Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:00

The Vision of the Sealed Book

Written by Rev. C. Pronk
in we stand at the beginning of another year and ask familiar questions such as, "What is going to happen this year? What does the future hold for the world, for the Church, our families and ourselves?" The answer, of course, is that we human beings don't know what lies ahead. Only God knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10). There is, however, one Man who shares this knowledge with God: the Man Christ Jesus. This comforting truth was communicated to the apostle John in the vision of the sealed book recorded in Revelation 5.

John tells us that he saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne "a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals." The reference here is to a scroll made up of sheets of papyrus and joined edge to edge with a kind of glue. This particular scroll was written on both sides. This was most unusual and probably calculated to draw attention. The idea conveyed here is that the content of this scroll is complete. Nothing can be added to it and nothing may be taken away from it.

What was written on that scroll? No doubt everything that would come to pass between Christ's Ascension and His Second Coming. John further noticed that the book was sealed with seven seals. This means that the scroll was in seven parts, each of which was kept in place by an individual seal. It could thus be opened only one section at a time, as each seal was removed. Seven in Scripture is the number of perfection or completeness. The scroll is completely sealed so as to hide its contents from view.

Next, John sees an angel coming forward who says with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?" It is an invitation, or rather a challenge. to anyone, whether in heaven or on earth, to come forward and open the book by breaking its seals. The challenge resounds throughout the universe. But no one presents himself. In verse 3 we read, "And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon." At this John begins to weep profusely, "because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon"(v.4).

Why is John so sad? Because he is disappointed. If the book remains sealed, if no one will break its seals, the promises of God to His Church will not be fulfilled and the kingdom of Christ will not come. There will be no end to the persecutions and other trials and tribulations of Christians. The cause of Christ and the Gospel will be defeated. John has every reason to be distressed. If God does not control the world and everything that happens, life is meaningless and history is an enigma.

The early Christians were perplexed. Here they were, disciples of Jesus Christ, Who they believed had conquered Satan and triumphed over death and the grave. Yet, what did they see of this victory? There were many questions. How to reconcile the frightful persecutions with the power and wisdom and goodness of God? Why did He permit all this suffering?

The same or similar questions have been asked over and over again in every" generation, including our own. Today, Christianity is going through a process of rapid decline and the Church is increasingly being marginalized and viewed as irrelevant. At least, this is the situation in the formerly "Christian West." Who takes the Bible seriously? Who still believes that the future is in God's hands? Who believes that this world has any future at all?

For a millennium and a half, our Western civilization has been influenced and shaped by the Christian view of history" set forth by St. Augustine in his book The City of God. According to this view, history" has a divinely ordained goal inseparably connected to the redemptive work of Christ. Since the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, Western thinkers have rejected this Biblical view of history. Especially in our century, not only the Christian concept of a purposeful and meaningful history", but even its secularized version, has been set aside by many. The evolutionary notion of inevitable progress, so popular in the nineteenth century", has lost much of its appeal in the wake of two horrible world wars and the continuous genocidal eruptions all over the globe. Some of our greatest minds today are prophets of doom, who see nothing but darkness ahead.

The problem of the meaning, purpose and goal of history has become one of the most disturbing and insoluble problems of our time. This pessimistic attitude has even penetrated the thinking of theologians who consider themselves Christian. One of them, Rudolph Bultmann, wrote about forty years ago: We cannot claim to know the end and goal of history". Therefore, the question of meaning in history has become meaningless.

It is tempting to give in to such gloomy thoughts, because there seems to be so much evidence to support them. When we look around us we do indeed see but very little evidence of Christ"s victory over Satan, and the forces of evil are rampant. But as Christians we must learn to live not by sight but by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7).

John"s disappointment and dismay, real and keenly felt though they are, do not last long. Presently, one of the elders approaches him saying, "Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof" (vs.5). The lion of the tribe of Judah refers to Genesis 49, where we have the account of Jacob blessing his sons on his deathbed. When he comes to Judah he says, "Judah is a lion"s whelp". The lion is a symbol of royal power Judah, therefore, was the royal tribe and out of him would come forth the true Lion who would rule over the people of God and conquer their enemies.

He is also referred to as the "Root of David". Christ is both the offspring of David and his root In Isaiah 11, the royal house of David is compared to a tree which is cut down, but since the root remains, it will sprout again and produce the Branch: Christ.

When John looks up, however, he sees standing by the throne, not a lion but a lamb as though it had been slain, with its throat cut. Clearly, this points to the sacrificial death of Christ as the Lamb of God. His death, however, does not suggest weakness, but rather strength. This is brought out by the fact that John sees the lamb standing. Christ was slain, but He still lives. He has triumphed over death.

It was this lamb-like Lion and this lion-like Lamb that came to the throne and took the book out of the hand of him who sat on it. He alone is worthy to break the seals of the book of God"s counsel. This means that the future of the Church is in the pierced hands of Christ. Because God has given to Him all power in heaven and on earth, Christ is able to bring to fulfilment everything that is written in that book with its seven seals. As that book passes from God"s hand into that of Christ, the government is transferred to Him. Upon His ascension Christ took over the reins of that government. He is Lord of the Universe!

Even though it cannot always be seen that Christ rules, it is true, nevertheless, and by faith we rejoice in that fact. No wonder there is jubilation in heaven! When it is seen that Christ holds the key to unlock the secret thoughts and purposes of God, the choir made up of the four beasts and the twenty-four elders, break out into a doxology. "And they sang a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation" (vs.9).

The Lamb is glorified by representatives of the realm of nature and the realm of grace. Especially the twenty-four elders, representing the Church of the Old and New Testaments, have cause for rejoicing. They praise the Lamb as sinners saved by grace!

John says that they had hams and golden vials or bowls full of odours which are the prayers of saints. The reference here Is to what went on in the Old Testament temple service. There was an altar of incense standing before the inner veil. On it, fresh incense was daily offered to God by the priests. Just as the sweet aroma of the incense went up from the altar to the mercy seat, so the prayers of the saints ascend to the throne of God. They are prayers of thanksgiving for redemption accomplished and applied. These saints express their gratitude to God for providing a sacrifice for their sins and for having been redeemed by that sacrifice. They have not only been redeemed from their sins; they have also been redeemed unto God, to know, love, serve and enjoy Him.

"What is the chief end of man", the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks? The answer 15: To know God and to enjoy Him forever. Is that not worth singing about? The new song of the redeemed thrilled John's soul, as it does the soul of all God's blood-bought saints. Some day, all believers in Christ will take their places in that heavenly choir The Lion of the tribe of Judah will make sure of that. Everything that happens in history, big events, small events, things that make sense to us and things that don't, all must contribute to that great goal: the final salvation of the Church for which the Lamb of God laid down His life.

God's people have been saved, are being saved and shall be saved. He who has begun a good work in you, says Paul, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6). It is toward that momentous Day that history is moving, and the signs of the times point to a rapid movement toward that goal.

Christ was found worthy to open the Book of God's counsel. How many of the seven seals has He broken already? We cannot know for sure. Maybe five or six? It is not impossible that He is about to break the seventh and final seal. In that case, He will be here soon Surely, I come quickly, He has said. May our response be the same as John's: "Even so, come Lord Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all," also in 1998.

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