A. One worthy to take the scroll.
1. (1) The throne and the scroll.
And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals.
a. I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll: The focus of Revelation 4 was the throne. Here, John begins with reference to the throne, but now shifted his focus to the scroll held by the enthroned Lord.
b. Written inside and on the back: This means that this scroll was unusual. It wasn’t common practice to write on both sides of the scroll. This means that whatever information was on this scroll, there was a lot of it – almost more than the scroll can contain.
i. Ancient scrolls were read horizontally, not vertically. The rolls of the scroll were on the left and the right, and the writing lay in narrow columns about three inches (8 centimeters) wide, written on a substance somewhat like brown paper. The scroll was held in the left hand, and unrolled with the right; as the reading went on, the previously read portion was re-rolled. On such a typical scroll, the Book of Revelation would fill a scroll 15 feet (4.5 meters) long.
c. Sealed with seven seals: When a roll was finished, it was fastened with strings and the strings were sealed with wax at the knots. This scroll was sealed with seven seals; there were seven strings around the scroll, each string sealed with wax.
i. These were not seven writings each separated by a seal; but seven seals all set upon one scroll. All the seals must be opened before the scroll could be read.
d. A scroll written: Through the centuries, commentators suggest many different ideas for what this scroll is, and what was written upon it. It’s important to remember that whatever was on this scroll, no one except Jesus was (and is) worthy to open it (Revelation 5:3-4).
i. Some think the scroll was the Old Testament, or the Old and New Testaments together, or fulfilled prophecy. But these ideas look back, not forward, and John wrote of things related to things which must take place after this (Revelation 4:1). Additionally, if the scroll was the Old or New Testament, who is unworthy to open that scroll?
ii. Some think the scroll was God’s claim of divorce against Israel, but there is little Scriptural evidence for this idea, and who is unworthy to open that scroll?
iii. Some think the scroll was God’s sentence against the enemies of the church. Perhaps this is true, but only in an indirect sense; but who is unworthy to open that scroll?
iv. Some think the scroll was the text of the Book of Revelation, or the next few chapters. But this is rather unlikely considering how the idea of the scroll is communicated, and who would be unworthy to open that scroll?
v. Some think the scroll was the title deed to planet earth. This is an attractive idea, especially because the coming time of tribulation will end with Jesus ruling on earth. But it is hard to demonstrate this with certainty. The best connection in this idea seems to be with Jeremiah 32:6-15, which describes Jewish title deeds as sealed. But there is no doubt that the earth is the Lord’s (Psalm 24:1), though the governments of this world belong in some sense to Satan (Luke 4:5-8). If God has to get the title deed back, when did God ever “lose” the title deed to planet earth? In fact, God holds this scroll – it isn’t lost. But the scroll must be opened, it must be revealed.
e. A scroll written: The best solution is to see the scroll as “God’s will, his final settlement of the affairs of the universe.” (Barclay) This is based on the idea that customarily, under Roman law, wills were sealed with seven seals, each from a witness to the validity of the will.
i. “Roman law required a will to be sealed seven times as illustrated in the wills left by Augustus and Vespasian for their successors.” (Walvoord)
ii. “The book may mean the purposes and designs of God relative to his government of the world and the Church; but we, whose habitation is in the dust, know nothing of such things. We are, however, determined to guess.” (Clarke)
iii. “The seven sealed book therefore is the comprehensive program of God culminating in the second coming of Christ.” (Walvoord)
iv. “The book of the counsels, decrees, and purposes of God relating to his church, as to what more remarkable things should happen to it to the end of the world; which book was in the hand of the Father.” (Poole)
v. The idea here is that God has a book in which the history of the universe is already written. He has written the history of the world in advance, He holds in His hand the history of the world in advance, and He initiates the consummation of all history. Only God can hold this scroll.
f. In the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll: Remember the emphasis is not on the content of the scroll, but on its seals and the One who is worthy to take it.
2. (2-4) Who is worthy to open the scroll?
Then I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?” And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll, or to look at it. So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it.
a. A strong angel: We don’t know who this angel is. Many have suggested that it is Gabriel, but we don’t know. Nonetheless, this angel issued a challenge to all creation: Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals? This is a challenge no creature can answer because no creature is worthy to open this particular scroll.
b. No one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll, or to look at it: John could not have said it any stronger. It was as if the strong angel looked through the entire universe to find someone worthy, and did not find anyone worthy to even look at the scroll.
i. There was no answer to the strong angel’s challenge because the creation is utterly incapable of deciding or effecting its own destiny. Someone above the order of created beings must determine the course of history – only God can unfold this plan.
c. So I wept much: John wept either because a previous promise to see the future may now be denied (Revelation 4:1), or more likely, because the consummation of history would now indefinitely postponed.
d. No one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it: To look upon the scroll, one must have the right to open the scroll and possess it – and no creature was found worthy.
