A. Past Lessons
John’s Introduction and Vision of the Son of Man (Rev 1)
Jesus’s Letters to the Seven Churches in Asia Minor (Rev 2-3)
John Taken to Heaven and Sees the Throne Room with Four Living Beings and Twenty-Four Elders (Rev 4)
B. Text of Rev 5:1-7
“1Then I saw in the right hand of the one sitting on the throne a scroll with writing on the inside and outside that had been sealed with seven seals. 2Next I saw a strong angel who was announcing in a loud voice: ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and loosen its seals?’ 3But, no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll nor see it. 4As a result I was crying greatly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll and to see it. 5One of the elders said to me: ‘Do not cry. Behold! The lion of the tribe of Judah—the root of David—has conquered. He is worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals.’ 6Then I saw a lamb standing as if it was slaughtered in the midst of the throne and the four living beings and in the midst of the elders. The lamb had seven horns and seven eyes which are the seven spirits God sent out to all the earth. 7The lamb came and took the scroll from the right hand of the one sitting on the throne.” (Rev 5:1-7)
“John’s Vision of Heaven” by Matthias Gerung (1500-1570)
C. General Remarks about Rev 5:1-7
Revelation 5 is “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. He 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” (Wright, Revelation for Everyone, 53).
Revelation 5:6 provides “one of the most beautiful mixed metaphors in all the Bible—the lion (5:5) is a lamb! The direction of the transformation is very important; the final stage is the lamb, not the lion. The paragraph of 5:6-10 tells how the lion of Judah has conquered, not through military power (though that will come) but through paschal sacrifice.” (Osborne, Revelation, 254).
“We are still looking, through John’s eyes, at the heavenly throne room, and it is not simply one long round endless, repetitive praise. This is the throne room of God the creator, and his world is not merely a tableau, a living picture to be enjoyed. It is a project. It is going somewhere. There is work to be done.” (Wright, Revelation for Everyone, 51)
II. A SCROLL IN THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD (5:1-5)
A. A Scroll with Seven Seals (v. 1)
Καὶ εἶδον ἐπὶ τὴν δεξιὰν τοῦ καθημένου ἐπὶ τοῦ θρόνου βιβλίον γεγραμμένον ἔσωθεν καὶ ὄπισθεν κατεσφραγισμένον σφραγῖσιν ἑπτά.
“Then I saw in the right hand of the one sitting on the throne a scroll with writing on the inside and outside that had been sealed with seven seals.” (Rev 5:1) 1
1. Then I Saw
The phrase, “και εἰδον, then I saw” is an important and often used phrase in the book of Revelation. Within this chapter it is used in Rev 5:1, 2, 6, 11. While the phrase sometimes indicates that John is seeing something new in the same time frame and same place, sometimes it indicates that John has progressed on to a new vision in a new location. The context and descriptions within the και εἰδον phrases are what must be used to determine the time frame of the visions, not the short and simple Greek phrase. In this context, John is still in heaven, but he sees something new that he has not noticed before.
2. An Explanation of the Scroll
A “scroll” in this context and time period would have been strips of papyrus plant laid end to end and then gluded together in order to form a long strip that could be rolled together into a scroll. This was the most popular type of writing from 3,000 BC until Roman times (Osborne, Revelation, 247). Revelation 5:1 is a “description of a roll like that in Luke 4:17, not a codex as some scholars think. Usually these papyrus rolls were written only on the inside, but this one was so full of matter that it was written also on the back side (ὀπισθεν [opisthen]), There are many allegorical interpretations of this fact which are all beside the point” (A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Rev 5:1). Normally, these types of scrolls only had writing on one side. However, some important documents had writing on both sides and were called “opisthographs” (Osborne, Revelation, 248).
(Another type of writing was used during John’s time called “parchment” which was made from leather or tanned hides from sheep or goat skins.)
