Study Notes/Outline: Revelation 5
The Scroll with 7 Seals and the One Who Is Worthy to Open It
Revelation 5: 1-14 “Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4 and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” 6 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. 8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice,
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”
13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.”
Who is seated on the throne? And what is in his hand?
None other than the eternal one, the Lord God almighty. In chapter 4 John describes what he sees when he looks at the almighty, but the details are sparse. He claims to see a being who is exceedingly bright, shining with all sorts of colors emanating from his presence, colors like jasper, carnelian, and emerald (there is an emerald rainbow surrounding his throne). Certainly, the words of our Lord Jesus ring true: “no one has seen God” (John 1:18), but that’s not because he hasn’t appeared. He has appeared to many people. But they can never describe exactly what they see. God is so magnificent and beautiful, so holy and otherworldly, that all John can do is describe the bright colors emanating forth from him. Certainly, even though John looked upon the eternal one, the words of the apostle Paul ring true: “who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion,” (1 Timothy 6:16).
In the “hand” of God, there is a scroll. I am not sure what John saw when he looked upon God’s “hand,” but there can be little doubt that the eternal one had something in his possession. There is precedent in Scripture for divine hands appearing out of thin air (see Daniel 5), but we can’t be certain exactly what John beheld when he saw what appeared to be the hand of the almighty. We can be certain, however, of what was in God’s hand: a scroll…
What is the scroll in God’s right hand, and why is it sealed with seven seals?
Why is no one able to open the scroll?
The scroll represents the book of God’s judgments (a scroll back then is equivalent to a book to us today – it is the Greek word biblos (βιβλος)). It is sealed with seven seals because there are seven judgments, or periods of judgment, about to fall upon the world. When I say, “about to fall,” what I mean is that these judgments are the seven events that will take place during the Great Tribulation. God has said previously that he would never again destroy humanity via a flood (see Genesis 6-8), and that remains true. During the great tribulation, many terrible things will happen on the earth, all of them byproducts of God’s final judgment on the people of the earth and their sinfulness. However, what is unique about the Great Tribulation is the position of God’s people during this time. As we will see, God’s people act altogether different than any other group that has existed on earth during other dark periods in human history. During the Great Tribulation, the people of God follow the example of their lord by “conquering” in the same way he did: not through violence and bloodshed, but through submission and surrender. Not through power and might, but through humility and suffering.
The scroll being held by the almighty here represents the periods of judgment about to commence on the earth, and the Lamb is the one fit to open its seals (he is the one able to inaugurate the Great Tribulation) because his blood has prepared a people fit to endure, overcome, and remain obedient to the Lord during the worst time in human history. He has already overcome and conquered. He will now open the seven seals of judgment so that the world can be judged and the bride prepared for him can do the same thing – overcome.
Jesus is referred to in verse 5 as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. But in verse 6 John turns to see the one able to open the scrolls, and behold, it’s a lamb! And not just a lamb, but a slain lamb at that. So, which is it? Is Jesus a lion or a lamb?
Herein lies perhaps the greatest paradox of the Christian faith (and there are many): the lion is a lamb. Jesus overcame not by force, but by death; he conquered not by violence, but martyrdom; he saved his people not by destroying their enemies, but by dying for them. We, his followers, are called to walk in the same manner. Thus, the judgments of Revelation (those coming on the world) act in a twofold manner: they present the people of God, the bride of the Lamb, the opportunity to be fully and completely purified before her eventual marriage to the bridegroom. As mentioned, the Great Tribulation represents the greatest time in human history for disciples of Jesus to follow him in the most sensational, effectual way possible. By overcoming in the same manner he did, not by force but through surrender.
But also, it is important to remember that John doesn’t see a living lamb, but a slaughtered one. Just as the blood of the Lamb saved the people of Israel from the fiery trial that fell upon Egypt, so the blood of the Lamb will save the people of God from the trials coming upon the world. Many saints will be martyred during the Great Tribulation; many also will be preserved and kept safe from disaster. No matter the fate that befalls individual believers – preservation of natural life or martyrdom – ultimately, the same fate awaits each of us. For at the end of the worst seven years of human history, the king will return and will resurrect all those who have “slept” in him. In a sense, we will all be “resurrected,” transformed and united into the holy, sanctified bride that has been finally prepared for her husband. Like with the Egyptians and their plagues, the judgments falling on the earth during the tribulation not only serve to “save” the people of God through purification and restoration, but they also serve as a woe and rebuke toward the nations of the world who have been oppressing God’s people for so long.
The slaughtered lamb has seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God. What is all this about?
Typically, horns represent power. Often the word “lamb” gives the impression that throughout Passover History, the animal offered in sacrifice was a small, cuddly, wooly little creature that was altogether harmless. While the contrast between lion and lamb is intentionally drastic, Passover lambs were not typically within the realm of your grandchild’s favorite stuffed animal. The traditional Passover “lamb” was a young male sheep one-year-old, and with horns. Not the type of animal you’d leave alone with your toddler. Here, the slaughtered lamb has seven horns and seven eyes which equate to the seven spirits of God. This is the third time in Revelation the seven spirits of God have been mentioned (1:4/4:5).
This is a reference to two Old Testament passages: Isaiah 11 and Zechariah 4. You need to know both to understand the analogy here. In Isaiah 11, the sevenfold spirit that would rest upon the future king of Israel is described: the spirit of the Lord, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and the fear of the Lord:
Isaiah 11: 1-5 “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. 2 And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, 4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5 Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.”
In Zechariah, the stone is the Lamb of God who removes iniquities:
Zechariah 3:8-10;4:6 “8 Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch. 9 For behold, on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares the Lord of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day. 10 In that day, declares the Lord of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor to come under his vine and under his fig tree…”
“6 Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.”
So, with both of these allusions in tow, we understand that the lamb with seven horns is a reference to the sevenfold spirit that rests upon the king, and the seven eyes represent the stone laid down by the Lord which removes iniquity. Remember, though, that while horns most often represent power, the power here is the power of the Spirit, as also referenced in the context of Zechariah’s prophecy.
The Whole Message Encapsulated…
“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9-10).
The rest of the chapter depicts everyone in heaven giving praise, honor, and worship to the Lamb who now shares the throne with the one seated on it. The fact that Jesus has earned a spot on the throne, within the boundaries of the four living creatures who stand watch around the throne, and is a recipient of the worship being offered to the throne, tells us everything we need to know about how Jesus is received by the Lord’s heaven. If that weren’t enough, upon taking the scroll from the hand of the one seated on the throne, the Lamb is then offered up the prayers of the saints by the angels in heaven. Several pre-New Testament Jewish traditions depict an angel (Michael) or a host of angels, offering up to God the prayers and righteous deeds of the saints in a large bowl. Here, those prayers are offered to the Lamb, the one who is about to begin opening the scroll.
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” 14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped" (Revelation 5:13-14).