A Seven-Sealed Roll
In the fifth chapter of the Revelation, we read that on the right hand of God John saw a “book.” However, we must not think of this book made up of leaves like our modern books. In those days, a book was made of a long strip of parchment or other material rolled up. John saw this type of book sealed with seven seals with something like our sealing wax. The account says that at first no one could be found in the entire universe “worthy” to open the roll. Character, not strength, was needed to open and read the book. No one, neither the apostle John, nor the elders, nor the living creatures, would venture to take the roll from God’s hand to open it.
Then, this fact could hardly mean an ordinary book or roll, but rather something in signs or symbols. What does it mean to break the seals and open such a roll? Daniel is instructed (12:4) to “shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end,” which referred to a prophecy that had been uttered. The “sealing” of a book of prophecy means to put the information beyond human knowledge.
When Christ uttered a prophecy about His second coming, He said that no one but God alone knew when it would be fulfilled. “Of that day and hour knoweth no one, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.” (Matthew 24:36). Again, the disciples once asked Him about the time when the Jews would be restored to their former power as a nation. The Bible declares this event will occur about the time when Christ returns so that if Christ answered the question, they would have known when He was coming again. He did not tell them but said, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power.” (Acts 1:7). The right hand is the symbol of power in the Bible. Up to the time indicated by John’s vision, this sealed book, then, contains something which was to remain unknown although it had been prophesied. Further, it was to remain in God’s right hand—His power—until the time came to disclose it. Who was to fulfill that prophecy about Christ’s return to earth? By His coming, Christ Himself would fulfill it.
John says, “And I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the book, neither to look thereon.” On the part of a great, holy man like John, this weeping shows that it was most important for the book to be opened.
John knew it was needful to put an end to unutterable misery on earth. As he was weeping, an elder came and comforted him saying, “Weep not: Look! the Lion of tribe of Judah, the root of David hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.” This statement sounds as though these seals were put on in a peculiar way. One would be more apt to say, “Loose the seven seals, and open the book.” The roll may have been made up of seven pieces. The first piece would be then rolled up and sealed. Then, another layer of parchment wrapped around it and sealed, and so on, until seven layers in all were each sealed. We believe this arrangement was used for reasons which will appear later on in the story.
It seems almost strange that John did not think of Jesus at once, but the elder had to remind him. Was it because He looked so unlike the glorious vision John had of Him in chapter 1? At any rate, the elder called Him the “Lion of the tribe of Judah,” while John saw Him “a lamb as it had been slain.” John would remember that when He was like a gentle, loving, non-resisting lamb about to be slaughtered in sacrifice at the Temple, they led Him out and crucified Him. The Lamb had seven eyes and seven horns, which means full spiritual and ruling power. The seven eyes are explained as “the seven spirits of God.” Of course, the Holy Spirit is not seven persons, but “seven” gains its meaning from “perfection” or “completeness.” John would perhaps remember that in his Gospel he had written the words of John the Baptist, “God giveth not the spirit by measure to Him,” for the Holy Spirit dwelt in Christ in completeness. As did the elder in Revelation 5, the prophet Isaiah said of Jesus Christ that He was the root of David: “There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots: And The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, (1) the spirit of wisdom (2) and understanding, (3) the spirit of counsel and (4) might, (4) the spirit of knowledge, and of (6) the fear of the Lord; and (7) shall make Him quick of understanding in the fear of the Lord.” (Isaiah 11:1-3). I have numbered the seven qualities which make up the fullness of the Spirit in Christ, which I believe are the “seven eyes” of the Lamb.
The power of a ruler of this world would be represented by a sword, cannon, battleship, or a fort—all invented to slay men. From God’s standpoint, perfect power is represented as the wisdom of God’s Holy Spirit in completeness and by a Lamb that had been slain—not something that can slay, but by something which submitted to being slain. Jesus had such power over His own spirit that He could let nothing but love flow from it when He wished, even under the most terrible conditions as when the wicked crucified Him. Proverbs 16:32 says, “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.” In John’s vision, the time is now close at hand when the earth is to be ruled by the power of self-control and the greatness of wisdom of Jesus Christ Himself. And, those like Him shall rule with Him: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” May God hasten those blessed days on earth!
Jesus Christ alone had the right character—the “slain lamb” character-- to be counted worthy to open this book and break the seven seals. “And He came and received the book out of the right hand of Him that sat upon the throne.” “Take” and “receive” are the same word in Greek. It seems more suitable to translate “received” here, for undoubtedly the Father wished to give it to Jesus. You remember how John wrote as the title of this book: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto Him.” I believe we have a picture of that giving. When Jesus receives the book, opens it, and breaks the seals, that is the beginning of that very revelation of Jesus Christ.
When He received the book or roll, a shout arose in heaven: “Thou art worthy to receive the book, and to open the seals thereof: for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood out of every kindred and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth (5:9, 10). This message is called “a new song” because when Jesus begins this new work for this world, a completely new order of things will be set up. The Christian dispensation will be finished, and another will begin. At this point, Jesus Christ will begin to break down all the kingdoms of the earth in order to prepare for His own personal government of the world.
This song tells us why Jesus was the One for this task—He is the world’s Redeemer. What did “redeemer” mean to John who received this revelation for us? Although the explanation is somewhat long, you will ultimately fully understand how wonderful it is to have a Redeemer in Jesus Christ.
The children of Israel were slaves in Egypt, once. When God redeemed them from slavery, He settled them in the land of Canaan. God did not allow them to take the land, and keep it as they pleased. Rather, He told the people just how they must divide up the land among their twelve tribes. In Joshua 13 to 22, you will find the story. Even then, God only leased the land to them, keeping ownership Himself. He said to the Israelites, “The land shall not be sold forever: for the land is Mine; for ye are strangers (foreigners) and sojourners with Me.” One of God’s land laws was, “In all the land of your possession ye shall grant a redemption for the land.” (Lev. 25:23, 24). For this reason, the Israelites could not sell land outright to each other or to anyone else. At the most, they could only lease it for forty-nine years. The fiftieth year was “the year of jubilee,” and a time of great rejoicing because every man’s land came back into his possession again. However, if the man who had leased his land died before the year of jubilee came around, the land returned to his family. Land never went permanently out of one family into another no matter how much might have been paid for it. It was different with the houses in a walled city which had to be redeemed within a year or lost altogether. Village houses, however, belonged to the ground on which they were built.
Because the Israelites inherited their fathers’ place on the land from generation to generation and never lost it entirely, the Bible never talks of a man’s estates as his “property,” but as his “inheritance” or “possession.” God was the landowner. Reading on in Leviticus 25, we learn that if a man became very poor and had disposed of his “inheritance” and needed his home, then one of the poor man’s relatives should step forward and pay the temporary tenant so much for each year left until the year of jubilee. This payment would represent the poor man’s debt to his tenant, and the tenant would be obligated to move at once whether he wanted to or not. In this way, the poor man could return to his land once again. Since God was the landlord over all, He would not allow the rich to become rich by land speculations, nor would He allow the rich to neglect the poor. The men inherited the land except when a father had no sons and his daughters inherited it. In those rough days, much fighting was necessary to defend the land that the men held, which was not required in peaceful lands.
God took care that if the men did hold the land, they could not turn women out homeless. No! A widow who lost her husband and had no son to inherit land for her could demand that if her husband had an unmarried brother, he must marry her.
This nearest male relative was called a go-el (pronounced “go-ail,” accent on the last syllable) in Hebrew, that is, “redeemer.” He had other duties to perform besides putting a poor man back into his inheritance and marrying a sonless widow. For instance, he was the one to slay a murderer if one under his protection was murdered. The poor man thought a great deal of his goel. The widow and orphan not only must have thought a great deal of him but also had a right to expect his help