3. Inside and Outside
This short little phrase, “ἔσωθεν καὶ ὄπισθεν, inside and outside” has been difficult for scribes and interpreters. The Greek text that NA28 uses is supported by A 2329. 2344 syh; Cyp. The literal interpretation of ἔσωθεν καὶ ὄπισθεν is “inside and behind.” My translation says, “inside and outside” while the NET Bible reads, “front and back.” Some Greek manuscripts (P 046. 1006. 1611. 1841. 1854. 2050. 2053. 2351 𝕸 latt syph bo) read, εσωθεν και εξωθεν which is “inside and outside.” Another reading is εμπροσθεν και οπισθεν (א sa; Or) “front and behind.” While many of these differences in manuscript still paint the same picture of what the scroll looks like, the changes of the different manuscripts shows scribes struggled to make sense of this phrase in the past.
4. The Seals
Regarding the seals location on the scroll, the Greek lexicon states, “From the immediate context of Re 5:1 it is not possible to determine whether the scroll in question had seven seals on the outside or whether the scroll was sealed at seven different points. However, since according to chapter six of Revelation the seals were broken one after another, it would appear as though the scroll had been sealed at seven different places as it had been rolled up” Johannes Louw and Eugene Nida, eds. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, §6.55).
The seals on the scroll were wax or clay blobs placed where the scroll ended and further sealed with a signet ring to make the document official (Osborne, Revelation, 248).
5. Views on this Scroll
Grant Osborne provides a thorough summary of the different views of this scroll and its contents (Revelation, 248-250).
a) The Lamb’s Book of Life
The book of life is mentioned more times in the book of Revelation than it is in any other book (Rev 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:15; 21:11-15, 27). If this view were correct, the scroll’s contents would reveal who God chooses to be redeemed. However, a careful reading of Rev 6 shows that the contents of the scroll are judgments on the world, not a revelation of who God’s chosen people are. Furthermore, Rev 4:1 explains which events will happen in the future, not who will be saved.
b) The Old Testament or Pentateuch
This view is unlikely because there were numerous promises of blessings and curses in the Old Testament (Deut 28, 32), but many of those promises were fulfilled through the life and death of Jesus Christ. Additionally, the focus of this scroll seems to be on the future and what will happen after the seals are broken.
c) The Last Will and Testament Containing the Inheritance of the Saints
While there are an inheritance and promise given to believers throughout the Bible, it is clear that the scroll deals with judgment and wrath on the current earth.
d) A Divorce Will
Some might say that this scroll is the final authority about how God has rejected Israel and the city of Jerusalem, and is ushering in his new people and the new Jerusalem. Again, this is not correct because of God’s promises to Israel that have yet to be fulfilled (Gen 12:1-3; Isa 2:2-4; Jer 31:30-34).
e) A Contract Deed
During the times of the Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans contract deeds were used in a manner similar to this description in Rev 5. The contract would be written on the inside, then rolled up, sealed with seven seals, and then a brief description of the contract would be written on the outside of the scroll. While the contemporary history matches up with what Rev 5:1 describes, it is unclear what the contract would include or who the two parties of the contract are.
f) God’s Redemptive Plan and Future History of His Creation
This view is held by Osborne, Revelation, 249; Wright, Revelation for Everyone, 52; Walvoord, Revelation, 109; Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 378-379). I believe this view is correct four for reasons:
First, scrolls used to describe God’s redemptive plan and future history are seen in other Jewish apocalyptic writings:
- “In those days, I saw him—the Antecedent of Time, while he was sitting upon the throne of this glory, and the book of the living ones were open before him. And all his power in heaven above and his escort stood before him.” (1 Enoch 47.3, emphasis added)
- “Then he said to me, ‘Enoch, look at the tablet(s) of heaven; read what is written upon them and understand (each element on them) one by one. So I looked at the tablet(s) of heaven, read all the writing (on them), and came to understand everything. I read that book and all the deeds of humanity and all the children of the flesh upon the earth for all the generations of the world. At that very moment, I blessed the Great Lord, the King of Glory for ever, for he has created all the phenomena in the world. I praised the Lord because of his patience; and I wept on account of the children of the people upon the earth.” (1 Enoch 81.1-3, emphasis added)
- “After that there shall occur still greater oppression than that which was fulfilled upon the earth the first time; for I do know the mysteries of the holy ones; for he, the Lord, has revealed (them) to me and made me know—and I have read (them) in the heavenly tablets.” (1 Enoch 106.19, emphasis added)
- “Then I behold the writing upon them that one generation shall be more wicked than the other, until a generation of righteous ones shall arise, wickedness shall perish, sin shall disappear from the earth, and every good thing shall come upon her.” (1 Enoch 107.1, emphasis added) (Translations of 1 Enoch are from Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol. 1, edited by James Charlesworth)
Second, according to Grant Osborne, “It is unlikely that John chose details such as the writing on front and back and sealing by seven seals simply for symbolic effect. The elements so closely resemble the Jewish and Roman contract deed that the background must be found here (Osborne, Revelation, 249).
