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Revelation 5:1-5 by Robert Dean
Series:Revelation (2004)
Duration:49 mins 20 secs

Divine Redemption of the Planet. Rev. 5:1-5


Chapters four and five are basically the first act in the most dramatic presentation we have of the end times of human history as revealed to the apostle John and recorded for us in what is known as the Apocalypse or the Revelation given to John by the Lord Jesus Christ. The first three chapters relate to past and current events in human history. Then in chapter four the scene shifts to heaven. We have a new act and this act begins in the future as John is taken up to heaven, "after these things." John says "I looked," in verse one, a key verb. The next time we have a verb related to seeing is in 5:1, "and I saw." It is a succession of events. If we think of this as a dramatic event, as a play and we have an act, then what we have in chapter four is the setting of the stage. It is a description of what John sees when he is taken into heaven through the opened door of 4:1. That stands, as it were, as a picture if the Rapture of the church. What John sees is a picture of God sitting upon His throne as the supreme judge of the universe. This sets the tone for the rest of Revelation. The book of revelation is a book about divine judgment in history, it is a book which ends with the final judgment of all evil in human history and the restriction and condemnation of evil to the lake of fire. So it is a book that focuses on judgment. In that way it gives us hope because one of the things that many people wrestle with today is the presence of evil and the presence of undeserved suffering. When this takes place we often wonder if there is ever going to be an ultimate accountability for those who continue to thumb their nose at God, as it were, and yet they seem to prosper. This is an answer to that question the psalmist would raise several times: "LORD, how long shall the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer?" There is something in us that recognizes that there is ultimately justice in the universe and that there must be an accountability. In the book of Revelation we see that that accountability may not take place in our lives but that ultimately there will be judgment and justice.


So in chapter four we have the description of the heavenly throne, and we see that there is a host of people surrounding the throne: the twenty-four elders sitting in thrones who are the resurrected, raptured church age believers who have already been rewarded at the judgment seat of Christ. Besides these 24 elders around the throne there are four living creatures, a category of angels related to God's righteousness and holiness. Then we see that whenever these four living creatures give glory to God the 24 elders fall down in worship of God, and we see that the first and foremost reason for worshipping God is because He is the creator and we are the creatures. Fundamental to understanding the dynamics of judgment is Revelation is the distinction between the creator and the creature. And there are two reasons for worshipping God in these two chapters, the first is because of His position as creator and the second is because of His work in redemption. There is an emphasis on worthiness in this chapter and so the focus is on the innate character of God and His work of redemption which comes from that.


Chapter four sets the stage and chapter five tells us what begins to happen, and this is done in five scenes indicated by the phrase, "And I saw."


Revelation 5:1 NASB "I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals." This scroll, through the seven seals that are securing it, comprises the remainder of the book of Revelation. Those seven seals are the seven seal judgments that begin the Tribulation. The seventh seal judgment is opened and it will reveal seven trumpet judgments. Then the seventh trumpet judgment will be opened and it will reveal seven bowl judgments. So these seven seals encompass the twenty judgments that are the scope of Revelation. The opening of the scroll entails the unfolding of twenty different judgments upon the planet.


The first issue that we have to address in terms of interpreting this particular passage in understanding the word "scroll." It is the Greek word BIBLION [biblion]. BIBLIOS is the word for book. That is where get our name for the Bible. The ending there indicates that it is a small book. It is used interchangeably, though with BIBLOS, so even though it is a diminutive form it does not necessarily mean a smaller book. It refers to a long or a lengthy written composition, usually on a scroll. Later the word refers to a book. There is some debate on whether or not this should be a book or a scroll, or a book in the sense of a codex. A codex is where they were taking manuscripts and then bind them together in something similar to the way a modern book is set up. But that didn't come into practice until the second century. We are talking about 95 AD here, so this would refer to a scroll and not to a book. A scroll is a roll of parchment or paper that you would write or paint on. It was usually of some length. It could be short or long and the ends were wound around wooden sticks. Unlike what is often portrayed in films it was not opened from top to bottom, it was opened from right to left. It was made of papyrus which was manufactured from something like a bull rush, pounded out into single sheets that were about ten inches by eight. The sheets were then joined together horizontally. They would score the page in three columns.


To give an idea of how long some of these scrolls would be, an epistle such as II John or III John, or Jude and Philemon, which are one-chapter books of the Bible, would occupy about one sheet of papyrus. Romans, on the other hand would require a roll approximately eleven and a half feet in length. The Gospel of Mark would have been 19 feet long, the Gospel of John 23-1/2 feet long, Matthew would be 30 feet long, Luke and Acts would have each been about 32 feet in length, and the book of Revelation would take up about a 15-feet long scroll.


