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Revelation chapter 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. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4 and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 And one of the elders said to me, “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.”

Revelation chapter 8:

When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.

We spend three chapters opening the scroll, with significant events for each seal being opened. But what is the significance of the scroll itself? There's a lot of excitement about finding one worthy to open it, and trouble caused by its opening, but we never find out anything about its contents. Is there some implied information here? Something cultural and assumed by the original audience? An external reference?

What is the scroll with the seven seals?

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The scroll had seven seals. Each time a seal is opened, certain events are revealed. Thus the content of the scroll is revealed pictorially by the events John sees each time a seal is opened. Each time a seal is opened, a new part of the scroll is revealed.

As to what the significance of the scroll is, these are the facts:
-The scroll itself has text on the inside and on the outside.
-Only Jesus was worthy to open the scroll
-The seven trumpets are part of the seventh seal (Rev 8:1-6)
-At the end of the seventh trumpet (that is, at the very end of the seventh seal), it is said, Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” (Rev 11:15).
-Thus, at the end of the seals, the world has become God's kingdom. When everything in the scroll has transpired, the universe fully belongs to God.

Deeds to property would often have a brief description of the contents on the outside, visible without opening it, and details on the inside. It is not unreasonable to see the scroll as a sort of "title deed to the universe", as it was written both on the outside and on the inside. This theory explains John's consternation when no one was found worthy to open the scroll: the contents of the scroll are not a mystery to John, because he has read the brief description on the outside of the scroll and knows that it is the document that proves God's ownership of the universe. If no one were able to open it, would the world continue as it was without God's intervention; would there be no relief or justice for the martyrs? Happily, Jesus was worthy to open it, being perfect in justice and in mercy, in authority and in humility.

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  • The usefulness of this answer hangs on the validity of the claim that the outside of scrolls often contained a summary of the contents of the scroll. Can you please provide a primary source for that information? Thanks.
    – Ruminator
    Nov 24, 2017 at 4:55
  • I haven't found scriptural evidence, but having an abstract on the backside of a title deed scroll is called an opisthrograph and was a common practice in the ancient world, evidently. blog.twotwentyeight.com/2017/08/… Jan 25, 2021 at 3:49
  • @Niobius Thank you for a great answer. May I quote and reference your answer within the context of a study on Revelation?
    – user36337
    Sep 20, 2021 at 19:50
  • @user36337 I got married and am no longer able to prioritize such trivialities as internet and free time. You may use the answer at your discretion, claim it as your own, edit it, and/or print it out in the webdings font and claim it as modern art.
    – Niobius
    Jul 15, 2022 at 16:52
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As I explain in my new book "God's Strategic Plan", this scroll is a judgement lien. A judgement lien is issued by a court where a debtor (you/me) is unable to satisfy a debt (caused by our sin) and this document authorizes that the debtor's assets (our very souls) be forfeit in judgement. A person subject to a judgment lien is subject to lawful judgement and forfeiture and is often forced to declare bankruptcy (seek protection of the court). The scene in Revelation 5 is in fact a court session being called to order by the strong angel before the Righteous Judge in which man (possibly represented by the weeping John) is subject to sentence. John wept because he knew that man's fate was sealed in that scroll. Then, steps forward, the only Person worthy to take the scroll of judgement from the right hand of the Righteous Judge; the Lamb who was slain and who righteous sacrifice paid the debt on behalf of man.

According to God's law without the shedding of (innocent and worthy) blood, there is no remission or release of judgement for sin. Therefore only the innocent Lamb that was slain was worthy to take the judgement scroll and legally discharge it as a lien on the souls of all men. This was a critical aspect of God's Strategic Plan.

