“Who Is Worthy to Open the Scroll?”
1. What happens now in John’s vision?
SUBLIME! AWE INSPIRING! Such is the stirring vision of Jehovah’s throne in its setting amid the lamps of fire, the cherubs, the 24 elders, and the glassy sea. But John, what do you see next? John focuses on the very center of this heavenly scene, telling us: “And I saw in the right hand of the One seated upon the throne a scroll written within and on the reverse side, sealed tight with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice: ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and loose its seals?’ But neither in heaven nor upon earth nor underneath the earth was there a single one able to open the scroll or to look into it. And I gave way to a great deal of weeping because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.”—Revelation 5:1-4.
2, 3. (a) Why is John eager that someone be found to open the scroll, but what appears to be the prospect for that? (b) For what have God’s anointed people eagerly waited in our time?
2 Jehovah himself, Sovereign Lord of all creation, is holding out that scroll. It must be full of vital information, for it has writing on the front and on the back. Our curiosity is aroused. What does the scroll contain? We recall Jehovah’s invitation to John: “Come on up here, and I shall show you the things that must take place.” (Revelation 4:1) With tingling expectation, we look forward to learning about those things. But alas, the scroll is tightly closed, sealed shut with seven seals!
3 Will the strong angel find someone worthy to open the scroll? According to the Kingdom Interlinear, the scroll is located “upon the right hand” of Jehovah. This suggests that he holds it out on his open palm. But it appears that no one in heaven or on earth is worthy to accept and open that scroll. Not even underneath the earth, among faithful servants of God who have died, is anyone qualified for this high honor. No wonder that John is visibly upset! Perhaps he is not going to learn “the things that must take place” after all. In our day, too, God’s anointed people have anxiously waited for Jehovah to send forth his light and truth on Revelation. This he would do progressively at the appointed time for the prophecy’s fulfillment, in order to lead his people in the way of a “grand salvation.”—Psalm 43:3, 5.
The Worthy One
4. (a) Who is discovered that is worthy to open the scroll and its seals? (b) In what reward and privilege do the John class and their companions now share?
4 Yes, there is someone able to open the scroll! John relates: “But one of the elders says to me: ‘Stop weeping. Look! The Lion that is of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has conquered so as to open the scroll and its seven seals.’” (Revelation 5:5) So John, dry those tears! The John class and their loyal companions today have also endured decades of severe trials while waiting patiently for enlightenment. What a comforting reward we now have in understanding the vision, and what a privilege to share in its fulfillment by proclaiming its message to others!
5. (a) What prophecy was spoken concerning Judah, and where did Judah’s descendants rule? (b) Who is Shiloh?
5 Ah, “the Lion that is of the tribe of Judah”! John is familiar with the prophecy that Jacob, ancestor of the Jewish race, pronounced concerning his fourth son, Judah: “A lion cub Judah is. From the prey, my son, you will certainly go up. He bowed down, he stretched himself out like a lion and, like a lion, who dares rouse him? The scepter will not turn aside from Judah, neither the commander’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and to him the obedience of the peoples will belong.” (Genesis 49:9, 10) The royal line of God’s people stemmed from Judah. Starting with David, all the kings who ruled in Jerusalem until the Babylonians destroyed that city were Judah’s descendants. But not one of them was the Shiloh prophesied by Jacob. Shiloh means “He Whose [Right] It Is.” Prophetically, this name pointed to Jesus, the one to whom the Davidic Kingdom now permanently belongs.—Ezekiel 21:25-27; Luke 1:32, 33; Revelation 19:16.
6. In what way was Jesus “a twig” of Jesse and also “the root of David”?
6 John quickly recognizes the reference to “the root of David.” The promised Messiah is prophetically called both “a twig out of the stump of Jesse [father of King David] . . . a sprout” and “the root of Jesse that will be standing up as a signal for the peoples.” (Isaiah 11:1, 10) Jesus was a twig of Jesse, being born into the royal line of David, son of Jesse. Further, as a root of Jesse, he was the One that caused the Davidic dynasty to sprout again, giving it life and sustenance forever.—2 Samuel 7:16.
7. What makes Jesus worthy to take the scroll from the hand of the One seated upon the throne?
7 Jesus preeminently is the one who, as a perfect human, served Jehovah in integrity and under excruciating trials. He supplied the complete answer to Satan’s challenge. (Proverbs 27:11) Thus, he could say as he did on the night before his sacrificial death, “I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33) For this reason, Jehovah entrusted the resurrected Jesus with “all authority . . . in heaven and on the earth.” He alone of all servants of God is qualified to receive the scroll, with a view to making known its momentous message.—Matthew 28:18.
