J. R. Miller, 1909
John describes his vision most vividly. "Then I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne—a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals." We may study this picture with great profit. The book is the scroll of the divine purposes—this much, at least, we know about it. As we look at it, we learn that God has purposes for His Church, and knows what the future will be, down through all the ages to the end. This ought to be a great comfort to us, especially when we are disposed to be anxious or discouraged concerning the progress of Christ's kingdom. God is never taken by surprise. He knew all from the beginning. The world is not run by 'chance'. God's plans are never defeated. In all that to us seems confusion, His eye sees at all times perfect order. Even the wrath of man He makes to praise Him, and the remainder thereof He restrains.
The fact that this scroll was written on both sides, and was entirely filled, shows that no part of the future was left in uncertainty, or unplanned for; also that no other than God has to do with the direction of the world's affairs. When we remember that it is our Father whose purposes are being wrought out in the troubled history of this earth—we ought not to be afraid. His children are always safe in His hands!
"And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, 'Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?' But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it!" This shows not only that no one can read the future—but also that no one can meddle with God's purposes and plans! They are in His own hands—and are hidden from all eyes. This truth should also make us very modest in our efforts to interpret prophecies and predictions concerning future events. The book is sealed—and we cannot read its contents.
Nothing is hidden from us, however, that we need to know in order to salvation or in order to duty; but there are great events in the future clearly foretold as to the fact that they will occur—but not foretold as to the time and manner of their occurrence. Is it the part of wise and loving faith—to try to open that which lies in God's hands sealed?
There is also a very practical suggestion here. The scroll of each individual life lies in God's hands, written full to the end. God knows it all—right down to the last moment. Each change, each experience of joy or sorrow, each danger or duty—is written down! God knows all our biography from the beginning to the end. But the book is sealed to us. We cannot read its contents. We cannot know, therefore, what lies before us in the days that are to come. And surely it is better that we should go on, not knowing; since God knows, and since He is leading us step by step. To know of trials and hardships and perils and sorrows—would discourage us. To know of coming defeat and failure—would take the nerve out of our energy and paralyze our efforts. To know of coming joys and achievements, would make us vain and self-confident. It is a great deal better as it is, and we should leave the book sealed and in the hands of God—while we move quietly on in the little bit of path unsealed and unrolled to our eyes!
Then John had a vision of Jesus:
"Look! The LION of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed!
Then I saw a LAMB, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne!" Revelation 5:5-6
John was looking for at a Lion—and he saw a Lamb—a little lamb, too. This strange, double picture of Jesus as He appears in heaven—is very suggestive.
He was a lion in His conflicts and victories, and as such overcame all His enemies and ours also. But He was a lamb in the gentleness of His character and disposition. The lamb is an emblem of meekness and of unresisting obedience and submission.
As we think about Christ, we soon see how true both of these pictures are. Like a lion, He has power and majesty, and is dreadful to His enemies! As a lion He met and overcame Satan, and triumphed over death and the grave. As a lion He is able to defend us from all our enemies, and the feeblest believer is safe under His protection. He is the omnipotent God and has all power in heaven and on earth.
At the same time, the other picture is just as true. He is like a little lamb in His gentleness. The whole spirit of His life on earth shows this. Never was a mother so gentle to her children, as was Jesus to the weary, troubled and penitent ones who came to Him. He was lamb-like, too, in the way He endured wrongs and sufferings. Other animals fight in their own defense—but the lamb does not resist. When Christ was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten in return. "Like a lamb led to the slaughter and like a sheep silent before her shearers—He did not open His mouth."
He is the same Jesus now in the midst of the throne, and it is this astonishing combination of strength and gentleness which makes Him such a wondrous Savior. In Him, we have the union of all the truest qualities of love that our hearts so hunger for: tenderness, affectionateness, patience, sympathy. Then, when we have laid ourselves down to rest in all this blessed warmth of love, we look up and see that we are in the bosom of Omnipotence! Mere gentleness may be very weak—but while He is a lamb—He is also a lion!
There is a story of a cruel man who came one day with a little dog in hand, which he thrust into the cage of a great lion to see the mighty beast tear the defenseless creature to pieces; but, strange to say, the lion did not harm the terrified dog—but took him under his protection and became his friend. He was as gentle as a lamb to him, and all his lion strength was used for the sheltering and protecting of his frail charge. This very rustic illustration will help us to understand the representation of Christ which we have in this picture.
"Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne. He had seven horns and seven eyes." Here we have three other thoughts about Christ. Not only did He appear as a lamb—but as a lamb that had been slain. There were wound marks on Him, telling that once He had been dead.
One suggestion of the emblem of the lamb, is sacrifice. Lambs were offered as sacrifices in the ancient worship. Jesus was the Lamb of God who took away sin by bearing it Himself! So even in heaven, Jesus shows that once He suffered and died. Thus even in glory, the fact of salvation by His sacrificial death, is set forth to the eyes of all. Thus we are always to be reminded of the cost of our redemption.
A second suggestion about Christ, is in the representation of the "seven horns." The horn in the Bible is the symbol of strength, and seven is the symbol of completeness. Jesus appears there as the omnipotent One, having all power.
The third symbol in the picture is the "seven eyes," which are explained in the same verse to mean the Holy Spirit. An eye sees, and seven eyes represent the perfection of vision, seeing everywhere. The eyes of Christ are in all parts of the earth, and on all events. This thought of the omniscience of Christ is dreadful to the sinner—but to the Christian at peace with God—it has great comfort! Christ is watching over us and is ready to fly to our help and rescue at any moment. His eye is fearsome only to the wicked; to those who are His friends and are saved by Him, it gives no terror to think of the unsleeping divine eye ever looking down upon them in love!
Then came a vision of prayers, "Golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints." Revelation 5:8. There is something very beautiful in this glimpse of how the prayers of the saints on earth, appear in heaven. They are not lost in the air—but reach heaven, and are put into bowls to be kept secure. The bowls are golden, intimating the preciousness of the prayers that are put into them. The prayers which are put into the golden bowls—are gathered and preserved!
Sometimes it is a great while before they are answered, yet they are not lost or forgotten—but are safely stored in the golden bowls. These prayers are as incense, and that shows how they seem to God. Incense was used in the temple worship, and divine instruction was given as to its compounding. When the incense was burned, it emitted a sweet fragrance. The heart-prayers of earth—are the true incense.
One writer suggests that the three ingredients in the incense of prayer are: petition, confession, thanksgiving. Then divine fire falls upon it, and it ascends to God and is acceptable to Him. It is a very sweet thought that true prayer is as incense unto God. He loves to hear us pray!
There is more than prayer in heaven—there is song. "And they sang a new song: You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because You were slain, and with Your blood You purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation!" No old song, no song of earth would do—for the world has never before seen any occasion like this. Earth's songs are too dull, too sad to be sung where all is gladness and joy.
The song of heaven will be of Christ, and it will celebrate the victory which He won at His death. We shall join in the song because we owe to Christ every joy, every blessing and hope of our souls.
Heaven's singing, it may well be noticed here, will be congregational. No soloist, or quartet choir, will sing for the people—but every redeemed one will unite in the song of redemption for himself. The angels, too, will join in the chorus, and all the universe will unite their voices in the ascription of praise and worship that goes up to God and the Lamb!
"Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. In a loud voice they sang: "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!" Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: "To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb—be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!" Revelation 5:11-13