REVELATION 5 of 16
We’re going to be in Revelation 5 today.
Last week we were in Revelation 4,
and we saw the visions of Revelation beginning in earnest.
John is pulled—drawn upward—
into a deeper dimension of reality.
It’s like he goes backstage of the entire universe.
John has a vision of heaven.
He sees the center of all reality—
the heart of everything—and it’s not him.
He sees a throne and it’s not his.
Someone else is sitting on it.
Someone whom all of creation bows down to—
the four living creatures worship him day night—
and then the people of God—the twenty-four elders—
follow creation’s lead.
Today we’re going even deeper into John’s vision.
If Revelation 4 reminds us that we’re not on the throne,
then Revelation 5 wants to make sure we know who is.
(ch5) Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”
The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
After the towering vision of a throne
at the center of the universe
with Someone sitting on it,
John suddenly notices something.
Way up there, in the right hand of the One who sits on the throne…
there’s a scroll (v1).
Like the one I’ve got right here.
This is a scroll that turns out to be rather important in Revelation.
Seeing a scroll in someone’s hand
is not terribly surprising.
Scrolls were basically the equivalent of books
or moleskin journals or three-ring binders
in the ancient world.
Scrolls are where you write stuff down.
So what is this scroll?
What is this scroll that John sees?
(No, you didn’t miss anything,
the text doesn’t tell us what it is.)
Some have speculated that
it could be some kind of a legal document.
A government document
would fit in nicely
with a government throne room.
Some have thought that
it could be the last will and testament
of someone who has died.
That’s especially interesting
when you realize that under Roman law
you needed six witnesses to sign and seal your will.1
You would would write your will and sign it
and then you would have six friends sign it
and then you would roll it up
and everyone would use a bit of hot wax to seal it.
Everyone would have something like a ring or a stamp
to make their own unique impression on the wax.
And then boom—you’ve got your will updated.
And if you added your own bit of wax,
you would have seven seals on your will.
Some have even thought that
this scroll might be the Old Testament.
To be sure, the Torah, the Prophets, the Writings—
that would be a lot to fit on just one scroll,
but that’s precisely the kind of scroll we’ve got.
A scroll that has writing
on both sides of it.2
Whatever this scroll is—
and we don’t quite know yet at this point in Revelation—
whatever ever it is, it’s important.
We know it’s important
because an angel draws attention to it:
“Who is worthy enough (v2)—who is significant enough—
who is capable or fit or deserving or able—
to break these bits of wax off
and open this scroll?”
And then no one (v3)—no one anywhere—
no one in this entire epic throne room—
no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth
can open this scroll.
And then John loses it in the middle of heaven.
We mentioned it last week,
but I think this is a big clue
that John is not in heaven in the future.
He’s weeping in heaven.
John is just backstage behind reality—
but the world is still going on.
John’s loved ones are still suffering.
John’s churches are still struggling.
John’s world is still full of evil and darkness.
Tears aren’t gone yet.
In fact, the tears and the weeping
are going to have to increase
before they’re wiped away.
He starts sobbing, starts crying—he wept and wept (v4)—
because it looks like no one
will be able to open this scroll.
Whatever this scroll is,
it’s not junk mail.
It’s not coupons for Gordmans or an ad from Dennys.
Whatever this scroll is,
You haven’t missed anything—
we don’t know what it it is yet—
but it’s in the right hand of the One at the center of the universe,
it’s got lots to say (with writing on both sides),
it’s perfectly sealed (with seven seals),
and it’s enough to make John despair in heaven.
We’re going to see more of this scroll in the coming weeks.
Next week as chapter six begins,
we’re going to see the four horsemen of the apocalypse
bursting out as the seals are broken (6.1-8).
In three weeks—at the beginning of in chapter ten—
we’ll see John being handed what seems to be this scroll
and being told to eat the scroll.
That’s right—in chapter ten,
John goes all Ezekiel on us.
He eats the scroll.
We’re going to see more
of this scroll in the coming weeks,
and we’re never explicitly told what the scroll is.
But—if we remember—John had been beckoned—had been summoned—
into God’s dimension of reality so that he could see
“what must take place after this” (4.1).