8. (a) With regard to the Kingdom, what shows Jesus’ worthiness? (b) Why is it appropriate that one of the 24 elders reveals to John the person who is worthy to open the scroll?
8 It is appropriate, indeed, that Jesus should open the scroll. Since 1914 he has been enthroned as King of God’s Messianic Kingdom, and that scroll reveals so much concerning the Kingdom and what it will accomplish. Jesus faithfully bore witness to Kingdom truth while he was here on earth. (John 18:36, 37) He taught his followers to pray for the coming of the Kingdom. (Matthew 6:9, 10) He initiated the preaching of the good news of the Kingdom at the beginning of the Christian era and prophesied the culmination of that preaching work during the time of the end. (Matthew 4:23; Mark 13:10) It is likewise appropriate that one of the 24 elders should reveal to John that Jesus is the one to open the seals. Why? Because these elders sit on thrones and wear crowns, being joint heirs with Christ in his Kingdom.—Romans 8:17; Revelation 4:4.
‘The Lamb That Was Slaughtered’
9. Instead of a lion, what does John see standing “in the midst of the throne,” and how did he describe it?
9 John looks to see this “Lion that is of the tribe of Judah.” But how astounding! A completely different symbolic figure appears: “And I saw standing in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures and in the midst of the elders a lamb as though it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which eyes mean the seven spirits of God that have been sent forth into the whole earth.”—Revelation 5:6.
10. Who is the “lamb” that John saw, and why is the term appropriate?
10 Right in the center, beside the throne, within the circles formed by the four living creatures and the 24 elders, there is a lamb! Doubtless John quickly identifies this lamb with “the Lion that is of the tribe of Judah” and “the root of David.” He knows that, more than 60 years earlier, John the Baptizer introduced Jesus to onlooking Jews as “the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) All during his life on earth, Jesus remained untainted by the world—just like an unblemished lamb—so that he could offer his blameless life as a sacrifice for mankind.—1 Corinthians 5:7; Hebrews 7:26.
11. Why is it not undignified to represent the glorified Jesus as “a lamb as though it had been slaughtered”?
11 Is it somehow belittling or undignified to represent the glorified Jesus as “a lamb as though it had been slaughtered”? Not at all! The fact that Jesus stayed faithful to the death was a major defeat for Satan and a great triumph for Jehovah God. Representing Jesus in this way vividly portrays his conquest of Satan’s world and is a reminder of the deep love that Jehovah and Jesus have for mankind. (John 3:16; 15:13; compare Colossians 2:15.) Jesus is thus pointed to as the promised Seed, outstandingly qualified to open the scroll.—Genesis 3:15.
12. What do the seven horns of the Lamb picture?
12 What else adds to our appreciation of this “lamb”? He has seven horns. Horns in the Bible are often a symbol of power or authority, and seven would indicate completeness. (Compare 1 Samuel 2:1, 10; Psalm 112:9; 148:14.) Hence, the Lamb’s seven horns represent the fullness of power that Jehovah has entrusted to Jesus. He is “far above every government and authority and power and lordship and every name named, not only in this system of things, but also in that to come.” (Ephesians 1:20-23; 1 Peter 3:22) Jesus has particularly exercised power, governmental power, since 1914 when Jehovah enthroned him as heavenly King.—Psalm 2:6.
13. (a) What do the seven eyes of the Lamb picture? (b) What does the Lamb proceed to do?
13 Moreover, Jesus is filled to completeness with holy spirit, as pictured by the Lamb’s seven eyes, which “mean the seven spirits of God.” Jesus is a channel through whom the fullness of Jehovah’s active force flows to His earthly servants. (Titus 3:6) Evidently, it is by this same spirit that he sees from heaven what is happening here on earth. Like his Father, Jesus has perfect discernment. Nothing escapes his notice. (Compare Psalm 11:4; Zechariah 4:10.) Clearly, this Son—the integrity keeper who conquered the world; the Lion of the tribe of Judah; the root of David; the one who offered his life for mankind; the one with complete authority, fullness of holy spirit, and perfect discernment from Jehovah God—yes, this one is outstandingly worthy to take the scroll from Jehovah’s hand. Does he hesitate to accept this commission of service in Jehovah’s lofty organization? No! Rather, “he went and at once took it [the scroll] out of the right hand of the One seated on the throne.” (Revelation 5:7) What a fine example of willing compliance!
