“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. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?’ But no one in Heaven or on Earth or under the Earth could open the scroll or even look inside it.” (Revelation 5:1-3)
Because many Christians do not understand the events described in Revelation 5, they cannot appreciate the importance of the events described. Let us consider the background for these events. About A.D. 95, while John was serving a prison sentence on the Isle of Patmos, he had a vision of an event in Heaven that would occur seventeen centuries later. John saw a glorious being sitting on a throne with millions of angels and 24 human beings assembled around Him. A solemn convocation was underway and during this meeting the Father produced a book sealed with seven seals. He offered the book to anyone who was qualified to break the seals and reveal the contents of the book. Even though John does not explicitly say what the qualifications were, by further study we can determine them. The assembled host conducted a thorough search, but they could find no one in the whole universe (dead or alive) worthy to receive the book. Then, Jesus offered Himself as a candidate to receive the book. The assembly closely scrutinized Jesus and after thoroughly vetting Him, they found that he was worthy and the Father agreed. The Father gave Jesus the book and He began breaking the seals. The events described in this scene were profoundly important and we will examine some themes about this convocation and the worthiness of Jesus.
Jesus is the Lamb
John describes Jesus in Revelation 5:6 with language that is essential to understanding this story: “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God [the seven angels who stand before God – Revelation 8:2] sent out into all the Earth.” (insertion mine)
Jesus is represented in this scene “as a Lamb looking as if it had been slain” because this representation of Jesus reveals the qualifications for opening the book. Jesus appears as if He had been slain, demonstrating the qualification that mattered most to the Father was “proof of fidelity to His will.” Long before any life was created, the Father conceived a plan to redeem sinners. When Adam and Eve sinned, the Father was willing to implement His plan because their sin was not open defiance. According to the plan, Jesus volunteered to give His life for Adam and Eve. Jesus came to Earth and died on the cross to do the Father’s will. Therefore, when John saw Jesus looking like a lamb that had been slain, this representation demonstrates “proof of fidelity to the Father’s will.” Jesus carried out the Father’s will, even giving up His eternal life so that sinners might inherit it!
In his vision, John viewed a scene in Heaven that would occur in the eighteenth century, seventeen centuries after his vision. The first step in the final phase of God’s plan to resolve the sin problem was to find someone worthy to break the seals and open the book. The Father was looking for someone who would perfectly execute the plan which He created before any life was created.
The Father has perfect foreknowledge and omnipotence (all power), so if He opened the book that He had written, He could only prove He had foreknowledge. The Father does not need to prove that He has perfect foreknowledge. The Father has a larger problem! He needs to prove that He will not use His perfect foreknowledge and His omnipotence to manipulate or control His subjects. He needs to prove that He is a God of love and this task is far more difficult. He wants to prove to everyone that He has given His subjects the freedom to exercise free will. He will not interfere with the exercise of free will under any circumstance. In God’s universe, everyone is free to exercise power of choice and of course, experience the consequences that come with this freedom.
At the appointed time, the Father will prove that there is an infinite distance between His omnipotence and His foreknowledge and He can be trusted to keep a wall of separation between them. The Father wants the universe to see there is absolutely no selfishness within Him. He is not a divine bully or an eternal dictator that rules the universe merely because He has the power to do so. He is not an omnipotent lawmaker that creates self-serving laws when needed. Instead, He is a God of love. He wants the universe to see that He will only use His omnipotence and foreknowledge to benefit His subjects. He is not a God of love because He says so. He is a God of love because His actions speak for themselves. As long as God is the Ruler of the universe, He will deeply love, provide for, and delight those who put their faith in Him. If a subject chooses to rebel against His government of righteousness and truth, that subject may freely rebel against Him and receive the consequences. The great obstacle for His finite subjects is for them to understand God’s law, which is based on His infinite wisdom, requiring a sinner’s death on the day he sins. Reasoning beings, before they had knowledge of good and evil, would not understand this law is righteous and necessary. For example, if the Father had annihilated Lucifer the day he sinned, Lucifer’s closest friends may have thought that Lucifer’s claim that God was not a God of love was correct.
