Throne Room Series: Revelation 5:1-14
Good morning church. So the scene is set. Looking through the eyes of John, we enter the doorway to the heavenly realm in Revelation 5. A grand throne, and the One who is seated on the throne is so amazing that he can only be described by using colors. Fantastic beasts, 24 elders, 24 other thrones, 7 torches, a sea of glass, and an emerald rainbow. Our senses are assaulted by crisp flashes of lightning and booming crashes of thunder. It’s like the lightning and thunder are acting like a drumset to this choir who is praising the One who is seated on the throne.
The curtain is pulled back, and we’re allowed to see what a worship service looks like in heaven, and hopefully our hearts long to be there and join in. The scene focuses. The movie version of Revelation 4 is an establishing shot. It lets us see where we are and everything in front of us. But the movie version of Revelation 5 is a long, slow zoom shot moving away from the elders and creatures down to one object held within the right hand of the One who is seated on the throne.
“Then I saw in the right hand of him who is seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals.”
How mundane. How simple. A scroll? Today that’s like saying somebody walks into a meeting holding a tablet. You know as we age, and we go into a doctor’s office and the doctor walks in either holding a tablet of paper or a new tablet that contains information about our health, we become very concerned about what he’s holding because within those notes of that M.D. are the words of life and death at times.
We place a lot of value on the papers that doctor holds. How much more valuable, meaningful, impactful, remarkable, dependable, inscrutable, inconceivable, incredible are the words contained within the scroll held in the hand of power by the One who is seated on the throne? This scroll must be cosmically important. Oh to know the words held within that scroll!
This is no simple scroll. It’s a unique scroll. It’s written on both sides, which is odd, some of which can be seen and read, others held away in secret. It is a secure scroll. Seven seals — it is perfectly secure. Those authorized to open it must meet its perfect security code. The camera zooms out slightly, and John sees something other than just the scroll.
“And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’”
Now throughout the scriptures a normal response to seeing an angel is one of absolute dread and fear. People panic. Imagine what a mighty angel with a loud voice is like. This is not like some dad walking out onto the back porch to call his kids in for dinner. The voice of this angel would reverberate throughout the known universe. The call goes out for the worthy one. “Who is worthy to open the scroll?” Who is authorized? Who can get this perfectly unique, secure scroll of the Lord Almighty open? A search is made. After the call of the angel, search parties scatter throughout the universe and we discover this:
“And no one… and no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it.”
Oh no! What else can we do at this point but exclaim together “Oh no!” The Lord Almighty’s scroll is going to remain sealed. What was written in it? What was the plan? What was the information? What were the words? What did it have to do with my life? What did it have to do with the world? What were the implications of this mundane, unique, secure scroll? With John we find ourselves in great tension. The scroll’s importance cannot be overestimated. It’s held in the hand of power by the Almighty One himself and yet its secrets are forever locked away. What do we do? What did John do?
“And I began to weep loudly because there was no one found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.”
Literally, John began to cry and cry and cry. Knowing the value of the contents of the scroll and now discovering those contents are forever sealed, John exclaims his own “Oh no!” by weeping. Perhaps John’s weeping had settled down to a case of the sniffles when his sadness is interrupted.
“And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
The universe-wide search for the worthy One has an update. One of the elders steps out of his role of worshipping the One who is seated on the throne to pull John and us out of our tension. We move from exclaiming “Oh no!” to “Yes!” with the universal gesture for “yes.” Whether you’re a 13-year-old who gets the perfect water bottle flip, whether you’re a parent who finally sees their children do what they’re taught to do on their own without being asked, we all know “yes!”
And that’s what’s happening in heaven. The elder breaks through the weeping with joyful news. John, good news is on the way. John, stop crying. “Behold” (we need to start working that into our conversations more), “Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah.” Who is that? The Scroll Opener seems to have an ancient lineage. We know from that name he’s from Israel and from one of Israel’s twelve sons whose name was Judah, because Judah was once described as a lion’s cub.
So the Lion of Judah is descended from the lion’s cub, and the Lion is now on the scene to open the scroll. What do we do with this image of the Lion?
Well first, we have to recognize that this scroll opener is the fulfillment of a promise God made a long time ago.
And second, throughout the library of scripture, the lion is an image that communicates power and ferocity and fierceness, and John will soon tell us why the Lion’s power is needed in this situation. To be authorized to open the scroll takes an act of great power and tenacity.
