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A Book Unsealed–A Meditation on Revelation 5


Copyright © 1983, 2015

by
Jim Kerwin

1And I saw in the right hand of Him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals.
2And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?”
3And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon.
4And one of the elders saith unto me, “Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.”
5And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.
6And He came and took the book out of the hand of Him that sat upon the throne.

Revelation 5:1-6

Open scroll. Blank scroll image copyright frenta / 123RF Stock Photo. Used under license. Adapted by Jim Kerwin

It is not my intention to do any prophetic interpretation of this passage. Whatever the Revelation of Jesus Christ may speak to us concerning the past or future, there is much in it that may illuminate and direct our hearts now. In my meditations on this passage, an allegorical truth was opened to my heart. I hope it will encourage you as it encouraged me.

A Quick History Lesson to Set Up the Picture

I want you to form in your mind the image of a book. No, don’t picture it as a discount-priced, glossy-covered paperback from Barnes & Noble. You also need to dispel the mental photo of a beautifully-crafted, gilt-edged volume from the Folio Society. The Apostle John wrote this Revelation 5 scene long before books were separated into pages and bound; thus knowing a little history would help us to “see” what he saw in the Spirit.

The most recognizable ancestors of today’s books were written on long scrolls (often twenty to thirty feet long) of papyrus. Thin slices of the papyrus reed were laid lengthwise and other layers would be laid crosswise. Moistened with water, they were flattened and dried, then rubbed smooth. The “sheets” that resulted were joined into long strips, which, for storage purposes were rolled up, then unrolled for writing or reading. Letters or epistles were smaller, but rolled up in the same way.

Over three centuries before John wrote the Revelation, a “technological breakthrough” occurred in book writing. Around the beginning of the Third Century BC the Greeks began to use a more durable medium called “parchment.” (The word “parchment” is derived from the name of the “Revelation city” of Pergamos [Revelation 1:11, 2:12-17], where the process of making it was first discovered.) The untanned hides of sheep, goats, or cows were soaked and cleaned of animal hair, scraped and smoothed on both sides of the skin, and finally rubbed with powdered pumice to create parchment. These hides, too, were joined together into long scrolls.

It may be of interest to note that by around 200 BC the rabbis required that copies of the Sacred Text be written on parchment, rather than on papyrus. Thus, it is my guess that what John saw was a parchment scroll. But whether it was parchment or papyrus, when the inspired writers of Holy Scripture speak of books or writing, this is the type of book they envision.

Here’s something else worth mentioning. To the writers of Scripture a book was a rare and valuable thing, the no-two-alike, personally-crafted work of a dedicated scribe/artisan. Being handwritten, a book was time-consuming and labor-intensive to produce, and, thus, expensive. A book might cost more than a common man’s yearly wages, making it a highly-prized possession.

Your Heart Is A Book, Too

Now that you can see in your mind’s eye the kind of book John saw, you’re ready to take the next step. Picture, if you will, the human heart—your heart—as a letter or a book, a very valuable, one-of-a-kind, handwritten scroll. This isn’t a fanciful analogy, for the Scriptures teach us to think of our hearts in this way.

“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel in those days, saith the Lord; I will put My laws into their mind, and write them in their heart: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to Me a people.”

Hebrews 8:10; Jeremiah 31:33

“Ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, butwith the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.”

2 Corinthians 3:3

As we live our life apart from God and in sin, the writing in our heart-book becomes dark and ominous, and sin after sin is recorded there in large, plain letters. This is the guilt of our transgressions against God written out, the acts of rebellion of which God’s Law and His righteousness justly accuse us. Those indictments all cry out for a death penalty, for in speaking through His prophets, the Lord declares, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4, 20).

And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: …and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.

Revelation 20:12

What “books” are they which God opens at the dreadful Judgment? Perhaps they are human hearts. Perhaps our consciences, however ignored they might be, act as faithful recorders of our sins. Perhaps on That Day, these records in the human heart are the evidence the Just Judge reads out to condemn the guilty, for God will “bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts” (1 Corinthians 4:5) “in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ” (Romans 2:16).

