Why is there a sealed book in heaven that not even God can open?

PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE

Many of the other articles in this series address the WHAT questions about the seals, such as, what is the sealed book and what are the seals? This current article addresses some important WHY-questions.

A previous article identified the book that is sealed up with seven seals as the Book of Life. The purpose of the current article is to discuss the implications of that conclusion and addresses questions such as:

      • Why are God’s judgments not understood?
      • Why did this cause so much sorrow?
      • Why could God not open the sealed book (explain His judgments)?
      • Why was Jesus not “worthy” to open the book before His death?
      • How did His death make Him worthy?

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from the NASB translation of the Book of Revelation.

SUMMARY OF THIS ARTICLE

Revelation 5:1 mentions the sealed book in God’s right hand but “no one … was able to open the book or to look into it” (5:3). The situation changes when verse 5 announces that Christ “has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.” Jesus then appears as a slain Lamb (5:6) and took the sealed book (5:7).  And they sang:

Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every … nation” (5:9-10).

THEORY OF ATONEMENT IN THE SEALS

HIS DEATH SYMBOLIZES HIS LIFE.

Standard Christian theology emphasizes Christ’s death and claims that people are saved by His death. But, if Jesus died as a sinner, His death would have been of no value.

What really matters, is that Jesus overcame (5:5). “Overcome” means to resist the temptation to sin. By overcoming, Jesus purchased men for God (5:5, 9).

But how does His death relate to His overcoming? Jesus’ entire life was a test. The tempter was allowed to tempt Him to the fullest, but Jesus never sinned. The most severe temptation possible was inflicted on Jesus in the hours before His death. By remaining faithful to God—even to death—His death sealed His victory over sin. For that reason, the Bible uses His death as a symbol of how He overcame throughout His life.

PURCHASED MEN FOR GOD

It is generally agreed that, without Christ’s victory, nobody can be saved. The dispute among scholars is, HOW did Jesus’ death save people?

Orthodox theology claims that Jesus died to pacify a revengeful or angry God or that justice demands that somebody has to suffer. These are horrible distortions of the truth.  The opposite is true: God so loved the world that He gave His Only Son (John 3:16).

In Revelation, Jesus purchased men for God by overcoming (5:5, 9). In other words, by dying without sin. This is explained as follows:

      • Firstly, Revelation 12 explains Revelation 5. In Revelation 12:10, Satan is “the accuser of our brethren.” He does not accuse his own followers; only the people whom God has identified as His (cf. Job 1 and 2; Zech. 3:1; Rom. 3:25-26). Satan, therefore, argues that it is unjust for God to forgive people for their sins. Consequently, Satan would argue, God is arbitrary when He forgives some sinners but condemns others.
      • Secondly, since “overcome” means to resist the temptation to sin, it implies that Christ refuted Satan’s arguments against God’s judgments by overcoming temptation and by remaining without sin. This further implies that Satan argued that angels and people sin because God’s laws are unfair and impossible to keep under all circumstances.

Combining these two accusations, Satan argued that the fault lies with God, namely that God is unjust when He forgives some sinners but condemns others, for God’s laws are impossible to keep under all circumstances. But Jesus dismantled the foundation of Satan’s arguments by showing that it is possible to remain faithful to God under the most severe circumstances. On this basis, Jesus validated God’s judgments and purchased people for God.

THE BOOK OF LIFE

The book that is sealed up with seven seals is the book of life (See, Book of Life). The above analysis of atonement in the seals allow us to explain the sealed book as follows:

      • Sealed up – That the book of life is sealed up symbolizes that God’s created intelligent beings are unable to fully understand God’s judgments. God’s judgments were explained, but to judge between people, who are all sinners, is extremely complex. This complexity is made worse by Lucifer’s brilliant and informed objections to God’s grace to certain sinners. For these reasons, finite beings were or are not able to confirm the inerrancy of God’s judgments.
      • Seals – Satan’s accusations are the seals of the book of life, preventing the heavenly beings from understanding God’s judgments.
      • John’s weeping, in the time before Christ received the right to open the sealed book (5:1-4), symbolizes the sorrow in heaven resulting from the intense conflict over God’s judgments. As long as Satan’s accusations remain unrefuted, evil will continue and God’s people will not be resurrected.
      • God delays the implementation of His judgments until the intelligent beings understand that His judgments are perfect.
      • To break the seals mean to remove the things that prevent understanding of God’s judgments.  In other words; to refute Satan’s objections.

HOW DID JESUS BECOME WORTHY?

Above we argued that Jesus purchased people for God by dismantling Satan’s accusations. Now we switch to related questions:

What does it mean that Jesus became worthy to open the book (5:9)?

