The Lion of the Tribe of Judah,

the Root of David Has Triumphed

5: 1-5

   DIG: What do you think makes the scroll so significant? What dilemma does the sealed scroll pose? Why is Christ the only One worthy enough to open it (see John 1:29)? How are the two comings of Jesus symbolized in John’s vision? What do the titles the Lion of the Tribe of Judah and the Root of David mean? Why was it necessary for one of the elders to comfort John, who already knew that Jesus had triumphed? How did this message comfort first-century believers?

   REFLECT: Do you think Jesus sees your tears? Do you think He cares? Do you think He is working behind the scenes for your benefit? When all has seemed lost, has He ever taken action on your behalf? Is Jesus the Lion of the Tribe of David to you? Where does your hope lie?

    Chapter 4 honors God the Father. He is the One who sits on the throne in heaven, and is the ultimate source of authority and praise. In Chapter 5 the attention suddenly shifts from God the Father to God the Son. The Bible teaches us that when we honor the Son we honor the Father. The Father has given all authority to His Son (John 5:22). Scripture also teaches that the heavenly Father has given the Son a Kingdom, and it is His will that all creation, whether in heaven, on earth or under the earth, bow the knee to Christ as Lord of lords and King of kings (17:14, 19:16). This book is uniquely a revelation of Yeshua Messiah, demanding our absolute submission and praise. Therefore, from Chapter 5 to Chapter 22 we are constantly reminded of who is in charge. Jesus Christ alone has the ability to control the future.

    The scroll John saw was in God’s right hand, with writing on both sides (5:1a). Being in His right hand indicates His authority and power. Whatever is in the scroll has been designed, planned, and will be executed from the will of ADONAI. It originated from His right hand. This scroll contains the title deed to the earth, which will be given to God the Son. Unlike other deeds, it will not give the details of what Jesus will inherit, but rather how He will regain His rightful inheritance. He will do so by means of His wrath poured out on the earth. But the scroll will not only judge those on the earth, it will also redeem, or buy the earth back from Satan, his demons and his followers.

    Later in the book John will symbolically eat this scroll. And when he eats it, it turns as sweet as honey to his taste, but it will turn his stomach sour (10:9-10). It tastes sweet because John wants Jesus to act in judgment and take back the earth that is rightfully His. But the realization of the terrible doom awaiting unbelievers turned that initial sweet taste into bitterness. Something similar happened in the book of Ezekiel. In his vision of heaven, Ezeki'el said: I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, which God unrolled before me. (Normally, scrolls were written only on one side. But like John’s scroll, this scroll was written on both sides, and it contained words of lament and mourning and woe). And God said to Ezeki'el, “Son of man, eat this scroll; then go back and speak to the house of Isra'el. So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. And it became as sweet as honey in my mouth (Ezeki'el 2:9 to 3:3).161 The implication of it being written on both sides is that it points to the importance and the terrible nature of the events that are being recorded.

    The book of Zechariah also gives us some insight as to why the terrible events of the Great Tribulation will take place (Zechariah 5:1-4). He also saw a scroll, a very large flying scroll, and like the two tablets of the Testimony (Exodus 32:15), it was written on both sides. And God said to Zechariah, “This is the curse that is going out over the whole world; for according to what it says on one side, every thief will be banished.” This refers to one of the first four commandments. “And according to what it says on the other, everyone who swears falsely will be banished,” and this refers to one of the last six of the Ten Commandments. The curse of the scroll is directed against those who violate one of the commandments on each side of the two tablets – the eighth commandment against stealing on the back (Exodus 20:15) and the third commandment against swearing falsely by misusing the name of the LORD on the front (Exodus 20:7).162 The point is, the terrible events of the Great Tribulation will happen because of a total violation of God’s moral standards that are revealed in the TaNaKh, beautifully displayed in Christ and constantly taught in the B'rit Chadashah.

    This scroll was sealed with seven seals (5:1b). Sealing a scroll was a common and important practice in Biblical times. The wills of both Emperor Vespasian and Cesar Augustus, for example, were secured with seven seals. For such a document, a scribe would procure a long roll of parchment and begin writing. After a period of writing he would stop, roll the parchment just enough to cover his words. Then he would seal the scroll at that point with wax. Then he would resume writing, stop again, roll the scroll, and add another seal. By the time he was finished, he would have sealed the scroll seven times. Then the scroll is like a will, and would be read a section at a time, after each seal was opened.163 The only one who could break the seals, was the one who would receive the inheritance after the death of the testator, or the one who made the will. In this case, the Messiah is both the testator and the one who will receive the inheritance.

    Jeremiah 32:9-15 gives us a good picture of such a scroll. In the last days of the southern kingdom of Judah, just before the fall of Jerusalem, Jeremiah’s cousin Hanamel needed help. He was desperate to sell a field he owned in Jeremiah’s hometown of Anathoth, near Jerusalem. The Babylonian army was coming into the Land like a flood and once they conquered Judah, Hanamel’s field would be worthless. But contrary to human wisdom, and in obedience to God’s command, Jeremiah bought his cousins field and put the sealed copy of the scroll in a clay jar so it would last a long time as a sign that the exile in Babylon would not last forever (see my commentary on Jeremiah Fs - Jeremiah Buys a Field).

    Who had the power to defeat the Devil and his demons, to do away with sin and to reverse the curse on all the earth? And John saw a mighty angel, Gabriel himself, shouting in loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?" In answer to Gabriel’s question there is only silence(since the angel is not named in Scripture, it may be Gabriel because his name denotes mighty). The angels of heaven wait in silence. Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Job, Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Dani'el, the apostles and everyone from the Church Age all stand in silence. After scouring every level of the universe, it seems like no one in heaven (God’s holy angels) or on earth (all of humanity) or under the earth (Satan and all of his fallen angels) could open the scroll or even look inside it (5:2-3).

