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 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 used papyrus or animal hide. Calfskin is called "vellum," and "parchment" is another term for this material from other animals' skin. Animal hide pieces of vellum are sewn up to 30 feet long, rolled up, and sealed with clay or wax.

Dead Sea Scrolls

Ancient ScrollWe note that the seven-sealed scroll in the hand of God is a roll and not a book. This form is similar to the Dead Sea Scrolls from the last three centuries BC. Shepherds discovered the scrolls in 1946 and 1947 in 11 caves in pots in the desert high above the Dead Sea's north shore. In the ancient world, down to the second century AD, literary work is the roll, not the book. "The scroll" is usually made of papyrus or vellum, manufactured in single sheets of about ten by eight inches. The sewn together leaves form a long roll, placed on a wooden roller protruding at the top and bottom for easy reading. The Revelation seven sealed scroll contains the entire text of this Biblical book. Scholars tell us that the writing on the papyrus scroll would probably have been 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. It was held in the left-hand, unrolled with the right, and as the reading proceeds, the left-hand roller rotated 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 papyrus sheet 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. The pith of bulrushes growing in the River Nile delta produces the papyrus. A bulrush grows up to fifteen feet high, with six feet of it below the water, and its stem sometimes as thick as a person's wrist. The pith for the papyrus writing scrolls is extracted and cut into thin strips with a very sharp knife.

On Both Sides

Papyrus PlantThe row of papyrus strips lies vertically, and on top of them, another row lies 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 around 100 AD by a Chinese eunuch, inventor, and politician named "Cai Lun" (48-121 AD.) He made paper after watching paper wasps build their nests. Around 2000 BC, the Babylonians placed papyrus documents in envelopes made of baked clay, some of which survive to this day! 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 copies of hieroglyphic writing and colorful tomb paintings.

Scroll Writing

Papyrus PaintingScrolls are written on both sides of the valuable papyrus to maximize the available space. Revelation's scroll writing would be on one side where the grain of the papyrus runs 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 run vertically is called the "verso." Writers do not commonly use the verso side except in certain exceptional circumstances. Papyrus is an expensive substance and very valuable in its day. So, if a person has a great deal to say, they probably use, as in the Revelation scroll, "writing on both sides."

Precious Writing Space

For the same reason, prisoners of war in Japan wrote diaries on both sides of toilet paper sheets! When paper or papyrus was expensive or valuable, people wrote both directions on the front and back to save space. Some Victorian love letters were even written on the diagonal in both directions as well!

Scroll of Wills

Seal for ScrollRevelation's seven sealed scroll is held in the right hand of him who sits on the throne. As the seals open, events unfold. Seven seals join up the parts of the Revelation scroll. In Daniel 12.4, the prophet closes up the prophecy and seals 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 spread." On completion, the scroll is tied with threads and sealed in seven places 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 translates as "seal," "a seal of righteousness," or "chain." Romans 4.11 reads, "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." [Or "God's word is not sealed."] Each seal has different images pressed into the wax, possibly indicating the witnesses' identities. Like Revelation's seven seals, ordinary documents such as a will often have several seals. Important kings often have seven seals on their wills like Revelation. Revelation's seven sealed scroll contains 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 will seal it with their seals and only open it 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 universal affairs. The "seven seals" indicate the great secrecy, the completeness, and the importance of its contents and mark the conditions under which they open them. The seven seals are located throughout the scroll so that as each one breaks, another phase of God's plan occurs, then more of the manuscript is read to reveal other steps towards the end of the age.

Lion of Judah

Lion of JudahThe "Lion of the tribe of Judah" is a title for Jesus who alone can open Revelation's seven sealed scroll. "The Lion of Judah," which was a title for King David, could accomplish God's salvation. "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 fear of the Lord." Jesse was King David's father from whose line Jesus came. Jesus Christ is "the Lion" descended from Judah's ancient kings, symbolizing his authority and power. As the Lion of Judah, he will lead the battle when Satan is finally defeated. The Lion of Judah will then be the supreme victor!

"Seven Sealed Scroll"
by Ron Meacock © 2021

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