The Seal Master
“The twelfth-century poet Robert de Boron adds the tale of the Sword in the Stone to the legend. After baby Arthur was born, Merlin secretly took him to be raised at the castle of Sir Ector, a loyal ally of the King’s. There, the young prince was raised as the bastard child of Sir Ector’s, and no one, not even Ector himself, knew the boy’s true identity. But Ector also had a son, named Sir Kay. And because young Arthur was thought to be a bastard child, Sir Kay and his friends teased and taunted him, and his adopted parents looked down on him. The poor boy grew up in shame of his birth, never knowing of his royal lineage.
Meanwhile, all was not well with the King. Just months after giving away his only son, Uther Pendragon turned ill, and died shortly after. With no heir to lead the kingdom, the country fell into despair. Rival dukes and lords disputed over who was the best fit to rule England.
In the midst of the turmoil, the nobles called on Merlin to find a solution. Having seen to it that baby Arthur was safe, he erected a large stone, on top of which sat an anvil, in a churchyard in Westminster, a region of London. Stuck in the anvil was a sword. An inscription on its blade read: “Whoso pulleth out this sword from this stone, is right wise King born of all England.”
The sword was magic, Merlin explained, and only he who was fit to rule England could pull it from the stone. Nobles from far and wide came to try and pull the sword from the stone, but not even the strongest of men could accomplish the task. Eventually, the sword became forgotten, and England fell into greater ruin.
As the boy Arthur grew older, Merlin introduced himself to him. Merlin and the boy would meet after he had finished his chores for Sir Ector, and the two of them became close friends. Merlin tutored the boy in many subjects, always teaching him that knowledge was greater than brute force. For, although Arthur was a small, scrawny lad scarcely capable of lifting a sword from its sheath, Merlin saw in him the potential to be a wise and just ruler who would unite Britain, and rescue her from the chaos into which she had fallen. And so, through education and experience, the wizard helped the young prince to realize his full potential: a potential of greatness. The potential to rule with justice and compassion what would become the greatest kingdom ever known.
One day, when Arthur was fifteen, Merlin brought him before the Sword in the Stone. A crowd had been assembled, and was waiting anxiously. Arthur’s stepbrother, Sir Kay, was the first to try and pull the sword, but it would not budge. Then Arthur tried. The sword came loose. The crowd cheered, and Arthur was crowned King of England.”
This legend reminds me that it isn’t always physical strength that is needed, but rather strength of character in order to be a great leader.
There have been times in our marriage that Judy has relied on my physical strength to help with certain things
When she can’t get the lid off of a jar, she will ask me to help
There have been a very limited number of times when I haven’t been able to get the lid open
After handing it back to her, she was able to open the jar by herself – I obviously loosened it up for her
Strength of character
There have also been times in our marriage when Judy has relied on my strength of character
During the financially thin times I could have told Judy that we couldn’t afford to tithe to the church, yet we continued to tithe in spite of our financial struggles
When we had cable/satellite television, I could have insisted that she and I both know the password for the parental controls
But, she was the only one who knew the password
Our boys thought for sure I knew the password, but refused to use it – that wasn’t the case
Strength of character
Each one of us has to wrestle with character issues each day
We have to determine whether or not we’re going to be honest with those we work with and for
We have to decide whether or not to talk about someone behind their back (school, work, neighborhood, church, or at home)
Others of us have to make the decision about whether or not to include or omit something on our taxes
Students have to decide whether or not to study hard for their finals or to rely on wandering eyes (cheating) to help them pass
Strength of character is important
When the strength of our character is found to be lacking – when we’ve broken trust with someone – it takes a long time to rebuild
We have to be extremely transparent and vulnerable for a long period of time in order to prove that we are trustworthy again
Just like working our muscles, we have to continually exercise good character, so that others will see the strength of our character
As John continues the throne room scene, his attention is turned to a scroll with seven seals in God’s right hand. We’ll see today that . . .
BIG IDEA – It’s strength of character and not physical strength that breaks the seals.
