When I was young, we used to watch the original series “Kung Fu” with David Carradine. A TV series of the early 1970s, the story followed the wandering travels of a Shaolin monk named Kwai Chang Caine. This monk traveled the American West in the time of the cowboys, armed only with his spiritual training and his skill in martial arts. The journey was driven by Caine’s search for his half-brother in a west that held only disdain for the Chinamen that built the railroads for the great rail companies of yesteryear. What impressed me most about the part that Caine played was his “quiet power” – in the simple robes of this humble spirited monk lay the power of a mighty warrior. In virtually every episode, Caine was sorely provoked by men who were entirely unsuspecting of his power – until his feet and hands were released to form an unstoppable force. His patience was mistaken for impotence- until he showed the truth.
There is a scene in the book of Revelation that is just as surprising as Caine breaking into a fight before the dull sensed cowboys of the old west… it is found in Revelation 5. In that room, a lamb that was wounded and abused by Creation begins to roar like a full grown and massive lion. The time for evil’s victory was about to be crushed. The High King of Heaven had been patient long enough. It is a story of encouragement.
Key Principle: There is a reason to hold up our heads in the midst of a rising tide of darkness – it is temporary and our Savior’s victory is secure. It has already been revealed!
I confess that I am not rushing to Revelation 6 to get to the juicy details of the earth’s pummeling… I am walking deliberately through this passage concerning Heaven. We are in no rush, because there are profound lessons in Heaven’s throne room Heaven is our HOPE and our PROMISE. It is our encouragement to live with light tracks on this earth – trusting in another place as our home. The great lessons of Heavenoffer the deepest encouragements – and secure God’s people through waves of darkness.
Surfers learn the rhythm of the waves of the sea. The worst thing a surfer can do when caught under the punishment of the down thrust of a powerful wave is PANIC. If they pull in their extremities, hold tightly their breath and wait… sometimes in what seems an eternity… the power of the thundering wave will pass by – and they will be able to make their way to the surface again.
In the same way, the Bible makes believers aware of times of evil domination, on our way to eventual righteous relief. I mention this because in my lifetime many believers have expressed increasing dismay at God’s patience with evil. They keep longing inside (and occasionally expressing outside) for overwhelming displays of God’s power so that people will see that WE are on the winning side. Strangely, God appears content, much of the time, with the appearance of weakness. How do we respond when it appears that evil is winning and most people are on evil’s side? How can we be encouraged when God appears weak in the face of profound and rising evil?
If these are your questions… you have found a place in God’s Word to draw encouragement! In the chapter before this one, John struggled as he described his view of Heaven – beyond any words he could easily form or share. He saw the Most High God, seated on the throne at the center of the Heavenly throne room. He sat unchallenged and unmatched as the Supreme Ruler of all the universe. All might, power and authority emanated from that single place. Surrounding that throne were four strange looking living beings that John could not adequately describe from within his own earthly experience. He encountered the believers of the church age, fresh from their Bema seat of judgment – and experienced worship that overwhelmed his senses! He continued in the description of this passage with a series of encouraging words:
Encouragement #1 (5:1): God alone will initiate final judgment.
Revelation 5:1 I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals.
The plan is in God’s hand of authority. Man will not define the final steps of the planet, nor determine the timing and method of the end – it comes from the only wise God, perfect in knowledge. The scroll of history is detailed (wrote before and behind) with much information. Note also it is multiply sealed awaiting God’s move in time and God’s appointed opener.
The term for the scroll (βιβλίον) simply means a roll, scroll, or volume. It is variously used: (a) to denote Torah law, Hebrews 9:19, 10:7; (b) the Book of Life, Revelation 17:8, 20:12, 21:27; (c) the Seven Letters, Revelation 1:11; (d) certain legal documents, as a bill of divorce, Matthew 19:7; Mark 10:4.
Note the similarity to another prophetic scroll described in the prophet Ezekiel’s commissioning scroll: Ezekiel 2:8 “Now you, son of man, listen to what I am speaking to you; do not be rebellious like that rebellious house. Open your mouth and eat what I am giving you.” 9 Then I looked, and behold, a hand was extended to me; and lo, a scroll was in it. 10 When He spread it out before me, it was written on the front and back, and written on it were lamentations, mourning and woe. 3:1 Then He said to me, “Son of man, eat what you find; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” 2 So I opened my mouth, and He fed me this scroll. 3 He said to me, “Son of man, feed your stomach and fill your body with this scroll which I am giving you.” Then I ate it, and it was sweet as honey in my mouth. 4 Then He said to me, “Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with My words to them.”