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    Hi Robert, thanks for this welcome contribution. Your book looks very interesting, I've added a link to it on Amazon (but please feel free to change that if you wish). Apr 6, 2014 at 8:04
  • Thanks Jack. I am new to this so your help is much appreciated. Apr 6, 2014 at 13:36
  • The usefulness of this answer hangs on the validity of the claim that the scroll was a judgment scroll. Can you please provide a primary source for what a judgment scroll is and why that is what this scroll is? Thanks.
    – Ruminator
    Nov 24, 2017 at 4:58
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Daniel was given a prophetic secret with seven "Do Not Open Until Christmas" seals because the fulfillment of those prophecies was still a couple of hundred years away:

[Dan 12:4 NLT] (4) But you, Daniel, keep this prophecy a secret; seal up the book until the time of the end, when many will rush here and there, and knowledge will increase."

Right on Daniel's timeline/agenda given in his prophecies the Messiah appeared to fulfill all of prophecy. Those things written in the scroll concerned the LORD's Day (the first 70 years of the first century). For thousands of years God had promised that Israel's end would one day come with horrific judgment from God. The angel tells Daniel that in the seven (7) years of tribulation that "shatters the holy people" EVERYTHING predicted will have occured:

[Dan 12:6-13 NLT] (6) One of them asked the man dressed in linen, who was now standing above the river, "How long will it be until these shocking events are over?" (7) The man dressed in linen, who was standing above the river, raised both his hands toward heaven and took a solemn oath by the One who lives forever, saying, "It will go on for a time, times, and half a time. When the shattering of the holy people has finally come to an end, all these things will have happened." (8) I heard what he said, but I did not understand what he meant. So I asked, "How will all this finally end, my lord?" (9) But he said, "Go now, Daniel, for what I have said is kept secret and sealed until the time of the end. (10) Many will be purified, cleansed, and refined by these trials. But the wicked will continue in their wickedness, and none of them will understand. Only those who are wise will know what it means. (11) "From the time the daily sacrifice is stopped and the sacrilegious object that causes desecration is set up to be worshiped, there will be 1,290 days. (12) And blessed are those who wait and remain until the end of the 1,335 days! (13) "As for you, go your way until the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days, you will rise again to receive the inheritance set aside for you."

[Rev 22:10 NLT] (10) Then he instructed me, "Do not seal up the prophetic words in this book, for the time is near.

[Luk 21:20-24 NLT] (20) "And when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then you will know that the time of its destruction has arrived. (21) Then those in Judea must flee to the hills. Those in Jerusalem must get out, and those out in the country should not return to the city. (22) For those will be days of God's vengeance, and the prophetic words of the Scriptures will be fulfilled. (23) How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. For there will be disaster in the land and great anger against this people. (24) They will be killed by the sword or sent away as captives to all the nations of the world. And Jerusalem will be trampled down by the Gentiles until the period of the Gentiles comes to an end.

In complete agreement with the angel in Daniel's prophecy Jesus says:

[Luk 21:27-33 NLT] (27) Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with power and great glory. (28) So when all these things begin to happen, stand and look up, for your salvation is near!" (29) Then he gave them this illustration: "Notice the fig tree, or any other tree. (30) When the leaves come out, you know without being told that summer is near. (31) In the same way, when you see all these things taking place, you can know that the Kingdom of God is near. (32) I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass from the scene until all these things have taken place. (33) Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear.

So Daniel's scroll contained the end of Israel as a holy nation. It was sealed up until the time of the Messiah and the LORD's Day. In Revelation the seals are opened, the judgments unleashed and the cataclysmic end of the KOSMOS (the old covenant, temple-based, Jerusalem based theocracy) and the arrival of the kingdom of heaven/God aka the new Jerusalem aka the body of Christ.

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What is on the sealed scroll in Revelation 5-8?

The purpose of this article is to show that the sealed book is the book of life.

In His right hand, God had a book that is sealed up with seven seals (Rev 5:1). A sealed book symbolizes things that are not understood.

A search is made everywhere in creation but no one is found “worthy” to break the seals and open the book (Rev 5:3). In other words, nobody in heaven is able to explain this mystery.

