Day 5: ‘I began to weep loudly … Weep no more!’
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. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 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.”
Please observe with me in these five verses: the scroll, the challenge, thesearch, and theanswer.
The scroll (5:1). John now fixes our attention on something in the right hand of the One seated on the throne, the hand of authority and power. It is a scroll loaded with writing, on the front and back, sealed with seven seals. What is the significance of this scroll, what are we to understand by it? We need to get a sense of its importance if we’re to grasp the magnitude of what follows. This scroll represents God’s perfect plan of judgement and salvation, to bring his people into their final inheritance. We can conclude this from its similarity to the scroll the prophet Ezekiel sees (Ezekiel 2:8-10), and the sealed book the prophet Daniel sees (Daniel 7:10, 12:4,9), which both focus on God’s plan of judgement and redemption. Remember that God’s great acts of salvation in the Old Testament, most notably the Exodus, feature judgement of God’s enemies and salvation for God’s people – it is salvation through judgement. In chapter six we observe the opening of this scroll results in both judgement and salvation, and we also need to remember that the goal of God’s purposes is a new creation, a new Eden for his people (2:7, 3:12, 22:1-4). So the scroll represents God’s perfect, sealed plan of salvation through judgement for his people.
If you like chess (or superhero films) you will be familiar with the phrase ‘endgame’. In chess it is the final moves once the game has been decisively won. This scroll if you like is God’s endgame, the final stages of his plan to bring history to its conclusion, to bring salvation through judgement and bring his people to their promised inheritance. What a relief for weary and struggling saints under the lash of persecution and hostile world to know the One on the throne has such a plan.
The challenge (5:2). We went on a church trip once to Criccieth and as we sat eating ice creams, I had a good look at the Criccieth lifting stone. It’s a large stone in the middle of the town, and there’s a challenge for anyone who thinks they are strong enough to phone the town council and arrange for a trial to lift it. Suffice to say I won’t be phoning Criccieth Town Council anytime soon! We are familiar with the idea of challenges being laid down to show strength or worthiness, but the challenge by the angel in these verses is much more solemn and significant than any of those.
A mighty angel issues a challenge in a loud voice to the whole of the created order, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” In other words, who is worthy to come before the throne of God and enact his perfect endgame? To bring his purposes of judgement and salvation to pass? To bring the entirety of history to its resolution? You might think it strange why the challenge is issued to creation in the first place, surely only God can do this! But we need to remember the plot line of the Bible. God created Adam and promised that he would reign over the earth (Genesis 1), and though Adam forfeited this in his rebellion, the promise still stands. A human person had to open the book because the promise was made to humanity. The whole of the Old Testament is looking forward to this figure, a representative of humanity, a second Adam, a great kingly figure who will bring God’s promised rest. And notice this is not a trial of strength: it’s not about who is strong enough, the world has seen many dictators and regimes whose strength and power have not brought any kind of paradise. This is a trial of worthiness: who is good enough to represent both God and humanity, to enact God’s purposes of judgement and salvation, and inherit the promise of a final, perfect world?
The search (3-4). A search is made of the created order and no-one is found who is worthy to open the scroll or even to look into it. Think about that for a moment and let it sink in! There is no one good enough in the whole of the created order and the whole of history who can enact God’s plan of redemption and salvation, and bring God’s promised blessing. None in heaven: none of the holy angels, none of the spirits of the faithful awaiting resurrection, they cannot delve into God’s wisdom and God’s plan. None on earth: none of the wisest or best of men and women, no politician, preacher, scientist, artist, campaigner, carer, farmer, business person. None under the earth: no fallen angel, no departed soul awaiting final judgement. No-one. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
No wonder John begins to weep loudly. What if no-one ever opens that scroll? What if evil is never judged? What if salvation for God’s people never comes? What if God’s final perfect kingdom is never brought in? What if history is locked in limbo, and endless repetition of injustice and evil, with no one to bring it to conclusion or completion? Several people have said their experience of lockdown has been of ‘Groundhog Day’, feeling trapped without knowing if the end is in sight. What if history was in perpetual lockdown? What if there is no protection for God’s persecuted people in suffering? What if there’s no triumph for believers, or future inheritance, or new heavens and earth?
At this point it’s a good idea to address the elephant in the room, a problem that might well add to the intensity of John’s grief. John, isn’t Jesus standing right next to you? Isn’t he the one who beckoned you up here (4:1)? Doesn’t he have the keys to Death and Hades (1:18)? If I could put it tentatively like this, as one writer puts it, John is given the momentary impression that even his Saviour Jesus Christ can’t open the scroll and its seals. For a moment John is on the edge of a waking nightmare.
Sometimes, so that we can appreciate what we have, we need to appreciate what life would be like if it wasn’t there. I was taught a song in my Anglican Sunday School: “Think of a world without any flowers, think of a world without any trees…” It doesn’t bear thinking about! The chorus was much more upbeat: “We thank you Lord for flowers and trees and sunshine!” For a moment, think of a world without a triumphant Jesus – momentarily just contemplate life without it. It doesn’t bear thinking about! We need to lament over our broken world, over humanity’s failure to live God’s way, and acknowledge how deeply we need Jesus – this needs to be a regular feature of our private and corporate prayer life.
The answer (5). One of the elders, the representatives of the redeemed people of God, gives John good tidings of great joy. Notice, it’s the church that has the answer to humanities deepest problems, because it’s the church that has the gospel! There is no need for such deep intense despairing grief: “Weep no more!” Why? Because the Lord Jesus Christ is worthy, he is a Second Adam who represents humanity and inherits the promises of a new heaven and earth. He can bring God’s people into God’s place and promised blessing. God made it, we broke it, but Jesus will fix it. He is the ‘Lion of Judah’ (Gen 49:9-10) and the ‘Root of David’ (Isaiah 11:1-5,10), a Messiah, a better Adam, a strong and worthy King from the line of Judah. Through His suffering, He has conquered death and judgement for all who will trust Him, and because He remained faithful, so will they. Jesus Christ, the Son of God has enacted the God’s endgame, his final plan of judgement and salvation. So weep no more! In the following devotions we will look at what qualifies Jesus for this privileged position, but for the moment let this be a strong reassurance for the people of God, and invitation to come to Jesus for those who don’t know Him: Jesus is the conquering King we need.
I remember the story of John G. Paton, the pioneering missionary to cannibals on the Pacific Islands of the New Hebrides. He braved all kinds of dangers and illnesses so that these people would hear of the love of Jesus. His wife and child died, and he had to sleep at night up a tree to protect their graves from unwelcome visitors. This is what he said about those times: ‘But for Jesus I’d have gone mad’. I think the apostle John in contemplating the scroll of God remaining sealed could have said the same thing. Can you say the same as you contemplate all the struggles and mess of history, and the struggles and mess of your own life? It is Jesus alone who is worthy to bring God’s purposes of judgement and salvation to pass. Experience the sheer relief of having one who is fully man and fully God standing before the throne of heaven representing you. Will you acknowledge that He alone is worthy and will you trust him wholly? As you do you will find a new resilience and a grit in your soul to keep going: ‘But for Jesus I’d have gone mad’.
Mighty Christ from time eternal,
Mighty, he man’s nature takes,
Mighty when on Calvary dying,
Mighty, death itself He breaks.
See his might,
King of heaven and earth by right!
Titus Lewis, tr. Graham Stuart Harrison
Pray: Father, I thank you that Jesus alone is worthy to bring your purposes of salvation and judgement to bear on human history. How deeply reassuring and stabilising this is. Help me to remind myself of this often. Amen
Pete Campbell, Capel Fron, Penrhyndeudraeth