Revelation 5 expands the vision of Revelation 4. As John continues to gaze right into the center of the throne he sees more than just One upon the throne, he sees in the very middle of the throne the majestic Lamb who was slain. As the chapter continues, Revelation 5 tells us how what John saw in Revelation 4 will fill the earth.
As Revelation 5 opens, suddenly John sees a scroll in the hand of the One upon the throne:
1Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. 2And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. (Revelation 5:1–4 ESV)
To understand the purpose of the scroll we have to remember the main theme of the passage. The passage is describing the things that must come and specifically describing how God is going to bring what is in heaven to the earth. The scroll represents the divine plan that will result transformation the earth so that it is filled with the revelation of God’s beauty.
The angel declares, “Who is worthy?” Who can take this scroll and fulfill what is written in it and make the earth like heaven. Who can release the revelation of the knowledge of God throughout the earth? Who can bring man into his priestly calling so that he can respond to the beauty of God?
This seems like an impossible situation. God gave man authority over the earth (Genesis 1:26) so a man must redeem the earth. Because men were given the leadership of the earth, a man must emerge who can lead the earth in such a way that it becomes what God wants it to be. However, ever man has failed. There is not one who is worthy or capable of redeeming creation. That is why verse 3 tells us that no one in the heavens or on the earth was able to open the scroll.
The crisis causes John to weep:
4and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. (Revelation 5:4 ESV)
Having now seen the glory of Revelation 4, everything within John longs to see that same thing come to the earth. Now that he has seen the beauty of the One upon the throne John wants that beauty to fill the earth. Before John encountered Jesus in Revelation 1 and the throne in Revelation 4 John’ understanding of God’ beauty was much more limited. Now John has encountered something beyond his imagination. He is fascinated. He is in awe. He is transformed. He is burdened.
Encountering beauty is intensely pleasurable for the human spirit. We are designed to enjoy incredible pleasure when we encounter God. In Revelation 4 John encountered indescribable beauty as he gazed on the One upon the throne. John had never encountered anything so deeply pleasurable.
In that moment, John remembered Jesus asked him to pray that earth would become like heaven and it hit John with incredible force. As the pleasure of being near the One on the earth electrified John’s being he instantly remembered Jesus words nearly 60 years before, “John, pray that it would be on earth as it is in heaven.”
God’s deep desire for His glory to be seen, experienced, and loved on the earth is actually the most selfless thing God can do. God is often referred to as some kind of “ego-maniac” for wanting worship, but the reality is the exact opposite. When we encounter and celebrate the glory of God it is deeply pleasurable. Nothing else compares to it. God’s desire for us to experience and acknowledge His glory is His desire for our own pleasure, satisfaction, and fulfillment.
Humanity is like the living creatures. We are “covered in eyes.” We are born with hungry eyes looking, and longing, for what is beautiful. We paint pictures, we take photos. We decorate everything around us. We do everything we can to surround ourselves with beauty because it is intensely pleasurable to us.
Our inner man is covered in eyes and when our eyes are not satisfied by what they were made for, everything goes horribly wrong because the desire for beauty is so deep that it is impossible to turn away from. If that desire is not satisfied, man will search desperately even frantically for something to satisfy that longing. It cannot be denied or suppressed. It must be satisfied by something, by someone.
Our sin obscures the glory of the only One who is beautiful enough to satisfy the human spirit and so we choose lesser gods. We form gods who are beautiful to us. We elevate creation to the status of a god. We treat each other likes gods looking for satisfaction in each other. All of this is the desire of mankind for beauty and pleasure, something that has been put within us by God. He put it in us for our own pleasure but He alone is great enough to satisfy it. Everything else leaves us longing for more. In Revelation 4 John experienced true satisfaction. He touched true beauty for a minute and the pleasure was indescribable. After that moment, John could never be denied again.
Not only is our appetite for beauty and pleasure inescapable, it is also insatiable. It is never stagnant. When we experience something intensely pleasurable it satisfied us for a minute, but soon we are looking for something else. Something new, something more. We have an insatiable appetite for pleasure and at the same time stagnant pleasure cannot satisfy us. In the same way we long for beauty but beauty is not stagnant either. This is why fashion changes. It is why trends of beauty come and go. We love beauty, but we are always in a search for something more beautiful. Something new.
All of this is because we are ultimately designed for God. What fascinated us last year is not enough for the future. We have an infinite desire for pleasure and beauty and only an infinite God can satisfy that craving. We cannot stay stagnant because of how we are created. Only God can fulfill longing and any time we do not ultimately satisfy our longing for pleasure and beauty in God, we will try to fulfill it in other ways that are frequently self-destructive.
This longing for beauty and pleasure is the kindness of God to keep us from being satisfied with lessor things. Without the insatiable desire for beauty and pleasure, human beings could be satisfied with far lessor pleasures. Instead human beings are designed so that lessor pleasures can never fulfill us so that we will search for something more – something greater. This reach in us is the reach for the divine and it is the gift of God – no other creature on earth is designed this way. God designed us for ever increasing hunger so we could eternally experience the pleasure of greater glory and greater beauty.
