Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 5:1–5

Revelation 5:1–5
Then I saw in the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne a scroll written on the front and back and sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a powerful angel proclaiming in a loud voice: “Who is worthy to open the scroll and to break its seals?” 3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or look into it. 4 So I began weeping bitterly because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has conquered; thus he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
(NET Bible)

Who is worthy?

If you really want to know something about the future, you should talk to the only person who remembers it. Yes, remembers it. After all, Jesus is the one whose death for us set future events into motion, and he is the one who is appointed to unseal and initiate their details.

If you want to deal with the future, Jesus is the only one who can help you.

John gradually shifts our focus from the door into heaven (4:1) to the awesome figure on the throne (4:2–3), to other features of the throne room (4:4–10) and then dramatically back to the One on the throne (4:11). As we begin chapter 5, he uses the same technique starting with the scroll “in the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne” (5:1). It is sealed seven times. Roman emperors Augustus and Vespasian also left wills with seven seals, but nothing so awesome as this!

The word translated scroll is the Greek noun biblion, which can also mean book. With 23 uses overall, this Greek word occurs frequently in chapter 5 (7 times). In chapters 5–9 the scrolls speak about what God will assuredly do in the future.

Greg Beale explains the particular form of the sealed book (or scroll):

The book of 5:1–2 is to be understood in part against the legal background of Roman wills, since the two bear striking similarity: (1) the contents of such a will was sometimes summarized on the back; (2) a will had to be witnessed and sealed by seven witnesses; (3) only on the death of a testator could a will be unsealed and the legal promise of the inheritance to be executed; (4) a trustworthy executor would then put the will into legal effect.[1]

As we will see, the testator who has died is Jesus Christ, and his resurrection allows him also to act as the trustworthy executor.

The presence of the scroll presents us with the mystery of its contents, and the suspense is further strengthened when it becomes apparent that the powerful angel (5:2) is looking for someone else to open the scroll and loose the seals which bind it closed. When it is not immediately apparent that anyone has the authority and power to open the seals (5:3), John grieves deeply (5:4).

One of the elders sets John straight (5:5), and in the process assigns remarkable names to Jesus. “The Lion of the tribe of Judah” (5:5) finds its background in Gen. 49:8–10, and “the root of David” looks back to Isa. 11:10–11. Both titles have military overtones. Of the latter passage Craig Keener says, “Early Judaism recycled the imagery of this passage to represent a mighty warrior prince.”[2]

Notice carefully that the basis for Jesus’ worthiness to open the scroll and its seals is based on having conquered (5:5). This conquest occurred chiefly at the cross (5:9), though the long struggle against sin must not be discounted. Jesus is the archetype of the one who conquers (2:7, 11, 26; 3:5, 12, 21), and believers are to imitate his faithfulness.

Lord of all to come

By conquering sin, death and Satan through his death on the cross, Jesus proved his worthiness to be Lord of all history, even that part which has not yet unfolded. He is Lord of all!

By contrast, some Christians do not give Jesus two thoughts in a day; their lives seem to be on a trajectory that reflects a commitment to the world and its self-focused, materialistic values.

A day is coming — perhaps even this day — when the apparent gap between nominal Christians and Jesus Christ will vanish, and these believers will be confronted with explaining how they have lived for the earth while claiming to follow heaven. Prepare now for that conversation!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 344.

[2] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 186.

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