Third, Revelation is primarily about how God reclaims the world which was his (Gen 1-2). Chapters 4-19 of Revelation are about how God takes back his world. There are sixteen chapters dedicated to God’s redemptive plan with only six related to other matters.
Fourth, there are numerous Old Testament passages that suggest God has a plan for the nation of Israel. God has not forgotten about his promised people (Gen 12:1-3; Isa 2:2-4; Jer 31:30-34).
In this view the scroll outlines the judgments that Jesus uses to take back his world and usher in God’s new creation.
B. Who Breaks the Seals (v. 2)
καὶ εἶδον ἄγγελον ἰσχυρὸν κηρύσσοντα ἐν φωνῇ μεγάλῃ· τίς ἄξιος ἀνοῖξαι τὸ βιβλίον καὶ λῦσαι τὰς σφραγῖδας αὐτοῦ;
“Next I saw a strong angel who was announcing in a loud voice: ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and loosen its seals?’” (Rev 5:2)
1. Strong Angel
The phrase, “ἄγγελον ἰσχυρὸν, strong angel” appears three times in the book of Revelation (5:2; 10:1; 18:21). This likely is some archangel but is not the previously mentioned archangel Michael (Dan 10:13-21; 12:1; 1 Thess 4:16; Jude 9) or Gabriel (Dan 8:16; Luke 1:18-24, 26-38).
2. Worthy to Open
God the Father is not going to open the scroll, so the angel asks who among all the creation is worthy to open the scroll. I appreciate N. T. Wright’s imagery he uses to explain the “worthy to open” phrase here: “God, the creator, has a scroll in his right hand, like an architect with a rolled-up design for a building, or a general with a rolled-up plan of a campaign” (Wright, Revelation for Today, 51). Jesus is that architect or general who is worthy to unroll the scroll.
C. No One Is Able (v. 3)
καὶ οὐδεὶς ἐδύνατο ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ οὐδὲ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς οὐδὲ ὑποκάτω τῆς γῆς ἀνοῖξαι τὸ βιβλίον οὔτε βλέπειν αὐτό.
“But, no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll nor see it.” (Rev 5:3)
1. Three Areas
A few Bible passages explain the three different areas/locations of God’s creation.
- “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea.” (Exodus 20:4, NLT, emphasis added)
- “For in six days the LORD made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.” (Exodus 20:11, NLT, emphasis added)
- “Such knowledge is higher than the heavens— and who are you? It is deeper than the underworld— what do you know? It is broader than the earth and wider than the sea.” (Job 11:8–9, NLT, emphasis added)
- “He made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them. He keeps every promise forever.” (Psalm 146:6, NLT, emphasis added)
- “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,” (Philippians 2:10, NLT, emphasis added)
Yet, the mention of those “under the earth” does not necessarily mean only people in hell. This could also include the demonic forces and those in hell as mentioned in Rev 9:2, 11; 11:7
2. Open Once but See Continually
The aorist tense (to open) and the present tense (to see) are used here. The aorist tense is often used to described a one-time action while the present often describs something that happens continually. The importance here is that the aorist is used to describe the scroll being opened one-time, but the present is used to describe the contents being seen is continual and ongoing. There is some level of ongoing action.
D. John Weeps (v. 4)
καὶ ἔκλαιον πολύ, ὅτι οὐδεὶς ἄξιος εὑρέθη ἀνοῖξαι τὸ βιβλίον οὔτε βλέπειν αὐτό.
“As a result I was crying greatly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll and to see it.” (Rev 5:4)
There are several reasons that John might have cried when he realized that no one was able to open the scroll. One reason is that he realized all created beings are incapable of opening the scroll. Another reason is that John knew this scroll contained further revelation and he wanted to know what was contained within it. Yet another reason and one that is most likely is that John knew the scroll contained details on events that would happen in the future, but if no one was found worthy to open the scroll, then those events would go unfulfilled.
