Revelation 5:1-7

The sealed scroll and the Lamb

And 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; and I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice,  “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?”  And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I wept much that no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.  Then one of the elders said to me, “Weep not; lo, the Lion of the tribe Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb standing as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth; and he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.



5:1-7.  The sealed scroll contains God’s mysterious plans for the salvation of mankind; no one on earth can disclose them.  Only the risen Christ can take the scroll and make its contents known.  On this account he is praised by the four living creatures, by the elders, by a whole host of angels and by all creation.

The image of a scroll (book) containing God’s hidden plans for mankind was used before, particularly by the prophet Daniel, who refers to a prophecy remaining sealed until the end of time.  St John uses this image to make the point that the End Time, the Last Days, have already begun with Christ, so now he can reveal God’s plans.  The fact that there are seven seals stresses the hidden nature of the scroll’s contents; and its being written on both sides shows its richness.

The author of the book of Revelation, and everyone in fact, really does need to know what is written on the scroll;  for, if he knows God’s plans he will be able to discover the meaning of life and cease to be anxious about events past, present and future.  Yet no one is able to open the scroll:  that is why the author weeps so bitterly.

The scroll is sealed; the Revelation of the salvation of mankind and the consolation of the Church is being delayed.  Soon, however, the seer ceases to weep, for he learns that Christ (Lion of the tribe of Judah and Root of David) has conquered and therefore is able to break the seven seals.

The Church contemplates Christ’s victory when it “believes that Christ, who died and was raised for the sake of all, can show man the way and strengthen him through the Spirit in order to be worthy of his destiny.  The Church likewise believes that the key, the center and the purpose of the Whole of man’s history is to be found in its Lord and Master.  In fact, it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear.  For Adam, the first man, was a type of him who was to come.  Christ the Lord, Christ the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling.”

Christ is able to open the scroll on account of his death and resurrection-an event symbolized by the Lamb standing upright and victorious and at the same time looking as though it had been immolated.  In the Fourth Gospel, John the Baptist calls Christ “the Lamb of God”; in the Apocalypse this expression is the one most often used to refer to him: he is the Lamb raised to the very height of God’s throne and has dominion over the entire cosmos.  This Christological title, which is a feature of St John’s writings, has great theological depth; the Church much reveres it, often using it in the liturgy-particularly in the Mass, after the kiss of peace when the Lamb of God is invoked three times; also, just before Holy Communion is distributed the host is shown to the faithful as him who takes away the sin of the world and those who are called to his marriage supper are described as “happy.”

The image of the Lamb reminds us of the Passover lamb, whose blood was smeared on the door frames of houses as a sign to the avenging angel not to inflict on Israelites the divine punishment being dealt out to the Egyptians.  St Paul refers to the Lamb in one of his letters:  “Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed.”  At a high point in the Old Testament prophecy Isaiah portrays the Messiah as the suffering Servant of Yahweh, “a lamb that is led to the slaughter.”  St Peter, on the basis of that text, states that our Lord “bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.”

The Lamb is a sacrifice for sin, but the Apocalypse also focuses attention on the victorious power of the risen Lamb by showing him standing on the throne, in the center of the vision; the horns symbolize his power and the eyes his knowledge, both of which he has to the fullest degree as indicated by the number seven.  The seven spirits of Christ also indicate the fullness of the Spirit with which Christ is endowed and which he passes on to his Church.  This completes the description of the risen Christ, who through his victory reveals the mystery of God.


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