3. (5-7) The Lion of the tribe of Judah is worthy to open the scroll.
But one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.” And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth. Then He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.
a. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah: One of the elders (not an angel) rescued John from his grief, showing him the one who has prevailed to open the scroll. This One was the great figure of Old Testament prophecy: the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, Messiah of Israel and of the Gentiles.
i. The Messianic title Lion of the tribe of Judah comes from Genesis 49:9-10, Isaiah 31:4, and Hosea 11:10. The title Root of David comes from Isaiah 11:10 and is repeated in Revelation 22:16.
ii. Trapp says that a Lion is a fitting image of our Messiah, “1. For the excellency of his strength. 2. For his heroical spirit. 3. For his principality; the lion is the king of beasts. 4. For his vigilancy; the lion sleepeth with open eyes.”
b. And I looked, and behold… stood a Lamb: Because of the elder’s announcement, John expected to see a Lion, but saw a Lamb instead. John even used the specific word for a little lamb; he “Signifies a little or delicate lamb.” (Clarke)
i. The Lamb is presented in a way both sympathetic and powerful; He is living (stood a Lamb), but He still had the marks of previous sacrifice upon Him (as though it had been slain).
ii. When men want symbols of power they conjure up ferocious beasts and birds of prey such as those that represent nations and sports teams. But the representative of the kingdom of heaven is a Lamb, representing humility, gentleness, and sacrificial love.
iii. The Lamb looks as though it had been slain. It’s hard to describe what John saw, but this Lamb had the marks of sacrifice on it. The coming judgment beginning in chapter six is dictated and administrated by the Lamb who already offered an escape from judgment by taking judgment upon Himself. The judgment will come upon a world that hates the Lamb and all He stands for, and rejects His offer of escape.
c. As it had been slain: The idea is that the sacrifice of Jesus is still fresh and current before God the Father. There is nothing stale or outworn in the work of Jesus on the cross. Thousands of years later, it is still fresh as the day He died on the cross.
i. “This form of speech is put to show the continual recent virtue of Christ’s death eternally effectual before God, as whereby once for all he hath purchased eternal redemption.” (Trapp)
ii. As it had been slain: “As if now in the act of being offered. This is very remarkable; so important is the sacrificial offering of Christ in the sight of God that he is still represented as being in the very act of pouring out his blood for the offences of man. This gives great advantage to faith; when any soul comes to the throne of grace, he finds a sacrifice there provided for him to offer to God. Thus all succeeding generations find they have the continual sacrifice ready, and the newly-shed blood to offer.” (Clarke)
d. Having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth: Even though the marks of His sacrifice were evident, the Lamb was not presented as an object of pity. He also bore the marks of omnipotence (seven horns) and omniscience (seven eyes). What a figure! A slain Lamb, who has the marks of omniscience and omnipotence!
i. Throughout the Scriptures, eyes suggest knowledge and wisdom, and horns suggest power. This Lamb has knowledge, wisdom, and power fulfilled perfectly: seven horns and seven eyes.
ii. Which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth: The Holy Spirit is not only the Spirit of God (in the sense of being the “Spirit of the Father”), but also the Spirit of Christ (see Acts 16:7 and Romans 8:9).
iii. The seven eyes of the LORD are a picture of omniscience drawn from the prophet Zechariah (Zechariah 4:10 and 3:9).
e. Then He came and took the scroll: No created being was found worthy to take the scroll, but the Lamb can take it. His rank, character and ability to take the scroll and open it (and thus dictate the destiny of creation) has been permanently demonstrated by His work on the cross.
B. Praise to the Worthy One.
1. (8-10) The song of the elders and the cherubim.
Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll,
And to open its seals;
For You were slain,
And have redeemed us to God by Your blood
Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
And have made us kings and priests to our God;
And we shall reign on the earth.”
a. The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb: When the Lamb took the scroll, the response was immediate. High-ranking angels and redeemed man joined to worship the Lamb.
b. Each having a harp: The harp is “Properly, a zithern or kind of guitar, played either with the hand, or with a pick.” (Alford) Worship in heaven is accompanied by music. As one might expect, this is the passage that started the idea that people in heaven will have harps.
c. And golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints: With their golden bowls full of incense, the elders symbolically presented the prayers of the saints. However, they did not intercede for the saints, functioning as mediators for God’s people.
i. We are reminded that there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5). These elders did not pray for the saints, and this in no way justifies the Roman Catholic practice of praying to the saints, asking them to pray for us.
ii. “It is also possible that these prayers represent the long-standing prayer of God’s people, ‘Your kingdom come.’” (Hocking)
iii. Golden bowls full of incense: In this we see how precious the prayers of the saints are to God. He regards them as a sweet smelling incense, as if set in precious golden bowls.
iv. The connection between prayer and incense is shown in Psalm 141:2: Let my prayer be set before You as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice. Incense has a pleasing aroma, it ascends to heaven, and it needs fire before it is of any use.
