Revelation 5:1-14



Our world seems to be spinning out of control. People feel caught up in a time of warfare, economic insecurity, rampant crime, and perverse moral values. Many feel a sense of hopelessness and helplessness, concluding that life is meaningless and history is aimless. But there is another option: according to Revelation 5 life is not aimless, and history is not without purpose. Christ is the meaning of history.


Before recording God’s incredible attempts to turn the world back to himself, beginning in chapter 6, John related to his readers his wonderful vision of heaven in chapters 4 and 5. The implication is that only from the perspective of heaven can anyone understand what will take place on the earth.


The Unopened Scroll in the Hand of God (v. 1). In the first century a scroll sealed with seven seals was a will. The will that John sees contains the revelation of God’s plan and the inheritance of God’s people. Behind the imagery of the scroll with seven seals is the idea of the believers’ inheritance, and that inheritance is ruling with Christ over the world to come.


The Unsuccessful Search for One Worthy to Open the Scroll (vv. 2-4). As the apostle John watched, he saw “a strong angel” who issued a proclamation that went to the far reaches of creation. When the angel asked if anyone was “worthy” to break the seals, he did not use the word which means “able.” He used a word meaning “one who has the power to execute what is written therein.”


No one took up the challenge. No one “in heaven” (no angel), no one “on the earth” (no human being), nor anyone “under the earth” (no prophet or great saint from Old Testament times) was qualified to open the book and restore the lost inheritance. Additionally, no political system, no artistic accomplishment, no scientific achievement, no educational breakthrough, and no philosophical insight can restore what Adam forfeited.


John began to weep bitterly (v. 4). These were not the tears of sentimental, disappointed curiosity. John knew the promise of the Messiah, who one day will redress the wrongs of the oppressed, assume his power, and reign on the earth. The apostle wept because the hope of God’s action seemed to be postponed indefinitely. If the scroll is not opened, there is no protection for God’s children in the hours of bitter trial; no judgments upon a persecuting world; no ultimate triumph for believers; no new heaven and earth; no future inheritance!


Christ as Conquering Messiah: the Lion (v. 5). John was told by one of the twenty-four elders to stop weeping because “the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome,” that is, he is the Victor over Satan, sin, and death. And this entitles him to break the seals and open the scroll.


Christ as Suffering Savior: the Lamb (vv. 6-7). When John turned to see the lion, he saw a lamb, “standing, bearing the marks of slaughter. He was a sacrificial lamb. What John saw was a Passover lamb. Ordinarily lambs are raised for their wool or are slaughtered for their meat. But this lamb was “standing.” He has been raised from the dead. He is the living Redeemer, and with the marks of slaughter he stood before the throne, prepared to inherit dominion over the earth.


John was assured that the Lion “has overcome,” but here is the great Christian paradox – Jesus has “conquered” not through military might, but through his sacrificial death. The weapon that defeats the enemies of God is the cross. This victory enables him to open the scroll. The lion has conquered “so that” he can “open the scroll and its seven seals.”


In John’s vision he saw that the lamb had “seven horns.” In the Old Testament horns symbolized two things: power and honor. As symbols of their power, nations portray themselves as mighty beasts and birds. Russia elevates the bear, Britain the lion, and the United States the eagle. All of these are ravenous carnivores. Jesus Christ is a lion, but he conquers as a slain lamb.


During the Gulf War of 1991, Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, was interviewed by Time magazine. Mr. McNamara was asked if the U.S. leadership was in control of the war. He said, “Yes, but [President] Bush, [General] Powell, and [Secretary of Defense] Cheney are doing a superb job, but I tell you Jesus Christ himself can’t keep one of these things under control.”


Evidently Mr. McNamara had a very defective view of Jesus Christ. His comment does not reflect the Christology of heaven. In heaven Jesus Christ is known as the “Lion of the tribe of Judah,” who will be the perfect Sovereign of this world in the kingdom to come. In fact one of the lessons of this chapter is that only Jesus Christ can rule this world well.


Conclusion: This text has at least four lessons for us.


First, the passage is a rebuke to believers who seem content with the world. Can modern Christians understand the passionate longing that caused John to weep for the kingdom to come? Charles Spurgeon once said that it is “by weeping eyes that the Lamb of God is best seen.”


Second, this passage points to the centrality of Jesus Christ. The Lion is the Lamb is the centerpiece of John’s description of heaven. Should he not then be central in our lives today?


Third, the description of Christ as a slaughtered Lamb reminds us of humanity’s real problem, namely, sin. On the cross, Christ, the sacrificial Lamb, bore the penalty of our sins, and died as our substitute. God, satisfied with that work, demonstrated that satisfaction by raising Jesus from the dead. John’s message declares that Jesus’ death and resurrection will never lose its power.


Fourth, the worthiness of the Lamb to break the seals demonstrates that He is the key to history. Does life have meaning? Does history have a goal? The Scriptures say yes, and this will be seen by everyone when Jesus enters into his inheritance. He has the right to break the seals of the will, and to take control of the affairs of this world, which is his inheritance. And he has the power to rule over your life. Will you allow him to exercise his power on your behalf?


His power his available for you today, because HE IS ALIVE!