Only the lamb (Jesus) proves worthy to open the scroll with seven seals (Revelation 5:1 – 5:14)
John saw the man on the throne holding a scroll in his right hand. The scroll had writing on both sides and was sealed with seven seals. A mighty angel proclaimed in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” No one in heaven or on earth was worthy to open the scroll. John cried because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll.
Then one of the elders said to John, “Do not weep! The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to break the seven seals and open the scroll.”
Then John saw a lamb looking as if it had been slain standing at the center of the throne. He was encircled by four living creatures and the elders. The lamb had seven horns and seven eyes (which are the seven spirits of God sent out to all the earth). He went and took the scroll from the man on the throne.
When the lamb took the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the lamb. Each holding a harp and seven bowls of incense (which are the prayers of God’s people), they broke into song saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals because you were slain and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom to serve our God and they will reign on the earth.”
John looked and heard the voice of many angels. They encircled the throne, the living creatures, and the elders and in a loud voice said,
“Worthy is the lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise.”
Then John heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea saying,
“To him who sits on the throne and to the lamb be praise and honor and glory and power forever and ever.”
The four living creatures said “Amen” and the elders fell to their knees and worshipped him.
What the story means to us today
A consolidated lesson in God’s plan for mankind
After the previous chapter took us through the excitement prefacing the opening of the scroll, this chapter seems rather benign by comparison – merely an introduction to the revelations to come. In fact, the entire gist of the New Testament is consolidated into this single chapter making it much more important than it appears at first glance. In what represents the concluding chapter in most Christian bibles, God’s ultimate plan for mankind is about to be revealed.
Mankind chose the authority to make its own decisions and God granted that choice with a condition – mankind must fight to survive while operating within clearly-defined moral boundaries. Although mankind’s framework of operation seems chaotic at times, we’ve seen throughout the bible that God created everything in an orderly manner. Now we will witness the order he imposes on mankind, the majority of whom chose to rebel against him and his grand plan.
As part of his plan, God revealed himself through Jesus who showed us how we are to live, then died for us, and will ultimately (as will be revealed in short order) return and conquer the evil that has held mankind in bondage. What we learn in this chapter is that God’s plan is irrevocable, irreplaceable, and a required component of mankind’s destiny. God’s plan will be carried out to completion and earth will be returned to its original peaceful state – as God planned all along.
Additional thoughts and considerations
The man holding the scroll
John saw a man on a throne holding a scroll in his right hand. We know from the previous chapter that the man was God and the scroll in his hand represents his plan for mankind.
The four living creatures
The four living creatures were introduced in the previous chapter and included a lion, ox, human, and eagle-like creature. A similar vision was seen by Ezekiel (he deduced the creatures were cherubim). Various interpretations of the creatures’ identities have been offered. Some believe the creatures represent all living creatures on earth. They could also represent four facets of Jesus (lion showing authority, calf paralleling Jesus’ sacrifice for mankind, eagle as a portrayal of Jesus’ majesty, and man as a symbolism of Jesus’ humanity). In any case, the four living creatures seem to be angels of some sort, as confirmed by parallel descriptions given in the Old Testament books of Ezekiel and Isaiah.
The twenty-four elders
Circling the throne were “twenty-four elders”. Since “elders” implies leaders of the church, the twenty-four elders seen in John’s vision may represent the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles. Others believe the elders represent twenty-four different entities, possibly higher-level angels which have never been mentioned in the Bible before. Still others propose the twenty-four elders could be a metaphor for all those who have passed through death on earth.
The lamb with seven horns and seven eyes
Approaching the throne was a lamb (that looked to be slain) with seven horns and seven eyes. This of course, was Jesus. The mention of “seven eyes” has long puzzled transcribers. Some believe the word is erroneously included in the text (many translations will put the word in braces indicating doubt). Regardless, horns likely represent power while eyes represent all-seeing wisdom. The reference to the “seven spirits God sent to Earth” almost certainly alludes to the original seven churches where Christ’s ministry began.
The writing on the scroll
John notes that the scroll had writing on both sides. This implies completeness, a state where nothing more could be added. In fact, in Revelation 22:18, John will be specifically instructed to add nothing to the message read from the scroll.
The seven seals
John saw that the scroll (bound books did not exist in those days) was sealed with seven seals. The arrangement of the seals is not specified (nor integral to the story) and several possibilities exist. There could have been seven seals sealing the outside of the scroll or single seals that sealed the scroll at different points as it was unwound. Later we will see that the seals were broken one at a time as a section is read. Regardless of how the scroll was sealed, the number seven represents completeness to the ancients and thus, we can presume the scroll was completely sealed and its contents inaccessible to anyone incapable of breaking the seals.
Seven bowls of incense
John describes seeing seven bowls of incense and adds that these were the prayers of God’s people. In various verses through the Bible, incense is used to symbolize prayers. The sacrificial-like burning of incense, smoke rising toward the heavens, and beautiful aroma all lend substance to the metaphor.
Why did John weep when no one could open the scroll?
John says he wept because no one could open the scroll. Previously, John had been promised a glimpse of “things which must be hereafter”, the destiny of earth and all mankind. Knowing the revelation was coming, he would have been crushed to see the opportunity slip away when nobody was found capable of opening the scroll.
