Subj: REVELATION 5:1-10: THURSDAY'S READING FOR REFLECTION
Date: 11/18/98 12:48:58 AM Pacific Standard Time
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Manuel Tuazon)
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (To the Greater Glory of God)
For: Thursday, November 19, 1998
33rd Week in Ordinary Time
From: Revelation 5:1-10
The Sealed Scroll and the Lamb
 And I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a
scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals;  and
I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to
open the scroll and break its seals?"  And no one in heaven or on
earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into
it,  and I wept much that no one was found worthy to open the scroll
or to look into it.  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."
 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the
elders, I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven
horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out
into all the earth;  and he went and took the scroll from the right
hand of him who was seated on the throne.  And when he had taken the
scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down
before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of
incense, which are the prayers of the saints;  and they sang a new
song, saying, "Worthy are thou to take the scroll and to open its
seals, for thou wast slain and by thy blood didst ransom men for God
from every tribe and tongue and people and nation,  and hast made
them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on earth."
1-5. The sealed scroll contains God's mysterious plans for the
salvation of mankind; no one on earth can disclose them (v. 3). Only
the risen Christ can take the scroll and make its contents known (vv.
6-7). On this account he is praised by the four living creatures, by
the elders (vv. 8-10), by a whole host of angels (vv. 11-12) and by all
creation (vv. 13-14).
The image of a scroll (or book) containing God's hidden plans for
mankind was used before, particularly by the prophet Daniel (cf. Dan
12:4-9; also Is 29:11), who refers to a prophecy remaining sealed until
the end of time. St John uses this image to make the point that the End
Time, the Last Days, have already begun with Christ, so now he can
reveal God's plans. The fact that there are seven seals stresses the
hidden nature of the scroll's contents; and its being written on both
sides shows its richness.
The author of the Book of Revelation, and everyone in fact, really does
need to know what is written on the scroll; for, if he knows God's
plans he will be able to discover the meaning of life and cease to be
anxious about events past, present and future. Yet no one is able to
open the scroll: that is why the author weeps so bitterly.
The scroll is sealed: the Revelation of the salvation of mankind and
the consolation of the Church is being delayed. Soon, however, the seer
ceases to weep, for he learns that Christ (here called "the Lion of the
tribe of Judah" and "the Root" or descendant of David: cf. Gen 49:9; Is
11:1, 10) has conquered and therefore is able, to break the seven
The Church contemplates Christ's victory when it "believes that Christ,
who died and was raised for the sake of all, can show man the way and
strengthen him through the Spirit in order to be worthy of his destiny
[...]. The Church likewise believes that the key, the center and the
purpose of the whole of man's history is to be found in its Lord and
Master" (Vatican II, "Gaudium Et Spes", 10).
"In fact," the Council adds, "it is only in the mystery of the Word
made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear. For Adam, the
first man, was a type of him who was to come (cf. Rom 5:14). Christ the
Lord, Christ the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the
Father and of his love, fully reveals man to himself and brings to
light his most high calling" (ibid., 22).
6-7. Christ is able to open the scroll on account of his death and
resurrection--an event symbolized by the Lamb standing upright and
victorious and at the same time looking as though it had been
immolated. In the Fourth Gospel, John the Baptist calls Christ "the
Lamb of God" (Jn 1:29, 36); in the Apocalypse this expression is the
one most often used to refer to him: he is the Lamb raised to the very
height of God's throne and has dominion over the entire cosmos (cf.
5:8, 12-13; 6:1, 16; 7:9-10; 13:8; 15:3; etc.). This Christological
title, which is a feature of St John's writings, has great theological
depth; the Church reverses it, using it frequently in the liturgy--
particularly in the Mass, after the kiss of peace when the Lamb of God
is invoked three times; also, just before Holy Communion is distributed
the host is shown to the faithful as him who takes away the sin of the
world and those who are called to his marriage supper are described as
"happy" (cf. Rev 19:9).
The image of the Lamb reminds us of the passover lamb, whose blood was
smeared on the door frames of houses as a sign to the avenging angel
not to inflict on Israelites the divine punishment being dealt out to
the Egyptians (cf. Ex 12:7, 13). St Paul refers to the Lamb in one of
his letters: "Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed" (1 Cor 5:
7). At a high point in Old Testament prophecy Isaiah portrays the
Messiah as the suffering Servant of Yahweh, "a lamb that is led to the
slaughter" (Is 53:7). St Peter, on the basis of that text, states that
our Lord "bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to
sin and live to righteousness" (1 Pet 2:24).
The Lamb is a sacrifice for sin, but the Apocalypse also focuses
attention on the victorious power of the risen Lamb by showing him
standing on the throne, in the center of the vision; the horns
symbolize his power and the eyes his knowledge, both of which he has
to the fullest degree as indicated by the number seven. The seven
spirits of Christ also indicate the fullness of the Spirit with which
Christ is endowed and which he passes on to his Church (cf. notes on
Rev 1:4 and 4:5). This completes the description of the risen Christ,
who through his victory reveals the mystery of God.
8-10. The greatness of Christ the Lamb is duly acknowledged and
proclaimed through the worship rendered him, firstly, from the four
living creatures and the twenty-four elders, then from all the angels
and finally from the whole of creation (vv. 1 1-13). St John selects
these three points to highlight on the praise rendered by the heavenly
Church, with which the pilgrim Church on earth joins through its own
prayer (symbolized by the image of the golden bowls). Later on (15:
7ff), seven bowls appear again, this time filled with God's wrath,
which is caused by the complaint of the righteous who are being cruelly
tormented by the agents of evil.
All this shows the value of the prayers of those who stay loyal to God:
"the prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects" (Jas 5:
16), for "the prayer of the humble pierces the clouds, and he will not
be consoled until it reaches the Lord" (Sir 35:17).
The "new song" proclaims that Christ alone decides the destinies of the
world and of mankind; this is a consequence of himself being offered in
sacrifice as the atoning victim "par excellence". By shedding his blood
Christ has won for himself an immense people, from every nation under
heaven; in them, a holy people, his chosen ones that people which was
originally assembled in the Sinai desert (cf. Ex 19:6; 1 Pet 2:9f) has
come to full maturity. When it says that they have been ransomed from
every tribe and nation, it is pointing out that God's salvific plans
extend to the whole human race: he "desires all men to be saved and to
come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 2:4). This does not exempt
us from making an effort to merit salvation, for, as St Augustine
teaches, "God who created you without your cooperation will not save
you without your cooperation" ("Sermon" 169, 11). Here is how another
early writer puts it: "we know that God will give to each individual
the opportunity to be saved--to some in one way, to others in another.
But whether we respond eagerly or listlessly depends on ourselves"
(Cassian, "Collationes", 3, 12).
"Didst ransom men for God": in many important Greek manuscripts this
reads, "you ransomed us for God", and some even change the reading of
the following verse: "you made us a kingdom...and we will reign". The
earlier Latin translation, the Vulgate, chose that reading, which
emphasizes that those who are entoning the chant are men, that is,
members of the Church triumphant in heaven. The new official Latin
version, the New Vulgate, follows what it considers to be the most
reliable Greek text. But the meaning does not really change.
Source: "The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries". Biblical text
taken from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentary
made by members of the Faculty of Theology of the University of
Navarre, Spain. Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock,
Co. Dublin, Ireland. Printed in Hungary.
Opinions are those of the author and do not represent CIN.
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