1 Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4 and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” 6 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.
Earlier this week in California a video surfaced on YouTube of a man riding in a completely driverless Tesla down I-80 in California. This happened after another car in self-driving mode hit and killed a man. MarketWatch reports on these stories:
The investigation comes just after the California Highway Patrol arrested another man who authorities say was in the back seat of a Tesla that was riding down Interstate 80 with no one behind the wheel.
Param Sharma, 25, is accused of reckless driving and disobeying a peace officer, the CHP said in a statement Tuesday.
The statement did not say if officials have determined whether the Tesla was operating on Autopilot, which can keep a car centered in its lane and a safe distance behind vehicles in front of it.
But it’s likely that either Autopilot or “Full Self-Driving” were in operation for the driver to be in the back seat. Tesla is allowing a limited number of owners to test its self-driving system.
The video is something to see. A car pulls up alongside Param Sharma and there he is: smiling in the back seat while the car drives itself. It was, to be frank, frightening and the police, thankfully, stopped it. What is so frightening about this? It is frightening because there is something honestly scary about realizing that nobody is at the wheel. As far as cars go, maybe we will get there at some point…though I do not ever intend to get in a car with nobody behind the wheel!
No, human beings, by and large, want to know that there is somebody at the wheel. This is true whether we are talking about cars or history. In fact, as we return to the throne room of God in Revelation 5, the scriptures appear to be answering just this very question: Is anybody at the wheel? In the unfolding of human history, in the ebb and flow of the story of humanity, is somebody at the wheel or is the world just in self-driving mode? Is somebody driving this ship? Or are we sitting in the backseat with fingers crossed hoping that we do not all get destroyed.
The thought that there is no controlling power or order above the seemingly chaotic events of our lives will break us.
We have seen the truly beautiful and amazing images of Revelation 4: the throne of God, the twenty-four elders, the four living creatures, lightning, a rainbow, and a sea of glass like crystal. We have heard the four living creatures ceaselessly singing “Holy! Holy! Holy!” We have seen the twenty-four elders fall on their faces, throw their crowns at the feet of God, and say, “Worthy!” We have seen and heard the glory and the power of God! And now, in Revelation 5, we get a further picture.
1 Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals.
The Lord God is holding a seal. There are two distinctive qualities to this seal:
- It had writing on the front and back.
- It was sealed with seven seals.
What is this seal? Grant Osborne has outlined some of the various theories that have been offered in Christian interpretation through the ages.
- the Lamb’s book of life, with the vast number of names to account for writing on both sides;
- the Old Testament, with blessings and curses pointing to the covenant laws;
- a last will and testament centering on the inheritance of the saints, normally sealed with seven witnesses;
- a divorce bill, borrowing Old Testament imagery about the unfaithfulness of Israel;
- a doubly inscribed contract deed, sealed with seven seals and with the contents written on the back;
- a heavenly book containing God’s redemptive plan and how God will bring history to a close.
That is quite a list, and some of them have some arguments in their favor. For our purposes, let us consider first that this image of the scroll seems to be alluding to a similar image found in Ezekiel 2:
9 And when I looked, behold, a hand was stretched out to me, and behold, a scroll of a book was in it. 10 And he spread it before me. And it had writing on the front and on the back, and there were written on it words of lamentation and mourning and woe.
This is helpful because it lets us know that the scroll has something to do with judgment in particular. The opening of the scroll will bear this out. But it seems to be involved with a wider picture, with a picture of all that is about to come. While there is indeed a strong note of judgment, it is also a picture of the unfolding of all the events of the final days. I agree with Scott Duvall when he writes:
The scroll represents God’s redemptive plan to defeat evil once and for all, to rescue his people, and to transform his creation through the victory achieved by Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God.
G.K. Beale makes a similar argument:
The book is thus best understood as containing God’s plan of judgment and redemption, which has been set in motion by Christ’s death and resurrection but has yet to be completed.
In other words, the scroll in the right hand of God is a picture of all that is coming, of all that will be. It is a picture of the unfolding story of humanity. But, alas, it is sealed with seven seals. The number seven here would speak of a complete and perfect sealing, an inviolable and impenetrable containment of the contents of the scroll. It is therefore not surprising that we next read:
2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it
The question of who can “open the scroll and break its seals” is a question of who can claim to hold the story of humanity, who, indeed, can tell with any authority the story that is unfolding. And “no one” is found! John waits for an answer to the question and at first hears none.
Could it be, John wonders, that there really is no one at the wheel? Could it be that the sad and tragic events of the human story really and truly have no power above them that can turn them or affect them? Could it be that we are subject to arbitrary forces of nature and society? Are we in the backseat hurtling toward oblivion? Can anybody open the scroll? And, hearing no answer, John does something that is quite natural:
4 and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.
We must understand: John is not weeping because he cannot know what is in the scroll. This is not merely about a lack of information. It is more than that. He is weeping because it appears that Heaven itself, that God Himself, cannot open the scroll. And if God cannot open the scroll, then we are without hope! If the scroll remains locked, then we really are caught in a pit of despair.
In season 1 of True Detective, Matthew McConaughey’s character, detective Rust Cohle, offers Woody Harrelson his pessimistic view of life. He says:
I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in human evolution. We became too self-aware; nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself. We are creatures that should not exist by natural law. We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self, a secretion of sensory experience and feeling, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody’s nobody. I think the honorable thing for our species to do is deny our programming, stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction, one last midnight, brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal.
If the scroll cannot be opened, then detective Cohle is right! Life is a meaningless raw deal and we should seek to get out of it!
If the scroll cannot be opened, then Sadegh Hedayat’s character in The Blind Owl is right to ask, “is not the entirety of life one absurd story, one unbelievable and foolish tale?”
