“Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seal?”
Today is the Feast of All Saints (or ‘All Hallows’ – thus, yesterday evening was ‘All-hallows-eve’). Today we celebrate the reality of God’s victory in Christ by acknowledging the presence of those who have gone before us, who now share that victory with him (and all the while trusting that we one day shall join them in it!).
The vision of John recorded in Revelation chapter 5 captures this reality powerfully. The seer is taken up into the heavenly places where he witnesses the glorious worship of God by the heavenly hosts (Revelation 4). They acknowledge God’s worthiness and power and glory by confessing his creative power: “For you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (4:11).
But in chapter 5 the focus of the scene changes.
The seer notices that “in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back and sealed with seven seals.” As his focus is fixed on this scroll he hears a “strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’” And to the horror of the seer, “no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and (he) began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.”
You can feel the pathos in the scene. It is glorious to acknowledge God’s greatness in the sheer fact of creation, it is utterly tragic to discover that there is ‘no one worthy’ within that creation to fulfill God’s purposes for it. We know in our heart of hearts that creation MUST have a purpose; but fear in the depth of our souls that we ourselves are incapable of fulfilling it. That is the pathos of the scene on a cosmic scale. The scroll represents the intended story of creation; a story now thwarted by the corrupting presence of evil.
But as the seer weeps, “one of the elders said to (him), ‘Weep no more; behold the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.'” And the seer looks, and “sees a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain…and he took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.” And as he did so, the heavenly chorus breaks out in a new song of praise:
‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
There is one who is worthy to take the scroll and open its seals; worthy to overcome all opposition, and thus allow for the fulfillment of the Creator’s purpose for and within his creation.
And what is the shape and telos of that overcoming victory? He has “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (thus, the reality of the communion of saints), “and have made them a kingdom and priest to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
The telos of the Lamb’s victory through his sacrificial death is the recovery of the ‘Steward’ for God’s corrupted creation; the one who alone is made in the Creator’s image to be both ‘priest’ to the creation and ‘king’ over it! And this community of redeemed and renewed Stewards, from every tribe and nation, “will reign on the earth” one day, as they now “reign with him in the heavenlies.”
That is what we celebrate this day. The advent of the One who alone is worthy, whose worthiness makes us ‘worthy’, and able to fulfill our purposes within God’s glorious story.
Take a moment this day and join in on the heavenly chorus.
Then renew your commitment to live your life with and for this King.