1 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.” – Revelation 5:1-5 ESV
John has somehow been transported by the Spirit of God into heaven, where he is being given an unprecedented glimpse into the very throne room of God. It is an incredible scene, one which John has difficulty putting into words. His descriptions can only allude to the grandeur and glory of all that he sees. It is a scene filled with brilliant light, vivid colors, incredible sights and sounds and the very presence of the trinity. Seated on the throne is God the Father, and standing before Him are the Spirit and the Son. Seated before him are the 24 elders and around the throne are the four creatures who constantly sing, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8 ESV). We can only imagine what this must have been like for John. His emotions must have run the gamut, from awestruck wonder to abject fear. He was actually seeing the God of the universe with his own eyes and living to tell about it. This is significant, because God had warned Moses, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20 ESV). And Paul had told Timothy, “He alone can never die, and he lives in light so brilliant that no human can approach him. No human eye has ever seen him, nor ever will. All honor and power to him forever! Amen” (1 Timothy 6:16 NLT). And yet, we know that there was at least one other occasion when 74 men had the unique opportunity of seeing God and living to tell about it. It is recorded in the book of Exodus.
9 Then Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel climbed up the mountain. 10 There they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there seemed to be a surface of brilliant blue lapis lazuli, as clear as the sky itself. 11 And though these nobles of Israel gazed upon God, he did not destroy them. In fact, they ate a covenant meal, eating and drinking in his presence! – Exodus 24:9-10 NLT
This privilege bestowed upon Moses and his companions was never again repeated. At least until John stepped into the throne room in heaven. And unlike Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel, John wasn’t going to enjoy a meal with God. He was going to witness the unveiling of God’s future plans for the judgment of the world – the “the things that must soon take place” (Revelation 1:1 ESV). And as John took in that incredible scene before him, he noticed that God was holding in His right hand “a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals” (Revelation 5:1 ESV). This scene is reminiscent of one recorded in the book of Ezekiel. There we see the prophet Ezekiel miraculously transported into heaven where he finds himself standing before the very presence of God. And he describes seeing the very same thing John saw.
9 And when I looked, behold, a hand was stretched out to me, and behold, a scroll of a book was in it. 10 And he spread it before me. And it had writing on the front and on the back, and there were written on it words of lamentation and mourning and woe. – Ezekiel 2:9-10 ESV
This scroll will play a significant part in the rest of John’s book. As we will see, it contains the judgments that God is going to release upon the earth. And it may be the same scroll mentioned in the book of Daniel, that he was commanded to seal until the end of time (Daniel 12:4, 9). John has no idea what this scroll signifies, but he can’t help but notice that it is sealed with seven seals and that it has writing on both sides of its parchment. Both of these features would have been out of the ordinary. The number of the seals obviously stood out to John, and probably appeared to be a bit over-the-top and unnecessary. But as we will see with everything John witnesses, the seals have significance and meaning. They must have been affixed in such a way that as each one was broken, the scroll was allowed to be partially unrolled, exposing only a portion of its content. The next seal would have to be broken before the next section of judgments could be revealed. There is a sequential nature to the content of the scroll. And the fact that the scroll contained writing on both sides would have been another odd feature, probably signifying the sheer volume of judgments to come.
The next thing John saw was someone who he describes as a powerful angel, declaring, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” (Revelation 5:2 ESV). Here was God, holding in His hand a sealed scroll containing all that was to come in terms of His future plans for the world. And the angel’s question creates a tension, revealing that there is only one who is worthy to break the seals and expose the scroll’s contents. The individual who would take the scroll from the hand of God had already been predetermined. But John was not yet aware of who that individual might be. He simply records that “no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it” (Revelation 5:3 ESV). No one was worthy of the honor or met the prescribed criteria. And this sad state of affairs left John in tears, “because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it” (Revelation 5:4 ESV). The scroll remained in the right hand of the Father, and the contents of the scroll remained hidden. As far as John could tell, the divine plan of God was left unfulfilled because no one had the authority to bring about its fulfillment.
There is a tension in this scene. It is as if all motion has ceased. The Father sits on His throne, scroll in hand. The 24 elders remain seated in their 24 thrones. The four beasts have stopped their singing and praising. The powerful angel has called out, seeking for someone to take the scroll from God’s hand and begin the breaking of the seals. But no one steps forward. John watches, waits and weeps. But then, the silence is broken. One of the 24 elders steps up and comforts John, telling him:
“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.” – Revelation 5:5 ESV
Remember, John is having a vision of heaven. He has been transported into God’s presence where he is being provided a glimpse into things that no man has been privileged to see. It is as if this scene has been going on since the beginning of time. God has been holding that scroll from before the foundation of the world. It has long contained His plans for the world and He has been waiting for the one who would be worthy to take it from His hand and begin the process of breaking its seals and revealing its content. And while John noticed that no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll, that was about to change. There was someone, and He is described to John as the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, and the one who has conquered. It is Jesus. These titles describe Jesus’ qualifications or credentials that make Him the only worthy candidate to open the scroll. He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah. This is a direct reference to the blessing Jacob gave to his son, Judah.
9 Judah is a lion’s cub;
from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He stooped down; he crouched as a lion
and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?
10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. – Genesis 49:9-10 ESV
Jesus was descended from the tribe of Judah. He is the one who holds the scepter and the ruler’s staff in His hand. And Jesus is the Root of David, another indication that He was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy concerning the coming Messiah.
1 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. – Isaiah 11:1-2 ESV
Jesse was the father of King David, and Jesus was a descendant of David. He was the one worthy to be the King of Israel, the successor to the throne of David. These titles are meant to declare Jesus’ right to rule and reign. And to further assert Jesus’ impeccable qualifications, the elder declares that Jesus has conquered. He has been victorious. The Greek word used here is nikaō and it can actually be translated as “overcome.” That very same word was used repeatedly in chapters 2 and 3, where Jesus addressed the seven churches
“To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” – Revelation 2:7 ESV
“The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.” – Revelation 2:11 ESV
“To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.” – Revelation 2:17 ESV
“The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations…” – Revelation 2:26 ESV
“The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life.” – Revelation 3:5 ESV
“The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God.” – Revelation 3:12 ESV
“The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” – Revelation 3:21 ESV
Jesus has conquered. He told His disciples, even before His death, that they could have peace because He had already overcome the world.
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33 ESV
He used that very same Greek word, nikaō. And Paul reminds us that, “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37 ESV). He uses the Greek word, hypernikaō, which conveys the idea of being super-conquerors. Christ has defeated death and grave. Paul reminds us of this incredible fact in his letter to the Corinthian believers.
56 For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. 57 But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:56-57 ESV
Jesus is worthy. He is fully qualified to take the scroll from the hand of His Father and open its seals. And He is the only one worthy. Had Jesus not come to earth as a child, lived a sinless life, sacrificed Himself for the sins of man, and been raised back to life by the power of the Spirit of God, He would not have met the demanding requirements of God Almighty. But He was faithful. He was fully obedient. He conquered sin and death.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.