There is a secret scroll in heaven and it is sealed with seven seals. An angel calls out, 'Who is worthy to open the scroll?' No one comes forth. Abraham, Moses, and David are there but they aren't worthy to open it. Martin Luther and Charles Spurgeon are there . . . but they aren't worthy either. The tension is rising. Is anyone in heaven or on earth or under the earth worthy?
Additional messages from this series are available here: The First Hymns of Heaven
The Secret Scroll
Bring up the subject of heaven and you’re going to get a dozen different opinions.
Bestselling books hawk their recent visions of heaven or some near-death experience that reveals a heaven that we all too easily envision.
Most of the stuff that comes out is a description that supports their own view – so you have a man who sees heaven containing a big warehouse with body parts, ready to be sent to the person who asks in faith who needs a new leg or arm or heart.
Evidently forgetting that God has actually built into our bodies an aging process that will claim us all eventually, whether Barbara Walters believes it or not; it happens to be the result of sin – for the wages of sin is what? death.
The fall of the human race into sin is part of what causes us to long for full and final redemption.
Our world is aging and it too is heading for a complete and total redemption.
Paul wrote, “[Because of sin] all creation was subjected to futility – in other words, it wouldn’t last forever; the whole creation has been groaning together . . . and not only the creation, but we ourselves . . . groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for . . . the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:20-23)
While we care for our bodies and take care of our world as good stewards, ultimately we do not need a new leg or new heart valves; what every believer ultimately longs for is the redemption and glorification of our bodies and the new heavens and new earth as our eternal home.
Where mortality puts on immortality . . . where weakness is raised in power; where dishonor is raised in glory (1 Corinthians 15:43-44)
It’s natural to be curious about this transition into immortality.
The problem is, most visions of heaven sound like a trip to nice resort or a family reunion.
But open the scriptures to the visions of Daniel and Ezekiel and John the Apostle, and you end up with creatures too strange to describe, and the persons of God the Father and God the Son and God the Spirit, so bright, so colorful, so mysterious, so fearful and terrifying that it bends way beyond our imagination.
People want to know about eternity. People also want to know about eternal God.
Talk to people today about the person of God – the person of Christ – spirituality – and you will also hear numerous ideas kicked around.
I read recently about one man who supposedly toured heaven, following a near-death experience on the operating table came back to life able to channel the teachings of John the Apostle or John the Beloved. He believed that he had become the embodiment of a Christ-like power, ultimately teaching that we are the determiners of our fate and we create our own destiny.
David Jeremiah, Escape the Coming Night (W Publishing, 1990), p. 85
God is just a force and you are it. You are God . . . God is you.
30 years ago this New Age thinking was on the outer fringes of the American culture. Today, largely through the promotion of celebrities and talk shows, and positive thinking preachers, it is now main stream.
Today phrases have become household terms like, “universal oneness, human potential, holistic health, the divine within, Christ-consciousness.”
The basic theme is that you can speak or think your own destiny. You can create your world – whatever you want. Underlying it all is the belief that you are sovereign.
The newest bestselling author is Rhonda Byrne, the author of, The Secret, who writes, “You are God in a physical body. You are Spirit in the flesh. You are Eternal Life expressing itself as you. You are all power, all wisdom; all intelligence; perfection; magnificence. You are the creator and you are creating the creation of you on this planet. The earth turn on its orbit for you; the birds sing for you. The sun rises and sets for you; the stars come out for you . . . take a look around. None of it can exist without you. No matter who you thought you were, now you know the truth of who you really are. You are the master of the universe, the heir to the kingdom, the perfection of life. And now you know the Secret.
Servant Issue, 2007; Number 79; p. 7
That’s not a secret. That’s a lie as old as the Garden of Eden. “Eve” the serpent said, “wouldn’t you like to be equal with God.” This so-called secret has merely repackaged the lie of the Serpent!
I knew our friend Erwin Lutzer, the Pastor of historic Moody Church, had preached recently on this subject and I asked him this past week for his manuscript which he kindly sent me.
Among other things, he mentioned the Law of Attraction which is being taught by guests as well as promoted on Oprah Winfrey’s show, which has sort of become a clearing house for spirituality and the New Age.
The Law of Attraction by the way is repackaged new age teaching which states that your thoughts and your words send a message out to the universe and the universe responds.
