Friday, May 22, 2009

Revelation Chapter 5, Part 1 - The Sealed Book

In the previous chapter we were taken to Heaven where we saw a throne and One sitting upon it. We saw that around this throne there were twenty-four other thrones with twenty-four elders seated upon them. We saw an emerald rainbow and a sea of glass. We saw four living creatures that are unlike anything we know here on earth. We saw lightning and we heard thunder. And we heard the praises that are issued day and night unto our God.

Now we come to chapter five and we continue with the scene that we began in the previous chapter - John is still in the spirit, and he is still in the throne room of heaven; what we will see now in chapter five is a continuation of the vision that began in chapter four.

Since this chapter is a continuation of the vision of chapter four I am once again going to borrow Warren Wiersbe’s outline for this chapter; he outlines this chapter as follows:
The Sealed Book (5:1-5)
The Slain Lamb (5:6-10)
The Shouting Hosts (5:11–14)1
In this chapter we will see Jesus, as He is about to return and redeem the earth from sin, death, Satan, and the curse that is upon the earth. Jesus is the rightful ruler and He is the central theme of this chapter. So, now that we have an outline and know the theme for the chapter lets jump right in and see what we can learn.

1. The Sealed Book (Verses 1-5)
Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4 and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 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 5:1-5

The chapter begins with the words “Then I saw” in the ESV, but the chapter begins with the word “And” or “Then” in most other English translations which indicates that this vision in chapter five is a continuation of the vision begun in chapter four. So what this means is that after John has seen the twenty-four elders cast their crowns before the throne and heard them say, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.” (Revelation 4:11) he then looks and he sees a book in the right hand of “Him who sat on the throne.”

The word that is translated book here is the Greek word biblíon, and it should be noted that this is actually a scroll since bound books as we know them today did not exist in the first century. There are several indications here that support this conclusion:
  1. The basic book form at the time of this writing was a scroll.
  2. That all seven seals were visible indicates that this was a scroll.
  3. The fact that the contents of the book could not be known until it was opened indicates a rolled up scroll.
So what we see here is a rolled up piece of parchment that is written on both the inside and on the back, and that is sealed up with seven seals. Warren Wiersbe writes:
John could see writing on both sides of the scroll, which meant that nothing more could be added. What was written was completed and final.2
But what is this scroll that is in the hand of God, and what does it represent? There has been much written about this book, or scroll, and there are as many opinions as to what it may be as there are commentaries. To this point Dr J Vernon McGee writes:
Godet considers this scroll to be ‘the book of the new covenant.’ Others label it ‘the book of judgment.’ Walter Scott considers it ‘the revelation of God’s purpose and counsel concerning the world.
McGee then adds:
It perhaps should bear no title because it is, as Dr. Harry Ironside has suggested, the title deed to this world.3
While there is plenty of evidence to suggest that any of these opinions may be correct, I believe that careful study of Scripture will show that it is Dr Ironside who is right – that the scroll that we are seeing here in God’s right hand is the title deed to the earth. Here are a few quotes by other commentators who also hold this position:

The scroll John saw in God’s hand is the title deed to the earth, which He will give to Christ.4
John MacArthur
The scroll represents Christ’s “title deed” to all that the Father promised Him because of His sacrifice on the cross.5
Warren Wiersbe
The roll, or book, appears from the context to be ‘the title-deed of man’s inheritance’ [De Burgh] redeemed by Christ, and contains the successive steps by which He shall recover it from its usurper and obtain actual possession of the kingdom already “purchased” for Himself and His elect saints.6
Jameson, Faucet, Faucet, Brown and Brown
The case can also be made for this being the title deed to the earth by looking at Revelation chapter eleven. At the end of this chapter when the seventh trumpet sounds we read:
Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”
Revelation 11:15
We will see as we go though this that as the seven seals of this scroll are opened judgment is poured out upon the earth, and we will also see that with the opening of the seventh seal the seven trumpet judgments commence, so the verse above from Revelation eleven, which shows the earth becoming once again the kingdom of God and of His Son Jesus Christ, is a direct result of the opening of this scroll.

As was briefly mentioned above, this scroll is sealed with seven seals. The picture here is of a Roman will; Warren Wiersbe writes:
A Roman will was sealed with seven seals; this scroll is the will, or testament, giving Christ the right to claim creation by virtue of His sacrifice... A will could be opened only by the heir, and Christ is the “heir of all things".7
Earl Palmer adds:
It was first-century tradition to validate and secure books and scrolls with a clay or wax seal imprinted with the special mark of the sender. The seal then had to be removed or broken in order to read the document. In some cases, more than one seal was placed upon a document.8
The seals that are on this scroll then are used to seal it and keep anyone but the rightful owner from reading what is written therein. It should be noted that the scroll was rolled up and then the seven seals were placed upon it. Some have suggested the scroll was rolled up a little and a then seal was placed on it sealing that portion of the scroll, then it was rolled up some more and another seal was attached, and so on. This way, as the scroll is opened a seal will be broken and the scroll unrolled revealing what is written there, then the next seal will be broken. This however cannot be the case here because John was able to see all seven seals at the same time, which would indicate that the scroll was rolled up and then sealed along its edge. This would also mean that all seven seals would have to be opened before the contents of the scroll could be read. This point will become more important as we move through the next few chapters.

