John is called “up hither.” In my theatre analogy this would be like being upgraded to a seat in the ‘gods’. He hears two songs sung in these chapters, one of creation (ch. 4) and the other of redemption (ch. 5). This is another panoramic view of God’s history of the world, from a time long ago when He, through Christ, The Word, created of all things, to John’s current time when Christ, The Lamb, had commenced his redemptive work on earth. It therefore also goes beyond John’s day as the full and final outcome of that redemptive work still awaits.
A scroll is produced, clearly it is the narrators script, and according to the previous announcement it contains, “things that must shortly come to pass.” The story on the scroll is about to begin. However, the scroll is sealed up and there is only one person who is worthy, from the beginning of creation to the current redemption era, only The Lamb is accounted worthy and He alone has the authority to unseal the scroll and reveal the path ahead. The scroll is written on both sides. This is unusual and it indicates to us that the unfolding story is going to be one with overlapping chronology. Many other parts of our Bible have overlapping story lines, even from the very start, in the book of Genesis we have a summary of creation followed a short while after by some of the finer detail of that same creation story. Not two different creation accounts, as some have erringly concluded but a repetition and reiteration from different angles. The coming ‘acts’ of the play are complex and have been written for experienced theatre goers with a knowledge of other epic tales.
(NOTE: The names used for precious stones vary in different Bible translations)
Exodus 28 lists 12 precious stones embedded in the breastplate of the high priest. Taken in order as representing the twelve sons of Jacob, in order of their birth, means that the first two mentioned, jasper and sardius, represent the youngest (Benjamin) to the oldest (Reuben). The rainbow is like emerald we are told. Perhaps hard to picture as we normally associate rainbows with multiple colours. Also, bear in mind that rainbows, in reality, are not ‘rainbow shaped’ as we mostly tend to see them. When viewed from above rainbows are full circles – circles, circumcision and covenant all come to mind, speaking of God’s covenant of mercy and salvation. Emerald is the fourth stone in the breastplate and the fourth son is Judah. So, we see Israel represented by the youngest and oldest and Judah is obviously key to the messianic plan emanating from the throne.
As just mentioned, Israel had twelve sons, who became the twelve tribes and later in Revelation we see the twelve apostles are foundations in the New Jerusalem. Twelve is the number of both Israel and the Church. The maths is simple. The number 24 is also used in connection with the tabernacle of David (1 Chron). This number is stamped throughout the order and organising of the priesthood and its functions in the time of King David. Twenty four seems to speak of governmental completeness.
John is told that it is a Lion (of the tribe of Judah) who is the qualifying one to open the seals on the scroll but when he looks he sees only a Lamb. Surely the Revelation of Jesus Christ is centrally about Him. We must know throughout the book that He is both Lion-like and Lamb-like. A key not only to Revelation but a lesson to remember throughout our Christian lives as we experience His working in us and through us.
Seven is so often the ‘number of God’. A number of covenant, perfection or completeness. The seven branch candlestick in the Holy place of the tabernacle/temple surely speaks of His purity and light. So maybe the seven spirits speak of the complete character of God. Alternatively, we are told in the letter to the Hebrews that God’s ministers, the angels, are “spirits sent forth.” Only two angels are specifically mentioned by name in the Bible but tradition, with some good reason (e.g. the book of Enoch), holds that there are seven arch angels. Either directly, or through seven angels, God has a complete eye on all things that happen on earth.