5 Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?’ 3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. 4 I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.
Last week in our look at Revelation chapter 4 we saw the glorious, all-powerful God of the universe on his throne, the promise-keeping God as symbolized by the rainbow. There are 24 rulers round the throne and the four beasts with eyes all over their bodies and wings, all worshipping God and singing his praises. It’s a very impressive picture, but it’s not the climax, it’s the introduction. In Ch. 5 John sees a scroll in God’s hand, written on both sides and sealed with 7 seals. There is that number 7 again, meant to represent perfection. What is on the scroll is good and perfect and there’s a lot of it – it has writing on both sides. A mighty angel issues a challenge to the whole of creation in a voice that no one can ignore. V 2 “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?”, and there was a long embarrassing silence. John weeps because there is no one worthy enough. Not the angel, not the beasts, not one of the 24 rulers…… no one in heaven or earth or under the earth is worthy to open this scroll. Not the worthiest people in history. Job was called a righteous man by God himself, but he is not worthy. King David, a man loved by God, is not worthy. Abraham is not worthy. Isaiah and Elijah are not worthy. Not Mary the mother of Jesus, not even Enoch who is described as the man who “walked with God’; none of them was worthy.
The very best and finest of mankind are not worthy. That is a tragedy! We are all, to some degree or another, damaged goods. That brings John to tears. He weeps for our lostness and our unworthiness.
We tend to see our achievements as what defines us – our scientific advancements, our incredible ability to tame and control our world. Just listen at any funeral and you will hear a list of achievements. Humanity is amazing. And yet God looks at our being not our achievements. He looks at our hearts that are able to justify almost any wrongful behaviour as OK. And our world mocks God’s definition of good and evil and substitutes its own. We live in a world that says that greed is good. We live in a world that applauds pride. We live in a world where millions make their living out of greed - we have family days at the races, for goodness’ sake. We encourage parents to take their children to an event that is solely set up for gambling. We live in a world that encourages gossip. Think how we consume gossip magazines by the million and watch TV programmes dedicated to gossip and listen to gossip radio. It so part of our culture that we think nothing about reading those articles.
Our world keeps telling us that we ought to consider ourselves the centre of the universe. You should be the most important person to you.
John weeps because there is no one worthy to open the scroll or even to look into it.
Father, have mercy on our broken and divided world, and me as one who is also broken.
5 Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals 6 Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the centre of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits[a] of God sent out into all the earth. 7 He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. 8 And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.
Great symbol the lion. The British use it as their national emblem. It symbolises strength and power! John must have been expecting something awesome. In fact, there was a history to that term. There were 12 tribes in ancient Israel, each descended from a son of Jacob who later was called Israel. One of the sons was Judah and the tribe of Judah descended from him. The Lion of Judah was a promised descendant of the tribe of Judah who would rule the nations. The root of David is the one promised in Isaiah 11 who would bring in the golden age. It was a reference to the coming Messiah. He’s expecting the Lion of Judah, and what does he see? A lamb, and what’s more a lamb that looks as though it’s been killed. You remember the risen Jesus still had the scars from the nails and the spear at his crucifixion? I guess the risen Jesus also still bears the scars from the beating and the lash and the crown of thorns as well. It’s no wonder that the lamb looks like it’s been slain if it represents the risen Jesus. It would look like it’s been beaten within an inch of its life.
Can you imagine a football team with a lamb as its symbol, let alone a beaten-up lamb? Back in Sydney we’ve got the dragons and the tigers and the broncos and the bulldogs and the eagles and the bears, but the lambs? A slain lamb is the symbol of heaven.
Of course, it’s Jesus. It’s his death that made him worthy. And the angel describes him as the one who has triumphed. His triumph is not in some future time after some great coming battle. The great battle has already occurred and Jesus won. Colossians 2:25 says that Jesus “disarmed the powers and authorities making a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them at the cross.”
That is a great encouragement to those who are suffering, and especially those suffering for their faith.
