Unveiling the Symbolism in Revelation
In chapter 4 we received a description of the throne room and the worship of our Creator. Now the action continues and focuses on something specific. An exciting scene follows.
"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." (v.1) John saw Him who is on the throne! We know that the Father is the One who sits on the throne! This clearly shows us that Satan is not on the throne. Neither is there a tug-of-war for the throne going on between God and Satan, as many believe. Adam's sin in no way displaced God from His rightful place on the throne, nor did it undermine His sovereignty. It only changed Adam's perspective of God, but it didn't change God.
Then why is Satan spoken of as "the god of this world" and the "prince of the power of the air"? It is to show us that his rule is limited to this world - the world that is governed by the carnal mind. It operates by choices instead of obedience, thereby putting man in the driver's seat instead of God. It does not know truth and therefore submits to Satan's lying reign. Satan's rule is not a rightful dominion; he has usurped God's place in people's minds; he is a god without divinity, a prince without right. He can only rule in those who are blind to the truth. His rule has absolutely no power in the world of righteousness
And in His right hand is a book. Let's remember that all these things are symbols. This book is in God's right hand, and the right hand is symbolic of His sovereign power! Therefore we know that He is able to keep His covenant and bring about His purposes, namely, to do away with sins, to destroy the works of the devil, to be the Savior of the world and to change us into His image! (1 John 3:3,8; 4:14; Romans 8:29)
In those days a book was not like our books - it was a scroll. It was generally made of skins or parchment rolled together. One could write on the inside and outside of the scroll, and that is what this scroll had. On the inside was written the nature that is ours in Christ, and on the outside the nature of the Adamic man, and it unmasks the nature of the beast. The challenge consisted of getting someone who was worthy of breaking the seals so that the nature of Christ could be revealed, for only it can overcome and do away with the nature of the beast. As living epistles, we are to have His word hidden in our hearts and let it become flesh in us, so that Christ is manifested in our everyday walk.
This scroll was sealed with seven seals. According to the custom of that day, seven scrolls were sealed within each other. Like the layers of an onion, the first seal had to be broken in order to get to the second seal, etc. There is nothing to indicate whether these seals were cylindrical or molten wax wafers impressed with a design or something else, because that is not important. A seal indicated ownership, protection and authenticity. The importance of this scroll is in its symbolism!
The message it conveys is tremendous! John was brought into a place where he could see God's intention of releasing His people from everything that sin and death had robbed them of. This release would bring them into the totality of God's character and the complete revelation of His will and purpose. God's people will begin to experience and express the fullness of all that God is, as these seals are loosed within them.
Our search for the symbolism of this scroll takes us to Jeremiah 32 where Hanamel, Jeremiah's cousin, came to Jeremiah and asked him to buy his field, for Jeremiah had the right to redeem it. God's plan for Israel was that their inheritance could never be lost permanently. There was a plan of redemption in the law that secured this fact. A legal transaction for redemption had to take place, and this involved two scrolls.
Jeremiah was very careful that all was done legally. He signed and sealed the deed, called in witnesses, paid the silver (silver symbolizes redemption), then "took the deeds of purchase, both the sealed copy containing the terms and conditions and the open copy." (v.11) The open scroll was a public record of the right of the purchaser to buy the property, and the sealed scroll was for future use. It contained the details of the sale, the cause or specifics of why it was sold, and the terms or cost of redemption.
Jeremiah's prayer at the close of this transaction shows that he realized that the redemption of one small parcel of land symbolized what God purposes for the whole of His creation! Read the whole chapter! Nothing is too difficult for the Lord! "They shall be My people, and I will be their God." (v.38) The Israelites were sold into slavery, but the lovingkindness of the Lord would redeem them!
This sealed scroll was very important because it contained the conditions of redemption. After Adam sinned he could no longer remain in the garden. Instead of resting in God's provision, he was forced to live on the lower level of self-effort, and eke out a living through hard work. To be released from our slavery to self, we need a redeemer who will return our inheritance to us! No wonder a search was made for someone who could open the seven seals! As long as the scroll was sealed, it was a sign that someone had lost his inheritance; it still needed to be redeemed. Seven is not a literal number; it is the number of divine perfection or completeness. As the seven seals are opened, we will see what it takes to perfect us and to take us out of our slavery to self. .
