The Scroll (Part One) – Revelation 5:1

by Roger McCay
12 September 2021
Sermon Passage: Revelation 5:1
Link to Audio Version

The place of the Book of Revelation in redemptive history is a critical aspect of covenant theology. It speaks directly to how God acted at a particular point in history according to his overall plan to redeem his people, to set us free, according to his promise, with a view towards our consummated hope in Christ. Even so, while we in Reformed, Covenantal circles (like us in the PCA) are well-versed, overall, in how God’s Covenant of Grace works out in Scripture and history,[1] from what I’ve observed, we are lacking by not having a strong and consistent statement as to how and where the prophecies and events of the book of Revelation fit into God’s working out his covenant in history.

Now, I’m not specifically talking about millennial views, here. In fact, I think our understanding of the millennium should be derived mainly outside of the Book of Revelation to then find its fit in Revelation—and I say that not to diminish the millennial reign of Christ, as it certainly is in the backdrop, as Jesus reigns. And that is certainly foundational. Rather, I’m talking more towards how Revelation lays out key events in redemptive history that are critical steps in God’s Covenant of Grace. The problem with this lack of clarity, even confusion, is that how we understand Revelation impacts how we frame our hopes in Christ. Revelation should cause neither anxiety nor indifference among believers. Rather, it should relieve anxiety, encouraging and quickening us in our discipleship, as we live in anticipation of Jesus’ imminent return.

Why we are in this boat is a long story going back centuries into church history, with errors of scholarship being picked up and passed on. Those errors, along with some overly active imaginations (informed by some extremely problematic theologies) have infected the general Christian population’s understanding of what the book of Revelation actually communicates. And, in some cases, these infections distort the book’s entire meaning. On top of that, in our circles, not only has that infection filtered into our thinking, but the relative silence of Calvin and Luther on Revelation seems to have left many rudderless or even sitting at full stop in their own studies and interpretations of the book. So, there is confusion as to how the prophecies of Revelation actually fit into redemptive history (in other words, how it fits into the unfolding of God’s plan of salvation for his people across all time).

However, I think this may be changing. Maybe I’m just being optimistic here, but over the past few decades there has been some very good work towards a sound understanding of how Revelation rightfully fits in the scope of redemptive history and its role in covenant theology. Scholars and scholarly pastors are identifying and rejecting perpetuated errors, getting past the mental blocks of Calvin and Luthor, calling out the absurd fantastical theologies, and are bringing Revelation to a point that can be understood by the typical Christian in the pew. The scholarship is out there, ongoing and battling, but honing. And my hope is that our study in Revelation contributes towards these efforts, so that you (God’s people) might be better edified by the truths revealed in this magnificent portion of God’s Holy Word.

With that goal in mind, today we are looking at one verse, Rev. 5:1, for the specific purpose of highlighting the object laying upon the palm of God’s right hand—the scroll written within and upon the back, sealed with seven seals. Rev. 5:1 is a critical point in the book. From this point we can either jump the rails or we can continue along securely in our understanding. And whichever way we go from here depends on how we understand what God has in his hand.

So, bottom line up front, what is the scroll? I suggest, similar to how Kenneth Gentry has defined it, that the scroll, in the symbolic form of an official document, has specific covenantal significance, acting as “a divorce decree” [2] against apostate Judaism (God’s adulterous wife), heralding the execution of the covenant curses (God’s wrath) upon them due to their unfaithfulness. Thus, it definitively announces the end to the Old Covenant under the law, and frees up the inheritors of the Covenant of Grace (the bride of Christ) to experience the fullness of the New Covenant blessings under the gospel.

Now, that explanation does not come in a vacuum. Context is essential in defining the scroll, as it is identified not by a label but by context and the brief description given in 5:1. And, on top of that, the scroll is symbolic, so the matter is more towards grasping the realities to which it is pointing. Thus, we need to review some foundational elements (the prior context), which set the stage for this pivotal point in Revelation. And then, next week, Lord willing, we’ll look out over the journey ahead (at least from a big picture perspective—with a basic outline of events). So, today, my intent is to lay before you certain critical pieces of the puzzle, mostly from what we’ve already covered, so that you might have an overall impression of the picture that John has painted for us, with God then holding out the scroll.