Songs of Praise
14. (a) How do the four living creatures and the 24 elders react to Jesus’ taking the scroll? (b) How does the information John receives about the 24 elders confirm their identity and position?
14 How do those others before Jehovah’s throne react? “And when he took the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, having each one a harp and golden bowls that were full of incense, and the incense means the prayers of the holy ones.” (Revelation 5:8) Like the four cherubic living creatures before God’s throne, the 24 elders bow to Jesus in acknowledgment of his authority. But these elders are alone in having harps and bowls of incense.* And they alone now sing a new song. (Revelation 5:9) Thus they resemble the 144,000 of the holy “Israel of God,” who also carry harps and sing a new song. (Galatians 6:16; Colossians 1:12; Revelation 7:3-8; 14:1-4) Further, the 24 elders are shown to fulfill a heavenly, priestly function, pictured by that of the priests in ancient Israel who burned incense to Jehovah in the tabernacle—a function that ended on earth when God took the Mosaic Law out of the way, nailing it to Jesus’ torture stake. (Colossians 2:14) What conclusion do we draw from all of this? That here the anointed overcomers are seen in their ultimate assignment as ‘priests of God and of the Christ, ruling as kings with him for the thousand years.’—Revelation 20:6.
15. (a) In Israel, who only was privileged to go into the Most Holy of the tabernacle? (b) Why was it a matter of life or death for the high priest to burn incense before entering the Most Holy?
15 In ancient Israel, entry into the Most Holy before the symbolic presence of Jehovah was limited to the high priest. For him, carrying incense was a life-or-death matter. Jehovah’s law said: “[Aaron] must take the fire holder full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before Jehovah, and the hollows of both his hands full of fine perfumed incense, and he must bring them inside the curtain. He must also put the incense upon the fire before Jehovah, and the cloud of the incense must overspread the Ark cover, which is upon the Testimony, that he may not die.” (Leviticus 16:12, 13) It was impossible for the high priest to penetrate successfully into the Most Holy unless he burned incense.
16. (a) In the Christian system of things, who penetrate the antitypical Most Holy? (b) Why do anointed Christians have to ‘burn incense’?
16 In the Christian system of things not only the antitypical High Priest, Jesus Christ, but also each of the 144,000 underpriests eventually gets to enter the antitypical Most Holy, the place of Jehovah’s presence in heaven. (Hebrews 10:19-23) Entry into this Most Holy is impossible for these priests, as represented here by the 24 elders, unless they ‘burn incense,’ that is, constantly offer up prayers and supplications to Jehovah.—Hebrews 5:7; Jude 20, 21; compare Psalm 141:2.
A New Song
17. (a) What new song do the 24 elders sing? (b) How is the expression “new song” usually used in the Bible?
17 A melodic song now rings forth. It is sung to the Lamb by his priestly associates, the 24 elders: “And they sing a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, because you were slaughtered and with your blood you bought persons for God out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.’” (Revelation 5:9) The expression “new song” occurs several times in the Bible and usually refers to praising Jehovah for some mighty act of deliverance. (Psalm 96:1; 98:1; 144:9) Thus, the song is new because the singer can now proclaim additional wonderful works of Jehovah and express renewed appreciation for His glorious name.
18. For what do the 24 elders praise Jesus with their new song?
18 Here, though, the 24 elders sing a new song before Jesus rather than before Jehovah. But the principle is the same. They praise Jesus for the new things that he, as God’s Son, has done in their behalf. By means of his blood, he mediated the new covenant and thus made possible the bringing forth of a new nation as Jehovah’s special possession. (Romans 2:28, 29; 1 Corinthians 11:25; Hebrews 7:18-25) Members of this new spiritual nation came from many fleshly nations, but Jesus united them into one congregation as one nation.—Isaiah 26:2; 1 Peter 2:9, 10.
19. (a) What blessing did fleshly Israel fail to realize because of their unfaithfulness? (b) What blessing does Jehovah’s new nation get to enjoy?
19 When Jehovah formed the Israelites into a nation back in the days of Moses, he made a covenant with them and promised that if they would remain faithful to that covenant, they would become a kingdom of priests before him. (Exodus 19:5, 6) The Israelites were not faithful and never experienced the realization of that promise. On the other hand, the new nation, formed by virtue of the new covenant mediated by Jesus, has remained faithful. Its members therefore get to rule over the earth as kings and also to serve as priests, helping righthearted ones among mankind to be reconciled to Jehovah. (Colossians 1:20) It is just as the new song expresses it: “And you made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God, and they are to rule as kings over the earth.” (Revelation 5:10) What joy those 24 elders have in singing this new song of praise to the glorified Jesus!
