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WHO IS WORTHY TO OPEN THE SCROLL?

 

 

And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals. Then I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?” And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll, or to look at it. So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it. But one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.” And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth. Then He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. (Revelation 5:1–7).

 

After seeing the magnificence of the Glorified Christ sitting on the throne of the kingdom and the redeemed of all ages that surround the throne, John notices that Christ holds a scroll in His right hand. John is not given any time to ponder on the scroll and he has no idea what it contains; his first impression is that the scroll has writing on in the inside and on the back and that it is sealed with seven seals.

It is logical to assume that the thought passing through John’s mind at the moment is that this scroll contains the record of the things which must shortly take place as told him in Chapter 1:1. In verse 11 of Chapter 1 Christ tells John to write what he is going to see in a book, and in verse 19 he is told that this is going to consist of “the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.”

Furthermore, in verse 1 we are told that the Revelation was brought to him by a being called His angel, that is, Christ’s angel. The process being that Christ gave the Revelation to this angel, then the angel gave it to John. With this brief insight behind what he now sees, a strong angel asks a pertinent question. Who is this angel? We saw in the first three chapters of Revelation that angels are messengers or the ministry of Christ’s church.

The church has had the Book of Revelation since John received it in about 90 a.d. Undoubtedly the letters to the seven churches of Asia were understood by those churches; hence, we see in them some things “which are”. But for the most part, the book of Revelation was obscure and incomprehensible, “things which will take place after this”. When the church was putting the New Testament together, there was opposition to including the Revelation in the New Testament. But, in faith and under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, the Revelation is included in our Bibles.

 

The Strong Angel

 

The word strong that describes this angel indicates forcible, meaning to produce a powerful effect. The angel John saw was quite effective in proclaiming with a loud voice. But, as far as the kingdom of God is concerned, Christ’s ministers have long pursued the meaning of the Revelation.

At various times in the history of the church, some have seen issues in the Book of Revelation that described events they recognized in their own times. Martin Luther, in the heat of the Protestant Reformation, saw many things regarding Papalism and some rituals of the church in the symbols of the Revelation. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries there has been almost excessive efforts to unravel the prophecies of the Revelation. In these times perhaps more that in others the church has a forcible ministry crying out with a loud voice: Who is worthy to open the scroll and loose its seals?

Many ministers and teachers have come on the scene as experts on the Book of Revelation and movements and individuals have been dragged along in their wakes. Beware of any one that claims to have the answers to the Book of Revelation. There is any number of preachers today that have figured out all the millennial events they think the Revelation foretells. This sells a lot of books and makes for fantastic movies, but it is far from what the Revelation is about. Remember, the Revelation is about the Glorified Christ and His kingdom through church history to the end of time. Its emphasis is not the end time, but what happens from John’s time until the end time. The strong or forcible angel John saw is not some end-time prophet; it represents the collective cry of the ministry throughout the gospel dispensation.

 

No One Was Able to Open the Scroll

 

While the scroll was written upon, it is not intelligible to mere human intellect. Remember the Ethiopian eunuch as he was trying to understand the prophet Isaiah.

 

So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. (Acts 8:30–31).

 

In the case of the Revelation, we need more than a Philip or some other preacher to open it to our understanding. Christ used an angel to give the Revelation to John; however, it requires someone greater than an angel to open it.

John perceived at that moment that no one he has seen in the vision was worthy to open and read the scroll. He had seen 24 elders, the redeemed of all ages, and not one of them was worthy; he had seen the four living creatures, the attributes of the redeemed, and there was nothing in those attributes that qualified any person to open and read the scroll. This fact caused John to weep much. Albert Barnes shares some insight on the tears of John.