The obvious conclusion is that the scroll is a legal document that is owned by God. In the coming chapter, we will see a correlation between opening the seals of the document, and judgments that are declared upon the earth. This scroll was evidently the things which “would shortly come to pass” in Revelation 1:19 – but they could not come to pass before the judgment against the earth was fulfilled. God wouldn’t keep going with things as they were – but demanded legal judgment to be levied. Why do we consider this judgment idea an encouragement? Because God is in control:
- Man can’t force God’s hand into doing things – we need to humbly bow to Him Who is on the throne. The end is not focused on man and his sinfulness, but on God and His Righteousness. As we study the book, we must constantly remind ourselves that we are to understand Jesus better – the book reveals HIM as well as the future.
- Man cannot unlock all the details of the Word’s final judgments – we need to be humble in our pronouncements of understanding of the coming writings of the book. As we study the book, we must admit that we know only what God has revealed – and that is limited by the words and our comprehension of them. The big parts of the truth are not so much in question, but beyond the largest fixtures revealed we must be careful not to arrogantly assert that we understand all that is contained therein. It is ok to admit we don’t see it all clearly!
Consider the words of the Bible commentator Matthew Henry: “We need not weep that we cannot foresee future events respecting ourselves in this world; the eager expectation of future prospects, or the foresight of future calamities, would alike unfit us for present duties and conflicts, or render our prosperous days distressing. Yet we may desire to learn, from the promises and prophecies of Scripture, what will be the final event to believers and to the church; and the Incarnate Son has prevailed, that we should learn all that we need to know.”
There is one over-riding fact that offers both comfort to the afflicted and courage to the broken… there IS a scroll. There IS a plan. It resides for the moment in the right hand of the Master of the throne room. Soon it will open because of the gentle tug of a bloodied lamb. Seals will break open. The end will come. There IS a plan, and there IS One worthy to complete its final demands. “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ, the solid Rock I stand… all other ground is sinking sand.”
Take courage, dear friend. Man will not pollute the planet into oblivion. The Mayan calendar notwithstanding – no “natural” calamity will cause the destruction of this beautiful and fascinating planet. God will determine the end of time, just as He did the beginning of it. It is a true statement: “Our times are in HIS HANDS”.
Encouragement #2 (5:2-5): God has deemed worthy an agent to bring final judgment.
Revelation 5:2 And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it. 4 Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it; 5 and one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.”
God has chosen the right person to bring about the end. The specific agent God will employ to finish human history is the very One that redeemed man – the Messiah. His intimate knowledge of the struggle of physical life amid the fallen system under the wicked prince and his minions uniquely qualifies Him. His perfect sacrifice on behalf of fallen men uniquely qualifies Him. His intimate bonding of Heaven and earth as God-man uniquely qualifies Him. In other words, it is not only God that finishes the program, but God does so through His Son – He who died to purchase fallen and estranged Creation.
When we read carefully verse two, the question is not “Who should reveal the destinies of God’s people?” Rather the question is this: “Who has the Divinely ascribed POSITION to initiate judgment and thereby open the future of creation?” The answer is offered by a knowledgeable elder of the room: “Jesus the Messiah, called the lion of the tribe of Judah, alluding to Jacob’s prophecy (Gen. 49:9-10).
Genesis 49:9 “Judah is a lion’s whelp; From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He couches, he lies down as a lion, And as a lion, who dares rouse him up? 10“ The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes, And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”
Jacob foretold that One of Judah would bring judgment. He would wait patiently as a lion waits. The line of rulers would be long, but the scepter would be passed into the Lion’s hands. He would eventually show up, and people would obey Him. Keep your eyes on the skies… for this is on its way.
At that time in the passage, a problem arose: John began to weep because it appeared no one was worthy to open the scrolls. He knew HE was not worthy. He was drawn in to the scene as we can be tear-filled in a sad movie – he could not help the scene, but he hurt over it. As he wept, he was told there was a CONQUEROR – an overcoming lion. He turned to look for this Great One, but what he saw was something other than he anticipated… a wound filled lamb. One that bore the marks of slaughterers upon Him.
Pastor Rodney Buchanan wrote it well: “John immediately turns to see this great lion that has just been described to him, but he does not see a lion. He sees a lamb. And not just any lamb, but one with death wounds. John can see the blood and the open wounds with which he has been inflicted. What a shock it must have been for John to look for this great lion who would rip the seals with his great claws, only to see a small wounded lamb. But it is the lamb who walks up to the One seated on the throne and takes the scroll. A paradox is a seemingly contradictory statement that may nonetheless be true. Here is a paradox. How can a lion be a lamb? The two are opposites. One is the hunter and the other the prey. One is placed in a cage with iron bars; the other in a petting zoo. (The answer lies in this one truth): God’s strength is disguised as weakness.”
God disguised His power many times! Don’t you recall how men treated the Messiah?