A Heavenly Chorus
20. What song of praise to the Lamb is now sounded?
20 How do others of the vast heavenly host of Jehovah’s organization respond to this new song? John thrills to behold their heartfelt accord: “And I saw, and I heard a voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders, and the number of them was myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: ‘The Lamb that was slaughtered is worthy to receive the power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.’” (Revelation 5:11, 12) What an impressive song of praise!
21. Does the praising of the Lamb detract from Jehovah’s sovereignty or position? Explain.
21 Does this mean that now Jesus has somehow replaced Jehovah God and that all creation has turned to praising him rather than his Father? Far from it! Rather, this song of praise is in harmony with what the apostle Paul wrote: “God exalted [Jesus] to a superior position and kindly gave him the name that is above every other name, so that in the name of Jesus every knee should bend of those in heaven and those on earth and those under the ground, and every tongue should openly acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11) Jesus is here extolled because of his part in settling the primary issue before all creation—the vindication of Jehovah’s rightful sovereignty. What glory, indeed, this has brought to his Father!
A Swelling Anthem
22. In what anthem do voices from the earthly realm join?
22 In the scene described by John, the hosts of heaven are rendering melodious acclaim to Jesus in acknowledgment of his faithfulness and his heavenly authority. In this, they are joined by voices from the earthly realm as these too share in praising both the Father and the Son. Just as the achievements of a human son can bring great credit to parents, so Jesus’ loyal course redounds among all creation “to the glory of God the Father.” Thus, John goes on to report: “And every creature that is in heaven and on earth and underneath the earth and on the sea, and all the things in them, I heard saying: ‘To the One sitting on the throne and to the Lamb be the blessing and the honor and the glory and the might forever and ever.’”—Revelation 5:13.
23, 24. (a) What indicates when the anthem would begin in heaven, and when on earth? (b) How does the anthem swell in volume as the years pass?
23 When does this superb anthem sound forth? It began early in the Lord’s day. After Satan and his demons were cast out of the heavens, “every creature that is in heaven” could unite in this song of praise. And, as the record shows, since 1919 a growing multitude on earth have united their voices in praising Jehovah, increasing from a few thousand to well over six million by the year 2005.* After Satan’s earthly system has been destroyed, “every creature . . . on earth” will be singing the praises of Jehovah and his Son. In Jehovah’s own due time, the resurrection of the countless millions of dead will begin, and then “every creature . . . underneath the earth” that is in the memory of God will have the opportunity to join in singing the anthem.
24 Already, “from the extremity of the earth . . . the sea and . . . islands,” millions of humans are singing a new song in association with Jehovah’s global organization. (Isaiah 42:10; Psalm 150:1-6) This joyous praise will reach a crescendo at the end of the Millennium, when mankind has been raised to perfection. That old serpent, the archdeceiver, Satan himself, will thereafter be destroyed in complete fulfillment of Genesis 3:15, and in a triumphant climax, all living creation, spirit and human, will sing in unison: “To the One sitting on the throne and to the Lamb be the blessing and the honor and the glory and the might forever and ever.” There will be no dissenting voice in all the universe.
25. (a) Reading John’s account of the universal anthem moves us to do what? (b) What splendid example is set for us by the four living creatures and the 24 elders as the vision ends?
25 What a joyful time that will be! Surely, what John describes here makes our hearts swell with happiness and stimulates us to join the heavenly hosts in singing heartfelt praises to Jehovah God and Jesus Christ. Are we not more determined than ever to endure in right works? If we do so, we can expect that, with Jehovah’s help, we will be there individually at the happy climax, adding our voices to that universal chorus of praise. Certainly, the cherubic four living creatures and the resurrected anointed Christians are in full accord, for the vision ends with the words: “And the four living creatures went saying: ‘Amen!’ and the elders fell down and worshiped.”—Revelation 5:14.
26. In what should we exercise faith, and what is the Lamb preparing to do?
26 May you, dear reader, exercise faith in the sacrifice of the Lamb—the ‘worthy one’—and be blessed in your humble efforts to worship and serve Jehovah—“the One seated upon the throne.” Let the John class help you today as it provides the needed “measure of [spiritual] food supplies at the proper time.” (Luke 12:42) But look! The Lamb prepares to open the seven seals. What exciting disclosures are now in store for us?
Grammatically speaking, the expression “having each one a harp and golden bowls that were full of incense” could refer both to the elders and to the four living creatures. The context, however, makes it clear that the expression refers only to the 24 elders.
See the chart on page 64.
[Full-page picture on page 86]