Dr. Richard L. Strauss
December 10, 1978
The predominant theme of Revelation 4 was the throne of God. As the last days approach, and God prepares to bring human history to its consummation, He wants it firmly established that He is sovereign and supreme, that His authority is absolute, that He controls all things. Men have doubted that God's kingdom rules over all (Psalm 103:19), and while we cannot excuse their doubt, we can understand it. We sometimes ask ourselves, is God really in control?
You see, when one of God's holy angels (Lucifer) sinned, God cast him out of heaven to the earth (Isaiah 14:12; Ezekiel 28:17). God has permitted him to use the earth as his base of operations. While God rules over all, the earth is Satan's domain. This can hardly be disputed from the Scripture. When Satan tempted the Lord Jesus by offering Him the kingdoms of this world in return for His, the Lord never denied Satan's right to make such an offer. On three different occasions Christ called Satan the "prince of this world" (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). The Apostle John reminds us that the whole world lies under the power of the wicked one (1 John 5:19). So we can understand why we wonder whether God is really in control. The world lies in the control of the wicked one, Satan.
Furthermore, Satan's usurpation of power in this world has had gross consequences. God's creation has been affected by the curse of Satan's sin; the physical universe is in bondage to sin. Not only has the human race been ruined through Satan's temptation (Romans 5:12), and the kingdoms of this world shake on (Isaiah 14:16), and the ground and vegetation itself experiences the curse of sin (Genesis 3). Paul says "For we know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now" (Romans 8:22).
Now, it's God's intention to set all of that right. It is Gods intention to destroy sin and Satan, wrest the earth completely from his influence and control, right the wrongs of this world, establish His kingdom of peace and righteousness on earth and deliver the creation itself from its "bondage to corruption" (Romans 8:21). Promises of these great future blessings occupy great portions of God's Word, from beginning to end (see Isaiah 11 for instance).
The question is, "How will He accomplish this great task?" The answer to that question is in a sealed scroll.
God told Daniel about that scroll in the last chapter of his prophecy. Look at Daniel 12. Here we are learning about future things. Note in the first three verses that God is speaking of the last days: in verse 1 the Great Tribulation; in verse 2 the resurrections; in verse 3 the glorious kingdom of righteousness and peace on earth.
In Daniel 12:8, Daniel says, "And I heard, but I understand not. Then said I, O my Lord, what shall be the end of these things?" In other words, what are the details of all these final events that shall consummate Your plan of the ages and commence Your eternal kingdom of righteousness and peace? "And he said, Go your way, Daniel; for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end" (Daniel 12:9). Daniel is not to know all of the details; they are sealed in a scroll, only to be opened and revealed at some future day.
It was about 650 years later that the Lord spoke to the Apostle John, banished on the Isle of Patmos, and caught him up in his spirit into scenes of heavenly glory to behold the very throne of God. God is about to show him how He will destroy sin and Satan, deliver the earth from its bondage and corruption, and establish His everlasting order of righteousness and peace. And we are not surprised to find in the hand of God in Revelation chapter 5, a sealed scroll.
1. The Seven-Sealed Scroll
"And I saw in the right hand of Him that sat on the throne''--that's the Father, we've learned--"a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals" (Revelation 5:1). While God doesn't have a body, John is speaking in terms that we can understand and he refers to His right hand to describe the prominence of the sealed scroll. It is the first thing that comes to our attention in chapter 5, and it is mentioned a total of eight times in the chapter. It is obviously the theme to this chapter, just as the throne of God was the theme of chapter 4.
Notice that this scroll was inscribed on both the front and the back. That's a strange thing. It was unusual for anyone to write on the back of a scroll, unless of course they had a great mass of information to record. This seems to emphasize the comprehensiveness of what is written in this scroll. This scroll details a tremendous amount of information. Out of it issues all the events from the beginning of the Great Tribulation to the establishment of God's kingdom on earth.
When the seventh seal is broken, it signals the beginning of the seven trumpet judgments. And the seventh trumpet seems to embrace the seven final judgments, called vials or bowls, which are poured out in rapid succession immediately prior to the return of the Lord Jesus Christ to earth. So, as you see, this scroll contains God's comprehensive plan for the restoration of all things. And note that it has seven seals. This seems to mean that the seals were on the edge of the scroll, arranged in such a way that as each was broken, a little more of the scroll could be unrolled and read.
"And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the scroll, and to loose its seals?" (Revelation 5:2). The strong angel might well be the angel Gabriel. He appears two times in Daniel and two times in Luke. Gabriel seems to have been the one who revealed to Daniel the existence of this scroll (see Daniel 8:16; 9:21; and 10:5). He is a mighty or powerful angel. And with a loud voice he seeks one who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll. Who is fit or deserving to undertake this great task? Who has the moral character, the freedom from every taint of sin, that qualifies him to unleash Gods judgment against all sin and take the rule of God's kingdom of righteousness? Who has the strength or power to destroy Satan and put down all iniquity? Who has the rightful authority to redeem creation from its bondage to corruption? Can one be found who is worthy?