Now look at verse 8. Each of the 24 elders and the four living creatures, as they fall down before Jesus, are holding golden bowls full of incense which we’re told represent the prayers of the saints. That really is something! If you follow Jesus, you are a saint because the word “saint” translates “separate ones.” All who have been accepted by God are “separate ones.” All Christians are saints as far as the Bible is concerned. Our prayers are heard in heaven. They are like sweet perfume. They sweeten the air in heaven, and just to reinforce that point the same things is said in 8:4 “the smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God.”
No prayer is wasted. No prayer prayed from a repentant and righteous heart goes unheard. What a wonder! The prayer of the most insignificant believer in the smallest corner of the world is heard and not just heard, but valued as sweet perfume. Your prayers are like the scent from a rose – a delight to the person who experiences it. I’ve just planted a couple of scented roses under my studio window so their perfume waft inside and delight my heart. What an encouragement to pray! Our prayers are like that to our heavenly Father.
My God and Father, thank you for the Lord Jesus who has triumphed by his death. Teach me to live in the light of that triumph. Amen
9 And they sang a new song, saying:
‘You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign[b] on the earth.’
Jesus is worthy because of his death. See what they sing? “With your blood you purchased people for God.”
Jesus’ death was the price of our forgiveness. He was our stand-in. He died so that we could live! And that offer is open to everyone – every tribe and language and people and nation.
Those who submit themselves to Jesus become a kingdom – they are now part of the nation of God. They are part of God’s new community where God’s values and God’s priorities rule.
People want to bag out God and God’s rules and God’s priorities, but if we were to live according to those priorities, we would bring heaven to earth. What an incredible place our world would be if we lived God’s way: if we lived for others as well as ourselves. If we forgave as God forgives us. If we treated each other as image bearers of God. Part of our mission as Jesus’ people is to live out those values and priorities so that our world can see them at work – can see a working model of those things.
The song says we are priests. A priest was and is someone who is a go-between for man and God. The priest mediates God to people and people to God. In the Old Testament only the priest could go into the most holy place in the temple. With the death of Jesus, suddenly we are all priests – we all have direct access to God. Jesus is our only go-between. No man or woman is necessary to mediate for us with God. We don’t need any other peace-broker other than Jesus. The practice of praying to the “saints” to intercede on our behalf may well be motivated out of good intentions, but there is only one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus [1 Timothy 2:5]. To say that we are unworthy to approach God directly through Jesus really diminishes the work of Christ of the cross for us.
The fact that we are all priests means we are all responsible for our own spiritual growth and development. We should all be spiritual self-starters. The health of our relationship with God should not depend on others. Thankfully Gad has placed us in community for our help and encouragement, but in the end our spiritual health is down to us, not our church services, not our staff, not even our ministries.
I met with a bloke recently and he got out his Bible and it was the most well-thumbed Bible I have ever seen. The whole thing was dilapidated, and not because it had been mistreated. You can tell when a book has been mistreated or just used well. This Bible was dog-eared and highlighted and underlined. It reminded me of a mate who told me that he reckons we should be wearing out our Bibles every few years. The practice in many churches is to provide Bibles for people and that is a great thing for those who might be visiting and not have a Bible, but I’m a book highlighter and under-liner and I’d never think of going to a lecture at uni or doing a course without the textbook there so I can make notes and draw connecting lines, and do all the things I need to make the information stick. The Bible is our text, our workbook. If we’re really serious about that we won’t just rely on the provided Bibles.
In this song the concept of priest is one of service to God.
My God and my Heavenly Father, thank you for doing all that was necessary in your Son to bring me to you. Show me how to serve you. Amen
11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12 In a loud voice they were saying:
‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honour and glory and praise!’
13 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!’
