Make or Break (Revelation 5:1-14)
Topic: Revelation Passage: Revelation 5:1–5:14
Make or Break
(One Lord: So Great a Salvation)
January 11th, 2015
As we begin this morning, I want to remind you of one of our “five firm footholds”. Those are the interpretive principles we are using to guide us safely through the book of the Revelation. Foothold #1 reminds us Revelation is the revelation of Jesus Christ. This morning, as we return to this amazing book, we will see that principle confirmed very clearly.
So turn with me, if you have not done so already, to Revelation chapter 5.
II. The Passage: “Weep No More” (5:1-14)
As we dive into chapter 5 this morning, let me briefly remind you of what we saw in chapter 4. Chapter 4 is the opening chapter, what we called the 'opening scene', for the main vision of the Revelation. Jesus has already appeared to John and, through him, communicated his personalized messages for the seven churches of Asia Minor to whom this letter/book was addressed.
But now, the main part of the vision has begun, and wonderfully, it begins with a profound reminder of God's glory and sovereignty. In chapter 4, John was shown powerful, symbolic images that revealed God on His throne and the constant worship that takes place in His presence. And it is this vision that continues into chapter 5. Now as you can see from your outline, this chapter can be broken into three parts that describe a dilemma, a solution to that dilemma, and a response to the solution.
A. Dilemma: “No One Was Found Worthy to Open the Scroll” (5:1-4)
Look with me first at the dilemma we find in verses 1-4:
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.  And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?”  And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it,  and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.
So the vision of the heavenly throne-room/sanctuary that began in chapter 4 continues here with a new detail: there is, in the right hand of God, a scroll. Most likely, this is a rolled up scroll of papyrus or parchment. We see that it has been sealed closed with seven clay or wax seals. This kind of scroll would have been a familiar sight for John and his readers, since it was the kind used in Roman contracts and wills.
But what does this scroll represent? Well, since God is holding the scroll, it must represent a decree from the King of the universe. But I think a couple clues from the rest of the book help us be more specific. Listen to Revelation 10:7: ...but that in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.
Now in the Revelation, from the way the same word is used in chapters 1 and 17, “mystery” has to do with the interpretation of the symbolic language used in this book. So the “mystery of God [is to] be fulfilled”. But keep that in mind as we look at another verse: Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished. (Revelation 15:1)
So through the realities that the symbols of the book represent, God's plan is being “fulfilled”, and that plan, in large part, is about the finishing or completion of His wrath. So when we take these two verses together, along with what we see throughout the remainder of the book, I think we can say that the scroll represents the decree/plan of God to bring ultimate justice to the earth by unleashing His wrath on unrepentant sinners, and lavishing reward and rest on His people.
This interpretation also fits well with what we find in terms of the OT background for this scene in Revelation 5. Listen to Ezekiel 2:9, 10: And when I looked, behold, a hand was stretched out to me, and behold, a scroll of a book was in it.  And he spread it before me. And it had writing on the front and on the back, and there were written on it words of lamentation and mourning and woe.
So clearly this vision in Revelation 5 is following a similar pattern to what we see in Ezekiel 2. And we'll go on to see that the beginning of Revelation 10 is rooted in this same OT passage. The scroll in Ezekiel had to do with judgment. And I believe the same is true for this scroll in Revelation chapter 5. The opening of the scroll will confirm that.
But it's a sealed scroll, isn't it? And as the number of seals indicates, it is perfectly and divinely sealed. Only one who is “worthy” will be able to take the scroll and open the scroll and carry out the decree/plan of God it represents. But as verse 3 indicates, no one, not a single created being, material or immaterial, was found to be “worthy”. And because of what appears to be the impossibility of justice being realized, of a full and final equity, John can only weep.
B. Solution: “He Can Open the Scroll” (5:5-7)
But if we continue reading, we discover a solution to this dilemma. Look at verses 5-7...
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.”  And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.  And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.
