March 23, 2012

Apocalypse Prophecy XL: Who Is Worthy?

We see God on a throne with a book/scroll and it isn't the current bestseller in the world. The scene of chapter 4 continues into chapter 5. The One sitting on the throne is now portrayed again with the additional feature that he is holding a book in his hand. It is "sealed with seven seals”, which appears to be a merging of Daniel 12 and Isaiah 29:11.

The allusions to Ezekiel 1–2 do not disappear in chapter 5 but there are more numerous allusions to Daniel chapter 7. The presence of all these Old Testament backgrounds enhances further the notion of judgment with which this vision is saturated. The Old Testament texts are brought together because of their the common idea of a sealed book that conceals divine revelation and is associated with judgment. The Old Testament descriptions have been combined with Ezekiel 2 because of the clear association of the “book” there with judgment. Like I said...not a bestseller. Most people will want to keep this book under wraps for as long as possible but a Sovereign and Just God will not be stopped. 

Who Is Worthy to Open The Book/Scroll? (Revelation 5:2–3)

A heavenly spokesman now addresses both the Earth γῆς and Heaven οὐρανῷ. He is asking for someone who is worthy or able or who has the authority to step forward “to open the book and loose its seals.” Again we see hints of Daniel (chapter 4 & 7). This book is often viewed as the book of redemption. Some view the book as “the lamb’s book of life” containing the names of all true believers, written down before the foundation of the world (cf. 3:5; 13:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27). The “book” has writing “inside and on the back” because the names of the redeemed are too numerous to be contained only inside the book.

What we see though when the book’s contents are revealed in the following chapters is that they do not merely pertain to events surrounding the elect but also with judgments on unbelievers.  Furthermore, as a point of Old Testament reference, the books in Daniel 7, Daniel 12, and Ezekiel 2–3 have to do principally with events of judgment, which are then followed by the salvation of God’s people. It is suggested that this “book” as representing the scroll of the OT.  Christ alone is able to unlock or “open” the true meaning of the OT, since its prophecies have found fulfillment in him (Matt. 5:17).  This is consistent and re-enforceable with the entire Apocalypse because of its focus on how Christ fulfills OT prophecy. A book containing events of the future “Great Tribulation.” Still others view the “book” as containing the retributive events of yet future tribulation leading up to the second coming of Christ, the consummate salvation of the saints, and the final judgment. A book containing God’s plan of judgment and redemption. The “book” is best understood as containing God’s plan of judgment and redemption, which has been set in motion by the Gospel but has yet to be completed. The question asked by the angelic spokesman concerns who in the created order has sovereign authority over this plan. 

It seems clear to me that the book represents authority in executing the divine plan of judgment and redemption and this is made clear in Revelation 5:12-14

"In a loud voice they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

These verses explain Christ’s worthiness to receive the book showing his authority to redeem his people and establish them as kings and priests.

The “book” in chapter 5 really needs to be understood as a covenantal promise of an inheritance when seen in the light of the above two identifications of the “book” and of the broader theological context of the Apocalypse concerning man's fall in sin and redemption regained through Jesus Christ. As far back as Genesis, God told man he would reign over the Earth. Although Adam forfeited this promise, Christ, the last Adam, was to inherit it (Romans 5).

A human had to open the book because the promise/covenant was made to humanity. But no person or human was found worthy to open it because all are sinners and stand under the judgment contained in the book...except Christ. Only Christ could fully fulfill the requirements of the covenant. Christ was found worthy because he suffered the final judgment as an innocent sacrificial victim on behalf of His people, whom he represented and consequently redeemed Revelation 5:9.

“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.” Revelation 5:9.

That someone must “break the seals” of the book raises the question of whether it is a rolled-up scroll or a codex. The book of 5:1–2 is to be understood in part against the legal background of Roman wills, since the two bear striking similarity. The contents of such a will was sometimes summarized on the back. A Roman will had to be witnessed and sealed by seven witnesses, It was only upon the death of the testator could a will be unsealed and the legal promise of the inheritance be executed and a trustworthy executor would then put the will into legal effect. If we are right in identifying the book with the will form, then we again have the combination of an Old Testament Hebraic background layered in legal terminology another legal concept in the idea of a will. 

The question by the angelic being and the response does not deal with just the contents but also to put the contents into force. No created being is able to step forward to open or read the book. This demonstrates the inability of any among God’s creatures to execute God’s plan of redemption and judgment.  The Seer Weeps Because No One is Found Worthy to Open the Book (5:4)
It appears that the seals cannot be broken and that God’s glorious plan will not be carried out.  This means for him that history will not be governed in the interest of the church and that there will be “no protection for God’s children in the hours of bitter trial; no judgments upon a persecuting world; no ultimate triumph for believers; no new heaven and earth; no future inheritance”

Therefore, verses 1–4 draw on images from Ezekiel, Daniel, and Isaiah to compose the representation of the book. Daniel 7 is the leading influence, since the “book” of Rev. 5:1–4 clearly has a cosmic or universal significance, and the books of Daniel 7 deal with cosmic judgment against the kingdoms of the world at the end of time. Although the “books” of the other Old Testament contexts are associated with a judgment limited to those within Israel. We must understand that Israel is an encapsulated version of humanity at large…their failure is our failure…they are sinning humans as are we. The question “who is worthy to open the book?” is answered formally in v 9, where Christ is seen as worthy because his death set in motion fulfillment of the promise of redemption throughout the earth.

The prophet receives heavenly counsel concerning the messiah’s worthiness to open the book (5:5) We see the Messiah’s appearance before the throne to receive authority (5:6–7). In the midst of the images of Ezekiel’s living beings and Isaiah’s elders stands a Lamb “as it had been slain.” That the Lamb stands “in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures and … of the elders” most likely refers generally in figurative manner (by synecdoche) to the inner court area around the throne.

That the Lamb stands somewhere near the throne instead of being seated on the throne itself. Verse 7 portrays the Lamb making an approach to it. The Lamb having horns is best explained against the background of the Jewish tradition found in 1 En. 90 and Testimony of Joseph 19 concerning a conquering messianic lamb (though some see the latter text as a Christian interpolation). Yet even these two Jewish texts find their primary inspiration from the book of Daniel. The relation of the horns to overcoming and to the Old Testament allusions to the conquering of the Messiah provide a basis for viewing them as a continuation of the “messianic conqueror” idea in verse 5.

That the Lamb has seven horns signifies the fullness of his strength, since “seven” is figurative for fullness elsewhere in the Apocalypse and in biblical literature. The slain Lamb represents the image of a conqueror who was mortally wounded while defeating an enemy. Christ’s death, the end-time sacrifice of the messianic Lamb, becomes interpreted as a sacrifice that not only redeems but also conquers. The idea of conquering is evoked by Genesis 49, Isaiah 11, and the “horns” of the lamb.

Verse 6 is then crucial…“the Lion from the tribe of Judah, the root of David, overcame.” There is no doubt that verse 6 portrays Jesus as resurrected and that the resurrection is essential to his overcoming. He conquered death by being raised from the dead. The victorious effect of the Lamb’s overcoming is in the present and resides not only in the fact that the Lamb continues to “stand” but also in the fact that it continues to exist as a slaughtered Lamb; the perfect participle ἐσφαγμένον (“having been slain”) expresses an abiding condition as a result of the past act of being slain and continues into the future (like perfect tense “crucified” in 1 Cor. 2:2). This is confirmed by verse 9, where the slaying of the Lamb, together with his redemption of people and establishment of them as “a kingdom and priests,” is a basis for his “worthiness” and thus for his overcoming.

Verse 2’s, “ἄξιος ἀνοῖξαι τὸ βιβλίον (“worthy/suitable to open the book/writing”) and the near mirrored phrase in verse 9 are in parallelism with ἐνίκησεν … ἀνοῖξαι τὸ βιβλίον (“he overcame … to open the book”). Parallelism being a form of Hebrew prose to emphasizes something of great  or momentous importance. Not only is Jesus’ redemptive death mentioned, it is repeatedly sung about. Therefore, the one who overcomes is ever loyal to Christ, which means that he participates in the kingdom even though he may suffer (Revelation 1:9).

I rarely ever underline in  my blog since it make it look messy and untidy but I will here as it is with force that I want to drive home the next comment...

Now we see why the premise of the letters to the seven churches becomes extremely relevant to the interpretation of Revelation. It is also the reason I have begun to drift away from the idea of a Pre-Tribulation rapture because the intent based in the context over and over in the Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ is that of the faithful being persecuted and/or undergoing tribulation or affliction. The saints overcome in this manner even before they receive their end-time rewards after death and experience final resurrection. Although there is a division between chapters 1-4 and the rest of Revelation, it does not mean we just neatly pack away what we have previously read and deem it irrelevant to what follows. The letters to the seven churches are not an isolated digression meant to be read separate from the remainder of Revelation...they are in fact part of a symbiotic message from God delivered to John "in the Spirit". The same type of principle is what we see in division between the Old and New Testament. Just because something different or new has come does not mean the Old is irrelevant or obsolete. Things need to be seen and understood in their context(s) and principles are to be gleaned from both that help float the whole "kit and kaboodle".

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