Session 7

Revelation Study –Session 7

 

In our last session we began looking at the first act in  The Drama of Redemption” as some have referred to Revelation.  Act One in this seven-act drama introduces to us the two who control all of the action.  While chapter 4 gives us a beautiful vision of God, chapter 5 introduces Jesus in the drama.  Chapter 5 is a continuation of the vision begun in chapter 4.  Before continuing with this study, it would be helpful for you to read the entire chapter.

 

Revelation 5 can be divided into four main sections:

  1. The sealed book in God’s hand (1-4)
  2. The description of the Lamb (5-7)
  3. The song of Recreation to the Lamb (8-10)
  4. The song of Exaltation of the Lamb (11-14)

 

1.      The sealed book (1-4) – Verse 1 is transitional.  It brings together the vision of God in ch.4 and of Christ in ch.5.   Because books are so common today, we can easily overlook the significance of this vision.  Everyone has access to numerous books and it is no big deal to own books.  Not so in ancient times.  All books were laboriously written by hand and either parchment (made from animal skin) or papyrus (made from a reed-like plant).  Books were extremely expensive in time and effort to produce, and only the very wealthy would ever own one.  Books were held in respect.  Most people never handled a book, and if they saw one it was only from a distance.  There was an element of mystery about books to the average person.

 

Look at what is said about this sealed book:

·         “...in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne...” – More literally “on the right hand...”  God was not grasping the book as if He were trying to keep its content secret.  He was holding it out to anyone worthy of revealing its content.  Not to assume by that the God has the same form we have.  This is John’s way of saying God holds the book.  Its mysterious content is known only to Him.  It’s interesting that in the midst of the dazzling brilliance of God’s throne and the elders and living creatures around the throne, suddenly all the attention is drawn to this book.  If you think of it in terms of movie, the scene quickly moves from a panoramic shot of the throne room of heaven to a single book.

·         “...written inside and on the back...” – Remember the “book” was not a bound book like ours; it was a scroll.  Papyrus, the customary writing material, was generally used just on one side.  But the author of this book was written on both sides of the material.  That is significant for two reasons:

o   Indicates the importance of the work.  This was a significant book filled with meaning.  Not always true the longer a writing is the more meaningful it is...Gettysburg Address not very long , but certainly very significant...heard some rather lengthy sermons which would have been more effective with many less words!...but the fact that the author of this book had so much to share he had to use both sides tells us this is an important document...

o   Indicates the completeness of the book.  There is no need for anything to be added.  All that needs to be said is said in this book.

·         “...sealed up with seven seals...” – This statement indicates how securely the content of this book was sealed.  Seven of course is the number for fullness or completeness.  Was completely sealed.  The purpose of the seal on ancient documents was to preserve contents for the one intended.  In some ways served the same purpose as the flap of an envelope. Since seven in apocalyptic literature stands for completeness or perfection, the idea is this book was very securely sealed.  In Roman times certain sensitive documents were required to have seven seals.  For example, Roman law required for wills to be attested by seven witnesses who affixed their seals to the document, guaranteeing the will.

·         “...a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?’ And no one in heaven, or on the earth, or under the earth, was able to open the book, or to look into it.”

o   Strong angels appear several times in the great redemption drama as agents of God (cf. 10:1; 18:21). 

o   The question “Who is worthy...?” plays off the hymn at the end of ch.4 where the twenty-four elders proclaim the absolute worthiness of God.  The question has to do not so much with might or power (“Who is strong enough?”) as it does with moral goodness and holiness (“Who has the moral worth?”)

o   Ancient people viewed the universe as having three levels – heaven above, earth in the middle, and a realm under the earth.  This phrase is a way of describing the entire universe.  Paul used the same terminology in Philippians 2:10 to describe how all creation would one day recognize that Jesus is Lord.  He wrote, “...at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” 

o   This question, which is a dramatic device designed to arouse suspense, is heard throughout the universe.  Since all Christians, especially those reading this letter in the 1st century, were anxious about coming events, there was great anticipation concerning how the question of “Who is worthy to open the book...?” would be answered.

o   We’re not told how it was ascertained that no one was worthy to open the book.  Perhaps there was a pause between verse 2 and 3 while the angel waited for someone to step forward and accept the challenge.  No one offered himself as being worthy.

