Philippe R. Sterling
Spontaneous celebrations of freedom erupted all across Eastern Europe in the late 1980s as atheistic and tyrannical governments suddenly disintegrated. One of the displays of liberty took place in Czechoslovakia on November 27, 1989. Although church bells had not been heard in that nation for 45 years, at noon that day every church bell in the country began to ring. The pigeons were as startled as the people. A sign placed in the lawn of a church in Prague summed up the joy of the moment. It read simply: “The Lamb Wins!”
That triumphant message evokes a picture of the meekness and power of the Lord Jesus Christ. Throughout the pages of Revelation, He is portrayed as the Lamb who has redeemed us. Yet despite the greatness represented by a Lamb, Jesus is also the mighty Lion who will defeat all who oppose Him. The reign of God’s Messiah will not come peacefully. The imagery of Revelation is full of God’s fierce power and judgment on those who are in rebellion against the Lamb’s rightful rule. The Lamb will win. Praise the Lamb!
The Eternal Father offers the title-deed of the earth to Jesus, the worthy redeemer (5:1-6).
The World’s Need for the Lamb (1-4)
The Seven-Sealed Scroll (1)
John saw a seven-sealed scroll written inside and out in the right hand of the One who sat on the throne (v. 1).
In the chapters that follow, the breaking of the seals results in the outpouring of the judgments of God. The breaking of the seals releases all the judgments necessary to defeat Satan’s kingdom, restore the kingdom of the earth under the visible authority of Christ, and reestablish mankind as God had originally intended before the fall.
The seven-sealed scroll contains the story of man losing lordship over the earth to Satan, the usurper, and its recovery through the God-Man Savior, the Lion who is also the Lamb. He alone is able to accomplish what no one else in the universe can, and He does so through the judgments of the seals.
The Jewish laws and customs concerning the reclamation of land and the role of the kinsman-redeemer shed light on this. If a Jewish family was required to forfeit its land and possessions through some distress, the property could not be permanently taken from them. The Old Testament law of jubilee and the kinsman-redeemer protected them against this. Their losses were listed in a scroll and sealed seven times. Then the conditions necessary to purchase back the land and their possessions were written on the outside of the scroll. When a qualified redeemer could be found to meet the requirements of reclamation, a kinsman like Boaz in the story of Ruth, the one to whom the property had been forfeited was obligated to return the possessions to the original owner. We find such a case in the book of Jeremiah (32:6-44).
Since the major part of the book of Revelation deals with the judgments associated with the removal of the seals of this scroll, it is important that we understand the significance of its content. The scroll represents the forfeiture of mankind’s original inheritance from God. When God created Adam and Eve, He gave them dominion over the earth and everything in it (Genesis 1:26-30; Hebrews 2:6-8). When Adam and Eve succumbed to the temptation of Satan and disobeyed God, Satan usurped their authority to rule the world. However, God did not want the earth and the human race to be permanently ruled by Satan and the fallen angels under his control (Hebrews 2:5, 8b, 14-15; Genesis 3:15). Therefore, someone had to be found within humanity, a kinsman redeemer, one who is qualified to reclaim the lost inheritance, someone who was true humanity, yet free to redeem; not a sinful man, nor an angel (Hebrews 2:9, 14-17).
It is fitting here for us to correct a lack of understanding of all that is included in the conception of redemption. When this word is used, we tend to think that it only has to do with the forgiveness of our sins through the payment of Christ’s death. Viewed as a whole, redemption is a wider and more wondrous thing. It involves the restoration of all creation to the rule of Christ and His fellow heirs (Romans 8:16-25).
The scroll was in the right hand of God the Father. This is significant of His right to what the sealed instrument binds. Taken from man, the inheritance reverted to the original Giver. Satan’s possession is a mere usurpation, permitted for a time. The true right still lies in the hand of God, until the proper kinsman-redeemer comes to redeem it, by paying the price, and ejecting the usurper and his followers.
The Silence of Creation (2-3)
Along with the sealed scroll appeared a mighty angel, asking with a great voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” The time had come, when, if a qualified redeemer was to be found, He should come forward and exercise His right.
The result of the call was that “no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or look into it.” Angels shrunk back from it as beyond their qualifications. And yet, it would seem as if somewhere there had been efforts made to achieve it.
Lost people throughout human history have tried, in politics, in science, in all the arts of civilization, philosophy, and even religion, to work out this problem of the successful repossession of what was lost in Adam, to attain to that forfeited perfection and supreme good. Satan has seductively worked to persuade us that we can make good the lying promise, “You shall be as God,” and in spite of the Almighty and without Him, realize the dream of a better destiny for the world and the human race. It has also been within the plan of God to permit His rebellious creatures to carry out the experiment to its utmost and to give scope to the most conspicuous failure at the last.
Though varied and complicated have been the attempts, they all have resulted in failure. Egypt attempted to rule the world, and bowed to the worship of creatures, and went down in ruins. Babylon tried it and became the great symbol of all that is blasphemous in power and impure in life. Greece tried it, and only achieved her destruction in the union of the intellect with the vices of the flesh. Rome tried it, and became the iron arm that covered the world in blood, and then dissolved in the pollution which itself had made. Communism failed. The spirit of democracy and human enlightenment is now trying, and will perpetuate its efforts to the most gigantic and bewitching level that the world has ever seen, but only to work out the most dreadful failure that has yet occurred. The lost estate of man, by sinful men, or holy angels, or demonic spirits, can never be recovered.
The Sorrow of John (4)
It’s a sad and mournful thought. Heaven itself seems to grow silent and breathless under it. And the tender and loving heart of John breaks, “Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or look into it.”
