Published June 19, 2008
Related Sunday School Lesson, Bible Studies for Life, July 6
At the turn of the first century after Jesus’ birth, many of Christ’s followers were experiencing hardships. Roman officials were persecuting and oppressing Christians, making clear the creed of their day, “Caesar is Lord.” Indeed, John himself had been banished to the island of Patmos.
From different perspectives, therefore, John the Revelator pens the words of this book, not only to encourage the Christians of Asia Minor, but as well to challenge their answer to the question, “Who is really in charge?” The clear and unmistakable focus of the Book of Revelation is this: As the final chapters of redemptive history approach, Jesus Christ triumphs over all His enemies.
John challenges the dictum of his day and asserts, in no uncertain terms, that Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, is the only One worthy and able to be in charge. Consider, for example, John’s second vision found in Revelation 5.
“Then I saw in the right hand of the One seated on the throne a scroll with writing on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals. I also saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the seals?’” (Rev. 5:1-2)
Imagine a group of family members gathering to hear the last will and testament of their recently-deceased loved one about to be read. The will is sealed, and only one person is allowed to open it. The family patiently waits, searching for the one person who is responsible – “worthy” – to break the seal.
Can you imagine anything more disheartening than being in such a position and not being able to find a single individual able to open the testament? John’s picture in Revelation 5 is quite similar. Indeed, John exclaims, “No one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or even to look in it. And I cried and cried because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or even to look in it” (Rev. 5:3-4). At the thought of finding no one worthy to open the scroll, John was overcome with grief, even to the degree of uncontrollable sobbing.
However, John’s sadness was quickly abated when the testimony of another was heard. “Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Stop crying. Look! The Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has been victorious so that He may open the scroll and its seven seals’ (Rev. 5:5). Despite his earlier attempts to look everywhere – in heaven, on earth, and under the earth – he concluded that no one was worthy to open the scroll. Surely, this is why he cried: He believed that he would never have access to the contents of the scroll.
Everyone, however, had not been considered. Indeed, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, another witness asserts, can open the scroll. Immediately, armed with this good news, John turns to see this Lion, but what he sees is a surprise; it is a “slaughtered Lamb” (Rev. 5:6).
Perhaps this One had been seen earlier, but He did not seem a likely candidate for opening the scroll: a slaughtered lamb. But the testimony of all those present is this: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals because You were slaughtered” (Rev. 5:9).
So, how would the contents of this vision encourage and inspire the followers of Christ in the Seven Churches of Asia Minor who were at that time experiencing persecution? More to the point, how are the contents of this letter able to encourage and inspire Christians throughout all the ages?
First, John reminds his readers of who is really in charge: “The Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David” (vv. 5-6). John said that He is “the One seated on the throne” (5:1).
Recall, the setting of Revelation 4 and 5 is the throne room of God. John encourages Christians of all ages not only by reminding them that there is a heaven and that we are merely “pilgrims passing through,” but also by noting that the God of the Universe is on His throne. Caesar is not Lord.
Secondly, John impresses the reader with the seriousness of sin. Throughout all of history, no one touched by the ravages of sin is permitted to open the scroll. Indeed, once one sees with clarity the effects of sin, one cannot help but to cry uncontrollably.
Such recognition led Isaiah to exclaim: “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips” (Is. 6:5). To be sure, an unrepentant and unforgiven life forfeits the right to the good news found in the scroll, which leads to the third application.
To those who were being persecuted and struggled to experience the blessings of God, John shared the contents of this vision from God’s throne room. John saw God seated on His throne, and He was holding in His hand a scroll.
In chapter six, the reader learns that this scroll contains the history of the world and the church. Part of that history includes the fact that the Slaughtered Lamb “redeemed men and women for God from every tribe and language and people and nation and made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:9-10).
This is incredible news! John not only tells us who is in charge – the Lion of the tribe of Judah – but that we will one day reign with Him. Moreover, this privilege flows from the fact that He died for us and redeemed us and removed the terrible effects of the sin that earlier had so deeply moved us. Truly, this is Good News.
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