by Roger McCay
12 September 2021
Sermon Passage: Revelation 5:1-22:21
Link to Audio Version
Have you ever heard the phrase, “Can’t see the forest for the trees?” We use this idiom to describe when a person cannot see “a situation they are in as it truly is” because they have gotten “lost in the details” of the situation, losing “perspective on the bigger issue.”
It is really easy to do that in the book of Revelation, moving along through the book, getting caught up on each and every detail. This is a particular challenge when preaching the book over a long period of time. Each sermon can hone in on a particular detail of the path before us, with the author’s intended end lost to us. The details matter, but when we hone in on them so much that we lose the bigger picture, then the main thrust of the book can become lost. And “lost” is not where anyone journeying through the Apocalypse really wants to find themselves.
So, from an eagle’s view, it is important to periodically look down upon the forest and pick out the paths that we’ve followed and the paths that lead from where we are to the destination at the end. Such a practice keeps us on track and keeps us from ending up stuck in a swamp or lost wandering around never to find the glory at the end. Thus, much of what we are doing today.
You may remember, from last week, that we reflected upon the general confusion as to how the prophecies of Revelation fit into redemptive history (in other words, how they fit into the unfolding of God’s plan of salvation, into his covenant of grace, for his people across all time).
And, as I mentioned, in our study here at MPC, my hope is to contribute to efforts bringing clarity to the issue for your and my edification and encouragement, as we follow Jesus. The scroll with its seals, in Rev. 5:1, is important to that goal. The sealed scroll impacts the next 14 chapters (with some interludes thrown in), as the seals are broken and the contents of the scroll are unleashed, with its ramifications felt even on through to the end of the book. Towards bringing clarity, last week I provided you a definition of the scroll, in light of five foundations that are critical to its identification. As we look ahead at the big picture, the identification of the scroll will become even more clear to us, as we are informed by certain details of the journey ahead.
So, what we’ve covered illuminates the path ahead so that we might see, and what we find on the path ahead then, in turn, further illuminates what we’ve covered. With that in mind, let’s briefly review from last week.
First off, with the scroll in mind, we looked at five foundations for understanding: 1) that a key to interpretating Revelation is the Olivet Discourse; 2) the date of writing was in the mid-60s AD, a few years before Jerusalem and the Temple’s destruction, which Jesus had prophesied in the Discourse; 3) the repeated theme of judgment coming upon the apostate Jews and their religion touched on in Rev. 1-3, in harmony with Jesus’ Discourse; 4) the legal-judicial aspect of the covenant of marriage between God and his people (the Old Covenant under the law), which was broken by the Jews, making them liable to the covenant curses; and 5) the covenant promises and blessings for the bride of Christ, the inheritors of the covenant, given by the bridegroom (the New Covenant under the gospel).
Then we have the description in Rev. 5:1:
5:1 Then 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.
So, in light of the five foundations, the description in Rev. 5:1, and some insight from having read ahead (which we’ll touch on today), my suggestion is that the scroll signifies a legal document with specific covenantal significance, acting as “a divorce decree” 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.
In addition to that, we also considered the logical positioning of the seals on the scroll, which were, as Jay Adams put it, “spread in a row across the overlapping edge of the scroll.” This fits because, as he puts it (looking forward), “All seven seals had to be broken before the roll could be opened. Therefore the breaking of the seals should not be interpreted as a progressive reading of the contents of a gradually opening book…. They are preparatory to the action which will take place once the book is opened.” Indeed, as we will see, the seals are preliminaries to the judgments contained in the scroll. They are what Jesus called “the beginning of birth pangs” in his Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24:8), prior to the destruction he foretold.
So, moving forward in Revelation, we anticipate, with the breaking of the seals and the unleashing of the scroll’s contents, God taking a necessary step, in the Covenant of Grace, for the sake of the elect. This step is a wrapping up of old business (the Old Covenant under the law), freeing God’s people to thrive in the security of the New Covenant under the gospel—allowing the bride of Christ to mature, as she grows and grows throughout the nations of the world until the end of time.
With that said, and before we start flipping through chapter by chapter, let’s review a few things to keep in mind as we go along.