Blotting Out the Handwriting…

Thoughts of The Judgment are sobering. We thank God for the means of escape. When, by that most blessed ministry of the Holy Spirit, our hearts are made painfully aware of our sin and state before God (this is true conviction), we cry out to God for mercy. In our helplessness God grants us repentance and faith to believe in Christ’s finished work for us. In the instant that we are justified, we experience the reality of Christ “having forgiven you all trespasses [and] blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us…” (Colossians 2:13,14).

The concept of “blotting out” is interesting when it comes to how the ancients wrote—or, rather, re-wrote. Whether we’re speaking of a papyrus scroll or a parchment scroll, writers in Bible times had the option of erasing—blotting out—what was written and re-using the writing material. The ink on papyri (or “papyruses,” if you like your English a little plainer) could be washed off with a sponge. Blotting out the ink on parchments took a bit more work, since parchments needed both to be washed and scraped again (just as they had been scraped when first prepared).

Papyrus and parchment materials were precious and expensive and couldn’t be wasted. If there was a shortage of “paper,” the text of some older, less important document was erased to create writing material for the new message. (And you thought paper recycling was a modern concept!)

Now we understand what Paul means—the old writing, the condemnation, is erased, scraped off, blotted out of our hearts, so that God’s new writing can begin. This blotting out is the healing and cleansing process that God is working in our hearts. When does this “blotting out” occur? I believe it begins when our hearts are “sprinkled from an evil conscience” (Hebrews 10:22b).

…So That A New Manuscript Can Be Written

Our loving Father (blessèd be His name forever!) does not stop with erasing the guilt and condemnation against us. He takes us for His own scroll, writing on our hearts. This is the substance of the New Covenant. “For this is the covenant… I will put My laws into their mind,and write them in their heart: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to Me a people” (Hebrews 8:10; Jeremiah 31:33).

When a soul is saved, God adds another “volume” to the great epic of grace that He is writing. Every line He writes is “grace,” for every line is Christ and Calvary. Consider the testimony of the Apostle John: “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they were written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written” (John 21:25). John wrote his Gospel and epistles and recorded the Revelation on Patmos, but he knew that, even under inspiration, all he could write would never tell the works and riches of Christ. But “the things which are impossible with men are possible with God.” (Luke 18:27) Beloved, those books have been written and are being written—every one! God Himself is writing them in the hearts of His people, in your heart and mine. And the world itself won’t be able to contain the finished “set” of these books, so God is going to create new heavens and a newearth.

God wants to say of His writing in you, “See how large a letter I have written… with Mine Own hand” (Galatians 6:11). “Ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ,… written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart” (2 Corinthians 3:3).

A Quick Review

Up to this point we have seen that:

  • Our hearts, even before salvation, are written on, and others can read that writing;
  • Like the ancient media of papyrus and parchment, the old writing in our hearts can be “blotted out.” (I’ll bet this is the first time you’ve ever considered the phrases “scraped again” and “written again” in context with “born again!”)
  • The Heavenly Author is intent upon re-writing on these heart-books the story of His love and grace, the essence of His New Covenant.

With all this as background, let us approach the scene in Revelation 5 again.

Your Book Is In God’s Hand…

1And I saw in the right hand of Him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals.

First, we can take comfort from the revelation that our hearts are in the right hand of Him who sits upon the throne of Heaven! No wonder Paul was persuaded that God was able to keep that which the apostle had committed to Him—his heart (2 Timothy 1:12). He knew that the words of Jesus were true: “No man is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand” (John 10:29).

…But That Book Is Sealed

Wait! There is something wrong with this book, even though it is God’s, even though it is in His hand. No one can read the writing on this book because it is rolled tightly and sealed. What good is a book that can’t be read? In telling us it is sealed with seven seals, the Spirit is telling us that the sealing is a thorough job indeed, and there is no hope, humanly speaking, of its being opened.

