************ Sermon on Revelation 5:1-7 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 3, 2008
"Who is Worthy?"
Revelation 4 & 5 are part of one vision. Revelation 4 tells us the setting of the event that unfolds in chapter 5.
What we see in Revelation 4 is absolutely beautiful. We see that at the center of the universe is God on His throne (Rev 4:2) – and He is absolutely majestic, awesome, magnificent, and glorious. Encircling this is an emerald-like rainbow (Rev 4:3). In a circle around this are the four living creatures (Rev 4:6). Surrounding this are the 24 elders seated on 24 thrones (Rev 4:4). Then comes a circle of thousands upon thousands of angels (Rev 5:11). Before and around the throne is a sea of glass (Rev 4:6). After this comes every other creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea (Rev 5:13). Yet, this is merely the stage, this is merely the backdrop, for what John is shown in Revelation 5.
I Who is Worthy?
A Revelation 5 tells us that John sees a book. John sees the most important book in the history of the universe. What book is this? We come across different books in Revelation. There is the book of life. In this book are written the names of all those who from eternity to eternity have been chosen for salvation in Christ. There is also another set known simply as "the books." In these books are to be found a record of all our sins - sins of commission and omission, sins of thought and word and deed. But this is something different. This is the book of God's eternal purposes (cf Ezekiel 2:9-10). This is the book of God's eternal plan to judge and to save.
Actually, it is not a book as we know it. It is a book as John knows it – a scroll that is rolled up on a rod.
(Rev 5:1) 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.
We are told three things about this book. First, John sees that it is "in the right hand of him who sat on the throne" (Rev 5:1). Of course, we all realize God is Spirit and therefore does not have a hand. In the Bible's culture, "right hand" means place of power and authority, place of favor and privilege. So what John is saying is that the scroll and its contents are controlled by the sovereign purpose and power of God. The scroll and its contents are important to God and valued by God.
Second, John sees that it is covered "with writing on both sides" (Rev 5:1). To understand the importance of this you need to realize that scrolls usually were made of papyrus – a reed type plant torn into long strips. Vertical strips of papyrus were placed side by side; on top of this, holding them together, was a layer of glue; and on top of this were placed horizontal strips of papyrus. On the top or front side you write in the same direction as the strips of papyrus. On the bottom or back side you are writing against the grain, over the bumps and ridges of the strips of papyrus. So, most writing at that time was done on the top layer of horizontal strips.
Why would anyone ever write on the back side? Scrolls were expensive so the poor were forced to write on both sides. But He Who "holds" the scroll is the King of the universe with gold and silver and the cattle of a thousand hills; so that can't be the reason. There is another possible reason for writing on both sides of a scroll. In that time and place, important legal documents were confined to one scroll in order to keep all of the document in one place; so, writing started on the front or inside and was finished on the back or outside.
"I saw ... writing on both sides." Do you hear what John is saying? God has the entire document in His hand; there is not a second scroll or a third scroll somewhere. Nothing is left out. The document in God's hand is complete, it is comprehensive. All that God has foreordained for the judgment and salvation of everything in the universe is contained in that scroll. Everything that must happen according to God's plan is in that scroll.
Third, John sees that the scroll is "sealed with seven seals" (Rev 5:1). Scrolls sometimes were closed with a strip of cloth or leather. But official/ legal documents were usually shut with a piece of hot wax placed on an inside edge into which was pressed a personal seal. Only the owner of the seal had the right to break the seal and open the scroll. But John sees 7 seals – denoting completeness, fullness. The scroll in the right hand of God is completely and fully secure. Its contents are completely and fully hidden and inaccessible.
The scroll is sealed. Its contents are hidden – except for the little bit of writing John sees on the outside layer. What does this really mean? Think of what happens when a "last will and testament" is read. Not only is the document read but its contents are set into motion so that the estate is sold and the monies are divided. Similarly, the opening of God's scroll not only reveals God's plan for the judgment and salvation of the human race but it also sets that plan into motion. And, what happens if the scroll remains closed? Not only does John not get to look at God's purposes for the human race but those purposes will not be brought to pass.
B This sets the stage for an angel. We are told two things about him. First, he is a "mighty" angel (Rev 5:2). He is capable of many things, of terrifying things, things man cannot do. This is not an ordinary angel; he is above the rank and file. He is one of the class of mighty angels of God sent to earth to do and announce God's bidding. Second, he is "proclaiming in a loud voice" (Rev 5:2). How loud? Loud enough for everyone everywhere to hear. Loud enough that no one can miss or ignore what he says. His voice is so loud because He is speaking to the entire universe and the entire universe must pay attention.