The seven seals symbolize the strongholds, the spirits that keep us bound to our human nature. These strongholds have to be torn down so that we can be loosed. In Christ we are sealed with the Holy Spirit of truth. Only truth can break the seals of lies that bind us to our earthy thinking!
"And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, `Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?'" (v.2) Who is this strong angel or strong messenger? No being is stronger than Jesus Christ! All power has been given to Him!
The question is, "Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?" Not just anyone had the right to open the book. Certain conditions had to be met. To be worthy to open this book he had to be related to humanity, have a flawless character and possess certain credentials.. Natural strength, knowledge or position had nothing to do with the authority to open the book. He had to be worthy! When Adam lost his inheritance, Satan did not get the legal deed to it. God kept it until the One who is worthy could receive it!
"And no one (man) in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it. Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it." (vv.3-4)
A search was made for a man who could open the scroll. This had to be someone who was identified with humanity. Humanity thinks it can redeem itself by making right choices - that if given enough time and enough lifetimes, it will be successful. In the deceptiveness of man's imagination, he has a wrong image of himself. He does not realize that he is a slave to sin and Satan, because Adam sold himself and all his progeny into death! Therefore, according to the law, it has to be a man, a relative of Adam, who is worthy, willing and able, to redeem man. Only someone who is identified with humanity can open the scroll of God's purposes; this someone must also be worthy to meet the requirements needed to bring redemption; it must be a man who can take us out of death!
In the garden of Eden, when Adam obeyed Satan instead of God, he sealed up the purpose that God had for man. Man was made for the purpose of walking with God, but Adam effectively put a stop to this relationship by his disobedience. In other words, he sealed up the will and purpose that God had for humanity. This completely changed Adam's perspective of God. Instead of enjoying God, Adam now feared Him. Ever since Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together for a covering, man has tried to work out his own redemption by self-effort, and has failed miserably. Can you see the great dilemma? Whoever is able to take away sin and its bondage, and bring humanity into life, must himself be without sin and be victorious over death. Only such a man has the authority to break the seals!
The search for someone who was worthy included every conceivable place - heaven, earth and under the earth! In heaven, the angels were of no use; although they were sinless, they were not of human descent. Since the search was for a man, and I say this reverently, God Himself could not do it because He is not a man either. So there was nobody in heaven.
Then the divine searchlight focused on the earth. There are plenty of men there, but they are not worthy. No man was found worthy to perform this task! Man cannot pull himself up by his bootstraps. Man does not have the right lineage; his connection with, and fascination for the earth, invalidate him. Those who have died are not worthy either, because the fact that they are still in death proves that their life could not resurrect them. So He said there is no man in heaven, there is no man on earth and there is no man under the earth who is worthy.
This is the only time in this book that John wept - and he saw some pretty incredible things. He just looked at them and wrote down what he saw. When no one was found worthy to open this book, he recognized that he himself was not worthy. Even though he had walked with Jesus and laid his head on Christ's breast, and suffered persecution and had been boiled in oil, he was not worthy. Neither was anyone else! He was so overwhelmed and involved in what he saw that he wept greatly.
The contents of this book are extremely important to everyone everywhere; they were vital to all the Christians on the island of Patmos and on the mainland, and they remain vital to all Christians everywhere throughout the ages, for this book contains the promise and details of redemption!
It was at this point that he heard a voice behind him. "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.'" (v.5)
This is wonderful news! There is One who is worthy! The word "overcome" is translated from the Greek NIKAO, meaning to conquer, to gain the victory. The Lion from the tribe of Judah has overcome death! Who is He? When Jacob blessed his sons, and he came to his son, Judah, he called him a lion's whelp. He said, "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." (Gen. 49:10) The word "Shiloh" means to whom it belongs or whose right it is, that is, until He who alone has the right to reign shall come. Only Shiloh has the right to rule.
What does "of the Root of David" mean? The Lion of the tribe of Judah has His roots in David. In 2 Samuel 7:12-13 God said to David that he would have a descendant whose kingdom would be established forever. That is, David would be a root; out of his flesh and blood would come One who would rule forever. This prophecy does not refer to Solomon, for he lost the kingdom. Even the greatest wisdom of man cannot keep the kingdom. David was the first young lion of Judah; he was the first king of Judah's tribe. In Matthew 1, the "begat" chapter, it clearly shows that Jesus is a descendant of David, and David was of the tribe of Judah. So Jesus is the Lion that was spoken of to Judah.
In Jesus Christ, God joined Himself to our humanity. Jesus Christ was of heaven; He was a man from heaven, but He was also joined to humanity, for He was born of a woman. He alone fulfilled all the requirements of worthiness to open the seals, for He was united with humanity, yet without sin; He had died, yet He was alive; He had overcome death!
"And I saw between" (actually, "in the midst of") "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." (v.6)
In the midst of the throne, with the four living creatures and the elders was a Lamb! What glorious unity, what glorious oneness with the One who sits on the throne! On the throne, in the perfect expression of life, and with the Lamb, are the elders - the royal priesthood!
We don't need to interpret what the Lamb means. Everyone immediately says, "Of course that is Jesus." If we use that same logic for every other part of Revelation, it will help our understanding of the book! Didn't John the Baptist describe Jesus as the Lamb that takes away the sins of the world? A lamb summed up all the bloody sacrifices of the Old Testament. They had rams, bulls, goats and pigeons - but in the mind of a Jew, the one animal that summed up all animals offered to God, was a lamb. Someone described it as "the theological shorthand for all the sacrifices of the Old Testament."
It says, "a Lamb, as if slain." Incidentally, the word lamb, as used here, is "little lamb". Our attention is drawn to a little white lamb, as if freshly slain. Sacrificial lambs were killed by slitting their throats. This lamb showed the evidence of having been killed, yet it was alive! Here is Jesus, the One spoken of in prophecy; He is a man, yet sinless; He has been crucified and has been resurrected! Death could not hold Him! He is worthy to break the seals and shower blessings upon the human race by redeeming it.
The Lamb had seven horns. Have you ever seen a lamb with seven horns? Obviously we are not looking at a natural reality but at a symbol. In the scriptures and universally, horns speak of power. Seven is the number of God - God in perfect power! God's perfect power expressed in the crucified and resurrected Lamb of God and in the Lion of the tribe of Judah! A lamb is the epitome of weakness, and a lion is the epitome of strength. As the Lamb of God, Jesus portrayed perfect weakness - He did nothing in His own power; He remained on the cross and died for His enemies! As the Lion He overcame every temptation and even death itself!
His seven eyes are the seven Spirits of God. The divine completeness of the Holy Spirit was resident in Jesus Christ! He is the Spirit of the Lord! He is complete wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge and fear or reverence of the Lord! Therefore He can loose us from every bondage that binds us to our wrong thinking!
He has been "sent out into all the earth." Not into all parts of the earth, but into all the earth. He has been sent into all our earth, to deliver us from all of our earthiness!
"And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne." (v.7) We have to see this spiritually. This does not refer to a four-footed lamb going to the throne and taking a book in its mouth, but to the Lamb, Jesus Christ. He took the book containing all the instructions for the complete redemption of all humanity. He went to Him who has all authority, and received His commendation that He had successfully completed His assignment. He had overcome death, and therefore could impart His life to humanity!
In the symbolism of this act, we see a high priest of a higher dimension, of a higher order than the Aaronic high priesthood. To make atonement for Israel, Aaron had to offer a sacrifice for his own sins before he could take the blood of animals into the holiest - the throne room. In this chapter the high priest and the sacrifice have become one. The Lamb has shed His own blood, but death could not keep Him! In life, He now brings His own blood right up to the throne.
In Lev. 17:11 the correct translation says, "The soul of the flesh is in the blood." The soul is our sense of being. The Israelites were not to drink the blood of animals because they were not to receive the sense of being of an animal. Christ's blood is the only blood we are to drink! His sense of being was perfect! He knew that submission to the Father's will was best for Him. In submission, He would never sin. As we receive Christ's sense of being, we too will only desire to do the Father's will. His sense of being will keep us from sinning. It cleanses us from the wrong thinking of the Adamic man; it takes away our sin-consciousness and gives us Christ's consciousness! His blood (His sense of being) is accepted as the atonement for all of humanity throughout the ages!