Lutzer summarizes, “[The law of attraction teaches that] your whole life has been created by you. You think it and the universe responds to your thoughts. Your thoughts leverage the universe through people, circumstances and events to fulfill your wish. Make a command to the Universe. Let the Universe know what you want. The Universe responds to your thoughts. The Universe will rearrange itself to make it happen for you. In other words, you get exactly what you were thinking.
As an aside, Dr. Lutzer, said, “How would you like to tell that to the survivors of the Holocaust? You got exactly what you were thinking – you just attracted your suffering through your negative thoughts.”
Erwin’s sermon provoked my interest and I went on Oprah’s website for myself and there, prominently displayed, was her section entitled Spirit and Self. I read through the statements of guests on her program; one of her guests said, “It’s almost as though the universe is listening to everything you say and everything you think, It says, “Oh, that’s what they want” So, how can the universe bring you anything good [if you’re not thinking good thoughts] if that’s the way you’re talking? She went on to say, “That’s why I like to teach people to love themselves, just to love and adore who [they] are.”
As a result of Oprah’s television show and personal influence, thousands of women – perhaps numbering in the millions, have created their own vision board where they communicate to their world and to the listening universe what they want out of life.
If you think through it a moment or two, you recognize that a personal, sovereign God has been replaced with the universe.
The universe is the giver of gifts and sustainer of your life.
The Bible says, “Every perfect gift comes down from the Father” (James 1:17) not the universe.
Furthermore, the law of attraction has given the universe divine attributes of omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience.
That’s how the universe can hear your words and actually read your thoughts (omniscience) and the thoughts of everyone at the same time (omnipresence) and then have the power to fulfill them (omnipotence).
Ultimately, however, the universe is not a god, but a puppet. The secret allows you to pull the strings and you become the sovereign, because your words and your thoughts move the universe on your behalf.
No wonder this religion is popular. It allows you to unashamedly love yourself and then gives you the ability to demand your will be done and then it promises that the universe is at your disposal so that your will in the universe will be done on earth.
Listen to the perspective of a man who’d been given a tour of heaven and who’d personally seen the glory of Christ.
Now that he knew the secret of life outside earth, did he come back and determine his own destiny and speak his own will?
Listen as he writes to the Corinthians, “I sent Timothy to you, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church . . . but I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills…” (I Corinthians 4:17-19)
If the Lord wills it . . . in other words, the will of Jesus Christ determines my way.
Listen to James rebuke current thought for sounding, by the way, exactly like what this Law of Attraction is encouraging – just speak it and it will happen in your life! James writes, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring’ . . . instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’”
If the Lord wills . . . if it’s the Lord’s will we will do this or that.
James concludes, “As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” (James 4:13-17)
The Law of Attraction – the belief that you can create or determine your future by your will and your words, is, according to scripture, arrogant, self-centered boasting – and arrogance and self-centeredness is, James says, evil.
Listen, God does not do our bidding, we do His bidding.
The sovereign is not our servant, we are His servants.
The wise way to live is to live with the perspective, “Lord, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:10)
“Oh no . . . that’s the wrong way to think,” Rhonda Byrne would write and Oprah Winfrey and Marianne Williamson and all the others would add their blessing to the promise, “You are the master of the universe; you are the heir to the kingdom, you are the perfection of life. You speak your future into being . . . and now you know the Secret.”
Dear flock, be aware, false religion really doesn’t change all that much around the world and in any generation.
Most often it turns God into a mystical force and it turns mankind into God.
God is just a force; energy; power. And we’re a part of it – in fact, we control it, because we have the power through our thoughts and words to create reality and control the universe.
Listen, people intuitively know that there’s something out there – there is more to life than meets the eye.
We have been created with the reality of eternity stamped upon our hearts. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
And people not only want to know about it, they want in on some secret about the future and what’s going to happen and how to be on the best side of it.
Everybody wants to know the secrets about the future of the universe.
And we’ve got it. We have the secret.
There is a secret scroll that reveals the future of the world and the human race. And it delivers the secret to being on the right side of eternity. You’ve got a copy of it in your lap.
Turn to Revelation chapter 5 where we see the secret scroll revealed along with the Person – note that – not a force or mystical consciousness – a Person who is able to open the scroll and sovereignly control the future of the planet and the entire universe.
Revelation 5:1. Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne – by the way, this is God the Father from chapter 4 on that amazing throne we’ve studied – and a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. 2. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3. And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4. And I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.”
