Revelation Part 14
Reading chapters 4 & 5 Entirely.
Last time we looked at the 1st part of the amazing scene John witnessed in the throne-room of God.
Jesus Himself, who alone is the door into the presence of God, called John up to look inside, and the vision was nothing less than mind blowing.
Going back to ch. 4 – He saw:
- A throne, with someone seated on the throne who had the appearance of white and blood red light beaming out, surrounded by a rainbow like an emerald.
- Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, twenty-four elders in white garments and golden crowns on them.
- From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder
- Before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God,
- Before the throne was something like a sparkling sea of glass
- And around the throne, on each side of it – four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: one like a lion, another like an ox, a third with the face of a man, and a fourth like an eagle in flight.
Each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”
Chapter 5 picks up in the very same place, but now some action other than worship begins.
Once again the scene is filled with symbols that need some explaining.
THE SCROLL – 5:1 Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals.
After the initial impact of the scene begins to wear some, as John’s eyes adjust to the spectacle, he starts to scrutinize more details while new actions take place.
The 1st thing which catches his attention is that the One seated on the throne has a scroll in his right hand with some unique features.
We cannot pass over this too quickly because this sets the stage for the rest of the entire book.
Now a sealed scroll would have indicated some basic ideas to John.
In his day, books as we think of them were virtually nonexistent. Most information in libraries and legal documents were recorded on scrolls. Books bound on one edge with pages wouldn’t be as common as scrolls for another 200 years.
The first odd thing John notices is that the scroll was written both within, and on the back.
This was rare if only for practical reasons. The nature of a papyrus scroll was such that writing on the inside would flow along the horizontal lines created by gluing the strips of papyrus together to form a writing surface.
But when you wrote on the backside, the strips would be going vertically and would make the writing very difficult.
Only a document of extreme importance which for the sake of ensuring its integrity in full would have writing on both sides. Most really long documents would simply be split up among 2 or more scrolls (Like Luke-Acts). A scroll was typically 30-34 feet in length. But John can see that whatever is written here, the author wanted to be sure was kept whole and intact, and it was a LOT of material. The Author wanted it all together.
The 2nd thing he notices is that it is sealed on its edge (or in the middle if 2 spindles, we don’t know) with 7 seals.
When a document like a will or something else vital was written, there were also copies made for public use. But when the time came to actually read and execute the will, then, the original was opened, which had been sealed when written – to guarantee the contents could not be tampered with.
7 seals speaks of the importance of what is inside to remain unchallengeable. For instance, the will of the Emperor Vespasian was sealed with 7 seals. This signified that the document was of the absolute highest importance.
But what is the document itself? We’ll see this in the weeks to come. But so we see where we’re going I’ll give you an advance hint. Don Carson puts it this way: “It turns out this scroll which is in the right hand of the Almighty, the right hand of him who sits on the throne, contains all of God’s purposes for blessing and judgment. This is the book that contains God’s purposes for redemption and condemnation, and the fact that there is writing on the inside and on the outside is a symbol-laden way of saying, “This is the whole shebang. This is God’s purpose. This is the fullness of all that God wants to do in blessing and judgment. This is the whole plan right here.”D. A. Carson, “Vision of a Transcendent God—Part 2,” in D. A. Carson Sermon Library (Bellingham, WA: Faithlife, 2016), Re 5.
Again, we know this because in the unsealing of the scroll – which equates to the executing of what is written – we come to the very end of human history and all that God has promised both in judgment and blessing. This explains then why the next actions take on the character they do.
THE PROCLAMATION – 5:2-4 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.
This mighty angel, whoever he is makes this loud, perhaps deafening proclamation – this cosmic challenge: Who in all the universe can possibly be worthy both to reveal and accomplish the whole of God’s eternal purposes in creation and all of history? Who can possibly rise to such an occasion? Who can be the executor of such a will?
And the response is a deafening silence!
NO ONE! No one in heaven – among the angelic hosts.
No one on earth among mankind made in God’s image.
No one under the earth – a euphemism for the dead – no one in all of past human history either.
No one. No matter how brilliant, how rich, how wise, clever, powerful or upright – no one!
And John weeps!
The implication is plain – if no one can open the scroll which contains all of God’s plans and purposes in all things – then life itself can have no meaning. If we cannot know God’s mind, how can we know anything of who and what we are and what life is all about?
Is all of life just meaningless nothing?
It is the bailiwick of philosophers and philosophy to search out the answers to 5 all important questions. The questions every thinking human being wrestles with at one time or another.
Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? How can I make sense of pain and suffering?
And the bankruptcy of the proposed answers are all around us – if people even think much about these crucial questions at all any more.
Inwardly we ALL wrestle with them, even if unspoken. But when they remain unanswered – darkness and hopelessness enters in.
It is reported that Bertrand Russell, the famed atheist philosopher – into his 80’s was being interviewed on British television. He was asked, now that death was growing near, what he had to hang on to at this stage in his life. His answer: “I have nothing to hang on to but grim, unyielding despair.”
Grim, unyielding despair!
And without answers to the key questions of life, he’s right!
A few weeks ago, I had to speak at the funeral of a 26 year old man who had taken his own life. Arriving early I chatted for a few minutes with the funeral director whom I know. We both remarked how sad this was and he told me that in the last year he had had nearly 100 similar cases. Young men in utter despair taking their lives because they cannot bear it any longer. NO WONDER!
