What happens when nobody can answer the big questions?
One day I came out of a store and was headed toward my car. This was before clickers were popular, so I had my keys in hand. But I couldn’t get into the car. Upon closer inspection, I found my key had a slight bend in it. I hated the idea of calling somebody, because I had once before been locked out of my car and had called the police. They had shown up with a slim-jim, and gotten it open. Afterwards though, I realized that the door would no longer lock. Then I had to call a locksmith, who came out, took the door apart, re-linked the internal mechanism, and charged me two hundred dollars that I had meant to spend on groceries. All of these memories flashed through my mind as I stood there with my bent key in hand.
Then I realized the car I was trying to get into wasn’t my car at all.
Even if I had gotten into it, I wouldn’t have been able to drive it anywhere. I didn’t have the right key.
Every thoughtful person wishes they could unlock a few fundamental questions. For instance we wonder about the nature of reality (how do we know what is real?), how do we know right and wrong? What about the afterlife? What about the mess this world has become? Is there a solution?
Mankind has had difficulty accessing these answers because we’re so fond of using the wrong keys. For instance, we use materialistic science, hoping to prove our way in. Or intellectual philosophies, trying to think our way in. Or a buffet of world religions, which we use to believe our way in. Meanwhile, the answers don’t open to us.
Our access into the will of God (the will that answers all existential questions, that solves all problems, that establishes the glory of God in this world) comes only through Jesus Christ. The Person Himself is the key—right person, right answers.
The Bible tells us no one else is worthy.
“Then I saw in the right hand of him who is seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals (Rev. 5:1).
The last verse of chapter 4 mentions the Creator has a will. And so here we see Him sitting on the throne with a scroll in his hand. No doubt first century readers of Revelation would have recognized how this scroll resembled a Roman legal document. The standard Roman will was also a scroll, tied with string, and covered with a dollop of wax. This was done seven times, and then seven witnesses impressed their signet rings into each of the dollops.
The procedure would establish the binding legality of the document. Then the scroll couldn’t be opened until the death of the testator (the person who made the will), and only by an approved executor.
The scroll in God’s hand represents the comprehensive divine will, with all its implications regarding every individual, the nation of Israel, the church, the world, the flow of history, and eternity. It is obviously desirable to open this meaningful document, but a problem emerges:
“And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, who is worthy to open the scroll and break it seals? And no one in heaven or on Earth or under the Earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it” (vv. 2-3).
Might isn’t good enough, only worthiness. The opener must possess certain merits. But after a universal search throughout heaven (among all the supernatural beings), on the earth (among all the wise and pious human beings who are alive), and under the earth (among all the human heroes who have died), none possessed the qualification needed to open the scroll.
“And I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it” (v. 4). John became despondent, not knowing the contents of the scroll, but knowing they must have been important, given the universal search for someone to open it. All candidates had been eliminated, but not out of unfairness, that is, out of some arbitrary bias. It kept coming down to the simple, but insurmountable issue of worthiness.
Because of my penchant for losing house keys, I’ve had to break into my home a few times in my life–mainly slipping through windows. If the police had come, they wouldn’t have been able to say anything, because I am the right person. I might be absent-minded, but I deserve to be in that house. However, if a stranger did the same thing, and slid through my window, that would be a ten year jail sentence. No matter how educated they were, or handsome, or able, they wouldn’t be qualified to enter.
Today we all work in religiously diverse environments where we’re shoulder to shoulder with Hindus, Muslims, Wiccans, etc. When we reveal our faith to them, they often balk at the exclusive claims of Christ–that Jesus stands above all others, unique, the only Savior of mankind. Maybe they’d say, The founder of my religion is wise, too. And peaceful. And good. Equally as much as yours. It isn’t fair to exclude him/her.
Again, it has nothing to do with being fair. It is an issue of qualification.
I could make a case that the Ohio State Buckeyes are unfair for not signing me as their starting quarterback. After all, I am the best server at church volleyball games. In a certain context I am athletic. But the Ohio State coach will be looking for more specific qualifications, like can I run without having a cardiac event? Can I throw a ball without my shoulder going with it? Am I under a half-century old? At the end of the checklist it should become clear that I’m qualified to watch the big game, but not play in it. Allegations of unfairness will come across as silly.
Likewise, the issue on the table with your non-Christian friend has nothing to do with whether his religious guru has been influential on the world stage, or how many folks are converting every day to his religion. It all comes down to whether that religious leader possesses the necessary qualification to open the scroll. Revelation assures us he does not. But there is One who does: Jesus. Apart from religious endorsements, western culture, or any other voting bloc on this planet, He is worthy, and worthy because of His unparalleled redemptive work.
“And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals’” (v.5).
When John heard about this conquering lion, perhaps he expected to see a regal, roaring beast. But he says in verse 6, “In between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a lamb standing, as though it had been slain.” This must have been a counter-intuitive moment for the apostle. The lion didn’t conquer by violence and intimidation, but by self-sacrifice, like a lamb.
Furthermore, though the Lamb had been slain, He was standing. He wasn’t lying there. This meant resurrection. The weight of the sins of the world, all our personal evil, had fallen on Jesus, killing Him, yet when the mushroom cloud dissipated, He stood. Death was not capable of suppressing, much less destroying, the resurrection life in Him.
Also this lamb had “seven horns.” Seven, of course, is a number signifying completion, and the horns on an animal are for fighting. The complete fighting strength of the Lamb are seen in His death and resurrection. The greatest battle ever fought cannot be found in World War II archives, but in the pages of the New Testament where we are told about the One who fought for our souls and for the glory of God. He bore the hatred of men, and the unmitigated judgment of God, dying on a hill in the most shameful way possible. Three days later, this same Person left the grave and entered a spectacular glory. More souls were at stake in this fight than any in history—literally billions.
Furthermore, this lamb has “seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the Earth.” For after His astounding victory, He mounts a comprehensive search of the globe to apply His redemption to all those who will receive it. Truly, if you have believed in Him, He found you. No one finds Him!
This is why verse 7 tells us that this Person alone, this redeemer,
“Went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. “And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the lamb, each holding a heart, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the Saints. And they sang a new song.”
No more looking, no more crying. This fresh new scene of the Lamb, together with the prayers of the believers in the church, has fueled a fresh worship. They provoke a song never yet heard in heaven: “Worthy are you to take the scrolls and open its seals”—Why?—“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.”
What does it take to open the scroll? The unique candidate must be slain, and His blood must ransom people from across all cultural and racial and national boundaries. And that blood must be effective. It has to turn the recipients of it into the kingdom of God. It has to make them priestly servants of God and man, and finally it must elevate them to rule in righteousness, and holiness, and glory.
Verse 11 says,
“Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriad of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 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! 13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on Earth and under the Earth and in the sea and all that is in them saying, To him who sits on the throne and to the lamb be blessing and honor and glory and my forever and ever, 14 and the four living creatures said amen! And the elders fell down and worshiped.”
Notice that though the Lamb is Jesus, this chapter simply refers to Him as “the Lamb.” “The Lamb” not only reflects what He’s done, but what He is. That’s the bottom line reason why the position of “Opener of the scroll” is not up for grabs. No one can open the redemptive will of God, revealing and executing it except the Redeemer. It can’t be a noble person volunteering to act like a lamb, or sound like a lamb. It must be the Lamb.
The other day I read the testimony of a seventeen-year-old boy who, though underage, successfully bought booze and got into nightclubs. His strategy was simple. He didn’t use a fake I.D. He used his own, betting that most vendors wouldn’t be able to do the birthdate math in their heads. Most of them couldn’t, and were therefore unable to spot the boy’s lack of legal qualification.
Who is the One worthy of opening the scroll? Let’s avoid being cheated by humanist pleas, and do math the way heaven does it: Slain + raised + effectiveness = the One!
And this is exactly how we enter the flow of heavenly worship—By saying what is true of Christ. We don’t side with the philosophy that all religions are equal, and neither do we side with ourselves. If we approach worship based upon how we feel—that is, do I feel redeemed, or kingly, or priestly—then our joy will remain earthbound, pathetically dependent upon whether we’ve had our coffee.
Worship begins and ends with “Him who sits on the throne, and the Lamb.”