The scrolls were typically written on on the front and the back. On one side the grain of the papyrus would run horizontally. That was the primary side for writing. It was not common to write on the back side. Usually in some types of documents what they would do would be to have technical language inside, if it was a contract, then it would be rolled up. Then on the outside they would simply give a summary of what was on the inside, especially if the information on the inside was to be kept somewhat private, then there would just be a title on the outside.


As we look at several passages in the Old Testament, remember a key principle for interpreting Revelation is that the events, the people, the symbols in Revelation are not new. Everything we find in Revelation has its precedent in the Old Testament. We always have to go back to the Old Testament to understand what is happening. Not all of what is given in Revelation happened in the Old Testament but the people, the events and the symbols come from the Old Testament.


Ezekiel 2:9 NASB "Then I looked, and behold, a hand was extended to me; and lo, a scroll {was} in it." So this concept of God handing a scroll to the prophet has a precedent here. [10] "When He spread it out before me, it was written on the front and back, and written on it were lamentations, mourning and woe."


A number of suggestions have been made concerning the nature of this scroll but the thing that fits the context of Scripture and backgrounds the best is that this was some sort of legal document. The fact that it was sealed with seven seals is consistent with a Roman practice of securing their legal documents, especially title deeds and real estate contracts. Marriage contracts would be sealed up this way as well as rental and lease agreements, contracts for the release of slaves, etc. So this tells us that this was some kind of legal contract. Of course, when we start talking about legal contracts the word that comes to mind is a covenant. So immediately we ought to be thinking in terms covenant when we talk about this and what the background is related to that.


Another Old Testament passage that has some parallels to this is Jeremiah 32:10-14. Again we have a contract scroll and it is a title deed, giving us another clue to perhaps understanding what is happening in Revelation. [10] NASB "I signed and sealed the deed, and called in witnesses, and weighed out the silver on the scales. [11] Then I took the deeds of purchase, both the sealed {copy containing} the terms and conditions and the open {copy;} [12] and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch the son of Neriah, the son of Mahseiah, in the sight of Hanamel my uncle's {son} and in the sight of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, before all the Jews who were sitting in the court of the guard. [13] And I commanded Baruch in their presence, saying, [14] Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, 'Take these deeds, this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, that they may last a long time.'" This shows that they would preserve these contracts.


So as we begin to try to decipher and understand the meaning and significance of this scroll we have to keep three things in mind. First of all, the Bible is a unified whole from beginning to end. It is a unified whole of God's thought but it is given incrementally. We have to understand that these were not written just haphazardly or randomly without connection; they all connect. There is a theme that flows thorough all of the books of the Bible, an internal connection. So we must remember that earlier revelation provides the background for understanding later revelation. The events, the people and the symbols of Revelation are to be understood by previous revelation. That is very important because the fact that this scroll that is being opened in 5:1 bears the mark of a title deed it takes us back to some important revelation from the Old Testament. 


If we read the Mosaic law, which is the temporary covenant that God gave to Israel prior to the time that they would go into the land that God had promised unconditionally and permanently to Abraham, as they get ready to go into the land God gives them specific revelation in the Mosaic law as to how to handle the land, how to deal with ownership of the land. What happens if somebody has land assigned to them and they can't keep it up so they need to sell it. What happens if a foreigner, a non-Jew comes into the land and sees a piece of real estate that they want to buy. Can they do it? What happens of you want to sell your land because of inheritance issues or some other pressure to some other tribe? Can you do this or can you not? So these kinds of things are spelled out in the Mosaic law. The Mosaic law itself is written in a specific contract form. That is important to understand because of what is known today as a suzerain-vassal treaty. A suzerain is a term for a great king or lord or emperor or head of an empire who would enter into a contract with subordinate nations. It was a conditional type of contract. The suzerain-vassal treaty form also has parallels to some other biblical contracts, so we have to understand a basic principle.


The contracts, the covenants that were developed in the ancient world were not invented and they did not originate from man. They came from God. God is the first one we see who established contracts or covenants in the Old Testament. Genesis chapter one sets forth the obligations of man in terms of his position as the image-bearer of God. All of this smacks of this suzerain-vassal treaty type of terminology. Human contracts are modelled on the fact that from the very beginning God structured His relationship with man in terms legal contracts/covenants. Man is created in the image and likeness of God. Man is supposed to be God's vicegerent, he represents God, rules over the planet in God's place as God's representative. That is the essence of the terminology "image and likeness," he is to represent God as His image and rule creation. His responsibility to take care of His people was real estate. Man was supposed to take care of this piece of real estate called planet earth and there was only one stipulation: that he couldn't eat from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If he did there was a penalty. Contracts have penalties for their violation. So when Adam disobeyed God and ate from the tree the contract had to be modified. The first modification was the Adamic covenant in Genesis 3:14-19. Adam was to rule over creation, but now what has happened? The ground gets cursed, the woman who is the child-bearer is going to have pain and suffering in childbearing. The animals are now going to be in antagonism with man. So all of the areas of primary responsibility in the first covenant are in difficulty. There is corruption that has entered into every aspect of the universe, not just man's separation from God; nature is now corrupted because of the fall. Then there is another judgment that comes along called the flood, and that calls for a second modification of the original creation covenant, the Noahic covenant.


