2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?”
8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” 11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” 13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” 14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
The first church I ever pastored was Jimtown Baptist Church in Burneyville, OK, a small, country church just over the Oklahoma line coming up from Texas. I was a seminary student in Fort Worth from 1996 to 1998 and, during that time, Roni and I would drive up to Jimtown Baptist Church where I would preach, then we would spend the day, then I would preach again, then we would drive the two hours home again.
One year, the local ministerial association held a baccalaureate service for the graduate class. It was held in a local high school auditorium. On the platform was a line of metal chairs on which all of the ministers sat. So I was sitting there with the other ministers when a lady from one of the churches came up to sing a solo. She stood directly in front of me. She started to sing this powerful song of worship. About midway through she threw her head back to belt the great high note that we all knew was coming. When she did this and hit her high note it was apparently too much for her…because she fainted! In fact, she fell back and her head hit right between my feet. For a brief moment I was looking down at her and she was out cold! Immediately people moved to tend to her. I recall family members running to the stage shouting in fear. Finally, thank goodness, the dear lady came to! And I thought to myself, “This will be a story I will tell a church one day!”
It is a fascinating thing to see somebody fall to the ground in worship. The way this lady at the baccalaureate service did it was one approach, to be sure. But another approach is found all throughout Revelation 4 and 5, when we find numerous figures falling on their faces before the wonder and grandeur of God.
In verse 2 of Revelation 5, a question is asked. A “mighty angel” asks it and it is the question around which not only this chapter but all of human history hovers in anxious expectation: “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?”
Put another way, the question is this: Who is at the wheel of human history? Who knows what is going on and who has ultimate authority over it. Who, indeed, can open the scroll that tells what is happening in God’s great plan for humanity? Who has the authority to break the seals?
We saw in verse 7 that the Lamb steps forward and takes the scroll. We are told that the Lamb is worthy.
What happens next is so amazing, so glorious, and so majestic, that the New Testament commentator Gordon Fee says we should find it hard to read this passage without worshiping.
These are the kinds of moments that should give any interpreter reason for pause, since these words hardly need commentary, but rather affirmation and acclamation. Readers of this passage who themselves fail to join in with the heavenly host are listening to the text only cerebrally, and not with the exhilaration intended by John, so that his readers are themselves drawn into the heavenly scene as part of the worship. Indeed the reader who fails in the present to enter into the heavenly worship, which for them is still to come, will have missed John’s purpose by several leagues. John’s original readers may indeed be excused if they held back in joining the worship noted in our chapter 4, but they will have little excuse for holding back here.
Yes, what happens next is not fodder for our curiosity, it is fire for our souls.
The Lamb steps forward to take the scroll. The Lamb is shown to be worthy. And when this happens, all Heaven breaks loose.
8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
In these verses, the Lamb’s worthiness is proclaimed and Heaven worships! It is therefore important that we grasp the reality of the Lamb’s worthiness in our effort to understand this majestic scene.