(5: 1) “And I saw in the right hand of Him that sat on the throne, a book written within and without, sealed with seven seals.”
John now sees the Almighty Father with a book (or to be more precise, a scroll) in his hand. The scroll is rolled up and sealed with seven seals. This prevents John from descrying its contents; though he sees that it is written on the front and back. What does this book contain? Like Ezekiel’s “roll of a book” (Ezek. 2: 9), it contains “lamentations, and mourning, and woe” (Ezek. 2: 10). It contains the series of judgments that will happen during Daniel’s 70th week, and which will bring about the worldwide reign of Jesus Christ with His saints.
Let us take a moment and recall the words of Daniel 9: 24, in which Gabriel told the beloved prophet that the “vision and prophecy” would be sealed up until the expiration of the 70 weeks. But once the 70 weeks were ended, “everlasting righteousness” would be brought in. In order for redemption to be completed, Israel must repent and accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah. In order for this miraculous “birth” to happen, there must be a preliminary sequence of birth-pangs. These birth-pains are known as the “Great Tribulation.” When the end comes, and the scroll is opened, the blindness lifted from the Jewish nation (Isaiah 29, whole chapter).
So, then, the book which John sees God holding can be none other than the series of judgments required to bring about the salvation of God’s people, and the consequent redemption of the creation.
There is a great deal of correspondence between Daniel’s visions and those of the Apocalypse. But while Daniel’s prophecies foreshadowed the things that John would see and write, Daniel was only able to make known the barest facts concerning the coming tribulation. As the angel told him, “But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even unto the time of the end” (Dan. 12: 4). And again, “Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up till the time of the end” (Dan. 12: 9).
It is our position that the Apocalypse contains an enlargement of the end-time prohecies recorded in the book of Daniel. These prophecies have to do primarily with the “time, times, and half a time,” or three-and-a-half years of tribulation, mentioned by Daniel in chaps. 7, 8, 9, 11, and 12. As our Savior refers to the same period in His Olivet Discourse, we see this special revelation given to John as a more complete delineation of the events which will involve that “time of the end.”
This “time of the end” commences when Christ begins to break the seals– and not (as some claim) when John received the visions! Remember, the unsealing is done by Christ, its effects taking place during Daniel’s 70th week. As Christ breaks the seals one by one, we are shown in what manner our Lord will bring about the redemption of the purchased possession. Only the actual breaking of the seals, however, can bring this about. Remember that the visions recorded by John concern things which will be “hereafter.” Hence, from our standpoint the breaking of the seals is yet future. But when the time comes for the scroll to be opened, the consummation of the age shall have arrived.
To live in the times when those seals are broken will be harrowing indeed. But the disciples that fail to keep God’s word will also fail to enter the “open door” extended to the Philadelphian church.
(5: 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?“
Some personal worth is required to open the book which the Father is holding. That is because its unsealing issues in the redemption of the purchased possession. Who is stand as our “kinsman redeemer” according to the Mosaic law? In Leviticus 25: 25 the statutue is clearly given: “If thy brother be waxen poor, and hath sold away some of his possession, and if any of his kin come to redeem it, then shall he redeem that which his brother sold.”
As man became poor through the sin of the first Adam, so he lost dominion over the creation. There is needed to come forth a redeemer, a “brother” made after the law, to redeem the forfeited inheritance. This is none other than Jesus Christ, the Second Adam, Who was the first-born among many brethren (Rom. 8: 29). He alone can stand as our “kinsman redeemer.” Since the opening of the seven-sealed book secures the repossession of our forfeited inheritance, the angel appropriately asks if there be anyone who can pay the redemption price.
(5: 3) “And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon.”
