The centrality of the throne in chapter 4 continues in chapter 5. There is, however, a shift in focus as we move from chapter 4 to chapter 5. Chapter 5 begins, “And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne, a scroll…” In chapter 5, but the focus now shifts to the scroll.
Verse 1 describes the scroll for us: “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.” What are we to make of this scroll?
Notice first of all that it is a scroll “written inside and on the back.” It is like the scroll that Ezekiel was once commanded to eat. The Lord said to Ezekiel: “You shall speak My words to them, whether they hear or whether they refuse, for they are rebellious. But you, son of man, hear what I say to you. Do not be rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you. Now when I looked, there was a hand stretched out to me; and behold, a scroll of a book was in it. Then He spread it before me; and there was writing on the inside and on the outside, and written on it were lamentations and mourning and woe” (Ezekiel 2:7–10). Like the scroll of Ezekiel 2, the scroll of Revelation 5 is written on the inside and on the back; it is a scroll covered in writing; it contains lamentations and mourning and woe.
We find a similar picture in Daniel 12: “And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, every one who is found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt… (Daniel 12:1b–2). Daniel was commanded: “Shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end” (Daniel 12:4). Daniel responded, “My lord, what shall be the end of these things? And he said, ‘Go your way, Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end’” (Daniel 12:8–9).
On the basis of Ezekiel 2 and Daniel 12 we begin to understand that the words written upon that scroll contain the words of judgment upon the wicked, as well as the words of deliverance for the righteous. The scroll of Revelation 5 contains the history of redemption—that same history that brings judgment upon the wicked and deliverance for the righteous.
The fact that the scroll is sealed with seven seals confirms this interpretation. Seven is the number of fullness and completion. This scroll, sealed with seven seals, is the unfolding plan of redemption; it contains the history of redemption, which brings judgment upon the wicked even as it brings deliverance for the righteous.
Is No One Worthy?
Having identified the scroll as symbolic of the history of redemption, we then move on to verse 2 and the cry of the angel. “Then I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?’”
Note carefully the language. “Who is worthy to open the scroll?” In other words, who is worthy to reveal the contents of the scroll? Who is worthy to reveal the history of redemption? Who is worthy to reveal the judgments upon the wicked? Who is worthy to reveal the deliverance of the righteous? Who is worthy to open the scroll?
The angel asks another question as well: “Who is worthy to loose its seals?” In other words, who is worthy to execute the contents of the scroll? Who is worthy to bring about the history of redemption? Who is worthy to execute judgment upon the wicked? Who is worthy to bring about the deliverance of the righteous? Who is worthy to loose the seals of the scroll? That is the great question of the strong and mighty angel. He cries out with a loud voice so that all in heaven and on earth and under the earth might hear. Who is worthy to reveal God’s plan and to carry out God’s plan?
Verse 3 gives the answer: “And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll, or to look at it.” No one under the earth is able to open the scroll or look at it: the inhabitants of hell hear the cry of the strong angel, and they are silenced; they cannot open the scroll; they cannot look at the scroll; they are unworthy. No one on the earth is able to open the scroll or look at it: the inhabitants of the earth hear the cry of the strong angel, and they are silenced; they cannot open the scroll; they cannot look at the scroll; they are unworthy. No one in heaven is able to open the scroll or look at it: the inhabitants of heaven hear the cry of the strong angel, and they are silenced; they cannot open the scroll; they cannot look at the scroll; they are unworthy. The cry of the angel is answered with silence.
Soon, however, the silence is broken by the sound of weeping. Bitter weeping. Sorrowful weeping. Intense weeping. The weeping of John. “So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open the scroll” (5:4). The weeping of John breaks the silence.
Why does John weep so bitterly? Remember what the scroll represents: it represents the history of redemption. Think of the implications if that scroll is not opened and loosed. William Hendriksen writes as follows: “History will not be governed in the interest of the church; there will be no protection for God’s children in the hours of bitter trial; no judgments upon a persecuting world; no ultimate triumph for believers; no new heaven and earth; no future inheritance!” Is it any wonder John weeps, and that bitterly?
One Who Is Worthy
John would be left in his bitter weeping for all eternity, but he hears the pronouncement of one of the elders, verse 5, “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.”
Notice the title that He is given: The Lion of the Tribe of Judah. The imagery comes from Genesis 49:8-12: “Judah, you are he whom your brothers shall praise; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s children shall bow down before you. Judah is a lion’s whelp; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He bows down, he lies down as a lion; and as a lion, who shall rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and to Him shall be the obedience of the people. Binding his donkey to the vine, and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, He washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in blood of grapes. His eyes are darker than wine, and his teeth whiter than milk.”
Notice also that He is called the Root of David. This language comes from Isaiah 11: “There shall come forth a Rod from the Stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots. 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 of the fear of the Lord. His delight is in the fear of the Lord, and He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, nor decide by the hearing of His ears; but with righteousness He shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of His loins, and faithfulness the belt of His waist” (Isaiah 11:1-5).
