Thursday, May 5
Reader: “Who is worthy to break the seals on this scroll and open it?”
Response: “Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory.”
Scripture: Revelation 5:1-10
Then I saw a scroll in the right hand of the one who was sitting on the throne. There was writing on the inside and the outside of the scroll, and it was sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel, who shouted with a loud voice: “Who is worthy to break the seals on this scroll and open it?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll and read it.
Then I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll and read it. But one of the twenty-four elders said to me, “Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory. He is worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
Then I saw a Lamb that looked as if it had been slaughtered, but it was now standing between the throne and the four living beings and among the twenty-four elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which represent the sevenfold Spirit of God that is sent out into every part of the earth. He stepped forward and took the scroll from the right hand of the one sitting on the throne. And when he took the scroll, the four living beings and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp, and they held gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song with these words:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and break its seals and open it.
For you were slaughtered, and your blood has ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.
And you have caused them to become
a Kingdom of priests for our God.
And they will reign on the earth.”
There are a few basic things to remember when reading and studying apocalyptic literature in the Bible. Symbols and numbers are key and pictures and images are not meant to be literal descriptions, but rather instruments in the unfolding of God’s divine plan for the world. Our pericope for today further explains the great significance of the Messiah’s role in the revealing of God’s kingdom.
Like we read a few days ago, John is in the throne room of heaven with God sitting upon his throne holding a scroll in his right hand. The right hand always signifies power and authority. In those days scrolls were the most common form of “books” though there were some codices as well. (A codex was similar to our books in that pages of papyrus were folded and stitched together.) The fact that there was writing on both sides of the scroll is significant in that it means God’s plans for history are complete. Often only the inside of a scroll had the writing. The backside was also written upon when more needed to be said.
A “testament” type of scroll always carried seven seals. For example, if you had a last will and testament scroll, it always was witnessed by seven witnesses, each putting their own seal on the seven wax seals. Each person opened their own seal at the reading of the will. Different kinds of scrolls had different numbers of seals. Here John describes a scroll with seven seals, a testament scroll. The strong angel with a loud voice indicates a big and major announcement to everyone in heaven, on earth, and in hades (under the earth), the place of the dead. The question is, “Who is worthy to break the seals, open the scroll, and read it?”
Certainly no human being on earth was worthy and no created being in heaven was worthy. The realm of the dead produced no one as all had already been defeated by death. Then the twenty-four elders spoke up proclaiming the Lion of the Tribe of Judah and the Heir to David’s throne, both references to the Messiah, as being worthy to open both the seven seals and the scroll. In his resurrection he was the victor over death! As the slaughtered Lamb stands between the throne, the four creatures, and the twenty-four elders, he clearly is the central figure bringing everything together. The twenty-four elders represent the Old Covenant (the twelve tribes) and the New Covenant (the twelve apostles, the Church) as interpreted by many scholars. The seven (perfect number indicating wholeness or completeness, perfection) horns speak of perfect power and the seven eyes of complete knowledge. The Lamb is also related to the perfect Spirit of God. (Revelation 1:4)
As the slain Lamb took the scroll from the right hand of the one sitting on the throne, all those present fell to the ground in worship. Their harps were instruments used to accompany singing and the bowls of incense represented the prayers of the saints ascending to God. The glorious text of the song they sang concludes the reading for today.
What is so clear in this vision is the centrality of Jesus’ sacrificial death and what his death made possible. The accomplishment of God’s plan for the world was impossible apart from the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. He was the only being worthy to open God’s scroll of his kingdom. The significance of Christ’s victory over death is why the early Church celebrated Easter all the way to Pentecost.
Music: “Worthy Is the Lamb” from Messiah Voces8 and Barnaby Smith
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jS2osOLEe0U This is the finest recording of this piece I have come across in years. It comes close to capturing Revelation. (I have heard Voces8 live and they are that good!!) The best 8:46 seconds of your day!
Blessing and honor and glory and power and riches and wisdom and strength belong to the one sitting on the throne and to the Lamb for all eternity. Amen and amen! ―the Apostle John