Jesus is Worthy to Break the Seals
The Father needed someone who did not have foreknowledge and did not know what was inside His book to open it. Additionally, the Father needed the individual to achieve specific prerequisites before opening the book
First, the recipient of the book must be able to carry out His plan to redeem without the slightest deviation. This qualification was necessary so no one throughout eternity could charge that the Father’s plan to resolve the sin problem was unfair, defective, or inadequate. Second, the recipient of the book must be able to correctly and appropriately reveal everything about Jesus which the Father ordained. Finally, the recipient of the book must be willing to impose incredible suffering on the inhabitants of Earth (during seals four and five). When these three qualifications were presented, I am sure everyone in the convocation was stunned and dumbfounded. I believe John heard and understood the qualifications. John also understood the seriousness of what was at stake and when no one was found worthy to exonerate the Father, he cried.
Before Jesus was found worthy to receive the book, everyone at the convocation knew that the Father intended to recuse Himself from the process of concluding sin’s drama. Because the Father was on trial, the challenge was to find someone who could do everything required and eternally exonerate the Father. Whoever was found worthy would receive sovereign authority over everything in Heaven and on Earth. When the angels concluded that no created being could do the job, Jesus offered Himself as a candidate. The angels and the elders quickly realized Jesus was the only solution. Jesus had shown perfect fidelity to the Father’s will in circumstances that went far beyond the experience of any other person. Jesus had overcome every temptation and perfectly carried out the Father’s plan of redemption, even to the point of giving up His own life. This made Him “the Lamb of God.” “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7)
In Revelation 5:6, John describes “the Lamb” as having seven horns and seven eyes, which are seven spirits, or seven angels, (Hebrews 1:14; Zechariah 1:8-10; 6:1-5) sent out into all the Earth. After the angelic host and the 24 elders considered the qualifications necessary to receive the book and approved Jesus, only then did the Father approve Jesus. Jesus was not His choice, He was their choice. The angels and the elders saw that the task of opening the book determined the necessary qualifications. In other words, the Father had not written the required qualifications that would eliminate everyone but Jesus.
Jesus Received Sovereign Power
After the Father approved their unanimous choice, He gave Jesus sovereign power over the universe. (Daniel 7:13,14; Ephesians 1:9,10) This omnipotent power is represented by the seven horns in Revelation 5:6. In John’s day, a horn was a symbol of power or authority. (2 Samuel 22:3; Psalms 18:2; Luke 1:69) Therefore, seven horns mean a perfect, complete fulfillment of power or sovereign power. Also, the seven angels who stood before the Father (Revelation 8:2) were also given over to Jesus. These magnificent and capable beings are the same seven angels of the seven churches, the seven trumpets, and the seven bowls. These seven angels will serve important roles during the seven trumpets and seven bowls.
In Revelation 5:6, John saw the four living creatures surround Jesus. In Revelation 4:6, the four living creatures surrounded the Father’s throne, but in Revelation 5:6, the four living creatures surrounded Jesus. This change of position indicates that Jesus has authority over the Holy Spirit because Jesus now reigns as Almighty God. My understanding is the four living creatures are a representation of the third member of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a deity, a separate, distinct God just like the Father and Jesus. Four identical living creatures represent one deity because the Holy Spirit is omnipresent. He lives everywhere, in the north, east, west, and south at the same time. The four living creatures are covered with eyes, representing the power of the Holy Spirit. He sees everything occurring in the universe in real time. When the four creatures surround Jesus, it means the Holy Spirit now connects all creation with Jesus who reigns on the throne as Almighty God. Jesus predicted this: “He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.” (John 16:14)
After Jesus was found worthy to receive the book with seven seals, Heaven responded with joyful singing! Notice how the seven attributes of sovereign power are enumerated in this song: “In a loud voice they sang: ‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!’ Then I heard every creature in Heaven and on Earth and under the Earth and on the sea [Psalms 145:21, a phrase indicating universal praise – obviously people on Earth or under the Earth knew nothing about this event], and all that is in them, singing: ‘To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!’ The four living creatures said, ‘Amen [so be it],’ and the elders fell down and worshiped.” (Revelation 5:12-14, insertions mine)
The apostle Paul knew a day was coming when Jesus would have authority over everything in Heaven and on Earth. He wrote: “And He [the Father] made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment – to bring all things in Heaven and on Earth together under one head, even Christ.” (Ephesians 1:9,10, insertion mine) The prophet Daniel also saw Jesus given sovereign power in the same convocation: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of Heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13,14)