The elder also announces that the Scroll Opener is the root of David. David, the great poet-shepherd-king of Israel. David was not a permanent, perfect king. He’s like us; he failed terribly. But David was promised that his family tree would not die out, that through his family there’s going to come a perfect ruler who will rule forever perfectly.
The root of the family tree now appears in heaven. The Scroll Opener is the conqueror. The elder informs John and us that it was no easy task to become worthy to open the Almighty One’s scroll. It was a battle, and a battle that the Lion won. The root of David, the King, has conquered and now the contents of God’s great scroll are within reach. The Lion is present. All he has to do is reach out and take the scroll and open it.
Once again the camera shot changes in heaven. John looks away from the elder speaking to him back into the throne of heaven and says:
“And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated at the throne.”
Now if you’re a movie watcher, you may know that throughout film history, there are these moments in film where part of the scenery or a prop can change without notice. So you’re watching a movie, and you see an actor holding a sandwich, and in the next frame it turns into a glass of orange juice. This is called a continuity issue. Someone on set didn’t watch the actor to see what prop they were using. So when they go to edit that film, they’re stuck. That sandwich is going to transform into orange juice.
We have a continuity issue in heaven. We’re told that the Lion of the tribe of Judah is on scene. The elder reported that the search was successful. The scroll opener was found, and it was a Lion. But when John turns and looks, he doesn’t see a Lion. He sees a Lamb. The Lion is transformed into the Lamb.
We see a Lamb as though it had been slain. Something about this Lamb communicated to John that it had died. It had been killed. It was a slain Lamb. And now the identity of the Scroll Opener is coming closer and closer to focus.
If for a moment, we can engage our imaginations and step back into time and put on our “Jewish hat,” then our minds would fly back to generation upon generation upon generation of Jews who sacrificed lambs. They would remember one particular event called Passover, where the death of a lamb was the difference between life and death.
Even in the recent history of the recipients of this letter, they would remember a man who was introduced as a new Lamb. A friend of his said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
The new Lamb was not sacrificed on a stone altar, but upon a wooden cross. And the corpse of the new Lamb was laid deep in a borrowed tomb. The corpse of the new Lamb stayed in there for three days. But then, because of the power of the Almighty One, because of the power of the One who is seated on the throne, the new Lamb began to breathe. Skin turned pink, and the light returned to the eyes. And now the new slain Lamb was standing outside the tomb.
We cannot miss the word in Revelation 5, “standing.” It was a Lamb, as if it had been dead, “standing.” That’s our resurrection word. This new Lamb didn’t stay dead. It’s alive. The Lamb was dead, past tense, but in John’s present and in our present and forever the Lamb will always be a standing Lamb. The name of this new Lamb, the slain Lamb, the slain standing Lamb is Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Jesus, the slain Lamb is the Lion of Judah, the root of David, the Scroll Opener, the Worthy One.
John, the author of Revelation, that we’re studying right now, he actually saw Jesus after he was raised from the dead, in real life.
And now John, in heaven, is seeing the resurrected lamb once again. It’s as if John gets to experience the resurrection twice.
The Lamb is still alive, friends. We’re told in the text that this standing slain Lamb, (and remember a lamb is typically a pretty timid creature) walks right up to the throne surrounded by lightning and thunder, a sea of glass, an emerald rainbow, crazy beasts, 24 elders, this Lamb just walks right up to the One seated on the throne, who can only be described by color, reaches out and takes the scroll out of his right hand of power. What a powerful, courageous, and authoritative Lamb! As soon as the scroll leaves the hand of the mighty One, everything on the scene changes.
“And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the 24 elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.”
The fantastical beasts and the elders whose role up to this point was only to worship the One who was seated on the throne, transfer their worshipful responses to the lamb. Jesus, the slain standing lamb, rightfully receives worship that is directed at the Almighty One. The 28 cast members in heaven respond to the Lamb in a couple of ways. They musically create, they fall flat, and they prayerfully intercede. They see Jesus, the roaring Lion, Forever King, Scroll Opener as equal to and worthy to open the plans of God. They see Jesus as equal to the Almighty One and the only thing they can do is fall flat.
With this powerful portrait of Jesus, they grab instruments to create new musical responses. With purified golden bowls they bring the prayers of God’s people before Jesus and the One who sits on the throne. Our prayers are present in heaven. The prayers of God’s people fill up the worship of heaven. At this point the cast members in heaven are so emotionally, spiritually, mentally overloaded that their next response, all they can do, is to bust out into a brand new song.
