, culminating in the rescue of His people, is impenetrable. One commentator writes, “There is a breathless sense of anticipation that is dashed when no one is available to open the seals of the scroll.” (Osborne) Another writes, “Theologically this shows how futile and meaningless all of history is apart from Christ. Human destiny, and that of the universe, hinges on the person and work of Jesus Christ.” (Fanning)
It is no wonder then that John wept greatly. Remember, he is in the Spirit in this vision, so he, probably better than any commentator or reader of Revelation – knew the supreme importance of the book. He knew without its being opened and read, we were hopeless and helpless. We are lost. He wept greatly (wailing) because no one was found worthy to open the book and to look into it. John is building a case here of the inescapable necessity of the Son of God.
Which brings us to the third point, that we will only cover briefly in verses 5-7. One of the elders – that is, one of the 24 elders said to me, “Stop weeping [it’s rather strong in the Greek – an imperative. We shouldn’t see a comforting arm, it’s okay, don’t cry. No, it’s more a stop weeping – dry it up]; behold, the lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.”
Who is this one found worthy? We see first that he is a lion – think majestic Aslan – the lion of the tribe of Judah – the only place this phrase is used. It comes from Genesis 49, where Jacob is giving his final blessings to his 12 sons on his deathbed. They turned out to be prophetic, and of Judah we read these words:
8 “Judah, your brothers shall praise you;
Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
Your father’s sons shall bow down to you.
9 “Judah is a lion’s whelp;
From the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He couches, he lies down as a lion,
And as a lion, who dares rouse him up?
10 “The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
Until Shiloh comes,
And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
That’s rather enigmatic, and came, rightly, to be seen as a messianic prophecy. The Messiah would come from the tribe of Judah. His father’s sons, that is, his brothers would bow down to him. He will be a lion, and the scepter, that is, a royal symbol of kingship, and the ruler’s staff, would not depart from Judah until Shiloh comes, or better translated, until He comes to whom it belongs.
The point is, the Messiah would come from Judah. And as we read the genealogies of Jesus in both Matthew and Luke, we find His line going through Judah. His ancestral credentials fit the bill. Don’t miss it, He is a lion.
Further, we read that He is the Root of David. Now, we know the promise was made in II Samuel 7 that one would come from David’s line to sit on the throne forever. This, too, was seen as a Messianic prophecy. And again, Jesus’ genealogies show He was a descendant of David. But this root of David actually comes from Isaiah 11 – and probably a shoot from David captures the idea better:
1 Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse,
And a branch from his roots will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him,
The spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The spirit of counsel and strength,
The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 And He will delight in the fear of the Lord,
And He will not judge by what His eyes see,
Nor make a decision by what His ears hear;
4 But with righteousness He will judge the poor,
And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth;
And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth,
And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.
5 Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins,
And faithfulness the belt about His waist.
6 And the wolf will dwell with the lamb,
And the leopard will lie down with the young goat,
And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
And a little boy will lead them.
7 Also the cow and the bear will graze,
Their young will lie down together,
And the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra,
And the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den.
9 They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain,
For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
As the waters cover the sea.
10 Then in that day
The nations will resort to the root of Jesse,
Who will stand as a signal for the peoples;
And His resting place will be glorious.
Again, this was and is a Messianic prophecy, speaking of the Messiah to come. And one of the 24 elders says to John, behold, the lion of the Tribe of Judah, the shoot from the dead stump of Jesse (David’s father), has come. And He has overcome so as to open the book and it seven seals.
Fear not, John, all is okay because the One promised has come. And He has overcome. Same word as used in the promises to the overcomers in the letters to the churches in chapters 2 and 3. Meaning, we can overcome because He has overcome.
The question is, how did this Messiah, this Jesus overcome, and when John turned toward the throne, what did he see? We expect to see a glorious vision of a lion. Strong, powerful, mighty, flowing mane, deadly claws, terrifying roar. Again, think Aslan. We expect to see the resurrected and exalted Christ, with a description worthy of His name, as we saw in chapter 1. But what did John see, and how did Jesus overcome? It’s the message of the Christian faith, and by the way, it’s the same answer. It is stunning. Next week.