Chapter 5 is the second act of the vision that is recorded in chapters 4 and 5. We can see that because chapter 5 starts with “Then I saw”, showing us something else is about to happen.
In chapter 4, the praise to God focused on his creation of the world and his eternity. In chapter 5, Jesus is praised because he redeemed people for God.
After seeing the throne of God, the 4 living creatures and 24 elders, John looked back to the throne and saw a scroll in the right hand of the Father. We are not told, at this point, what is on the scroll. It was written on all over, front and back. It was rolled up, not open. It was sealed with 7 seals. It would appear that the scroll is God’s plan for the future of the world. It is complete, written on front and back. Ezekiel was also given a scroll that had writing on the front and back. It symbolized the message Ezekiel was to deliver to God’s people. (Ezekiel 2:8-10)
The scroll in the hand of God was sealed because God had not, until this time, chosen to reveal his plans. This may be a reference to the 12th chapter of Daniel. There, at the end of Daniel’s visions, Daniel was told to “shut uptake words and seal the book until the time of the end”. (Dan. 12:4) He was also told “the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end”. (Dan. 12:9) As God came to the time to reveal the end, he produced a scroll so that it could be revealed.
The scroll, however, is sealed. It is sealed with 7 seals, perfectly sealed by God. If it is sealed by God, who could open it? Seals were put on ancient scrolls for privacy and to insure they were opened only by one with authority to do so. The authority to open the scroll would also mean authority to carry out the plan revealed in it.
That is what the mighty angel asked in a loud voice. It is the picture of him asking all of heaven who is worthy to open the scroll and break the seals?
In fact, no one in heaven or earth was able to open it or look into it. No one in creation was worthy to break God’s seals and reveal his plan. Neither the elders nor the living creatures were worthy, despite their closeness to the throne. John wept because no one was worthy. He desperately wanted to see God reveal his plan for his people. Jesus had said to come up into heaven to see things that will happen in the future. But he cannot if no one can open the seals.
John had long wondered about this. At Christ’s ascension, the apostles asked Jesus if that was the time to restore the kingdom. Jesus replied “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” (Acts 1:6)
Who Can Open the Scroll
As John despaired, one of the elders comforted him by pointing him to Christ. He said “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.” (5) So, we see the setting of a grand stage. Before all of the creatures of heaven, a mighty angel asks who is worthy to open the scroll. None of these creatures are, not angels, or living creatures or elders. Then, into the middle of the congregation of heaven steps the Lord Jesus Christ. He alone is worthy. He is worthy because he conquered.
What did Jesus conquer? He conquered sin, death and the grave. He is the only one to do that. And, therefore, he is worthy to reveal God’s will for the end.
Look at how the elder describes Jesus. First, he is the Lion of the tribe of Judah. When Jacob gave his final blessing to his sons, he referred to Judah as a lion and the tribe of rulers for the nation of Israel. (Genesis 49:8-10) This rule would be forever: the scepter would not depart from Judah. The lion is powerful, roaring into battle. Remember how the Israelites were arrayed in the wilderness. They were led by the tribe of Judah. Every day when they set out, Judah led the way. Into every battle, they were led by the tribe of Judah. This is to show the power and might of the resurrected Christ. It also shows his right to reign.
Second, he is the Root of David. This is to show the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies that the Messiah would come from the line of David within the tribe of Judah. This is why Matthew began his gospel with a genealogy, showing Jesus as the descendant of David. Again it also shows his right to rule the nations.
Jesus Takes the Scroll
After the words of the mighty angel, John looked for Jesus. There, next to the throne of the Father, he saw him. He saw a Lamb standing, as if it had been slain. It had 7 horns and 7 eyes.
Remember that this is a vision. It, therefore, shows truth in pictures. This is not John looking at a photograph of Jesus looking like a strange sheep. It is a picture meant to convey meaning.
The slain lamb is emblematic of the sacrificial lamb of the Old Testament sacrificial system. The lamb was slain to atone for the sins of the people who offered it. This sacrifice was decreed by God as a grace, allowing the Israelites to cover their sins.
When John the Baptist saw Jesus approaching, he said “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) He meant Jesus would die as a sacrifice for our sins. He was the true Lamb of God. This is the meaning portrayed by John’s vision here also.