The reason we go into this is because the suzerain-vassal treaty contract that we call the Mosaic law has basic principles related to real estate sales, contracts and management that relate specifically back to the overall structure that we get out of the beginning of genesis.


1)  The land was not to be owned by Israel; the land was owned by God. Leviticus 25:23 NASB "The land, moreover, shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are {but} aliens and sojourners with Me." What God is saying is that Israel is a tenant. They have temporary delegated ownership but ultimately the land belonged to God.

2)  Israel was a tenant to the Lord.

3)  No land could be sold permanently because ultimately the Lord owned the land.

4)  Temporary transfer of tenant responsibilities or sale could take place, but it wasn't permanent. It would revert back to the original tenant at the year of Jubilee. Leviticus 25:28.

5)  The transfer from one tribe to another was prohibited.

6)  After the land title or tenant responsibility was sold or transferred it could be redeemed at any time by the kinsman-redeemer, the goel. It is ultimately a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ who is our kinsman-redeemer. So we begin to see the significance of this whole real estate transaction as it relates to a kinsman redeemer. Leviticus 25:25 NASB "If a fellow countryman of yours becomes so poor he has to sell part of his property, then his nearest kinsman is to come and buy back what his relative has sold. [26] Or in case a man has no kinsman, but so recovers his means as to find sufficient for its redemption."


When a sale took place then two copies of the sale contract were made. One was kept by the purchaser and one went on permanent file in the temple. In some cases the purchaser might not take immediate possession of the land. So usurpers move in and take over the land. When this happened, eventually when the kinsman-redeemer decided to come back and to claim the land he would have to bring a contract with him to prove that he was the rightful owner of the land. So at that time he would take that copy of the scroll, the real estate contract, and he would have to break the seals in order to open the scroll which would prove that he was the rightful owner of the land.


For the kinsman-redeemer to take the land he had to fulfil two basic responsibilities. The first was, he had to pay the redemption price; the second, that he would have to take possession, and by doing so he would have to evict the usurpers who had come in and squatted on his property.

Let's apply this to God's ownership of the earth. God owns the earth; mankind, the human race, is simply the tenant. Man was created in the image of God to rule as God's vicegerent on the earth, to represent God. The original intent was that man was to possess the earth as his eternal possession, but man abdicated his rulership when he fell into sin in the garden. Satan took over as the ruler of planet earth, and this is recognized by Satan in Luke 4:6 when he is tempting the Lord Jesus Christ over the kingdoms of the earth. There is no debate over the fact that he has a right to them. [6] "And the devil said to Him, 'I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. [7] Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours.'" 2 Corinthians 4:4 calls Satan the god of this age; John 12:31, Jesus recognizes him as the present ruler of this world; Ephesians  2:2, the apostle Paul says that he is the prince of the power of the air. He is the usurper who has come in as squatters rights and is trying to establish his kingdom on planet earth, but he does not have the title deed. The title deed goes back to the original owner which is God.

So the land when Adam sinned became cursed and came under judgment. Genesis 3:17-19. It affected everything. The earth is currently under that curse and awaiting redemption. Romans 8:19 NASB "For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God." That is when church age believers return with Jesus Christ at the second coming to finalize the taking control of the planet back to God. [20] "For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope [21] that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God." Redemption isn't just talking about the fact that Christ paid the penalty for our sins on the cross. Redemption is talking about the fact that Christ paid the penalty for sin on the cross, so that as a result of the payment of that redemption price the consequences of sin throughout the universe, not just in terms of individual redemption and salvation, but in terms of the redemption of the planet, takes place. [22] "For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now [23]…. waiting eagerly for {our} adoption as sons, the redemption of our body." So all of this fits together and has a future orientation.

What were the two things that the kinsman-redeemer had to do? He had to pay the redemption price; he had to come and take possession of the land. The redemption price is paid for on the cross. 1 Peter 1:18 NASB "knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, [19] but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, {the blood} of Christ." The Lamb: cf. Revelation 5, the Lamb of God. The second thing the kinsman redeemer has to do is to return and take control of the real estate. This is what happens when Jesus Christ returns to open the scroll which is sealed with seven seals, the judgments that must take place in order to evict the usurper from the planet. When he opens the last seal and we have the final judgment, the seventh bowl judgment when the Lord Jesus Christ returns to the planet, this is when we return with Him. This is when redemption tales place, when He kicks out the Antichrist, the false prophet, Satan is bound for a thousand years, and He takes title to the planet and establishes His kingdom.

So when we read in Revelation 5:1 that there is a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals, don't just think of this as a book that is going to tell us about the end. This is the title deed to the planet.