“And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’”
After falling flat, sometimes the only response we can do is to sing. When we’re so full, our words combine with melodies, and we’re able to pour out what we think and believe. So it is in the heavenly realm. They keep doing it. It would appear that the worthiness of Jesus is so overwhelming that composers among us will continue to write great music in the forever future.
Within this song, we discover what the Lion/Lamb did in order to conquer and be worthy to open the scroll. We see why two metaphors for Jesus, Lion and Lamb, are needed. Jesus is lion fierce and lamb feeble. Jesus roars like a lion and keeps silent like a lamb. Jesus is as courageous as a lion and as controlled as a lamb.
Why is Jesus worthy? Jesus was slain. The Lamb died. The Lamb was sacrificed. Worthiness is pricey.
Why is Jesus worthy? Because Jesus gave his blood. He gave up his very lifeblood, the liquid that flows in you and flows in me that keeps us alive, Jesus let his flow out for you and for me.
Why is Jesus worthy? Because the topic of his death and blood is still sung about in heaven. It’s not a morbid topic. The reality of the death and blood of Jesus is what authenticates him to open the scroll and be the worthy One.
Why is Jesus worthy? Jesus transforms the ransomed to royalty. In this culture, if I’m ransomed by someone, I am in their debt. I owe them, I am owned by them, and I have to respond to them that way. Jesus is so worthy that he makes sure his ransomed people understand that they are slaves no longer. He ransoms them to be a kingdom. The ransomed ones become priests. A ransomed one will sit on the throne with Jesus. A ransomed one will reign on earth. A tyrant ruler is unworthy to open the scroll because his ransomed people remain slaves. Jesus is no tyrant. Jesus is the worthy One.
It would appear that the outburst of song in this chapter draws the attention and creates a scene of other onlookers. John says,
“Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!’”
Jesus is so worthy that worship of him multiplies — from 4 beasts to 24 elders to a choir of thousands and thousands — the worthiness of Jesus is infectious, it spreads, and so it should today. Worship of the worthy one is loud — thousands, all choosing to sing with a loud voice. That is loud.
Worship of the worthy one is exponential. Jesus is so worthy that he deserves literally everything: power, wealth, wisdom, might, honor, glory, and blessing. And the way the text keeps flowing with all of those nouns, it’s as if we could keep adding to that list of how amazing and worthy Jesus is, and we would not have started making the list yet. That’s how worthy Jesus is.
Jesus is so worthy that worship extends to creatures who can’t speak.
“And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’”
Now we have Chronicles of Narnia worship. If you’re familiar with C.S. Lewis’s fantasy novels, The Chronicles of Narnia, then you know within those volumes that creatures like mice and bears and horses can talk, and humans are astounded by that reaction. But in response to the worthiness of Jesus, Narnia is real. The whale will add a great big bass tone to this song while an eagle screeches the high soprano melody. Imagine a lowly, slow slug offering its own little bit to the choir while a quick panther is doing vocal runs all over the place.
It would appear that Jesus is so worthy that the only way to communicate how worthy he is, is that every creature from every sphere of our reality that doesn’t have a voice will gain a voice, jump into a choir and begin to praise Jesus as the worthy one.
Jesus is worthy. When the Narnians finish their hymn, the living creatures pronounce a final blessing over the assembly.
“And the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’” Jesus, the Lion, the Lamb, the Root, the Scroll Opener, the Worthy One, is also named the Amen. Jesus is God’s final affirmation of love. Jesus is literally God’s Amen and now these crazy, fantastical creatures say “amen” to the Amen.
Now it’s interesting that at some point during this service the 24 elders had jumped back up onto their feet. During one of the songs, they decided to sing standing because the text tells us again that they returned to their posture of humility, “And the elders fell down and worshipped.”
So there’s your biblical evidence for standing and sitting during a worship service. These elders were so into the moment that at one point they’re flat on their face, the next moment they’re standing back up, and the next moment they’re back down. The elders fell down and worshiped. The Worthy One has the scroll, and he can open it. John took us with him when he accepted the invitation to go through that door into the heavenly realm. This recorded vision, while fantastically odd and stunningly beautiful, yields but one conclusion for us. Jesus is worthy! Jesus is worthy! Will you say that with me loudly? Jesus is worthy!
Early in the vision, did you feel John’s desperation for the Worthy One? Like that moment when we discovered the scroll can’t be opened, John just burst into tears! If he doesn’t show up, what are we going to do?