Since it is the book of life, containing God’s judgments, it means that Jesus became “worthy” to explain God’s judgments. It means that He is accepted as “the faithful and true Witness” (3:14; cf. 1:5).

Revelation 12 confirms this understanding: Revelation 5 and 12 both show the consequences of Christ’s victory on earth. Therefore the crisis in the two chapters is the same, namely uncertainty about the inerrancy of God’s judgments. The solution to this crisis in these two chapters is also the same, namely that the Christ-event has shown who is trustworthy:

      • In Revelation 12, Satan is expelled from heaven in his capacity as the accuser of “our brethren” (12:9-10). In other words, he has been shown to be not trust-worthy. He has been confirmed as a liar.
      • In contrast, in Revelation 5, Christ became regarded as trust-“worthy” to open the book.

What happened at the Cross that made Christ worthy?

There was a war of accusations in heaven because God condemned Satan and his followers while He acquitted His sinning people. Satan was the main accuser (12:9), accusing God of arbitrary judgment. Jesus was the main defender of God’s people (Zech. 3:1).

While this war of accusations was still raging, the only begotten Son of God was willing to subject Himself to a test by becoming a vulnerable human being. His whole life was a test. He won the victory by overcoming sin by dying without sin. He was not somehow improved. Rather, His willingness to be tested and the purity of His life demonstrated His eternal character. This confirmed Him to be “worthy” to reveal the contents of the book.

At the same time, Satan’s cruel persecution of the innocent and vulnerable Son of man illustrated his true character and purpose and revealed him to be a false witness. Through Jesus Christ, God “made a public display of” “the rulers and authorities” (Col. 2:15)

Christ’s sinless life, therefore, had two separate but related consequences:

      • By dismantling Satan’s arguments, Christ purchased people for God.
      • By demonstrating Him as the “true Witness,” He is accepted trustworthy to explain God’s judgments.

WHY IS THE BOOK NOT IMMEDIATELY OPEN?

This question may be rephrased as follows: Over the past millennia, God had declared many people to His own, but they remain dead. Jesus died about 2000 years ago. Why does sin still reign on earth?

The seals allow us to answer this question.

Through His sinless life, even to death, Jesus demonstrated His character, God’s character, and Satan’s character. Satan’s argument that God’s laws are impossible to keep, has also been shown to be untrue.

However, the book of life remained sealed. That means that God’s judgments are still not understood. Satan’s objections to specific names in the book of life have not yet been refuted.  Christ, by overcoming evil, has not shown that the specific names in the book of life are the right names.

The delay which the souls under the altar complain about can only mean that there is something else that must be done before God will destroy sin and its consequences and resurrect His saints. In the symbolism of the seals, what remains to be done, after Christ’s death, is for Christ to break the seals and open the book:

      • Since the seals symbolize Satan’s accusations that prevent God’s created intelligent beings from understanding the contents of the book, Christ will refute these accusations.
      • Since it is the book of life, containing the names of the redeemed, it means that Christ will do things to ratify God’s judgments and to show that the specific names in the book of life are the right names.

 – END OF SUMMARY – 

OVERVIEW OF THE KEY VERSES

Revelation 5 mentions the sealed book in God’s right hand and asks:

Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?” (5:1-2)

However:

No one … was able to open the book or to look into it” (5:3).

But then verse 5 announces:

Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals” (5:5).

Then John saw Jesus appearing as a slain Lamb (5:6) and taking the book (5:7).  Therefore they sang a new song in heaven, saying:

Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every … nation” (5:9-10).

THEORY OF ATONEMENT IN THE SEALS

SLAIN VERSUS OVERCOME

According to Revelation 5, Christ “overcame” (5:5) and was “slain” (5:9). The question is, how does His death relate to His overcoming?

ORTHODOX THEOLOGY

Standard Christian theology emphasizes His death and His blood and claims that people are saved by His death or by His blood. However, if Jesus died as a sinner, His death would have been of no value.  And there is no magical power in His blood.

OVERCAME

What is really important, is that Jesus overcame. By overcoming, Jesus purchased men for God (5:5, 9).

The word “overcome” is used in each of the seven letters to the seven churches. In that context, it means to resist the temptation to sin—to overcome evil.

Jesus’ entire life was a test. For example, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Mat. 4:1). The tempter was allowed to tempt Him to the fullest, but Jesus never sinned. He “has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).

The most severe temptation possible was inflicted on Jesus when God withdrew from Him in the hours before His death (Mat. 27:46). In that hour, Jesus overcame by subjecting Himself to a cruel death on the Cross for the benefit of beings that do not deserve to live. By remaining faithful to God – even to death (12:11) – His death sealed His victory over sin. His death, therefore, was not a defeat, but a victory.

For that reason, His death became a symbol of how He overcame throughout His life. And His blood serves merely as a symbol of His death.