The solution to this cosmic dilemma is found in a figure who is both “Lion” and “Lamb”. He is “the Lion of the tribe of Judah”, a title based on Genesis 49:9. He is the “Root [i.e. offspring] of David”, a title based on Isaiah 11. He is the “Lamb”, a title based on a whole host of OT verses (from the Passover to the Suffering Servant), and it's made explicit in John 1:29. There is no argument that this figure is Jesus Christ. He is the One who was slain as the “Lamb of God”. He is the One who told His disciples on the evening before that slaying: I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome [nikao—conquered] the world.” (John 16:33)
Look at what else we learn from this passage about Jesus Christ. John tells us in verse 6 that he saw a lamb with “seven horns”. Sounds more like a mutated goat, doesn't it? But remember, the horn is an OT symbol for power. And when you combine that with the number seven, it becomes clear what this imagery is telling us about Jesus: He has complete power.
The number seven is also used here in reference to the “seven eyes” of the Lamb. This description is actually explained for us as a reference to the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. You may recall that Jesus was described in Revelation 3:1 as the One who has the seven spirits of God. But like before, this image also has its roots in the OT, in Zechariah 4. When Zechariah sees a lampstand with seven branches or arms (a menorah), he is told “These seven are the eyes of the LORD, which range through the whole earth." (Zechariah 4:10). So between Revelation 4:5 (the seven torches before the throne) and 5:6, we see all the same imagery: the lamps, the eyes, and the spirits or Spirit of God.
Now remember who we're talking about here. We're talking about Jesus. So why is Jesus described so differently in this chapter from how He was portrayed in the vision of chapter 1. Both visions were communicated to John through this language of symbolic images, but they seem to emphasize different things. I think the key is the scroll, and the fact the Lamb is taking the scroll. Listen to what the final verses of chapter 6 tells us as this scroll is being opened...
[We read that the people of the earth were] ...calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb,  for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (6:16-17)
This confirms the identity of this scroll. It is God's decree of ultimate justice, which has to, because of sin, include God's wrath. But here, it is not simply God's wrath. It is the “wrath of the Lamb”. It is “their wrath”, that is, the wrath of God and of the Lamb. Therefore, it is important that the Lamb have complete power (the seven horns) and complete knowledge of what has and is happening throughout the earth (the seven eyes). And all of this is simply in keeping with the fact that He is also the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” and the “Root of David”. Remember what Psalm 2 told us about the coming Messiah from David's line:
Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?  The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,  “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”  He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.  Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying,  “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”  I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.  Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage... >>>
...and the ends of the earth your possession.  You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.”  Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.  Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.  Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2:1-12)
Paul also spoke to the Athenians of the Messiah's role in the coming judgment:
“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent,  because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31)
And these are precisely the realities John was reminded of through this vision. Aren't words like “fixed” and “appointed” terms of royal decree? But the scene doesn't end there.
C. Response: “Worthy are You to Take the Scroll” (5:8-14)
Look with me at the final verses of the chapter, 8-14...
And when he [the Lamb] had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.  And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,  and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”  Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands,  saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”  And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”  And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
Think about what is being described here. On one hand we are seeing the response of heaven and earth, we are seeing the response of all creation, to the solution; to the reality that God's will “will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). And it is the Lamb, the Messiah, who will carry out this divine mission of ultimate justice.
But on the other hand, what we find here is a stunning revelation of the Lamb's worthiness. Notice that these verses fully answer the question, “Why is the Lamb worthy? Why is He alone worthy?” Verse 5 told us he could open the scroll because “he conquered”. But just so there are no misundertandings about what that means, verse 9 expands on that word “conquer”:
“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,  and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
The Lamb, Jesus Christ, is worthy...He alone is worthy, because He did what no Davidic king could do before: He was perfectly obedient to God, every second of every day for His entire earthly life. And He continues that way. And because of His perfect obedience, He alone was able to give His life as a ransom, in order to redeem, to reclaim, to rescue people from every region, from every race, from every class, from every corner of the earth.
The cross where the Lamb was slain, the day His blood was shed, that was and is the ultimate victory. He alone has conquered sin and death. And as a perfect man, without sin, God has appointed Him to perfectly judge the sin of all mankind.
But His worthiness is also evident from the worship He receives. Verse 12 contains one of only two seven-fold blessings found in this book: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” The other seven-fold praise is found in verse 12 of chapter 7. But that praise is clearly directed toward God. Two times in this book, in 19:10 and 22:9, John is corrected by angels when he attempts to honor or worship them. Both times he is told “You must not do that,” and he is directed to “Worship God”. Creatures do not worship creatures. They worship the Creator.