Now in verse two John sees a strong angel who proclaims, or asks, in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?" This angel has been identified by some as being either Michael, or possibly Gabriel, but the text does not give this angel a name so we cannot be dogmatic on this point. There are, however, other places in the book of Revelation where angels referred to as strong:
Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire.
Revelation 10:1
Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “So will Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence, and will be found no more;
Revelation 18:21
In the Psalms we also see references to strong angels:
Bless the LORD, you His angels, Mighty in strength, who perform His word, Obeying the voice of His word!
Psalm 103:20 (NASB)
So while we do not know the identification of this angel, we do know that there are a multitude of angels, and that angels are strong and mighty. We also know that they use their strength in the performance of, and obedience to, the word and will of God. Dr. Zodhiates writes that the Greek word translated here as strong is the word ischurós, which can be translated as “Strong, mighty, [or] powerful.” He then adds that it refers to “powers both of body and mind, physical and moral. [One who is] valiant in war… able to overcome… firm in faith… strong in influence and authority, mighty, honorable.”9

This is a description of the angel John saw making this proclamation. He is valiant, firm in faith, strong in influence and authority – a mighty warrior of God. And what does he say? “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?" Matthew Henry wrote:
This angel seems to come out, not only as a crier, but as a champion, with a challenge to any or all the creatures to try the strength of their wisdom in opening the counsels of God; and, as a champion, he cried with a loud voice, that every creature might hear.10
So the picture we have here is reminiscent of the giant Goliath standing before the armies of Israel. In 1 Samuel 17 we read the account of Goliath coming out and challenging the Israelites to send a man to fight him, and while this is not a perfect comparison to what John sees, it conveys the same idea. This angel is standing and crying out so that every creature in heaven, on the earth and even in hell can hear, and he is met with only silence. The champion of God is looking for someone who is worthy to break the seals and to open the scroll, and no one is found. John MacArthur writes:
But as the echoes of his cry recede there is only silence. The powerful archangels Michael and Gabriel do not answer. Uncounted thousands of other angels remain silent. All the righteous dead of all the ages, including Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Moses, David, Solomon, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Peter and the rest of the apostles, Paul, and all the others from the church age, say nothing. No one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it. A search of the entire universe, from hell to heaven and all points in between, turns up no one worthy to open the scroll.11
So John weeps. Verse four tells us that he weeps greatly. The word weep here is the Greek word klaíō, which conveys the idea of “not only the shedding of tears, but also every external expression of grief.”12 This is the same word used to describe Jesus weeping over Jerusalem in Luke 19:41 and of Peter weeping after he denied Jesus on the night of His arrest and trial. John MacArthur writes:
It is thus a word that expresses strong, unrestrained emotion.
And then adds:
This is the only time in Scripture that tears are seen in heaven.13
We must ask the question here, why was John weeping? W.A. Criswell answers this question with these words:
[John’s tears] represent the tears of all God’s people through all the centuries. Those tears of the Apostle John are the tears of Adam and Eve, driven out of the Garden of Eden, as they bowed over the first grave, as they watered the dust of the ground with their tears over the silent, still form of their son, Abel. Those are the tears of the children of Israel in bondage as they cried unto God in their affliction and slavery. They are the tears of God’s elect through the centuries as they cried unto heaven. They are the sobs and tears that have been wrung from the heart and soul of God’s people as they looked on their silent dead, as they stand beside their open graves, as they experience in the trials and sufferings of life, heartaches and disappointments indescribable. Such is the curse that sin has laid upon God’s beautiful creation; and this is the damnation of the hand of him who holds it, that usurper, that interloper, that intruder, that alien, that stranger, that dragon, that serpent, that Satan-devil. ‘And I wept audibly,’ for the failure to find a Redeemer meant that this earth in its curse is consigned forever to death. It meant that death, sin, damnation and hell should reign forever and ever and the sovereignty of God’s earth should remain forever in the hands of Satan.14
John knew, as did all of heaven, that the redemption of creation from the curse of sin required that someone open this scroll. When no one was found worthy to do so John was so overcome with grief that he wept greatly.

