The redeemed satisfied
In Revelation chapter 5 we read of a most unusual choir - one that is made up of 'the four living creatures' (verse 8), 'the twenty-four elders' (verse 8), 'many angels' (verse 11) and 'every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea' (verse 13). That is quite a choir!
This choir sings 'a new song' (verse 9) which consists of three stanzas. The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders join together in singing the first stanza. They are joined in the second stanza by all the angels. And finally, all of creation joins together in the third stanza. This is no small thing. Here we are confronted with a mighty, swelling anthem from an innumerable throng.
The four living creatures are of that high order of angels know as 'cherubim'. They have been previously described by the apostle John as being in strength like the lion, in ability to render service like the ox, in intelligence and purpose like man and in swiftness to serve like the eagle (Revelation 4:7).
The twenty-four elders represent the saints of all the ages. Combining the twelve patriarchs of the Old Testament with the twelve apostles of the New Testament gives us this representative number.
The source of their satisfaction - Jesus has taken the scroll
Notice how the saints refer to themselves in this refrain. They call themselves the 'redeemed' and 'kings and priests'. They have been plucked from the bondage of sin and elevated to the exalted level of serving as kings and priests. And, note it well, they ascribe all this to the Lord Jesus Christ and his atoning death on the cross. It is all through that cross that was erected back there in eternity past!
That redeeming work is presented in John's vision in terms of a scroll. Speculation has abounded about this scroll. There are several details about it that we should note.
First, it is in the right hand of God, which is always associated in Scripture with his power and authority. The scroll has to relate to authority, or to carry authority.
Secondly, this scroll has writing on the inside and the reverse. This indicates that it deals with a matter so huge that it requires all space available to deal with it.
Thirdly, this scroll is said to be sealed with seven seals. These seals are arranged so that when each is broken a portion of the scroll my be unrolled and read. When all the seals are broken, the entire scroll may be read.
Finally, we are told that the scroll could only be opened and read by someone who was worthy to do so. 'A strong angel' asks, 'Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?' (verse 2). And, to John's deep dismay, 'No one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth' could be found even to look at the scroll, much less to open it and read it (verses 3-4).
What is this scroll? It is the sum of God's decrees with respect to the universe. It is God's purpose for the universe. William Hendriksen says this scroll 'represents God's eternal Plan, his decree which is all comprehensive'. Hendriksen adds, 'It symbolizes God's purpose with respect to the entire universe throughout history, and concerning all creatures in all ages and unto all eternity' (emphases are his).
If that scroll is not opened, God's purpose is not realized. But, thank God, there is one who has earned the right to open the book, to break the seals and to rule the universe according to God's plan. This one is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. He is ' the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David' (verse 5). When he came to earth he came as a descendant of Judah and of David. He came as a lion, which means he came to conquer all the foes that would thwart the purpose of God.
Who are these foes? Satan and all his forces, sin and death - all may be considered enemies of God's purpose.
How is it that Christ was able to conquer these foes? It was, amazingly enough, by coming in the capacity of 'a Lamb' (verse 6).
The lamb is, of course, the animal of sacrifice. It was offered up in the place of the one who offered it. It was put to death in his place. Although innocent, it was put to death, taking the penalty that was due to the offerer.
Lambs could not, of course, actually take the place of human beings, but they could picture or represent one who could and did actually take the place of sinners. Jesus Christ is that perfect Lamb. In this vision, John saw him with seven horns and seven eyes (verse 6). The number seven represents perfection, while horns are to be associated with power and eyes with discernment. The fact, then, that Christ appeared with seven horns and seven eyes means he is perfect in power and perfect in discernment. His perfect discernment is due to the fact that he has 'seven Spirits', that is, that he is perfectly filled with the Holy Spirit.
In his capacity as the perfect Lamb, Jesus Christ did everything that was necessary to remove the obstacles to God's plan. There on the cross he defeated Satan, he paid for the sins of his people and removed the penalty of eternal death.
That cross down through the centuries has been an object of ridicule, scorn and shame. In our day the blood of Christ is dismissed as a repugnant thing. To be saved by blood! Such a thing is, as far as many are concerned, utterly disgusting and revolting. How unsophisticated and barbaric! This attitude has brought enormous pressure upon the people of God to be ashamed of the cross, to push it into the background in order to accommodate the intellectual sophistication of the age. And that pressure has always been there for the people of God.
But now at last, in the scene depicted in Revelation 5, the tides of time have broken on the shore of eternity, and the people of God enjoy the fruits of what that cross was all about. And, overwhelmed by it all, they break out into this song. This is the song of the satisfied! They look upon God the Father who planned, they look upon the Son who executed, they look upon God the Spirit who applied, and the testimony of their united hearts is: 'He has done all things well.'
So God's purpose for the universe is realized through Christ's conquering, atoning death. And what is that purpose? We find it right here in the swelling anthem of this massive choir. God's purpose is to bring everything to this point of convergence - all creation joining together in acknowledgement that Jesus Christ is Lord of all.
There is nothing grander than God's plan of redemption. It is so grand and glorious that it will be the object of praise and worship in eternity. And eternity itself will not suffice to offer all the praise that is due to the Christ who purchased it.
JOURNEY TO THE CROSS, by Roger Ellsworth, Copyright 1997, EVANGELICAL PRESS.