The Lamb Is Worthy (Rev. 5:1-7)
John’s vision in chapters one through three begins with the son of man in the midst of the lampstands. He shepherds his flock by sending letters to the seven churches, which includes both promised blessings as well as warnings to repent of a growing indifference and wickedness that threatens to destroy the church from within. If their rebellion persists, Christ will remove the lampstand of their church.
In chapter four, John is brought up to heaven in a vision where he begins to describe the throne. God is seated on his throne, his glory emanating like gemstones reflect the splendor of his holiness. Around the throne are four living creatures, and twenty-four elders. All of them are engaged in the ceaseless praise of God’s holiness and worthiness.
Our earthly worship ought to be modeled after Heavenly worship. The revelation of God’s glory should be central. And as we gather to lift our hearts to him in praise he is doing a work of transformation in us that is bringing us from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18)!
In chapter five, John continues his description of what he sees taking place in heaven. But even more than that, his vision establishes why any of us are here this morning. While chapter four describes heavenly worship and what takes place in worship, chapter five gives us the grounds for worship. Why do any of us have access to worship God?
Read Rev. 5:1-7
I. WHO IS WORTHY TO OPEN THE SCROLL? (1-2)
These opening verses pose the problem humanity faces. After all that God the Creator has done for us, how can we be right with him? He is worthy to receive our worship, but are we worthy to offer it?
The scroll with seven seals is resting in God’s sovereign right hand (1). Before we address the primary question of finding one worthy to open the scroll, we need to ask: What is the scroll? It is written, front and back, with the words of God’s revelation. The picture is reminiscent of the scroll Ezekiel would take and eat which contained “words of lamentation and mourning and woe” written “on the front and on the back” (Ezek 2:9-10). The message is full. There is no room to add anything else.
The only other place where a sealed scroll is mentioned is found in Daniel. There, God told Daniel to seal up the contents of his vision for their reveal in the latter-days (Dan. 12:4). Revelation is speaking of the fulfillment of that promise given to Daniel. It seems best to understand the contents of the scroll to be God’s eternal plan, including all of human history. As each successive seal is broken another portion of redemptive history is revealed. What we will see in chapter six is that the scroll contains words of judgment.
The breaking of each of the seven seals results in judgment, but they are followed by the blessing of heavenly worship in chapter seven. This is consistent with the contents of the books in Daniel and Ezekiel. The scroll that was initially bitter for Ezekiel to eat, became sweet in his mouth (Ezek. 2:9-3:3; cf. Rev. 10:9). Warnings of judgment are followed by promises of salvation for God’s people. A remnant is preserved in every case. In Revelation, the judgment of the wicked is followed by heavenly rejoicing (Rev. 7), the inheritance we were predestined to enjoy (Eph. 1:11).
All of God’s sovereign decrees are contained in this scroll and they are sealed until one comes who is worthy to open it. That is who the “mighty angel” is calling upon (2). Who is worthy to open the scroll and break the seals? In other words, who is capable of executing God’s eternal decrees? Seals are the wax binding that keeps the contents of a letter safe. They serve to authenticate the author of the contents as well as limit the intended audience. Only those with the proper authority were permitted to break the seal.
In this case, the seals are keeping the contents mysterious, but they are also preventing them from being carried out. There is a connection between the opening of the scroll and the fulfillment of their contents. Greg Beale points to Daniel 12:8-9 as an example of the same thing. Whoever is worthy to open the scroll must also be ready and able to execute its contents.
Put yourself in John’s position for a moment. Your senses have been overwhelmed by the immense display of God’s glory at the center of the throne. You hear the hymns of the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders declaring the holiness and worthiness of God. And now there is a critical task that must be assigned.
You hear the mighty angel thunder this question to everyone present, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” You want to be able to say, “Here am I” just like Isaiah was able to declare after God anointed and appointed him to be his prophet (Isa. 6:8). But you know that your sin has disqualified you from this task. If you are a member of this church, you have already acknowledged this before the rest of the congregation. The first vow of church membership asks:
Do you acknowledge yourselves to be sinners in the sight of God, justly deserving His displeasure, and without hope save in His sovereign mercy?
Like John, we are in no place to open this scroll. Our sin has disqualified us. As those who deserve to bear the wrath of God we are in no position to execute that wrath upon the wicked.
Can anyone answer that question differently?
II. NO ONE WAS WORTHY TO OPEN THE SCROLL (3-4)
Not only was their no human representative worthy to open the scroll, but there was “no one in heaven…or under the earth” who “was able to open the scroll” either (3). There was not a single representative, dead or alive, who was found to be worthy. Heavenly creatures were sinless, but incapable of representing humanity.