There is no answer to the angel's plea. No man in heaven, not in earth, nor under the earth, was able (or literally had the power or authority) to open the scroll nor to look on it (Revelation 5:3). What a frustrating feeling swept over the apostle. For a moment he must have feared that God's purposes would never be accomplished, that truth and justice would never triumph, that wrongs would never be righted, that sin would never be destroyed. None could be found who was worthy to open the one document that contained the answer to the world's ills, and John wept profusely.
I'm afraid that John's reaction is all too characteristic of our own at times. When the trials and testings of a sin-filled world overwhelm us, when the injustices and inequities of a Satan-controlled world system frustrates us, when lawlessness, godlessness, and immorality threaten to consume us, we are tempted to despair. Will God ever vindicate His Word and demonstrate His sovereignty, and right the wrongs of the world?
Some may be tempted to take matters into their own hands and join the social revolutionaries, attempting to bring in a new order by their own power. Others simply yield to hopelessness and pessimism, and like John, weep in utter dejection. Either course is indication of unbelief. God's Word makes it perfectly plain that man cannot bring about a utopia through his own efforts. God alone can, and God will institute a kingdom of peace and righteousness, and He alone will receive all the glory and praise. He has a Man who is worthy to open the scroll.
It is one of the 24 elders that makes this revelation to John. "Weep not; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll, and to loose its seven seals" (Revelation 5:5). There is no reason to despair, John. One has proved Himself to be worthy of opening the scroll because He has prevailed (or conquered). It is interesting to note that in the Greek text the verb "has prevailed" comes first. "Behold He has prevailed, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David." He has triumphed over sin and Satan and death. He is the victor. He has already inflicted the mortal blow on Satan. He is worthy.
Now look at the two titles applied to Christ in this verse. He is called the Lion of the tribe of Judah. This is a reference to Genesis 49:9-10 where the aged Jacob was blessing his children. To Judah he said, "Judah is a lion's whelp...The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come." In other words, the future ruler of the earth would come from the lion tribe, Judah.
Second, He is called the Root of David. This is a reference to Isaiah 11:1 and 10, which teaches that from the house of David which would be cut down during the exile, would come a surviving shoot who would rule over Jew and Gentile alike in a kingdom of peace.
John turned to behold this mighty conqueror, this lion from the tribe of Judah, this monarch from the house of David. "And I beheld and, lo, 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, signifying power and government authority (Deuteronomy 3:17) and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent forth into all the earth (or seven spirits which was upon Him, Isaiah 11:2).
He looks for a Lion, and he sees a Lamb. The Lion pictures His sovereign power, His majesty, His authority, His judgment, His victory over Satan at His Second coming (Psalm 89:17, 24; Zechariah 1:18-19, Habakkuk 3:4). But who is it that shall return in power and glory and triumph? It is none other than the Lamb of God, the meek and lowly Savior, full of mercy and grace, who voluntarily gave Himself for our sins. He was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8).
He is both the Lion and the Lamb, both the Sovereign and the Savior. And oddly enough, it was His work on the cross as the Lamb which qualifies Him to return as the Lion to put away sin forever. The marks of His death were still evident as John beheld Him, just as they were when He gazed upon Him hanging on that cross, just as they were when He appeared to them in the Upper room. He had died; but now He was alive, triumphant over sin and death, and He stands ready to open the seven-sealed scroll, to destroy sin, and deliver creation from bondage.
We are beholding one of the most momentous and magnificent scenes of all time as we see the Lamb of God step forward to take from the hand of His Father the seven-sealed scroll. The stage is set for God's final triumph in the person of His Son. This is where human history is going. This is the end of it all.
When the Lord Jesus Christ received that scroll from His Father's hand, He was signifying that all power and authority over the earth was in His hands, power which will be evidenced in the judgments against sin before His second coming to earth and authority which shall be evidenced when He rules and reigns over the earth for one thousand years. The receiving of this scroll is equivalent to a great passage in the prophet Daniel. "I was watching in the night visions, And behold, One like the Son of Man, Coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, And they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, Which shall not pass away, And His kingdom the one Which shall not be destroyed" (Daniel 7:13-14). There was given to Him dominion. That's the scroll. This was Christ's title deed to dominion over the earth. Now He's ready to break open the first seal and unleash the beginning of the end.
3. The Swelling Chorus of Praise
a. The Seraphim and the Elders
Is it no wonder that immediately upon His receiving the scroll the great host of heaven bursts into a magnificent song of praise. The first to be heard are the four living creatures (the seraphim) and the 24 elders.