I want that. I want that every Sunday that I’m here with you and every Sunday that I’m at Northwest. I want to see Jesus as so worthy I’m desperate. I’m not there. Heaven help me, I’m not there. There was a song we sang last week that had the phrase, “awestruck at the mention of your name.” Imagine every time you hear the name of Jesus, it’s like you’re standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon.
That’s where I’d like to be. That’s where I’d like for you guys to be. If all 700 of us were awestruck at the mention of Jesus every time we sang a song, what would happen in here?
How do you feel about Jesus? In preaching, it’s really interesting that often we want practical application. Practically tell me what to do. But we don’t do a whole lot of applying to how we feel. How do you feel about Jesus? Not what do you know, not what facts do you have, not what you think. Are you so desperate that in his absence you would burst into tears? Jesus is worthy. Be desperate.
Jesus is worthy, and Jesus is our future. This passage demands that we see Jesus for more than our Savior. I’m not minimizing Savior! Don’t hear something I’m not saying. The passage reminds us of his death and blood, and we can sing of that forever. It’s in heaven. But the role of Jesus in our lives isn’t over after the resurrection. Jesus is the central character for all of our life moving forward into the future. Jesus is God’s central character in the future. He still has work to do.
Therefore, today’s circumstances do not, cannot, and will not define our reality. Jesus conquered. Jesus gets to open the scroll. Jesus has power. So whether it’s internal stuff with you, or external circumstances, they are not the definition of your reality. The Bible actually tells you you’re more than a conqueror because he conquered.
Today does not rule us. We’re ruled by the Worthy One who is going to set in motion everything that he has set in motion. Jesus is worthy; worship him. One of the most valid responses we can have is to mimic everything that happens in Revelation 5. Just do what the elders and beasts did.
Have you ever fallen flat at the name of Jesus? Or are we so modern and comfortable that that’s too silly? Think of that. Jesus, the Worthy One, died for you, and he wants you to be in his kingdom, and he wants to be a priest, and he wants you to sit on his throne, and he wants you to reign on earth forever. That might need to drop our posture a bit, and it’s okay if that happens in this room. Jesus is worthy.
As we encounter Jesus in Revelation 5, let us sing. Let us speak his name. Let us fall flat. Let us play instruments. Let us pray. And let’s realize that we’re like an orchestra five minutes before the start of the symphony. We’re only tuning up. We’re only warming up, because one day we get to be in Revelation 5.
Jesus is worthy; desperately long for him.
Jesus is worthy. He is your future.
Jesus is worthy; worship.
We’re going to have time to do that together now, and I want to encourage you with a couple of things. One, in this mimicry, sing. One of the beauties of North Hills Church, and we’ve had other people say it who have visited here, you people sing!
We’re not here to listen to them. We’re here to listen to each other, all of us. Choose to sing. Choose to sing with a loud voice even if you stink at singing.
No one will care.
If God moves in your heart to fall flat, may I encourage you that that’s okay? We’ve got plenty of room up here, plenty room over there, over there in an aisle. That might seem really silly to some of you, especially if you’re visiting here and you hear me saying this. If Jesus is as amazing as we say he is, there are lots of responses that are going to come out of us. If you want to excuse yourself and come down here and pray and fall flat, you are welcome to.
And if the first thought that comes to your mind when you consider doing that, if you think the Spirit’s moving you to do that, if the first thing that comes to your mind is the opinion of someone else in this room, no matter who they are, let’s just make clear: Jesus, the Worthy One has way more power than they do.
So we can worship. We’re going to begin with a song that was sung for us last week. Many of you might know it. It’s called “Is He worthy?” You’re going to notice on the lyrics that there’s a regular type that Joey is going to sing and there’s bold type where we invite all of us to respond. It’s kind of a call and response song. Then we’re going to have an extended time of singing. There’ll be a moment where you’re sung over and seated. But during all of that, you are free to move, to pray, and to consider the worthiness of Jesus.
So let’s pray. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we come before you in the reality of the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. You’ve invited us to worship you. Therefore, we are free of fear.
God would you open our hearts to see you as amazing? I pray for people in this room who don’t know Jesus and are trying to figure out what’s going on in this crazy church, that just the picture of someone who loves them unconditionally and died for them would overwhelm them.
And God for me, I’ve been in this church world for most of my life. God, help me to never think you’re normal. So as I sing, my prayer for me is, please let me be overwhelmed. Let me stand on the edge of the Grand Canyon.
We pray this all together as kingdom members and priests, amen.