 

The tears of the apostle here may be regarded as an illustration of two things which are occurring constantly in the minds of men: (a) The strong desire to penetrate the future; to lift the mysterious veil which shrouds that which is to come; to find some way to pierce the dark wall which seems to stand up before us, and which shuts from our view that which is to be hereafter. There have been no more earnest efforts made by men than those which have been made to read the sealed volume which contains the record of what is yet to come. By dreams, and omens, and auguries, and astrology, and the flight of birds, and necromancy, men have sought anxiously to ascertain what is to be hereafter. (b)  The weeping of the apostle may be regarded as an instance of the deep grief which men often experience when all efforts to penetrate the future fail, and they feel that after all they are left completely in the dark. Often is the soul overpowered with grief, and often are the eyes filled with sadness at the reflection that there is an absolute limit to the human powers; that all that man can arrive at by his own efforts is uncertain conjecture, and that there is no way possible by which he can make nature speak out and disclose what is to come. Nowhere does man find himself more lettered and limited in his powers than here; nowhere does he feel that there is such an intense disproportion between his desires and his attainments. In nothing do we feel that we are more absolutely in need of Divine help than in our attempts to unveil the future; and were it not for revelation man might weep in despair.

 

Millennial interpretations of the Book of Revelation focus on future events that are actually unknowable to us in the present. Too many of the Revelation experts are diviners in the unknowable. While they make fortunes off of their books, they actually distract God’s people from the urgency of the present. Especially when the theory is put forth that in a future millennium the lost will be given a second chance to be saved, it quashes the evangelical fervor needed in the present to reach the lost. The vast majority of Christians are so distracted with millennial explanations of events happening in the Middle East that they are slack in doing the present work of the kingdom of God. Over the past fifty years, the bad guys have kept changing. First it was the Communists; then it was the Arabs and Palestinians attacking Israel; now it is radical Muslims trying to take over the world. What will it be next?

 

One Worthy to Open the Scroll

 

As John weeps over the lack of one worthy to open and read the scroll, someone speaks up: “Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and loose its seven seals.”

No one was found worthy to open the scroll, but someone had the answer: one of the 24 elders. We are not told who this elder is or why the message was delivered by an elder rather than by an angel. While we are not told who this elder is, it seems likely that he represents the collective wisdom of all the elders, the redeemed of all ages. We see these elders rejoicing and throwing their crowns at the feet of the Glorified Christ at the end of chapter four. So, while John has been weeping, they have been rejoicing because they know the answer.

The redeemed know who is the answer to everything: “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David.” The obvious answer is: Christ. After all, the Revelation is about Him. He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah. The lion is the emblem of the tribe of Judah assigned to it by Jacob, the father of Judah. Christ was prophesied to descend from the tribe of Judah. He is the Root of David; David, the king of Israel. Christ was prophesied to descend from the royal family of King David. As David was the righteous king of Israel, Christ is the righteous king of the kingdom of God.

The two expressions placed together indicate the divine right and power of Christ to open the scroll and reveal the secrets of the Revelation. Matthew Henry observes the significance of this two-fold identity:

 

. . . the Lord Jesus Christ, called the lion of the tribe of Judah, according to his human nature, alluding to Jacob’s prophecy (Genesis 49:10), and the root of David according to his divine nature, though a branch of David according to the flesh. He who is a middle person, God and man, and bears the office of Mediator between God and man, is fit and worthy to open and execute all the counsels of God towards men. And this he does in his mediatorial state and capacity, as the root of David and the offspring of Judah, and as the King and head of the Israel of God; and he will do it, to the consolation and joy of all his people.

 

In due time, throughout the church age Christ has prevailed to give some necessary understanding of the message of the Revelation when He determined it to be needed and to only those He chose. In our time, when and as He chooses, He will give us the understanding He sees we need. This understanding will always be about His work in the kingdom of God and not fantastic revelations about future news stories.

 

The Lamb

 

When told by the elder that the Lion of Judah and the Root of David has prevailed, John’s attention is drawn back to the throne. Whenever in need of understanding about the present, the future, the will of God, or what we need in our lives, always look to the throne. Christ sits there at the right hand of the Father always making intercession for us.

When John first saw the throne, he only saw the magnificence of the One on the throne, but he did not see His Person. As John sees the throne, his line of vision goes backwards across the line of revelation. When he looks he sees: First, the four living creatures; then the 24 elders; and in the middle of the throne, remember, us in Christ and Christ in us, he sees a Lamb.

This is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, the one in whom the redeemed of all ages rejoice. This Lamb is the Lord Jesus Christ, the object of the Book of Revelation. Here He is seen first in His role as redeemer, the slain Lamb that makes atonement for sin.

