The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Revelation 5:1–14; “I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals. 2 And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and to break its seals?’ 3 And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it. 4 Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 And one of the elders *said to me, ‘Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to be able to open the scroll and its seven seals.’ 6 And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 And He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. 8 When He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they *sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are You to take the scroll and to break its seals; for You were slaughtered, and You purchased people for God with Your blood from every tribe, language, people, and nation. 10 You have made them into a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign upon the earth.’ 11 Then I looked, and I heard the voices of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power, wealth, wisdom, might, honor, glory, and blessing.’ 13 And I heard every created thing which is in heaven, or on the earth, or under the earth, or on the sea, and all the things in them, saying, ‘To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be the blessing, the honor, the glory, and the dominion forever and ever.’ 14 And the four living creatures were saying, ‘Amen.’ And the elders fell down and worshiped.” (NASB)
The sermon this morning is based on St. John’s vision given and recorded in the Book of Revelation chapter five. Reading and preaching on the Book of Revelation can be challenging because Revelation is a symbolic book. It’s not meant to be read a literalistic way, like a history book or a journal article that is trying to convey just the facts. The Book of Revelation speaks in symbolic language and grand images that carry with them theological meaning. As such the Book of Revelation is filled with multiple descriptions and visions of Jesus and His Church scene through a theological lense. . It is intended to teach us things about Jesus and the Church both in the present world and things concerning the Last Day and beyond.
So if you are going to understand the Book of Revelation as it is intended to be understood, you have to go back to the life and words of Jesus, to the Old Testament Scriptures, and to the life of the Church.
This morning’s second reading is Revelation chapter five. What is seen and recorded by John here is set in the context of chapter four. There John sets the scene for us. “1 After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.” 2 Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and someone was sitting on the throne.”
In chapter four St. John is given to see the throne room of heaven and he describes the four living creatures, twenty-four elders, and the Lord God who is seated on the heavenly throne. This is where the events of Revelation five takes place. V.1 “I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals.”
The first thing John sees as he enters the room the Lord God holding seated on the throne and holding a great scroll. John notes something interesting about this scroll. It’s a detail only a few notice, but it is an important detail. It was “a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals.” There was writing on both the front and back of the scroll. Writing on both sides was not the normal way to use a scroll. Usually just one side of the scroll is written on. But John sees that both sides have been used.
It was the practice in the first-century when writing a last will and testament to use both side of a scroll. On the one side, the front side, is where the meat of the last will and testament was written. On the other side, the back side contained a summary the scroll’s contents– like a table of contents.
By recording the contents of the scroll on the back side, people could easily identify the document for what it was, a last will and testament. This also indicated that only a trusted executor who was given authority to execute the terms of the will could unseal, open, then execute the terms of the will.
If the scroll in Revelation five is Jesus’s last will and testament, then it follows that only the resurrected Jesus alone had the authority to execute the terms of His own will. That is what verse 2 tells us. “And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and to break its seals?’ 3 And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it.”
Among all of the saints there gathered in heaven, no one was worthy. The angels were not worthy. The archangels were not worthy. The prophet’s of old were not worthy. The Lord’s apostles were not worthy. All were unworthy to break the seal of the scroll and to execute it terms. This why John began to weep in verse 4. “Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.”
There in the throne room filled with “myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands” of heavenly beings there was not found any one worthy enough to open the scroll. Without the One with authority, the new covenant that had been promised by God through the patriarchs and prophets of old would never be executed. The new testament was out of reach and all hope lost so John weeps.
Therein lies the problem. We are by nature sinful and unclean. That is to say we are unworthy to even be in the presence of the Lamb of God. John the Baptist said it rightly when he told the people. “He who comes after me, of whom I am not worthy even to untie the strap of His sandal.” Left to ourselves we wouldn’t even see the inside of the throne room in heaven.
But most people, even those who think themselves a Christian, think they are worthy. They think that they are basically good people who deserve to stand among the myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, just because they see themselves and their deeds as good. But here John weeps. He is looking at a heavenly sight and still there is no one in those myriads worthy.
