Revelation 5:1-14

Having set the scene in the throne room of heaven, John's attention now turns to the reason why he has been invited there to witness what is about to happen. God is seated on His throne and holds in His right hand a scroll. In John's day, books were written on scrolls - pieces of papyrus or vellum, rolled up and sealed with clay or wax. This scroll had been sealed with seven seals. As we saw in the previous chapter, where John describes the "seven spirits of God", the number "seven" was considered to be a number that represented perfection. The seven seals indicate the importance of its contents. Under Roman law, a will had to be secured with seven seals because it was such an important document and the seals could only be broken by someone with the appropriate authority, the executor of the will; the person would ensure that it was duly carried out.

As the revelation unfolds, we shall see that the scroll contains God's judgements or prophecies, with His plans for the final stage in the history of the world. The scroll has writing on both sides and the seals are located throughout the scroll so that, as each one is broken, more of the scroll can be read to reveal another phase of God's plan. However, before these plans can be revealed, someone with the appropriate authority must be found to open the seals. A "mighty angel" steps forward and asks the question: "Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?" (Revelation 5:2) This question is posed primarily for John's benefit (and, of course, for believers down through the ages like us). This method of asking rhetorical questions was used widely in ancient civilisations and, especially, in the Jewish traditions. It was a way of introducing an important topic or theme, underlining the need to pay attention to what is being said.

A question of justice

At first, it seems that nobody - in heaven, on earth or "under the earth" - can be found to unlock the scroll and carry out the judgements that it contains. John is distraught at this. He doesn't want God's justice to be delayed any longer than necessary. When will the wicked be punished and the righteous vindicated? Who is qualified to be the judge of all created beings, human and divine? Have we ever been so close to the things of God that the apparent lack of a solution to a problem has brought immense sadness to us, prompting us to weep uncontrollably? If not, perhaps we should try asking God to give us His heart for a lost nation such as our own, or a lost friend, workforce, village or other community, to enable us to see and understand the potential loss from His point of view?

Of course, the angel's question has a very obvious answer. One of the twenty-four elders speaks gently to John and points him towards: the "Lion of the tribe of Judah", the "Root of David" who has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals. He is entitled to act as the judge of all creation and to carry out the final judgement of God. Jesus is the "Lion of Judah". (Genesis 49:8-10) He was born into David's lineage, anointed with the Holy Spirit of God and delighted to serve God and be obedient to Him. (Isaiah 11:1-3) He was also "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” as a perfect sacrifice for the sins of all mankind. (John 1:29-30) Jesus Christ is both the lion (symbolizing authority and power) and the lamb (symbolizing His submission to God's will). He has proved Himself worthy to break the seals and open the scroll because He lived a perfect human life of obedience to God, He died to make payment for the sin of the world and He was raised from the dead as living proof of the power and authority over evil and death bestowed on Him by His Father. Only Christ can be trusted with the task of judging the world and implementing those judgements with absolute justice and equity.

The Lamb of God

The Lamb was in the centre of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders.” (Revelation 5:6) How had John missed Him earlier? Was he so taken up with the sights of glory, the sounds of worship and proclamations, that he completely missed "the Lamb"? How does that happen? It is, perhaps, something that we are all prone to do. Sometimes, we can be so taken up with big events, hearing exciting speakers, enjoying exhilarating worship and participating in lively prayer meetings that we miss the Lord Jesus Christ in the midst of it all! Let's never forget that Jesus is at the heart of our salvation. He will be our judge and we shall only be delivered if we are trusting in His death: His blood shed for us and His new life transforming us. Jesus the lion is victorious because of what Jesus the lamb has already done. We will participate in His victory, not because of our own efforts or goodness, but because He has promised eternal life to all who believe in Him.

The "lamb" had the appearance of having been killed. Under the terms of the "Old Covenant", a lamb was killed once a year as a sacrifice for sin. The blood of that lamb was sprinkled over the "Mercy Seat" on the "Ark of the Covenant" by the high priest as God (through Moses) had instructed the Israelites. However, this lamb, that John is now able to see, is very much alive. He has risen from the dead. This lamb was none other than Jesus, whose blood had been shed as a perfect, all-sufficient sacrifice. All who put their trust in Him can receive forgiveness for their sins and direct access to God. (Isaiah 53:7) This lamb was now centre-stage before His Father’s throne, encircled by the elders and the four living creatures. This lamb had seven horns. (A horn symbolises strength, so seven horns symbolises perfect strength.) He also had seven eyes, which symbolised the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. (Revelation 5:6) This signifies the Holy Spirit - given to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. (2 Chronicles 16:9)

