Revelation 5:1-4

Sermon preached on July 1, 2012 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

Winston Churchill is widely regarded as the greatest Englishman who ever lived. From time to time the British people are polled and asked to rate the greatest of their people. Churchill usually comes out on top. For good reason. Churchill led Great Britain in its darkest hour. In the late spring of 1940 it found itself standing alone against Nazi Germany. Western Europe had been overrun by the Nazis and only Britain remained free and opposed to Germany. At that point Britain turned to Churchill and he provided the leadership that took them from the hour of their greatest danger to the defeat of the Nazis. Without Churchill's leadership the outcome of the war may have been different.

People who believe in the 'great man' view of history very much see it that way—that a unique individual can come along and greatly influence the course of history in a way that no other could. The idea is that one individual can have such an effect that he can make a world of difference.

Our text is like that. John sees a scroll in God's right hand. A mighty angel asks—who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll? No one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or look inside.
This whole scene is setting up the introduction of the Lamb. These verses introduce the worthiness of the Lamb. They do it by showing us the inability of anyone else to open the scroll. It's an incredible passage that has much to teach us.

Chapter 4 was amazing showing us how the heavenly host worshipped and honored God for Who He is, what He is like and what He has done, especially in creation. Chapter 5 moves from creation to redemption and re-creation. It moves the focus to Jesus, the Lamb. Verse 6 says,

"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."

That is one of the most sublime verses in all of Scripture. We're not going to look at it today—hopefully we'll do that soon. But the first 5 verses prepare us for verse 6. The scene starts with a scroll in God's right hand. A mighty angel asks, who is worthy to open the scroll.

This all leads us to Jesus. Our text shows us that there is no one like Him. Only He could accomplish God's work. Only He could save God's people. Only He could restore God's creation to its rightful place. There is no one like Jesus.

Two things show us this. The scroll shows us the worthiness of Jesus in two ways—first because of what it represents, and secondly, because He only is worthy to take it, break the seals and open the scroll. Let's look at both of them.

First, the scroll and what it represents.

We are told that in God's right hand is a scroll with seven seals and is written on inside and out. What does it signify?

All sorts of ideas have been put forth. Some see it as being identical to the
Book of Life that is mentioned later in the book. But the contents of the scroll don't match that. The scroll has to do not just with the elect, but with also with the judgments that come upon those who fight against God. Some see a reference to the Old Testament, but our text is based specifically on Daniel 7 and Ezekiel 2—3 and they do not symbolize the Old Testament but rather events of judgment. Some suggest that the scroll relates to the events of the great tribulation just before the consummation of all things. That could be. Daniel 12 mentions a scroll that Daniel was told to seal up until the time of the end. The first part of that chapter refers a time of great distress and a time when all who have died will come to life, some to everlasting life and other to shame and everlasting contempt. If the reference to the scroll here harkens back to Daniel 12 the scroll certainly refers to things that will happen just before the Second Coming.

But since Revelation was written to comfort God's people, not just in the Great Tribulation, but in the time period leading up to that, (Revelation 1:2) others see it as including a much longer period of time. Thus G.K. Beale says that the scroll, (Revelation, p. 340)

"is best understood as containing God's plan of judgment and redemption, which has been set in motion by Christ's death and resurrection but has yet to be completed."

Robert H. Mounce says, (Revelation NICNT, p.129)

"it contains the full account of what God in his sovereign will has determined as the destiny of the world."

So there is dispute about when the events of the scroll begin, there isn't any dispute about the fact that they relate to the events just before the consummation.

But the important thing to note is that the scroll relates relate to the ushering in the consummation—the establishment of the new heaven and the new earth and the salvation of God's people. The opening of the scroll means the accomplishment of God's plan. The scroll details the events that will bring an end to this evil world. Those who are opposed to God, to His people—the devil, the beast from the earth, the beast from the sea, human beings who persecute and try to destroy the church—these will all be removed. They will not be a threat to God's people ever again. God's people will be saved and will be brought to God to live with Him. The
seven seals, (Osborne, p. 250)

"point to completeness, focusing on the fullness of the divine plan. It is perfect and is to be unveiled at the perfect time."