"And 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." (v.8)
This scene is a victory celebration! The Lamb's accomplishment is so great that it immediately induces worship! Christ, the Son of Man, is the beginning of a new creation! He is proclaimed worthy to take the book that describes the humanity that is locked into self, and redeem it from its rebellion against God. He has full power and authority to fulfill the requirements of redemption! The requisites for redemption have been fulfilled, but they still have to be worked into humanity.
The prostration of the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders symbolizes submission, adoration and worship. The harps symbolize praise, and the golden bowls full of incense are the prayers of the saints - not the selfish petitions of "give me," or the prayers of rote and recitation, but the earnest prayers for the redemption of humanity! These are prayers for those who do not have understanding, and for the hurting and the lost!
It is very significant that at this moment a new song of praise erupted in the throne room! "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. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.'" (vv.9-10)
As He took the book out of the hand of Him who sat on the throne, a new song burst forth from those on and around the throne. They represent all that are governed by God. The Greek word that is translated new means new in kind; it is a kind of song that has never been sung before. Never before had there been someone worthy to bring redemption to humanity! This new kind of song is entitled, "Worthy is the Lamb". We shall be dealing with some of these songs as we go through the book
This Lamb, this Shiloh (whose right it is), is worthy to break the seals! What do the seals signify? They symbolize the bonds and spirits that keep us bound in slavery to self. Carnal thinking cannot break these bonds, for when it tries to do so, it brings total disaster. Only the Lamb, whose very life has overcome death, is worthy to redeem humanity. This redemption is so complete that the new humanity has no earthiness in it! All who have received and function in this new humanity are citizens of heaven, and are called a royal priesthood. This royal priesthood is under the government of God, and through it God's government is established over all earthiness.
"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." (v.11) Can you imagine the number of them? No specific number is given, because they are innumerable. One hundred trillion? Maybe more! The exact number is not important. The important thing is that they were all gathered around the throne of God! The government of God was central in their lives!
If we just picture this scene in a far-away heaven, it won't change us. We need to see the throne of God within us, for the Holy Spirit rules us from within! We need to see that the life of God, depicted by the living creatures, is one with God's authority and government in all who form the royal priesthood, as well as in all of God's messengers. God wants us to know that we are not alone in our awe of His wonderful government and His great purpose for humanity! An anthem of praise fills our hearts as we become spiritually aware of God's wonderful salvation.
"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.'" (v.12) Notice the rising crescendo in the praise of Christ's worthiness! Here we see His worthiness to receive power, riches, wisdom, might, honor, glory and blessing! This worthiness is based on Christ's submission to the Father while He was subjected to the highest degree of suffering. This proved His complete obedience to the will of the Father! What an inspiration for us to bow in total submission to the will of the Father! The cost to the comfort of the self-life is eclipsed by the blessings, glory and honor that accompany obedience!
"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.'" (v.13) The actual translation is not "forever and ever", but "into the ages of the ages".
This is very impressive! No created thing is left out of this universal praise! It includes every created thing! To make sure that this is fully understood it lists all known locations - in heaven, on earth, under the earth, on the sea and all things in them. This includes everything that is within us - everything within us praises Him! Bitterness and unforgiveness would not praise Him. Take time to meditate on the inclusiveness of this praise! Colossians 1 tells us that all things, visible and invisible, have been created by Him and for Him! All glorify the Lamb! There are no exceptions!
"And the four living creatures kept saying, `Amen'. And the elders fell down and worshiped." (v.14) The living creatures, representing the life of God, say "Amen" to all the redemptive disciplines of God. They do not fight and fume against God. They know that He loves them even though the way is rough. They say, "Amen". They are in agreement with everything God does!
The elders fell down and worshiped! Worship of God cannot take place without the surrender of one's will to the will of God. Salvation includes so much more than a ticket to heaven. It brings us into a vital union with Christ; it takes us out of the Adamic man and puts us into the Christ man; it takes us out of death and darkness, and gives us life and light; it takes us out of self-love and gives us Christ's love; it takes us out of self-righteousness and gives us Christ's righteousness; it takes us out of carnal thinking and gives us the mind of Christ! What a glorious salvation is ours! Let's worship Him who is worthy of our worship!