1 I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals.
Once Jesus had addressed the seven assemblies in Asia Minor, the letter of Revelation switched to yet another vision. John saw that the one who was seated on the throne was holding a scroll on his hand (literally the text says “on” and not “in”) that had writing on the front and the back. The idea of scrolls being written on both sides was common in the ancient world. Sometimes both sides were fully used simply to save space or express the fullness of the content recorded inside (this seems to be the sense in Ezek.1-2. But sometimes the outside writing merely summed up what was inside, especially if it was secured by seals. If it was secured by seven seals, the idea was to prevent anyone unqualified from unrolling it, but the writing on the outside would give any who was close to the scroll a rough idea of the contents on the inside.
The idea of sealing a document was not unique nor was the number of the seals. The basic idea behind placing seals on the original document may also not have been done with a desire to conceal the content inside; but rather to protect it from alterations. This concern was valid and in the end of the letter/book of Revelation, scribes were warned about adding or deleting anything. We read in Revelation 22:18-19:
[blockquote]“I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.”[/blockquote]
It is not clear why he who sat upon the throne could not open the scroll himself. Why is it that he needed someone else to do it? Whatever the reason, it is likely that we are witnessing the heavenly court ceremony that is either identical to or connected with Daniel 7:13-14:
[blockquote]“I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. “And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.”[/blockquote]
Undoubtedly the scroll in Rev. 5:1 had some kind of relation to the scroll in the book of Ezekiel. In fact, this vision reads as an imperfect literary adaptation of both Dan. 7:13-14 and Ezek. 2:8-10. A section of God’s address to the prophet in Ezekiel 2:8-10 says:
[blockquote]8 “Now you, son of man, listen to what I am speaking to you; do not be rebellious like that rebellious house. Open your mouth and eat what I am giving you.” 9 Then I looked, and behold, a hand was extended to me; and lo, a scroll was in it. 10 When He spread it out before me, it was written on the front and back, and written on it were lamentations, mourning and woe.[/blockquote]
It is also possible that Isaiah 29:11 is also alluded to here. There we read:
[blockquote]The entire vision will be to you like the words of a sealed book, which when they give it to the one who is literate, saying, “Please read this,” he will say, “I cannot, for it is sealed.”[/blockquote]
In chapter 3 of Ezekiel, God tells the author to eat the entire scroll as he prepares for his prophetic ministry that will likely not be received by the rebellious house of Israel. (The house of Israel in Ezekiel should not be confused with the entire people of Israel, but understood as only the Northern Kingdom. In Ezekiel, the southern Kingdom is referred to as the house of Judah). This is a common dynamic present in many of Israel’s prophets. Judah is treated separately as historical reality.
There are some similarities and some differences here. A similarity is that the scroll is offered by God and that it is written on both the inner and the outer sides. The difference is that it is unrolled and presumably the prophet could see what was written. It was not sealed in such a way that would have prevented someone from seeing its contents. The scroll offered to Ezekiel was about lamentation, mourning and woe. The scroll in Revelation 5:1 may be one and the same scroll or another scroll that functioned a bit differently. It perhaps could have contained God’s final decrees regarding the future of both Israel and the nations, including messages of warning and promises of redemption.
Moreover, the idea of a book of heavenly records has deep roots in Hebrew and Jewish scriptural traditions. For example, Psalm 139:6 says, “Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.” Or in Exodus 32:32 where we read: “But now, if You will, forgive their sin – and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written!” Moreover, we have already encountered this terminology in Revelation 3:5 “He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.” This book, however appears to be different. We will no doubt discover much more about the nature of the content and the function of this book in the next passage. (See Part 2)