Following his dictation of these letters Jesus wanted to be sent to “the seven churches of Asia” — the record of which is recorded for us in chapters 2 and 3, Revelation 4 opens with John (who’s been instructed to write the “things which he had seen” (the Glorified Jesus in chapter 1), “the things which are” (these seven letters written to the Church Age), before recording “the things which will take place after these things”) being immediately raptured into the future finding himself specifically in the throne room of heaven.
After taking some time to describe for us with the obvious limitations of human vocabulary the scene and activity taking place around the throne of God — which included a depiction of four magnificent angels as well as 24 elders representing all the saints, John’s attention hones in on a scroll sealed with seven seals held in the right hand of God.
Revelation 5:1-4, “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.”
In our last study, I noted that there were three clues from John’s description that help us understand the contents and therefore the importance of the scroll itself. The first clue is found in the reality the scroll was “in the right hand of God” and had been “sealed with seven seals.” Aside from the fact the scroll was in God’s possession, this detail that it had been sealed tells us the specific directives this legal document was designed to set into motion had been deliberately held back until the appropriate time God had determined.
Secondly, the description that the “scroll was written inside and on the back” is also informative. When the contents of a scroll were reserved for a particular person needing to fit a certain set of criteria, on the outside you would find a list of the qualifications. As such, we can deduce not just anyone could loose these seals and execute the document. This idea is further validated by the reality “no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll.”
Finally, the biggest clue centers on this detail that the scroll was bound with specifically “seven seals.” When the contents of a scroll were reserved for only a particular person, it was normal that a string be tied around the document, wax dripped onto the knot, with the sender’s signet pressed into the wax sealing up the scroll. Upon the scroll's arrival, an unbroken seal guaranteed the contents had remained undisturbed.
You see, the existence of “seven seals” instead of only one tells us this scroll was of such importance it had to be sealed with the signets of seven individual eyewitnesses. What makes that fascinating is that in Roman times there was only one type of official document that necessitated such a unique practice — a last will and testament.
While we can see how so much of God’s plan has already been executed in human history, we know there is a final act of His will God has yet to initiate — a portion of Biblical prophecy dealing with Israel, His judgment of the world, and the establishing of Jesus’ kingdom that has yet to come to fruition. Theologically, we refer to these things as the End Times, the Tribulational Period, Daniel’s 70th Week, or the Time of Jacob’s Trouble.
When John sees this scroll I believe he knows it’s the final act of God’s will for this earth. Up until this future moment in time God had kept these events from taking place binding them up and sealing them in this scroll. And yet, John has now been taken into the throne room of heaven to witness the moment when this final act was ready to be initiated. The only thing needed was Someone “worthy” enough to come and set it all into motion.
Understandably, because no one was initially found worthy and therefore the consummation of God’s will remained on pause, John is gripped with emotions and starts to weep. Without the contents of the scroll being enacted, he knows there could be no final resolution to world affairs. Without the seals being loosed and the contents being carried forth, the world would remain forever trapped in its cycle of pain and despair.
When you look around at this world two things should jump out at you… One, this world is completely messed up. And two, no one has any clue how to fix it. Not to deviate too far from the point, but the fundamental problem is believing this fallen world is fixable.
Even with all of our modern advancements, technological achievements, intellectual prowess, and our greater scientific understanding as to the way the world works, no governmental system devised by sinful man has ever come close to effectively addressing humanity's core problems — yet alone providing any type of lasting remedy.
The sad reality is that you look around at our world today and despite all of our “progress” we’re still grappling with the same old issues: racism, social equalities, economic injustices, corporate greed, class warfare, political corruption, religious intolerance, human trafficking, slavery, disease, sectarian violence, ethnic cleansing, war — the list could go on and on.
You see from John’s perspective he was aware of what so many of us forget… No mortal man can fix this broken world! Today, the scroll which will bring about a finality to all of these things remains sealed up in the hand of God. And yet, though he was weeping in the moment, John is about to record for us the future day when the One who was worthy finally decided enough was enough and the time had finally come to initiate the final act!
Revelation 5:5-7, “But one of the elders (one of the twenty-four) said to me, ‘Do not weep (John, stop it). Behold (consider this), the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed (past tense) 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.”
John is weeping because he assumes no one was worthy to initiate God’s ultimate will for this earth. And yet, “one of the elders” comes over to console him with some really good news… There was Someone worthy! This elder then refers to Jesus using two Old Testament references: “The Lion of the tribe of Judah” (which spoke of Jesus’ strength, vigilance, and heroic-spirit) and “the Root of David” (which spoke of His kingly heritage).
