The setting for the release of the four horsemen begins in Revelation 4, which describes God's throne room in heaven with all its splendor and attendant beings. As chapter 5 opens, a scroll with writing on both front and back and sealed with seven seals is introduced, shown in the right hand of the Father. This last detail highlights His sovereignty and the divine origin of the scroll. That He holds it in His right hand suggests might or authority (Exodus 15:6; Psalm 20:6; 44:3; 110:1; Lamentations 2:3-4; etc.), and that He is sitting on the throne alludes to coming judgment (see Proverbs 20:8; Matthew 27:19; Acts 25:6).
The scroll itself includes a few peculiar details not found in ordinary scrolls. First, John uses the word biblion for it, a diminutive of the normal biblos, implying that this particular scroll was not lengthy—a booklet as compared to a book. Biblion is often used of letters, contracts, and other documents whose contents would not fill more than one sheet of parchment or vellum.
However, this scroll is "written inside and on the back," or as it is literally in the Greek, "written within and behind." The Greeks had a specific term for such a relatively rare document: opisthografon, literally "behind writing." Since writing covered the entire surface, nothing could be added to it. Thus, the image symbolizes a complete and finished work.
Finally, this scroll bears seven seals, a detail that has provoked various interpretations down through the centuries. The best, most logical solution is that the scroll is successively sealed along one edge so that, as a seal is broken, the parchment can be opened only so far as the next seal. Thus, a scroll like this was sealed as it was rolled closed, and the seals must be broken in reverse order. This also means that, as the seals are broken, the previous ones remain open until all seven parts of the document lay revealed.
In the scene in Revelation 5, though, "no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll, or to look at it" (verse 3). The apostle John weeps because no one worthy comes forward. He is soon comforted: "Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals" (verse 5).
This figure, called "a Lamb as though it had been slain" (verse 6) is obviously Jesus Christ our Savior (see John 1:29), and He proved worthy by prevailing, enikeesen, a word that can also be translated as "overcome," "triumphed," or "conquered," all of which imply victory through conflict or struggle. As Hebrews 2:10 puts it, "For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the author of their salvation perfect through sufferings." He proved Himself worthy to be our Redeemer, High Priest, and soon-coming King by living sinlessly against the pulls of human nature and by dying as a perfect sacrifice in our stead (see Revelation 5:9, 12).
In so doing, He also qualified to be Judge of all (John 5:22; II Timothy 4:1, 8; Jude 14-15). Taking on this last role, "He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne" (Revelation 5:7).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
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