Revelation: The Culmination of Scripture – 12 (“Who is Worthy to Open the Scroll?”)
In John’s vision of the throne room of God in chapter 4 of Revelation, we have a scene of Angels and the 24 elders joined together in worship and acknowledgement of God as Creator of all things, and as the purpose for which all things were created and they are doing this whilst singing the words ~ “You are worthy O Lord to receive glory, honour and power…!” The basis for the worthiness? “For Thou hast Created all things…” This is the song of worship to our Creator. God created us, the world we live in, and sustains it and us, and everything we know and love. All creation owes Him worship and acknowledgement, and it would be the height of impiety (Afrikaans: “goddeloosheid”) and arrogance to refuse to worship Him.
We’ve also seen in chapter 4 that God is a holy God and the problem with mankind is unfortunately exactly this – we are indeed arrogant and we refuse to worship the Holy, Creator God with all of our heart. We read in Rom.1:21 ~ “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” Mankind is lost and doomed! But, as we see right through the Word of God, that He is also a gracious God and therefore we see in Rev.5, that a new song is given which is an answer to these problems caused by our fall into sin and depravity. In the new song sung in the very throne room of God, lies an adequate, complete answer to the human dilemma ~ “You are worthy…because you were slain and have redeemed us unto God by your blood…” (Rev.5:9).
2. SCRIPTURE READING:
Rev.5:1-5 ~ “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. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4 and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 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.”
3. THE INACCESSIBLE SCROLL (vss.1-4):
In the first century there were primarily two types of written documents – parchments (2 Tim.4:13) and scrolls. Parchment was made from the skins of sheep and goats, and its name is derived from the Latin word “pergamena.” This refers to Pergamum, which was a centre of parchment production and traditionally believed to be the place of its invention. Parchment was more expensive than papyrus, but its greater durability and “erasability” (Afrikaans: “kon woorde uitvee daarop”) caused it to become the predominant book material by the fourth century A.D. Scrolls were made of papyrus from the Nile delta in Egypt and usually written on one side. This was the side on which the fibres ran horizontally, which made it easier to write on with a pointed reed pen dipped in black ink made from charcoal, gum, and water.
The scroll that John sees in God’s hand is called an “opisthograph” because it has writing on both sides. The writing on both sides suggests that the scroll is completely filled, with maximal contents. God’s plan contains all the details. Ezekiel, in his initial vision, also saw a two-sided scroll containing words of lament and mourning and woe (Ezek.2:9-10) (Afrikaans: “rouklaag/ween”). Prophets often recorded their visions on a scroll (Jer.36:1-32). However, when a scroll was sealed, its contents could not be read by unauthorized readers (Isa.29:11; Dan.12:9).
The key element in this vision is the scroll. Of course the question is, what is the scroll? Many different answers have been given:
• A title deed to the earth;
• A last will and testament;
• Ezekiel’s book of lamentation, mourning, and woe (2:9-10);
• The sealed book of the end time in Daniel 12:4. The simple answer to this question, is that it is the remainder of the book of Revelation (chs.6 – 22). Don Carson says it is a book of “blessing and cursing” (Rev.5). It is a book of judgment, salvation, and restoration:
o Judgment – seals (vs.6), trumpets (vss.8-9), bowls (vss.15-16), lake of fire (20:11-15)
o Salvation – Jew and Gentile (vss.7,14; 19:1-10)
o Restoration – new heaven, new earth, new Jerusalem (vss.21-22).
Vss.1-4 dramatically depict the world’s desperate need for a Saviour. John sees God the Father on His “throne,” a word appearing more than 40 times in Revelation. Some even call Revelation, “a throne book.” This is the place of sovereignty and authority. God is holding a scroll sealed with seven seals. No member of the heavenly entourage is worthy to open it; nor can anyone on or under the earth do so (vss.2-3). John’s response of weeping loudly (vs.4) indicates that the resolution of history – the defeat of evil, sin, and death – all depends on the opening of this scroll.
These first three verses stand in close parallel with Dan.12:4, which makes it clear that the scroll is a heavenly book containing God’s plan and the destiny of the world ~ “But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.” There is no doubt therefore, that God has a definite plan for history and its consummation. It is mapped out. It is set. It will not fail. The unsealing of the book implies the accomplishment of the things God has purposed.
In vs.2, a mighty angel rhetorically asks who has the requisite spiritual authority (Afrikaans: “vereiste/nodige geestelike gesag”) to open the scroll. The question was not, “who is willing,” but, “who is worthy?” The ranks of the living and the dead, those on earth, those in heaven, and those in hell, are combed (Afrikaans: “deursoek”) for a worthy king – for someone who is worthy to open the scroll. But the response of vs.3 is disheartening to say the least, because not a single one is found to be worthy enough to open the seals or for that matter, “even to look in it.” A deep silence descends upon the scene, as every voice is hushed and the angels themselves cease to sing. Not a voice is raised to say, “Here am I, Lord, give that scroll to me!” God Himself is worthy as the Creator (4:11), but no created being in heaven or earth has the rank or status to do so. The importance of such a document is indicated by who has the clearance to open and read it. In this case, the response is disheartening to say the least, because no one could be found to open and/or read it, because no-one was worthy enough to do so.
John’s response in verse 4 is understandable: “I cried and cried because no one was found worthy.” The word worthy is crucial, appearing four times in our text (vvs2,4,9,12). For a brief moment a survey of heaven reveals no one possesses the merit to approach God, take the scroll, and open the seals. Not Abraham or Moses. Not Joshua or Caleb. Not Elijah or Elisha. Not Jeremiah, Ezekiel, or Daniel. Not James, Peter, or Paul. Not an angel or even an archangel. A universal search is made. No one is worthy.
