ONLY JESUS IN HIS MESSIANIC ROLE AS VICTORIOUS KING CAN BE JUDGED WORTHY TO REVEAL THE DIVINE SECRETS OF END TIME JUDGMENTS AND ULTIMATE REDEMPTION
Van Parunak: The chapter has four sections, each introduced by καὶ εἶδον G1492 (translated “and I saw” or “and I beheld”). . .
700 years earlier, when Daniel asked for the meaning of his last vision, he was told that its interpretation was shut up and sealed until the end:
Dan. 12:4 But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased. … 8 And I heard, but I understood not: then said I, O my Lord, what shall be the end of these things? 9 And he said, Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end.
The sealed scroll may be this promised interpretation. God promised Daniel that the book would be sealed “till the time of the end.” That time has now come, and the book is about to be opened.
Buist Fanning: The first phase (5:1) connects the further parts of the vision to the central figure of chapter 4 (the Lord God sitting on his heavenly throne), but sets the stage for new developments by introducing the seven-sealed scroll in God’s right hand. The second phase (5:2–5) poses the challenge of the scroll: Is anyone in heaven or on earth worthy to open it? The third phase (5:6–10) constitutes the dramatic high point of the chapter, the revelation of Jesus Christ as the slain Lamb who alone is qualified to open the scroll (vv. 6–7) and the heavenly worship that acknowledges his redemptive sacrifice and its cosmic significance (vv. 8–10). An ever-widening crescendo of praise, to the Lord God and to the Lamb, continues this response as the final phase of the vision (5:11–14).
John Walvoord: John is now introduced to an item of central importance: a book that contains the prophecy of impending events to be unfolded in Revelation. The book is actually a scroll that is given prominence by the fact that it is in the right hand of God. The importance and comprehensive character of the revelation contained is indicated by the fact that the book is written on both sides of the parchment. Further, the document is made impressive by seven seals, apparently fixed on the edges of the scroll in such a way that the seals must be successively broken if the scroll is to be unrolled and read. Wills in the Roman world were sometimes sealed seven times1, although the number may also simply represent the importance and completely inviolable nature of the scroll. If this is a will, it is a reference to the inheritance that Christ will receive from His Father, which is the kingdom (cf. Ps. 2).
David Thompson: When one comes to Revelation 5, one comes to one of the most majestic, Christological chapters in the entire Bible. This is a Christ exalting chapter and a chapter in which God the Father turns all authority and judgment publicly over to God the Son.
Chapters 4-5 of Revelation are designed to show that God is on His Throne and is Sovereign over everything and He and He alone has the Righteousness and worth to be able to pour out judgment. Revelation 5 shows that Jesus Christ is sovereign over everything and He and He alone has the Righteousness and worth to be able to pour out judgment.
Only God is worshipped at the Throne of God, and since this chapter shows that Jesus Christ is worshipped at the Throne of God and that He is the One authorized to pour out God’s judgment, this is a great chapter that proves Jesus Christ is God.
Kendell Easley: John hears an announcement that Christ alone is worthy and able to break the seals and open the Judgment Scroll written and sealed up by God, for only Christ can enact the coming judgments. . . This is God’s Judgment Scroll, his plan long ago made to condemn wickedness and reward righteousness. If God is the one who made the plan, then God’s Son is the only one worthy to enact the plan.
I. (:1) THE CONCEALING OF THE CONTENTS OF THE SCROLL BY 7 SEALS
A. Sovereignty and Majesty of God the Father
“And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne”
Buist Fanning: The reference to “the one sitting on the throne” (cf. 4:2, 3, 9, 10) shows that the new phases of the vision are built directly on the image of the sovereignty and majesty of God just seen in chapter 4. This connection is important not only for the arrangement of chapter 5 but also its theology, since it maintains the focus on God’s heavenly rule over all things (e.g., God’s “throne” mentioned 17x in chs. 4–5) and anticipates the establishment of his rule on the earth in full measure. . . The scroll itself represents God’s sovereign plan for his creation (as discussed below), and the fact that God holds it in his hand suggests that he initiates and controls the events recorded in it (the detail of the “right” hand may reinforce the point, since the right side often represents the position of ruling, delegated authority; cf. Rev 1:16, 17, 20; 2:1; Ps 110:1).
