We saw in Revelation 4 how the Apostle John saw a door leading into heaven; and the Lord Jesus invited him to come up so that the Lord could show John ‘what must take place after this’. And I explained that he was referring to what would take place in these, the last days, which began with the Lord’s resurrection and which will continue until he comes again. And the rest of the book of Revelation is that revelation of what will happen in these, the last days. And do you remember? John saw into heaven and there was a throne with someone sitting on it. And, of course, it’s the Lord God Almighty. And he was surrounded by 24 elders and by four living creatures. And the four living creatures never stopped saying:
Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.
And whenever they said that, the 24 elders would fall down before him and worship the Lord who lives for ever, saying:
You are worthy, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.
And so, we saw how the elders and the living creatures worshipped him because he’s holy, and he’s almighty, and he’s eternal and unchangeable, and he’s the one who created all things.
Verses 1 to 4
John’s vision of the heavenly throne room isn’t finished. It continues into chapter 5; and in verse 1 he tells us that he saw something else: in the right hand of the Lord God Almighty who sat on the throne there was a scroll, with writing on both sides.
I mentioned the last time that parts of John’s vision remind us of the vision which the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel had of the Lord God. And it’s interesting that the book of Ezekiel begins with the prophet being shown a scroll with writing on both sides. And this was the message which Ezekiel was to preach to the people in his day. Now, that scroll — the one shown to Ezekiel — was unrolled in front of the prophet so that he could see what it contained. However, the scroll which the Apostle John saw was sealed with these seven seals so that he couldn’t see what was written in it. In those days, scrolls could be sealed with a wax seal which could only be opened by someone with the right credentials or with the proper authority to open them. Sometimes we get packages from Amazon which are addressed to Yvonne. And one of the children comes and tells me that this package is really for them: they asked their mother to order them something. But I explain to them — and we have to be careful when it’s coming up to Christmas and so many presents are ordered online — I explain to them that they have to wait until their mother gets home because it’s addressed to her and she’s the only one who should be opening it. Well, in the ancient world, when a scroll was sealed, only the person with the proper authority could break the seal and open the scroll. And as we see from verse 2 there’s a problem in heaven. This mighty angel came forward and proclaimed in a loud voice:
Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?
Who has the right credentials or the proper authority to open this?
And in verse 3 we read that no-one was worthy to break the seals; no-one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or look inside. And when John realised that there was no-one who was worthy to open the scroll and to look inside, he began to weep and weep.
Why did he weep like this? Because, as we’ll see, this scroll contains God’s plan for the last days. And so, someone had to open the scroll in order to reveal God’s plan. But it’s more than that: someone had to open the scroll so that God’s plan would not only be revealed, but so that God’s plan would be put into action.
What do I mean? Well, a solicitor phoned me some time ago about someone who died; and since this person had died, her will could be opened and read. But not only could it be opened and read, but it could also be executed and put into action and her estate distributed according to her wishes. And so, John began to weep, because not only was there no one worthy enough to open the scroll to reveal what was in it, but unless the scroll was opened, then God’s plan for the last days could not be put into action. And as we’ll see, God’s plan for these, the last days, includes God’s judgment on his enemies and the extension of Christ’s kingdom throughout the world, culminating in the new heavens and the new earth where the Lord will dwell with his people for ever and for ever. And since there was no-one to break the seals so that the plan could be revealed and executed, John wept and wept.
But while John stood there weeping, one of the 24 elders began to speak to him. And this elder said to him:
Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.
The Lion of the tribe of Judah; the Root of Jesse. Those are messianic terms; in order words, they are names for the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. The first one — the Lion of Judah — comes from Genesis 48 where Jacob, just before he died, was enabled to speak as a prophet about each of his 12 sons and the tribes which would come from them. And he compared Judah to a lion and spoke of how a ruler would one day come from that tribe. Jacob was speaking about the Lord Jesus Christ, the king of kings, who belonged to the tribe of Judah. The second name — the Root of David — comes from Isaiah 11; during the exile, when God’s people were sent away into foreign lands, it seemed that the line of kings from David had come to an end; but the Lord promised through Isaiah that a shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse, David’s father, and the Spirit of the Lord will rest on him. This shoot is also referred to as the Root of Jesse; and Isaiah announced how the nations will rally to him. Isaiah was speaking about the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Anointed King, who was descended from David, and whose kingdom comprises men and women and boys and girls from every nation. So, when the elder in Revelation 5 refers to the Lion of Judah and to the Root of David, he’s referring to the Lord Jesus; he’s the one who is able to break the seals and to open the scroll so that God’s plan for the last days can be put into action.
Verses 6 and 7
And so, the angel said to John:
The Lion of Judah will open the scroll.