PURCHASED MEN FOR GOD

It is generally agreed that, without Christ’s victory, nobody can be saved. The dispute among scholars is, HOW did Jesus’ death save people?

ORTHODOX THEOLOGY

Orthodox theology claims that Jesus purchased men for God with His blood (5:9), that Jesus died to pacify a revengeful or angry God or that justice demands that somebody has to suffer. These are horrible distortions of the truth.  This is how the heathen view their gods.

The opposite is true:

      • Jesus is the Lamb OF God (John 1:36).
      • God so loved the world that He gave His Only Son (John 3:16).

God is not angry so that He must be pacified. It is not God that must be changed—it is us people who are angry.  The purpose of everything that God does, with respect to the current sin crisis, is to reconcile the universe (whether on earth or in heaven) back to Him:

It was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him (Jesus), and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven” (Col 1:19-20).

Similarly, in Revelation 5, Jesus purchased people “FOR God” by His blood (5:9).  God dearly loves His creation and wants to save it.  He is “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

MAGICAL POWERS

Others may think that Christ’s physical blood has some magical power. God’s universe is not mysterious and inexplicable. In God’s kingdom, trust is based on evidence.  His dealings with men and angels are the library of His wisdom that will be studied through all eternity.

GOD DECIDES

Another factor to consider, when considering the statement that Jesus purchased people for God, is that Christ’s death did not put people in the book of life. God decides who will live eternally and who will die and His decisions are recorded in the book of life.

BY OVERCOMING EVIL

In Revelation, Jesus became worthy to open the book and break its seals because He overcame (5:5, 9). In other words, Jesus purchased men for God by dying without sin. As stated, His blood and His death are mere symbols of the purity of His entire life. The question, then, is, how did Jesus’ victory over evil “purchase” men for God? To answer this question, consider the context:

ACCUSATION 1: GRACE IS ARBITRARY

As discussed previously (See Book of Life), Revelation 12 explains Revelation 5. In Revelation 12:10, Satan is “the accuser of our brethren.” He does not accuse his own followers; only the people whom God has identified as His.  Also elsewhere we find Satan to be the accuser of the brethren.

      • Job 1 and 2 tell the story of Satan accusing Job before God, saying to God, “put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face” (Job 1:11).
      • In Zechariah 3:1, Satan stands at the right hand of Joshua the high priest to accuse him.
      • According to Romans 3:25-26, God’s righteousness was questioned because “He passed over the sins previously committed.

Satan, therefore, always seems to argue that it is unjust for God to forgive people for their sins. Satan may have argued that if some are forgiven, all sinners, including Satan and his angels, should be forgiven. Consequently, Satan would argue, God is arbitrary when He forgives some sinners but condemns others.

ACCUSATION 2: A SINLESS LIFE IS IMPOSSIBLE

As stated, Jesus purchased men for God by overcoming temptations. The word “overcome” means to resist the temptation to sin. This implies that Christ refuted Satan’s arguments against God’s judgments by overcoming temptation and by remaining without sin. This further implies that Satan argued that angels and people sin because God’s laws are unfair and impossible to keep under all circumstances.

GOD ACCUSED OF ARBITRARY JUDGMENT

Combining these two accusations, Satan argued that the fault lies with God, namely that God is unjust when He forgives some sinners but condemns others, for God’s laws are impossible to keep under all circumstances.

Romans 3:25-26 also implies that Satan claimed that God is at fault for it says that God displayed Jesus Christ publicly “to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed.”

But Jesus dismantled the foundation of Satan’s arguments by showing that it is possible to remain faithful to God under the most severe circumstances. On this basis, Jesus validated God’s judgments and purchased people for God.

CONCLUSIONS

The war in heaven is all about sin:

      • Satan accused God’s people of sin and
      • Christ showed Satan’s arguments to be false by remaining without sin in all temptation, even unto death.

Satan was thrown out of heaven IN THE CAPACITY OF ACCUSER; he is no longer believed. Satan was defeated in heaven by Christ’s victory over sin on earth.

WHY Jesus had to die and HOW His death purchased men for God, is highly disputed among scholars. This topic is addressed by several articles on this website. See, for example, the article – Why Christ had to die. The seals reveal the true Theory of the Atonement. However, many academics refuse to allow Revelation to say anything beyond what is said elsewhere in the Bible.  But what would the purpose of this book be if not to reveal what is otherwise a mystery?

THE BOOK OF LIFE

The book that is sealed up with seven seals is the book of life (See, Book of Life). The above analysis of atonement in the seals allows us to answer the following questions:

      • Why is it sealed and with what?
      • What does it mean to break the seals and to open the book?
      • Why was Jesus not worthy before He overcame?
      • How did overcoming make Him worthy?
      • Why is the book not immediately open after He overcame.?