GOD (Revelation 5:1-5)
God (v. 1)
What John saw (review from chapter 4:1-11)
The first thing John saw, after being invited to come up to heaven, was the throne with God sitting on it
He described God’s glory before looking outward in ever larger circles
He saw four living beings that immediately surrounded the throne
He also saw 24 thrones with 24 elders sitting on them surrounding the four living beings and the throne
He saw what looked like a sea of glass as clear as crystal that was before the throne
He watched as the four living beings lead worship in heaven
He saw the reaction of the 24 elders as they fell down in worship of the Lord and presented their crowns to Him
The worship was continual (day and night)
Chapter 5 continues the throne room scene
John’s attention is once again focused on the throne and God sitting there
He notices something in God’s right hand
The Greek word translated here as “in” is epi and should be translated as “on”
It gives the picture of God holding the scroll out in His open palm waiting for someone to take it [Osborne, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Revelation, 247]
This makes more sense within the context of this passage, as we’ll see in a moment
The fact that it is resting on the right hand of God is important
The right hand is symbolic of power and authority
To be seated or standing to the right of the King was a prestigious position – a position of authority
We see multiple references to Jesus occupying this very position beside God the Father
Mark 16:19, After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.
Acts 7:55-56, But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
Romans 8:34, Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
Ephesians 1:19b-21, That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.
Additional references (Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22; Revelation 3:21; Matthew 22:44; Acts 2:33)
Jesus is not currently occupying that position, as John is looking at the throne of God, but He will be there shortly
There are some important things about this scroll that we need to look at
The Greek word for scroll is βιβλίον (biblion), which is where our English word “Bible” is derived from
Scrolls could be made from several different types of material (papyrus, leather, skin, or parchment), but in the first century papyrus was primarily used
Papyrus was made by taking strips of pith from the papyrus plant and laying them together in two layers at right angles to each other [Osborne, 247]
They were then beaten, pressed, and smoothed to make a type of paper [Osborne, 247]
Multiple pieces of papyrus were laid side-by-side and glued together to make long sections of papyrus that were 10 meters long (32.81 feet)
These long pieces of papyrus were wound around a wooden handle to make a scroll
Those who wrote on the papyrus usually did so on the side where the fibers ran horizontally (just imagine trying to write on the side where the fibers ran vertically) [Osborne, 248]
One side of the papyrus was normally smooth, while the other side was coarse and rough
Most scrolls only had writing on the smooth side, but there were examples of those that had writing on both sides
Writing on both sides
While most scrolls only had writing on the smooth inside portion, Jon Courson explains that studying Jewish history gives numerous examples of one particular kind of document that had writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals [Courson, Jon Courson’s Application Commentary, New Testament, 1700]
A title deed to a piece of property was initially written on the smooth side and sealed with a single seal
If the owner defaulted on his financial responsibilities then he would have to relinquish his title deed
The deed would not be opened, but rather his debts would be written on the backside of the document and seven seals would be placed there
If he was able to pay off his debts during the seven years before Jubilee, then the seals would be broken and his title deed returned
Two Biblical examples of writing on both sides
Exodus 32:15-16, Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.
Moses had both copies of the Testimony
The same thing was written on both tablets
In the Ancient Near East, when a conquering country wrote up the terms of the treaty, they did it in duplicate
One copy went into the temple of the highest god in the conquered country and the other went into the temple of the highest god in the conquering country
God gave both copies to Moses to be placed in the Ark of the Covenant in the Tabernacle and eventually the Temple
Ezekiel 2:9-10, Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe.
The writing on both sides of the scroll laying in God’s hands is representative of “the great quantity of suffering in judgment that the book records.” [Keener, The NIV Application Commentary, Revelation, 185]
There are numerous ideas about what was written on the scroll
A contract deed [Osborne]
Title deed to planet earth originally given to Adam, but forfeited by him to Satan through his overt and calculated sin [Courson]
A scroll of judgment like Ezekiel saw (we will see that as each seal is broken there are consequences for those on earth)
Sealing the contents of the scroll was important both in the 1st Century and in John’s vision
Sealed with seven seals
“The perfect passive participle of the Greek graphō, as well as the perfect passive participle of katasphragizō, bears witness to the completed activity of writing and sealing the scroll. In Roman law, according to some evidence, a testament was sealed with seven seals by seven witnesses before its legality could be established.” [Patterson, The New American Commentary, Revelation, 162]
After God had written the final chapter of mankind, what would take place at the end of our time on earth, He completely and totally sealed the scroll until the intended time for it to be opened
Daniel 12:4a, But you, Daniel, close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end.