In verse five then we see one of the elders speaking to John. This is referring back to chapter four and the twenty-four elders who are seated around the throne. We are given no other indication as to the identity of this one who is speaking to John other than that it is one of the elders. And the elder tells John to, “Stop weeping…” Again, John MacArthur writes:
John’s weeping, though sincere, was premature He need not have wept, for God was about to take action.15
The elder continues, “…behold the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.” There is One who is worthy to open the book, and He is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. He is described here as The Lion from the tribe of Judah, and as the root of David. These are both Old Testament allusions and titles for the coming Messiah, so let’s take a few minutes to look at each of these and see what we can learn.

The first title the elder uses is “the Lion from the tribe of Judah.” This title goes all the way back to the book of Genesis where in chapter forty-nine. As Jacob was dying, he pronounced blessings on each of his sons. We read the blessing to his son Judah in verses nine and ten.
Judah is a young lion— my son, you return from the kill— he crouches; he lies down like a lion and like a lioness—who wants to rouse him? The scepter will not depart from Judah, or the staff from between his feet, until He whose right it is comes and the obedience of the peoples belongs to Him.
Genesis 49:9-10 (HCSB)
The book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus did in fact come from the tribe of Judah.
For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.
Hebrews 7:14
Then the elder uses the title “the root of David.” We can see reference to this in the promise that God made to David in II Samuel chapter seven. In this chapter we see that David wanted to build a house for God, but God had denied him that request. But God then goes on to tell David that his son would be the one to build the temple, and then He makes this promise in verse sixteen:
And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.
2 Samuel 7:16
Then in Isaiah chapter eleven we read:
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
Isaiah 11:1

In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.
Isaiah 11:10
In these verses (and many more) we see that God promised David that One would come from his line who would rule over the people of God forever. J Vernon McGee writes here:
He [God] says, ‘I am going to bring One in your line who shall rule, not only over these people, but over the whole earth.’ The Lord Jesus Christ has the right to rule, as He is the fulfillment of the prophecies made in the Old Testament relative to the future of the world.16
In the gospels the title “son of David” is used numerous times of Jesus, but one must ask the question, “How can Jesus be both the son and the root of David?” Jesus asked this same question of the Pharisees in an attempt to get them to recognize His deity. We can read this account in Matthew chapter twenty-two:
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,“ ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?”
Matthew 22:41-45
It is clear from even a casual reading of the Gospels that the Pharisees missed who Jesus was – the promised Messiah – but as we study the book of Revelation it is clear that these two titles refer to none other that the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Messiah that was promised throughout the entire Old Testament, and He alone is worthy to take the scroll from the right hand of the One on the throne and to break its seals. Robert Van Kampen writes:
The references to Judah and David establishes Jesus as the royal descendant of King David. This requirement is stated throughout the New Testament. However, it is not based solely on His genealogy that makes Him worthy to open the book. [Nikáō, the Greek word translated 'has overcome'] gives the reason that this particular Judeo-Dividite is worthy to open the book.” He continues, “This verb means to conquer. The Greek construction means ‘to conquer absolutely.’ John did not explicitly state what this Judeo-Dividite did to conquer here, but an indirect allusion is given in verse 6.17

1 Wiersbe, W.W. (1997, c1992). Wiersbe's expository outlines on the New Testament (811). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
2 Wiersbe, W.W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (Re 5:1). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
3 McGee J. Vernon (c 1983). Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee Vol.5 1 Corinthians-Revelation Pg.933 Nashville TN.: Thomas Nelson.
4 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (164). Chicago: Moody Press.
5 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (Re 5:1). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
6 Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., Fausset, A. R., Brown, D., & Brown, D. (1997). A commentary, critical and explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments. On spine: Critical and explanatory commentary. (Re 5:1). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
7 Wiersbe, W.W. (1997, c1992). Wiersbe's expository outlines on the New Testament (809). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
8 Palmer, E. F., & Ogilvie, L. J. (1982). Vol. 35: The Preacher's Commentary Series, Volume 35 : 1, 2 & 3 John / Revelation. Formerly The Communicator's Commentary. The Preacher's Commentary series (159). Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc.
9 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G2478). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
10 Henry, M. (1996, c1991). Matthew Henry's commentary on the whole Bible: Complete and unabridged in one volume (Re 5:1). Peabody: Hendrickson.
11 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (165). Chicago: Moody Press.
12 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G2799). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
13 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (165). Chicago: Moody Press.
14 Criswell, W.A. (1969) Expository Sermons on Revelation (3:69–70) Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
15 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (165). Chicago: Moody Press.
16 McGee J. Vernon (c 1983). Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee Vol.5 1 Corinthians-Revelation Pg.935 Nashville TN.: Thomas Nelson.
17 Van Kampen, Robert. Revelation Commentary Ch5 Pg2-3 (© www.revelationcommentry.org). Orlando Fl.: Sola Scriptura
We will pick up our study next time in verse six where we will look at the slain Lamb.
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1 comment:

Christian Books said...

Great Post!

<3 Lindsay