Robert Thomas: The position of the scroll in God’s possession indicates its divine source, the supreme authority of the revelation contained in it, and the assurance of adequate power to translate its contents into action.
B. Scroll Containing the Full Account of God’s Kingdom Agenda
“a book written inside and on the back,”
Cf. Ezek. 2:9 And when I looked, behold, an hand was sent unto me; and, lo, a roll of a book was therein; 10 And he spread it before me; and it was written within and without: and there was written therein lamentations, and mourning, and woe.
William Barclay: The roll was made of papyrus, manufactured in single sheets about ten inches by eight. The sheets were joined together horizontally when a great deal of writing had to be done. The writing was in narrow columns about three inches long, with margins of about two and a half inches at the top and at the bottom, and with about three-quarters of an inch between the columns. The roll usually had a wooden roller at each end. It was held in the left hand, unrolled with the right, and, as the reading went on, the part in the left hand was rolled up again. We may get some idea of the dimensions of a roll from the following statistics. The books of 2 and 3 John, Jude and Philemon would each occupy one sheet of papyrus; Romans would require a roll 11½ feet long; Mark, 19 feet; John, 23½ feet; Matthew, 30 feet; Luke and Acts, 32 feet. Revelation itself would occupy a roll 15 feet long. . .
Papyrus was a substance made from the pith of a bulrush which grew in the delta of the Nile. The bulrush was about fifteen feet high, with six feet of it below the water; and it was as thick as someone’s wrist. The pith was extracted and cut into thin strips with a very sharp knife. A row of strips was laid vertically; on the top of them another row of strips was laid horizontally; the whole was then moistened with Nile water and glue and pressed together. The resulting substance was beaten with a mallet and then smoothed with pumice stone; and a substance emerged which was not unlike brown paper.
Robert Thomas: The “spill-over” onto the back symbolizes the fullness of the contents. The decrees of God contained herein are extensive and comprehensive. They constitute the whole counsel of God regarding the future of the world. No further revelation may be anticipated (cf. Rev. 22:18) (Scott).
Buist Fanning: This indicates that it contains a full, comprehensive account of its subject matter. Scrolls were normally written only on the inside, but because writing materials were expensive, the reverse side was sometimes used if the contents extended beyond the limits that the front side could hold.
Daniel Akin: Of course the question is, what is the scroll? Many different answers have been given:
(1) a title deed to the earth;
(2) a last will and testament;
(3) Ezekiel’s book of lamentation, mourning, and woe (2:9-10);
(4) the sealed book of the end time in Daniel 12:4.
I am sympathetic to both options 3 and 4. However, there may be a much simpler answer: it is the remainder of the book of Revelation (chs. 6–22). Don Carson says it is a book of “blessing and cursing” (“Rev. 5”). I like that but would expand it to three categories: it is a book of judgment, salvation, and restoration:
- Judgment—seals (v. 6), trumpets (vv. 8-9), bowls (vv. 15-16), lake of fire (20:11-15)
- Salvation—Jew and Gentile (vv. 7,14; 19:1-10)
- Restoration—new heaven, new earth, new Jerusalem (vv. 21-22).
God has a definite plan for history and its consummation. It is mapped out. It is set. It will not fail (Johnson, Revelation, 1983, 74–75).
John MacArthur: While Roman wills were sealed up with seven seals, this scroll is not a will but a deed or contract. Dr. Robert L. Thomas explains:
This kind of contract was known all over the Middle East in ancient times and was used by the Romans from the time of Nero on. The full contract would be written on the inner pages and sealed with seven seals. Then the content of the contract would be described briefly on the outside. All kinds of transactions were consummated this way, including marriage-contracts, rental and lease agreements, release of slaves, contract-bills, and bonds. Support also comes from Hebrew practices. The Hebrew document most closely resembling this scroll was a title-deed that was folded and signed, requiring at least three witnesses. A portion of text would be written, folded over and sealed, with a different witness signing at each fold. A larger number of witnesses meant that more importance was assigned to the document. (Revelation 1–7: An Exegetical Commentary [Chicago: Moody, 1992], 378)
The scroll John saw in God’s hand is the title deed to the earth, which He will give to Christ. Unlike other such deeds, however, it does not record the descriptive detail of what Christ will inherit, but rather how He will regain His rightful inheritance. He will do so by means of the divine judgments about to be poured out on the earth (6:1ff.). While the scroll is a scroll of doom and judgment, it is also a scroll of redemption. It tells how Christ will redeem the world from the usurper, Satan, and those men and demons who have collaborated with him.
