The Scroll (Part Two) – Revelation 5:1-22:21

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.”[1]

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”[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.

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.”[3] 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.”[4] 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.