If the scroll cannot be opened, then the old Roman saying, found on numerous graves from the time—”non fui, fui, non sum, non curo,” “I was not, I was, I am not, I care not.”—is all we can hope to say of life!
If the scroll cannot be opened, then the atheist author Stephen Crane was right to write in his short story “The Open Boat”:
When it occurs to a man that nature does not regard him as important, and that she feels she would not maim the universe by disposing of him, he at first wishes to throw bricks at the temple, and he hates deeply the fact that there are no bricks and no temples.
If the scroll cannot be opened, then New York taxi driver Jose Martinez was right to say:
We’re here to die, just live and die. I live driving a cab. I do some fishing, take my girl out, pay taxes, do a little reading, then get ready to drop dead. Life is a big fake! You’re rich or you’re poor. You’re here, you’re gone. You’re like the wind. After you’re gone, other people will come. It’s too late to make it better. Everyone’s fed up, can’t believe in nothing no more.
If the scroll cannot be opened, then John is right to weep and we should weep too…for the story has no author and the car has no driver. If there is nobody at the wheel of human history then we will break under the load of that realization! All is nihilism. All is despair. All truly is vanity. And we have no hope.
The answer to this soul-crushing fear is the crucified and victorious Jesus!
John weeps. But then, something happens. Something so amazing it is hard to put it into words, though, thankfully, scripture does so.
5 And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
One of the twenty-four elders speaks to John. I suspect he had to look up to do so for in Revelation 4 the elders are on their faces. Imagine John weeping and one of these elders takes a moment to glance up and smile. What he says is amazing: “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
Stop crying, John! Stop weeping! Why? Because there is a conquering Lion among us. And this Lion is able to open the scroll and break the seven seals! Nobody else can, but He can!
And then something else astonishing happens. John looks to see this lion. But behold what he sees:
6 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.
What is this?! What can this mean? The elder says there is a lion, but when John looks he sees a Lamb! Eugene Boring rightly calls this “perhaps the most mind-wrenching ‘rebirth of images’ in literature. The slot in the system reserved for the Lion has been filled by the Lamb of God.” But where is the Lion? This is the Lion! Do you see? The Lion is a Lamb!
Gordon Fee writes, “In a book like the Revelation, which ultimately is interested above all in God’s justice, no lion ever appears in heaven. But the Lamb is there all the way through, even at the end (‘the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city,’ 22:3).” Indeed, there is lion imagery in Revelation, but never again to describe Jesus! Jesus is the Lamb! In John 1, we read this of John the Baptist and Jesus:
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
And in Revelation 5 we are being told the same: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” And what of this Lamb? What is He like? We see:
- He stood “as though it had been slain.” He had wounds.
- He stood “with seven horns,” representing perfect power.
- He stood “with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God,” an image normally thought to be a reference to the Holy Spirit. So the Lamb has perfect wisdom and insight and sends the Spirit into the world.
- He alone was able to go and take the scroll from the right hand of God. He has authority and a unique relationship with God Himself.
Oh my! This lamb has been slain, “slaughtered.” Boring makes the interesting observation that “[i]n Revelation the participle ‘slaughtered’ is always in the perfect tense, representing the continuing effects of a once-for-all past act. (Modern English lacks a true perfect, but cf. the older “Joy to the world! the Lord is come.”)” So the Lamb is slain. His having been slain is a continuing reality that walks hand-in-hand with His ability to take the scroll!
This slain Lamb who is the Lion holds all authority and power! He takes the scroll!
Church: The Lamb is at the wheel! The vehicle has a driver! The story has an author! Life has a purpose! History has a trajectory! Humanity has hope!
And who is this driver and who is this author and what is our purpose and what is this trajectory and what is this hope? It is none other than the Lamb of God, Jesus, who by His cross conquers! It is the Lamb of God who lays down His life for His sheep!
No, we are not hurtling toward oblivion. We are hurtling rather toward Jesus if we have come to Him in faith. We are not hopeless and helpless. We are beloved! We are treasured! We have meaning! We have value!
Ah, hear me now: Weep no more! Do not despair! No matter how dark the night, the Lamb has still conquered. No matter how bleak the diagnosis, the Lamb has still conquered! No matter how crazy the news, the Lamb has still conquered! No matter how horrific the forecast, the Lamb has still conquered!
No matter how sealed the future may appear to us, there is One who is able to take the scroll and open it.
King Jesus the Lion and Lamb holds the story in His hand!
You need not fear! You need not fear!
The Lamb has conquered!
 Osborne, Grant R. Revelation Verse by Verse (Osborne New Testament Commentaries) (p. 112). Lexham Press. Kindle Edition.
 Duvall, J. Scott. Revelation (Teach the Text Commentary Series) (p. 96). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 Beale, G. K., Campbell, David. Revelation (p. 130). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Kindle Edition.
 Hedayat, Sadegh. The Blind Owl (Authorized by The Sadegh Hedayat Foundation – First Translation into English Based on the Bombay Edition) (Kindle Locations 950-951). Wisehouse. Kindle Edition.
 Larry W. Hurtado, Why On Earth Did Anyone Become a Christian in the First Three Centuries? (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 2016), p.127.
 Stephen Crane. Stories and Collected Poems. (New York: Quality Paperback Book Club, 1997), p.157.
 Ravi Zacharias quoting New York taxi driver Jose Martinez; This We Believe (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000), p.32-33.
 Boring, M. Eugene. Revelation. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (p. 108). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.
 Fee, Gordon D.. Revelation (New Covenant Commentary Series Book 3) (p. 83). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.
 Boring, M. Eugene, p. 109.