This causes John to weep greatly (Rev 5:4). This symbolizes the sorrow of the beings in heaven because they do not understand these things.

But then, Christ’s victory on earth turns the sorrow in heaven into joy for He “has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals” (Rev 5:5). Revelation 5:1-4, therefore, describes the time before Christ's victory on earth. And Jesus "overcame" between verses 4 and 5.

Jesus takes the book (Rev 5:7) but He does not open the book immediately. In Revelation 6, He begins to break the seven seals one by one, causing catastrophes on earth. The sixth seal begins with the signs of Christ's return (Rev 6:12-14) and ends in Judgment Day (Rev 6:15-17). In other words, the contents of the book will only be fully understood when or after Christ returns.

THE BOOK OF LIFE

Revelation mentions the “book of life” 6 times. This book identifies the people who will inherit eternal life (e.g., Rev 21:2, 27; 20:14-15). The purpose of this article is to show that the sealed book is the book of life. This is justified as follows:

1) Both books are written by God:

The sealed book is in God's hand (Rev 5:1; cf. 4:11), implying that He wrote it. Since the book of life contains the names of the redeemed and since God is the judge, He also writes that book.

2) The slain Lamb receives both books:

The full title of the "book of life" is "the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain" (Rev 13:8; 21:27). Since Jesus receives the sealed book when He appears as "a Lamb ... as if slain" (Rev 5:6-7), the two books must be the same.

3) Both books are required for redemption:

Jesus died to save people but since He also died to open the sealed book (Rev 5:5, 9), opening this book is also required for the redemption of God's people. The same applies to the book of life, for it identifies God’s elect.

4) Both are opened AFTER Christ’s return:

Since the sixth seal begins with the signs of Christ’s return (Rev 6:12-14), the sealed book will only be fully open at or after His return. The book of life, similarly, will be opened in the final judgment (Rev 20:12).

5) Both separate the living from the dead.

The sixth seal divides the people of the world between God's people, standing before His throne (Rev 7:9), and those hiding in the mountains (Rev 6:15-17), soon to be put to death by Christ (Rev 19:21). “The book of life,” similarly, determines who will live and who will die (Rev 20:15).

These similarities identify the sealed book as the book of life.

REVELATION 12 EXPLAINS THE SEALED BOOK.

This section shows that the war in heaven in Revelation 12 also identifies the sealed book as the book of life. In brief, this section shows that:

(1) Both Revelation 5 and 12 describe a crisis in heaven and, in both chapters, the crisis is caused by things that are NOT UNDERSTOOD.

(2) In both chapters, Christ’s death resolved the crisis in heaven BUT NOT ON EARTH.

For these reasons, it is concluded that these two chapters describe THE SAME CRISIS. And by identifying the nature of the crisis in Revelation 12, this section finds additional support for the conclusion that the sealed book of Revelation 5 is the book of life.

The identification above of the sealed book as the book of life does not explain why nobody is able to open the book, what the seals are, or what breaking the seals means. But Revelation 12 does explain all of these things.

Another article series discusses Revelation 12 in much detail. The following is a very brief overview:

OVERVIEW OF REVELATION 12

CHRIST

Revelation 12:5 describes Jesus' life, death, resurrection, and ascension in a single verse. The dragon attempted to devour Him (Rev 12:4) but Christ escaped and was “caught up to God” (Rev 12:5).

WAR IN HEAVEN

Revelation 12:7-12 describes a WAR IN HEAVEN between Michael and his angels and the dragon and his angels. "The dragon" is identified as "Satan" (Rev 12:9).

The most important point from Revelation 12 is that the nature of the “war in heaven” is indicated by the identification of Satan as “the accuser of our brethren” (Rev 12:10). In other words, he specifically accuses only God’s people, showing that they are sinners and deserve to die.

We see evidence of the nature of this crisis in the universe already in the book of Job - probably the oldest book of the Bible. In that book, "the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them" (Job 1:6). In their presence, God described the man Job as "blameless and upright" (Job 1:8) but Satan accused Job, saying "touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face" (Job 1:11). For a discussion of Job, see - Why Satan thought he could win against God.