They accompany their singing with harps (verse 8) and they hold golden bowls of incense. Incense in the Scriptures typically symbolize the prayers of God's people through the ages to hasten this day of triumph. These are the prayers we've been praying. These are the prayers that Jesus taught the disciples to pray when He said, "Thy kingdom come." These prayers are about to be answered.
It was a new song that they sang, one they had never sung before, "You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed them (men) to God by Your blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And has made them unto our God a kingdom of priests, and they shall reign on the earth."
The older and more reliable manuscripts say "them" rather than the "we" that the King James uses. The "we" and "us" would not technically apply to the angelic beings who sang with the elders, for they are not redeemed creatures, neither shall they reign. "They" and "them" are used by the 24 elders in reference to the great body they represent: the church of Jesus Christ of which they themselves are a part.
The great theme of their song is that Christ is worthy to open the seals and rescue this sin-scarred earth from the devil's dominion. He died on Calvary's cross to pay the penalty for sin, to redeem lost humanity from bondage from sin, and now He has the right to complete His work of redemption and redeem the earth itself from bondage. And we are going to share with Him in that work, and reign with Him on earth (see also Revelation 2:26-27; 3:21; 20:4-6; 2 Timothy 2:12).
b. The Multitude of Angels
The chorus of praise swells as an innumerable host of angels join with the seraphim and the elders in magnifying the Lamb of God. John tries to give us some idea of the number of angels involved when he says "ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands." In other words, while the number is not specific, it totals well over a hundred million. Did you know there are that many angels? Can you imagine for a moment the immense and spectacular sound from this choir of over a hundred million angels?
We thrill to the choir of a few hundred voices at evangelistic crusade, with chills running up and down our spines. Someday, folks, we're going to hear a choir of over a hundred million angels. What will the praise of that day do to us?
Listen to their adoration: "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing" (Revelation 5:12). All the qualities that a ruler must have, Christ is worthy of receiving. Power to implement His authority. Riches to carry out His program. Wisdom to administer judgment. Strength to overcome the brute force of opposition. Honor or respect commands the loyalty of those who follow Him. Glory is the reputation that royalty possesses, the pomp and circumstance accompanying it. Blessing is the prosperity that comes from the approval of people who love their King and support Him loyally." (See Tenney in Scripture Press Quarterly on Revelation 4, p.532, Vol. 7, No 4, July-Sept. 1959.)
c. Every Living Creature
Now John is transported chronologically beyond the days of the Great Tribulation to the time of Christ's reign on earth, the time Paul spoke of in Philippians 2:9-11, "Wherefore, God also has highly exalted him, and given Him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, of things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God, the Father."
Every creature that is in heaven, on the earth, and under the earth, shall join in in saying, "Blessings, and honor, and glory, and power be unto Him that sits upon the throne"--that's the Father--"and unto the Lamb"--that's the Son--"forever and ever." And the four living creatures said, "Amen." And the 24 elders fell down and worshipped Him who lives forever and ever.
Someday, folks, every living creature shall acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Some shall do it by force. They will do it because they've experienced God's eternal judgment on sin, but they shall bow to His Lordship. It says "every creature." Some shall do it from a heart of love and gratitude. They will be those who have come to know Him and come to love Him, having been redeemed by His blood.
The question is: In which category will you be? What does a passage like this do to you? What kind of response does it call forth from your heart? Does it make you want to worship Him? Does it make you want to say, "Amen!" like the seraphim said? Or fall down and worship Him who lives forever and ever, like the 24 elders did? If that's the response of your heart, it's probably an indication that you know the Lord.
If a scene like this makes you say, "So what?," that may be an indication that you've never really come to know Him. You just don't understand who He is and what He's done, and what He's going to do someday. Or if you have come to know Him as your Savior, it may reveal that you haven't really spent much time getting to know Him. You haven't been occupying your mind with Him. You haven't grown very much in your understanding of His Person, nor in the intimacy of your walk with Him. Jesus Christ is worthy of all of our devotion and of our unquestioning submission now and forever. Does He have it? Let's pray.
Father, thank You for this picture of the Lamb that was slain. Thank You that He is worthy. And Lord, He surely is worthy of our adoration and our praise and our devotion--our whole-hearted devotion--and our absolute, unquestioning submission and obedience. God, we have to admit that many of us as believers know Your will for our lives. We know what Your Word says and we know how You want us to live, but we just keep living some other way. Oh God, help us to get to know the Lord Jesus and all His glory and beauty and power and love and grace, and submit to His Lordship. We pray, Father, if there are some here today that do not know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior from sin, that they will be motivated even now to acknowledge their sinfulness and put their trust in Him right now, and receive Him into their lives as their Savior and Lord. We ask it for Jesus' sake. Amen.
Continue to RV-06B: The Great Day of God's Wrath