1 After this I looked and there was a door that had been opened in heaven. The first voice that I had heard, which sounded like a trumpet, said to me, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” 2 At once I was in a Spirit-inspired trance and I saw a throne in heaven, and someone was seated on the throne. 3 The one seated there looked like jasper and carnelian, and surrounding the throne was a rainbow that looked like an emerald. 4 Twenty-four thrones, with twenty-four elders seated upon them, surrounded the throne. The elders were dressed in white clothing and had gold crowns on their heads. 5 From the throne came lightning, voices, and thunder. In front of the throne were seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God. 6 Something like a glass sea, like crystal, was in front of the throne.
In the center, by the throne, were four living creatures encircling the throne. These creatures were covered with eyes on the front and on the back.
1 Then I saw a scroll in the right hand of the one seated on the throne. It had writing on the front and the back, and it was sealed with seven seals. 2 I saw a powerful angel, who proclaimed in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or look inside it. 4 So I began to weep and weep, because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look inside it. 5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Don’t weep. Look! The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has emerged victorious so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
6 Then, in between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb, standing as if it had been slain. It had seven horns and seven eyes, which are God’s seven spirits, sent out into the whole earth. 7 He came forward and took the scroll from the right hand of the one seated on the throne. 8 When he took the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each held a harp and gold bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 They took up a new song, saying,
“You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals,
because you were slain,
and by your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe, language, people, and nation.
10 You made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they will rule on earth.”
11 Then I looked, and I heard the sound of many angels surrounding the throne, the living creatures, and the elders. They numbered in the millions—thousands upon thousands. 12 They said in a loud voice,
“Worthy is the slaughtered Lamb
to receive power, wealth, wisdom, and might,
and honor, glory, and blessing.”
13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea—I heard everything everywhere say,
“Blessing, honor, glory, and power
belong to the one seated on the throne
and to the Lamb
forever and always.”
14 Then the four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshipped.
This glowing picture of the courts of heaven worshipping God spoke powerfully to Christians living in the first-century Roman Empire. “It is said that the current emperor, Domitian, expected worship as ‘lord and god.’”* The image that followed must have baffled most Roman officials who worshipped their mighty emperor—who would sing “Worthy is the slaughtered Lamb”? Well, Christians would! They served, as Pastor Hamilton often reminds us, a king who reigned from a cross.
Lord Jesus, you did what only you could do—you took the worst that hatred and evil could do, absorbed it in yourself and robbed it of the power to ultimately hurt your children. I praise you as the Lion and the Lamb who saved me. Amen.
* Zondervan, NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, eBook (Kindle Locations 288025-288026).
** John Goldingay, Isaiah for Everyone. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015, p. 53.
This week, many of us are asking, “How are we today to read and interpret the Book of Revelation?” Given today’s passage, I hope to entertain together a broader question: How are we to read and interpret the Bible? I believe this particular chapter, Revelation 5, holds the interpretive key to the entire biblical canon.
2 “…Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or look inside it…
6 Then… I saw a Lamb, standing as if it had been slain… 7 He came forward and took the scroll from the right hand of the one seated on the throne.”
Who holds the interpretive key to the Bible? Only the Lamb that was slain can break open the seals and unravel the scroll.
Not the proud. Not the religious elite. Not the “bible-believing” Christian who worships the idol of a written word over the true Word of God.
No. The Bible must be interpreted through the lens of Jesus Christ, the lamb that was slain, the ultimate exemplar of humility and love. If we interpret scripture without the humility and love of Christ, which includes love for “persons from every tribe, language, people and nation” and even extends to “the living creatures” in this passage, then we do not truly unravel the scroll and break open its seals.
We would do well to follow the example of Thomas Aquinas, who uttered a prayer before studying the Bible, invoking Christ as his interpretive lens:
Who, from the treasures of Your wisdom…
have marshaled the regions
of the universe with such artful skill,
You are proclaimed
the true font of light and wisdom,
and the primal origin
raised high beyond all things.
Pour forth a ray of Your brightness
into the darkened places of my mind;
disperse from my soul
the twofold darkness
into which I was born:
sin and ignorance.
You make eloquent the tongues of infants.
refine my speech
and pour forth upon my lips
The goodness of Your blessing.
Grant to me
keenness of mind,
capacity to remember,
skill in learning,
subtlety to interpret,
and eloquence in speech.
guide the beginning of my work,
direct its progress,
and bring it to completion.
You Who are true God and true Man,
who live and reign, world without end.
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