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Revelation 5:1

Having seen the Father and His glorious throne, John’s attention is now drawn to a scroll held in the Father’s hand. The redeeming Lamb takes the scroll and prepares to open its seals, initiating God’s judgments in the Day of the Lord and beginning the reclamation of the earth in preparation for God’s direct rule.

And I saw
John’s focus now shifts from the details of the throne and the living creatures and elders to that which lays upon the right hand of “Him who sat on the throne.” The scene which presents itself to John is among the most sublime in all of Scripture. If Isaiah Isa. 53:1 can be said to be the “holy of holies” of the OT, then perhaps Revelation Rev. 5:1+ holds that honor in the NT.

Where, in all the revelations of eternity, is there another such a scene? Where, in all the disclosures of God, and His awful administrations, is there another such a picture, or another such a crisis? Search the book of inspiration from end to end, and you will find no parallel to it.1


right hand
The side of favor and strength (Ps. Ps. 20:6; Ps. 74:11; Ps. 80:17; Ps. 89:13; Ps. 98:1). This is the side at which the Son is seated awaiting His kingdom (Ps. Ps. 110:1; Dan. Dan. 7:13-14; Mark Mark 16:19; Acts Acts 5:31; Acts 7:55; Eph. Eph. 1:20; Col. Col. 3:1; Heb. Heb. 1:3; Heb. 10:12) and making intercession for His Church (Rom. Rom. 8:34). Jesus is seated “with My Father on His throne” (Rev. Rev. 3:21+) and shares the power and reign of the Father (Rev. Rev. 5:13+; Rev. 6:16+; Rev. 7:10+ cf. 1K. 1K. 2:19). The long period of waiting while He remains seated is about to come to an end.

on the throne
The position from which the Father rules the affairs of His universe (Ps. Ps. 47:8; Isa. Isa. 6:1; Dan. Dan. 7:9-10). The throne pictures both sovereignty and judgment (Rev. Rev. 20:11+).

a scroll
βιβλίον [biblion] , also rendered book (Rev. Rev. 1:11+; Rev. 3:5+; Rev. 13:8+; Rev. 17:8+; Rev. 20:12+; Rev. 20:15+; Rev. 21:27+; Rev. 22:7+, Rev. 22:9-10+, Rev. 22:18-19+). Later, a mighty angel appears with a little book βιβλαρίδιον [biblaridion] and cries out at which seven thunders utter their voices. John is told to seal up the things which the seven thunders utter and not write them (Rev. Rev. 10:4+). The angel then declares (even swears) that “in the days of the sounding of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, the mystery of God would be finished, as He declared to His servants the prophets.” (Rev. Rev. 10:6+). John is then commanded to eat the little book which will be sweet to the taste but bitter in the stomach. The book given to John, like that eaten by Ezekiel (Eze. Eze. 2:9-Eze. 3:5), apparently contains prophetic pronouncements of God, of woe and judgment, which must come to pass (Rev. Rev. 10:9-11+). There are similarities between this scroll and these other books. This scroll is also sealed. Great prophetic streams find their fulfillment in the opening of the scroll. These similarities have led some to suggest that the sealed scroll primarily contains prophetic information previously unrevealed which is now made known through the things shown John.

What ought we to look for as the first thing, in the Apocalypse, which , as we have seen, has the end of the “many days” and “the time of the end” for its great subject, but the unsealing of this book, the sealing of which is so prominently spoken of in the book of Daniel? . . . We take it therefore that the opening of the seals of this book is the enlargement, development, and continuation of the Book of Daniel, describing, from God’s side, the judgments necessary to secure the fulfilment of all that He has foretold.2

As attractive as this explanation may be, it falls short of explaining the emphasis placed in this chapter between the right to open the book and redemption. The identification of this scroll is not found only in the fact that, like other prophetic writings, it is sealed, but also in its close association with redemption (Rev. Rev. 5:9+) and the events which follow upon the loosing of its seals. The scroll is inherently related to the fulfillment of a purchase. Ladd suggests the scroll is a form of ancient will. Heb. 9:1).”3 This view has the advantage of explaining the emphasis found here upon the death of the Lamb (Rev. Rev. 5:6+, Rev. 5:9+). The events which transpire following the loosing of the seals are directly related to Christ’s inheritance:

[Psalm Ps. 2:1-3] describe[s] the rebellious world forces gathered together to try to prevent God’s Messiah from taking tenant possession or administration of the earth. [Psalm Ps. 2:7] records that when the Messiah confronts this challenge, He will declare what God has already decreed concerning Him: “Thou art my Son.” . . . the biblical term “son” involves the concept of “heir” (Gal. Gal. 4:7). Thus, as God’s Son, the Messiah is the heir of an inheritance given to Him by God. Psalm Ps. 2:8 presents God’s description of that inheritance: “I shall give thee the nations for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.”4

Although the loosing of the seals results in the realization of the promised inheritance (Ps. Ps. 2:8), it seems that more than just a will is in view. A purchase was made at the cross, and now the deed of that purchase is being claimed by its rightful owner. While Babylon had besieged Jerusalem, God told Jeremiah to purchase a plot of ground in Israel. Even though the land had fallen to Babylon, Jeremiah’s purchase demonstrated the reality of God’s promise to restore Israel back to the land (Jer. Jer. 32:14-15, Jer. 32:43-44). There are significant parallels between Jeremiah’s deed of purchase and Messiah’s redemption described in this chapter. In both cases, a purchase was made in advance and a period intervened before the possession was fully awarded at a future date.

Although [Jeremiah] had paid the price of redemption for this cousin’s land and thereby had gained the right of tenant possession, he could not take immediate, actual possession of the land for at least two reasons. First, Jeremiah was confined in prison when he paid the price of redemption (Jer. Jer. 32:2-3, Jer. 32:8-9). Second, his cousin’s land was “already under Babylonian control” when Jeremiah paid for it. Because Israel had rebelled against God so persistently, its land inheritance had been turned over to foreigners (Lam. Lam. 5:2; Jer. Jer. 32:21-24, Jer. 32:28-36). The Jews (including Jeremiah) would be exiled to other countries, and their land would continue under enemy control for several decades; but then the Jews would be regathered to their homeland, and their land would be restored to their control (Jer. Jer. 32:15, Jer. 32:37, Jer. 32:41-44). Because he knew that actual possession of the land could not take place for many years, Jeremiah commanded that both deeds of purchase be placed in a secure place for a long time (Jer. Jer. 32:13-15).5

The purchase price has been paid, but that which has been purchased remains in the hands of usurpers. Thus, a chain of judgments are brought forth by which the purchaser takes back what He rightfully owns. In the end, the usurpers are evicted and that which has been purchased is finally in the hands of the purchaser.

The contents of the Βιβλιον [Biblion] must be brought into relation to the whole chain of judicial acts which unfold from Rev. Rev. 6:1+ on and from which there develop organically the visions of the trumpets and bowls. Hence we are not concerned merely with the 6 or 7 seals themselves, but with all the last events up to the consummation.6

The meaning of the scroll is best understood by recognizing the truth in each of these ideas:
  • A Catalog of Judgments - Judgments of lament and mourning and woe attend the opening of each seal (and the subsequent trumpets and bowls). In this, the scroll is similar to Ezekiel’s book (Eze. Eze. 2:9-10). “When the Lamb breaks the seals, it is not merely a disclosure of the scroll’s contents, but an activation of those contents.”7
  • Prophetic Revelation - As the seals are removed from the scroll, events unfold which are the fulfillment of prophetic themes found elsewhere in Scripture. When the scroll has been completely unsealed and the seventh trumpet has sounded, it is said that “the mystery of God would be finished, as He declared to His servants the prophets” (Rev. Rev. 10:7+). See Related Passages and Themes.
  • A Testament - The testamentary nature of the scroll is seen in the fact that only the slain Lamb can open it (Heb. Heb. 9:15-17; Rev. Rev. 5:9+). Opening the scroll ultimately brings about the outworking of unfulfilled promises of the New Covenant (Jer. Jer. 31:31-37; Rom. Rom. 11:26-27; etc.).
  • A Deed of Purchase - By opening of the scroll, the Lamb takes as His inheritance that which He had already purchased (Rev. Rev. 5:9+). His inheritance includes an enduring kingdom and the title deed to the earth (Ps. Ps. 2:6-8). “But what is this remarkable scroll? It is nothing less than the title deed to the earth itself. . . . it is clearly the antitype of all the rich typological teaching associated with the divinely specified procedures for land redemption in the Old Testament.”8 “The sealed scroll is the deed of purchase for mankind’s tenant possession inheritance or administration of the earth that was forfeited when mankind fell away from God. . . . a scroll deed of purchase was made when Christ paid the redemption price to redeem mankind’s tenant possession of the earth by shedding His blood on the cross.”9
As the Lamb opens the scroll, these varied aspects of its contents work in harmony to reveal the consummation of history:

Frequent references to the events of the seals, trumpets, and bowls appear throughout the remaining visions in Revelation . . . indicating that the content of the seven-sealed scroll ultimately includes the unfolding of the consummation of the mystery of all things, the goal or end of all history, for both the conquerors and the worshipers of the beast. In Rev. Rev. 10:7+ we are told that in the days of the sounding of the seventh trumpet “the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.” From this it may be concluded that the scroll contains the unveiling of “the mystery of God” that OT prophets foretold . . . Thus the “seals” conceal the mystery, which only Christ can disclose (Dan. Dan. 12:9; Rev. Rev. 10:4+), of how God’s judgment and his kingdom will come. . . . The scroll, then, is not only about judgment or about the inheritance of the kingdom, Rather it contains the announcement of the consummation of all history.10


written inside and on the back
The tablets of the Testimony containing the Ten Commandments which Moses brought from Mount Sinai were also “written on both sides; on the one side and on the other they were written.” The writing was the work of God engraved on the tablets (Ex. Ex. 32:15-16). In the previous chapter, we saw extensive parallels between the experience and vision of John and that of Ezekiel (Eze. Eze. 1:1). Here is another parallel, for Ezekiel was given a book which contained “writing on the inside and the outside, and written on it were lamentations and mourning and woe.” Legal documents are also written on both sides:

Jeremiah signed and sealed shut one copy of the scroll deed of purchase and had witnesses sign it, apparently on the outside (Jer. Jer. 32:10, Jer. 32:12). Concerning this practice, Weemse wrote, “For the manner of writing the contract, he who was to buy the ground wrote two instruments; the one to be sealed with his own signet, the other he showed unclosed to the witnesses, that they might subscribe and bear witness of that which was written. This, the witnesses did subscribe UPON THE BACK of the inclosed [sic] instrument . . . Gaston Maspero gave an example of an enclosed document being used as evidence. “Contracts stamped upon clay tablets have been found in Babylonia, enclosed in an envelope of clay, on the outside of which an exact duplicate of the contract is impressed: if in the course of time any disagreement arose and it was suspected that the outside text had been tampered with, the envelope was broken in the presence of witnesses to see if the inside text agreed with it or not.” The fact that the sealed scroll of Revelation Rev. 5:1+ had writing on both the inside and the outside (Rev. Rev. 5:1+), in the same manner as Jeremiah’s and other deeds of purchase in Israel’s land redemption system, indicates that it is a deed of purchase.11


sealed
κατεσφραγισμένον [katesphragismenon] , perfect tense passive: having been sealed. It was previously sealed and remains so. Various types of documents can be sealed. A document may contain prophetic pronouncements from the Lord concerning the future and be sealed until the time in which its contents are to be fulfilled (Dan. Dan. 8:26; Dan. 12:4-9). Other documents, such as title deeds are sealed to protect their contents from tampering until the time in which the title is claimed. Jeremiah’s deed sealed this way (Jer. Jer. 32:10-14). Until the seals are broken, the contents of the book are inaccessible—they remain an unrevealed mystery (Isa. Isa. 29:11; Dan. Dan. 8:26; Dan. 12:4-9; Rev. Rev. 10:7+). Even in our own day, when so much within Scripture has been revealed (Rev. Rev. 22:10+), God’s words remain a sealed book for many. This was the case in Isaiah’s day (Isa. Isa. 29:11-14).

seven seals
In the number seven is found the symbolism of completion. See Seven: Perfection, Completeness. Within these seven seals are found all the judgments to be poured out upon the earth and the earth dwellers as part of the redemption of creation and the Lamb taking dominion over the earth. See commentary on Revelation 5:5. All seven seals enclose the scroll as a unit. Some commentators attempt to divide the effects which flow from the opening of the seals into separate categories: the wrath of Satan versus the wrath of God. This will not do, for it is the Lamb Who is the only one found worthy to loose the seals. He alone opens all seven seals. His initiative is as fully engaged in opening of the first seal as the last.

All seven are part of the same sealed scroll; all seven have the same purpose or function with regard to that scroll; all seven will be part of the irrefutable evidence that Christ is the true Kinsman-Redeemer; all seven will be broken by Christ; and all seven will be part of the same program of Christ’s evicting Satan and his forces and taking permanent possession of the earth.12

The sequence of events which follow from the opening of these seals indicates that all the judgments which following are included within the seals:

A study of Revelation Rev. 8:1+ through 18 indicates that the seventh seal will contain the seven trumpet and seven bowl judgments. Thus, when Christ breaks all seven seals of the Revelation Rev. 5:1+ scroll, He will thereby instigate the total bombardment of divine wrath or judgment against the domain of Satan and his forces, which will cover the 70th week of Daniel Dan. 9:1 up to Christ’s coming immediately after the 70th week and the Great Tribulation.13


Notes

1 J. A. Seiss, The Apocalypse: Lectures on the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), 118.

2 E. W. Bullinger, Commentary On Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1984, 1935), 233.

3 G. E. Ladd, “Revelation, Book of,” in Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed., International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979, 1915), 4:174.

4 Renald E. Showers, Maranatha, Our Lord Come (Bellmawr, NJ: The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, 1995), 97.

5 Ibid., 82.

6 Gottlob Schrenk, “Biblion,” in Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey William Bromily, and Gerhard Friedrich, eds., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964-c1976), s.v. “Biblion.”

7 Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1-7 (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1992), 379.

8 Henry Morris, The Revelation Record (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1983), 96.

9 Renald E. Showers, The Pre-Wrath Rapture View (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2001), 43.

10 Alan F. Johnson, Revelation: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), 71.

11 Showers, Maranatha, Our Lord Come, 81, 88.

12 Ibid., 111.

13 Ibid., 96.

Read Revelation 5:1