We can imagine John looking around heaven, looking for a lion-like figure to appear. But, according to verse 6, he didn’t see a lion; instead he saw almost the exact opposite: he saw a lamb; and not only a lamb, but a lamb that had been slain. So, the Lion who rules over all is also a Lamb who was slain. But, it’s no surprise, is it? John the Baptist pointed to the Lord Jesus and declared:
Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Just as the Israelites in the days of Moses slaughtered a lamb on the night they were delivered from bondage in Egypt, so the Lord Jesus Christ was killed so that we could be delivered from our sin and misery. He’s the Suffering Servant Isaiah wrote about, who was led like a lamb to the slaughter and who bore the punishment we deserve. The Lord Jesus is the Lamb who was slain. But the Lamb who was slain is now in heaven, standing by God’s throne, with the four living creatures and the 24 elders gathered around him to worship him. John tells us that he had seven horns: horns in the Bible represent strength; so these seven horns speak to us of his perfect strength. John also tells us that he has seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God. Well, that’s a reference, as we’ve seen before, to the sevenfold Holy Spirit of God, who is fully equipped to go out into all the earth to do whatever needs to be done in order to accomplish God’s plans. And so, the Lord Jesus Christ is able to extend his kingdom throughout the world through the power of the Holy Spirit.
And in verse 7 we read how this Lamb who was slain came forward and he took the scroll from the Lord God Almighty’s hand who sat on the throne. He’s the only one, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, who is worthy to break the seals and to open the scroll so that God’s plan for the last days can be revealed and put into action.
Verses 8 to 14
And in the remaining verses of this chapter, every creature in heaven worships the Lamb who was slain. First of all, in verse 8, we read how the living creatures and the elders fell down before him, just as they fell down before the Lord God Almighty. Each of them held a harp and a bowl full of incense. And John explains that the bowls of incense are the prayers of the saints. Well, lest we think that God doesn’t hear our prayers, we should always remember and believe that our prayers are like incense. Have you ever lit an incense candle? One of those Yankee Candles, for instance? The smell fills the room and you can’t help but notice it. Well, our prayers are like incense which fill God’s throne room so that he can’t fail to notice them. And the living creatures and the elders sang a new song: a new song to celebrate a new event. And what new event are they celebrating? Well, take a look at verses 9 and 10: the new event is the salvation of God’s people by the Lamb of God who was slain in order to purchase with his blood salvation for God’s people. The word translated ‘purchase’ can also be translated ‘redeemed’ or ‘ransomed’. And you know the background, don’t you? In Old Testament times, a guilty person who deserved to be punished could be spared from punishment if they paid a ransom price. And we are all guilty before God, because everyday we sin against him in thought and word and deed. We deserve to be punished. But by laying down his life on the cross, the Lord Jesus has paid the ransom price to set his people free from the punishment we deserve.
And, of course, no longer is God’s salvation limited to the Jews only, but those who receive his salvation are from every tribe and language and people and nation. By laying down his life on the cross, the Lord has paid the ransom price for his people. And he’s made them a kingdom and priests, or a kingdom of priests, because though we were once his enemies, we now have peace with God and we’ve been brought into his kingdom; and as priests, we’re able to approach him in worship and offer him a sacrifice of praise. And then, at the end of their song, they say that God’s people will reign on the earth. Well, think back to the beginning of the Bible and to how the Lord made Adam and Eve in his own image to rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over the livestock and over all the earth, and over all creatures that move along the ground. God made them to rule the earth in his place. But instead of ruling over the earth, they listened to the Devil who tempted them to sin. And as a result, the whole human race — with the exception of the Lord Jesus — is, from birth, dominated by sin and Satan and by death. But because the Lord Jesus has ransomed his people and saved us from condemnation, we will once again do what we were created to do and we will rule over the earth when all things are made new.
And then, in verse 11, we read how thousands upon thousands ten thousand upon ten thousand angels gathered around the living creatures and the elders and God’s throne and they sang:
Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!
And then, in John’s vision, he sees a time when every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them are singing praises to God and to the Lamb:
To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb, be praise and honour and glory and power for ever and ever!
And the four living creatures said: ‘Amen’ and the elders fell down and worshipped.
Well, as we close notice this one thing: it’s because the Lord Jesus was slain for us that he’s now worthy to take the scroll and open its seals. Having accomplished all the work that he was sent to do on earth, he entered the glory of heaven above, where he was installed as King over all. And as King over all, he has the authority to open the scroll and to put into action God’s plan for these, the last days in which we’re living.
Now, think about that: the one who has the power and authority and right to put into action God’s plan for the last days is our Saviour. So, whatever happens in the world, whatever happens to us in these, the last days — and that includes the current coronavirus crisis — is under the control of our Saviour who loved us and who gave up his life for us in order to deliver us from the condemnation we deserve. So, we don’t need to be afraid, because our Saviour — the Lamb who was slain for us, the Lion who rules over all for us — is in control of all of history.