Seeing that no one was found worthy to open the scroll, John began to weep. John knew what the sealed scroll meant. He understood the office of the kinsman redeemer, and that if there was failure at this point, the reinstatement into what Adam lost – the recovery of all that sin took away – must fail. Until that scroll is opened, and the seals broken, the people of God must remain in privation, sorrow, and tears.
Worthiness of the Lamb (5-6)
Lion of Judah and Root of David (5)
One of the elders said to John, “Stop weeping; behold the Lion from the tribe of Judah, the root of David, overcame so as to open the scroll and its seven seals.” This is what the people of God have been hearing from her elders, and prophets, and apostles, and ministers, in all the ages. It is the essence of the Gospel, which has been sounding ever since the promise in Eden, that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head. It has been the comfort of God’s people in all these ages of their disinheritance.
Jesus is the Lion of Judah. Judah was one of the twelve sons of Jacob, the patriarch from whom the twelve tribes of Israel originated. In Genesis 49:10 Jacob prophesied of Judah’s leadership, “The scepter [rulership] shall not depart from Judah . . . until Shiloh (the Messiah, to whom it belongs) comes.” Judah was the tribe from which king David came. God promised David a royal kingdom that would last forever. He told David that one of his descendants would be called the Prince of Peace, and that this Prince would reign over an eternal kingdom of righteousness and justice (1 Chronicles 17:11-14).
Jesus is the root of David – the foundation on which the Davidic hopes rest. He overcame in the temptations in the wilderness, in the agonies of the garden, in death on a cross, and in the grave. He ascended and led captivity captive. He is Victor over sin and death. He has paid the redemption price of the forfeited inheritance. He is the true kinsman redeemer, who, having triumphed and been accepted, will also prove ready and worthy to complete His work, by taking the scroll and breaking its seals.
Lamb of God (6)
John saw between the throne and the elders a Lamb, standing, as if slain. The Lamb is the same whom the elder had just described as a Lion. The two titles seem to be contradictory. But in reality they supplement each other.
The opening of the seals is an act of strength, an exploit of war, a going forth in power to take possession of a kingdom. As one after another is broken, out breaks a fierce assault on the enemies and usurpers who occupy the earth. In the accomplishment of this, Christ is a Lion, clothed with power, and majesty, and terribleness. But the character in which He overcame and became qualified for this work, and in which He presents Himself before the throne as a candidate worthy to do it, is that of the sacrificial Lamb that was slain.
The title of Lion is used of Jesus only once in Revelation. The title of Lamb is used 28 times. The point is that His kingly crown, rule, and power lie in His redemptive work as the Lamb of God who died in our place. The biggest battle was on the cross. He could not take his place as Ruler until He had become the kinsman redeemer by His sacrifice. The Lamb is standing as if slain. His mortal wounds were visible. His wounds will remind us forever of the cost of our redemption.
John further describes this Lamb as having seven horns and seven eyes. This suggests that something more than sacrifice is now to be His business. The horn is a symbol of strength and aggressive power. Seven is the number of completeness. So that while Jesus appears here as the sacrificial lamb, He possesses at the same time the fullness of conquering strength. As to the seven eyes which are the seven spirits of God, Isaiah prophesied that the Spirit of the Lord would rest on the Messiah (11:1-3). And he listed seven aspects of the Spirit. He is the spirit of the Lord, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. Seven emphasizes the completeness of his knowledge and insight. None of His actions and decisions in His righteous judgment against the sin of mankind will be made on partial knowledge.
Jesus, the worthy Lamb, takes the title-deed to the earth (5:7).
Finally Jesus, the Lamb, takes the seven-sealed scroll from the right hand of the One who sits on the throne. This is the pivotal act of the book of Revelation. It is the act by virtue of which the world is subdued, Babylon judged, the Beast destroyed, the dragon vanquished, death overthrown, the curse removed, the earth made new into the paradise of God. It is the taking up of the title-deed of the forfeited inheritance, the legal act of repossession of all that was lost in Adam, and paid for by the blood of the Lamb.
The angels and the elders and all creation worship Jesus the rightful King of the earth and Judge of all (5:8-14).
And when the Lamb took the scroll, there went a thrill through all those gathered before the throne. The four Living Beings and the twenty-four Elders fall down before the Lamb in worship, for they realize that the events resulting in the liberation of creation are about to begin.
The elders are described as “each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” It is now the time for the prayers of the saints to be answered and fulfilled: “Thy Kingdom come Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” So have all believers prayed. The prayers have been carefully treasured in golden bowls. They are as sweet incense before God and the Lamb. The holding up of the prayers and the harps together before the Lamb as He takes the scroll, is that He may now remember and fulfill what all the prophets had spoken and sung, as well as what all believers have prayed.
And the elders sang a new song. John hears the majestic hymn reverberating through heaven: Worthy are You to take the scroll and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign on the earth. Their song magnifies the worth of the Lamb for four reasons. He was slain. That death brought redemption. That redemption results in a position as a kingdom and priests. In the future the redeemed will reign upon the earth.
The elders are not alone in their adoration. John heard the loud voice of many angels saying: Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing. They give a sevenfold ascription of praise.
And the response of praise spread wider and wider. John heard every created thing in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea say, To Him who seats on the throne and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.
And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped. They close this scene of universal homage to the Lamb. All of heaven’s praise comes because the Lamb takes the scroll from the Father’s hand. God’s great eternal plan will now be fulfilled. His kingdom will come and His will be done.
*Some of the material is adapted from J.A. Seiss, The Apocalypse.