The Book of Revelation gives God’s people some very precious glimpses into His heavenly throne room. The Book of Hebrews tells us all the rituals, furniture and setup for the holy place in the tabernacle in the wilderness and, later, King Solomon’s temple was just a figure, a representation of the real throne room (ἀντίτυπα τῶν ἀληθινῶν) in heaven (Hebrews 9:24; cf. Exodus 25:40, 26:30, 27:8, etc.). Throughout Revelation 4-5, God gave us a look at His real throne room.
The scene opens on the Apostle John being granted a vision of supreme importance; a vision so vital that God chose to have Him write it all down in a book which is preserved in your Bibles even today. John saw a scroll in God’s hand. The scroll had writing on both sides, and was sealed with seven seals. A mighty angel proclaims with a loud voice,
. . . who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof? And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon. And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon (Revelation 5:2b-4).
But, all was not lost. A man enters the throne room. One of the 24 elders motions to John and says,
Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof (Revelation 5:5).
These allusions probably seem strange and bizarre to a non-believer, or to a Christian who ignores the Old Covenant books. These are deliberate allusions, freighted with all sorts of Messianic and triumphant implications. The man is Christ Jesus. He is the “lion” who sprang from the Jewish tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:9ff). He is the “root” descended from King David’s father, Jesse (Isaiah 11:1ff). This is the risen Christ who has been continually interceding for His people since He returned to His Father’s house in the days after his resurrection (Acts 1:9ff). This is the Savior of whom John the Baptist declared, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
This is the crucified, resurrected, co-equal and co-eternal Son of God who came to give His life a ransom for many (cf. Mk 10:45). John the Baptist continued, “This is he of whom I said, ‘After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me,'” (John 1:30). Jesus is greater than John, because he existed before John. And yet, John the Baptist is several months older than his cousin, Jesus! How can John be younger, then? It is because Jesus is the co-equal, co-eternal Son of God . . .
whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:2b-3).
This is who has strode into God’s throne room. This is why the Apostle John need not dispair. Someone worthy has been found to open the seven-sealed scroll and unleash the terrible but righteous judgments of God upon a rebellious and wicked world (cf. Gen 6:5).
But, why is Jesus Christ so particularly worthy? The 24 elders are angelic beings and are perfectly holy – why can’t they open the scroll? What about the four living beings who are also before God’s throne? Are they tainted in some way? Our passage tells us why only Jesus is worthy:
Then he came and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne, and when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders threw themselves to the ground before the Lamb. Each of them had a harp and golden bowls full of incense (which are the prayers of the saints) (Revelation 5:7-8).
Pay attention to what these angelic beings say, to what they sing in praise and worship to Jesus Christ. Here it is, in my own translation (detailed translation notes are available here):
and they were singing a new song, saying, ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slaughtered, and by your own blood you bought for God [people] from every tribe, language, people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests for our God, and they will rule on the earth’ (Revelation 5:9-10).
First, they make a simple statement – “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals.” Only Messiah, the Anointed and Chosen Son of God, can perform this task. Why? How is He uniquely qualified? There are several reasons:
1. because you were slaughtered
He was murdered, slain and slaughtered like a sacrificial animal. He died to take away the sins of the world. More than that, He did it willingly and voluntarily. He wasn’t checkmated into it. He wasn’t cornered and out-manauvered. He didn’t struggle valiently and die fighting. He deliberately, passively and meekly allowed His enemies to destroy Him (cf. John 14:28-31). He let Himself be slaughtered. What do you think about that?
2. and by your own blood
We observe the Lord’s Supper because of Jesus’ shed blood, which is a synonym for His death. It is through His death, by means of that death, that Jesus Christ perfectly saves men, women, boys and girls on this earth from slavery to the kingdom of darkness and transfers them to His own kingdom (Colossians 1:13). His death is the instrument which accomplishes this miracle.
3. you bought for God [people] from every tribe, language, people and nation
Jesus’ death has purchased people for God from everywhere on earth. This purchasing was done in the past, when He died. It happened in the past. From God’s perspective, all His chosen people from all over the world already are saved. It’s so certain and sure that He regards it as a done deal. The angelic beings in God’s heavenly throne room sing about it as an accomplished fact. Jesus is not buying; He bought. Jesus did not die intending to save every single person in the world. Everybody is born hating God (Romans 3:18). Everybody is born inherently worthless to Him (Romans 3:12). Many people continue to hate Him until their dying day, or cloak their hatred in a noxious shroud of good works intended to bribe the Lord and “earn” His favor, as if such a thing were even possible (cf. Galatians 2:21). Jesus died to save His chosen people, and those chosen people are from every tribe, language, people-group and nation in the entire world. The Gospel isn’t restricted by racial divide, the highest mountainpeaks, the lowest valleys, the most treacherous waters or the most bigoted, sinful and hateful prejudices of sinful men. It is intended for all people, and among all people, Christ has already purchased His own for God!
4. and you have made them a kingdom and priests for our God
God’s people want to serve Him. Christ is building His kingdom, which is not here yet. His people are priests in the sense that they have direct and personal access to Him which outsiders do not have. If you do not have salvation through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, then you do not have God (1 John 2:23). You have no access to Him. He is actively angry with you. You reject Him and His Son. You hate Him. You are a criminal in His world. His people, however, make God known to those who hate Him. They tell others about God and His dear Son, Jesus Christ. They mediate the Lord to a pagan world. They don’t offer up literal sacrifices, they offer up their own selves as spiritual sacrificies to Him for His work (Romans 12:1f, 1 Peter 2:5). They regard themselves as slaves for His sovereign, holy and appropriate use. And, again, this is presented as an accomplished fact, a done deal, a past event with ongoing results.
5. and they will rule on the earth.
God’s people will rule with Him in eternity. God’s enemies will suffer for all eternity.
Jesus Christ is worthy because of what He did. He died to save sinners. When this scene takes place, the world has definitively rejected Him and the Good News He suffered and bled and died to bring to people. The world deserves judgment. He and His Father are the Ones the world is rejecting. It is only fitting that the “Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world” be the One who unleashes His Father’s righteous judgment on the very world which rejected Him and has “no cloak for their sin,” (John 15:22).