Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll written on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals: and I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?" And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it. And I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals."
Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. They sing a new song: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation; you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth." Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!" Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, "To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!"
Last week, we heard about John’s initial visions of God’s throne room. First, John hears the letters he is to send to 7 churches around Asia, with news of encouragement against persecution and correction where the church communities are missing the point or in the wrong direction. After this a voice invites John to heaven, saying "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this." There in heaven John sees a throne, with one seated on the throne. Around the throne, John sees creatures of all kinds, representing the tribes of Israel, the apostles, people of faith and the entire creation worshipping God. The visions in the Book of Revelation start with symbolic and powerful reminders that God is to be praised, God is in control of all things and God will completely defeat the powers of evil.
That scene of God praised, victorious and all powerful, sets the tone for the entire book. After this, the business of new creation begins. That means change. This will not be a nice process and this will not be a peaceful process. Next door to the house where Jen and I live, they are doing new construction. They demolished the old house and have started to lay the new foundation. There is no trace of the former house, not even a small sign of what was once there. Every brick and piece of wood is gone, even the dirt has been trucked away. The workers have dug deep and carefully laid out a maze of steel and cement, to ensure the new building was on a good foundation. As the workers started to pour cement, the owner came to watch and make sure things were right. After all, the owner is building this place for her own family, people she cares deeply about, it should be right. I think of God’s new creation, the world formed after the familiar and frightening visions of John’s revelation in the same way, evil must be totally demolished, there will be no trace of the greed, violence, hated, separation, inequality and sin so common in our world. This new creation will be for the people God created, loves, forgives and redeems, it should be right.
Today, God’s new creation begins, like so many of our projects and plans, with a big problem, an apparent set-back that drives John to weeping and tears of disappointment. God, seated on the throne has a scroll, sealed with 7 seals and containing God’s new creation, the plan of judgment and salvation (we see this once the seals are broken). Now, we assume this scroll is sealed for the same reasons people have sealed things for 1000s of years, to show they are authentic, keep them from being altered and reserve the contents for the right person or people. A question is asked of creation, of all in heaven, on earth or under the earth, “who is worthy to open this scroll or to look in it”, who can cause this plan to actually happen. There was no answer, no created being could do this. John is devastated. He sees what heaven is, the full power and glory of God and joy of God creation. He now knows just how far away from that the earth is, the difference between what is and what should be is overwhelming.
One of the elders interrupts John’s grief with good news. “do not weep, See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals”. Lion of Judah, Root of David, the Lamb all refer to Jesus, the one who died and rose from the dead. (there are close to 40 different titles that Jesus is given in revelation, if someone does something good or an action no one else can do, it’s probably Jesus).
There is great rejoicing in heaven, the scroll can be opened, its seals can be broken and the plan of judgment and salvation can happen. We can be left uncomfortable since, as we will see next week, this celebrated plan is violent and brutal, the breaking of each seal unleashes death, evil forces and destruction. Necessary, for reasons we do not know, this plan ends with God’s new creation. For this, new songs of praise are created and sung. The elders, representing all of God’s people and the 4 creatures, representing all creation worship Jesus and sing: You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation; you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth. After this the countless angels sing their new song: Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!"
In confirmation class, I sometimes joke and tell the students, if you don’t know an answer, just say Jesus, its usually at least part of the right answer. Today, we see that Jesus is the answer to the angel’s question, “who can open the scroll”, who can start, direct and fulfill God’s plan of judgment and salvation. I would like to spend a few minutes talking about why Jesus can do what no other can possibly do. The answer is given to us in how Jesus appears, as a lamb that has been slaughtered (but is alive) with 7 horns and 7 eyes. Today, all of our hymns are ones usually sang on Good Friday, when we mark Jesus death with solemn, simple and dark worship services and Easter Sunday, we celebrate Jesus resurrection with the great proclamation, Alleluia, Christ is Risen. Jesus can open the scroll because he has already defeated sin and death. With his death and resurrection Jesus has brought the forgiveness of sins to all people and taken away the power of death by opening the way to eternal life. The events that happen when the seals on the scroll are opened, is sort of clean up, finishing the last parts of God’s plan for judgment and salvation, work already done when Jesus rose from the dead. The Lamb can open the scroll because the Lamb has already defeated the powers of evil, sin and death.
The appearance of the Lamb with 7 horns is symbolic of full power. In the old testament horns are frequently a sign of power, in reference to bulls and calls to war. The number 7 indicates full or complete power (7 was the number of fullness or completion). In dying and rising again, Jesus had power over all things, good and evil, over death and life, sin and forgiveness. The 7 eyes refer to the 7 Spirits of God, a term of uncertain reference but representing God’s presence in the world. (again 7 meaning complete or full, God is totally present in Jesus). The lamb is God and can do what only God can do.
At the very beginning of the book of Revelation, Jesus is introduced as the one who accomplishes God’s plan of Judgment and salvation. The book is authenticated as a message coming from: from “he who is,” and who was, and who is still to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ – the faithful witness, the firstborn from among the dead, the ruler over the kings of the earth. To the one who loves us and has set us free from our sins at the cost of his own blood and has appointed us as a kingdom, as priests serving his God and Father – to him be the glory and the power for ever and ever! This never changes.