14 The four living creatures said, ‘Amen’, and the elders fell down and worshipped.
Notice that it’s not just the beasts who are singing. There are a myriad angels for a start. Wouldn’t that be something! Thousands upon thousands and ten thousand time ten thousand; that’s one way of saying countless angels. I tried to multiply 1,000 X 1000 X 10,000 X 10,000 but I don’t know what you call 1 with 14 zeros after it – I think it’s 1,000 billion: a trillion angels. That’s a lot of angels. Can you imagine the sound of that choir? At men’s convention the sound of 3,000 of us singing our hearts out makes the hairs on your arm stand up. Imagine this choir! Can you picture it? The throne of God with God sitting on it, the lamb also there, the seven-fold spirit of God, the rainbow, the sea of glass, the four living bodyguards, the 24 elders on their thrones, then 1,000 billion angels. It must have been an unbelievable image. What a God this is we worship! What an incredible privilege to be adopted as his children. But as the man in the TV ad says, that’s not all. Verse 13 says, 13 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!” Not only the creatures and the 24 elders, and the countless angels, but now we see every single creature standing round the throne and singing God’s praises. Every creature on the land and in the air and under the sea is honouring God. It’s like Disney movie! All these animals singing God’s praises, every insect and fish and bird and mammal and reptile – what a scene!
In the vision there are a series of concentric circles of every creature under heaven singing God’s praises. What does it all mean? It means that God is at the centre of the universe, and everything is focussed on Him.
Can you see how encouraging that would have been to God’s suffering people? Can you see the fact that so many ignore God is so dishonouring to him?
It’s good to remember that this is not a God basking in the praises of his creation like some egocentric narcissist. This is the God who took on human flesh in order to live the life of a human to defeat sin and death for us. This is the God who elevates us to his family. This is the God who is so lovely that his creation can’t help but overflow with praise and adoration for him. That is the point of the singing and the praising in this vision. It’s not forced out of creation; it is the natural outpouring of wonder and awe and love for this most lovely of beings. It’s how we feel when we see a glorious view and can’t help but point it out to others, only a million times amplified. That is our God!
Lord fill me with the truth of your wonderous perfection so that my heart will delight in you. Amen
Yesterday we saw the vision of God at the centre of the universe. Yet we must not lose sight of the fact that it is the lamb who is also honoured – the lamb looking as though it had been slain. ‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honour and glory and praise!’
The whole of creation sings “to him who sits on the throne and to the lamb be praise and honour and glory and power for ever and ever.” That is why it is so incredible that the peak of God’s creation, mankind, the only part of creation made in God’s image, chooses to snub its nose at this God. Every of creation worships and honours God, while most men and women worship themselves. They turn their back on this God and put themselves on the throne. It’s tragic!
People say they believe in God, but you cannot have God without submitting to the Lord Jesus. You cannot have God if you do not accept Jesus’ death in your place and make him your king. By his death he purchased people for God [5:9]. That is at the centre of God’s plans for all of us. 23” No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.” [1 John 2]
Paul makes the same point in Romans 10 where he says that his fellow Jews were zealous for God but their zeal was not based around Jesus and therefore was useless [Romans 10:1-4]
The vision has the slain lamb of God at the centre of everything. It is remarkable that the Son bears his humanity into eternity. His resurrected body bears the scars of his crucifixion [John 24:25]. When Jesus took on human flesh in order to save us, he did for eternity. The enormity of that sacrifice is astounding! His solidarity with us is eternal. The Bible says that he is the beginning of a new humanity. [1 Cor 15:20-23]. The magnitude of the love of our triune God is truly astounding. He saw us in our failure and weakness and, rather than being disgusted with us, his heart went out to us. It was when Jesus saw the crowds in their lostness that we’re told he had compassion on them [Matthew 9:36]. It is not just our godliness that draws out his love but our sin and failure. He took on human flesh and it was a permanent condition, although he now has his glorified the body, it is the same body we will have when we are raised at the last day. What a saviour! Chapters 4 and 5 of Revelation show us how, in the midst of our trials and sufferings, Paul can say, “we have been given every spiritual blessing in Christ.” [Eph 1].
Our world looks like it is out of control, and maybe our lives look the same way, but God is ruler and all things are under his rule. As we shall see in the following chapters, he is even on control of those who defy him. Amen and Amen.
Lord God, you are worthy of all praise and power. Help me to live and breathe in the light of your glory. Amen