In the ancient world, in fact, all the way to the 2nd century A.D., literature as written on a scroll made of parchment or leather. Parchment was the most common, made from papyrus – a reed that grew along the Nile delta. The pith was extracted, laid out in strips, hammered flat, rolled with a stone to make it smooth – and the result would remind you of brown paper. You could make it any length you wanted by simply adding more strips.
William Barclay, Revelation: Volume 1 (Westminster Press, 1976), p. 165
God the Father is holding a scroll, the text tells us in verse 1, and it had writing on both sides.
There were several documents that the ancient world sealed with seven seals. One of them was a will. A Roman will was sealed by seven witnesses and each of the witnesses affixed their seal to the document. It couldn’t be opened unless all seven witnesses were present. In a way, the scroll in Revelation 5 is the will of Triune God – sealed by the perfect witness of His seven-fold spirit.
Adapted from Robert Thomas, Revelation: Volume 1 (Moody Press, 1992), p. 377
Listen, the future of the universe is not the will of puny people; it is not by the words of mortal flesh – no matter how in love you are with yourself. The future of the universe is by the will and word of almighty God.
The fact that the will of God for the future of the world is written down, as opposed to simply being spoken is a further implication that his will is settled and unchangeable – it is determined by God alone.
Steven Lawson, Heaven Help Us! (NavPress, 1995), p. 70
I want to mention one more common appearance of a scroll with seven seals. Not only were wills written in this form, but title-deeds as well.
In fact, in Jeremiah 32, God told Jeremiah to buy a piece of land in the territory of Benjamin for 17 shekels of silver. The land was going to be worthless, since Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was actually in the process of defeating Jerusalem. But Jeremiah was told to buy some of the land as a sign that the people would one day return. Two scrolls were produced containing the contract of this purchase. One scroll became public record and it was not sealed. The other scroll was sealed with seven seals and placed in the temple for safe keeping until the owner would later claimed rightful ownership and redeem the land to himself.
The analogy is both wonderful and fitting. Jesus Christ is about to receive the title-deed of creation, kept safe in the very hand of God the Father. Adam’s sin lost earth to the curse, and Satan’s dominion, but Christ redeemed creation at the cross, even when it was under siege, by the enemy. And one day Christ will call for the title-deed which He purchased with His blood and He will claim rightful ownership of His land. It’s His. It belongs to Him. He is the heir of all things.
Adapted from Sam Gordon, Worthy Is the Lamb (Ambassador, 2000), p. 129
Only Christ can answer the challenge delivered in verse 2 – notice – And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?”
Who has this kind of authority?
Who was the witness to the original document? Who paid the price for the land? Who knows the will of God? Who has the power to fulfill the contents of the contract and reclaim rebellious earth?
So a search is made throughout creation. Notice verse 3 – the search begins in the heavens and all the redeemed company – both Old and New Testament saints; it then races through humanity on earth and even through the depths of the Hades. And the answer comes back – no one is capable or worthy.
Imagine that. Abraham wasn’t worthy; Isaac or Jacob. David wasn’t worthy; Daniel wasn’t either. Joseph, Isaiah; the Apostle Paul wasn’t worthy and neither was the Apostle Peter. Martin Luther remains silent as does Jonathan Edwards, and Charles Spurgeon and Hudson Taylor. None of them stepped forward.
Do you want to believe, as millions today do, that Christ was only one among many prophets who now inhabit heaven?
If you want to believe that, which I don’t, make sure you notice that Mohammed is silent; Confucius is too; as is Buddha and Krishna, Joseph Smith and all other prophets who’ve claimed to speak for God.
- No one was capable of knowing the mind and will of eternal God;
- No one was the heir to the planet;
- No one could claim ownership of the universe;
- No one was powerful enough to reclaim creation;
- No one could speak for God the Father whose Spirit blazed like seven torches and the throne of the Father flashed with lightning, shaking the universe with thunder.
No one stepped forward.
Would you note in verse 2 that God the Father did not ask, “Who is willing to open the scroll . . . but who is worthy.”
John Phillips, Exploring Revelation (Loizeaux Brothers, 1991), p. 88
No one moved.
And in verse 4, John the Apostle begins to weep.