The scroll is written on both the inside and the outside. Some suggest that it points to the great amount of revelations—that they are comprehensive.

This scroll is of utmost significance. It is the unfolding of God's plan to restore the universe, to have human beings to be remade in God's image and rule with Him over creation. Satan tried to thwart that. He is still trying to do that. He and his forces are going fighting with everything they have against God and His plan. The breaking of the seals and the opening of the scroll mean that God's plan will come to pass and Satan and his forces will be vanquished.

Thus opening the scroll is one of the most significant events that could ever take place. It leads to the fulfillment of the things that God has purposed.

The second thing we see in our text that shows us the worthiness, the uniqueness of Jesus is the fact that

there is no one else worthy to open the scroll.

The angel asks,

"Who is worthy to break the seals
and open the scroll?"

The Greek doesn't say that the angel 'asked' who is worthy. It says that the angel 'proclaimed' who is worthy. The Greek word used of the angel is the one that is often translated, 'preached' in the New Testament. The angel proclaimed his question. One of the implications of this is that this question was not put out in a weak, localized way—so that someone, somewhere might not hear it and come forth. No. A mighty angel proclaims the question from heaven itself—all in heaven and on earth and under the earth heard and none could come forth.

In verse 3 John says that,

"But no one in heaven or on earth
or under the earth could open
the scroll or even look inside it."

The challenge is sent out to the far reaches of creation. The three-fold division here—heaven, earth and under the earth follows the ancient Jewish belief in a three-tiered universe. Heaven and earth are familiar to us. According to ancient Jewish cosmology, 'under the earth' referred to the abyss, where demonic forces dwell. (Osborne, p. 252) No one there is worthy to open the scroll. So by using the three-fold term, heaven, earth and under the earth John refers to the whole of creation. (Osborne, p. 251) Osborne writes,

"The point is that all created beings… lack the power… to 'open the scroll' or even… to look at it."

G. K. Beale says that the angel who poses the question in our text reminds us of the angelic spokesman in Daniel 4:13–14, 23. The angel there was an angel of 'strength'. The descriptions of the two angels are similar, and both proclaim a decree of judgment followed restoration. Beale writes, (Revelation, p. 338, 341)

"The implication of both proclamations in their contexts is that no created being, only God, possesses the worthiness and authority to be sovereign over history and to be able to execute his cosmic plan."

Think of it.

Not the greatest Biblical hero is worthy to open the scroll.

Think of the heroes of the faith and the things that they did. Consider Abraham, the father of the faithful. He is not worthy. He's the one who fathered Isaac even though his body was as good as dead and Sarah was 90 years old. He was the one that was willing to obey God when God told him to sacrifice Isaac, the child of promise. He trusted that God would raise Isaac from the dead. Is he worthy to break the seals? No. He was a sinner. He lied about Sarah being his wife. He is not worthy.

Consider of Moses. Think of the miracles that Moses did before Pharaoh. At his word great plagues came upon Egypt. Think of how he came to the Red Sea and held out his hand and the sea parted with walls of water on each side. Is Moses worthy to break the seals and open the scroll? No. He is not worthy.

Think of David and his courage before Goliath. That's a scene I would have loved to witness. David's words of faith in the face of that terrible warrior giant. Is David worthy to open the scroll? No. He was not even worthy to build the temple for God.

Hebrews 11 mentions the heroes of the faith. Enoch who did not see death. Noah who escaped the flood. Joshua, Rahab, Gideon, Samuel and the prophets. It tells us that, (Hebrews 11:33–34)

"who through faith conquered kingdoms,
administered justice,
and gained what was promised;
who shut the mouths of lions,
quenched the fury of the flames,
and escaped the edge of the sword;
whose weakness was turned to strength;
and who became powerful in battle
and routed foreign armies."

Elijah and Elisha even raised people to life. How wonderful these heroes of the faith were. They were faithful to death. Hebrews 11:38 says that,

"the world was not worthy of them."

