By Samuel M. Frost, Th.M.
The opening First Vision of Revelation is found in Revelation 1.9-3.22. It is a vision of the “son of man” (1.13) who is “coming on the clouds of heaven” (1.7) from “before the throne” (1.4,5). Jesus dictates seven letters to John, then carries him by the Spirit into the Temple in heaven (4.1). When he saw the First Vision he was on Patmos (1.9). Being gifted as a true Prophet of our Faith, and brother in the Lord (and he is one of our eternal Apostles), John, like Moses, David, Ezekiel and Isaiah before him, is shown the heavenly courts of God.
There are things to show John after he is shown the heavenly scene of chapter 4-5. In chapter 4 we find a wondrous description of the temple with the One who sits on the throne receiving all worship from heavenly creatures and the 24 Elders. These Elders are assumed to be human beings that have been exalted to thrones surrounding the One who sits in the center (since, angels do not age, and they have been given crowns of gold, a promise made to ‘those who overcome’ in 2.10). It is quite allowable to see that “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” as applicable here (Matthew 8.11). Indeed, Luke adds to this, “when you shall see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13.29). These are the 24 Elders who have been given crowns and are pictured in heaven. There is no point in the visions to identify them by name. They are the Patriarchs and Prophets (and they certainly were not in some netherworldly place called, sheol)!
However, the scene, as wondrous as it was, is missing something. The One who sits on the throne has in his “right hand” a scroll with seven wax seals on it. None of the angels, and none of the creatures, and none of the Elders – all created by the One who sits on the throne for his glory (4.11) – are able to receive this scroll. It is there for the taking. The One who holds it, owns it. A mighty angel asks, “Who is worthy to take the scroll?” Now, we must assume that the creatures, Elders and innumerable angels in His presence are holy and pure. However, there was a certain quality they did not have that would have garnered the acclamation: this one is worthy to take from the very right hand of the One on the throne. If we understand that the 24 Elders were holy saints and worthy of taking their seat with the One in the center, then it becomes even more apparent that none of these people were worthy enough to take the scroll, to approach the right hand of God Himself. The attributes are not lacking in God who holds the scroll. He is worthy of holding it. He presumably wrote it and sealed it. It is the word of God.
This scroll was written for the express purpose of someone at some point in time to take it, crack the wax seals, and let it unroll so that what was written in it can now transpire. From the grief seen in John, who weeps, it was important that this scroll be unrolled. None of the angels weep. None of the Elders weep. In fact, ‘And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”‘ It is significant that one of the human Elders said this. John was a human being, too. Yet, even he was not worthy to open the scroll. Another human being, however, is! This human being is born from the “tribe of Judah.” His human descent is of David – who wrote Psalm 110:1, ‘The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, and I shall make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”‘ Who is worthy to receive from the right hand of God and fulfill this prophecy? Who is able to fulfill this role so that one can sit at the very right hand of God and carry out the making of all his enemies a footstool? For, are not the enemies of God the enemies of all mankind? There are enemies of the Kingdom of God in his creation, for he has made all things (4.11), and creation was made to reflect his glory. But, as it is now, the glory of the LORD who sits in heaven, who indeed sits with those he has saved and seated with him, and all of his hosts, are in heaven. His enemies are on earth. Who is worthy of vanquishing his enemies, ridding them once and for all? And, we must ask, why does not God do this Himself? Is there a necessary reason that a human being must accomplish this task?
The Lamb of God is here introduced for the first time. He is a human being, born of Judah, son of David. These marks note his Jewish ascendancy. They are also prophetic markers in that the Prophets foretold that a King, Messiah, High Priest, and Prophet of Prophets would come from Judah, and from the line of David. This is the “one like a son of man…who comes on the clouds of the heavens” – and it is precisely this that we see in this vision. This is a vision of the one who has conquered. The Greek verb here is nikao (think of the tennis shoe company, Nike, “triumph”). The verb is in the aorist tense denoting completed action. It is because the Lamb has conquered that enabled him to take the scroll. The Elders overcame and conquered, too, which is why they are there and have crowns of life on them. But, their victories could not make them worthy to receive from the right hand of God the Seven Sealed Scroll. This verb is also found in the First Vision, “He who is overcoming (nikao) — I will give to him to sit with me in my throne, as I also did overcome (nikao) and did sit down with my Father in His throne” (3.21). Now, we have already noted that this Vision is of “things that are” in the present. Jesus reveals to John that he has sat down at the right hand, and has overcome. Here, however, he is pictured at the point of his coming to the Throne.
The worshipful response of his victory tells us why: ‘And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth”‘ (5.9-10). We noted before in a previous blog that Revelation 1.1-8 is an Introduction to the Letters and Visions penned after he had already seen them and heard them. Thus, “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold! He comes with the clouds….one like a son of man” (1.5-7, 13). This is not something going to happen, but has happened when John wrote this. Therefore, the scene in Revelation 5 is of the triumph of the son of David and his ascent to the right hand of God, coming upon the clouds of the heavens.
5.11 confirms our understanding in that, as John has already echoed Daniel 7.13-14 in chapter 1 (see previous blog), here is another unmistakable reference, “Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands…” Compare this to Daniel 7.10, “Thousands upon thousands were ministering to him, and myriads upon myriads attended him.” In Daniel 7.13 these very angels bring “the son of man” before the throne, where he was made “presented” (pareimi, parousia) before him. Hear the chorus in John’s revelation, ‘saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing….Unto him that sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb, be the blessing, and the honor, and the glory, and the dominion, for ever and ever.”‘ (5.11-12). Now, hear what Daniel saw 500 years before, “And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7.14).
Now, previously, in heaven, before the triumph of the son of man, the Lamb of God, the seed of David, God received this worship: “‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was, and who is, and who is coming…Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (4.8,11). Now, however, the Lamb of God receives the same praise. Remember, in the First Vision John hears Jesus saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, saith the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (1.8). And in Revelation 4.8 the One who sits on the throne is worshipped, “‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was, and who is, and who is coming.” The Lamb is a human being. The Lamb is also God. If your head has exploded at this point, congratulations….you get the point of the Vision.
Let us now put this all together. God’s Kingdom rules in the heavens. Daniel reveals this us without question. God at no point in time was never not in charge of his creation. His Kingdom in heaven was never at any point in time, since the beginning of time (a biblical proposition for theoretical physics, time has a beginning, and will have an end), not ruling in the heavens over all the affairs of his creation. Human beings, which he made, took a fall. They sinned. They were severely punished, but not so much was warranted (total annihilation – God is holy, but he is also kind hearted and decreed that mankind should live out in terms of numbered years). God has desired to make a nation, a kingdom of ministers and priests who would rule on the earth as a human extension of his Kingdom in heaven. This was promised to Eve, carried out in Noah and found in a covenant made with Abraham and Moses. However, the nation that arose from this, Israel, though accomplishing a great deal, accomplished whatever purpose God commissioned them for in spite of the fact that they are roundly condemned by him. However, there was always a remnant of those who were circumcised in their hearts, upright in their hearts, like Abraham, or Jacob, Moses, or Naaman, Ruth, Naomi, or David (circumcision of the heart applies to both women and men – whereas circumcision of flesh was men only). From this arose one named Jesus (Joshua, Yeshua), born of his saintly mother, Mariam.
This Jesus was falsely condemned by many of his own kin, but a few (a remnant) of his own believed him. This Jesus was killed, was buried, was raised from the dead. This Jesus, this human being, a son of a human being (man), entered into heaven. This is the scene we find enigmatically in Daniel 7.13-14, but revealed in Revelation 1-5. He is the one who is worthy to open the Seven Sealed Scroll because he triumphed over the enemies of God; he was a fellow overcomer and he did overcome. Death is in his hands (Revelation 1.19). He can no longer physically die anymore. The Elders are pictured as being in heaven (and later on we see souls of other human beings), but this Jesus is seen in the very same body he was “slain” with. No one before ever entered heaven body and soul. But, the son of man did! This is the remarkable, distinguishable, never-before-accomplished feat of the son of man that made him worthy to receive all power in heaven. He is seen as one who had been slain, killed, dead, and yet he is seen alive in heaven! His “blood”, therefore, ransomed those whom God loves from all the ages past and to come. His blood, his human blood, paid the price so that the powers that be were given to him by the One who sits on the throne. The Purpose of the Redemptive Plan of God can now commence forward with full command. This is why John wept when he saw that no one was worthy. If no one was worthy to receive the scroll, then the redemption that must take place in order for those whom God desired to purchase could not become reality. But, purchase them he did, when he died, was buried and rose again and entered heaven at the right hand of God, coming on the clouds of heaven for them, for us, for you and for me. This, then, is the first thing we see in John’s Revelation. In the First Vision we have the Triumphant Son of Man who has ascended to the Father. In the Second Vision (4-5), John is shown when the son of man, the Lamb of God, received all power, and by his overcoming on earth, and all things on earth, he “did sit down” on the Father’s throne, at his right hand. What follows (Revelation 6-ff) is the commencement of the Lamb’s Power and Authority, the Son of Man who ‘comes on the clouds of the heavens’ before the Throne in heaven, on the throne in heaven. We know when he received all power (Matthew 28.18). What is going to do with all that power? These are “the things which must shortly come to pass”.