TODAY’S READING: REVELATION 4-7
“And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?'” (Revelation 5.2)
Revelation 5.1 says that there was one seated on a throne who had a scroll in his right hand. The scroll was written “within and on the back,” but it was sealed with seven seals.
What is this scroll?
Almost everything in the book of Revelation is an allusion to something in the Old Testament. But, often John turns the imagery of thing being alluded to in the Old Testament on its head. So, it is with the scroll.
The scroll in the right hand of the one on the throne was sealed with seven seals. The Greek word translated scroll is biblion and also means book.
First, the sealed scroll is an allusion to Daniel 12.4, which says, “But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end.” The previous verses give us an idea of what “the time of the end” is.
“And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” (Daniel 12.1-3)
At the time of the end there shall be trouble like never before in the history of Israel. There could be a time of worse trouble for Israel than when their messiah was crucified?
At the time of the end, Daniel’s people, Israel, would be delivered. Did not Jesus’ crucifixion mark the beginning of the deliverance of Israel?
At the time of the end those asleep in the dust of the earth would awake. It even seems that some of these would witness like the stars in the sky. Speaking of the time immediately after Jesus’ crucifixion, the time of the end, Matthew 27.52-53 says, “The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went in the holy city and appeared to many.”
Second, the sealed scroll is an allusion to Isaiah 29.11-12, which says, “And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, ‘Read this,’ he says, ‘I cannot, for it is sealed.’ And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, ‘Read this,’ he says, ‘I cannot read.'”
Whether one could read or not, the scroll couldn’t be read. It could not be understood.
But, what is the vision that couldn’t be understood?
Let’s just highlight one part that is important to the context of the scroll in Revelation. Isaiah 29.1-2 says, “Ah, Ariel, Ariel, the city where David encamped! Add year to year; let the feasts run their round. Yet I will distress Ariel, and there shall be moaning nd lamentation, and she shall be to me like an Ariel.”
The city where David encamped is Jerusalem. It seems Isaiah is calling Jerusalem by the name Ariel.
What does the name Ariel mean?
Lion of God.
As you read the rest of the vision, Jerusalem, Ariel, the lion of God, will be besieged and brought low. But, this vision was sealed, like a book that could not be read, “because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men.” (Isaiah 29.13)
Several times in the book of Revelation the number seven seems to speak of the Holy Spirit.
- “from the seven spirits who are before his throne” (Revelation 1.4)
- “before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God” (Revelation 4.5)
- “with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God” (Revelation 5.6)
The Greek word for seal is sphragis. It means a signet. But, the meaning has the idea of sealing as fencing in or protecting from misappropriation. And, a signet is a stamp that is a mark of privacy or genuineness. We could think of this scroll sealed with seven seals as being sealed by the Holy Spirit to protect it and keep it from being misused. The Spirit also mark’s the scroll’s genuineness. These are interesting ideas when we consider the inspiration, or God-breathed, nature of scripture.
In addition to being “sealed with seven seals,” this scroll or book in the right hand of the one on the throne was “written within and on the back.” This is an allusion to Ezekiel 2.9-10, which says, “And when I looked, behold, a hand was stretched out to me, and behold, a scroll of a book was in it. And he spread it before me. And it had writing on the front and back, and there were written words of lamentation and mourning and woe.”
It’s very important to read all of Ezekiel 2 and 3 for the full context. Ezekiel saw this scroll when he was told as the “son of man,” Jesus’ favorite name for himself, to go “to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels,” who rebelled against God. They were “impudent and stubborn.” God tells Ezekiel, “whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them.” “You shall speak my words to them.”
Sounds like the mission Jesus was sent on doesn’t it.
But, I really want to highlight that Ezekiel read the words of the scroll as words of lamentation and mourning and woe.
It is with this context, that John hears an angel ask the question, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?”
At first “no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it.” (Revelation 5.3) So, John began to weep.
“And one of the elders said to me, ‘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.” (Revelation 5.5)
Finally, there is one powerful enough to break the seals and open the scroll so that its contents can be read and understood. That one is the Lion of Judah, the Root of David, the Messiah. It’s none other Jesus. He can open the scroll because he has conquered.
