In the previous chapter, John the apostle was caught up into heaven, where he saw the throne of God and the court of heaven. Now, in Revelation 5, the scene is still heaven, but the theme changes. From a theme of worship of God the Creator, we shift to the theme of worship of the Redeemer, Jesus Christ.
The first questions verses 1-4 suggests are, “What does the scroll represent? Why is it sealed? As we shall see in Revelation 6, the opening of the seals and the unrolling of the scroll will reveal a series of momentous events which will shake the earth to its foundations. In fact, the events described in this scroll will continue to unfurl throughout chapters 7, 8, 9, and 10. What does the scroll signify? We are given a clue in Revelation 10:7, where John is told, “The Mystery of God will be accomplished.” The scroll, then, is a “mystery” book. It answers all the great unanswerable questions people have been asking for generations.
Perhaps the most persistent and vexing of these questions is “Why can’t humankind solve its own problems?” Everyone wants Utopia, but no one knows how to achieve it. Everyone wants an end to war, crime, evil, and prejudice, but no one knows how to end the misery to our humanity. We continue to make rapid technological and scientific progress that the amount of combined knowledge amassed within the libraries, archives, and data bases of the human race literally doubles every dozen years! One would think humanity, having made such amazing strides, would be on the verge of physical, intellectual, and moral perfection. Why, after all our progress and increased knowledge, can we not solve our most basic human problems? The scroll of The Mystery of God holds the answer.
The appearing of this scroll raised an immediate problem, however. John “saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seal?’” (v. 2). He realizes that there must be one with the worthiness and right stand before God, receive the scroll, and open its seal. Unless this could happen, the content of God’s book would not be revealed and the will of God for history would not be performed. John lamented because “no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it” (v. 3). The realization shattered him: “and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it” (v. 4). Undoubtedly, part of the reason for John’s weeping arose from his awareness of his own unworthiness and that of the entire human race.
In verse 5, John learns to his amazement that the problem has already been solved! The twenty-four angels of the heavenly council around God’s throne know the answer, and one of them discloses the answer to John. “The Lion of the tribe of Judah” and “the Root of David” are significant Jewish titles. They refer to prophecies from the Old Testament which predicts that there would come one from the tribe of Judah and from the family of David who rule over the earth and put and end to all the earth’s pain and sorrows. These two titles refer to the King of the Jews – the same title which Pilate had posted over the cross of Jesus. It is the King of the Jews, the Redeemer Himself, who has gone through death and suffering in order to conquer death and suffering, who is destined to bring about God’s kingdom on earth.
And now we come to one of the most decisive moments in all Scripture. What John has heard is the announcement of the Lion. However, in verse 6, John turns and sees a Lamb! The body of the Lamb is wounded, as if it had been put to death. John is to hold what he has heard in his head while gazing at what he now sees; and he is to hold what he is seeing in his head as he reflects on what he has heard. The two seem radically different. The Lion is the symbol both of ultimate power and of supreme royalty, while the lamb symbolizes both gentle vulnerability and, through its sacrifice, the ultimate weakness of death. But the two are now to be fused together, completely and forever.
From this moment on, John, and we as his careful readers, are to understand that the victory won by the Lion is accomplished through the sacrifice of the Lamb, and in no other way. Therefore, when John saw that the Lamb “went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne” (v. 7), he was witnessing the exaltation of Christ to the seat of authority in heaven with the Father, after His atoning death and victorious resurrection from the grave. No wonder that John should “weep no more” (v. 5), since the enthroned Lamb will open the scroll of God’s will. Moreover, John saw that despite his own failure and failure of our entire race in sin, the Lion of Judah will rule with power to save those joined to Him through faith.
In observing Jesus conquering not with the Lion’s teeth but with the Lamb’s dying wounds, Christians gain important insights into how we are said to conquer with Him through faith. In each of the seven letters to the churches in chapters 2-3, Jesus exhorted the readers that salvation would come only “to the one who conquers.” It is from the vantage point of chapter 5 that we can more fully understand what it means to conquer through faith in Christ.
Since Jesus conquered by dying for sin, the first step in our spiritual victory must always be to receive His saving work through faith alone. Before we do anything with or for Christ, we must be saved by His conquering work (1 John 1:8-9, 2:1-2). Having first been saved, only then are we to conquer in the example of Christ, ministering and serving not only as lions but also as lambs. The combination that we see in Jesus is possible in us only through the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit; it is in fact a sign of true spirituality for Christians to wield the Lion’s spiritual power in the gentleness and meekness of the Lamb. We are to be lions in spiritual strength and faithfulness and lambs in our manner of dealing with sinners and sin. To conquer as followers of Christ is to suffer for the gospel, placing the eternal well-being of others – even enemies – ahead of our own earthly good.
John rejoiced to see Jesus as the Lion who conquered as Lamb. Through faith in Him, Christians conquer in many ways. We repent of sin, we uphold biblical truth, and we witness and lead others to salvation. The power of the Lion upholds us through many trials. But we are most like Jesus when we conquer through the mercy and sacrificial love by which He took up the cross as the Lamb, forgiving those who sin against us and reaching out with grace for those who are lost. Surely it was especially for those who follow in the meek submission of the Lamb who was slain that Jesus promised: “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” (Rev. 3:21).
Revelation 5:1-7 Study Questions:
What does John see in the right hand of the one sitting on the throne and how does he describe it (v. 1)?
We rightly guess that the scroll contains God’s secret plan to undo and overthrow the world-destroying projects that have already gained so much ground, and to plant and nurture instead the world-rescuing project which will get creation itself back on track in the right direction. What would it take for someone to be “worthy” to read such a proclamation?
Why does John burst into tears and weep bitterly (v. 4)?
How does John’s reaction resonate with us as we look around at our world?
In verses 5-6 we come to one of the most decisive moments in all Scripture. What John has heard is the announcement of the Lion. What he then sees is the Lamb. What are the differences between these two animals? What does each one symbolize?