This lamb, though, is slain but alive and standing. He died and rose again. Remember Jesus saying to John in chapter 1, “I died, and behold I am alive forevermore”. (1:18)
John also saw Jesus with 7 horns. This is again symbolic. A horn is a symbol of power and strength. For example, Psalm 89:17 says “For you are the glory of their strength; by your favor our horn is exalted”. That is why, in apocalyptic scripture, horns represent powerful kings or nations. Remember Daniel 7:24: the 10 horns of the beast symbolized 10 powerful kings that would come from the best. Since Jesus has 7 horns, he is all powerful. He is almighty.
Jesus also had the perfect fullness of the Holy Spirit. He had “seven eyes, which are the seven spirits ofGod sent out into all the earth”. (5:6) The number 7 represents the fullness of the Spirit, as it did in 1:4. Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, are omniscient: they see the churches and know all things.
Here again we have a Trinitarian statement. The Father is on the throne, Jesus the Son arrives on the seen with the Holy Spirit. The Trinity was present and involved in the creation of the world, is involved in the judgment of the world and will be involved in the recreation of the world.
The Spirit was sent out into all the earth as he indwelled every believer. He, therefore, knows the status of the earth and that it is ripe for judgment.
Taking the Scroll
Jesus, the Lamb, stepped forward and took the scroll from the Father. This demonstrated that he was indeed worthy to take and open it. That being shown, the 4 living creatures and 24 elders again break forth in singing praise. They fell down before him and worshipped him. They had harps to play. They also had golden bowls of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. (9) They had the prayers of the saints because their prayers for vindication and deliverance will be answered as the scroll is opened. They will be answered through fiery judgments on the earth.
This action of taking the scroll and creating praise reflects the progression of Isaiah 42:9-10. Isaiah 42 is about God’s chosen servant, the Messiah. God said “Behold, the former things have come to pass and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.” (Is. 42:9) Here God has set the stage to declare the new things that will happen before they actually happen. Isaiah 42:10, then says “Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the end of the earth…” And that is exactly what happens here in John’s vision.
Their song proclaimed Jesus’ worthiness to take the scroll and open it, based on his death for the sins of believers. They said he was slain and his blood ransomed people for God. (9) It is by death that Jesus, the Lamb, overcame. What most would consider the ultimate defeat was the ultimate victory. It is the victory through death that makes Jesus worthy to open the scroll.
These people were not just Jews. They are from every tribe and language and nation. It is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. God promised “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”.
Believers from all nations are blessed in Abraham, because the offspring of Abraham, the descendant if you will, is Jesus. (Galatians 3:16) And his spiritual offspring is the church, for “if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise”. (Galatians 3:29)
The elders and creatures also praise Jesus because he made believers to be a kingdom. (10) Christ came to establish his kingdom of believers. He brought them from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, his kingdom. The believers in Russia, South Korea, France, China and every other country on earth, are part of Christ’s kingdom. John already referred to this in 1:6. Peter said believers are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation and a people for his own possession. (1 Peter 2:9) This is language the Bible originally ascribed to ethnic Israel. Now, the church holds this position.
Jesus also made believers to be priests to God. Believers lead people to the worship of God and minister in his name.
The praise began with those closest to the throne, the elders and the living creatures. Then it expanded to include the voices of thousands of angels. Imagine the scene of “thousands of thousands” and “myriads of myriads”, numbers beyond counting, singing the praise of Jesus. They sang:
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing”. (5:12)
But, it is not complete. The circle of praise expands even greater. For, every creature in heaven, earth, under the earth, and in the sea praised Jesus, saying
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever.”
This is the picture of all of creation praising the Son and the Father. And as all of creation shouts out in praise, the living creatures and elders are overcome with the presence and glory of God. They fell on their faces and and worshiped, saying “Amen”, or this is the truth.
The mood of America at this point in time is disappointment. People have lost faith in their government and other leaders because of their failures and corruption. There is an old hymn that says “the arm of flesh will fail you”. It will. But, this vision of heaven recorded in Revelation 4 and 5 shows us a savior who is worthy of praise and honor. He is a savior who will not disappoint. John has shown us Christ’s glory. He is about to show us his power. This Jesus, our sacrificial lamb, is the Lion who will devour his foes and lead his people into a new creation.
He is worthy of our worship.