Seven Sealed Scroll
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26. Seven Sealed Scroll
Revelation 5.1-5

"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. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, 'Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?' But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. 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 can open the scroll and its seven seals.'" (Revelation 5.1-5)

Unrolled Before Me

Open ScrollJohn of Patmos is seeing a similar vision to what he has most likely read in Ezekiel 2.9-10, "Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe." In John of Patmos' day, letters are written on papyrus or animal hide. Calfskin is called "vellum" and "parchment" is another term for this material but skin from other animals. Animal hide pieces of papyrus or vellum are sewn up to 30 feet long, rolled up and sealed with clay or wax. The scroll which John sees of the Revelation book could be about 15 feet long in the estimate of Dr. William Barclay, (1907-1978) the eminent Bible Commentator and author.

Dead Sea

Ancient ScrollWe note that the seven-sealed scroll in the hand of God is a roll and not a book. This is similar to the Dead Sea Scrolls from the last three centuries BC which were found in a desert cave high above the north shore of the Dead Sea. In the ancient world, down to the second century AD, the principal form of literary work is the roll, not the book. "The scroll" is normally made of papyrus or vellum, manufactured in single sheets of about ten by eight inches. The sheets are sewn together to form a long roll and placed on a wooden roller for easy reading. The Revelation papyrus scroll with seven seals is estimated to be fifteen feet long to contain the entire text of this Biblical book. Scholars tell us that the writing on the Revelation papyrus scroll would probably be in narrow columns about three inches wide, with margins of about two and a half inches at the top and at the bottom, with about three-quarters of an inch between the columns. A papyrus scroll commonly has a wooden roller protruding at top and bottom. It is held in the left-hand, unrolled with the right, and as the reading proceeds, the left-hand roller is turned to take up the slack.

Fifteen Feet Long

Throne of GodWe may get some idea of the dimensions of the Revelation papyrus, or scroll, from the following statistics from the Scottish scholar Dr. William Barclay (1907-1978). "The Epistles of Second and Third John, Jude and Philemon would occupy one sheet of papyrus each. Romans would require a roll 11 1/2 feet long. Mark's Gospel was about 19 feet long, John's Gospel about 23 feet long, Matthew's Gospel about 30 feet long. The Luke and Acts roll would be about 32 feet long. The Revelation scroll would occupy about 15 feet." Such a scroll is in the hand of the one who sits on the throne. The book of Revelation's papyrus writing scroll is written on both sides and sealed with seven seals. Papyrus is made from the pith of a bulrush which grows in the delta of the River Nile. The bulrush grows up to fifteen feet high, with six feet of it below the water and it's stem sometimes as thick as a person's wrist. The pith for the papyrus writing scrolls was extracted and cut into thin strips with a very sharp knife.

On Both Sides

Papyrus PlantA row of strips of papyrus is laid vertically, and on top of them, another row of strips laid horizontally. The whole is then moistened with water, glued and pressed together. The word "Papyrus," by the way, is the origin of the English word "paper," but the paper itself is said to have been invented by a Chinese eunuch, inventor and politician named "Cai Lun" (48-121 AD) around 100 AD. Cai Lun is said to have been inspired for making paper from watching paper wasps build their nests. Around 2000 BC, the Babylonians placed papyrus documents in envelopes made of baked clay some of which survive today! Papyrus writing scrolls are beaten with a mallet and then smoothed with a pumice stone, to produce a sheet, not unlike brown paper. In Egypt today, beautiful colorful papyrus souvenirs like bookmarks and paintings are sold to tourists showing hieroglyphic writing and colorful tomb paintings.

Scroll Writing

Papyrus PaintingScroll writing is believed to have been written on both sides of the valuable papyrus to make the most of the space available. Revelation's scroll writing would be on one side where the grain of the papyrus ran horizontally. That side is known as the "recto." On that side, it is easier to write with the lines of the fibers. The side on which the fibers ran vertically is called the "verso" and is not commonly used for writing except in certain extreme circumstances. Papyrus is an expensive substance and very valuable in its day. So, if a person has a great deal to write, he probably writes as in Revelation's scroll writing "on the front and the back." This reminds me of the diaries of prisoners of war in Japan which are written on both sides of sheets of toilet paper for the same reason. In those times, when paper or papyrus is expensive or valuable, people write in both directions on the front and back just to save space. Some Victorian lover's letters were even written on the diagonal in both directions as well!

Scroll of Wills

Seal for ScrollRevelation's seven seals are fastened to the scroll in the right hand of him who sits on the throne. As the seals are opened so events unfold. Seven seals join up the parts of the Revelation scroll. In Daniel 12.4 the prophet is told to seal up the prophecy and seal the book, "But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased." When the writing is finished, the scroll is tied with threads and these are sealed at the knots with wax, called in Greek, "sphragida." There are ten occurrences in the New Testament of this word, eight of which come from Revelation. In each case, it is translated as "seal," "a seal of righteousness" or "chain." Romans 4.11 is translated as, "And he received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised." 2 Timothy 2.9 says, "This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God's word is not chained." "Each seal has different images pressed into the wax possibly indicating the identity of each of the witnesses. Like Revelation's seven seals, ordinary documents such as wills are often fastened with several seals. Important kings often have seven seals on their wills like the revelation one. Revelation's seven seals contain secret information known only to God. The Lamb is found worthy to open the scroll and look at the contents. Under Roman law, the witnesses to a will seal it with their seals, and it can only be opened when all of them or their legal representatives are present. The scroll in Revelation is what we might describe as God's will, his final settlement of the affairs of the universe. The "seven seals" indicate the great secrecy, the completeness, and the importance of its contents and mark the conditions under which they may be opened. The seven seals are located throughout the scroll so that as each one is broken another phase of God's plan takes place, then more of the scroll is read to reveal other steps towards the end of the age.

Lion Tribe Judah

Lion of JudahThe "Lion of the tribe of Judah" is a title for Jesus who is able and qualified to open the seven seals. "The Lion of Judah" which was a title for King David, could alone accomplish God's salvation by opening the scroll. "A mighty angel," asks, "who is worthy to open the scroll?" There is despair at first when no one in Creation can do it. But John of Patmos is comforted by an elder who tells him that Christ earns the right to open the scroll. "The Lion of the tribe of Judah" seems to originate as an ancient title for the "Messiah" in Genesis 49.9 saying when Jacob blessed his sons, "You are a lion's cub, Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness — who dares to rouse him?" In the Book of Revelation, "The Lion" is no other than the conquering King Jesus. He proves himself worthy to break the seals and open the scroll by living a perfect life of obedience to God, dying on the cross for the sins of the world, and rising from the dead to show his power and authority. "The Root of David" here refers to Jesus being from David's bloodline, thus fulfilling the promise of the Messiah in the Old Testament. Isaiah 11.1-3a explains, "A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse, from his roots, a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him - the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord — and he will delight in the fear of the Lord." Remember, Jesse is the father of King David from who Jesus is descended. Jesus Christ is presented as "the Lion" from the ancient line of kings of Judah symbolizing his authority and power. The role of Christ as the Lion of Judah will be to lead the battle when Satan is finally defeated. Christ the Lion of Judah will then be the supreme victor!

"Seven Sealed Scroll"
by Ron Meacock © 2019

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