The seals could only be broken by the person to whom the document was addressed or by one of the witnesses who originally sealed it
We see in verses 2-4 that a search is initiated and completed for a person to break the seals and open the scroll
Mighty angel (vv. 2-4)
Identity of the mighty angel
We are not given the name of this mighty angel
It was perhaps one of the archangels identified elsewhere in Scripture (Michael or Gabriel), but we’re not told
It was not one of the four living creatures surrounding the throne of God or one of the 24 elders seated on their thrones
He had an important role to play
The Greek word used here for “proclaiming” is κηρύσσω (kērussō) and can be translated as “herald”
This Greek word, and one other one, is used in the Greek New Testament to describe preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ [Patterson, 162]
“Actually, the kērux was a relatively common character in Greco-Roman society, particularly in the day of the Greek city-state. The kērux almost always possessed an unusually good vocal instrument, which like the ‘town crier’ he used to assemble people for whatever reason or to deliver important messages to courts or to the people in general. He was responsible for pacifying large crowds and for establishing peace and order.” [Patterson, 162-63]
What Patterson describes here as an “unusually good vocal instrument” describes what John calls a loud voice
The two Greek words for “loud voice” are φωνή (phōnē) and μέγας (megas) and literally means “megavoice”
It’s not hard to hear the word megaphone from these two Greek words – a megaphone amplifies a person’s voice, it makes it louder
“A loud voice is needed because the challenge is sent out to the far reaches of creation.” [Mounce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, Revelation, 130]
The challenge is to find someone who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll
We have to understand what “worthy” means in order to grasp the significance of the search that will ensue
“This is not so much a moral or spiritual ‘worthiness’ (though it includes that) but rather an inherent ‘sufficiency’ (the term is a close equivalent to ἱκανός, hikanos, ‘sufficient’) that enables a being to perform an act like opening the scroll. It is authority more than virtue that is the subject.” [Osborne, 251]
As fallible human beings, we do not have the inherent sufficiency/authority to break the seals and open the scroll
In chapter 4 we talked about the worthiness of God to receive our worship – His glory alone is worthy of our worship
This all-powerful God is the one who wrote the scroll and sealed it
“. . . these seals, on a book in the right hand of the living God, are too strong for ordinary mortals to break.” [Keener, 185-86]
So, this mighty angel speaks loud enough that all creation can hear his question and the search begins
The threefold division of heaven, earth, and under the earth is not speaking specifically about three kinds of created beings or even to three spheres of life, but rather about creation as a whole
Of all that God created, there were none that were found to be worthy to open the scroll or even to look inside it
No one is found to have the authority to approach God, take the scroll, open it and usher in the eschaton
Heaven has a problem, or so it seems
John realizes the significance of the failure of the search
He wept much
He continued to weep much
The search must have taken a while, because the original Greek tense and voice makes it clear that there was a continuation of weeping [Patterson, 163]
As the search continued to take place with no one found to be worthy, John’s weeping becomes more intense
John is grieving deeply about the fact that the scroll cannot be opened
Jesus had promised John that he would be shown what must take place (Rev. 4:1), but that seems to be on hold
“. . . John regretted that God’s righteous judgments against evil appeared to be postponed indefinitely.” [Easley, Holman New Testament Commentary, Revelation, 91]
“Until the scroll is opened, God’s purposes remain not merely unknown but unaccomplished.” [Caird cited by Patterson, 164]
Our hope as followers of Jesus Christ is that one day good will triumph over evil completely – that the temptation to sin will be removed – that sickness will no longer plague us – that death will be shallowed up in victory
John is weeping deeply, because no one has been found who can take the scroll from God’s hand, break the seals, and open it, ushering in His final judgment on sinful humanity
It appears as though evil has triumphed over good
Have you ever felt that way in your own life?
It seems like those who do evil, either openly or in secret, get ahead in life
Those who bend the rules and live life in the gray areas are blessed and successful
While those who strive to live holy lives, doing what is right, seem to struggle
Don’t lose hope, believer – the story isn’t over yet
My Next Step Today Is To: Not lose heart, but to wait patiently for God’s plan to be completed.
The search wasn’t completed yet and that’s what one of the elders tells John
Elder (v. 5)
The elder commands John to stop crying
The long search seemed futile, because it seemed liked no one was worthy
But, the elder encourages John to see that someone has been found who is worthy – who has the authority to approach God on His throne and take the scroll, break the seals, and open it
PRINCIPLE – Jesus Christ is the only One worthy and able to unfold God’s plan.