Is your heart-book sealed like that? There are many Christians—most especially believers who want to go on to a deeper, inner knowledge of God, to an ever-higher level of heart purity who suffer discouragement because of the state of their inner life. Try as they will, their hearts seem sealed, bound up, not able to open up to God or man past a certain point. Worse for others are not the known spiritual problems, but fear of the unknown, dark recesses of the heart that have never been exposed to the Light.

Am I speaking about the sin nature? Yes, but only in part. The scope of this article limits me from giving that the full treatment it deserves, so I can but barely touch on the New Testament concept of holiness. Nor can I speak to the “struggle of the two natures,” other than to say that God deals with Sin wonderfully at the Cross. When one receives the true fullness of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, the Spirit baptizes the believer into the reality of Jesus’ death, which deals with Sin. So few enter into this experience—few understand it, few believe it and experience it, few preach it, and thus few receive it.

It does serve our purposes here, though, to point out that holiness strongly implies the concept of wholeness (hence the related word “holistic”). God, wishing to bring us into ever-increasing heart-holiness, deals faithfully and lovingly with everything He finds within us—Sin, sins, wounds, failures, rejection, shame—everything that makes us un-whole (and therefore, in the broader sense, unholy).

In many ways we are complex creatures. Our hearts are like labyrinths, mazes hiding our past wounds and hurts, our failures and fears. Such things may be hidden from view, but they exert a strong influence on our thoughts, our actions, and our spiritual life.

It is as though our hearts are “sealed” many times over. There is “writing within and without”, but no one, the human possessor of the heart least of all, is able to unseal the heart, to uncover its secret hurts and sorrows, and to heal it. Because everyone’s heart is sealed, no one can clearly see to help another, and we discover that “no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon.” And, worse, if someone tries to open such a “seal” without knowing how, even more damage may result.

2“Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?”
3And I wept much because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon.

So, like John, we weep much within ourselves. If no man is able or worthy to open these seals, we are left without hope of full change and growth and deliverance. To stay as we are is to be chained to Sin and our heart-handicaps all our lives. We share David’s heart-cries: “Create in me a clean heart, O God!” (Psalm 51:10) and “Cleanse thou me from secret faults!” (Psalm 19:12) And what about those called to minister?  We feel we shall never aid another in delivering them from their “mote” if we can’t be set free from our “beam” (Matthew 7:3-5; Luke 6:41-42).

Look to the Lamb for Unsealing

4And one of the elders saith unto me, “Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.”
5And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.

So much depends upon our hearts being opened and “read,” healed and “rewritten.” Yet there is a great danger for the believer who focuses on his or her heart problems, rather than on Jesus, the Unsealer and Healer. The Holy Spirit, the Blessed Revealer of Christ, points us to the One Who is worthy and able. It is then that we appreciate afresh and in a deeper way the efficacy of Jesus’ sacrifice. The One Whom we know as the Lion against sin and death and the devil, our great Deliverer, is seen also as the slain Lamb of God. He has prevailed to save us “to the uttermost”—not just from sin, death, and judgment, but also from ourselves and our inner wounds and blemishes. He alone can answer David’s prayer and ours: “Cleanse thou me from secret faults.”

It is most wonderful indeed that our Beloved comes as the gentle Lamb to this most sensitive and, often, painful work of opening sealed hearts and healing them. He has the “seven horns”, typical of His perfect, enduring power and strength for the task; and He has the “seven eyes,” symbolic assurance that He sees all that has befallen us, all that is now in us, and sees what we shall be—that we shall be like Him. With the Blessed, Holy, Sevenfold Spirit He is ready to work in the hearts of all His people.

It is to this all-powerful, all-capable, all-seeing, all-worthy, all-gentle One alone that the Father entrusts our hearts. If our loving God entrusts this slain Lamb with such a delicate work of eternal consequence, we ought to trust Him, too. May we not with absolute assurance surrender to Absolute Love for healing?

