In John's vision in Revelation 4 and 5:

God, the holy One, the Lord Almighty, the creator of all things, is sitting on his throne.

His throne is surrounded by evidence of his inapproachability – the flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder [4:5], the blazing lamps [4:6], the 'sea of glass' [4:6], the four living creatures [4:6-8] with their constant  'holy, holy, holy' [4:8].

There is a sealed scroll in the right hand of God [5:1].

The context is filled with awe. It seems quite evident that no one would dare to attempt to enter into the presence of this powerful, holy God, and that no one is qualified to do so. Into this scene of God's holiness and human prohibition, a mighty angel proclaimed in a loud voice 'Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?'  

This challenge is not about physical ability but about qualification, about being fit or suited for the task: whoever is 'worthy' must also be worthy of approaching the throne of God, going right up to him and taking the scroll from his hand. Going right into the midst of the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures with their overpowering voices repeatedly affirming God’s holiness and power; going right into the radiant brilliance emanating from the throne; passing by the Holy Spirit and the conviction of guilt he generates; crossing over that uncrossable sea of God’s holiness.

No one in heaven, not one of the millions of angels that will soon be mentioned is worthy. Not even this mighty angel who proclaims the challenge is worthy. Not even the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders are worthy – these mysterious creatures and unnamed persons who spend all their time in the presence of God, proclaiming his holiness and his power and his worth. They do not qualify. They lack something.

And beyond heaven, nor is anyone on earth or under the earth worthy [5:3]. There seems to be no one worthy to open the scroll or look inside it.

So John wept bitterly. The angel had told him ‘I will show you what must take place after this’ [4:1]. That was the whole intention of this vision, and now it seems stalled. Within this scroll the divine purpose is sealed, locked away. Unless it can be opened that purpose will not be consummated. It is not just ‘who is worthy to open the scroll?’ like some magic book in a fairy story that the right touch can open. Within this question is a far deeper question:

‘Who is worthy, indeed, who is qualified, who is able, to bring the purpose of God for the whole universe, and for us, to pass?

Who is worthy to undo all that holds the whole universe in bondage?

Who is worthy to turn aside the wrath and the judgment of God that has sealed the whole universe under a curse?

Who is worthy to undo sin and its impacts and restore the whole universe to its perfection?

Who is worthy to unlock and demolish the barrier that has stood between God and man since Genesis 3, and re-establish that right relationship with God for which humans were created?’

John wept. He has just seen the glorious beauty and awesome unapproachableness of God, surrounded by numerous manifestations of his prohibitive holiness and judgment. Thunder, lightning, fire, water. And those living creatures constantly saying ‘holy, holy, holy’. Unless someone is worthy, all is lost.

Then one of the elders said: 'Do no weep! See, the Lion of Judah … is able to open the scroll' [5:7]

© Rosemary Bardsley 2015