David Thompson: This scroll is not new to Revelation. This scroll is a critical scroll to God’s prophecy and prophetic program:
1) Isaiah saw but did not read it (Is. 29:11-12).
2) Ezekiel saw it and did read it (Ez. 2:9-10).
3) Daniel saw it, read it and sealed it (Dan. 12:4, 9).
4) John saw it and will reveal it (Rev. 5:1ff).
C. Seals Protecting the Contents This Important Revelation
“sealed up with seven seals.”
Grant Osborne: The purpose of the seals here is to keep the contents secret until the time of fulfillment, a common apocalyptic theme (Dan. 8:26; 12:9).
Van Parunak: The seals have at least three functions.
- First, a seal makes the contents of the document inaccessible. We expect from 4:1 (“I will show thee things which must be hereafter”) that the scroll has to do with future events, but God reserves for himself the knowledge of his future purposes. This was the purpose for which God told Daniel to seal the book: Dan. 12:4; Acts 1:6; Rom. 11:33
- Second, a seal clearly identifies the one writer of the document, like a modern signature. 1 Kings 21:8
- Third, a seal warns against tampering. Anyone who breaks it must answer to the one who has sealed it. Dan. 6:17; Matt. 27:66
How is the scroll sealed?
- Most commentators (e.g., Swete, Mounce, Thomas) understand that as each seal is broken, another portion of the scroll is read, leading to the judgments of chapter 6. But this would require a method of sealing unknown in the ancient world, and we will see that the judgments of chapter 6 are not in fact sealed from knowledge, for the Lord Jesus already revealed them in Matthew 24!
- It would be more in keeping with sealed scrolls known from the ancient world for all of the seals to be on the outside, so that nothing in the book can be read until all are opened, a position advocated by Alford and supported by Bauckham, Osborne, Plummer, and Gundry. The judgments reflect the breaking of the seals, not the contents of the scroll. The contents of the scroll come later, after chapter 10, when the scroll, now unsealed, appears again.
Robert Thomas: The manner in which the seals were affixed remains a question. The common way of sealing a scroll was to place its seal or seals on the outer edge so that they all had to be broken before any of the scroll’s content could be read (Moffatt; Beckwith). Further, someone has observed that this is the only way John could have seen all seven (Johnson). Yet, is it? The seals could have been clearly visible at one end (i.e., longitudinal edge) of the scroll, though spaced at intervals throughout the inner part of the roll (Alford). Though contrary to known customs of the day, this is the only explanation that harmonizes with the progressive nature of the revelation associated with the breaking of the seals, one by one (Walvoord; Mounce). As each seal is broken and the next section of the scroll unrolled to permit viewing, the clear implication of the text is that the dramatization that follows represents that portion of the scroll. The beginning of the scroll’s enactment does not await the opening of all seven seals fastened along the single outer extremity of the papyrus roll. It is granted that nothing is read verbatim from the scroll, but with the severing of each successive seal, part of the scroll’s contents is revealed in prophetic symbolism. Picturing the seals at one end of the scroll is most probable.
II. (:2-5) THE CHALLENGE OF OPENING THE SCROLL
A. (:2) Problem: Is Anyone Worthy to Open the Scroll?
- Angelic Dramatization
“And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice,”
John MacArthur: Some identify him as Gabriel, others as Michael, but since the text does not name him, he must remain anonymous. He spoke with a loud voice so that his proclamation would penetrate to every corner of the universe. The angel sought someone both worthy and able to open the book and to break its seals. Who, he asked, has the innate, virtuous worthiness of character and the divine right that would qualify him to break the seals? And who has the power to defeat Satan and his demon hosts, to wipe out sin and its effects, and to reverse the curse on all of creation?
