2 and I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4 and I wept much that no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Weep not; lo, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
The question is not who is able to open the scroll and breaks its seals, but rather who is worthy to do those things. Whoever opens the scroll will be responsible for what follows. The word “worthy” (axios) literally means “of sufficient weight.” The word occurs 7 times in Revelation.
We will see this (or perhaps another) strong angel again in 10:1 and 18:21. In Chapter 10, the strong angel will lift his right to Heaven and swear there will be no more delay, so when we see this strong angel we should remember the time frame of this book.
Even this “strong angel” was not worthy to open the scroll. In fact, no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was worthy. The phrase “under the earth” likely denotes the grave or the place of the dead. (See Ephesians 4:9 and Romans 10:7.)
Taken together, the phrase “in heaven or on earth or under the earth” denotes the entire universe of created beings. Recall, for example, Philippians 2:10 — “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” We also see similar language in the command of Exodus 20:4 — “You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”
No one in all of God’s creation was worthy to open the scroll and loosen the seals. And John wept. Why? If the scrolls were not opened then there would be no protection for God’s people, there would be no judgments against the enemies of God’s people, there would be no ultimate triumph for believers, and there would be no new heaven and new earth. John wept at the delay! And how would John have reacted had he been forced to read a modern commentary that says nothing in the book has yet been fulfilled even to this very day? How would he have reacted to that delay?
And what was John told to do? He was told to quit crying and look at Jesus, and that is good advice in any circumstances! Swete, reminding us of the recurring theme that we must view things from God’s perspective, said: “Higher natures see that human grief is often needless, springing from insufficient knowledge.” Barclay: “If we had patience to wait and trust, we would see that God has his own solutions for the situations that bring us tears.”
We see here three descriptions of Jesus: (1) the Lion of the tribe of Judah, (2) the Root of David, (3) and we are told that he has conquered.
The lion of the tribe of Judah is a Messianic title. Jesus is from the tribe of Judah (Hebrews 7:14). Recall Genesis 49:9–10 —
Judah is a lion’s whelp; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as a lioness; who dares rouse him up? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
The Root of David is also a Messianic title. We know that Jesus descended from David according to the flesh (Romans 1:3). Recall Isaiah 11:1, 10 speaking of David’s father, Jesse —
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. ... In that day the root of Jesse shall stand as an ensign to the peoples; him shall the nations seek, and his dwellings shall be glorious.
Finally, Jesus is described as the one who has (past tense) conquered. Not that he is about to conquer, but that he has already conquered. Jesus conquered Rome at the cross! In fact, Jesus was conquering Rome at the very point that Rome thought it was conquering Jesus. Once again, things are not always what they seem!
What is the purpose of this beautiful picture of Christ? This picture emphasizes how great a thing it is to which Christ is here called. He will sustain the kingdom he died to create — and he will sustain us today. Jesus loves his church!
Finally, it is self evident that God did not need to search for someone to open the scroll. God did not need to search for Christ. The searching, the waiting, and the weeping are presented for dramatic effect. The angel in verse 2 knew the answer to his question before he asked it!Please visit ThyWordIsTruth.com for free audio lessons on Revelation, for a unique daily Bible reading calendar, to read about God's plan of salvation, to read the answers to hundreds of questions submitted by our readers, and for much, much more.