What heroes they were! But none of them were worthy. They themselves were sinners and not one of them was even remotely capable of breaking the seals and opening the scroll. No one on earth is worthy to open the scroll.

Not only that,

but no one in heaven was found worthy.

Consider the angels. None of them were found worthy. Not even the archangels were worthy. Not Gabriel. Not Michael. These glorious, magnificent beings, who are pure and free from sin, who do God's will—none of them is worthy to break the seals or open the scroll.

Creation was marred by Adam's sin. For human beings to be saved, a second Adam, who was human, had to do it. Hebrews 2:14–18 says,

"Since the children have flesh and blood,
he too shared in their humanity
so that by his death he might
destroy him who holds the power of death
—that is, the devil— and free those who
all their lives were held in slavery
by their fear of death.
For surely it is not angels he helps,
but Abraham's descendants.
For this reason he had to be made
like his brothers in every way,
in order that he might become a merciful
and faithful high priest in service to God,
and that he might make atonement
for the sins of the people."

The worthy one had to be human. G. K. Beale says, (Revelation, p. 341)

"A human person had to open the book because the promise was made to humanity. But no person was found worthy to open it because all are sinners and stand under the judgment contained in the book."

Only Jesus could take the scroll and save. Only He was worthy.

In the Old Testament we see references to this. Not only does it tell us that a Messiah was coming, but it tells us that only He would save. In Isaiah 59:15f we see a complaint because truth was nowhere to be found, that there was no justice and whoever shunned evil became a prey. We read that the Lord looked, (verse 16)

"He saw that there was no one,
he was appalled that there was
no one to intervene;
so his own arm worked salvation for him,
and his own righteousness sustained him."

And in Isaiah 63 we read about the protector and deliverer of Israel. He protected them from Edom. We read, (verses 3–5)

"I have trodden the winepress alone;
from the nations no one was with me.
I trampled them in my anger
and trod them down in my wrath;
their blood spattered my garments,
and I stained all my clothing.
For the day of vengeance was in my heart,
and the year of my redemption has come.
I looked,
but there was no one to help,
I was appalled that no one gave support;
so my own arm worked salvation for me."

So what does this mean in practical terms?

First of all, it shows us that

none of us can save ourselves by seeking to be worthy, by doing good works.

It is beyond our grasp. We are sinners and the wages of sin is death. Death is what is required. It's a curse and none of us can satisfy it in the sense of freeing ourselves from it. It has us. On our own we are doomed. We are inadequate in ourselves. None of us can save ourselves.

Secondly, this shows us that

every other religion in the world is inadequate.

Every religion needs to be judged on how it deals with the basic question of sin. We're sinners. Everyone knows that. The wages of sin is death.

So how do other religions deal with that? Most, if not all, are works based. That won't work.

Only Christianity has an adequate answer to this question. Only Christianity deals with the essential problem of sin and its consequences. We need Jesus. As He said in John 14:6,

"I am the way and the truth
and the life.
No one comes to the Father
except through me."

Or as Peter proclaimed in Acts 4:12,

"Salvation is found in no one else,
for there is no other name
under heaven given to men
by which we must be saved."

If you're not a Christian I urge you to consider what this passage teaches. It shows that it is only through Jesus that people can be saved.

Thirdly, our text shows us that

without Jesus there is no hope.

We see this in verse 4. We read,

"I wept and wept because no one
was found who was worthy
to open the scroll or look inside."

If no one was found to open the scroll there would be no salvation for human beings. None would be saved. Without Jesus

It is only Jesus who can save us. It is only Jesus who can give us hope.

Lastly, our text shows us

how much we should appreciate Jesus.

He changes everything. Without Him we have nothing. Without Him there is no hope, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and raging fire.

With Him we have life to the full. Because of Him we are going to be brought to glory. We are going to be restored to a place of rule by His side. We are going to rule over the heaven and new earth. We are going to be made perfect in His image.

If you're a Christian, who is Jesus to you? He's everything. Keep that in your thoughts every day. Acknowledge Him. Praise Him. Rejoice in Him.