Then 5 “one of the elders said [John], ‘Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to be able to open the scroll and its seven seals.’” The elder tells John that there is One who is worthy. There is one who have overcome sin, death, and the power of the devil.
John looks and sees the Lion of Judah and the Root of David, the Promised Seed of Adam and Eve. There between the throne and the elders stood the Lamb who was slain. “He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.”
Now when the Lamb had taken the scroll into His own hands, all the creatures of heaven fell down in an act of worship. The four living creatures and the two dozen elders held in their hands a harp. The Greek is kitharan, it was a particular plucked string instrument also called a lyre, which was used in the Old Testament as accompaniment for the singing of the psalms. It was an instrument used in the worship service of the tabernacle and temple.
They also had golden bowls of incense. Incense was a regular feature of the Old Testament tabernacle and temple (Ex 30:1–10). The altar of incense placed close to the altar and was used daily to produce a sweet smoke. The altar of incense was a reminder of God’s salvation. Daily, it produced a pillar of fire and a pillar of cloud. It was pleasing to God and a reminder of the Exodus from slavery.
The vision also teaches that there’s a connection between heaven and earth, between the worship service in the throne room of heaven and the worship service of the temple and church here on earth.
List now to Hebrews 8:8-12, “Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, When I will bring about a new covenant With the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 9 Not like the covenant which I made with their fathers [which they broke]. . . 10 For this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel . . . I will put My laws into their minds, And write them on their hearts. And I will be their God, And they shall be My people. 11 And they will not teach, each one his fellow citizen, And each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ For they will all know Me, From the least to the greatest of them. 12 For I will be merciful toward their wrongdoings, And their sins I will no longer remember.”
The Lamb in the vision holds the new covenant, the new testament in Christ’s blood. And a new testament brings forth a new song. Verse 9 The Greek, V 9: kai adousin oden kainen, “They *sang a new song . . . ,”
In the ancient world new songs were traditionally performed at the public celebration after a military triumph. Here singing “a new song” means that Jesus has already won the victory, even if he has yet to open the scroll and execute the terms of His Last Will and Testament.
“‘Worthy are You to take the scroll and to break its seals; for You were slaughtered, and You purchased people for God with Your blood from every tribe, language, people, and nation.” Did you hear that part? This heavenly song sings about the atoning death of Jesus– That’s the work that was truly worthy and that was the work that brought about all other good works.
10 “You have made them into a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign upon the earth . . . the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power, wealth, wisdom, might, honor, glory, and blessing. . . ’ ‘To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be the blessing, the honor, the glory, and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.’”
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain” (v 12). The slain Lamb Jesus lives. He is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). He is the unblemished Lamb, the One who was like us in all things with without sin. 1 Peter 1:18-19, “You were not [a]redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.”
All people are sinful by nature and we too “were by nature children of wrath, like the rest” (Ephesians 2:3). But this one who is named Jesus was exalted and declared worthy.
Philippians 2:6-9 “He already existed in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself by taking the form of a bond-servant and being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death: death on a cross. 9 For this reason also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name.
Philippians and Revelation give us a glimpse into Jesus’s state of exaltation. He is no longer the suffering servant and silent Lamb who goes to be slain. He is the worthy one who brings in and the executes His Last Will and New Testament.
Works do not make the person worthy. It’s the other way around. If someone is righteous, pure, just, spiritually clean, wholesome, and good that person’s works will be the same. A good tree produces good fruit.
From birth Jesus alone is innocent. Likewise, Jesus alone lived a life worthy of God under the Ten Commandments. He alone is righteous. Therefore, because Jesus alone is worthy, He alone was the perfect sacrifice for sinners. He is the Lamb who was slain on the cross to save sinners.
Just as the Lamb who was slain now comes back and lives, so Jesus has risen from the dead. He is the living Lamb who once was slain. So then His resurrection is worthy to end death forever. Since Jesus is the righteous Son of God made man, all of His works are worthy.
Christ’s Jesus’s worthiness has been given to you. You are worthy, washed clean by the water and the Word. Your sins are forgiven and you now stand with the myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands singing the new songs of salvation. “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power, wealth, wisdom, might, honor, glory, and blessing.’” Amen.
May the peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen