The Scroll (Revelation 5:1-6)

Revelation 4 revealed the scene in the throne room of heaven. God is sitting on the throne in splendor and glory. The four living creatures and 24 elders are praising and worshiping God because he is worthy and deserving of honor. The focus shifts from the throne and the one who sits on the throne in chapter 4 to the scroll in the right hand of the one who sits on the throne in chapter 5. In this lesson we are going to examine the scroll and its meaning in Revelation and its meaning in Old Testament prophecy.

The Scroll’s Writing

There are a couple unique attributes about this scroll. The first unique characteristic is its seven seals. In its simplicity, the seven seals reveal that the scroll is perfectly and completely sealed. As we are going to notice, no human can open the scroll. The scroll is fully sealed until the proper time and the proper person to open the scroll. We will also notice as we continue our study of Revelation in future lessons that as each seal is broken, an event happens on the earth. This imagery will be important to keep in mind as we study through the book.

The other unique aspect of the scroll is that it has writing on both sides. Usually a scroll had writing on only one side. The simple meaning of the image presents itself to us. A scroll with writing on both sides pictures a complete message. The whole scroll has writing, even on both sides. Therefore, God’s complete message is ready to be revealed. The image of a scroll with writing on both sides is not unique to the scriptures. In Ezekiel 2:9-10 we read that in Ezekiel’s vision he is given a scroll that has writing on both sides.

And when I looked, behold, a hand was stretched out to me, and behold, a scroll of a book was in it. And he spread it before me. And it had writing on the front and on the back, and there were written on it words of lamentation and mourning and woe. (Ezekiel 2:9–10 ESV)

Notice the scroll given to Ezekiel has the same characteristic of having writing on the front and back. Ezekiel also notices that the scroll is full of words of lamentation, mourning, and woe. I think we have an indication of the things we are going to read in the Revelation scroll when we are told that it has writing on both sides. It is a scroll of judgments and woes.

The Scroll’s Identity

Before we can move forward, I think we must ask an important question. What is this scroll? Where did this scroll come from? There are two choices: either we know nothing about the scroll and we are going to find out the meaning of the scroll now, or this scroll is the same scroll that we have seen elsewhere in the scriptures.   Typically, the book of Revelation has been studied as if this scroll has no reference to any scrolls in the Old Testament. Many scholars and writers do not examine the significance of this scroll in the scriptures. However, there are many reasons to consider that this scroll in Revelation 5 is the same scroll found in the book of Daniel.

We mentioned at the beginning of our study of the book of Revelation that the word “revelation” means an unveiling of things previously concealed. The name of the book has the very idea built into it that this book is revealing previously concealed information. The scroll in Revelation 5 is the visualization of this truth. The scroll, something that has been sealed with seven seals, is now opened. The scroll has writing on both sides, but no one knows what the scroll says until the scroll is opened.

The scroll in Daniel 12 appears to be the same scroll that is in view in the book of Revelation. Turn to Daniel 12:4-9. Daniel is told that the words of the book are shut up and sealed until the time of the end. Then we see a man clothed in linen standing above the waters of the stream. He raises his right hand and left hand toward heaven and makes an oath that it will be a time, times, and half a time when “all these things would be finished.” Daniel does not understand and it is repeated to him that the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end. Now look at Revelation 10:5-7 and notice the image is the same. The angel is standing on the sea, just like the angel in Daniel 12. The angel in Revelation raises his right hand and makes another oath, just as he did in Daniel 12. This time the angel gives an oath that there will no longer be a delay when all these things would be fulfilled. The angel in Daniel said that there would be a delay. The delay was a time, times, and half a time (a time marker that we will examine later in the study of Revelation). Now, the angel in Revelation says that there will no longer be a delay. To show the connection further, this information in Revelation 10 comes after the seventh seal is opened on the scroll. The seventh seal reveals seven trumpets that are about to sound. The angel in Revelation 10:7 says that when the seventh trumpet from the seventh seal sounds, all of these things are accomplished concerning the mystery of God. The mystery of God, that is, the things previously sealed by God, would now be revealed and fulfilled. In Revelation 10:8-9 John is told to take the scroll and prophesy its contents. We will look more closely at these images when we get to Revelation 10. But I want you to see right now the strong connection of the sealed scroll in Revelation 5 with the sealed scroll in Daniel 12.

Homer Hailey in his commentary on Daniel observes that the angel in Daniel 12 is the same angel in Revelation 10, speaking about the same things (Hailey, 247). Other scholars see this connection as well.

“The idea of sealing and opening books in connection with end-time happenings is found in the OT only in Daniel 12 and 7″ (Beale, 339). Beale continues later in his commentary making the same point. “Most futurist commentators would disagree with my argument thus far, which has been that Revelation 5 portrays a vision of inaugurated fulfillment of OT prophecy. The metaphor of seals can be found outside Daniel elsewhere in the OT and Jewish apocalyptic, but the seals in Rev. 5:1ff come from Dan. 12:4, 9″ (Beale, 347).

Finally, the phrase found in Daniel, “Time of the end” is the same as “the last days” in the scriptures. These are descriptions of the time of the coming of the Messiah who would set up his kingdom. “The time of the end” is describing the events that will lead up to and bring about the coming of the Messiah. Revelation as the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecies is appropriate to the time frame that the angel gives.

Consider this: if Revelation is not “unveiling” the sealed scroll of Daniel, then what is the book of Revelation unveiling? Further, if Daniel’s prophecy that was sealed “until the time of the end” was not revealed to John in the book of Revelation, then Daniel’s scroll was never unveiled in the days of the Messiah. We do not know what Revelation is revealing nor do we have Daniel’s prophecy unsealed. However, the book of Revelation is showing us that this revelation given to John is unveiling the sealed prophecy of Daniel.

Who Can Open The Scroll?

We come back to the imagery in Revelation 5. The one who is seated on the throne is holding the scroll that is sealed in his right hand. A strong angel proclaims with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” I think the added description of the one making the proclamation is a strong angel is interesting. Not even the strong angel can open this scroll. Verse 3 continues this thought. No one is able to open the scroll. No one in heaven or on earth or under the earth can open this scroll or look into it. Observe that the question is not, “Who is strong enough to open the scroll?” Rather, the question is who is worthy. Who has the right to go before the throne, take the scroll, and open the seals revealing its contents? No created being is even able to contemplate being worthy to open this scroll. At the realization that no one can open the scroll, John begins to weep loudly.

However, one of the 24 elders speaks to John and tells him to no longer weep. There is someone who is worthy to open the scroll and its seals. The one worthy is the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David. He has conquered and he is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.

The Lion of the tribe of Judah comes from Genesis 49:8-10. The context of Genesis 49 is Jacob is about to pass away and he is giving the blessings to his sons before his death. This is some of the blessing pronounced on Jacob’s fourth son, Judah.

“Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you. Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” (Genesis 49:8–10 ESV)

Notice that the imagery of the lion is given to Judah and it is a reference to the eternal rule that will come from Judah. Through Judah will be the lineage of the kings. The descendants of Judah will rule. Notice the messianic interpretation the Jews had of this text from their Targum (an Aramaic translation of the scriptures).

“He shall be a ruler in the beginning and in the end the king from the house of Judah will be anointed, because you, my son, removed yourself from the judgment of slaying. May he rest; may he dwell in strength like a lion, and like a lioness, and there is no kingdom that can shake him. One who executes rule shall not pass away from those of the house of Judah, nor a scribe from the sons of his sons, forever, until the Messiah comes, whose is the kingdom, and whom the nations will obey. (Genesis 49:9-10; Targum)

Further, the Messiah is called the Root of David, which comes from Isaiah 11:1, 10.

He shall be a ruler in the beginning and in the end the king from the house of Judah will be anointed, because you, my son, removed yourself from the judgment of slaying. May he rest; may he dwell in strength like a lion, and like a lioness, and there is no kingdom that can shake him. (Isaiah 11:1)

One who executes rule shall not pass away from those of the house of Judah, nor a scribe from the sons of his sons, forever, until the Messiah comes, whose is the kingdom, and whom the nations will obey. (Isaiah 11:10)

In Jewish literature, the Root of David was seen as a reference to the conquering Messiah who would destroy the enemies of Israel (2 Esdras 12:32; Sir. 47:22). The symbolism behind the Lion of the tribe of Judah and the Root of David is the conquering Messiah who puts his enemies under subjection.

John turns to see the Lion of the tribe of Judah, but instead sees a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain. Do you see the great picture? The conquering Messiah does not conquer by military muscle but through his sacrificial death. Jesus does not conquer through armies or by physical strength. Jesus conquers by enduring hostility and dying as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Victory has been achieved, not by sword, but by sacrifice. Christ is the conqueror but his victory was won on the cross.