Another example is where Satan accused Joshua the high priest before the angel of the LORD (Zech 3:1).

Similarly, in Romans 3:25-26, Paul explains that Jesus died as a public demonstration of God's "righteousness because ... He passed over the sins previously committed." In other words, Christ's death was necessary because God forgave sins. How this works we attempt to explain in the article: In the Book of Revelation, why did Jesus have to die?

The war in heaven, therefore, is CAUSED BY SATAN ACCUSING GOD'S PEOPLE.

It is not directly stated, but we can assume that Satan's goal is to save himself. God condemned Satan (cf. Ezek 28:19). Satan responds by showing that God's elect are sinners and by arguing that, if he needs to die, then God's elect must also die (cf. Rom 6:23; Matt 10:28; Hell). In other words, he argues that God judges unfairly when He forgives some sinners but condemns others. If it can be shown that God’s judgments are faulty, even to the slightest degree, then Satan and his angels would have grounds for their claim that they have been judged unfairly.

Since, in this war in heaven, “Michael and his angels” (Rev 12:7) oppose Satan, they defend God's judgments and protect God’s people (cf. Dan 12:1). The “war in heaven,” therefore, is a dispute between the angels of heaven OVER GOD'S JUDGMENTS.

If we remember that many of the mighty angels have accepted Satan’s arguments (Rev 12:4, 7; cf. Isa 9:15), we must realize that his arguments are very convincing. Consequently, not even God's loyal angels are certain that God’s judgments are ALWAYS perfect.

CHRIST’S DEATH

But Satan and his angels were defeated, driven out of heaven, and "thrown down to the earth" (Rev 12:9-10). "There was no longer a place found for them in heaven" (Rev 12:8).

The series of articles on Revelation 12 shows that Satan was driven out of heaven as THE DIRECT CONSEQUENCE OF and, therefore, immediately after Christ’s victory on earth (cf. Rev 12:13). This means that Jesus died to make an end to this war in heaven and that, without His death, it would not have been possible to refute Satan's objections to God's judgments. (This is also explained in the article, Why Christ had to die.)

WAR CONTINUES ON EARTH

However, His death did NOT make an end to the war on earth (Rev 12:12).

A single error by God or even the slightest doubt about the perfection of His judgments will limit the perfect happiness of the whole universe for all eternity. If doubt remains with respect to only one person, who is condemned to hell, whether that person should have been saved, some sorrow will always remain. Therefore, for as long as even one of Satan’s accusations remains unrefuted, and until all understand that His judgments are always perfect, God delays Christ's return and, therefore, the implementation of His judgments.

The war in heaven is seldomly mentioned from pulpits. The Bible is mostly concerned with things on earth and does not mention the bigger context of the war in heaven much. Consequently, many Christians are not even aware of the war in heaven (cf. Col 1:20; 2:15; Eph 1:10). Nevertheless, it should be clear that evil developed in heaven and was brought to this world (Gen 3:1-5). The crisis, therefore, is MUCH bigger than the sin of mankind. Since an appreciation of the nature of the war in heaven is critical for the interpretation of the sealed book, the reader is advised to read some of the articles in the series - The Origin of Evil; particularly the article - Why Satan thought he could win against God. The series of articles on Revelation 12 is also important.

See the series on Revelation 12 for further discussion.

THE SAME CRISIS

Based on this explanation, it can be shown as follows that Revelation 5 and 12 describe the same crisis:

1) Both chapters describe Christ's death:

In both chapters, (a) the first four verses describe the time BEFORE Christ, (b) the fifth refers to His death, and (c) the rest of both chapters describe the time AFTER His death.

2) Both chapters describe a crisis in heaven because of an inability to understand:

Revelation 5 symbolizes the crisis as a book that nobody is able to open, causing John to weep greatly (Rev 5:1-4).