First off, remember that Revelation is an epistle—a letter to seven different, actual and specific churches in Asia, written in the mid-60s AD, that includes prophecy (which is a far broader concept than just telling the future). It includes straightforward teaching, rebukes and encouragements to the churches. It is also full of symbolism and hyperbolic imagery (i.e. apocalyptic imagery), along with a great deal of transplanted OT imagery. John writes it in such a way to “show” the reader and hearer what he has been shown, so the imagery is vivid. We are meant to see with our mind’s eye what John describes.
The prophetic nature of the book also includes the prophetic lens of near and far. The perspective of the seven churches is key, with the warnings of things soon to come and the comfort of the Lord’s promises. But the implications and applications to the whole church are far reaching in time and space. Revelation is mostly about things that were fulfilled in a contemporary sense (near to the time in which it was written), much of which can be confirmed by the near-term histories of its writing.
Yet, there is much that reverberates into the future. For one, the epistles to the seven churches are applicable to us just like any epistle in the New Testament is applicable. Likewise, the nature of prophecy is nothing new for us. Prophecies abound in the OT, and we read this prophecy in their light. Thus, we understand, when it comes to prophecy, that there are one and done fulfillments, “greater and lesser fulfillments;” and near and far fulfilments, including near-term, actual fulfillments that inaugurate realities that will be consummated at a time unknown. Consequently, although Revelation is a contemporary work, it should be no surprise to feel its ripples reaching through time and space to us today.
Adams further explains:
Revelation abounds in principles, exhortations, and promises which have been applicable to every succeeding age. The contemporary view robs us of no future promises. Its teachings are of value today, just as those in Romans, Thessalonians, or 1 Corinthians. The contemporary view of the Apocalypse, therefore, does not take away from us the great things we cherish from its pages. As a matter of fact, only on such a view can one preach from Revelation in a concrete manner. Unrealized ideas offer no historical referents.
Thus, the already historically fulfilled prophecies, promises, etc., in Revelation, give perspective and weight to the realities the book reveals that are ongoing for us and future to us. And the future realities (those surrounding “that day” from Matt. 24:36) … the future realities we will see most clearly rolling through Rev. 20-22.
The last thing I’ll highlight to keep in mind is the concept of recapitulation. As we journey along, at times there will be a vision, and then another vision showing the same thing from a different point of view (perhaps broadened in time and in detail), then another vision showing the same thing again from another point of view. These various scenes are largely, as Kevin DeYoung explains, “different portraits of the same reality.” The effect is that the recapitulated, symbolic visions more-and-more, with each iteration, cumulatively fill in our understanding of the events in the real that they represent. 
So, in sum, Revelation is an epistle (a letter) written to contemporary churches in the mid-60s AD, that includes prophecy, symbolic and hyperbolic (apocalyptic) language, along with straightforward teaching, exhortations, and rebukes. The prophecies are consistent with other biblical prophecies, having a contemporary lens of the near, but some also having a lens to the far. It remains applicable to the church, like any epistle. And various visions are recapitulated as we journey through the book.
With those things in mind, let’s briefly look at the journey ahead, as we move on from Rev. 5:1.
You might want to have your Bible open to flip through as we look ahead. So, big picture. Let’s look at the forest, with a view to a tree here and there.
In Rev. 4-5, where we are now, we are in the throne room of God, the King and Judge of all, and court is in session. The scroll is presented in ch. 5, and only the Lamb of God who was slain, Jesus, is worthy of taking the scroll and opening it, bringing its judgments.
Then, in ch. 6 through ch. 8:5, all seven seals are broken before the scroll is opened. In the midst of the breaking, ch. 7 provides an interlude, with a view to the saints. As each seal is broken, we see various phenomena described like the four horsemen, and so forth. These seem to correspond to the birth-pangs that Jesus spoke of in the Olivet Discourse, and are heavy with anticipation of the coming wrath and vindication.
The scroll’s reading then unfolds. Judgments and vindications are unleashed, as the contents of the scroll are revealed through chs. 8-19 (with some “interruptions and interludes,” as Kenneth Gentry puts it), with ch. 19 having the feel of a postlude, moving into the church age.
So, after the seals are broken, the seven trumpets are sounded in ch. 8:6 through ch. 11, heralding the unleashing of the contents of the scroll. These are the terrors Jesus speaks of in the Olivet Discourse in the great tribulation leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, moving into the church age with the seventh trumpet.
