“Who is worthy to open the book?”
The title of the last book of the Bible is not “The Revelation of St. John the Divine” as shown in the heading. The correct title is in the very first verse. It is “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.” He is the book’s great theme and the dominant figure throughout, and all is leading up to the grand and glorious consummation when He returns to take unto Himself His great power and to reign.
Concerning that wonderful Person who is to be revealed the apostle wrote, “In him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). Indeed, in Him is hidden all the fulness of the Godhead, so it might be apropos to refer to our Lord Jesus as the hidden Christ. In Old Testament times, as the pre-incarnate Christ, He was hidden. There were a few times He appeared in what we call a theophany but in the main He was hidden. When the fulness of time was come He was hidden for nine months in the womb of the virgin, and after His birth He was hidden in Egypt because of Herod’s decree. On returning to the land He was hidden for many years in the carpenter’s home in Nazareth and we have only one glimpse of Him, when at the age of twelve He went to Jerusalem with His parents. At about the age of thirty He began His public ministry and for a few brief years He went about doing the works of the Father who sent Him. Rejected and crucified He was hidden for three days and three nights in Joseph’s tomb. After His resurrection He was seen of them for forty days until His ascension, and now for many centuries He has been hidden beyond the blue and discernible only to the eye of faith. But praise His name, the day is coming when He will be hidden no longer; there will be the revelation (Gr. apokalupsis), the unveiling of Jesus Christ. Then every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him. Then all creation will bow down before the unveiled Christ in worship and wonder.
The fifth chapter of the Revelation is most important, and one should have a good understanding of it, for it is the key to all that follows. The word “and” at the beginning of this chapter ties it in with the preceding. In the fourth chapter the inspired writer, the Apostle John, has a glimpse of the throne in heaven and of the One seated on that throne, who is the Lord God Almighty Himself. Now in 5:1 John sees a book, or scroll, in the right hand of the Throne-Sitter. This book has writing both within and without and is sealed with seven seals. What is this book? It is, of course, a book of judgment, for as the seals are broken, judgments are visited upon the earth. The day of grace has ended and the day of judgment has begun. More importantly, however, the book is the Title-Deed to the earth and all therein.
Our Lord, the great Creator, gave the title to this earth to Adam, but because of his sin it was lost and now a usurper is in control. That usurper is Satan, who is called the god of this world and the prince of the power of the air, and we read the whole world lieth in the wicked one. The world is now waiting for redemption to be an accomplished fact, and to be brought back to its rightful owner. In Romans eight we read that all creation is groaning and travailing in pain and is waiting for redemption. And we read that even we, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we groan within ourselves, waiting for the redemption of our bodies. The redemption price has been paid, but something more is needed. It reminds us of Israel of old waiting to be delivered from Egypt. The blood was on the doorposts which gave them safety in their homes from the death angel. But now they needed power to be delivered from their enemies and to get them out of the land of bondage. When they had come safely through the Red Sea, with all their foes destroyed behind them, theirs was a twofold redemption. They were redeemed by blood, the blood of the passover lamb, and they were redeemed by power, the mighty outstretched arm of Jehovah. The redemption price for earth has been paid by Christ. Now this seven-sealed book gives to the one worthy to open it the authority to manifest his power in dislodging the usurper and claiming the purchased possession. This brings us to the question as to who is worthy.
John had been gazing at the book and now his attention is diverted as he sees a strong angel and hears him crying out, “Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?” There is no response, only a great silence, for no one in heaven, earth, or hell is found worthy, and John weeps. He doubtless knew something of the significance of that book. If it remained sealed, redemption unaccomplished, the inheritance unclaimed, then all the purposes of God in connection with earth and mankind would remain unfulfilled. Little wonder that John wept. Would that God would touch our hearts so that we also might weep over an unredeemed world. But John’s tears are soon allayed. One of the elders tells him, “Weep not; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.” Notice the titles given to this One who alone is worthy: “The Lion of the tribe of Judah” and “The Root of David.” Certainly, these titles are here most significant. Israel has long been set aside, estranged from Jehovah, but now they are to be reconciled and God is to begin again to work on their behalf, so Christ is given these titles that speak of the renewal of His relationship to them. The reference to the lion is also of interest. He is now about to show His kingly, lionlike character and to manifest His power in subduing His foes and claiming that which is rightfully His own.
At the word of the elder, John ceased weeping and turned to see this Lion who was worthy and who had prevailed to open the book. What was his surprise when he saw, not a Lion, but a Lamb; a Lamb that had been slain, with the marks of sacrifice upon Him. This was the Lamb of God, the Lamb foreordained before the foundation of the world, the Lamb typified by every offering on every Jewish altar, the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world. As John looked, he began to understand that the power to redeem belonged to the Person who had paid the price to redeem. And what a price He paid; His life laid down and His precious blood shed on the Cross of Calvary. The Hebrew epistle opens with these words: “God … hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things.” Now, as John watches, he sees the Throne-Sitter place the book in the hands of the Lamb, for He has paid the price. He is the appointed Heir, and He now holds the title to all.
