As he beheld God in His glory being praised by the angelic hosts and elders, John noticed that God held a book in his hand. After noticing the book, John heard an angel that beckoned all of heaven to send forth any who was worthy to open the book that God held in his hand. So what is this book? Why should it be opened?
In verse 5, we find out that this book was fastened with seven seals. Understanding that at the time of John’s writing this, books as we use them with cut pages and bindings were not yet used regularly in the Middle East, John perhaps is speaking of a scroll that has seven seals on it. In the ancient world, it was common for those writing a will to do so with a scroll with seven seals. Seeing a scroll like this would lead us to believe the scroll here is the will and testament of God. Sealed-scrolls were also used for land deeds in the ancient world, and perhaps the imagery used here indicates that God is holding the will and deed to all of His creation. We could then understand that whoever holds this scroll possesses the authority to rule and reign all of creation. Furthermore, the only one who can open it is the one who is the rightful recipient or heir of its contents.
Now, all of heaven listened with anticipation as the angel cried loudly for the one to show himself who could rightfully open the will of God and the deed of creation, effectively claiming His rightful place as Sovereign of the Universe. I imagine that as John beheld the incredible sight of God and the glories of heaven, he was moved with a flood of emotion. Enraptured by the invitation to such a worthy One, John must have eagerly glanced as far as he could see across the heavenly expanse to catch a view of the One who would open the scroll. But no one replied. No one answered.
John’s joy and anticipation quickly became a distraught disappointment and he began to weep. Overwhelmed by the prospect that no one could claim the right to this will, John wept in despair. Perhaps it was because John realized what the opening of this will and deed would mean. In claiming the title of Sovereign of the Universe, the one who opened the scroll would eventually undo the brokenness that marred God’s beautiful creation. In unwrapping each seal, this worthy one would cleanse creation of the misdeeds and wrongs that Satan had constructed. With a purging fierceness he would wash away the damage and restore the universe to perfect harmony. But now, no one came, so John wept.
John’s weeping was interrupted by one of the elders. “Weep not: Behold!” The word translated “behold” is the same as our saying, “Look!” John turned his eyes towards the one that the elder acknowledged in the midst of the elders and John saw one who stood as a Lamb. The elder told John that it was the Lion of Judah and Root of David. Both of these names were Messianic references, and speak of Jesus. However, as John looked at Him, he didn’t see a lion, rather he saw a lamb that had been slain. The lamb wasn’t dead now, but he had been. Having read John 1, we know Jesus had been called the “Lamb of God” by John the Baptist. Now, the Lamb was resurrected and stood before God.
Jesus, the Lion, the Root, the slain Lamb, came into the presence of God to answer the call of “Who is worthy to open the book?” With confidence, Jesus did what no one else would ever dare to do, He took the book out of God’s hand. Here with fearless audacity, One finally had come to claim the title of Heir to the will of God and Sovereign of the Universe. He had endured suffering and had been slain so that He could redeem all of creation, now, He had come to claim His rightful place of glory with God.
Reflect: Read Daniel 7:13-14. How does this passage compare to what we read in Revelation 5?