April 11, 2008

Revelation - week 5

5:1 Then I saw in the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne a scroll written on the front and back and sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a powerful angel proclaiming in a loud voice:

"Who is worthy to open the scroll and to break its seals?"

3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or look into it. 4 So I began weeping bitterly because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.

All of creation has just praised God as Creator. Now we find out something else about Him...He has an important message or plan for His creation. In the 1st century Roman Empire (and throughout history before and after as well) if a document from the Emperor was important and was to be read only under certain circumstances or by certain people, it would be sealed. Usually some wax or clay would be placed over the opening of the scroll or book (the Greek word used in Revelation, "biblion," can refer to either) and the royal signet, often worn as a ring, would be pressed into the soft clay or hot wax. As it cooled, it would harden and the only way to read the document would be to break the seal. Sometimes more than one seal would be used on a very important document...but SEVEN seals?? That's just overkill...unless, as we've seen with all the numbers in Revelation, it is symbolic. In this case, the message would be clear: The contents of this Scroll/book have been thoroughly sealed and are awaiting their proper reader...the one who is authorized to unseal the document and make known its contents.

But alas, there is NO ONE in all of creation who can open the scroll/book! No one can even peek inside of it! God's plans, whatever they may be as written in His scroll, cannot be put into action. It's all been sealed up. Does this mean that John will never know what is going on in the world? That Christians will continue to suffer with absolutely no rhyme, reason, relief or retribution? What is the point of it all, then? Like his ancestor prophet in exile, Daniel, will God's plans--God's sometimes troubling plans!--be left uninterpreted and "sealed up"??

John can't take such an idea and breaks down weeping.

However, no sooner has he given up hope than he receives some good news (the real "good news" which is the translation of the Greek word for gospel incidentally!)...

5 Then one of the elders said to me,

"Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah,
the root of David, has conquered;
thus he can open the scroll and its seven seals."

The scroll can be opened because one who is worthy has been found! The Messiah! The "Lion of Judah"! It is the mighty "Root" who the people have been longing for ever since Isaiah first received this word from God:

In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples;
the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.

In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of his people
from Assyria,
from Lower Egypt,
from Upper Egypt,
from Cush,
from Elam,
from Babylonia,
from Hamath
and from the islands of the sea.

He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel;
he will assemble the scattered people of Judah
from the four quarters of the earth.

--Isaiah 11:10-12

The mighty military conqueror God promised His people has arrived to put His plan into action--to bring forth the long awaited "Day of the LORD"!

But there's just one catch...

6 Then I saw standing in the middle of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the middle of the elders, something like a slaughtered Lamb. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.

How shocked must John have been at what he now sees!!!

He HEARD "Lion of Judah" and "Root of David"--mighty military regal imagery.
He SEES "something like a slaughtered lamb"--the epitome of meekness and suffering!

Yet this is no simple slain animal. This Lamb has the 7 eyes and 7 horns, which denote His complete sovereignty and complete power.

And thus we are introduced to another major theme of Revelation--what we see is not always what we expect. Things look differently from the vantage point of the Throne! True power comes, paradoxically, through suffering, not through strength or military might. It cannot be overstated how important this concept is throughout the book of Revelation. It goes against the grain of current pop-theology which seeks to survive the "End Times" through U.S. Foreign Policy and Military strategy--but it is perhaps the central message of Revelation.

In fact, we see now as a parallel to ch.4's praise of God for being the Creator, ch.5's praise of the Lamb for being the Redeemer. God's creation which was thrown into despair by the cooperation of sinful humanity with supernatural evil can now finally be put to rights through the action of the One who overcomes Sin and Death by taking it all upon Himself and experiencing its fullness in order to render it ultimately powerless! Listen to the praise the Lamb now receives...

7 Then he came and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne, 8 and when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders threw themselves to the ground before the Lamb.
Each of them had a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 They were singing a new song:

"You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals
because you were slaughtered,

("Because you were slaughterd"...the means by which evil sought to destroy Jesus was the very means by which He defeated it!)

and by your blood you ransomed for God persons from every
and nation!

Sounds an awful lot like Isaiah's prophecy of what the "Root" would accomplish, doesn't it? The salvation of "Israel" Isaiah foresaw has begun to take place...only now we see that "Israel" is not simply ethnic or national Israel--it's the true "Israel of God", the faithful redeemed from all the earth!

10 You have appointed them as a kingdom
and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth!"

To drive this point home, we see now that at least two specific promises made to ethnic Israel are only fully realized through the followers of the Lamb--being a "kingdom" and "priests" of God (Exodus 19:6).

What's more, we see that the reigning that the followers of the Lamb will one day experience will not be in a disembodied eternal "heaven". No, it will be "on the earth"--which we won't get a glimpse of until the final few paragraphs of the book. But it will be a renewed bodily earthly existence. No clouds and harps. (For more on this, check out the excellent interview with N.T. Wright about his new book in the Dojo archives!)

11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels in a circle around the throne, as well as the living creatures and the elders. Their number was ten thousand times ten thousand– thousands times thousands– 12 all of whom were singing in a loud voice:

"Worthy is the lamb who was killed
to receive power
and wealth
and wisdom
and might
and honor
and glory
and praise!"

13 Then I heard every creature– in heaven, on earth, under the earth, in the sea, and all that is in them– singing:

"To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise,
and power
forever and ever!"

14 And the four living creatures were saying "Amen," and the elders threw themselves to the ground and worshiped.

What we are left with in Revelation 5's worship of the Lamb as Redeemer among the Heavenly Host is a New Testament depiction of the famous longed-for enthronement of the "Son of Man" figure that John's predecessor Daniel described around 6 centuries before:

"In my vision at night I looked,
and there before me was one like a son of man,
coming with the clouds of heaven.
He approached the Ancient of Days
and was led into his presence.
He was given authority,
and sovereign power;
all peoples,
and men of every language
worshiped him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away,
and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

--Daniel 7:13-14

The Son of Man whom Daniel saw approach the throne of the Ancient of Days is the "slaughtered Lamb" whom John sees approach the throne of the Creator God. Both are to exercise power, judgment of beastly evil, and the vindication of God's People. They are, in fact, one and the same...

Jesus the Messiah of Israel, and thus of the whole world! He as slaughtered as a Paschal Lamb; He is now enthroned as the King of the universe. -Amen!

The question now is, "so what's He gonna reveal when He opens the scroll??"

Stay tuned...


1 comment:

Bill C said...

Greatly enjoyed the explanation. Based upon your post, it would seem that Christians would be better served if they were to read the Revelation and the book of Daniel prior to reading the Olivet Discourse in the Gospels...perhaps then people would concentrate more on Christ's present victory than speculate on future 'end times'.

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