    Overwhelmed with grief and sadness John wept and wept, literally kept on shedding many tears, because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside it (5:4). Wept is from klaio, and is the same word used to describe Jesus’ weeping over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41), and Peter’s bitter weeping after betraying Christ three times (Luke 22:62). It is a word that expresses uncontrollable sobbing and heaving. John was broken hearted because unless that book can be opened there is no hope. There is only one hope for this world, the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Yeshua the Messiah. He is the blessed hope (Titus 2:13). No one can help us but Jesus.

    Interestingly enough, this is the only time we see tears in heaven. John’s tears represent the tears of God’s people throughout the ages. Those tears represent your tears and my tears as we experience the trials, the sufferings, the heartaches and indescribable disappointments of this life. Sometimes the pain is so great we don’t know if we can go on. But the good news is that one day God promises to wipe away every tear from our eyes (7:17 and 21:4). In the midst of our pain, sometimes that promise is hard to imagine, but we continue to hope in Him (Job 13:15). That is why we wait for the blessed hope.

    But ADONAI’s mercy and grace would never allow the world to drown in a sea of hopelessness. In the midst of Yochanan's despair, YHVH was about to take action. One of the twenty-four elders told John not to weep. Why was it necessary for one of the elders to comfort John, who already knew that Jesus had triumphed? Because John did that which we so easily do. He lost sight of the victory of the Lamb, which always results in hopelessness and tears. How very often do we sadden Jesus with our weeping and discouragement. We are often ready to give up in spite of the fact that He has already achieved the final victory.164

    Then John’s attention was drawn to a new Person emerging at the throne of God. No human or angel can buy back the universe. But there is One who can. He is our great God and Savior Jesus Christ and here He is identified by the first of His two messianic titles. The elder said: See, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed (5:5a). The title the Lion of the Tribe of Judah comes from Jacob’s blessing. When Jacob was dying, he called his twelve sons around him, and prophesied to Leah’s fourth born: You are a lion’s cub, O Judah . . . the scepter (or the right to rule) will not depart from Judah until He comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is His (Genesis 49:9-10). In John’s day the Romans had destroyed Jerusalem, the heart of Judah, and the Jews were scattered throughout the world. The scepter had indeed departed from Judah, and the One to whom it belonged had already come, been rejected and crucified. The Lord Jesus is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, but he is also the Root of David (Isaiah 11:1 and 10). Yeshua the Messiah is in absolute control.

    The title the Root, or descendant, of David comes from a prophecy in Second Samuel 7:5-16, the great chapter of God’s covenant with David, where ADONAI said: Your house and your kingdom will last forever before Me; your throne will be established forever. At that time ADONAI promised King David that one of his descendants would be the Messiah. Yeshua fulfilled that prophecy. Jesus’ earthly mother was Mary, a descendant of David (see my commentary on The Life of Christ Ai - The Genealogies of Josehp and Mary). Thus, Messiah has the right to rule because He is the fulfillment of the prophecies made in the TaNaKh. All of those prophecies will be fulfilled at Christ's Second Coming when He establishes His millennial Kingdom.165

    Yeshua will be the only One worthy to open the scroll because He has triumphed. The scroll (or the will) was written in the name of Christ, since it is His inheritance. He is also the One who died, and because of the resurrection, thus He is the only One worthy to open His own scroll (or will). It is the most unusual will ever written because all of the inheritance goes to the one who died! In the Greek this word is in the aorist active tense and points to a once for all time victory. At the cross He triumphed over sin (Romans 8:3), death (Hebrews 2:14-15), and the forces of hell (Colossians 2:15; First Peter 3:19). For everyone born of God overcomes the world (First John 5:4), because He has triumphed. John stopped sobbing long enough to see the Lion prepare to open the scroll and its seven seals (5:5b). What excitement there will be as all of heaven holds its collective breath, waiting for Yeshua to tear off the seals, open the scroll and take back what is rightfully His.

    John was writing to first-century believers who were suffering greatly under persecution. Many had lost all their possessions and were being threatened with death if they did not renounce the Lord. The evil that confronted them seemed so vast that they undoubtedly were tempted to think that darkness would triumph.

    We too can be tempted in this way when we are engulfed in suffering – whether it be because of disease, life’s problems, moral sufferings, or the sinful state of our society. John may well have written to strengthen and encourage the believers of his age, but his words can speak to us also, giving us a firm foundation for our security and assurance. ADONAI is on our side. God the Son has triumphed over evil and has already paid for every sin you will ever commit past, present or future. That’s why faith is so important. There is no hope except what Christ has already done. You need to believe in what Yeshua has already done for you, not believing what you can do for Him.

    In his vision, John saw Jesus prepared to regain His rightful inheritance. Such a vision - and the truths that such a vision reveals – can give us great comfort and security. Every one of God’s intentions toward us is for our good, not for evil. Every thought He has for us had to do with our blessing, our prosperity, and our growth in His holiness. At one time, it looked as if no one could open the scroll of God’s plan to see it through to completion. But now, in Yeshua the Messiah, we can surrender ourselves into His hands and obey Him, knowing that He will never abandon or betray us.

    Lord, I surrender myself into Your hands. Cover me and all my family with Your infinite love and grace. Father, may Your Kingdom come and Your will be done in my heart and throughout the earth.166


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