What does the loud and mighty angel say? He asks a question. Actually, it is more of a challenge. "Who?" he asks. "Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?" (Rev 5:2).
Don't forget where the scroll is. The scroll is "in the right hand of him who sat on the throne" (Rev 5:1). Do you realize what the mighty angel is asking? He wants to know, who is able to pass through the circles that surround the throne? Who is able to pass through every creature in heaven and earth and under the earth and on the sea? Who is able to pass through the sea of crystal? Who is able to pass through the circle of thousands of angels? Who is able to pass through the 24 thrones of the 24 elders? Who is able to pass through the 4 living creatures? Who is able to pass through the emerald rainbow? Who is able to pass through the lightning and rumblings and thunder that come from the throne? Who is able to pass through the 7 blazing lamps which are the 7 spirits of God? Who is able to approach Him Who lives in unapproachable light? Who is able to approach Him Who is completely holy and perfect and pure? Who is able to approach the terrifying, awesome, glorious, and majestic God? Who is so holy and perfect and pure and exalted and magnificent and glorious that they can approach God?
"Who is worthy?" "Who is worthy to approach the throne?" "Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?"
Don't forget what is at stake: not just the revealing of God's purposes but also the execution of His plan. "Who is worthy to open the scroll and set into motion God's plan for judgment and salvation?"
II No One
A "Who is worthy?" In a loud voice, the mighty angel asks this of everyone everywhere. Listen to the frightening answer:
(Rev 5:3) But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it.It is NOT John's intention to teach us about a 3-storied universe. John is NOT giving us a lesson in cosmology. Rather, John wants to tell us that in all the universe there is no one, no thing, in no place, and at no time who is worthy to take the scroll, to break the seals, to read what is inside, and to set into motion God's plan for judgment and salvation.
"Who is worthy?" No one steps forward. Not a single angel. Not a single person. Not a single spirit or power. "Who is worthy?' The response is a deafening silence. NO ONE IS WORTHY. Because we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
B As I was thinking about this and imagining this I thought – "What about God? He Who sits on the throne, it is His scroll and His seal, so why doesn't He open the scroll and look inside? He is worthy, so why doesn't He do what no one else can do?"
By His providence and omnipotence, God has set limits to His own actions. From eternity God has decided that someone who is truly human must be the one who opens the scroll (cf Q & A 16 of the Heidelberg Catechism).
C "I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside" (Rev 5:4). A literal translation of the Greek is "I cried many much great." John cried loudly. John cried continuously. John cried with great tears. Picture John beating his chest in lamentation.
Of course John cried. The scroll not only cannot be opened but God's plan for judgment and salvation cannot come to pass.
"Who is worthy?" "I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside" (Rev 5:4).
John wept for his brothers and sisters in the faith. John wept for real people he knew who lost their jobs and homes and businesses for the sake of the Gospel. John wept for real people he knew who were in prison for the sake of the Gospel. John wept for real people he knew who were martyred for the Gospel. John wept for the small, struggling churches of Asia Minor that faced pressure from within and without to compromise when it comes to faith and religion and God and Christ. John wept because all their faith and labor would count for nothing if the seals were not opened. If the seals were not opened, persecutors will not be judged, overcomers will not be rewarded, the new heaven and new earth will not come to pass, and the future inheritance will not become a reality.
III The Lion Who is a Lamb
A John is now given a command. "Do not weep." "Stop your crying and wailing and lamentation."
(Rev 5:5) "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."Someone is worthy, John. He is of the human race. He is able to open the seals and bring God's eternal purposes to pass.
This worthy one is given two titles from the Old Testament. First of all, He is called "the Lion of the tribe of Judah." This comes from Father Jacob's deathbed blessings to each of his sons in Genesis 49. Jacob compared Judah to a lion – this raises the image of strength and majesty. Like this king of beasts, Judah is a king to whom all nations will bow before in obedience
Second, the worthy one is called "the Root of David." This image comes from Isaiah's prophecy. The setting Isaiah has in mind is the Exile in Babylon when all that is left of Israel and the house of David is a stump and a root. Isaiah is given a vision of the future and declares that "A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit" (Is 11:1). The "stump of Jesse" is a reference to Jesse, the father of King David; and, David was Israel's greatest warrior-king. Isaiah speaks of a descendent of David who rules the nations and defeats them in battle.