Not the glorified saints in heaven, nor yet any man on earth, has the ability to open the book, or even to read its contents. This is a sobering thought. No man is rich enough to stand in the place of the first Adam and pay that which he forfeited through his disobedience. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3: 23). Neither Jew nor Gentile can fill this role. The heavenly attendants watch as the angel cries for one worthy enough to open the book, and to look thereon. In the heavenly temple there is a strained silence, as all wait. But none comes forward. This reveals man as without strength (Romans 5: 6). He cannot fulfill the office of redeemer, nor can he claim special standing with God according to his own merits.
(5: 4) “And I wept much, because no man was found to open, and to read the book, neither to look thereon.”
This verse may be seen as a classic proof of the “total depravity of man.” John weeps, being indundated with the sense of man’s own worthlessness before God. Having been sold into sin by the first Adam, mankind must now be redeemed by a second Adam. In light of this verse, how can anyone seriously preach a post-millennial Gospel, in which it is taught that the kingdom will come about through the social efforts of man? Such teachers are far from the truth of God’s word. Not only is man incapable of redeeming himself or humanity in general, but he is not even worthy enough to peer into those counsels of God which respect the establishment of His kingdom on earth.
(5: 5) “And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.”
There is cause to weep for our sins, but only if we are without hope. The fact that there is a Redeemer, and that He has paid the redemption price to restore His fallen ones and redeem the forfeited inheritance, is rather a cause for joy. The angel tells John, “weep not.” Christ has prevailed to open the book! Our Lord is here called by two names. The Lion of the tribe of Judah indicates His power to defeat enemies, especially death, hell, and the grave (see Genesis 49: 9). The name Root of David implies that Christ was the source of David’s sovereignty over Israel. He is the heavenly antitype from whence David derived his kingship.
(5: 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 a 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.”
Christ will surely prevail as the Lion of the tribe of Judah. When at Christ’s second coming all enemies are subdued and He establishes His presence in Jerusalem, all knees will bow to Him. Satan will be bound, death will be in abeyance, and the kingdom shall once again be the Lord’s. However, Christ did not first come as a Lion, but as a Lamb. While His second advent will be with power and great glory, His first was meek and lowly.
It is through the merits of His sacrificial offering that He has been accounted worthy of taking the seven-sealed scroll held by the Father. Because Jesus Christ knew no sin, His death was entirely voluntary, and undergone for our sakes alone. His resurrection and ascension at the right hand of the Father certfied Him as the Son of Man mentioned in Daniel 7: 13-14, Who received the kingdom from God. His opening of the seven seals is, of course, preliminary to His taking the kingdom to Himself, which will only happen when the “Kingdoms of this world” are smashed and broken by the advent of Divine government.
The horns of the Lamb speak of Christ’s power, seven being the number of Divine perfection. Thus Christ is evinced as all-powerful. For the Biblical meaning of the horns, see 1 Sam. 2: 1; 2 Sam. 21: 3; Psalm 75: 4; Psalm 132: 17; Psalm 148: 14; Lam. 2: 3; Ezek. 29: 21; etc.).
The seven eyes are an allusion to Zechariah 3: 9 and 4: 10. John tells us that they are the “seven spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.” Although the meaning is not entirely clear as to what these seven spirits signify, the corresponding verses in Zechariah tell us that they play an important role in the final salvation of God’s Old Covenant people, Israel. Perhaps these spirits are those “watchers,” or special angels, who give orders for the carrying out of God’s judgments (see Dan. 4: 13, 17, 23, 26).
(5: 7) “And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him that sat upon the throne.”
Jesus Christ now shows Himself worthy of taking the book and unfolding its contents. He is our “kinsman redeemer;” the Second Adam. It is He who shall receive all kingdoms when He comes to reign with His saints. “Ask of thee, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (Psalm 2: 8-9).
No revision of the Gospel, no message of social progress–be it framed never so diligently as to accomplish its ends–can bring about the appointed time when “the kingdoms of this world” shall “become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ” (Rev. 11: 15). We must await the opening of the scroll, which will herald our Savior’s return. In the meantime, we are taught to pray daily: “Thy kingdom come” (Matt. 6: 10). And this petition has always been the one great hope of all Christians.