Thursday, August 19, 2021

26. The Revelation: The Search for and Selection of the Worthy One (Revelation 5:2-7)

The events of chapter 5 follow immediately after those of chapter 4. The scene is once again the throne of God in heaven. The cherubim, the twenty-four elders, and the Holy Spirit in His sevenfold glory are all present. The events described in these two chapters anticipate the divine judgment about to strike the earth (Revelation 6–19). Awestruck by the majesty of God’s throne, the cherubim and elders begin a series of hymns to God. Those hymns celebrate God as creator and redeemer, and rejoice that He is about to take back what is rightfully His.

As that moment approaches, God begins to stir. The opening phrase “I saw” introduces the various scenes described in this chapter and stresses John’s status as an eyewitness. In his vision, John saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals. God stretched out His hand, as it were, and in it He held a book. The Greek word here refers to a scroll. A scroll was a long piece of papyrus or animal skin, rolled from both ends into the middle. Scrolls were commonly used before the invention of the modern book.

While Roman wills were sealed up with seven seals, this scroll is not a will but a deed or contract. Jeremiah 32 provides a good illustration of the use of such a document. In the waning days of the southern kingdom, shortly before the fall of Jerusalem, Jeremiah’s cousin Hanamel approached him. Hanamel was desperate to sell a field he owned in Jeremiah’s hometown of Anathoth, near Jerusalem. Hanamel knew the land would be seized once the Babylonian army conquered. Jeremiah, in obedience to God’s command (Jeremiah 32:6–7), purchased the field in spite of its potential loss as a sign that the Babylonian captivity would not be permanent

The scroll John saw in God’s hand is the title deed to the earth. Unlike other such deeds, however, it does not record the descriptive detail of what Christ will inherit, but rather how He will regain His rightful inheritance. It will occur by the divine judgments about to be poured out on the earth. While the scroll is a scroll of doom and judgment, it is also a scroll of redemption. It tells how Christ will redeem the world from Satan and those with him. Ezekiel describes this same scroll in his vision of heaven (Ezekiel 2:9–10).


"And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it. Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it..." (Rev. 5:2–4)

The strong angel (also in Rev. 10:1; 18:21) is not named. Some identify him as Gabriel, others as Michael, but he is anonymous. He spoke with “a loud voice” so that his proclamation would penetrate every corner of the universe. The angel sought someone both “worthy to open the book and to break its seals.”

As the echoes of his cry end, there is silence. No one “in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it.” A search of the entire universe turns up no one worthy to open the scroll.

Overwhelmed with grief at this turn of events, John began to weep. “Weep” is the same Greek word used to describe Jesus’ weeping over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41), and Peter’s bitter weeping after betraying the Lord (Luke 22:62). It is a word that expresses strong, unrestrained emotion. Interestingly, this is the only time in Scripture that tears are seen in heaven.

John’s weeping, though sincere, was premature. God was about to take action. John wept because he wanted to see the world without evil, sin, and death. He wanted to see God’s kingdom established on earth. Yet John did not need to weep, because the search for the one worthy to open the scroll was about to end.


"...and one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping; 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.” And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne." (Revelation 5:5–7)

Because his tears were unnecessary, one of the elders told John to stop weeping. Then he drew John’s attention to a new Person emerging on the scene: “the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David.” No human or angel can redeem the universe, but there is One who can—Jesus Christ. The title “the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah” derives from Jacob’s blessing on the tribe of Judah given in Genesis 49:8–10. Out of the lionlike tribe of Judah would come a strong, fierce, and deadly ruler.

The Jews of Jesus’ day expected the Messiah to be powerful and to liberate them from the heavy hand of their Roman oppressors. It was partly because Jesus failed to live up to those expectations that they rejected Him. Tragically, the Jews completely misjudged their Messiah. He is a lion, and will tear up and destroy their enemies. But He will do so according to His timetable, not theirs. His lionlike judgment of His enemies awaits the yet-future day that He has chosen.

Jesus is also seen here as “the Root of David.” This title derives from Isaiah 11:1, 10. As Matthew 1 and Luke 3 reveal, Jesus was a descendant of David both on His father’s and mother’s side. In Romans 1:3 the apostle Paul said that Jesus was “born of a descendant of David according to the flesh.”

Jesus is the One worthy to take the scroll because of who He is—the rightful King from David’s descendants—and what He is—the Lion from Judah’s tribe with the power to destroy His enemies.

As he looked at the incredible scene before him, John found his attention irresistibly drawn to what he saw between the throne with the four living creatures and the elders. Instead of the anticipated mighty Lion of the Tribe of Judah, John saw a Lamb. The Lord Jesus could not be the Lion of judgment, or the King of glory, unless He was first “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

The Greek word used here for “lamb” refers to a little lamb or pet lamb. The imagery derives from the Passover, when Jewish families were required to keep the sacrificial lamb as a household pet for four days before sacrificing it (Exodus 12:3–6). While every lamb sacrificed under the Old Covenant pointed toward Christ, He is only referred to as a lamb once in the Old Testament (Isaiah 53:7). In the New Testament outside of Revelation, He is only called a lamb four times (John 1:29, 36; Acts 8:32; 1 Peter 1:19). In Revelation He appears as the Lamb thirty-one times.

Several features indicate that this was no ordinary lamb. First, He was standing, alive, on His feet, yet looking as if He had been slain. The scars from the deadly wound this Lamb received were clearly visible, yet He was alive. Though demons and wicked men conspired against Him and killed Him, He rose from the dead, defeating and triumphing over His enemies.

Another feature about this Lamb that John noted was that it had seven horns. In imagery drawn from the animal world, horns in Scripture symbolize strength and power. Seven, the number of perfection, symbolizes the Lamb’s complete, absolute power. The Lamb in John’s vision also had seven eyes, again denoting perfect and complete understanding and knowledge. The eyes represented the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. The phrase “seven Spirits of God” describes the Holy Spirit in all His fullness.

Verse 7 records the final, monumental act in the heavenly scene. Everything John has been describing since this vision began in 4:1 had been building toward this moment. This views the great, culminating act of history, the act that will signal the end of man’s day. The ultimate goal of redemption is about to be seen; paradise will be regained, Eden restored. Before John’s wondering eyes the Lamb came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.

The worthy One has arrived to take back what is rightfully His!