This elder also tells John that Jesus “has prevailed to open and loose.” “Has prevailed” spoke of a past work of Jesus. The idea is that Jesus’ worthiness was not just inherent but had been achieved. You see Jesus is not only worthy because He’s God, He’s “worthy” because He’s earned His worth through His work on the cross. In the end, the only One worthy to carry forth God’s final plan for this world is Jesus the Christ!
It’s at this point, no doubt wiping away the tears from his eyes, that John says he “looked and beheld” a most amazing sight. “In the midst of the throne” there “stood a Lamb.” It’s important you keep in mind John didn’t see an actual lamb. Instead, he’s referring to Jesus using a term that oozed Old and New Testament imagery. In fact, it’s worth noting an astounding 28 times Jesus will be called “the Lamb” in the Book of Revelation.
The Law of First Mention comes in handy in a situation like this… The first mention of a lamb in the OT was in Genesis 22:7-8, “Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, ‘Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’ And Abraham said, ‘My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.’” In the original language, Abraham more accurately says, “God will provide Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.”
Then, when you move into the New Testament, it’s interesting that the first mention of a lamb isn’t until John 1:29 when we read how John the Baptizer “saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’”
Isaac asked the question, “Where is the lamb?” Abraham answered by prophesying, “God will provide Himself the lamb.” Then 2500 years later John the Baptist declared of Jesus, “Behold! The Lamb of God!” In the future scene of heaven, it should be no surprise the Apostle John looked up to see “a Lamb as though it had been slain.”
If you go all the way back to the Garden of Eden when God provided Adam and Eve coverings of skin, the precedent was clear that humanity needed an “offering” in order to satisfy the righteous demands of sin for “the wages of sin is death.” In fact, the entire Levitical system reinforced the idea atonement required the death of an innocent substitute.
And yet, the problem always came back to the fact “it was not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). Because of our fallenness, there was no sacrifice any human being could ever make to be right with God. In the end, we needed God to become a human and provide Himself as the sacrificial lamb. Again, this is why John refers to Jesus as being “the Lamb of God.” Jesus was God’s offering made for us!
Concerning Jesus in this heavenly scene, John says Jesus looked like “a lamb as though it had been slain.” The idea is Jesus, in this future scene in the throne room of heaven, still bore in His person the marks of sacrifice as the lamb offered by God to atone for our sins.
To this point, in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection appearances before His ascension, we have recorded that Jesus retained, at a minimum, the nail scars in His hands and feet and that He had a scar in His side where He’d been pierced with the Roman spear.
Since the resurrected Jesus was initially unrecognizable to people who were close with Him, it’s not outside the realm of possibility the bodily effects of the Roman scourging, the crown of thorns, and the crucifixion also remained radically deforming His physical appearance.
It’s a provocative thought to consider, but true nonetheless… The only manmade thing in heaven will be the scars Jesus bears in His body as our sacrificial Lamb. You see for all of eternity we will have a visual reminder anytime we look at Jesus as to the incredible payment our sin demanded, the judgment we ultimately deserved, as well as the depths of the love He demonstrated so that we might be saved! As one scholar observed, “Jesus’ work on the cross will be perpetually fresh and current before the Father.”
While sobering, this is not the only thing John observes concerning Jesus. He adds that He also had “seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” Again, John is employing Biblical imagery to articulate some important ideas.
It’s not that Jesus was a lamb who actually had “seven horns and seven eyes” — which would have been a strange sight to behold. Instead, John is using language to let us know that, while a lamb, Jesus also possessed complete strength, power, and authority (“seven horns” — all-powerful) and had a complete understanding (“seven eyes” — omniscience).
While Jesus may be “a Lamb” He was not to be pitied nor was He somehow weak — He’s also a Lion! In His work as the Lamb, Jesus had proven Himself worthy to judge a world that unjustly judged Him. In truth, Jesus physically personified in His very being the lengths to which He’d gone to provide humanity a way out of this coming judgment.
As the Lamb, Jesus was not only worthy to judge the world, but He was also able — which is why He “stood” up and “took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.” The time had finally come where the final act of God’s will for planet earth was to commence. A plan initiated in the Garden was about to come to its completion.
John continues… Revelation 5:8-10, “Now when He (Jesus) had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for (what makes Jesus worthy) You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth.’” (As I noted in a previous study such a song could only be sung by Christians.)
Incredibly, the moment Jesus takes the scroll — a moment that had been building for thousands of years, John observes the immediate reaction of all those within this throne room. He says, “The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb.” You see there was an instant acknowledgment of Jesus’ worthiness as the Lamb.