But, refer back to the vision of Isaiah 29 that was a like a book that could not be read or understood by anyone. Jerusalem was like an Ariel, like a lion of God, besieged and brought low.
However, something is not as it seems. Something catches John’s attention.
“And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” (Revelation 5.6)
John thought it was the lion of Judah that had conquered so the scroll could be opened. The lion is fierce, powerful, strong, mighty, the king of beasts. The lion is at the top of the food chain.
But, in reality, the lion was a lamb. A lamb is weak, helpless, defenseless. It has nothing with which to protect itself. And, it’s not just a lamb, but the Greek word means a little lamb. Everytime you read the word lamb in the book of Revelation it is the Greek word for little lamb.
And, the lamb appeared “as thought it had been slain.” So, it was not the lion of Judah that conquered and was able to open the scroll of the book. Rather, it was the crucified lamb, Jesus Christ crucified, that had conquered. It was Jesus Christ crucified that the scroll, the book, able to be read and understood.
What is John saying?
I have filled my revelation of Jesus Christ with imagery from the Old Testament. But, the only way you will understand this revelation and all of the imagery of the Old Testament is to read to read it through the lens of the lamb that was slain and not the lion of Judah.
This revelation, indeed all of the Old Testament, the scriptures, can only be read and understood through the crucified Christ, the crucified messiah, a king killed by his enemies.
This revelation, the Old Testament, the scriptures, cannot be understood through a conquering king who defeats, destroys, and kills his enemies.
This is exactly what Jesus proclaimed the meaning of scripture to be.
“Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.'” (Luke 24.45-46)
The Greek word opened here has the same root as the Greek word for open in Revelation 5.3, 5.
Recall from Ezekiel 2 and 3 that the scroll written on both sides could not be read because Israel was “impudent and stubborn.” They were hard hearted.
“But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3.14-18)
The “old covenant,” the old testament, the scriptures, are veiled.
What removes the veil?
What unveils, uncovers, reveals, the true meaning of scripture?
What is “the revelation of Jesus Christ?”
He is the slain lamb, the crucified Christ, the Lord.
When you turn to him and see Jesus this was, the veil that has covered the true meaning of scripture is removed.
But, the Lord is the Spirit.
The Spirit is the signet, the fence that keeps scripture from being misused. The seal, the inspiration, of the Spirit infuses the scripture with its true meaning.
Therefore, 2 Corinthians 3.5-6 says, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
If you read scripture, the Bible, literally without first putting everything through the lens of the crucified Christ, then you get nothing but death.
But, if you read scripture, the Bible, through the lens of the crucified Christ by allowing the Spirit to open the seals protecting the true meaning of scripture, then you will only and always get life.
Therefore, Paul told the Corinthians, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2.2)
Recall from Ezekiel that he read the words written in the sealed book as “lamentation and mourning and woe.” Ezekiel saw that the son of man was being called to die despite speaking the words of God to the people of Israel.
But, notice the result of the crucified lamb opening the scroll so that it can be truly understood.
“And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign.” (Revelation 5.9-10)
Then the angels said “with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5.12)
But, not just the angels, for John says, “And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
Lamentation, mourning, and woe has been turned into celebration, joy, praise and blessing.
Because the lamb, the Christ, did not just get crucified. He also rose from the dead for repentance and the forgiveness of sins (Luke 24.45-47).
Death and resurrection life.
Interestingly, this is the meaning of the number 23 in scripture. According to Dr. Stephen E. Jones, the number 23 is written with the Hebrew letters kaph and gimel. Kaph symbolizes an open hand, and gimel symbolizes a lifting up. Therefore, it is the open hand lifting up from death.
The imagery, symbolism, and use of words is very intentional in Revelation.
Can you guess how many times the Greek word biblion, meaning scroll or book, is used in the book of Revelation?
When we read the book that was sealed, the Old Testament, scripture, through the lens of the slain lamb, the crucified Christ, and not the lion of Judah, it takes us from death to resurrection life.