- Key Question
“Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?”
Buist Fanning: The adjective “worthy” (ἄξιος) carries the basic meaning of “fit, deserving,” but it is filled in significantly by its contextual usage, especially in Revelation 4:11 and 5:9, 12. This is not so much a moral or spiritual worthiness in the normal sense but a status, rank, or eminence gained by a combination of inherent being or nature and the accomplishment of actions that accord with and flow from that nature. So in 4:11, the Lord God Almighty is proclaimed “worthy” of worship because he alone is the creator and sustainer of all things: this comes from his inherent being as God Almighty, but both his nature and his concordant actions are celebrated. In 5:9, 12 a similar status or rank is accorded to the Lamb because of his inherent nature and his redemptive accomplishment on the cross.
The order of the infinitives “to open . . . and break” (v. 2b) seems backward, but the “and” (καί) here is explanatory, denoting not order of occurrence but complementary parts of the same action (“to open . . . by breaking” or “to open . . . , that is, to break”).
Robert Thomas: The best resolution is to refer the worthiness to both Christ’s office and His moral competency. In 5:9 the explicit statement is that His worthiness is based on His redemptive death, and in 5:5 it is strongly implied that His worthiness is tied to His Messianic office. The two aspects of His Person cannot be separated.
B. (:3-4) Frustration: When Nobody Was Found Worthy
- (:3) Unworthiness of All Created Beings
“And no one in heaven, or on the earth, or under the earth,
was able to open the book, or to look into it.”
Buist Fanning: The absolute failure to find anyone worthy to open the scroll (repeated in v. 4) anticipates the unique status of the Lamb recognized in vv. 5–10. Theologically this shows how futile and meaningless all of history ultimately is apart from Christ. Human destiny, and that of the universe, hinges on the person and work of Jesus Christ.
- (:4) Unfulfilled Expectations Create Great Frustration and Sorrow
“And I began to weep greatly,
because no one was found worthy to open the book, or to look into it;”
Buist Fanning: The scroll then represents the divine plan for redemption and restoration through Christ. It “symbolizes God’s salvific plan, to assert his sovereignty over a rebellious world, and to achieve his loving purposes in creation through the victory of the Lamb.” As long as it remains sealed, these purposes cannot be made known and cannot be fulfilled. But through Christ’s victory on the cross (5:9–10) and his revelation through John (cf. 1:1–2), God’s purposes are to be unveiled and accomplished. No wonder John wept when it seemed this was impossible (5:4); no wonder all creation erupted in worship and adoration when Christ’s victory was made clear (5:8–14). . .
John’s reason for crying is not just foiled curiosity, the pang of disappointment at not being privy to the scroll’s contents. In view of the cosmic significance of this scroll, his bitter grief is over the apparent frustration of God’s redemptive purpose. It is the deep lament shared by God’s people through the ages, including his readers in the first-century, when everything they have hoped and prayed for under God seems to have come to nothing. Fortunately for John, such weeping lasts only for a season, and what reassures John should give all God’s people renewed courage and faith as well.
Kendell Easley: John regretted that God’s righteous judgments against evil appeared to be postponed indefinitely.
C. (:5) Solution: Judah’s Victorious Lion Is Found Worthy
- Turning Point
“and one of the elders said to me, ‘Stop weeping;’”
William Barclay: We are now approaching one of the most dramatic moments in Revelation – the emergence of the Lamb in the centre of the scene. Certain things lead up to it.
John has been weeping because there is no one to whom God may reveal his secrets. One of the elders, acting as the messenger of Christ, comes to him, saying: ‘Do not weep.’ These words were more than once on the lips of Jesus in the days of his earthly life. That is what he said to the widow of Nain when she was mourning her dead son (Luke 7:13), and to Jairus and his family when they were lamenting for their little girl (Luke 8:52). The comforting voice of Christ is still speaking in the heavenly places. H. B. Swete makes an interesting comment on this passage. John was weeping, and yet his tears were unnecessary. Human grief often springs from insufficient knowledge. If we had patience to wait and trust, we would see that God has his own solutions for the situations which bring us tears.