So by all appearances—best we can tell—
and I think it’s a really good guess—
it seems like this scroll contains
what must take place.
One scholar called it the “scroll of destiny.”3
It’s the scroll with the answers.
The answers to questions like:
What does God have in store for creation?
What’s God planning on doing?
What are God’s purposes in the world?
How will God sort out history?
In short, It’s a place where we would discover:
How does God save the world?
There’s no verse that explicitly says:
“Sealed in this scroll are God’s plans to save the world,”
but hopefully it will become clearer over the coming weeks.
At this point you’ll just have to trust me,
that’s why John is weeping.
It seems like on this scroll—if someone could only read it—
we would find the future,
we would discover God’s plan for healing history,
we would see God’s strategy for sorting out injustice and hardship
for dealing with hurt and suffering, for making everything new (20.5).
Yeah—I guess this scroll might be important.
Not only for the world at large—
not only for civil war in Syria
or government oppression in North Korea
or famine and food shortages in third-world countries—
Is there a future?
how can these hurts be healed?
can anything be made new?
Those are important questions
not only for the world at large
but for all of our lives too.
Our lives are all part
of that larger world.
And we ask questions not only of the world…
we ask them in our own lives.
Is there a future?
How CAN there be… when this thing has happened?
When things have gone from bad to worse?
When there doesn’t seem to be any solution?
When the cancer has come back?
When the one I love has already died?
How can these hurts be healed?
How can anything be made new?
We usually distract ourselves away from these questions.
We don’t ask them.
We avoid them if at all possible.
Because—let’s be honest—these questions are just too heavy for us.
There doesn’t seem to be anything or anyone
that can make sense of the world,that can make sense of our lives,
that could answer these questions in any way
that doesn’t lead to despair.
If we really think about them—if we really consider them—
for the world at large or our lives in that world,
we’re likely to lose it.
If we were in a safe enough place,
we would just weep and weep.
But then (v5) something happens.
The twenty-four elders say something.
The two sets of twelve say something.
The people of God say something.
They say: “Do not weep.”
(That’s always the task of the Church… to bring hope to the hopeless.)
“Do not weep, because someone CAN
make sense of the world—of history, of the future.
“The Strong One—the Lion of tribe Judah—
the King from whom all other kings grow—
he has conquered—he has triumphed—
and he CAN do it.
“He can make sense of the world.
He can bring hope.
He can open the scroll.”
And so John
looks to see this Conquerer,
looks to see this Strong One,
looks to see this Lion…
and he sees the most surprising thing.
A Lamb looking “as if it had been slain.”
“Slain” makes it sound clean and sterile,
but the greek is a little messier:
We might say “looking as if it had been slaughtered.”
That sounds a little messier…
but that’s the picture.
This Lamb has been slaughtered—
This Lamb is slaughtered but still standing.
It’s a strange sounding Lamb…
not just because he’s slaughtered.
He sounds a bit like a radioactive lamb…
what with his seven horns and seven eyes (v6).
This is where we begin realizing—if we hadn’t before—
that numbers and images are symbolic in this genre… not literal.
Eyes are a symbol of seeing, of perception, of knowledge.
Horns are a symbol of vitality, of strength.
And he’s got seven of each.
This Lamb is perfectly knowledgable.
and perfectly strong.4
And this strange–sounding lamb
is sharing the center of heaven.
The place where only God should be…
that’s where the Lamb is.
Central to the confession of the church
is that God has revealed himself in Jesus
God is not forever a mystery.
The Throne is not forever in a fog.
The mysterious Someone who sits on the throne
has revealed what he is like.
“This is what I’m like!”
God is a Giver—
always giving life and existence
to everything (4.11).
God is a Lover.
A Lover to the point of pain—
to the point of suffering, to the point of slaughter.
God is a Servant.
A Servant to the point of death—
even death on a cross (Phil 2.6-8).
And that’s why everyone gives him
“praise and honor and glory and power.”
That’s why the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders (v9)—
all creation and all God’s people—
bow down before him.
Praising him. Worshiping him.