But no one in heaven is corrected when Jesus Christ is praised in the same way God is praised. They are even worshiped together at the end of chapter 5 by a four-fold praise, which is appropriate, since four is a number connected with creation: And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”  And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
Jesus Christ is worthy, He alone is worthy, not only because of His perfect humanity, but also because of His perfect deity. He is both worthy to take the scroll and He is worthy of worship.
III. How Will You Respond?
There is so much in this one chapter, that even two or three more messages would not be able to dig out all of the treasures of this passage. Since we have talked a lot today about the OT background, the OT roots for what we've seen here in chapter 5, I would encourage you to go back and read Daniel 7:9-14. I think you will clearly see how Revelation chapters 4 and 5 go hand-in-hand with Daniel's vision of the “Ancient of Days” and the “son of man”.
But having made sense of the basic elements of the scene in Revelation 5, I want us to think about how this vision should impact our spiritual vision; how you see God, yourself, and the world around you. Let me suggest two words that, for me, might represent a right response to this scene in chapter 5. The words are “make” and “break”.
I see the word “make” demonstrated in the closing section of chapter 5, where the Lamb's reception of the scroll MAKES all creation, heaven and earth, rise up in worship. Was that your response? When you think of Jesus, when you think of Him as the “Lamb of God”, of His loving sacrifice and cleansing, liberating blood...when you think of Him as the “Lion of the tribe of Judah”, when you think of His authority, when you think of coming judgment and wrath...does it make you worship? Does it drive toward praise and adoration?
We talked last week about how we desperately need to see God for who He is, in His glory and greatness. We need the 'opening scene' from Revelation chapter 4 to be the 'opening scene' of our every day and our every day experiences; of our every conversation, of our every deliberation when tempted. But in that same way, we desperately need to see Jesus for who He is. We need to worship Jesus! And what we see here is that the fullness of our worship of Jesus is directly linked to how well we understand the fullness of His worthiness.
Let me be clear: even a slice of truth about Jesus can lead to worship. But when that slice expands, when we consume even more of the pie, our worship should deepen. I'm not simply talking about gaining more knowledge. I'm talking about combining knowledge with faith in order to be personally convicted and form personal convictions about reality; about what really matters.
What does this look like? Think of the words and phrases we saw in the final section: “they fell down” (vs. 8, 14), “they sang” (v. 9), they proclaimed “with a loud voice” (v. 12). Kneeling, singing, and shouting are all classic expressions of worship. We find them throughout the Bible. But even more important than these expressions is the kind of heart that would lead you to kneel, sing, and shout at the top of your lungs...and all for God. Take time to personally consider that kind of heart. That's the heart of true worship.
But the second word that I had in mind, the word “break” is less obvious here. I saw in verse 4 of chapter 5. John tells us that he began to “weep loudly” when it appeared there was no one who could bring ultimate justice to the world. Now John must have known that Jesus was coming again. As a young man he heard Jesus talk about His return and about the coming judgement and about the hope of the coming kingdom. But clearly he believes here that all of that is in jeopardy; that maybe he has misunderstood something.
Whatever the explanation, there is no uncertainty about John's response to this cosmic dilemma: his heart breaks for the fate of a world that evidently will not receive divine correction or comfort. If our response to the reality of Jesus is one of worship, shouldn't our response to a life, to a marriage, to a family, to a community without Jesus, be one of weeping? Does your heart break, like John's, when Christ is conspiculously absent from a needy heart?
Brothers and sisters, these two things must go hand-in-hand in terms of a right response. Our hearts cannot burst with praise for Jesus, but then fail to have His heart for a lost and dying world. Ask God...ask God for a heart full of Jesus and for a heart for those who are desperately empty without Him.
Please do not walk away from this chapter without a clear sense of the radical uniqueness of Jesus. There is no one like Him. There never has been, nor could there ever be again, any one like Jesus. He is our only hope, because only He has and can make things right. He can do that in you, and He will do that in this sick and struggling universe.
In light of that, I think it's extremely fitting to close this morning with the closing words of Psalm 2: Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
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