·         “And I began to weep greatly, because no one was found worthy to open the book, or to look into it...” – The phrase “...began to weep greatly...” implies some time passed while John was in this saddened state.  The verb is in the imperfect tense, implying that the action continued for sometime.  It is a strong verb meaning “to weep audibly like a hurt or disappointed child.”  Why was John so upset that the book could not be opened?  I think it was because he knew the promise of 4:1 could not be fulfilled unless the book was opened.  He was on the verge of getting to see the next chapter in the battle between good and evil, between God and His people and those who opposed God and His people.  He was thinking of the persecuted Christians and the distressed churches and was on the verge of seeing the outcome of their intense struggle with Rome.  But at this point it looked as if no one would be open to open the book and complete the drama.

 

As you might imagine, theories abound concerning precisely what this book represents.  I will simply list some of the ideas that have been put forth, then share in a little more detail what I think the book is.

·         The Old Testament – The idea is that since Christ interpreted the OT during His earthly ministry (synagogue in Nazareth...road to Emmaus) and since He opens this book, they must be the same.  I don’t see any basis for that.

·         The book of lamentations, mourning, and woe mentioned in Ezekiel 2:9-10.  While no doubt John took some of his imagery from that passage, that book was God’s word for Israel in Ezekiel’s day.  This book contained a different word from God for people in the 1st century.

·         The Lamb’s book of life mentioned numerous times in Revelation (3:5; 13:8; 20:12, 15; 21:7).  This idea doesn’t seem to fit the context very well.

·         God’s redemptive plan.  Herschel Hobbs takes this view in The Cosmic Drama saying the book is a book of history showing how God has, is now, and will always be at work in the world accomplishing His purposes within the context of human history.  Again, I don’t think that really fits the context of the role of this book in the drama of redemption being played out in Revelation.

The view of the book with which I am most comfortable is put forth by C. E. Colton in his book Revelation: Book of Mystery and Hope.  Dr. Colton says the book “...represents the mighty judgments of a sovereign and righteous God...”  I think this view best fits the context of the book and the movement in this part of the drama.  We saw in the very first verse that the heart of Revelation is about “...the things which must shortly take place...”  The process of revealing those things now begins.  We will see in future sessions that as the seals on the book are broken, the awful judgments of God upon His enemies and the enemies of His people are revealed.  On a normal scroll, the content could not be revealed until all the seals are broken.  But that literal detail does not apply to the scroll in Revelation.  With the breaking of each seal, a part of the drama unfolds.

 

2.      The description of the Lamb (5-7) – The name of Jesus is not used here, but it is obvious the Lamb in this passage is Jesus.  After one of the 24 elders tells John to “Stop weeping...” he uses two familiar OT messianic symbols to describe the Lamb.

·         “...the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah...” – Probably taken from Genesis 49:9-10 where Judah is called a “lion’s whelp”  or “young lion” and where the Scripture states “the scepter shall not depart from Judah...”  The Jews took this to mean the Messiah would come from the tribe of Judah.

·         “...the root of David...” – Isaiah 11 prophecies the Messiah would come from the “...stem of Jesse...” who was the father of David.  Jesus uses this same imagery Himself in Revelation 22:16.