In the mix, chs. 10-11 provide another interlude (before the seventh trumpet), with the little scroll that John eats, reminiscent of Ezek. 3, and which seems to be representative of the same scroll in Rev. 5. It is also, in ch. 11, that we see that the Temple is still standing when John receives the vision. And we are presented with the two witnesses.
Then in chs. 12-14, events are expanded in time to before, during, and after Christ’s first advent, involving some recapitulation. Chapter 12 hones in on the spiritual realm and Satan’s war against the Lord and his people, which might be seen as transitionary. This flows into ch. 13, with the introduction of the two beasts, who are thralls of Satan. The first beast has the number of six hundred sixty-six (which, as we studied in the evening service, is the number of Nero specifically and, by extension, Rome corporately, as Nero was the contemporary head of Rome). The second beast (“the false prophet” of ch. 16), seems to not only symbolize the emperor cult, but moreso to point to apostate Judaism’s working in harmony with the cult (thus, working with the first beast and Satan), in an “unholy alliance,” as both promoted false religion and the persecution of the Christians. And, this theme of the persecuted church carries on through chs. 12-14. Thus, in this section, there is a recap of history, a view to some contemporary personages and events (including Jesus and his people), all of which takes us up to the prophesied destruction of Jerusalem.
Next, we are then introduced to the seven bowls, in chs. 15-16, which are another recapitulation, similar to the trumpets, speaking of the terrors Jesus prophesies in the Olivet Discourse in the great tribulation, which leads up to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.
Chapters 17-18 hone in on the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome—bringing a definitive end to the Old Covenant under the law. The beast’s identity is confirmed, in ch. 17, to be Nero, and by extension Rome. The Harlot is the apostate Jews and their religion, centered in Jerusalem and the Temple. The Harlot is then destroyed by the beast, which finalizes the divorce and punishment of the adulterous wife of God.
Then in ch. 19:1-10, with the Old Covenant having been ended in such a dramatic way, the church is now freed from apostate Judaism, to wholly take up its place as the bride of Christ/new Jerusalem. The rejoicing and marriage supper of the Lamb takes place as the inheritors of the covenant of grace, under the New Covenant of the gospel, move forward into history.
Thus, the second part of ch. 19, vv. 11-21, where the Rider on the white horse, the Lord Jesus, moves forth and conquers by the sword of his mouth, as Christianity expands throughout the world. Roman history tells some of the story of the gospel’s spread (perhaps in a near-ish fulfilment), with Rome finally being Christianized in the early fourth century, conquered by the Word of God, to then crumble as an empire in the late fifth century. And, interestingly, there are many who blame Christianity as having a part in the fall of Rome. Thus, with Rome fallen, Christianity has continued to spread and flourish throughout the nations of the world.
In ch. 20, there is once more a recapitulation, of sorts, going back to the events during Christ’s first coming at the beginning of the millennium, with the binding of Satan (Rev. 20:1-3; Matt. 12:29; 2 Thess. 2). The 1000 years (referred to as “the millennium”) are a symbolic number for the whole of Christ’s reign before he returns at the final judgment. Satan’s binding is not such that he is rendered incapable of any activity, but he is limited in his deception of the nations, with the world released from his dominion (Rev. 20:3; Jn. 12:31-32). The vision then jumps through time to the end of the millennium (where Satan is unbound for a little while, involving a period of apostasy and increased persecution), quickly coming up to Christ’s Parousia, the resurrection, Judgment Day (which is “that day” described by Jesus in his Discourse in Matt. 24:36) … that day and beyond.
Thus in chs. 21-22, “that day” having come, the inheritance of the saints is consummated with the new heavens and earth, moving on into eternity!
And from those heights, John comes to a close, in ch. 22, reiterating the promises of ch. 1 to the seven churches that Jesus was coming soon: in a near sense, with the judgment that comes down in AD 70; and in a far sense, Christ’s imminent final coming, as he consummates his Kingdom at his Parousia.
My friends, I hope at this point you have a grasp on what the scroll, in Rev. 5:1, symbolizes. Once again, the scroll signifies a legal document with specific covenantal significance, acting as “a divorce decree” 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.