d. And they sang a new song: The elders sang a new song, for mercies that are forever new.
i. “By a new song is either to be understood as an excellent song (for new songs were usually most valued,) or (which pleaseth me best) new as to the matter of it; for the servants of God under the Old Testament could not bless God for the actual redemption of man by the blood of Christ, but only rejoice in hope, embracing the promises seen afar off by the eye of faith.” (Poole)
ii. “It is a new thing that the Son of God should become man. It is a new thing to ascend into the heavens with a body. It is a new thing to give remission of sins to men. It is a new thing for men to be sealed with the Holy Spirit. It is a new thing to receive the priesthood of sacred observance, and to look for a kingdom of unbounded promise.” (Victorinus)
e. You are worthy: In the days of the Apostle John, Roman Emperors were celebrated upon their arrival with the Latin expression vere dignus, which is translated You are worthy. Here the true Ruler of the world is honored.
f. For You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth: In the praise of Revelation 4:11, the emphasis was on God’s work of creation. Here, the emphasis is on His work of redemption.
· The song honors the price of redemption: for You were slain.
· The song honors the worker of redemption: have redeemed us.
· The song honors the destination of redemption: have redeemed us to God.
· The song honors the payment of redemption: by Your blood.
· The song honors the scope of redemption: every tribe and tongue and people and nation.
· The song honors the length of redemption: have made us kings and priests to our God.
· The song honors the result of redemption: and we shall reign on the earth.
g. Kings and priests to our God: Believers are kings because of their royal birth and their destiny to reign with Jesus. They are priests because they need no mediator other than Jesus Himself.
i. “When a fellow comes forward in all sorts of curious garments, and says he is a priest, the poorest child of God may say, ‘Stand away, and don’t interfere with my office: I am a priest; I know not what you may be. You surely must be a priest of Baal, for the only mention of the word vestments in Scripture is in connection with the temple of Baal.’ The priesthood belongs to all the saints.” (Spurgeon)
2. (11-12) Countless angels join in, declaring the worthiness of the Lamb because of the redemption He accomplished.
Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice:
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
To receive power and riches and wisdom,
And strength and honor and glory and blessing!”
a. I heard the voice of many angels around the throne: The angels and the elders fell down before the Lamb together (Revelation 5:8). Yet it seems that only the elders sang the song of the redeemed (Revelation 5:9-10), because in no place does the Bible tell us of the redemption of angels. Then, the voice of many angels around the throne rose up with the praise of the Great Redeemer.
i. In Revelation 4:9-10, the angels prompted the elders into worship. Here, the elders seem to prompt the angels. It is a wonderful cycle in heaven, with the angels and elders encouraging each other to more and more praise.
b. The number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands: This is an innumerable company of angels.
c. Worthy is the Lamb who was slain: In their song, the angels did not offer praise for their redemption. This is because angels are not (to the best of our knowledge) subjects of this redemption but they are careful observers of it, and are therefore able to praise God because of it (1 Peter 1:12 and Ephesians 3:10).
i. The angels can clearly see the greatness of God’s work in redeeming fallen men, so in response they credit power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing to the Lamb. In the same way, we can praise God for the way He works in the lives of other people.
3. (13-14) All creation praises the Father and the Lamb.
And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying:
“Blessing and honor and glory and power
Be to Him who sits on the throne,
And to the Lamb, forever and ever!”
Then the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever.
a. Every creature: John couldn’t be any more complete in his description. Truly, this is every creature – in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them.
b. Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb: This combined worship of the Father and the Lamb is strong testimony to the deity of Jesus. “There cannot be the slightest doubt that the Lamb is to be reckoned with God and as God.” (L. Morris)
i. “Now if Jesus Christ were not properly God this would be idolatry, as it would be giving to the creature what belongs to the Creator.” (Clarke)
ii. “Depend upon it, my hearer, you never will go to heaven unless you are prepared to worship Jesus Christ as God. They are all doing it there: you will have to come to it, and if you entertain the notion that he is a mere man, or that he is anything less than God, I am afraid you will have to begin at the beginning and learn what true religion means. You have a poor foundation to rest upon. I could not trust my soul with a mere man, or believe in an atonement made by a mere man: I must see God himself putting his hand to so gigantic a work.” (Spurgeon)
c. Fell down and worshipped Him: The ancient Greek word for worshipped is literally “to prostrate” or “to lay before another in complete submission.” The scene may be that the elders fell down to their knees, then laid themselves before Him who lives forever and ever as an expression of their total submission and worship.
i. “This is the eastern method of adoration: first, the person worshipping fell down on his knees; and then, bowing down touched the earth with his forehead. This latter act was prostration.” (Clarke)
d. Forever and ever… worshipped Him who lives forever and ever: The living God reigns eternally. The Caesars come and go, including those who persecute God’s people. But the Lord God lives forever and ever and is ever worthy of our praise.
©2019 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission