Revelation (Part 09): First Scroll Presentation
A review is in order. We have taken a decidedly different approach to the study of this book. Rather than starting at the beginning and moving through verse by verse (as we normally do), we have been jumping around here and there to try to point out some foundational elements on which to build our complete understanding.
The most basic of these foundational elements is that this book is a revelation of Jesus the Christ—the Messiah—the anointed one. God reveals through this book the complete role of Jesus as this anointed one. Jesus, we have found, fulfills the role of the kinsman redeemer. We have looked back to the Old Testament to gain a good understanding of who a kinsman redeemer was. And as we were gaining that understanding, we learned an associated idea about the use of scrolls to seal redemption rights. That imagery of the kinsman redeemer and the use of scrolls is the framework to the book of Revelation.
We have jumped around so far in Revelation because the scroll imagery is presented in three major sections of the book. The scroll is first seen in chapter 5, as we learn of Jesus becoming the Redeemer. Chapter 5 is surrounded by the contrasting ideas of the holiness of God (chapter 4) and the unholiness of humanity (chapters 6 and 7).
The scroll is next presented in chapter 10 as we see it there opened and in the hand of Jesus as he positions himself in claiming redemption: he stands on land and sea and reaches his right hand to the sky. Again, this scroll presentation is surrounded by contrasting elements. The trumpets of chapters 8 and 9 speak of judgment on those who are human-focused, whereas chapter 11 shows the favor of God in gathering those who are God-focused.
The third and last presentation of the scroll is in the second half of chapter 20. There we find the scroll opened before God and the names of the redeemed are read from it. This presentation is also surrounded by contrasting elements. The first half of chapter 20 shows the suffering of those who are God-focused as the gathering continues through this age. It is contrasted with the satisfaction that the God-focused realize in their eternal love relationship with God (chapters 21-22a).
Thus, we notice that the thrust of Revelation is not simply to show us end-time events. It is rather to reveal the Redeemer’s purpose and activity as he rescues—from the very beginning when rescue became needed (at the fall), through his paying the redemptive price, through his gathering of his faith-focused, reborn image-bearers, to the glorious conclusion of final restoration with God.
These scroll images signify more than mere the title deed to creation. We must also remember that God created for everlasting love relationship. God is love, and he created for love. His whole plan for redemption is to realize that love relationship. Thus, the scrolls should not be thought of as mere legal instruments but rather as the very heart of God and of Jesus the anointed Redeemer. Therefore, when we first see the scroll in Revelation 5, it is in the possession of God. The fact that Jesus takes the scroll is not to show him taking something away from God but rather to show that he shares God’s heart in his redeeming work. Likewise in chapter 10 as Jesus claims creation—standing on land and sea while reaching to the sky—he holds the open scroll in his hand as if to show that his heart is laid bare in his redeeming activity. Even as he gives the scroll to John to eat, we understand that image of the heart laid bare as John realizes both the sweetness in gathering the God-focused while experiencing the bitterness of judgment for the human-focused. Finally, in the last scroll scene in chapter 20, we are told in verse 12 that “books” or scrolls were opened, and “the dead [human-focused] were judged according to their works by what was written in the books.” Keeping the imagery, those “books” are the hearts of those people. But verse 12 also tells us that “another book was opened.” This other book (heart) is the book of life—the heart of our Redeemer. And our names are written in this book—meaning, on his heart. Back in Exodus 28 we learn that part of the high priest’s vestment was a breastpiece on which 12 precious gemstones were placed to correspond to the names of Israel’s twelve sons. Verse 29 explains the reason for this, saying, “Whenever he enters the sanctuary, Aaron is to carry the names of Israel’s sons over his heart.” This is what Jesus—our high priest (Hebrews 6:20)—does in Revelation 20 as he approaches God. He carries our names on his heart.
The scrolls anchor us to this understanding of the whole plan of redemption revealed in this book. The barrage of images presented throughout may sweep us one way or the other in wild imaginings unless we hold firmly to the framework. We know there are countless interpretations out there organized into four or five major viewpoints. But even in claiming one of those and entering into a study of the book, we can quickly lose our footing (which is why even the four or five major lines of eschatological interpretation have a bizillion divergences within them). So we haven’t marched straight through the book. We looked ahead to see those anchors so that we would know what to grab on to when the going gets rough. In fact, I believe the best way to continue in our study is to study each of the scroll presentation sections in detail. That will keep the symbolic images from simply exploding all around us as we wildly try to guess at meanings. Rather, we will tie the images to each sectional purpose and from there be able to understand the whole.
Here is our sectional division of the book:
1b–3 Discussion of the God-focused
4–7 Scroll Presentation 1—Redeemer Identified
4: Holiness of God
5: Redeemer identified
6–7: Unholiness of humanity
8–11 Scroll Presentation 2—Redemption Identified
8–9: Judgment of Human-focused
10: Redemption identified
11: Gathering of God-focused
12–19 Discussion of the Human-focused
20–22a Scroll Presentation 3—Redeemed Identified
20a: Suffering of God-focused
20b: Redeemed identified
21–22a: Satisfaction of God-focused
Our detailed study will now begin with the first scroll presentation section—chapters 4 through 7.
Chapter 4 begins with a perspective shift. John is transported in the Spirit to heaven. The perspective change is important. For us to understand the revelation of God’s redemptive plan, we must see it from his perspective. As John passes through the opened door, the first thing he mentions seeing is the throne. This is interesting and important. If you suddenly saw heaven and God right there in front of you, would you first mention the throne? You’re seeing God! Would that not fill your imagination, only later to notice the throne?! The fact that John mentions the throne first speaks to the purpose for this chapter. Of course, God is present, and his glory surely overwhelms. But in the picture, God’s first point to pursue (and therefore, John’s first recognition) is of the throne—the symbol of judgment. This chapter is about the holiness of God. That holiness necessarily separates God and his essence of truth, goodness, and beauty from all that is not true, good, and beautiful. The throne symbolizes the uncleanness, the unholiness, the sinfulness of humankind, separated from our Creator God.
God is said to look like jasper and carnelian (sardine) stone. Jasper is bright and pure (see Rev 21:11). Carnelian is found in a range of color from orange to red to even reddish brown. The Carnelian color looks like blood and has been associated in ancient civilizations (especially Egypt) with the blood of the gods. In those societies, it has been traditionally thought of as having healing properties. In other words, wearing the stone was to keep illness at bay. This then shows the purpose for its mention here in Revelation 4. The sickness of sin is kept away from God.
We also will notice that everything else that appears in this scene has that same meaning to show the holiness of God and the gulf that exists between him and his sin-cursed creation.
The rainbow—a sign of peace—surrounding God’s throne, acting as a barrier to those outside its circle. Lightning and thunder issue forth from the throne against those outside its embrace. Seven fiery torches—the seven spirits of God—block the way to the throne. A sea of glass also spans out in front of the throne keeping the sinful away by its purity.
The four living creatures and the 24 elders are described in more detail. We will find their purposes fit in with the scene’s intent.