The Lamb is worshipped

Jesus was the only one worthy to take the scroll. He had been the "word" through which creation was brought into being. When that creation had been corrupted and spoiled by sin and rebellion, Jesus had been born as a human being Himself, lived a perfect life in obedience to His Father, then given His own life-blood to redeem the creation from sin. He alone now has the right to carry out God's final judgement on the creation, choosing those who have given their lives to Him and rejecting those who have held on firmly to their independence. And so, Jesus approaches the throne and takes the scroll from His Father's right hand.

At that moment, the elders and the four living creatures fall down in praise before Him. They offer the prayers of God’s people as incense to Him and, with heavenly music, sing to Him a new song:

You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals
Because you were slain and, with your blood,
Purchased for God persons from every tribe and language, people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom
And priests to serve our God.

(Revelation 5:9-10)

Reasons for worship

In chapter four, the living creatures and the elders worshipped the Father as holy, almighty and eternal. Then they worshipped Him as the creator and sustainer of all things. Now they fall down and sing worship to "the Lamb" - Jesus - for His work of redemption: giving His own life to redeem men and women from every part of the entire world, regardless of ethnic origin or language. Nore than that, Jesus has brought all these people into a kingdom of God's subjects, where they are all priests who serve God. He has restored human beings to their original purpose of reigning on the earth, working it and taking care of it. (Genesis 2:15)

We should notice, in passing, that this passage does not suggest that all people will go to heaven. Jesus gave His life for all people, but we have to accept what He offers us. He doesn't force it on anyone. Yes, there will be people in heaven from every tribe and language, people and nation, but only those who have chosen to put their faith in Jesus, who have asked Him to cleanse them by His blood and give them a pure heart. Thus, it is the cross, on which Jesus died, that draws out our wonder and worship and we focus on Him. In heaven, they are seeing nothing but the Lamb. He is the centre of all their attention. They are certainly not thinking about themselves or the people around them. We need to remember this picture to help us focus on the "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world". With this in mind, we can see our present lives as "choir practice for heaven" and so worship the "Lamb of God" with our whole hearts.

The elders represent all of humanity, so everything written about them applies equally to all true believers:

  1. The elders are described as having "thrones". The word of God teaches that "we shall reign on the earth". (Revelation 5:10)
  2. The elders wore white robes and crowns of gold. (Revelation 4:4)
  3. The elders are shown as presenting the prayers of the saints to God. (Revelation 5:8)
  4. They sing a new song that looks to the future and gives praise for what is about to take place. (Revelation 5:10)

Christianity is not a "western" religion; it is for all people, wherever they may be in the world. Jesus, when He was on earth, said that He was (and is), "the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Jesus has never been exclusive. Sadly, people often choose to exclude themselves but, as Christians, we need to share how we see heaven in order to encourage people to choose Jesus. After all, if we go to a great place for a holiday we certainly tell everyone we know about it, especially if the cost has been paid in full by someone else!

The angelic host

And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands.” (Revelation 5:11 - King James version) Some people have used this passage to calculate a specific number of angels (running to well over one hundred trillion). It is more likely that this expression used by John to convey a number that was too big even to contemplate; there were (literally) countless, innumerable angels present!

The Bible tells us that:

  • Some of these angels have been assigned to serve us, if we are Christians. (Hebrews 1:14)
  • They also watch over us - constantly - to protect us. (Psalm 91:11-12)
  • It is even possible to encounter angels while not being aware of it. (Hebrews 13:1-2)

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: 'To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power,
for ever and ever!'” (Revelation 5:13)

How often do we remember that a day is coming when every living being will bow before the lamb of God, Jesus Christ? That will include fallen angels, Satan himself, all people who have rejected Him and all who know Him as Lord. Those sentenced to an eternity outside heaven will still have to bow the knee to Him and acknowledge that He is who He says He is, even though they turned against Him when on earth. They will all say “blessing and honour, glory and power be unto Him!” even if they are to be cast out of His presence. (Philippians 2:9-11)

Praise and worship in heaven is and will always be constant. It will consist of new songs and old, so we should become used to the transition now. It will be no good to say that we don’t like the praise and worship in heaven! The difference there will be that it will come from our hearts - always and consistently!

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