Having encountered the incredible pleasure and beauty of the One on the throne, everything in John cried out for that to be on the earth. When John was taken up in Revelation 4:1 he broke through the darkness that clouds the earth and keeps the earth from encountering true beauty and true pleasure.
Suddenly John broke out into weeping. His whole body convulsed as deep grief took possession of his soul at the thought that no one was worthy to restore the earth. If there was no one worthy, it meant the earth would perpetually be denied the pleasure of Revelation 4. That pain was inconceivable to John. John had already seen the One who is worthy in Revelation 1 so this is not just the weeping of John. John’s weeping is the weeping of humanity. It is the cry of all humanity – even all creation (Romans 8:19) – for One who can fill the earth with the revelation of God.
Because Revelation 4 is not presently happening on the earth, the earth is filled with darkness. People do not know what true beauty is and so things that are not truly beautiful enslave them. Their eyes are blind to see the beautiful God. They do not know that there is One who is found worthy who will restore all things. A key part of that restoration is for the beauty of God to be revealed on the earth and for creation to see, experience, and respond to that beauty. God’s original intention in the book of Genesis was to dwell on earth among His people. That intention is still in the heart of God and it will come to pass – that is the prediction of both Revelation 4 and 5.
One of the elders tells John he can stop weeping because there is a solution:
5And 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.” 6And 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. (Revelation 5:5–6 ESV)
There is a glorious human being who has overcome. He will fill the earth with the glory of God. He will release light to creation. He will enable mankind to experience the pleasure of the knowledge of God. He will enable human eyes to see true beauty. He will enable men to respond to and declare beauty in the earth.
The answer to the cry of mankind is the revelation of the Lamb. The earth needs to be filled with the revelation of the Lamb in order to break the darkness on the earth and rescue both the earth and mankind. Man will only recover His calling once the Lamb is revealed and mankind is able to see and respond to the beauty of God. The revelation of the Lamb is central to God’s plan to transform earth.For heaven to come to the earth there must be someone who can pay the price of sin. This is why John sees the Lamb as a Lamb slain. Because man was given authority over the earth, a man must recover the calling of mankind and restore the earth. This is why John sees Jesus as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah.”
Only God is truly capable of revealing God. This is why John sees the Lamb in the very midst of the throne. He is fully God and therefore fully capable of revealing God. Once John saw the Lamb, a significant scene unfolded in from of him. The living creatures and the elders declared the glory of the Lamb.
8And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9And they sang a new song, saying, “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, 10and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:8–10 ESV)
The elders declare the beauty of the Lamb because He has ransomed human beings. He has purchased them back. He has recovered them. No longer is humanity in the grip of darkness. He has ransomed people from every tribe, tongue, language, people, and nation. The Lamb is not just going to restore the calling of Israel; He is going to recover the calling of humanity. He is going to fill the entire earth with the knowledge of God. Yes, He will save Israel, but He will do far more than that (Isaiah 49:6).
In verse 10, the elders give perhaps the most profound statement – the Lamb has made human beings into a kingdom of priests who will reign on the earth. This is the ultimate purpose of the blood of Jesus. The blood recovers our priesthood. It gives us permanent, open access to God so that we can encounter His beauty and minister to Him (see also Hebrews 9:24-26).
24but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. 26For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. (Hebrews 7:24–26 ESV)
God’s kingdom is a kingdom of priests. The government of God has been given to a priest and a priesthood.
4The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:4 ESV)
Jesus initiates a new priestly order. He governs forever as a priest. He is assembling a kingdom of priests who, like Him, will rule from a priestly place.
Jesus is a priest in the heavens so that we can be priests on the earth. In order for the earth to become like heaven, men must become priests in the earth. In the same way the elders and living creatures in heaven stand before God and use their authority to make God’s beauty known in the heavens, so also man must stand before God and use his authority on the earth to make God’s beauty known on the earth.
Because man has been cut off from the revelation of God’s beauty due to his sin, man is incapable of serving his divinely given function. So long as man is not functioning in his calling, the earth can never become like heaven. The blood of Jesus restores access to God so that man can have access to God and minister to Him on the earth.
John is given heaven’s solution for the crisis on the earth.
The blood of Jesus has restored the calling of human beings. Because of the blood of Jesus, human beings can be priests before God again. God wants human beings from every tribe and tongue. He wants a global priesthood. Not just one people or one nation. A people from every single people group will enter into a priestly calling before God. This people will be formed into a kingdom, but it is a priestly kingdom – a kingdom of priests. From the beginning God wanted a nation of priests (Exodus 19:6) and Revelation 5:10 tells us that, through the blood of Jesus, it will happen.
John is told that these human priests must reign on the earth. In order to redeem creation there must be a priestly ministry on the earth. We have open access to God and stand before Him in heaven, but there must be a priestly ministry on the earth to restore the earth. It is not enough for humans to go to heaven to experience and declare the beauty of God. It must be done on the earth.
Jesus stands forever as the great intercessor and great high priests to bring this to pass.