John MacArthur quoted in his commentary at this text the words of W.A. Criswell, long time pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas. John’s tears represent the tears of all God’s people through all the centuries. Those tears of the Apostle John are the tears of Adam and Eve, driven out of the Garden of Eden; as they bowed over the first grave, as they watered the dust of the ground with their tears over the silent, still form of their murdered son, Abel. Those are the tears of the children of Israel in bondage as they cried unto God in their affliction and slavery. They are the tears of God’s elect through the centuries as they cried unto heaven. They are the sobs and tears that have been wrung from the heart and soul of God’s people as they . . . experience the trials and sufferings of life, heartaches and disappointments indescribable. Such is the curse that sin has laid upon God’s beautiful creation; and this is the damnation of the hand of him who holds it; that usurper, that intruder, that stranger, that dragon, that serpent, that Satan. And John weeps for the failure to find [One to open the scroll and redeem] this earth now consigned forever to death. It meant that death, sin, damnation and hell should reign forever and ever and God’s earth shall remain forever in the hands of Satan.
John MacArthur, Revelation: Volume 1 (Moody Press, 1999), p. 165
No wonder John dissolves into loud weeping.
John is ushered into the future and there is no one to bring about final redemption. There’s no one to administer the will of the Father; there’s no one from Adam’s ruined race – not a single man or woman of all the billions who have lived on earth, not one fit to reclaim the universe.
No one can conquer evil. No one can usher in the future kingdom. No one can deliver heaven and clothe mortals with immortality . . . no one.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Law of Attraction might be attractive to the human heart, but it is a short-lived lie.
According to the secrets in this divinely inspired scroll, there is no one who can manage, manipulate, direct, order, suggest, entice or even wish the universe into doing their will.
No one . . . no one . . . but One. There is One.
Verse 5, And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
The Lion of the Tribe of Judah . . . the root of David can!
These are Messianic titles – these are clear signs that Israel is coming back to center stage as the Tribulation unfolds.
Adapted from Ray Stedman, God’s Final Word (Discovery House, 1991), p. 131
Just who is this One who is worthy to open the secrets of the scroll?
There are 5 clues bound up in this text.
- The One worthy to open the secrets of the scroll is called the Lion.
This speaks of His majesty. He is the majestic and fearful Lion and His roar is terrible and will cause the hearts of mankind to melt with fear the world over.
This is wonderfully portrayed in C.S. Lewis’s work, the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe where the beavers are describing their world to the sons of Adam and the Daughters of Eve – which is the title given to children of earth. They describe their absent, but fearless leader, the Lion Aslan – who illustrates Christ.
As the Beavers describe Aslan to the children, Susan says, “Is he safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, and make no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “If there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn't safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? Course he isn't safe. But he's good . . . He's the King I tell you.”
The One worthy to take the scroll is the Lion – the majestic One.
- Secondly, the text tells us that this worthy One is from a tribe.
He is a lion – which speaks of His majesty.
But He’s also a member of a tribe – which speaks of His humanity.
He was born on earth – as a man – 100% human – a member of a tribe of people.
He will have half-brothers and sisters, Matthew 13:55 informs us.
He belonged to a tribe and a family.
In fact, so ordinary that when he announced who He was, everyone said, “You . . . God incarnate . . . the Messiah?” No way! In fact, on one occasion his half-brothers came to take Him away, thinking He’d lost His mind.
- Third, the text tells us that He is specifically from the tribe of Judah.
This speaks of His nationality. The term Jew is phonetically derived from Judah – it is from the tribe of Judah that the Messiah was prophesied to come. (Genesis 49:10)
The text tells us also that the worthy One is called the root of David.
- This is a reference to His royalty.
He is the descendant of David and the genealogies of eh Messiah must prove He descended from David in order to rightfully claim the throne of David in Jerusalem.
That is why Matthew, writing primarily to a Jewish audience, began with the genealogy of Christ – proving that Jesus had indeed descended from the family tree of David.
The title, Son of David, was a well known Messianic title used frequently in the Gospels of Jesus Christ.
John hears these descriptions that reveal the worthy One’s:
- Finally, the root of David also refers to His deity.
You can understand the idea of “root of David” communicating two truths: He is both the offspring of David and the predecessor of David.
- He who came after David was the Son of David.
- He who existed before David was the root of David.
Think of it this way: as far as his humanity is concerned, He had His roots in David; but as far as His deity is concerned, He was the root of David.
Above points adapted from Sam Gordon, p. 135
Both are emphasized at the end of Revelation when Christ calls Himself, “I am the root and the descendant of David.” (Revelation 22:16)
The only person who could be both fully human and fully God; born on planet earth as a Jew, to a tribe and family of David, while at the same time being the pre-existent predecessor of David is the One who claimed before His nation Israel, “Before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58)
This worthy One who is about to dry up the Apostle John’s tears is none other than Jesus Christ.
