I continue a series at my congregation on the book of Revelation. It is a book that demands of its readers a prior knowledge of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Isaiah. And now, in my forties, it means more to me than in my earlier readings.
We will have a talk, the first of two, on Revelation 5 this coming Sabbath. This chapter is theology overflowing and it seemed best to me to divide it thematically and not by verses. So this first talk will be on the scroll, God’s decree of judgment, and God’s redemptive love.
The first thing that interests me is the posture of God in this vision and the nature of the scroll in his hand. God is not specifically named, but is referred to as “him who was seated on the throne,” a reference back to the throne vision of chapter 4. Now we learn he is seated with his right hand outstretched and in it — actually upon it (Greek is epi) — is a scroll.
The language describing this scroll would not refer to a book (codex), a fact which confused later scribes and led to some textual variants (see Grant Osborne’s commentary for more). Furthermore, the scroll is an opisthograph, or a scroll written on both sides. It has seven seals.
Considering first the nature of this scroll, I see three options, and prefer the last two, and especially the third:
–Option 1: it is a rolled scroll with its end sealed seven times at the opening.
–Option 2: it is a rolled scroll with seven seals placed at seven stopping points as it unrolls.
–Option 3: it is a fan-folded papyrus with a seal at each of the seven folds.
What is the identity of the scroll? Suggestions have included (adapted from Osborne):
–The Lamb’s book of life (cf. Rev. 3:5).
–A will or testament containing the inheritance of the saints.
–A bill of divorce in which God has divorced Jerusalem to remarry the New Jerusalem (not a view I would entertain).
–A contract deed.
–A decree containing God’s plans for future judgment.
I notice that in chapter 6, as each seal is broken, a judgment scene occurs. It seems to me that the scroll is God’s decree and the decree is for plagues and judgments on the earth (contra Osborne).
And why is the scroll upon God’s right hand rather than in it? Picture God seated in glory with his right hand of authority outstretched, offering the decree and its authority to someone. But, as the angelic beings ask, who is worthy?
There is only one who is worthy and for good reason. It is not because of power of might that this one is worthy. It is the one who conquered.
And did he conquer like Roman generals and emperors? No, he did not conquer with might or war, but with redemptive love:
Worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open its seals, for thou wast slain and by thy blood didst ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and hast made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on earth.
Ransom means purchase. And it opens up the layers of meaning in Yeshua’s atoning death, layers which are all present rather than being competing theories, in my opinion:
–Paying a price demanded by God’s justice (Penal Substitution)
–Paying a price to the slaveholder to buy us back (Ransom)
–Paying a price to demonstrate transcendent love and win us to love in return (Demonstration)
The only one deemed worthy by God to initiate the time of Messianic woes upon the world is the one who was slain in redemptive love.
–He loved his enemies.
–He loved the spiteful.
–He loved the ungrateful.
–He loved the mockers.
–He loved the unworthy.
–He loved the unloving.
–He loved us.
And with the price of his blood he purchased us for God. It reminds me of the priest in Les Miserables who said to Valjean, “With this silver I have purchased your soul for God . . . from now on you belong to good and not to evil.”
And God is the author of redemptive love. It is not as though love is an independent thing which God possesses. Love is God’s nature and is known to us and exists only because God is. He says judgment without preceding love is unworthy. He announces judgment in advance so we will read and repent.
Disaster and fearful uncertainty drive people to reach out to God. We see this in our culture when fearful things happen. People take the religious longings of their culture more seriously in such times.
God announces judgment and most laugh. But we are naïve like children about suffering. We don’t believe in it until it happens. Yet when it does, we become like children in need of a Father, a Father with redemptive love.