And I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals; and I saw a strong 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 wept much that no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. Then one of the elders said to me, "Weep not; lo, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals." 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 on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints; and they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open its seals, for thou was slain and by thy blood didst ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and hast made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on earth."
What Makes a Truly Admirable Woman or Man
Noël and I have discussed often over the years what makes a truly admirable woman and a truly admirable man. One of the conclusions we have come to is that no man is truly admirable who does not have a measure of the more feminine qualities, and no woman is truly admirable who does not have a measure of the more masculine qualities.
A woman who acts too much like a man we regard as unnatural. We may pity her or even be offended by her, but we don't admire her. And a man who acts too much like a woman we regard as unnatural. We may pity him or even be offended by him, but we don't admire him.
But neither do we admire the man who is typically called "all man" or the woman who is typically called "all woman." Both of those phrases usually suggest a man or a woman who is too narrow and too simple. They don't have the complexity and harmony of personality that makes a person rise in our admiration. These phrases make us think of people who are only able to respond with one kind of response and feel one kind of feeling and think one kind of thought.
To admire that is like saying that a male chorus would be more male if they all sang bass. And a women's chorus would be more female if they all sang soprano. Well, that may be true, but they wouldn't be the better for it.
There is a real difference between a male chorus and a female chorus, just like there is a difference between an admirable man and an admirable woman. But what makes the male chorus sound great is that some of the voices have a more feminine quality. And what makes a women's chorus sound great is that some of the voices have a more masculine quality.
People who know music know what the balance should be. And people who are good judges of character know what balance and blend is admirable in a person too. The highest and deepest and most admirable beauties in my life are not simple things. They are complex.
A Principle About Beauty and Admirableness
The reason I mention this is not because I want to talk about the difference between male and female today, but simply to illustrate a principle of beauty or excellence or admirableness. I want you to think seriously today about what makes a person truly beautiful or excellent or admirable or praiseworthy. My goal is that you might come to see Jesus Christ as irresistibly admirable and excellent and praiseworthy, and that you would be drawn to love him and trust him and give your full allegiance to him.
The principle that I am trying to illustrate and that makes Christ stand out as absolutely unique is this: beauty or excellence consists in the right proportion of diverse qualities. For example:
- we admire him for his glory, but even more because his glory is mingled with humility;
- we admire him for his transcendence, but even more because his transcendence is accompanied by condescension;
- we admire him for his uncompromising justice, but even more because it is tempered with mercy;
- we admire him for his majesty, but even more because it is a majesty in meekness;
- we admire him because of his equality with God, but even more because as God's equal he nevertheless has a deep reverence for God;
- we admire him because of how worthy he was of all good, but even more because this was accompanied by an amazing patience to suffer evil;
- we admire him because of his sovereign dominion over the world, but even more because this dominion was clothed with a spirit of obedience and submission;
- we love the way he stumped the proud scribes with his wisdom, and we love it even more because he could be simple enough to like children and spend time with them;
- and we admire him because he could still the storm, but even more because he refused to use that power to strike the Samaritans with lightning and he refused to use it to get himself down from the cross.
The list could go on and on. Do you see what I mean when I say that beauty and excellency in person is not a simple thing? It is complex. It is a coming together in one person of the perfect balance and proportion of extremely diverse qualities. And that's what makes Jesus Christ so irresistibly admirable and excellent.
You Were Made to Admire Jesus Christ
The human heart was made to stand in awe of ultimate excellence—you were made to admire Jesus Christ the Son of God—Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, King of kings, and Lord of lords—and if your heart is not much taken up with him, then you don't need to look any farther to know the deepest source of your frustration.
A student once asked Bonaventure, the medieval Franciscan teacher, "Why don't men love God more?" And he answered, "They don't love him because they don't know him." That's the way I feel about Christ this morning. Surely, if I can display for you just a flicker of the excellency of Christ today, you will love him and trust him and follow him, no matter what it costs. That's my prayer for you (and for you who read this manuscript!).
John's Vision of Jesus in the Throne Room
I begin with the text by directing your attention to Revelation 5:5. John is receiving a vision of the throne room of heaven. "Then one of the elders said to me, 'Weep not; lo, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered.'" So Jesus here is described as a Lion, an animal who makes prey of others and who is strong and wild and majestic and dangerous. (See the prophecy in Genesis 49:9–10.)
But then in verse 6 John is allowed to see this Lion. But what he sees must have been a surprise after the words of the elder in verse 5. It 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." So the Lion is a Lamb, an animal that is easily preyed upon and that is weak and harmless and lowly, sheared for our clothes and killed for our food.
So here is the point that I want to make this morning:
Because Jesus is a Lion-like Lamb and a Lamb-like Lion, he has the right to bring the world to an end for the glory of his name and the good of his people.
Three Preliminary Observations
To see how this truth comes out of the text, let's make three preliminary observations.
1. God's Absolute Control of History
The first is that God has absolute control of all future history and everything that happens in it.
This is the point of verse 1: "And I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals."
What is this scroll with its writing on both sides and its seven seals? The scroll represents the decrees of God concerning what will happen in the future. You can see this in chapter 6 as one seal after the other is opened and more and more is revealed of the judgments coming on the earth.
Opening the first seal in 6:1–2 reveals the rider of a white horse going out to conquer, and probably represents the advance of the gospel in fulfillment of the Great Commission. Opening the second seal in verses 3–4 reveals a red horse signifying how in the days leading up to the end of the world men would slay one another with the sword. The opening of the third and fourth seals points to famine and other judgments. And so on it goes as Christ opens the seals of the scroll and displays for John what was going to happen in the future. The one who opens the seals reveals and executes the decrees of God.
So the scroll contains God's plans for the future: the struggles and victories of the gospel as well as the judgments on those who reject it. The opening of the seals is the course of history leading up to the end. And the rest of the scroll is the story of the end of the world and the final triumph of God's kingdom.
Now notice that the scroll is in the right hand of God. Verse 1: "And I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll." God holds all of the future in his right hand. He wrote the script for what will take place and no one can change it. He has it in his own right hand. If the kingdom of Christ finally conquers and judgment finally falls on the unbelieving world, it will be because God holds all things firmly in his right hand.
Then notice that he is called one "who was seated on the throne." This simply confirms that he rules in the universe. His throne represents his right and authority and power to govern the world the way he sees fit.
The completeness of his rule and the perfection of his decrees is signified by the fact that the scroll is written within and on the back. In other words, the scroll is packed. There are no spaces for later additions, as though the King of the universe could overlook some eventuality. The plan is complete, it is full, it is safe in the right hand of the King, and he is on the throne.
What we learn from this is that we ought to submit to the authority of our King, our Creator (4:11) and the Ruler of all things. A picture of God's sovereign rule over all that will happen should bring us to our faces in reverence and fear.
That's the first preliminary observation.
2. No Creature Worthy to Open the Scroll
The second observation is that no creature in the universe is worthy to reveal and execute the final decrees of God.
Verses 2–3: "And I saw a strong 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."
Why doesn't God himself simply remove the seals of the scroll of history and reveal its contents and bring about the consummation of his kingdom? We will see the answer in just a moment when we read why Christ was qualified to open the seals. But in advance, the answer is that the end of history, contained in this scroll, is going to bring such astounding privileges and happiness to repentant sinners who deserve only condemnation that God would be unrighteous to bring it to pass by himself.
It would look as though he didn't care that we have trampled his glory in the dirt. It would look as though he could just sweep our sin under the rug of the universe. Something must be done to demonstrate the righteousness of God if the opening of this scroll is going to bring infinite blessing upon repentant sinners who deserve only condemnation. If God were to open the scroll himself without any mediator, without any go-between, and deal directly with sinful man, we would all be consumed and there would be no salvation at all.
Someone must be found who is worthy to take the scroll and open it. And the point of verses 2–3 is that there is no creature in all the universe who can do it. No angel in heaven, no man on earth, no devil in hell can touch this scroll and do what needs to be done to bring the consummation of the kingdom.
So the lessons we learn from this second observation could be many. I'll just mention two!
- First, that God is a God of love because he will not open the seals of history without the hands of a Savior.
- Second, that no one—not your friend or spouse or parent or child or boss or teacher—no one but Jesus can make your future bright. Without him all is meaningless and fearful.
3. Only Weeping Without Jesus
Which leads us very briefly to the third observation from verse 4: "And I wept much that no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it." The third observation is that without Christ there will be only weeping.
If there is no one found who is worthy to open the scroll, then there will be no triumph for the gospel, no marriage supper with the Lamb, no new heaven and new earth, no eternal life. Only weeping.
Therefore Jesus Christ is utterly necessary for every one of us. He alone is worthy to open the seals and execute the final decrees of God.
Jesus' Right as the Lion and the Lamb
That brings us to verses 5 and 6 and the main point where we began:
Because Jesus is a Lion-like Lamb and a Lamb-like Lion, he has the right to bring the world to an end for the glory of his name and the good of his people.
Now let's read verse 5 again in the light of the three observations we have made. "Then one of the elders said to me, 'Weep not; lo, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.'" There is one person who can open the scroll, namely, the Lion of Judah. And the reason that he is worthy to open the scroll is that he has conquered.
But what does this conquering refer to? We can see that clearly in verse 9. Here the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fall down and worship the Lamb, and they sang a new song, saying,
- Worthy art thou to take the scroll
- and to open its seals,
- for thou wast slain and by thy blood
- didst ransom men for God
- from every tribe and tongue
- and people and nation,
- and hast make them a kingdom
- and priests to our God
- and they shall reign on earth.
Now notice carefully the relationship between verse 5 and verse 9. In verse 5 the reason the Lion of Judah can open the scroll is that he has conquered. In verse 9 the reason he can open the scroll is because he was slain and by his blood ransomed men for God.
In other words, his right to open the scroll is owing to the fact that he ransomed people for God by his death, and this ransoming was the victory referred to in verse 5.
A Lamb-Like Lion
What sort of Lion was he? He was a Lamb-like Lion. The Lion of Judah conquered because he was willing to act the part of a Lamb. He came into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday like a King on the way to a throne, and he went out of Jerusalem on Good Friday like a Lamb on the way to the slaughter. He drove out the robbers from the Temple like a Lion devouring its prey. And then at the end of the week he gave his majestic neck to the knife, and they slaughtered the Lion of Judah like a Lamb. So he conquered sin and death and Satan not just because he was a Lion, but because he was a Lamb-like Lion.
It was one of those classic tactical defeats that results in a strategic victory. Jonathan Edwards captures the paradox of a victorious loser with another familiar comparison.
The devil had, as it were, swallowed up Christ, as the whale did Jonah; but it was deadly poison to him; he gave him a mortal wound in his own bowels. He was soon sick of his morsel, and was forced to do by him as the whale did by Jonah. To this day he is heart-sick of what he then swallowed as his prey. (Works, vol. 1, p. 685)
The Lion gets the victory through the tactics of the Lamb.
You could use another Old Testament comparison to show the same thing, namely, Samson.
And thus the true Samson does more towards the destruction of his enemies at his death than in his life; in yielding up himself to death, he pulls down the temple of Dagon, and destroys many thousands of his enemies, even while they are making themselves sport in his sufferings. (Edwards, Works, vol. 1, p. 685)
The Lion Samson gets the decisive victory when he takes the roll of the sacrificial Lamb and dies.
So it is with Christ. The Lion of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered sin (Hebrews 1:3; 1 Corinthians 15:56) and death (2 Timothy 1:10; 1 Corinthians 15:25f., 56) and Satan (Hebrews 2:14f.; Colossians 2:15). And he did it when he took the roll of a Lamb and died.
A Lion-Like Lamb
But not only is he a Lamb-like Lion. He is also a Lion-like Lamb. Verse 6: "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."
Notice two things. First, notice that the Lamb is standing. It is not slumped in a heap on the ground as it once was. It had been slain. But now it is standing—standing in the innermost circle next to the throne.
Second, notice that the Lamb has seven horns. A horn is a symbol of strength and power throughout the book of Revelation (12:3; 13:1; 17:3, 12) as well as in the OT (Deuteronomy 33:17; Psalm 18:2; 112:7). And the number seven signifies fullness and completeness.
So this is no ordinary Lamb. He is a Lion-like Lamb. Look at 6:16 where men call to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb." And look at 17:14 where the final enemies of God fight against Christ: "they will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings."
In other words, he is a Lion-like Lamb.
So I conclude by stressing the main point: since Jesus is not merely a simple thing like a lion or like a lamb, but is a Lion-like Lamb and a Lamb-like Lion, therefore he is admirable and excellent and worthy to take the scroll and open its seals and bring this world to an end for the glory of his name and the good of his ransomed people.
And you can be among that number if you trust him as your Lamb, and submit to him as your Lion, and join the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders and the millions of angels to worship the King of kings with all your heart.