Revelation 12 describes the crisis as a “war” between the angels of heaven, namely a dispute over God's judgments and an inability to refute Satan's accusations and to show conclusively that God’s judgments are always perfect.

3) In both chapters, Christ’s death solved the crisis in heaven BUT NOT ON EARTH:

In Revelation 5, Jesus "has overcome so as to open the book," turning the sorrow in heaven into joy (Rev 5:4-5) but the war continued on earth, as evidenced by the seals (e.g., Rev 6:9-10).

In Revelation 12, after Christ’s death, Satan and his angels were driven out of heaven (Rev 12:8-9), bringing the war in heaven to an end but the war continued on earth (Rev 12:12-13).

4) In both chapters, the crisis will only finally be resolved through God’s people.

In Revelation 12, to "overcame" Satan, required BOTH "the blood of the Lamb" and the "testimony" of God's people, "even when faced with death" is required (Rev 12:10-11). Similarly, in the vision of the sealed book:

Christ, firstly, became "worthy" to open the book because He "purchased" people for God with His blood (Rev 5:9).

Secondly, He breaks the seals. The fifth seal shows God's people under the altar crying to God to avenge their "blood" (Rev 6:9-10). By implication, it was their blood that was spilled in the previous seals. Since the book is opened by breaking the seals, it means that the testimony (and consequential deaths) of God's people are required for that purpose.

For a further discussion, see - Why has Christ not yet returned? What is God waiting for?

THE SEALED BOOK IS THE BOOK OF LIFE.

For these reasons, the sealed book and the “war in heaven” describe the same crisis. Consequently, the war in Revelation 12 helps us to understand the nature of the concealed information in Revelation 5.

In both Revelation 5 and 12, the crisis is caused by a lack of understanding. What Revelation 12 adds is that that lack of understanding relates to God’s judgments. The sealed book in Revelation 5, therefore, symbolizes a dispute about God’s judgments. And since His judgments are contained in the book of life (Rev 21:27; 20:15; Rom 8:13), the sealed book is the book of life.

FURTHER CONCLUSIONS

The conclusion that the two chapters describe the same crisis also allows us to interpret other aspects of the symbolism of the book with the seven seals:

  1. The seven seals - the barriers to understanding God's judgments - are Satan’s brilliantly presented and informed accusations against the people whom God elected to eternal life.

  2. That the book is sealed does not mean that God's judgments were unknown or not explained but that nobody was able to fully refute Satan and show conclusively that God’s judgments are always perfect.

  3. John’s tears (Rev 5:4) represent the sorrow in heaven in the time BEFORE Christ's victory for, at that time, it seemed as if God would NEVER be able to execute His judgments, that Satan and evil would have to exist for all eternity, and that God’s people will never be resurrected.

  4. That Jesus breaks the seals means that He directs events on earth to obtain evidence that Satan’s objections are false.

  5. To open and read the book does not mean to learn WHO is saved, but to understand WHY they and only they are saved.

  6. God is unable to open the book Himself in the sense that He created intelligent beings who are truly free and HE WANTS His creatures to understand His judgments (cf. John 15:15)! He will not force them to accept His judgments.

  7. Until all understand that His judgments are perfect, God delays Christ's return and the implementation of His judgments.

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The answer is simple. The scroll is written on both sides. It is 2 books in one. The chapters do not run consecutively. They run concurrently. To see them running consecutively is a pitfall and a landmine.

Chapters 6 to 11 is one. Chapters 12 to 16 is the other. Its a vision of history being unfolded from when John received the vision. Example we are now in the period in Revelation 11:15 that is the 7th and final trumpet. This ties in exactly with chapter 16:17 the last vial. The important message here for us is in 16:15 AND TO KEEP HIS GARMENTS.

Worth a good look at EPHESIANS 5:27 "That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing: but that it should be holy and without blemish."

When someone important is coming to visit, should not one prepare oneself?

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