If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, a disciple of Christ, you (whatever your ethnic heritage, Jew or Gentile) … you are one of God’s people, an inheritor of the Covenant Grace. You and I live in this dispensation of the New Covenant under the gospel of Jesus Christ (what has been called “the church age”). We are free in Jesus, freed from sin, freed from the law—slaves to righteousness. The Old Covenant under the Law has long been ended, fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus is King, and he sits on the throne of God reigning over all. And while, in this life, we continue to struggle against the kingdom of evil, there are more Christians now than ever before and more coming to Jesus every day, existing in even the most oppressive nations on earth.
In the Lord’s Olivet Discourse, he taught that there are no particular signs that would alert us to his final coming. But his promised coming at the end is grounded and assured in his coming upon Jerusalem in judgment in AD 70, as unrolled in the scroll. Like a thief, his coming will be a surprise. So, as he told us, we need to be on watch, ready, living for him every day, following Jesus.
Follow Jesus, my friends. Live for him! Be ready. He is coming soon. Because the scroll marks the end of the Old Covenant, the Bride of Christ should live in anticipation of the bridegroom’s imminent return.
 Shawn Manaher, “What Does “Can’t See The Forest For The Trees” Mean?”, The Content Authority, accessed 16 September 2021, https://thecontentauthority.com/blog/what-does-cant-see-the-forest-for-the-trees-mean.
 Kenneth L. Gentry Jr., Navigating the Book of Revelation: Special Studies on Important Issues, 2nd ed. (Fountain Inn, SC: GoodBirth Ministries, 2010), 45ff. Also, Kenneth L. Gentry Jr., The Book of Revelation Made Easy (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision Press, 2019), 50.
 Jay Adams, The Time is at Hand (Woodruff, SC: Timeless Texts, 2000), 62.
 Duane A. Garrett, Hosea, Joel, vol. 19A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997), 389, uses this term arguing against the concept of “double fulfillments” in Joel, suggesting that rather than double fulfillments, what occurs is a “variety of manifestations of the one theological theme.”
 Jay Adams, 49.
 Kevin DeYoung, “Revelation, Coronavirus, and the Mark of the Beast: How Should Christians Read the Bible’s Most Fascinating Book? (Part 2),” The Gospel Coalition, pub. 29 May 2020, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevin-deyoung/revelation-coronavirus-and-the-mark-of-the-beast-part-2/.
 This is similar, but quite a bit different, to the “progressive parallelism” described by Anthony Hoekema, which he gets from Hendrickson. Hoekema was an amillennialist and idealist who held to a late date of Revelation. From that point of view, he describes “progressive parallelism,” saying, “The Book of Revelation consists of seven sections which runs parallel to each other, each of which depicts the church in the world from the time of Christ first coming to the time of his second coming” (Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 223). There is some merit to this observation, but Hoekema’s detachment from the actual redemptive historical and covenantal events circa AD 70, in harmony with the Lord’s Olivet Discourse, throws him off the mark. This also due to the inherent weakness of a late-date idealist position, which does not ground Revelation in actual historical events. As Mounce puts it, the idealist “weakness lies in the fact that it denies to the book any specific historical fulfillment” (Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 29). For more, see the lessons (audio and slides) on dating and interpretational methods posted at https://rogermccay.org/ministry/revelation-lessons-at-mpc/, particularly lessons four and five.
 Cf. Adams, 71-72, who sees ch. 12 as transitory. Although, unlike his suggestion, the transition would not be from a focus on Jerusalem to Rome, as he suggests (he identifies the harlot as Rome rather than Jerusalem), but rather from the Trumpets to the Bowls (along the lines of what I’ve briefly described here).
 For the recording and slides of that evening service, go to https://rogermccay.org/ministry/revelation-lessons-at-mpc/, Lesson 7.
 Gentry, Navigating the Book of Revelation: Special Studies on Important Issues, 126. Gentry sees the second beast “as symbolizing apostate Judaism as concentrated in its religious leadership in its High Priestly aristocracy” (130) and makes a good argument. He makes a point of speaking of the “unholy alliance” with Rome. I agree, but considering what we know from history, and the context of the seven churches, it seems that the Jews, in working with Rome, were working in harmony with the cult, as it was the cult that promulgated worshipping the image of the beast – emperor worship. Perhaps, and I’m being speculative, that is what the second beast’s two horns actually symbolize.
 Cf. Adams, 86-87; Gentry, Revelation Made Easy, 105-110; and Hoekema, 228-229.