Description of the worthy One
Two unique titles are used for this individual
Lion of the tribe of Judah
This title comes from the blessing that Jacob gives to each of his sons, but specifically to Judah in Genesis 49:9-10
Genesis 49:9-10, You are a lion’s cub, O Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness – who dares to rouse him? The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.
The Messiah would come from Judah and He will be a king
This title reminds us that Jesus has authority, power, and strength
Root of David
The Messiah would be of the lineage of David
As the root, He is the source and genesis of everything that God has done for His people [Akin, Christ-Centered Exposition, Exalting Jesus in Revelation, 124]
Isaiah 11:1, 10, A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit . . . In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.
Paul quotes Isaiah 11:1 in Romans 15:12 and refers to it as messianic in nature [Mounce, 131]
Jesus has the heritage and the authority as King to open the scroll and its seven seals
It’s strength of character and not physical strength that breaks the seals.
He has triumphed!
The Greek word used for “triumphed” is νικάω (nikaō) and means, “to conquer, prevail, and overcome”
We get our English word “nike” from this Greek word
Jesus has won the battle, but He did it in an unexpected way
Throughout history from the Ancient Near East until today, a battle is won by one side defeating the other side through force and violence
In ancient times, when a king was defeated, his entire family and perhaps even those in his court were all executed
This was done so that no heir would remain and the conquering country or individual could establish their reign without fear of being overthrown by an existing heir
Jesus won the battle over sin and death in a completely antithetical way
He sacrificed Himself on a cross
“Jesus conquered not by force but by death, not by violence but by martyrdom.” [Keener, 186]
It was through Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection that He was found worthy to open the scroll and the seven seals
That same self-sacrifice also provided a way for us to be reconciled to God
We’re all born with a desire to have our own way – this is called the sinful nature – wanting our own way instead of God’s way (Rom. 3:23)
God gave us a free will, so we have the choice to either accept His plan or reject it and choose our own way, but there is a consequence for choosing our own way (Rom. 6:23) – we will be eternally separated from God and His love if we die in a state of rebellion against Him
God understands the draw toward selfishness/having our own way, yet He loves us unconditionally
Jeremiah 31:3, The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.”
Romans 5:8, But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
God knew that we would rebel against Him and reject Him, so He formulated a plan that would allow us to be reconciled to Him
He shared His plan with humanity through prophets since the beginning
1 Corinthians 15:3-4, For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures . . .
His plan was fulfilled through Jesus, His One and only Son, who was tempted like us, but did not sin – He lived a perfect life
Because He is perfect, without sin, He is the only One who could take the punishment for our sin and reconcile us to God
Romans 5:9-10, Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
Reconciliation with God through faith in Jesus Christ is available for everyone in humanity
It is not reserved for just a select few
You can turn from rebellion against God to reconciliation today
My Next Step Today Is To: Turn from my rebellion against God to reconciliation with Him, through faith in Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.
God’s complete plan has not yet been fulfilled, but we can have hope while we wait patiently because Jesus has triumphed
He has made a way for us to be reconciled to God as we wait for His final judgment on mankind and the establishment of His new heaven and earth
We should be sharing this hope with those we work with, live beside, and enjoy entertainment with
This is what the Lord has called us to as His followers
“Between them [the children] and the foot of the sky there was something so white on the green grass that even with their eagles’ eyes they could hardly look at it. They came on and saw that it was a Lamb.
‘Come and have breakfast,’ said the Lamb in its sweet milky voice.
Then they noticed for the first time that there was a fire lit on the grass and fish roasting on it. They sat down and ate the fish . . . and it was the most delicious food they had ever tasted.
‘Please, Lamb,’ said Lucy, ‘is this the way to Aslan’s [the Christ figure, appearing as a great Lion] country?’ . . .
‘There is a way into my country from all the worlds,’ said the Lamb; but as he spoke his snowy white flushed into tawny gold and his size changed and he was Aslan himself, towering above them and scattering light from his mane . . .
[Then he said,] ‘I will not tell you how long or short the way will be; only that it lies across a river. But do not fear that, for I am the great Bridge Builder.’” – C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
We saw today in Revelation 5:5 that Jesus is identified as the Lion of Judah, but in verse 6 He will be identified as a Lamb.