In the heavenly throne room the apostle John is introduced to this marvelous King Who is "the Lion of the tribe of Judah" and "the Root of David." "See, John." "Look, John." "Behold, John."
B Why is John to look? Because the Lion, the Root, "has triumphed." Notice that word "triumphed." Doesn't that imply struggle, battle, violence, bloodshed? He has triumphed. He has conquered. He has prevailed. He has won the victory.
He "has triumphed." But, then, He is "the Lion of the tribe of Judah" – He is powerful and terrifying and majestic like a lion. And, He is "the Root of David" – He is a warrior used to battle.
C Now, what does John see when he looks? If you were in John's place what would you expect to see when you are told to look at "the Lion of the tribe of Judah" and "the Root of David"? I would expect to see someone or something strong and majestic and terrifying – like a lion. I would expect to see a warrior dressed for battle and armed to the teeth – someone like Goliath or Rambo.
But what does John see? "Then I saw a Lamb." The Root is a Lamb. The Lion is a Lamb. Wow. What a mixup of images and metaphors. But this is a common feature of apocalyptic literature – images are mixed together in order to say several things at the same time.
D The Lion is a Lamb! Remember? He has "triumphed." Further details tells us how He has triumphed. The first detail: "looking as if it had been slain" (Rev 5:6). The Lamb bears the wounds and marks of slaughter. Every reader of the Old Testament knows exactly what John is talking about. John is talking about a Passover Lamb. John is talking about a Lamb that is slain for the sins of the people on the Day of Atonement. John is talking about the cross of Christ.
The second detail: the Lamb is "standing" (Rev 5:6). "Standing." Doesn't this mean He is alive? Dead things don't stand, do they? He has been slain. He has been slaughtered. But now He is alive and standing. John is talking about the empty tomb of Christ.
The third detail: "He had seven horns" (Rev 5:6). Seven represents completeness, fullness, perfection. A horn is a symbol of power and strength. Remember what Jesus said: "all authority in heaven and earth has been given to me" (Mt 28:18). The Lamb is perfect in its power. John is talking about the ascension of Christ into heaven where He is seated at God's right hand.
The fourth detail: "He had ... seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth" (Rev 5:6). He sees all things and knows all things and rules all things through His Spirit. John is talking about Pentecost. Not by power or might but by the Spirit Christ rules the universe.
"Then I saw a Lamb." The Lion is a Lamb. The Root is a Lamb. The Davidic King. The Suffering Servant. The horn of salvation. The omniscient Spirit of God.
Do you see how He triumphed? He triumphed by going the way of the cross and the grave, by ascending into heaven, by sending His Spirit.
IV He is Worthy
A The Lion Who is a Lamb is worthy. How do we know? I want you to notice where He is standing.
(Rev 5:6) Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders.He is standing in the center of the throne. He has passed through the crowds, the sea of glass, the angels, the 24 elders, the 4 living creatures, the emerald rainbow, the lightning and rumblings and thunder, the 7 spirits. He is standing there surrounded by the highest and mightiest of all that God has made. He is standing there in the very presence of the God Who is utterly holy and glorious and magnificent. He is standing there being worshiped and praised with Him Who sits on the throne.
Can you stand there? Can the 24 elders or 4 living creatures stand there? Can the angels stand there? Of course not! Only the Lion, the Root, the Lamb can stand there.
B He is worthy! How do we know? He is standing. He is not on His knees. He is not prostrate before the throne. He is standing in the center of the throne. He is one with God and in God and of God.
C He is worthy! How do we know? Look at what He does. John says,
(Rev 5:7) He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne.He came, He took, and soon He will open. God did not stop Him. God did not strike Him down. God let Him come. God let Him take the scroll. Why? Because He is worthy!
"He came and took the scroll." Now God's plan for the universe will be revealed and set into motion. God's plan to judge and to save will become a reality.
Let's take a peek at what happens next. It is the only thing that can happen. It is what you and I should be doing. When the Lion Who is a Lamb took the scroll the four living creatures and the 24 elders fell down before Him and sang a new song. This is followed by the voice of thousands upon ten thousand angels. They also sang. Then comes the singing of every other creature in the universe.
Why all this singing? Because He is worthy! He is worthy! No one else is. But the Lion, the Root, the Lamb – He is worthy!
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