As the Lamb takes the book from the hand of the Throne-Sitter, the cherubim and elders fall before Him in worship and praise. They sing what is here called a new song, which is really the old song the redeemed saints of God have ever loved to sing. In the words of the King James Version these heavenly beings were singing about themselves, but insofar as we know, these were unfallen creatures who had no need of redemption. All other versions make their song impersonal such as the American Revised Version: “Worthy art thou to take the book, and to open the seals thereof; for thou wast slain, and did purchase unto God men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, and madest them to be unto our God a kingdom and priests; and they shall reign upon the earth.” Even though we are not in view here, we, as members of the Body of Christ, saved by the grace of God and redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, will never tire of singing a like song, and we will certainly be able to make it personal. He loved “us” and redeemed “us” by His blood out of every people and nation.
Lamb of God! Thou now art seated
High upon Thy Father’s throne;
All Thy gracious work completed,
All Thy mighty vict’ry won.
Ev’ry knee in heaven is bending
To the Lamb for sinners slain;
Ev’ry voice and harp is swelling,
Worthy is the Lamb to reign.
The singers are soon joined by the heavenly angelic host, their number, ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, an innumerable throng. Their theme is the same: “Worthy is the Lamb.” It would be good to note their sevenfold doxology and then to ask ourselves some heart-searching questions. (1) The Lamb is worthy to receive power. All power in heaven and in earth has been given to Him. He has authority. Have we yielded our all to His control, to His authority? (2) The Lamb is worthy to receive riches. He was rich but for our sake He became poor so that we might be made rich. Have we given ourselves to Him and done all we can to enrich Him? (3) The Lamb is worthy to receive wisdom. Christ has been made unto us the wisdom of God. Have we given Him our minds, our intellect, to be used on His behalf, and do we seek His divine wisdom to guide us in all our affairs? (4) The Lamb is worthy to receive strength. “Who is a strong Lord like unto thee?” Have we given of our strength and energy to bring others to Him? Are we able to say: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me?” (5) The Lamb is worthy to receive honor. In heaven the Lamb is honored, but on earth He is dishonored. Do we seek to live in such a way as to bring honor to Him? (6) The Lamb is worthy to receive glory. To Him be glory both now and forever. Do we endeavor in all things to give Him all the glory? (7) The Lamb is worthy to receive blessing. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.” Do we just seek our own happiness or do we seek to bless the Lord, to make Him happy? He is worthy!
The Lamb is here seen standing. As Head of the Church, Christ has been seated at the Father’s right hand. Now the Church age is ended, the Church is safe home in glory and Christ’s mediatorial work is done, and He now stands to judge and to make war. The Lamb is not weak. He has seven horns which denote His great power. In Daniel’s visions there are several references to horns and they speak of authority, governmental authority. After His resurrection the Lord told the disciples, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth,” and now the Lamb is preparing to show that power. He stands, with the Title-Deed in hand and possessing all power. None can gainsay Him as He is about to claim His inheritance. He has incontestable right and unparalleled might.
The Lamb is also seen as Judge. “For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son” (John 5:22). He is seen as having seven eyes and this speaks of His perfection of vision. He sees all, nothing is hid from His eyes, and He knows all. In the seven horns and seven eyes are the attributes of deity. The horns speak of omnipotence, all power, and the eyes speak of omniscience, all knowledge. The psalmist said, “O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether. … Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it” (Psalm 139:1-6). Among men, right judgment is not always rendered because all the facts may not be known. With the Divine Judge there will be no miscarriage of justice, “For he cometh to judge the earth; he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth” (Psalm 96:13). In thinking of the Judge, all should take heed. Dealings with the Lord Jesus Christ are inescapable; either we meet Him now and claim Him as our Saviour or we will meet Him in that future day and then He will be our Judge.
This fifth chapter of Revelation is important and most outstanding for several reasons. First of all, it does mark the ending of man’s day and the beginning of the Lord’s Day. In fact, the book of the Revelation has to do with that Day. This is what John referred to when he wrote: “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” (1:10). He did not mean he was meditating on the first day of the week. He meant he was projected in spirit into that future Day of the Lord. That day begins here with the Lord Himself rising to begin the process which will culminate in His enthronement and with all things in subjection under His feet. He alone is to be seen, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb for sinners slain. He alone is worthy and is the Object of worship and praise by all. How little we know of all this today. In our worship services there is usually not a trace of genuine Spirit-directed worship. Man is always most prominent, the flesh all too evident, and little or no reference to the Lamb of God. He should be the subject of our songs, our speech, our prayers, our thoughts.
A grand and glorious oratorio is spread before us in this chapter. It is a veritable Hallelujah Chorus. First the cherubim and elders come on the scene, falling before the Lamb with their harps and golden vials, and singing “Thou art worthy.” Soon they are joined by the angelic host, thousands upon thousands, with their sevenfold ascription of praise. And finally all creation joins in, saying, “Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.” Our hearts are thrilled as the universe echoes and re-echoes to this symphony of praise. The psalmist said, “Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord.” What shall we say to all this? We can only fall on our face in adoring worship and say, AMEN! HALLELUJAH!