Claiming the world back

This world is not the most comfortable place for Christians. Our society is distinctly unchristian and the world we inhabit is not at all like the place we read of at the beginning of time. It feels as though we don’t exactly fit or belong in this world. That’s exactly what Peter said in his letter – this world is not ‘home’ to us as believers. This prompts an important question, if God made the world and is its ultimate owner why should we as believers feel so uncomfortable and unwelcome here in the very world that God created?

When our daughter went off to university she shared a house with a number of other girls. She had to sign an agreement that she would be a tenant in the property. This gave her some significant rights to occupy and live in the property but it came with legal responsibilities too. The property in question was owned by the landlord who held the title deeds. In a similar way God granted to mankind, in Adam, the rights of a tenant over this world. Adam’s rights are summarised in Genesis 1: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground”. If this is so then why do we feel uncomfortable in this world that was made for us and over which the human race was given tenant’s rights?

Adam effectively opened the door of the property to a distinctly unwelcome squatter: Satan. It was Satan who took control from Adam when Adam and Eve sinned. Jesus referred to Satan as the ‘prince of this world’ and John himself said “the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). There is no doubt that Satan assumes rights over this world too. (see for example Luke 4: 5-6). This explains the current world in which we live. It’s a world gone bad, but more importantly it’s world under occupation by the evil one.

There are interesting parallels between the condition and situation in the world and the land of Israel. The Israelites were given a land too and like Adam them messed things up and ended up with other nations occupying the land that God had given them forever. But God had a plan to return Israel’s land to it’s rightful tenants and in the same way he has a plan to return this world back to control by a man. This time it will not be given to Adam but to the ‘second Adam’: Jesus Christ. The question arises as to how this transfer of occupancy will be accomplished.

There was a family in Israel that owned some land, but there was a famine and they gave up their rights to that land and headed to Moab in search of food. In the course of the following few years this family of husband, wife and two sons expanded as each of the sons married local women. The father and subsequently the two sons died leaving three women without means of support or sustenance. The mother, Naomi and one of the daughters Ruth returned to Naomi’s homeland. They returned with nothing: it was a bitter experience. It was on their return however that an opportunity arose to re-secure the land they had lost when they left due to the famine. The process for getting their land back is of interest: it needed a ‘kinsman redeemer’ – a member of their own family with the means to buy back the land. Boaz fulfilled this role as he married Ruth and bought back the land. He paid the price and received the rights to the land. In a similar way a kinsman redeemer is required to buy back this world and return it to mankind. These ideas lie behind the events that we see in this 5th chapter of Revelation.

  1. The scroll

The key object in this chapter (and the following few chapters) is a scroll, written on both sides and sealed with seven seals.  What is this scroll all about? We will see that as each seal is removed it brings successive judgements on this earth. The final seal brings about a series of seven trumpet calls and on the final trumpet call we read the following (Revelation 11:15): “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever.” This suggests that the complete opening of this scroll brought about ownership of the world to the anointed one, the Christ. The scroll appears to be the title deeds for this world. We read of a similar type of scroll in the book of Jeremiah. As an act of faith in God’s promise to return to Israel ownership of the promised land, God told Jeremiah to buy a piece of land. The land was virtually worthless – it was land under imminent threat of occupation of an invading army. But as a result of his faith in God’s promise, Jeremiah did buy the land: he paid the price, signed the deed, sealed it and placed it in a clay jar for safe keeping. Interestingly Jeremiah placed two copies of the title deed in the jar. It seems that one was sealed and the other open. It is thought that the unsealed title was to enable inspection of the deed, but to guard against unauthorised alterations the sealed deed served as an original unaltered copy. The fact that the scroll in Revelation is written on both sides suggests something similar: externally the seal could be inspected but only after the seals were broken could the content of the unaltered and original deed be read.

Thus the title deed was sealed to ensure that it could not be changed. In just the same way we read in verse 1: ‘I saw in the right hand of him who sat in the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals’. The title deed was in an exceedingly safe place – in the very had of God! It was sealed not once but seven times – usually the number 7 speaks of completeness.

  • The challenge

A question is asked in a loud voice by one of the ‘mighty’ angels: ‘Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll.’ Since this is the title deed to the earth, and since God had given Adam the right to rule the earth, I think there are good grounds for assuming that only a man could qualify to open this seal. But no man could be found who was capable – all men from Adam onwards were disqualified. Way back in Genesis 3:15, when God was dealing with the original sin of Adam and Eve, you may remember that the rescue plan for this world would hinge on a man. God addressed the serpent thus; ‘And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.’ It will be the offspring of a woman who will crush the serpent’s head – the Hebrew word translated ‘head’ can mean ‘headship’ or rulership.  But note that the serpent has an offspring too. He knows that if he is to challenge God’s plan he needs a man to rule too – we will meet this ‘man of sin’ later in Revelation.

None could be found to open the scroll and John despairs and weeps at this situation – and rightly so, the condition of the earth and God’s rescue plan are dependent on a perfect man taking the rights to rule. One might assume that John was well aware of the importance of the scroll as the writing on the outside would inform him that it related to rights of occupancy and ownership of the world.

One of the elders tells John that there is indeed one who is worthy: ‘Do not weep! See the lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.’  Interestingly as Jacob (remember Jacob, Esau’s brother, the one who stole the birthright) lay on his deathbed he brought all his 12 sons before him and said the following to Judah: ‘You are a lion’s cub, O Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness-who dares to rouse him? The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.’ (Genesis 49). Thus it was from the tribe of Judah that this man would come – he would be the ‘lion of Judah’ the one who would hold the scepter of rule and he staff of power. He would also come from David’s line (‘the Root of David’) – this term ‘root of David’ comes from Isaiah 11:10: ‘In that day the root of Jesse  will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting-place will be glorious’.  

Having been told of the one worthy to open the seal, John now sees ‘the lion of the tribe of Judah’ but he does not see a lion, but rather a lamb: a lamb that looked as though it had been killed. The lamb stood at the centre of the throne that was encircled by the 24 elders and the four living creatures. Jesus had already come to this world but had been rejected by his own people and apparently Satan had seen off his rival. But in adopting the role of the Passover lamb, Jesus had secured victory for mankind over the evil one. Through his death mankind could be redeemed. The lamb had seven horns. Horns symbolise power and strength in the bible. Jesus appearance as a lamb has indications of submissiveness but this is transformed to power by the presence of the seven horns. John saw the lamb take the scroll from the hand of the one who sat on the throne. This elicited a response from the four creatures around the throne and the 24 elders.

  • The Song of worship

The elders were equipped with a harp and a olden bowl. The bowls contained incence and these are described as the prayers of God’s people. Have you ever thought of your prayers as incense!

The elders sang – perhaps accompanied by their harps. The song was a new one: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” This new song gives the reason why the lamb was worthy to open the scroll. So what attributes did the lamb have that qualified him to open the scroll? It seems that this is simply that through his death he enabled the purchase of people from all over the world to serve God and to reign on the earth. This seems to be a reversal of the curse that fell on Adam and Eve – the lamb can reverse it and in so doing he enables mankind to rule once more on the earth.

Now the angels join in too! John says that they numbered 10,000 times 10,000 that sounds like too many to number, but if we do the sums we get 100 million. They don’t sing but they do have something to say and they say it in a loud voice – it must have been quite an experience for John! Here’s what they said: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” If the purchased people are to reign on earth, surely the angels are saying that he would be the foremost ruler.

Next it’s the turn on the inhabitants of earth who speak. John describes  them as ‘every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea. This is reminiscent of (although not identical to) the scope of Adam’s rights to rule (see Genesis 1). These creatures state “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” Notice once again that it is the elders who we believe represent the church , address the lamb in the second person ‘you’ whilst the others use the third person: he or him. This speaks of an intimate relationship of the elders to the lamb.

Finally the living creatures close this chapter with the words ‘Amen’. Amen indeed!-   the creatures affirm the truth of the words spoken by the others.  In the next chapter the lamb starts to open the scroll with devastating results for the earth and its inhabitants.