The elder tells John that Jesus Christ has won such a victory that he is able to open the book and to loosen the seals. That means three things. It means that, because of his victory over death and all the powers of evil and because of his complete obedience to God, he is able to know God’s secrets; he is able to reveal God’s secrets; and it is his privilege and duty to control the things which shall be. Because of what Jesus did, he is the Lord of truth and of history.
- Two Messianic Titles
a. Lion from Tribe of Judah
“behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah,”
David Thompson: This description is taken from Genesis 49:8-10, 12. Jacob is pronouncing a blessing on his 12 sons and the promised blessing to Judah is that through him One would come who would gather Israel and crush all enemies and rule over all people of the world.
The lion is the king of the beast and Jesus Christ is the King of everything, including lions. Every force against God and against Israel will go down by the judgmental hand of Jesus Christ.
S. Lewis Johnson: And so the idea of a Redeemer, a “Marshal Redeemer” one who would overcome in battle from the tribe of Judah is of course the story of biblical prophecy. The titles portray him then as a king with a universal reign, and furthermore with a reign that will touch all of the nations. A worldwide kingdom. Someone has said, “The lion is at home in a fight”, and what we have is a fight with the forces of evil and the forces of darkness, and our Lord is set forth here under the name, the lion of the tribe of Judah, to indicate that he will overcome. He’s the lion of the tribe of Judah, he is the root of David, and he has prevailed. Incidentally, when he says he is root of David, it means not simply that he is descended from David, but as a matter of fact he is the one who gives David his authority and power.
b. Root of David
“the Root of David,”
John Schultz: The expression is repeated in the last chapter of this book: “I am the Root and the Offspring of David.” The fruit does not carry the root, but the root produces the fruit. We can, therefore, say that, in a sense, David is Jesus’ offspring as “the man after God’s own heart.” That is implied in what is said here.
Buist Fanning: The note of mighty victory is clear in the two messianic titles used in the subject phrase (v. 5c): “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” and “the Shoot of David.” “The Lion of the tribe of Judah” is Jacob’s portrayal of one of Judah’s descendants with the strength and ferocity of a lion, who will wield the scepter of rule over his enemies and to whom the nations will render obedience (Gen 49:8–10). “The Shoot of David” (ἡ ῥίζα Δαυίδ) is a title drawn from Isaiah 11:1–10, where the phrase is actually “the root of Jesse” (ἡ ῥίζα [τοῦ] Ἰεσσαί; vv. 1, 10; cf. Rom 15:12). But the passage speaks of a coming “shoot” or “branch” (ῥάβδος) as well as a “flower” (ἄνθος) springing from Jesse’s stock (v. 1; i.e., new growth coming up from what appears to be his dead stump—clearly a restoration of David’s line), anointed and equipped by the Lord’s Spirit (v. 2), exerting righteous judgment and peaceful rule over the whole earth (vv. 3–9), including the gentile nations as well as the exiles of Israel regathered from the corners of the earth (vv. 10–12). Jesus’s connection with Judah and especially David is widely noted in the New Testament (Matt 1:1, 17; Mark 11:10; 12:35–37; Luke 1:32; 2:11; Acts 2:22–36; 13:32–41; Rom 1:3; 2 Tim 2:8; Heb 7:14) and referred to elsewhere in Revelation as well (3:7; 22:16; cf. also 19:11–16 with further allusions to Isa 11:4).
Kendell Easley: The two titles of Jesus, then, point in the direction of both his deity (as the ultimate divine source of David) and his humanity (as the royal lion from Judah).
- Triumph of the One Worthy to Open the Scroll
“has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.’”
Robert Thomas: The purpose of Jesus’ victory is expressed by anoixai (“that He may open”). This is a shade different from calling the opening a result of His victorious redemptive work, because at the time of winning the victory the result was only anticipated. It is also better to see the opening as a purpose of rather than what constitutes the victory, because the significance of the opening of the seals is far-reaching, including also the implementation of what is revealed. The opening of the scroll is best seen as the object or purpose of Jesus’ conquest. The reason He won the victory was to enable Him to open this scroll of destiny and its seals and implement God’s purposes throughout the final stages of human history (Charles).