Who deserves to open the scroll?1 I saw that the one sitting on the throne held a scroll in his right hand. The scroll had writing on both front and back. Seven seals held the scroll closed. 2 I saw a mighty angel, who asked in a loud voice, “Who deserves to break the seals and open the scroll?” 3 There was no one. Not in heaven. Not on the earth. Not under the earth. No one could open the scroll and read it. 4 I started to cry uncontrollably because no one anywhere deserved to open the scroll and read it. 5 But one of the 24 leaders said, “Stop that crying. Look, there’s the Lion from the tribe of Judah, from David’s family. He won the battle. He can break the seven seals and open the scroll.” 6 I saw a Lamb that looked like it had been killed, yet it was standing there among the 24 leaders, between the throne and the four beings. The Lamb had seven horns. He also had seven eyes—the seven angel spirits God sent to earth.  7 The Lamb took the scroll from the right hand of the one seated on the throne. 8 When the Lamb took the scroll, the four beings and the twenty-four leaders bowed before him. Every one of them held a harp and gold bowls full of incense, which represented the prayers of God’s people.
Songs for the Lamb9 Suddenly everyone started singing. It was a new song.
“You deserve it. Break the seals and open the scroll.
You were killed. Your blood bought the freedom of God’s people.
You have united them into one kingdom,
a kingdom of priests devoted to our God,
and ruling the world.” 11 I heard the sound of angels speaking, and when I looked up I saw them. Ten thousand and 10,000 more and thousands and thousands more. They surrounded the throne and the four beings and the 24 leaders. 12
With a roaring voice united they said,
“The Lamb who was killed
deserves power and wealth
and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”
“We thank the one on the throne
and the Lamb.
you deserve praise and honor
glory and power
forever and never ending.”
Presumably God the Father.
Seals were usually plugs of clay often pressed onto a scroll in such a way that the dried clay seal had to be broken to open the scroll.
“Lion from the tribe of Judah” comes from a description Jacob gave to his son Judah, whose family grew to become the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:9). This was the tribe that produced King David and his descendants, which included Jesus. The title later became accepted among Jews and Christians as a code name for the Messiah. “David’s family” reads more literally “the root of David.” That was another title for the Messiah. It comes from a prophecy that refers to Jesse, David’s father, and says that a stem will grow out of the root of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1, 10). The prophecy says that a descendant of David will bring salvation to the world.
Ironically, the Lion from the tribe of Judah—Jesus—becomes the Lamb. The implication is that the battle he won wasn’t through military warfare. It was through a sacrificial death and resurrection. Jews observed Passover by sacrificing a lamb. Jewish leaders orchestrated the crucifixion of Jesus the same day the Passover holiday began.
“Horns” symbolized power in Bible times, as in “horn of my salvation” (Psalm 18:2). Rabbis who wrote about the Messiah in ancient times sometimes use the phrase “horn of the Messiah.” Revelation 1:4. “Eyes” symbolized God’s power and his awareness of everything that happens. We can’t hide anything from him (Proverbs 15:3).
For the “seven spirits,” see the following note from 1:4—
“Asia was a Roman province in what is now central and western Turkey. The seven churches John addresses are some of the most influential and strategically located in the region. Why John singled out seven is up for debate. Some have said seven symbolized completion because God rested on the seventh day after creating the universe. And because of this, “seven” was a symbolic way of referring to churches everywhere. But the number was also linked to divine power and authority, and could provide symbolic support for John’s claim that the message came from God, through Jesus.”
Harps and incense were both associated with Jewish worship. Musicians played harps during worship services. Priests burned fragrant incense inside the Temple sanctuary in rituals of worship. The fragrance of the incense rising in the room represented the prayers of God’s people (Psalm 141:2).
Literally, “Amen!” It’s a Hebrew word that means “that’s the truth,” or “so be it,” or “you better believe it,” or “you can bet the farm on it.” That’s the idea.
When officials in Bible times sent important messages through a courier, they often sent the message in a scroll that was rolled up and sealed closed with a plug of clay or hot wax that was pressed with their seal, often from a signet ring. The plug of clay or wax quickly dried. The only way to read the message was to break the seal. This helped maintain the privacy of the message. What do you think John’s readers would have made of his report that, “The scroll had writing on both front and back. Seven seals held the scroll closed” (5:1).
It’s hard to know, some say, if what John sees next is what will happen at the end of time. Perhaps this is a symbolic scene in a vision intended to help Christians deal with persecution they were facing at the time. In either case, how do you think it might have helped Christians in John’s day to hear what sounds like Jesus being described as “the Lion from the tribe of Judah, from David’s family” (5:5)?
There is certainly a bit of irony in the fact that the Lion from the tribe of Judah turns out to be “a Lamb that looked like it had been killed” (5:6). What do you think there is about a lamb that makes it a fair description of Jesus?
John said, “The Lamb had seven horns. He also had seven eyes” (5:6). Many scholars say the horns and eyes aren’t real. The horns symbolize power. And the eyes symbolize the “seven angel spirits God sent to earth.” John himself explained that about the eyes. Why would John describe Jesus in this symbolic way? Or if the vision actually portrayed Jesus this way, why bother? It could seem like a huge distraction, describing Jesus in a scary way like this.
Sad to say, people die protecting others all the time, all over the world. One person will shield another when a shooter steps into a room and begins to fire the gun. A person will jump into the water and save someone who is drowning, yet they themselves may drown in the process. What’s so special about the sacrificial death of Jesus that would warrant all these songs John is hearing in his vision, in 5:9-13?
In John’s vision, it’s hard to tell what people do in heaven. We can see that there’s a lot of praise going on for God and for Jesus. There’s apparently some judgment that will be going on. Author Stephen Miller says his younger sister had a dream in which she saw their father. When their dad came to her in the dream he simply said, “What do you want? I’m busy” (On earth, their dad was always busy working on something, but he did make time for his kids.) Whether or not that was a glimpse into heaven, it raises the question about how a person spends an eternity. What do you think about that?
LIFE APPLICATION. When the Lamb, apparently Jesus, shows up and is found worthy of opening the scroll, everyone in God’s throne room starts to sing a new song. In a way, they do what we do when we thank people in the military for putting their lives at risk. They thanked him for his service: “You were killed. Your blood bought the freedom of God’s people” (5:9). People in the military and officers of the law put their lives on the line to buy our freedom. Instead of saying “Thank you for your service,” what might be a new song we can sing to them? What would be a short line we might say when we met one of them in the airport, or restaurant, or some other place? A new song, of sorts, that sounds more personal.