Truth In Advertising:
Possible Upheavals Ahead

I assume that you have read the chapters following Revelation chapter 5 and remember that each opened seal brought with it great upheaval—and manifested the purposes of God. So be aware that quite often when the blessed Lamb opens our sealed hearts there is personal upheaval. Much of what is written within is neither pretty nor easy to look upon, because, apart from the Light of God, we always believe our state to be better than it really is. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) Indeed, things often seem to get worse—seemingly much worse—when we yield to the Lamb in His unsealing process. But keep the end in view—erasing, blotting out, healing, and re-writing! Trusting in our loving Savior we submit, knowing that “better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof” (Ecclesiastes 7:8). And the glory of being healed and set free, becoming whole and fit for the Master’s use, is worth any temporary pain involved.

When the great sealed book is opened, all its contents are read out unaltered. But when our hearts are opened and read, wounds are healed, pain and rejection are blotted out. Yet what our Beloved Lamb does is beyond opening and cleansing and healing—He makes our hearts new and fills them. For our inner man and the Spirit within echo the longing of that Wesleyan verse:

Thy nature, gracious Lord, impart;
Come quickly from above,
Write Thy new name upon my heart,
Thy new, best name of Love!

[Charles Wesley, in the hymn
O For a Heart to Praise My God!”]

It is a prayer the Wonderful Writer delights to answer. It is the whole purpose of His indwelling. Hear His promise:

“I will write upon him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God,…and I will write upon him My new name.”

Revelation 3:12

Heaven Waits, Heaven Worships

In Revelation 5 all Heaven waits for the Lamb to open the sealed book. I believe, in another sense, that all Heaven waits for the Lamb to open our heart-books, each and every one. You hate this sealed-up inner aching as much as He does. Yes, I know you fear some of the “writing” that will be exposed; but you are in the keeping of the One who knows how to “blot out,” scrape away, and make clean, preparing those very portions of your heart-scroll to hold instead His bold, lovely handwriting of mercy and grace. Do you believe that your heart is in God’s hand? Then yield to Him, for you must choose to be free. Though you can do nothing else, allow God to give your sealed heart into the hand of the slain Lamb, “He that openeth, and no man shutteth” (Revelation 3:7).

Let your heart go out to Him, for He has never failed. See the worship that breaks out when the Lamb finally has full possession of the scroll:

8And when He had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odors, which are the prayers of the saints.
9And they sung 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;
10“And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign upon the earth.”

Revelation 5:7-10

Restored to His likeness, you also will fall before Him in humble adoration with the hosts of Heaven, saying, “Worthy is the Lamb!”

How Should We Respond?

I would tell you that this is a process that you can start now by praying the prayer below; but the truth is that the process is already well underway in your heart and has been ever since you met Jesus. You just happen to be reading this now because maybe, just maybe, the Lord wants to make His work a little clearer to you. With greater understanding of His plan, we can often cooperate and yield more fully. Nevertheless, perhaps the prayer written below sums up what you are feeling and thinking. If it does, pray it with all your heart, rejoicing in God’s goodness and faithfulness. However costly and precious those handwritten parchment scrolls were to their owners in ancient times, you are infinitely more precious to God. As you yield to Him in faith, may He grant you a great release and inner healing. May He make you a greater blessing as others are able to read His handwriting on the opened parchment of your heart. May your life be a book unsealed!

A Prayer

Hallelujah!

Thank You, Father,
for making us a written record
of Your love and grace in Christ.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, Lamb of God,
that You come firmly and gently with healing power
to unseal and blot out and rewrite.

Thank You, Holy Spirit, Blessed Living “Ink” of God,
that You soak into the fiber of our heart and being,
becoming one with us,
that together we might be a living testimony
of the love of God in Christ.

Holy Trinity, Only True Author,
may we, Your “epistles” and “books,”
be unsealed to You and before the world,
to be “known and read of all men,”
and to bring You glory.

Amen.

 

Image credit: Blank scroll image copyright frenta / 123RF Stock Photo. Used under license from 123RF.com. Adapted by Jim Kerwin with Wesley's words.


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