John also adds that each of these elders “had a harp” (a stringed instrument implying the song they were about to sing was accompanied with music) and they each possessed these “golden bowls full of incense” — which he then tells us “are the prayers of the saints.”
In Psalms 141:2, David would sing, “Let my prayer be set before You as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” Within the Tabernacle and later the Temple, positioned directly outside the Holy of Holies was a piece of furniture known as the Altar of Incense. Every single day it was the job of the priests to tend to this altar so that the sweet aroma of the smoke would waft behind the veil into the presence of God.
Symbolically, the Altar of Incense and the aroma represented both our prayers and worship of God. Paul would describe these things in Philippians 4:18 as being “a sweet-smelling aroma well-pleasing to God.” I heard it observed the smoke of the incense went where no human being was allowed to enter. While you and I may be presently here on this earth, never forget our prayers and worship yield a tangible effect in the throne room of God.
I hope you know your prayers that have remained unanswered have not been lost nor are they being ignored. Instead, it would appear certain prayers collected in these “golden bowls” are awaiting the moment Jesus takes the scroll! Think about it… If we pray as Jesus instructed, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done. On earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10) it simply stands to reason that some things must wait till the end to be answered.
Concerning these elders, John continues by telling us “they sang a new song” relevant to this very moment. In the Greek, the word “new” indicates newness regarding quality as opposed to timing. The idea is that something had just happened that necessitated a new song be sung! Back in chapter 4 all of heaven praised God the Father as being the Creator. Now, in the context of Jesus taking the scroll, heaven worships Jesus as the Redeemer.
Regarding this song David Guzik unpacks its significance so perfectly, I’ll just read you what he wrote, “The song honors the price of redemption: ‘for You were slain.’ The song honors the worker of redemption: ‘You have redeemed us.’ The song honors the destination of redemption: ‘have redeemed us to God.’ The song honors the payment of redemption: ‘by Your blood.’ The song honors the scope of redemption: ‘every tribe and tongue and people and nation.’ The song honors the length of redemption: ‘have made us kings and priests to our God.’ The song honors the result of redemption: ‘and we shall reign on the earth.’”
Presumably, as this song was being sung by the elders, John adds… Revelation 5:11-14, “Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands (the largest number in Greek), 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!’ (In chapter 4 we saw the worship of the angles prompting the worship of the elders. Now the same thing is happening in reverse.)
And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: ‘Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!’ (In Romans 8:22 Paul says, “For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.” It seems that in response to Jesus taking the scroll and the end now on the horizon John hears “the whole of creation” crying out in anticipation!)
Then the four living creatures said (literally they kept saying), ‘Amen!’ (That’s the truth!) And the twenty-four elders fell down (they laid down completely prostrate and in a submissive position before Jesus) and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever.”
Up until this point in time, John has been describing for us this scene in the throne room of heaven. It would appear, in this moment, he becomes aware of much more beyond his line of sight. In verse 11, he says, “Then I looked, and I heard.” John then provides a list of “the voices” he heard as being that of the “angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders.” John adds “the number of them” was simply too large to possibly count.
There are those who’ll argue the “them” is in reference to the number of “angels around the throne.” The problem with this is that in the Greek “them” is in reference to the totality of the entire list — which also includes “the elders.” It’s my belief at this point John becomes aware of the innumerable number of saints in heaven but outside the throne room represented by these twenty-four elders also worshipping God — this includes you and me.
Revelation 6:1-2, “Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals; and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a voice like thunder, ‘Come and see.’ And I looked, and behold, a white horse. He who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.”
As chapter 5 closes the stage has been set for the consummation of God’s plan for the ages. In fact, Revelation 6 through 19 will document for us a series of future events set to occur during a final seven-year period of human history that, according to a vision given to the Prophet Daniel known as the 70 Weeks Prophecy, will be initiated with the Antichrist signing a peace accord with Israel and end with the 2nd Coming of Jesus Christ.
And yet, while we know the bookends of these seven years as well as what will occur at the 3½ year mark (the Abomination of Desolation), placing all of the events described by John in these 14 chapters into a certain and clean chronology can be difficult and the source of a lot of unnecessary contention. While we’re going to leave the substance of Revelation 6 till next Sunday, let me set the stage by laying out what we can say for certain.