Then He is seen with seven horns and seven eyes, which are said to be the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth. What followed the act of redemption after Christ ascended into heaven? The Holy Spirit was given to the church. And what did Jesus teach us was the object of the baptism of the Holy Spirit?

 

But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8).

 

Who has prevailed to open and read the scroll? The Lord Jesus Christ, the Redeemer and the One Who empowers the church to preach the gospel to all the earth.

The Lamb was seen standing in the midst of the throne, but yet we see Him coming and taking the scroll out of the hand of Him who sat on the throne. This is the same Christ appearing under two symbols. He is the Redeemer and Empower-er and He is the king in the Kingdom. This shows us that He and only He can open and read the scroll.

 

The Worship of the Redeemed

 

The Lamb taking the scroll results in the living creatures and 24 elders fall down in worship of the Lamb, their redeemer.

Each has a harp, which is indicative of praise and worship. Worship of the Redeemer is to have a calming effect as we see in 1 Samuel 16:23, “And so it was, whenever the spirit from God was upon Saul, that David would take a harp and play it with his hand. Then Saul would become refreshed and well, and the distressing spirit would depart from him.” Josephus, the Jewish historian, writes that David sang hymns and songs of praise while he played his harp, thus relieving Saul’s stress. And in Psalms 6 & 12, which David addresses to the Chief Musician, the Psalms are to be accompanied with an 8-stringed harp. So, while the redeemed are rejoicing in the presence of the Lamb, it is not in a frenzy, but in a meditative and subdued act of worship.

With the harps and as a necessary part of their worship they have bowls of incense, incense being the prayers of the saints. Always remember that prayer is integral to worship—there is no worship without prayer.

The redeemed sing a song in praise of the Lamb: Because you are the Redeemer, only you are worthy to open the seals of the scroll. It is only through redemption that we reign over sin and have access to God.

Suddenly there is the voice (singular) of many angels (plural) that join into the song with the redeemed. The messengers of Christ’s church join in with the worship. First, no one can be a messenger or minister in Christ’s church without being redeemed from sin. Second, the redeemed ministry has been consistent and single to proclaim the gospel of redemption through the blood of Christ; there is no other message to preach.

The scene of worship blurs into a gigantic crowd of worshippers: At first a calculated number: ten thousand times ten thousand, or one hundred million but the redeemed of all ages is far more than this immense number, therefore John just blurts out thousands of thousands. Some might think the redeemed are limited to their church or denominational group but the redeemed are all that have placed their faith in the shed blood of the Lamb of God regardless of their church affiliation.

This mass of the redeemed join in the worship “saying with a loud voice: Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!”

As the redeemed of all ages are worshipping the Lamb, something strange takes place, not only are the redeemed praising the Lamb but every creature joins in. Yes, we have the heavenly crowd singing; but, we also have those that are on the earth, under the earth, and in the sea. We will see as we get into the message of the Revelation that people in these locations are not among the redeemed; they are those that have in some way rejected the Lamb of God.

Why are the lost praising the Lamb? God proclaims awesome judgment on those that reject His offer of salvation in Isaiah chapter 45. He says in verses 22–23,

 

Look to Me, and be saved, All you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. I have sworn by Myself; The word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness, And shall not return, That to Me every knee shall bow, Every tongue shall take an oath.

 

Every knee shall bow; not just the redeemed but even all that have rejected God’s offer of salvation. God’s gift of salvation was given through the incarnation, death, and atonement in His Son, Jesus Christ.

 

Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9–11).

 

The coming Day of Judgment is a reality and all humanity will stand before Christ to be judged.

 

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10).

 

Every tongue will eventually confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, and here is what all will say: “Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!”

After this song is sung, the redeemed cry Amen and worship the Lamb. Notice the caption given: “who lives forever and ever”. This suggests that the redeemed then follow the Lamb into eternity forever and ever. Where do the rest go? Matthew 25:41, “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

With this dreadful but yet wonderful closing of the heavenly vision, we now enter into the actual contents of the Revelation. The sealed scroll will be opened by the Lamb. Vision by vision we will be taken through events that we “have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.”