Jesus is worthy to take the scroll and open its seals (Rev. 5:9). Jesus is worthy to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing (Rev. 5:12). What is the relationship between these two ascriptions of worthiness? Why precisely is Jesus worthy? In Revelation 4 and 5 we see a dramatic scene of the heavenly temple in which God’s limitless beauty is being lauded with unceasing adoration.
Chapter five centers around a scroll sealed with seven seals. What is the scroll? What are its written content? In light of observations that:
1) The scroll is not actually open until all the seals are broken
2) The seals sequentially release the judgments described in the following chapters (6-18)
3) The seventh seal seems to contain within itself the seven trumpets
4) The seventh trumpet seems to contain within itself the seven bowls
Therefore, it appears that the scroll is not open until all the judgments in the Revelation 6-18 are completed. Thus, the content of the scroll itself cannot be the judgments in chs. 6-18, but rather has to do with the restoration and renewal of the earth described in Revelation 20-22. The scroll is God’s plan to fully redeem and restore his creation.
The question at hand in Revelation 5 is “who is worthy to take the scroll and open its seals?” Someone who is “worthy” is needed to execute and oversee the removal of the seals, i.e, the judgments that will remove all wickedness from the earth. Someone with a unique expertise is needed and strangely enough, God himself, the one seated on the throne, does not seem to be able to do it. What we learn as the passage proceeds is that the Lamb (meaning Jesus) is worthy and his unique qualification is he was slain. This entails at least three aspects:
1) The crucifixion – Jesus entered into the experience of human pain and felt first hand the plight of our god-forsaken fallen existence (Mk. 15:34). He knows and understands the human condition and the human frame. He truly and fully is sympathetic towards us in every way because he became like us in every way (Heb. 2:17; 4:15). He can be trusted to administrate the cleansing of the earth in ways that are neither arbitrary nor insensitive.
2) The resurrection – this aspect is often missed – but how is a Lamb that was slain standing? Dead animals don’t stand up – only living ones do. Furthermore, you don’t talk to or praise dead beings – only living ones. Therefore, since the Lamb is standing and he is being praised, the implication is that he is alive and has been raised from the dead, as confessed elsewhere in the NT and previously in this book (Rev. 1:18). This is additionally asserted by saying the “Lamb has overcome” – i.e., overcome Sin and Death. As the Messiah, has fought the decisive battle and overcome the enemies of humanity. He is qualified to execute the judgments and unfold the plan of God’s redemption because he is the Lord of Life, the steward of the earth’s true restoration as the one who has already partaken of its resurrection life.
3) The restoration of humanity – He was slain in order to “redeem for God” people from all nations in order to be “a kingdom of priests” who will “reign on the earth.” Biblically speaking, “redeem” refers to the Exodus, where God “redeemed his people with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.” (cf. Ex. 6:6, 15:13; Deut. 7:8; 9:26; 13:5; 15:15; 21:8; 24:18; 1 Chr. 17:21; Neh. 1:10; Isa. 51:10; 63:9). Through his death and resurrection, Jesus has enacted the great “New Exodus” from the pharaoh of history – Death itself. This redemption however, was not to wisp us off to heaven, but so we might “reign on earth,” in restoration of God’s original intent for humans to rule the earth (Gen. 1:27ff). As Jesus administrates the judgments in Revelation 6-18, we know that He is the one who is redeeming and restoring humanity’s creational purpose, rather than destroying it.
With that as an introduction, my observation from the Greek text is the ascription that Jesus is worthy to take the scroll (5:9) and that he is worthy to receive glory and honor, etc. (5:12) are in parallel. Both use exactly the same word in the exact same form, labein, which can mean either to take or receive. Jesus is worthy to take (labein) the scroll and he is worthy to receive (labein) the praise. This observation could mean a lot of things, but it at least means that we are intended to understand that the taking of the scroll, the execution of the judgments and the restoration of the earth has an explicit connection to his receiving all of the praise and glory.
I occasionally hear expressions like “I praise Jesus because he is worthy,” or the like. I understand and appreciate the sentiment, but the Bible itself does not stop there. The reason we worship Jesus is not simply “he is worthy,” end of sentence. The Bible tells us why he is worthy and hence gives a substantive reason for our praise. We should take great care lest “I’m praising him because he is worthy” subtly becomes “I’m praising him for no reason I’m aware of or can articulate.” The ensuing result would undoubtedly be an increasingly lifeless and insipid worship maintained only by sheer mechanical force of will. The very power and impetus behind our worship is the blazing revelation of what God in and through Messiah has accomplished by his death, resurrection and inaugural restoration of the human race, as well as the full renewal of the earth he will accomplish when the events of the Book of Revelation fully unfold. Praise is not a duty, but the spontaneous eruption of our hearts when we encounter what we love and delight in, when we are overwhelmed with gratitude and awe. As we become enthralled with the substantive reasons of Jesus’ worthiness, namely his mighty acts of redemption and love exemplified in the cross, resurrection, restoration of creation, and even the eschatological judgments, worship will be an instinctual reflex – an unfettered and unforced surge of affection and adulation to the one we truly know to be worthy.