If I am nothing more than a cosmic accident…
If I really am only a random association of unthinking matter & energy…
If I have no purpose for being outside of myself…
If I will simply cease to be when life ends and this is all there was…
If there is no rhyme or reason, nor redemption from pain and suffering…
If there truly will be no ultimate justice then grim, unyielding despair is a right response.
And so for John at this moment – in exile in his old age. The last of the living apostles, still waiting for the return of Christ – The Church till mall and suffering persecution – was it all, is it all for nothing?
Can it really be this is all just random, unmeaning nonsense?
Can it be there is no way to probe the mind and will and purposes of God so as to make all of life and what has happened make sense?
He sobs! No one can give the answers. No one is worthy.
But his weeping is interrupted.
THE LION AND THE LAMB – III. 5:5-7 And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.
No John! All is not lost. There is One, only One who is worthy, who is equal to the task of both breaking the seals to reveal what’s inside, and to bring to pass all that has been written. Yes, there is ONE!
And then this One is shown in a series of descriptive ways.
The Lion of the tribe of Judah. John would have recognized this from Gen. 49, and other Jewish literature as referring to God’s appointed Messiah.
Genesis 49:9–10 “Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”
The Root of David. Comes directly from that great Messianic passage Isa. 11 – where we read: Isaiah 11:1–2 “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.”
This is God’s appointed ruler of His people, who is not only divine, but also was human and from the “stump of Jesse” – a descendant of David’s bloodline.
A lamb. Slaughtered, but standing. Not just dead, but a Lamb that had been offered up with all of the ritual butchering the Old Testament would require – and yet alive!
Virtually in the throne itself. Between the throne and the 4 living creatures is virtually IN the throne with the One seated on it. He rules and reigns WITH God AS God.
7 Horns – all powerful. Horns in scripture most often being a symbol of power and authority.
7 Eyes – all knowing. Again, as we saw last time, these 7 spirits sent out into all the earth demonstrating His omniscience.
And He alone can walk right up to the hand of God and take the scroll.
Jesus Christ alone is the One who can unfold for us the eternal plans and purposes of God, which answer all of the questions of the meaning of self, and life and history and pain and suffering.
This announcement to weep no more because the Lion who is the Root of Jesse who is also the Lamb slain but who lives, and dwells in God’s throne and is both omnipotent and omniscient – He is worthy, He is able because: HE HAS CONQUERED!
But what does that mean? Conquered who? Conquered what? What is this conquering that makes Him so “worthy”?
And the answer rests in the 3 hymns that are sung as a result of this revelation of Him.
3 hymns that start in one place and then ripple out like the waves of an atomic blast.
THE 1st HYMN – IV. 5:8-10 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
The 4 living creatures and the elders take up a new song – i.e. different than the one in ch. 4 – Holy, Holy, Holy.
Now, their song is about what the Lamb and what He has done.
He was slain, and by His blood He ransomed a people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation – and made these ransomed ones a kingdom of priests to God, and made them to reign on the earth!
His conquering act was the act of conquering sin and death and the Devil. He overcame it all! For us!
All that could separate humankind from the living God, the whole of their sin – of your sin and mine was overcome by Him in the shedding of His blood! In His substitutionary atonement on the Cross. He paid the ransom price for us.
He conquered our sin. He conquered the Devil who opposed us. And He conquered death in His resurrection and in restoring the redeemed in order to become the priests God intended us to be to Himself and to rule the earth as He had intended – overcoming all of the destruction brought on by the Fall.
All this – by His blood on the Cross. He is worthy, because He conquered all that has gone so horribly awry from the Fall.
Because of Him life is not senseless and directionless and random. No human being need live that way. For there is absolute redemption in Christ for all who will put their faith in Him. This is where the Christian lives.
We find the answers to the great questions all wrapped up in Christ.
Who we are is settled in our relationship to Him: 1 John 3:2 “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”
Where we came from?: Colossians 1:15–16 “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.
Why we are here is met in Him: 1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light
Where are we going? John 14:1–3 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”
And what of pain and suffering? We know that it all came to us due to the Fall, but that Jesus in His redemptive work grants us the privilege of co-opting every trial, difficulty, pain, heartbreak and seemingly senseless suffering for our good! Romans 5:1–5 “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
THE 2nd HYMNS – 5:11-14 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
So as the realization of Christ’s conquering of the World, sin and Satan is dropped into the middle of this scene – it ripples outward in massive waves.
So first, the 4 living Creatures and the 24 elders sing the new song.
Then – Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”
And after that – I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
In Christ – all the plans and purposes of God will be revealed and not JUST revealed, completed.
Life not only has meaning – every moment of it, every aspect of it, even the pain and the sorrow are infused with redemptive grace for those in Christ.
But if you are not in Christ today – hear me, you too are defined in terms of relationship to Him.
Outside of Christ you stand condemned – separate from God and without hope in the world.
Without right relationship to Him life can have no real meaning other than some temporary thing you assign it.
Without being joined to Him all that awaits you is the eternal just judgment of God for your sins.
And what you suffer now has no rhyme, no reason, and can do nothing other than crush you in the end.
But you are here today. You have been exposed to this revelation of the Lamb slain, but alive, who has all power and all knowledge and can rescue you from your sin and shame and meaninglessness and restore you to a right relationship to your God and maker. And He calls to you today with a human voice – not the voice of an angel – but He call you no less to Himself – that He might be your God, and you His child. Won’t you come?