First, there is without question a chronology to the events John sees play out in the throne room of heaven. In chapter 6, John will watch Jesus open six of the seals binding this scroll. Then, in chapter 8, as Jesus opens the seventh seal, John will see seven angels proceed to blow seven trumpets. Following the final trumpet, beginning in chapter 16, John will record seven more angels pouring out bowls of God’s wrath onto the earth.
Then, after the last bowl, in Revelation 19, John witnesses heaven open and Jesus descend to earth riding a white horse. John’s sense of chronology is obvious when you consider six times in these chapters he will say “after these things” when articulating his vision.
Secondly, everything John sees occurring in heaven initiates some type of reciprocal event on earth. As we will see with the opening of each seal, blowing of each trumpet, or pouring out of each bowl some type of cataclysmic event or judgment takes place on earth.
There are some who try to make the case the seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments are in actuality a repeating of the same judgments. They’ll argue that John is employing a Hebraic form of storytelling by adding new details with each repetition. Aside from the fact John was writing to a predominately Gentile audience, there are simply too many unique and contradictory details associated with each judgment for them not to stand on their own.
For example… In the 2nd and 3rd Trumpets, we have ⅓ of the seas becoming blood and a ⅓ of the freshwater turning bitter. And yet, if you fast-forward to the 2nd and 3rd Bowl Judgments, all of the seas turn to blood and all of the freshwater becomes undrinkable.
Thirdly, there is no question that John’s sense of time is much different than ours. As illustrated in the first two verses of chapter 6, John will watch something happen in heaven, only to leave that scene, go to earth, and then describe the reciprocal event play out. In fact, while the entire heavenly scene happens in the span of would have only been an hour or so, we know the same time period on earth ends up spanning seven years.
The truth is time is a funky thing — especially in the context of how time on earth relates to eternity. The Bible tells us God knows the end from the beginning and the beginning from the end. As the Creator, He exists outside of our time, space continuum — so much so we’re told a day to God is like a 1000 years and a 1000 years like a day. Furthermore, the way in which time works in heaven is mirky, to say the least.
Is it possible a series of chronological events taking place in heaven could play out and end up overlapping in non-chronological ways on earth? Not only would I say this is indeed possible, but I think it’s the easiest way to understand the Book. Yes, there is a chronology to John’s revelation, but the chronology is three dimensional and not linear.
Lastly, when you read through these chapters, you will notice that John will intentionally take large breaks in the actions in order to go back and add additional details or to elaborate on the more significant developments. In fact, more than half of these chapters are more thematic in nature having nothing to do with the chronology at all.
Never ever forget the entire purpose of the book is not to answer every question about the End Times or provide a detailed timeline for how these things are going to play out… The purpose of the book is to reveal new aspects of Jesus that haven’t been revealed!
Let me add one more thing before we wrap things up this morning… I believe expositors make a huge mistake when they attempt to interpret what it was John was attempting to describe. Scholars reason that since John lived in the first century and would have struggled to articulate many of our modern advancements, the fact we live in a 21st-century context gives us an advantage in making sense of the future things he witnessed.
The problem with this approach is that it leads to all kinds of unnecessary rabbit holes and in the end, abandons a literal reading of the text itself. For example… When John will reference “the stars of heaven falling to the earth” towards the end of this chapter, pastors will often theorize and postulate that he’s actually describing modern methods of warfare.
While it’s true using such language is how John would have likely described scud missiles, such an approach discounts the real reality John may have actually been describing meteors falling out of the sky? There is a good rule of thumb concerning such things… “When the plain reading of a text makes plain sense anything else is often nonsense.”
Before we completely turn the page on the incredible scene John records for us in Revelation 4 and 5, I want to return to the purpose behind it all — Jesus! Friend, when you consider the heavenly scene you will one day experience for yourself, please never discount the reality a man named Jesus will be sitting on the throne ruling in power and glory!
As much of a mystery as it is I cannot explain, it blows my mind that there was an aspect of the incarnation that was seemingly irreversible. You see in order to save men Jesus (the second member of the Holy Trinity) had to forever lay aside an aspect of His divinity to become a man forever. Yes, Jesus was exalted in glory, but He will always bear in His physical frame the marks of suffering He had to endure on account of our sins. To be our Savior, Jesus had to dawn humanity, this flesh and bone for all eternity.
Over the coming weeks, we’re going to see Jesus judge a rejecting world of her sin and rebellion. And I’m not going to sugar coat it — it will be brutal and difficult to conceptualize. And yet, you need to know there will never be a soul who will ever stand before Jesus in judgment and claim an unjust prosecution. You see Jesus is worthy to judge man for his sin, because — as the Lamb — He was slain to save man from his sin.
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