E. The Lion Is Worthy to Open the Scroll (v. 5)
καὶ εἷς ἐκ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων λέγει μοι· μὴ κλαῖε, ἰδοὺ ἐνίκησεν ὁ λέων ὁ ἐκ τῆς φυλῆς Ἰούδα, ἡ ῥίζα Δαυίδ, ἀνοῖξαι τὸ βιβλίον καὶ τὰς ἑπτὰ σφραγῖδας αὐτοῦ.
“One of the elders said to me: ‘Do not cry. Behold! The lion of the tribe of Judah—the root of David—has conquered. He is worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals.’” (Rev 5:5)
These are the elders studied in Rev 4. My view is that these elders could be the twelve sons of Jacob and twelve New Testament apostles, or they could be some type of heavenly being or angel.
2. Lion of the Tribe of Judah
The Jewish person in the first century would not miss the mention of Jesus as powerful lion. Here’s a few Old Testament references to the lion of the tribe of Judah.
- “Judah, my son, is a young lion that has finished eating its prey. Like a lion he crouches and lies down; like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?” (Genesis 49:9, NLT)
- “The throne had six steps and a rounded back. There were armrests on both sides of the seat, and the figure of a lion stood on each side of the throne. There were also twelve other lions, one standing on each end of the six steps. No other throne in all the world could be compared with it!” (1 Kings 10:19–20, NLT)
- “And if I hold my head high, you hunt me like a lion and display your awesome power against me.” (Job 10:16, NLT)
- “But this is what the LORD has told me: “When a strong young lion stands growling over a sheep it has killed, it is not frightened by the shouts and noise of a whole crowd of shepherds. In the same way, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies will come down and fight on Mount Zion.” (Isaiah 31:4, NLT)
- “I will come like a lion from the thickets of the Jordan, leaping on the sheep in the pasture. I will chase Babylon from its land, and I will appoint the leader of my choice. For who is like me, and who can challenge me? What ruler can oppose my will?” (Jeremiah 50:44, NLT)
- “I will be like a lion to Israel, like a strong young lion to Judah. I will tear them to pieces! I will carry them off, and no one will be left to rescue them.” (Hosea 5:14, NLT)
- “The lion has roared— so who isn’t frightened? The Sovereign LORD has spoken— so who can refuse to proclaim his message?” (Amos 3:8, NLT)
3. The Root of David
Within and outside the book of Revelation we see an emphasis on Jesus being an heir of David. Inside Revelation we read about Jesus having the “keys of David” (3:7) and that Jesus is the root and offspring of David (22:6). Isaiah prophesied about the root of David:
- “Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot— yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root.” (Isaiah 11:1, NLT)
- “In that day the heir to David’s throne will be a banner of salvation to all the world. The nations will rally to him, and the land where he lives will be a glorious place.” (Isaiah 11:10, NLT)
The verb ἐνίκησεν translated as “has conquered” is placed first in the Greek sentence for emphasis. Additionally, the verb is in the aorist tense which likely indicates that Christ’s life as a whole or specifically his death on the cross has conquered Satan (1 Cor 15:54). In his Greek Grammar, Dan Wallace lists this aorist as a “consumative aorist” which stresses the cessation of an action or state. Wallace’s translation is: “the lion of the tribe of Judah had overcome” (Wallace, Greek Grammar, 560). In other words, the work has already been done. We just wait for the scroll to reveal the end of days and final events of the earth.
III. A LAMB WORTHY TO OPEN THE SCROLL (5:6-7)
A. The Slaughtered Lamb (v. 6)
Καὶ εἶδον ἐν μέσῳ τοῦ θρόνου καὶ τῶν τεσσάρων ζῴων καὶ ἐν μέσῳ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων ἀρνίον ἑστηκὸς ὡς ἐσφαγμένον ἔχων κέρατα ἑπτὰ καὶ ὀφθαλμοὺς ἑπτὰ οἵ εἰσιν τὰ ἑπτὰ πνεύματα τοῦ θεοῦ ἀπεσταλμένοι εἰς πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν.