Every creature sings songs of praise
John notes that first the four living creatures, then the angels, and finally every living creature in existence joined in the praise of the Lamb through thunderous song. Three sets of songs, or praises to God, are sang in this chapter.
The first two songs praise “the lamb” who gave his life for mankind and is the only creature worthy of delivering God’s message to mankind. In the final song, all living creatures sing praise to God and Jesus before concluding their song with “amen”. Their songs illustrate joy as the end of an era draws near and redemption for God’s people is about to begin.
The vision concludes with the four living creatures saying “amen” and the twenty-four elders falling down to worship God. As in all scripture, “Amen” serves as ratification or acknowledgement. Jesus is about to reveal the contents of the scroll – and he has the support of every living entity in existence.
The science and history behind the story
Document seals in ancient times
The earliest known seals date from the fourth millennium BC. Pressed hot wax or damp clay was used to mark documents with indicators of identity and approval. The stamp often took the form of rings or necklaces with embedded images that were unique to the owner. Of course, given their importance, they were closely guarded by the owner.
Harps played in heaven
Harps in the New Testament are unlike harps we would envision today. They are more akin to a lute or guitar. Harps in ancient times were triangular-shaped with a minimum of seven strings. The historian Josephus says they commonly had ten strings that were plucked with a small piece of ivory.
5 Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” 3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. 4 I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. 5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
6 Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits z of God sent out into all the earth. 7 He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. 8 And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. 9 And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”
11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12 In a loud voice they were saying:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”
13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”
14 The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.
1–2 5 I saw a scroll in the right hand of the One Seated on the Throne. It was written on both sides, fastened with seven seals. I also saw a powerful Angel, calling out in a voice like thunder, “Is there anyone who can open the scroll, who can break its seals?”
3 There was no one—no one in Heaven, no one on earth, no one from the underworld—able to break open the scroll and read it.
4–5 I wept and wept and wept that no one was found able to open the scroll, able to read it. One of the Elders said, “Don’t weep. Look—the Lion from Tribe Judah, the Root of David’s Tree, has conquered. He can open the scroll, can rip through the seven seals.”
6–10 So I looked, and there, surrounded by Throne, Animals, and Elders, was a Lamb, slaughtered but standing tall. Seven horns he had, and seven eyes, the Seven Spirits of God sent into all the earth. He came to the One Seated on the Throne and took the scroll from his right hand. The moment he took the scroll, the Four Animals and Twenty-four Elders fell down and worshiped the Lamb. Each had a harp and each had a bowl, a gold bowl filled with incense, the prayers of God’s holy people. And they sang a new song:
Worthy! Take the scroll, open its seals.
Slain! Paying in blood, you bought men and women,
Bought them back from all over the earth,
Bought them back for God.
Then you made them a Kingdom, Priests for our God,
Priest-kings to rule over the earth.
11–14 I looked again. I heard a company of Angels around the Throne, the Animals, and the Elders—ten thousand times ten thousand their number, thousand after thousand after thousand in full song:
The slain Lamb is worthy!
Take the power, the wealth, the wisdom, the strength!
Take the honor, the glory, the blessing!
Then I heard every creature in Heaven and earth, in underworld and sea, join in, all voices in all places, singing:
To the One on the Throne! To the Lamb!
The blessing, the honor, the glory, the strength,
For age after age after age.
The Four Animals called out, “Oh, Yes!” The Elders fell to their knees and worshiped.
Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.
The NET Bible
5:1 Then I saw in the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne a scroll written on the front and back and sealed with seven seals. 5:2 And I saw a powerful angel proclaiming in a loud voice: “Who is worthy to open the scroll and to break its seals?” 5:3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or look into it. 5:4 So I began weeping bitterly because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5:5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has conquered; thus he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
5:6 Then I saw standing in the middle of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the middle of the elders, a Lamb that appeared to have been killed. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 5:7 Then he came and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne, 5:8 and when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders threw themselves to the ground before the Lamb. Each of them had a harp and golden bowls full of incense (which are the prayers of the saints). 5:9 They were singing a new song:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals
because you were killed,
and at the cost of your own blood you have purchased for God
persons from every tribe, language, people, and nation.
5:10 You have appointed them as a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”
5:11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels in a circle around the throne, as well as the living creatures and the elders. Their number was ten thousand times ten thousand—thousands times thousands—5:12 all of whom were singing in a loud voice:
“Worthy is the lamb who was killed
to receive power and wealth
and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and praise!”
5:13 Then I heard every creature—in heaven, on earth, under the earth, in the sea, and all that is in them—singing:
“To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise, honor, glory, and ruling power forever and ever!”
5:14 And the four living creatures were saying “Amen,” and the elders threw themselves to the ground and worshiped.
Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.
King James Version
5 And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof? 3 And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon. 4 And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon. 5 And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof. 6 And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood oa Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth. 7 And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne. 8 And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. 9 And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; 10 And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.
11 And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; 12 Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive ipower, and riches, and wisdom, and istrength, and hhonour, and hglory, and kblessing. 13 And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, kBlessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. 14 And the four beasts said, pAmen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever.
The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.