That’s why in verses 11-14,
the scene just gets mind-bogglingly big—
the circles around the throne just keep growing and growing—
with ten thousand times ten thousand worshipping.
Because at the center of throne
we find the most beautiful, the most good, the most compelling:
we find a God who makes everything new
by healing it from the inside.
I’m not sure we can always rationally—cognitively—
make sense of every bit of suffering in the world—
or every bit of suffering in our lives.
A lot of times, there’s so much pain,
so much suffering, so much slaughter,
that there’s no way to make sense of it on intellectual level.
And I think that’s why the gospel—
the good news—the life of faith—
is always asking us to trust on a relational level.
Will you trust the Lamb?
The God who is not detached,
The God who is not disinterested.
The God who is not far from you.
The God who has felt every pain,
he has knows our every weakness—
he has experienced our every temptation—
in fact, he suffocated in our sin.
He had to go that deep—
had to plunge into the worst of pain,
had to sink into the grossest of injustices,
had to suffer the deepest of tragedies—
to heal it all from the inside.
And after absorbing
all the slaughter
he’s still standing.
Will we trust the God who heals from the inside?
This is what God’s victory looks like.
I think a lot of our struggles with the life of faith,
come because we’re looking
for a different kind of victory.
I think a lot of times,
we wish God would come and make sense of our lives
like a lion leaping out the underbrush.
I wish God would charge out
and use his seven horns and seven eyes
(his perfect power and perfect knowledge)
to override—overpower—my circumstances,
to deliver a death-blow to my enemies,
to arm wrestle everything into compliance.
I think we God would just
fix everything quickly from the outside.
But that’s not how God works.
That’s not what the life of faith looks like.
That’s not what God’s victory look like.
We hear (v5) that the Lion has conquered…
but what we actually see (v6) is the Lamb.
His knowledge is better than ours.
He uses his power
in a different way
He uses his power to get inside
and—slowly, patiently, painfully—
heal and transform and save.
Evidently salvation works from the inside out.
If God wants to save the world—if God wants to save us—
he have to do it from the inside.
The Lamb on the throne
is unspeakably good news—
but it also challenges almost every area of our lives.
Because throughout our lives—in almost every area—
we want our victories proud and immediate and obvious.
We want to conquer like lions.
But victory of the lion
only comes through
the serving of the lamb.
And we might also add
surrender of the lamb
and the suffering of the lamb.
Serving, surrender, suffering—
it doesn’t feel like victory,
but Jesus assures us that it is.
The Lamb on the throne challenges us
that the path that looks like weakness—
like absurdity, like a dead-end, like a bloody mess—
might just be the truest path of
healing and hope and conquering.
If I don’t say anything right now,
they’ll think that they’ve won.
Maybe they will think that.
If I surrender—if I choose to serve that person—
if I don’t tear into the situation like a lion
and use my strength to overrule and overpower—
breaking bones, roaring my opinions—
nothing is ever going change.
Are you sure?
If I got vulnerable—if I let those around me
know how deeply I’m really struggling—
with my marriage, with doubts,
with fear, with anger, with hidden weeping—
that doesn’t feel like a move towards victory.
That feels like going deeper into darkness.
And it might be.
But that’s where the Lamb always goes—deep inside.
The Lamb goes into the heart of darkness
to shine light, to bring resurrection, to heal.
So may we bring our hard questions to the throne
and never hide their heaviness or hide our weeping,
may we hear the witness of the Church
telling us “Do not weep—there is hope,”
may we trust the Lamb who heals from the inside
and follow him on the often painful path
of surrender and servanthood and the song of victory.
- Richard Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy, 248.
- John had a vision like Ezekiel’s in Ezekiel 2.8 – 3.4, or perhaps John is describing the indescribable by borrowing that image. The scroll in Ezekiel is the hidden declaration and plan of God that will be made known through his words and actions.
- Mounce, 129-130.
- Even though the four living creatures around the throne are “covered in eyes” (4.6, 8) the Lamb still sees more. “Seven” is more than “covered.” Numbers almost always qualify instead of quantifying in Revelation. Additionally, his eyes (his source of knowledge) actually are “the seven spirits of god” (cf. 1.5, 5.5). The Lamb sees and knows all.