“Then I saw a lamb standing as if it was slaughtered in the midst of the throne and the four living beings and in the midst of the elders. The lamb had seven horns and seven eyes which are the seven spirits God sent out to all the earth.” (Rev 5:6)
1. Not a Lion but a Lamb
“What follows is altogether unexpected. John looked to see the Lion, the king of beasts, and instead he sees a Lamb with the marks of slaughter upon it (5:6)! He looked to see power and force, by which the enemies of his faith would be destroyed, and he sees sacrificial love and gentleness as the way to win the victory” (Metzger, Breaking the Code, 52).
“While a lion speaks of strength, a lamb speaks of meekness, a perfect description of Christ in His first coming as the Lamb who submitted to death, and in His second coming as a conquering Lion” (Walvoord, Revelation, 111).
2. Victory Won
This verse makes it clear that Christ’s work on the cross has caused victory to already be won. Further battles throughout the rest of the book of Revelation have already been decided because Christ’s work on the cross decided the outcome. This game is rigged.
3. The Lamb
The use of a lamb stems from the Passover of Exod 11-12, ceremony in Exod 29 and Num 28-29, as well as the description of the suffering servant in Isa 53:7. The New Testament uses the lamb imagery in John 1:29, 35; Acts 8:32; 1 Cor 5:7; 1 Peter 1:19.
4. In the Midst
In my translation I purposefully use “midst” because of its vangueness. The likely scene that John sees is the Lamb near the throne with the four living beings and elders around God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
5. Seven Horns
The horns likely represent the power of the lamb. While this is a sacrificial lamb that has been slaughtered, and therefore is meek, the horns reveal the conquering power of the lamb, and therefore its power. Horns are seen as powerful in other parts of the Bible (Dan 7:7, 20). Extra biblical writings use horns to depic the “Warrior Messiah” who would destroy enemies (1 Enoch 90:9; T Jos 19:8).
6. Seven Eyes
The seven eyes likely represent Jesus’s power to see everything.
7. Seven Spirits of God
While some believe the “seven-fold Spirit” or more commonly the “seven spirits” are angels, the most likely conclusion is that this is a reference to the Holy Spirit. Support for the seven Spirits referring to the Holy Spirit follows:
- Seven qualities are listed in the Greek version of the Old Testament in Isa 11:2.
- Zech 4:2, 10 refers to “seven eyes” that roam throughout the earth.
- In Zech 4:6 the Lord defines action by his Spirit.
- Other evidence in the book of Revelation mentions the seven Spirits (3:1, 4:5, 5:6).
- It is a means for expressing the Spirit’s perfection and completion.
- On the day of Pentecost the coming of the Holy Spirit was made visible by the presence of fire (Acts 2:3) and then in Rev 4 the Holy Spirit is represented with seven torches of fire.
Support for the Holy Spirit being the seven-fold Spirit is from Mulholland, Revelation (2011), 421; Osborne, Revelation; Thomas, Revelation 1-7; Walvoord, Revelation, 103.
B. The Lamb Takes the Scroll (v. 7)
καὶ ἦλθεν καὶ εἴληφεν ἐκ τῆς δεξιᾶς τοῦ καθημένου ἐπὶ τοῦ θρόνου.
“The lamb came and took the scroll from the right hand of the one sitting on the throne.” (Rev 5:7)
For years and years God the Father has held the scroll which contains the plans of redemption for his world. Now, the authority to take back the world is transferred to Jesus. It is time to release the contents of the scroll and reclaim God’s fallen world.
III. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION
A. Our God Is Worthy
Of all the things that can be done in the world, our God is worthy to do them all. This passage in Rev 5:1-7 emphasizes that our Lord—Jesus Christ—is the supreme being who can do what no one else can do. When no one else above the earth, on the earth, and under the earth could open the scroll, it was Jesus—the Lamb—who was worthy to open in it. Our Lord Jesus was worthy to die for our sins and take our place while also being worthy of opening the scroll that releases judgment on the world.
B. Jesus Christ’s Work Is Sufficient
This passage makes it clear that Christ’s death on the cross has conquered Satan. Christ as the sacrificial lamb has declared us righteous with the power of the lion.
- Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own ↩