In obedience to the elder, John stopped weeping and looked to see a lion.  But to his surprise, instead of seeing a lion, he saw a “lamb.”  The word actually means “little lamb” and is used only here and John 21:15 (“Tend My lambs.”) in the NT.  Just as figures can rapidly change forms in dreams, the change in John’s vision.  A lion quickly becomes a lamb.  Dr. Summers points out the significance of the symbolism in that.  The lion represents absolute strength and bravery.  The lamb is a religious symbol representing goodness.  It’s interesting that in Revelation John refers to Jesus Christ twenty-nine times as a Lamb.  Notice what John tells us about the Lamb:

a.      He was “...between the throne with the four living creatures and the 24 elders...”  That is, He is the center of all beings, of all creation, He brings everything together, makes sense out of life. Colossians –“In Him all things hold together.”

b.      He was “...standing, as if slain...”  That is, He bore the marks of sacrifice; nail prints, thorn wounds, spear wounds. A reminder of His atoning sacrifice. The One who had been sacrificed was alive forevermore.

c.       “...having seven horns...” – Horns in apocalyptic literature denote power. Thus seven horns mean he had complete, ultimate power. He is capable of overcoming opposition.  Omnipotent!

d.      “...seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God...” – Symbol suggesting omniscience of the Lamb. Through the Holy Spirit (“...the seven Spirits of God...”) He is aware of events on earth.  (John makes certain the Asian Christians realize that the heavenly vision has earthly significance. All theology should be that way!)

Verse 7 says, “And He came, and took it [the book] out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.”  Several commentators point out the difficulty of vividness of this action in English.  The idea is without hesitation and with a strong spirit of determination, the Lamb immediately took the book.  One person translates the verse this way:  “...the first thing you know he has taken the book right out of the hand of him who sat on the throne.”

 

3.   The song of re-creation to the Lamb (8-10) - When the Lamb took the book all those around the throne were filled with great joy.  There was a threefold response: They fell before the Lamb; they presented to Him harps and golden bowls of incense representing the prayers of Christians; they sang a new song to the Lamb.   These  actions express the Christian belief that Christ is deserving of the same kind of worship as God. 

     

      Chapter 4 ended with a song of creation, directed toward the Father.  Now we see a song of re-creation (redemption) directed to the Son. The song praises Him for His redemptive work.  Four things are said about it (the redemption work)

·         It was through His sacrificial death – “Thou wast slain and didst purchase with Thy blood…” – There is no way to understand the redemption God offers us apart from the sacrificial death of Christ. 

·         It was for God – “…and didst purchase for God...” – Our redemption is first of all for God’s benefit. This idea is developed by Paul more fully in Ephesians 1:1-14.  God’s creation was restored to Him.

·         It is unlimited – “…every tribe and tongue and people and nation...” – The grace of God in Christ is not limited to any one nation or group. It’s for all people!

·         It makes the redeemed a kingdom – “…Thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God…” – As people become part of God’s redemptive work, they enter into His kingdom right now!! They become His priests in the world.  What a precious thought the phrase “...they will reign upon the earth...” must have been to the battered Christians in the 1st century!

 

4.   The song of exaltation of the Lamb (11-14) – This vision of the Redeeming Lamb closes with a thrilling scene in heaven.

·         The four living creatures and the 24 elders are joined by “myriads of myriads” (meaning too many too count) of angels in praise to the Lamb.

·         Seven terms (there’s that familiar number!) are used to symbolize the fullness or completeness of this praise – power, riches, wisdom, might, honor, glory, and blessing.

·         Every created being of every part of creation joins in the praise.  This is a reminder that the time will come when every created thing will recognize who Jesus is. (cf. Philippians 2:10)

This vision is calculated to bring new hope and courage to Christians of in Asia Minor in the 1st century and to Christians of every century.  Believing in power of God (ch.4) and experiencing the redemptive work of the Lamb (ch.5), there is no reason to fear any enemy.  Having seen the vision portraying the majesty of God and Christ, all of Caesar’s pomp is a shabby show by way of comparison.  Christians must not flinch under Caesar’s temporary power.  They have seen the power and majesty of God, and Caesar is no match for Him!

 

As we go on to other great scenes in drama – must never lose sight of the first and basic scene – God on throne in majesty and judgment and Christ beside Him, worthy in every respect. This scene should stand behind every experience in human history. While we cannot always recognize or understand God’s ways and purposes – can recognize sovereignty in relation to man, universe, and history.  Our first responsibility is to surrender our wills to the sovereign God and worthy Christ.  That’s the only way to make sense out of life.

 

 

 

 

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