And John makes 4 observations about the sovereign Lord.
Notice verse 6. And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.”
- John’s first observation in verse 6 is that the Lamb is standing.
He’s risen to take the scroll and begin directing the machinery of wrath that will envelop the earth.
- John’s second observation is that this Lamb has suffered.
John writes, in verse 6, “He looked like He’d been slain.”
This is a reference to the fact that Christ still bore the scars of His crucifixion. Perhaps more than the scars left in his hands and feet and the wound left by the spear in His side.
When the resurrected Christ appeared to His disciples He graciously condescended to the doubts of Thomas by inviting Thomas to touch his hands and side. Upon sight of these, Thomas fell at Christ’s feet and said, “My Lord and my God.”
Now, standing as the ascended Lord – at the right hand of the Father, signifying equal authority with the Father, Christ is seen as the Lamb who was slain.
A Sunday school teacher once asked her children what she thought would be a trick question . . . only she was the one left speechless. She asked her class, “Children, is there anything manmade in Heaven?” To her surprise, one of the young boys spoke up and said, “Yes, Ma’am, there is.” She laughed and said, ‘Now, what could possibly be in Heaven that is manmade?” To which the young child said, “The nail prints in Jesus’ hands.”
Lawson, p. 77
This Lamb has suffered by those whom He saves.
- Even more, the Lamb that suffered and stands, is also supreme.
John sees him with 7 horns – the symbol of perfect and complete power – seven meaning He is supremely powerful.
Between the Old Testament and New Testament, during the 400 years when the Maccabees revolted and the great heroes of Israel fought for liberation, their banner was a lamb with horns.
Barclay, p. 171
This Lamb will ultimately liberate His people. He has suffered; He is standing, He is supreme.
- Furthermore, He has seven eyes which are the seven spirits of God.
This is a picture of sovereign omniscience. He sees everything by His Spirit!
You can’t pull the wool over this Lamb’s eyes. He doesn’t miss a thing.
Now notice the climax of this scene in verse 7. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of Him who was seated on the throne.
He took the scroll. The verb “took” is intensive perfect, emphasizing the permanence of His grasp. This is His scroll and it is His abiding possession.
Thomas, p. 394
Roman reliefs show emperors holding such scrolls as a symbol of their power and authority. In handing the scroll to the Lamb, God the Father shows that He has transferred all authority and power to God the Son as the wrath of the Lamb is about to be unleashed upon the earth and the future of the universe unveiled.
Kendell H. Easley; Holman New Testament Commentary: Revelation (Holman, 1998), p. 90
Stop weeping John . . . and start singing.
No wonder the redeemed and the host of heaven sing one of the great hymns of Heaven – we’ll look at more carefully in our next session:
Worthy are you to take the scroll
And to open its seals,
For You were slain, and by your blood
You ransomed people for God
From every tribe and language and people and nation.
Worthy is the Lamb.
John dries his tears. This Lamb is our Leader. This sovereign is our Savior!
Not a mystical spirit, but a person who bears scars for ever as symbols of His love and grace.
God is not you and me. God is not a force we dissolve into . . . but a distinct person who delivers us and whom we will one day worship.
I rode behind a vehicle driven by a woman – on the back of the car was the sticker that read, “Goddess at Work.”
20 years ago that would have been an attempt at humor. Today, that woman is probably dead serious.
In Erwin Lutzer’s manuscript he referenced a woman in his church who had become a Christian. She was a university professor nearby. She had studied religions . . . all kinds, along with the current New Age beliefs. But she gave her heart and life to Christ. In her testimony she said that she came to recognize, by God’s grace, that all the other religions in the world told her that she was a god . . . Christianity told me I was a sinner. But I knew deep down that I wasn’t a god. And Christianity offered me the truth of who I was and forgiveness for the sins I knew I’d committed.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the bestselling book, The Secret, will ultimately lead to despair because we can’t satisfy ourselves.
What’s more, all who follow it will one day come to terms with their own insufficiency whether on their deathbed or sickbed or even more tragically when standing one day before this Holy God they had replaced with themselves.
But the tragedy is multiplied even now through life:
For if we are gods there is no one who can guide us;
If we are sovereign there is no one to save us;
If we are simply part of a force we have no one who can forgive us.
Here’s the true secret of the scroll – the Lamb is Sovereign. The Lion of Judah is the pre-existent Creator of the past and sovereign Lord of the future and He is willing to become your Savior.