Revelation 5 — WHO IS WORTHY TO JUDGE THE WORLD?
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on May 10th, 2009. To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click on this link – Rev 5.
This morning we want to look at the issue of judgment. Most of us don’t talk much about judgment because of the abusive and judgmental way in which this topic has been handled. On a more personal note, we ourselves fear judgment because, even though we have new life in Christ, our sin persists. This morning we want to face this issue of judgment and confront these questions…
Why Would Anyone Want Judgment? “Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. 2And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?’ ”
We saw in Rev.4 that the vision of John in Rev.4-5 is very similar to Ezekiel’s vision (Ezek 1-2). It is important to note – as we get started that the visions in Revelation are, generally speaking, familiar from the OT.
First, these visions look back to the OT for meaning – so for instance, Ezekiel’s scroll (Ezek 2:9-10) has writing on both sides – is given to him by God in a similar vision – and it is a scroll of judgment, torment and woe (which means that this is also probably a scroll of judgment).
Secondly, however, the visions of the Revelation are expanded to carry new meaning – because of the work of Jesus – and on what is happening in the prophecy of the Revelation.
So we see this scroll and it is, based on Ezekiel, a scroll of judgment, woe and torment. Everyone seems to want this scroll to be opened. But if we are being honest – we need to stop and ask ourselves… Why? Why is John so anxious for this scroll of judgment of torment and woe to be opened? Does John, the Apostle Jesus loved, hate people?
The answer is that John has a better understanding of judgment than we do. We think of judgment only as a fiery cataclysm sweeping away everything we have loved and valued. We are afraid of judgment because , somewhere in the back of our minds, we think that we are probably going to be numbered with the goats rather than the sheep. But John realizes that until the earth is judged, it can never be healed. Human beings are always looking for answers to heal the world – but they don’t want judgment. Yet until there is judgment, death will always reign – illness – loss – sorrow. Until there is judgment, men and women will continue to be vicious, depraved, petty, broken, lost – separated from God. John understands this – that all things can only be set right if and when God comes to judge the earth.
Do Not Despair of Judgment: “But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. 4I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. ” No one is found who is worthy to open the scroll and bring about judgment to heal the earth – and John weeps in despair – because he longs for judgment.
In a different way, the modern church has also despaired of judgment. We have stopped talking about the judgment of God (although we still pass judgment on one another) – because we are embarrassed by it. We, who know that we are sinners – and who (as Romans 2 says), wrestle with the very same sins as the unredeemed – do not feel that we can tell others that they are going to be judged (except in the most extreme instances of evil). Theologically, we believe that God will judge the earth – but in our hearts we find it difficult to accept that judgment is a good thing, and so we are largely silent on the topic.
We have become watchmen on the wall who do not sound the alarm. Instead we despair of talking about or anticipating judgment as though God’s judgment were mean-spirited. In our hearts we ask the same question – Who is worthy to carry out the judgment of the earth?
Look at the Lamb! (Why the Lamb is Worthy to Judge and we are not)
The Lamb Has Compassion Because He Was Slain: “Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” 6Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain…”
The Lamb is worthy to judge the earth – first and foremost – because he gave his life and suffered death in order to offer human beings grace and compassion. He alone can take and open the scroll because he is the embodiment of God’s grace and compassion – God’s desire to heal human beings and bring them to glory. The lamb is not merely a demanding judge – he is the sacrifice who triumphed over sin by taking our judgment on himself.
What does this mean? It means that God has triumphed over our sin, through the cross, in order to show us compassion. We are compassionate when and how it suits us – but God has put judgment into the hands of the lamb who died to take our judgment – who justifies the wicked and forgives our sin. Consequently, we will stand before God and give an account of the deeds done in the body (2Cor.5) – but we will give our account to the Lamb whose blood has cleansed us from guilt – which is his victory.
The Lamb Has The Authority of God to Judge: “…standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns …”
There are three images of authority in this picture:
1. The fact that the Lamb is standing in the center of the throne of God.
2. The fact that the Lamb is encircled by the living creatures whose sole job is to protect the presence of and worship God.
3. The 7 horns – which are symbols of authority and power.
Taken together these three images suggest that the Lamb has the complete unquestioned authority of God the creator to judge. Only the one who Created all things can judge them – because he has the unique understanding and perspective of knowing why they were created and what they were created for – and Jesus is portrayed as the one who created all things (John 1:3).
We pass judgment on one another as mere creatures who cannot begin to understand how we should judge. But the Lamb understands what judgment should be and how it should be done.
The Lamb Knows/ Sees: “and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” The lamb alone can is worthy to judge because he alone can look out into all the earth – see the completeness of every situation – and down into the motives, weaknesses, desires, circumstances of every human heart – including ours. We judge by what we see and in accordance with our own agendas of self promotion from our own limited point of view. But the Lamb alone sees the truth of who we are and knows us and our neighbor, our enemy. The Lamb alone knows how to show justice and compassion and judge rightly. Every tongue will be stilled on the day of judgment because God’s judgments will be so obviously right – gracious – true – just.
Join the New Song of Judgment!
The Lamb Has Re-Tasked Judgment: “And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song: ’You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.’”
Notice that when the Lamb takes the scroll – the song changes to a new song that changes Ezekiel’s scroll of torment and woe into a song of redemption. The Lamb has re-tasked judgment.
In other words, the Lamb has changed judgment from the destruction of God’s enemies into the offer of redemption for God’s enemies. Even the former enemies of God are made into priests – mediators who can speak for God and offer the message of grace.
Judgment has become a “new song” for us. When we speak about judgment we do not speak merely about the judgment of sin and the destruction of this world – but now we speak about the offer of the Lamb to redeem the world – and to redeem even the enemies of God – through his blood.
Rejoice in the Judgment of the Lamb: “Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12In a loud voice they sang: ’Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!’ 13Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: ’To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” 14The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.’”
Judgment – as the chapter closes out – has become a great celebration – a reason to worship – a recognition that God’s judgment – far from being mean-spirited or petty or merely terrifying – is going to be Good – glorious – full of mercy and joy for those who are in Jesus Christ.
This is the new song – and we should “sing it” – make it part of our conversation and look forward to it in joyful expectation.