Taken together, the imagery becomes clear: it is that of a conqueror. The Lion of the Tribe of Judah—what beast more powerful and regal than the Lion? The Root of David—what king more successful in battle than King David? The imagery is that of a conqueror. And indeed, that is how verse 5 describes Him: “The Lion of the tribe of Judah has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.” The Greek word translated “prevail” is usually translated “conquer” or “overcome.” The Lion of the Tribe of Judah has conquered. The Root of David has overcome. He has prevailed!
Because He has prevailed, He is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals. He is worthy to reveal the history of redemption. He is worthy to bring about the history of redemption. He is worthy to set loose the four horsemen of the apocalypse (Revelation 6:1-8). He is worthy to give to the martyrs under the altar a white robe, clothing them in His own righteousness (Revelation 6:9-11). He is worthy to shake the earth with the final cataclysmic earthquake that shall shake the heavens and the earth (Revelation 6:12-17). He is worthy to open that seal that ushers in the sounding forth of the seven trumpets (Revelation 8:1-6). The Lion of the tribe of Judah has prevailed! The Root of David has conquered! He alone is worthy to open and loose the seals of the scroll!
The Lamb of God
John, having been instructed by the elder concerning the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, now expects to see that powerful, regal, majestic, mighty, conquering Lion. Instead, he sees a Lamb. Verse 6, “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.” Don’t let the drama of this scene escape you. John turns, fully expecting to see a powerful Lion in all of its might and majesty, instead he sees a meek and humble Lamb.
Not only does he see a meek and humble Lamb, but the Lamb looks as though He has been slain. The Greek reads literally, “…a Lamb having been slain…” The Lamb has been slain once in the past, but the results of that slaying are abiding. The slaying of the Lamb continues to have effects to this very day, and for all eternity. This slaying, then, is crucial to the identity of the Lion who has overcome. The Lion who has overcome is the Lamb who was slain; in fact, it is precisely in His being slain that He overcomes! The cross, then, is central to the identity of Jesus. The cross bears its mark on the very person and work of Jesus Christ. You cannot understand Jesus apart from the cross. Even in heaven, He appears as a Lamb having been slain.
But notice as well, He stands. He has overcome His slaying. He has overcome the cross. He has overcome the enemy. He stands! We have here the picture of the Resurrection: the grave is powerless to hold this Lamb. Neither the tomb nor death can hold this Lamb! He was slain, but now He stands!
Furthermore, He has seven horns signifying the completeness of His power. He holds the keys of Hades and death in His hands. He was dead, but is now alive, and He lives forevermore! He has seven eyes which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He is a life-giving Spirit; He sends forth the Comforter to do His bidding. We have here the picture of Pentecost and the pouring out of the Spirit who now works in and through the Word to proclaim Christ!
Finally, notice verse 7: “Then He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.” We have here the picture of the Ascension. When Christ entered into heaven He earned the right to reveal the history of redemption! He earned the right to carry out judgment upon the wicked! He earned the right to deliver His own! He entered into heaven and asked the Father for the elect of the nations (Psalm 2). The elect belong to Christ: they are His by right; He earned them; He merited them! He has secured them beyond probation!
The Lamb that was slain now stands in the midst of the throne, the elect belong to Him, and He now sends forth His Spirit to gather in every last elect sheep of His pasture! He sits on the throne! No one can thwart His plan: no one in heaven above, no one on earth below, no one under the earth; not the angels of heaven, not the kings of the earth, not the demons of hell, not even Satan himself! Christ is King! The Lion of the Tribe of Judah has prevailed! The Lamb slain has accomplished your redemption! Nothing in all of creation, nor in all of history, can change that fact!
Is it any wonder that though the throne room scene of Revelation 4 continues on in Revelation 5, our attention is now focused upon the scroll. In turning our eyes upon the scroll, our eyes are turned to the history of redemption. And in turning our eyes upon the history of redemption, our eyes are turned to the Lamb. And in turning our eyes upon the Lamb, our eyes are turned to the cross. Yes, the cross is central—central to the history of redemption—central to the Lamb.
Can you ever tire of the cross? Can you ever grow weary of its centrality? Can you ever say the cross has been impressed upon us enough? Can you ever say we no longer need the message of the cross? Without the cross, without the Lamb slain, we would weep as bitterly and as intensely, as John himself, and our weeping would never, never end.
That is why in heaven the redeemed of the Lord shall look again and again upon the Lamb slain. There we shall ask to see His hands and His feet; we shall ask to look upon His side. There for all eternity we shall rejoice in the Lamb who shepherds us, the Lamb who wipes away every tear from our eyes, the Lamb who was slain, and who now stands in the midst of the throne.
Rev. Brian Vos is the pastor of the Trinity United Reformed Church in Caledonia, Michigan. He also is the President of the Board of Reformed Fellowship.