Revelation 4-5: Who is Worthy?

In Revelation Articles by cwfeldmann

When George Bush Sr. was President (1988-92), the late Phil Hartman used to do a hilarious impression of his wife Barbara Bush on Saturday Night Live. During one of these skits, “Barbara Bush” was asked this question by an interviewer: “So tell me Barbara, you must be very proud of your son?” Barbara winced and of course the audience burst into laughter. She responded, “George is my husband, not my son.” The interviewer was unapologetic, however. She turned to the camera and said, “Well, I hardly think this is my faux pas! After all, she looks so much older than he does, don’t you think?”

On the surface, it would seem that an angel in the passage we are about to read, asks an equally embarrassing question.

Last time we considered the incredible invitation that is offered to the seven churches – the opportunity to come with John through the open door and to understand something of eternal significance. Let’s imagine that just now we are actually going to take this journey through the open door:

“Then I looked, and, oh!–a door open into Heaven. The trumpet-voice, the first voice in my vision, called out, ‘Ascend and enter. I’ll show you what happens next.’” (Revelation 4:1)

The imagery that follows should remind us of Ezekiel’s vision. Try to take in this incredible scene:

“And instantly I was in the Spirit, and I saw a throne in heaven and someone sitting on it. The One sitting on the throne was as brilliant as gemstones—like jasper and carnelian. And the glow of an emerald circled His throne like a rainbow. Twenty-four thrones surrounded Him, and twenty-four elders sat on them. They were all clothed in white and had gold crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning and the rumble of thunder. And in front of the throne were seven torches with burning flames. This is the sevenfold Spirit of God. In front of the throne was a shiny sea of glass, sparkling like crystal. In the center and around the throne were four living beings, each covered with eyes, front and back. The first of these living beings was like a lion; the second was like an ox; the third had a human face; and the fourth was like an eagle in flight. Each of these living beings had six wings, and their wings were covered all over with eyes, inside and out. Day after day and night after night they keep on saying, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty—the One who always was, who is, and who is still to come.’ Whenever the living beings give glory and honor and thanks to the One sitting on the throne (the One who lives forever and ever), the twenty-four elders fall down and worship the One sitting on the throne (the One who lives forever and ever). And they lay their crowns before the throne and say, ‘You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power. For You created all things, and they exist because You created what You pleased.’” (Revelation 4:2-11)

There are a number of important symbols involved in this passage, but for this article I would like to highlight one main point. Notice that first the four living beings in God’s presence continually praise God with the words, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty…” Next there are twenty-four elders that fall down and worship God saying, “You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power…”

But then in the midst of all the brilliant light, color, music and enthusiastic praise a question is asked that quite frankly seems ridiculous!

“Then I saw a scroll in the right hand of the One who was sitting on the throne. There was writing on the inside and the outside of the scroll, and it was sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel, who shouted with a loud voice: ‘Who is worthy to break the seals on this scroll and open it?’” (Revelation 5:1-2)

As I imagine myself with John in the midst of this spectacle of glory and honor to God and with God Himself sitting on the throne and holding this scroll, I can almost feel a blush of embarrassment on my face! We just heard the enthusiastic praise for God from the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders, “Holy, holy, holy….you are worthy…” and on and on. But then as God holds the scroll in his hand a “strong angel” asks “Who is worthy to break the seals?”

Let’s just linger here for a moment and imagine some awkward silence. It seems that you would have to be a “strong angel” to ask such a question! After all, isn’t the One who was just hailed to be “worthy and holy” worthy enough to open the scroll? Shouldn’t at least one angel or John have piped up, “Well this is a no-brainer! You open it God. If you aren’t worthy to open it then no one is!”

But no one said a word. Instead, as the “Almighty”, “holy” and “worthy” God holds the scroll in his hand, “No one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll and read it. Then I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll and read it.” (Revelation 5:3-4)

Suddenly a solution presents itself and another person now stands in the midst of the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders:

“But one of the twenty-four elders said to me, ‘Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory. He is worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals.’ Then I saw a Lamb that looked as if it had been slaughtered, but it was now standing between the throne and the four living beings and among the twenty-four elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which represent the sevenfold Spirit of God that is sent out into every part of the earth. He stepped forward and took the scroll from the right hand of the One sitting on the throne.” (Revelation 5:5-7)

What is the meaning of all this? Obviously this is a symbolic picture unless we believe that Jesus actually has the appearance of a slaughtered Lamb. First of all, who is the first individual sitting on the throne and receiving all the praise? His title is, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was, who is, and who is to come.” (Revelation 4:8). This title would seem to represent Jesus both in the beginning and end of the book:

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’” (Revelation 1:8)

“Listen!’ said Jesus…‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” (Revelation 22:12-13)

The meaning of the brilliant “Lord God Almighty” handing the scroll to the slaughtered Lamb is not the Father handing something to his Son. Rather, I think what is being described is a dramatic transition in our understanding of who God is. Prior to the life and death of God in human form, the loyal angels and even most of humanity acknowledged God’s infinite might and power. But yet, a seed of doubt about God’s goodness and trustworthiness was raised by Satan. Previously, we discussed Satan’s lies about God at the tree. “It’s a pity that God didn’t make you free Eve…God has lied to you Eve…God didn’t make you good enough Eve…” and that throughout human history “the gods” or even “God” is frequently portrayed as an angry deity, just waiting to punish. In other words, God’s worthiness has been questioned, even challenged.

In the life and death of God in human form, however, we see something dramatically different from anything we possibly could have imagined in our wildest dreams about who God is. A God who would spend nine months in the womb? A God who would spend his first night in a feeding trough? A God who grows up as a boy in a poor family and then works as a lowly carpenter? A God who hangs out with the riff-raff of society? A God who allows his own creatures to torture him to death and with his dying breath he forgives them? If ever there was a time to say with a conviction that “God IS worthy” it was after the life and death of Jesus Christ!

In other words, after a description of praise for God from the four living creatures and then the twenty four elders, there is essentially a challenge to God’s worthiness to be enthroned as God. Jesus rose to the challenge and vindicated God’s character and worthiness and here is what I find incredible! The result of Jesus’ life and death is a “new song” and a dramatic amplification of praise for God:

“They sang a new song: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to break open its seals. For you were killed, and by your sacrificial death you bought for God people from every tribe, language, nation, and race. You have made them a kingdom of priests to serve our God, and they shall rule on earth.’ Again I looked, and I heard angels, thousands and millions of them! They stood around the throne, the four living creatures, and the elders, and sang in a loud voice: ‘The Lamb who was killed is worthy to receive power, wealth, wisdom, and strength, honor, glory, and praise!’ And I heard every creature in heaven, on earth, in the world below, and in the sea—all living beings in the universe—and they were singing: ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb, be praise and honor, glory and might, forever and ever!’” (Revelation 5:9-13)

What an amplification of praise these chapters describe! First four, then twenty four, and finally “thousands and millions” of angels and “every creature in heaven, on earth, in the world below, and in the sea—all living beings in the universe…” giving their praise to God because of what Jesus revealed about God!

Is God worthy? You bet he is, but he is worthy not simply because he is the strongest being in the universe. God isn’t worthy because he tells us so, “and who are you to question God?” No. God is worthy because in Jesus he proved that his infinite power is equally matched by his love and humility. God became a human being and then very carefully, so as not to scare us, gently whispered in our ear, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father…the Father and I are one…I AM.” (John 14:9, 10:30, 8:58) This knowledge is what triggered the escalating praise in this passage.

Jesus is God. Such a simple message yet such profound consequences if we really accept this to be true.

– Written by Dr. Brad Cole