Sundays: 9 & 11am LATEST MESSAGE

Opening the Scroll of History

Charlie Boyd - 6/9/2024

Scripture: Revelation 6:1-17; 8:1-5


Today, we jump into the part of Revelation (chapters 6-16) that is one of the most difficult, most debated, and most disconcerting passages of Scripture in all the Bible. But this may surprise you. When rightly understood, this part of Revelation actually helps us make sense of what is going on in our world today. Jesus, the Lamb that was slain, takes from the Father’s hand a scroll sealed with seven seals and begins to open the seals. This scroll is the scroll of history—history from the early days of the church and extending to the last days of the church. The scroll reveals the meaning of history—of world history, of Christian history, of your history, of my history, and of our children’s history. The scroll contains God’s plan to fulfill the purpose of all creation. God’s plan to bring the Kingdom of Heaven down to earth. Don’t you sometimes wonder: “If God is really on the Throne, then why are things so bad in this world?” “Why all the pain and suffering—why all the persecution and tribulation?” This scroll gives an answer to that question. There’s another surprise in this passage, and that is that the prayers of God’s people play an important part in what God is up to in the world as He works to bring salvation to His people and bring judgment on this world living rebellion against Him.


In chapters 4-5, John, in a vision, is transported into the heavenly throne room. God is sitting on the throne, holding a scroll, sealed with seven seals. This is the scroll of history, which, as it turns out, only Jesus, the Lion that looks like a Lamb that was slain, is able to open. The point is that the Lion has overcome by becoming a sacrificial Lamb. That means we don’t have to be in the dark about the meaning of history. And when the Lamb takes the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sits on the Throne, all of creation bursts into a great celebration. “Worthy are You to take the scroll!” Why? —because— “You were slain”—not because He was resurrected—not because He created all things—not because He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords—but because He was slain.

You see, what makes Jesus worthy to take the scroll and open its seals is that He gave Himself on the cross for the life of the world. He is worthy because He was crucified for the sins of the world. With that, we come to the part of the book where things shift into high gear.

READ 6:1-8:5 — This passage, as is true of all of Revelation, is not a newspaper account of identifiable events. However, what we read here does help us interpret what we read in the newspaper. It does help us understand what’s going on in our world today, just as it helped John’s suffering friends in his day and just as it’s helped the followers of Jesus all through Christian history. What we’re reading in this passage is something like a dramatic play, a blockbuster movie, or an animated film with all kinds of strange special effects. The visions given to John are full of symbols and imagery, most of which are not to be taken literally. Pretty much all the numbers—seven, four, twenty-four, 144,000—are not “counting” numbers. They are symbolic. In chapter 5, when we read about Jesus as a lamb with “seven horns and seven eyes,” that is not the way Jesus looks right now in heaven. “Horns” are symbols of strength. Eyes are symbols of wisdom. “Seven” is the number of completeness or perfection. The slain Lamb is immensely strong and immensely wise. That’s the point. 

The same is true in chapter 6, in the sixth seal—vv12-14—Jesus uses the special effects of a great earthquake shaking the earth—the sun becomes black, the moon becomes like blood, and the stars fall from the sky. John is not speaking of literal, identifiable events. John is using the imagery and symbolism Jesus uses to tell us that, in the end of the end times, everything on earth and in heaven will be completely reworked and renewed to make way for the coming Kingdom of God. This kind of apocalyptic symbolism comes from the OT (see Haggai 2:6; Joel 2:31; Isaiah 34:4).

So, what’s the “big idea” behind all the imagery, symbolism, and special effects we read about in Revelation 6-8? 

Well, we’ve already seen how the vision of the throne room in heaven, with God ruling on the throne, and with Jesus breaking open the scroll of history, bringing both salvation to His people and judgment on this world in rebellion against God—we’ve seen how everything that happens from chapters 4-5 forward is all under the Sovereign control of the Father and Son. But in chapters 6-8, we also see something else that’s very much a part of what’s happening. This may surprise you, but what we see in the breaking open of the seven seals is that things are happening because of prayer. The message of the breaking of the seven seals of the scroll of history is that things are happening in the world because of prayer. Again, not only because of prayer. Things are happening because of decisions humans are making. Things are happening because of decisions spiritual forces are making. Things are happening because the Living God who sits on the Throne is acting. But a big point of the breaking of the seven seals is that things are happening because of the prayers of God’s people (Read again, 8:1-5). An angel gathers the prayers of God’s people from Pentecost through the present day—prayers, crying out for justice, crying out, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”—an angel gathers up all the prayers from the followers of Jesus throughout Christian history and then look at this—v5—"He threw them down upon the earth, and thunder crashed, lightning flashed, and there was a terrible earthquake.” What do you make of that?

Do you see that in some very real but mysterious way, our prayers work together with the sovereignty of God to accomplish His great purposes of salvation and judgment on this earth? Doesn’t that just blow your mind? We also see the idea of prayer in the breaking open of the first four seals as the four living creatures cry out, “Come!” And in the fifth seal that talks about the “How long, O Lord?” prayers of those martyred for the faith. They’re not calling for the horsemen to come. No, they’re calling for Jesus to come and set right all that’s wrong in the world. In fact, Revelation is bracketed by the verb “come.” In the opening chapter of the drama, John says of Jesus, “Look! He is coming” (1:7). In the closing chapter of the drama, Jesus says three times, “I am coming”—“Look! I am coming” (22:7). “Look! I am coming” (22:12). “Yes, I am coming” (22:20).

And in the closing chapter, three times we hear the call to “come”—“Come,” says the bride of Christ (22:17); “Come,” says the Spirit of Christ (22:17); "Amen, come, Lord Jesus,” says John (22:20). The four living creatures, representing all of creation, are echoing the great prayer of the whole book, “Come, Lord Jesus.” “Come!” “Come!” “Come!” “Come!” This is why the Lord’s Prayer is so important. (I’ve run out of space for these sermon notes)

*We are a church located in Greenville, South Carolina. Our vision is to see God transform us into a community of grace passionately pursuing life and mission with Jesus.