John weeps (vs.4) and longs for God’s purposes to be accomplished because the destiny of John – of the church – of the universe itself, hangs in the balance over the question of whether someone can open the scroll and it appears to be impossible to open the scroll, because this scroll was sealed and when a scroll was sealed, it indicated that the document had not been tampered with and its contents were secure. In this case, seven seals sealed this scroll – the number seven indicates completion; the contents were completely inaccessible (Rev.22:10; Isa 29:11; Dan 12:4). Apart from the fact that the seals were not tampered with, it also confirmed that there is only one person who can and may open this sealed document and that is the person to whom it is addressed to.
The reason why no other person is worthy to open this specific book or scroll, is because of its contents. The book is the destiny of the world – what is to happen in the end time at the end of the world. Chapters 6-21 show this clearly. It is the book of judgment. Every person on earth past, present and future will appear before God’s throne of judgment and not a single person, or being, or creature are worthy or in a position to acquit any person – all are doomed. That is the one reason why John is crying ~ “As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. 10A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened” (Dan.7:9-10).
The other reason why John is weeping, is because this scroll is not only a book of judgment and doom, but also a book of redemption (Luke 21:28; Rom.8:22-23; Eph.1:13-14). God’s people are to be redeemed and the evil and corrupt people are to be overthrown and judged. Human history and all matter throughout the universe – all that is corrupt, deteriorating, decaying, and dying – is to be overthrown and consumed. And a new earth and a new heaven are to be created. All the redeemed are to inherit and inhabit the new earth and heavens. This is both the fate and the redemption of the world. This is history written before it happens. Therefore, the person who opens this book must be a person who can grasp exactly what the book is saying, and then he must be able to carry out God’s will and execute the events. The person must have the very mind and power of God. Who can execute and rule over the events of the end time? John is weeping because no one was found worthy (vs.4) to open the scroll and reveal the name of a worthy one that can announce the good news to the redeemed.
Then there is a third reason why John is weeping. The contents of what is going to be revealed between Rev.5 and the end is not only about what is going to happen at the end, namely the judgment and salvation, but also what is going to happen in between – between John’s vision here in the throne room of God and the judgment seat of God at the end. He is weeping because he wants to know what is going to happen between his vision and the end, but no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.
4. THE GREAT ENTRANCE (vss.5-8):
But then we see in vs.5 that an elder speaks to John and say ~ “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.” There is only one Person that can open this scroll: The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, because He has been victorious so that He may open the scroll and its seven seals. At last, there was someone who was worthy and you can imagine the relief that John experienced.
5. CONCLUSION & APLICATION:
The question may arise why man cannot get insight in the destiny of the world? Will everything be revealed or not and if not, why not?
We must first realise that the future of the universe (between John’s vision and the end) are not and cannot be revealed in the next 15 chapters of Revelation. Obviously because it will take many, many more chapters than fifteen to cover that, but on the other hand, not everything is meant for us to know. Even Jesus does not know the day that He will come back ~ “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matt.24:36).
The Bible teaches that man was created with the ability to make moral choices and that he is responsible for those choices. The Fall of Man was not a predetermined event in which Adam and Eve were hapless victims of a “Puppet-Master God.” On the contrary, Adam and his wife had the ability to choose obedience (with its attendant blessing) or disobedience (with its consequent curse). According to Gen.3, they knew what the result of their decision would be, and they were held accountable. But, we are not the sovereign masters of our fate. Only God is sovereign. His sovereign control is called “providence.” He has chosen to give us a free will, and He has created a moral universe in which the law of cause-and-effect is a reality. But God is God alone, and there are no “accidents” in the universe.
As Christians, we must always remember that an all-wise, all-powerful God must have a plan, so it should be no surprise that the Bible speaks of a divine plan. God’s plan, since it belongs to God, is holy, wise, and full of grace. The providence of God is working to bring about His original plan for creation and because of our sinfulness, we are not worthy of being in a position to see His plan and the eventual destiny of the cosmos – we are just not that important. You and I are just not big enough and important enough and worthy enough to have insight in the sovereign, almighty God’s plan with His creation. Therefore, not all concerning the future will be revealed to John – to us, in the next chapters of Revelation.
God is described in the Bible as all-powerful and all-knowing (Ps.147:5), outside of time (Ex.3:14; Ps.90:2), and responsible for the creation of everything (Gen.1:1; John 1:1). These divine traits set the minimum boundary for God’s sovereign control in the universe, which is to say that nothing in the universe occurs without God’s permission. God has the power and knowledge to prevent anything He chooses to prevent, so anything that does happen must, at the very least, be “allowed” by God.
This fact must also be a tremendous encouragement, comfort and assurance to us, to know that we don’t have to worry about the outcome of anything and especially not our end, or the end of the plan and end of earth’s future, because God (our God) is in full control.
One particular place of rest and application in relation to God’s sovereignty and rule is His guidance and work to accomplish His purposes for our lives individually and corporately. Paul has this in mind, at least in part, in Phil.1:6 when he says ~ “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
The second question is, who is this “Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David”? How will the saved ones be saved and acquitted?
Today we must take to heart that we should honour, worship and glorify God for He is in control of everything and He will open the seals and the scroll, in fact next week, Lord willing, we will see that He already did and we will see who is this “Lion” who did it.