Matthew 27:27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole Roman cohort around Him. 28 They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. 29 And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they knelt down before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 They spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head. 31 After they had mocked Him, they took the scarlet robe off Him and put His own garments back on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him… 35 And when they had crucified Him …38 At that time two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and one on the left. 39 And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads 40 and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” 41 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, 42 “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. 43 “HE TRUSTS IN GOD; LET GOD RESCUE Him now, IF HE DELIGHTS IN HIM; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 The robbers who had been crucified with Him were also insulting Him with the same words.
Peter later boldly proclaimed after a man was healed in the Temple: Acts 3:13 “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. 14 “But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses. 16 “And on the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all.
Let me renew the question I posed earlier: “Why does God not simply WIN all the time? Why allow evil such a path of victory?” Perhaps immediate victory does not suit His ultimate purpose… is that possible? Sure it is! Think of it this way… What if good always triumphed and doing the right always paid tremendous dividends? It seems obvious that most everyone would flock to God and follow him. At the same time, we must consider that people would come to God because it benefitted them personally – a selfish motivation. Would they love God for Who He is or for the benefits of standing beneath the warmth and light of His power? God’s weak appearance in the face of evil sifts out those who want to use God for their own purposes.
We may think of a small, young lamb as harmless – but not this One! Observe what happens when the Lamb opens the fifth seal: “Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’” (Revelation 6:15-17).
Don’t forget… His patience in opposing evil is a temporary condition. God has deemed One worthy to pull the judgment scroll open… and open it He will! Despite evil’s rage, judgment is coming. Wrong will be made right. Abusers of the weak will be held accountable. The power of the mighty will fail them before the Father’s ultimate power… God has chosen well the agent of the end.
Encouragement #3 (5:6-14): The Messiah’s visible qualities that show His entitlement will be completely understood.
Revelation 5:6 And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. 7 And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. 8 When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. 10 “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” 11 Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” 13 And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.” 14 And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped.
People won’t second guess God when they see His judgment. When John tightened his focus on the qualities of the Son that made Him the righteous choice (worthy to open the scroll with seven seals) – it became OBVIOUS that He alone was the right choice to do so.
- First, He stood as the intermediary between the throne of God and the elders – the mediator of the saved. Revelation 5:6 And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing…
- Second, He appeared with the wounds of payment – a lamb slain. Revelation 5:6b “…as if slain…”
- Third, He appeared in full and complete authority – horns denoted full authority. Revelation 5:6b “…having seven horns…”
- Fourth, He was fully encompassed by and in harmony with the Spirit of God –minutely aware of the happenings of the earth. Jesus (who began the story in Colossians 1:16-17) paid for the right to finish the story. Jesus was granted all authority from His Father to do so after His act of obedience (Matthew 28:18). Revelation 5:6b “…seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth.”
- Fifth, He knew His role, and at the appointed time – He took the scroll to unfold it. Revelation 5:7 And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.”
- Sixth, all Creation acknowledged the choice God made in giving Him the scroll – no one opposed His claim. This included the Elders (5:8-10), the angelic host (5:11-12), every created being in Heaven, earth, beneath the earth, on the sea and from beneath the sea (5:13-14)!
The lamb stood alone at His beating. He was nailed alone at the Cross. He had no one intervene on His behalf…. And one day soon, He will stand alone as JUDGE. It is the reason He stood silent before his captors.
His humility was born out of confidence in the truth… and so it YOURS. He could be silent for a time when He knew the end of all things…. And so can YOU! We don’t have to WIN right now, because He will win for us in the days ahead. Sometimes we look around at the world and it seems like evil is winning, but we forget that God has the scroll, and He wins in the end. God is in control. Current appearances are deceiving.
“On October 30, 1974, Muhammad Ali and George Foreman squared off in the boxing ring in Zaire. Ali had dubbed it “The Rumble in the Jungle.” Foreman was heavily favored, and considered the hardest puncher in heavyweight history. Ali did something in that fight that no other fighter had ever dared to try. He held up his arms against his face and leaned back against the ropes allowing Foreman to punch away at him for eight rounds. The strongest boxer in history beat on Ali until he could punch no more. When the right moment came, Ali bounced off the ropes and knocked out Foremen, sending him into retirement. Ali called his technique “rope-a-dope.” Even though it looked like he was losing the fight, and losing badly, he was in control the whole time. He took all those punches because he knew he would deliver the final blow.” It appears as though God may be using Ali’s “rope-a-dope” technique on the evil world and its prince of darkness. (Rodney Buchanan, Sermon Central illustrations).
God need not be overly interested in appearances today – because the power of evil is only a fleeting illusion. God deals in the REAL. Consider this: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. . . . But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (1 Corinthians 1:25, 27-29).
Look closely at the bill of goods evil is serving – its ultimate power is only an illusion. It is a counterfeit power. The Lion stands at the ready to emerge and bellow its roar. Read the end…The Lamb wins. There is a reason to hold up our heads in the midst of a rising tide of darkness – it is temporary and our Savior’s victory is secure.