All creatures on earth were sinful and thus disqualified from representing humanity. No one does good, all are corrupt (Psalm 14:3; Ro 3:10-12, 33). No one alive is righteous before God (Psalm 143:2). Everyone sins (Ec 7:20). The situation leaves John feeling hopeless. With a sense of great despair, John begins to weep loudly (4). The pervasive nature of total depravity has left everyone unworthy.
Philip Hughes Nothing is more lamentable than the fact that by our own ungodliness we have deprived ourselves of all worthiness.
But, the scroll had to be opened in order to complete this phase of redemptive history. And John sees that no one is able to do so. In other words, the kingdom of God will never reach the fullness of glory in the new heavens and new earth, if this scroll remains unopened. This leaves the apostle in deep mourning.
Beeke Every time you find an apostle weeping in the New Testament, it is because he is burdened with his need for forgiveness or the need of the world for forgiveness.
Grieving over sin is an integral part of true repentance. The apostles model by their own example the way we should react to our own sin, or the sin of others. Do you weep over your sin or have you grown comfortable with it? Is sin your enemy or your ally? Do you cry out for the Lord’s forgiveness or do you presume upon his grace and treat your sin flippantly?
John provides an example of repentance. He weeps over his own sin, and the sin of all mankind which had left none worthy. However, even true repentance is empty if the mercy of God remains inaccessible.
Only one thing can turn our sorrow over sin into joy and laughter…
III. THE LAMB IS WORTHY TO OPEN THE SCROLL (5-7)
An elder informs John that “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Gen. 49:9-10) and “the Root of David” (Isa. 11:1, 10; Ro 15:12) can open the scroll and its seals because he has conquered (5). This is a past conquering that the Lion achieved. When John turns to see the Lion, his eyes fall upon a Lamb (6)! Although the Lamb looks like it had been slain, it is in fact very much alive, standing in the midst of the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders! The Lamb is standing somewhere near the center ready to approach the throne (7).
The lamb was associated with the suffering servant who made no defense against his oppressors (Isa. 53:7; Mt 26:63; 27:14; Lk 23:9). John the Baptist identified Jesus as “the Lamb of God” (Jn 1:29, 36). Paul referred to Jesus as “our Passover Lamb” (1 Co 5:7). And Peter speaks of the blood of Christ being like that of “a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Pe 1:19). Therefore, the reference to Jesus as the Lamb implies both his suffering and the victory he achieved for the deliverance of God’s people.
With the description of the Lamb “standing, as though it had been slain,” we cannot help but equate the victory with the Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross. However, Christ’s victory includes the entire phase of his earthly life; his birth, death, resurrection, and ascension. This concept is recapitulated in Rev. 12:7-11. This is why Jesus already possessed “the keys of Death and Hades” (Rev. 1:18).
This Lion-Lamb has conquered sin and death by suffering his own death. He has fulfilled the promise of Gen. 3:15. The seed of the woman has received a mortal wound to the heel while crushing the head of the serpent. That was the only way that he could become our Redeemer.
He is standing as though slain with seven horns and seven eyes (Zec 4:10; Rev 1:4). Seven represents the number of completion or perfection. Horns are associated with power (Psalm 89:17; 92:10; Dan. 7:8; 8:3). Eyes are associated with knowledge or insight, but immediately connected with the Holy Spirit. Putting this all together we see the omnipotent and omniscient Lamb, in harmony with the Spirit whose eyes govern every square inch of creation, prepared to take the scroll from the hand of God the Father (7).
Christ alone has the authority to take dominion over all creation! Thus, he has also fulfilled the vision of the “son of man” coming to the throne of God to receive all authority in Dan. 7:13. He is the Sovereign King represented as a “branch” that came forth as “a shoot from the stump of Jesse” (Isa. 11:1). He is the suffering servant who was “pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities” (Isa. 53:4).
The Lamb did not need to ask for permission to take the scroll because he had already satisfied the righteous requirements of the law in his active and passive obedience. In his substitutionary death on the cross, Jesus became worthy to carry out the final judgment of the wicked and the final redemption of his bride.
Although no one from God’s creation in heaven, on earth, and under the earth was found worthy to open the scroll, all of them will bow before Jesus and confess him as Lord (Php 2:9-11).
Chapter five shows us why any of us have access to come before the throne of God and worship at his feet. In order to worship God the Creator (ch. 4), we must know God the Redeemer (ch. 5).
The second vow of church membership says:
Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and Savior of sinners, and do you receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation as He is offered in the Gospel?
Christ alone is worthy to open the scroll of God’s eternal plan because he alone was the perfect satisfaction for sin. He was the only Lamb whose perfect sacrifice satisfied the justice of God.
In light of that reality, the only proper response is what we see happening in the rest of the chapter. A united chorus of praise and adoration for the Lamb who is worthy. May we join them in our song of response after we thank him in prayer.