WHY IS IT SEALED AND WITH WHAT?

That the book of life is sealed symbolizes that God’s created intelligent beings are unable to fully understand God’s judgments. In other words, there is disagreement about exactly who should be saved.

Satan’s brilliant and informed accusations are the seals of the book of life, preventing the heavenly beings from understanding God’s judgments.

We should not interpret the sealed book as that God’s judgments were not explained, but rather that explanations are inadequate:

      • To judge between people, who are all sinners, and to decide who should receive eternal life and who should die, are both unbelievably HUGE AND COMPLEX decisions.
      • This complexity is made worse by Lucifer—the light bearer—brilliantly raising informed objections to God’s grace to certain sinners.

For these reasons, finite beings, who do not have God’s infinite knowledge and intelligence, were or are not able to confirm the inerrancy of God’s judgments.

John’s weeping, in the time before Christ received the right to open the book (5:1-4), symbolizes the sorrow in heaven resulting from the intense conflict over God’s judgments. This conflict is also referred to as the “war in heaven” (12:7). As long as Satan’s accusations remain unrefuted, evil will continue and God’s people will not be resurrected. That caused great sorrow in heaven.

God’s people will only reign upon the earth when all the seals are broken (5:9-10). This means that God delays the implementation of His judgments until the intelligent beings understand that His judgments are perfect (A number of articles on this website address this topic. See for example, Why Satan thought he could win).

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BREAK THE SEALS AND TO OPEN THE BOOK?

To break the seals mean to remove the things that prevent understanding of God’s judgments.  In other words; to refute Satan’s objections. To open the book has the same meaning but stated positively, namely to explain God’s judgments to the heavenly beings.

HOW DID JESUS BECOME WORTHY?

Above we argued that Jesus purchased people for God by dismantling Satan’s accusations. Now we switch to related questions:

What does it mean that Jesus became worthy to open the book (5:9)?

Since it is the book of life, containing God’s judgments, it means that Jesus became “worthy” to explain God’s judgments. It means that He is accepted as “the faithful and true Witness” (3:14; cf. 1:5).

Revelation 12 confirms this understanding:

The same crisis – The article on the book of Life shows that Revelation 5 and 12 both show the consequences of Christ’s victory on earth. Therefore the crisis in the two chapters is the same. The crisis in Revelation 12 is uncertainty about the inerrancy of God’s judgments. The symbol of the crisis in Revelation 5 (the sealed book), therefore, is also about uncertainty about God’s judgments. This was one of the six lines of argument to identify the sealed book as the book of life.

The same solution – Now we can take the argument one step further, namely that the solution to the crisis in these two chapters are also the same.

        • The solution to the crisis in Revelation 12 is that Satan is expelled from heaven in his capacity as the accuser of “our brethren” (12:9-10). In other words, he has been shown to be not trustworthy. His testimony is no longer accepted. He has been confirmed as a false witness.
        • Since we assume that the solution in the two chapters is the same, this confirms that when Christ, in Revelation 5, became regarded as trust-“worthy to open the book. This is possibly why Revelation describes Christ as “the faithful and true Witness” (3:14).

This is also implied by the direction of movement. While Satan was thrown out of heaven “down to the earth” (12:9), Jesus ascended from earth to heaven (12:5).

What happened at the Cross that made Him worthy?

God did not simply declare Jesus worthy as a result of the cross. God does not speak at all in Revelation 5. It is not God that declares Jesus worthy, but the elders and the four living beings (5:5, 8, 9).

Jesus was not improved by becoming a man and dying a sacrificial death. He did not become more loving or gracious or better informed through the cross.

It was announced that Jesus is “worthy … to take the book and to break its seals” (5:9) after He appeared as a slain lamb. His death symbolizes His entire life; for the way in which He both lived and died. Therefore His sinless life made Him worthy to explain God’s judgments.

This must be understood in the context of the war in heaven. It was a war of accusations because God condemned Satan and his followers while He acquitted His sinning people. Satan was the main accuser (12:9), accusing God of arbitrary judgment. Jesus was the main defender of God’s people. For example, in Zechariah 3:1, Jesus appears as “the angel of the LORD” with Satan accusing “Joshua the high priest.” “The angel of the LORD” defended Joshua, saying to Satan:

The LORD rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, the LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?” (3:2).

While this war of accusations was still raging, the only begotten Son of God was willing to subject Himself to a test by becoming a vulnerable human being, taking on the “appearance as a man” (Phil. 2:8). His whole life was a test. He won the victory by overcoming sin by dying without sin. He was not somehow improved. Rather, His willingness to be tested and the purity of His life demonstrated His eternal character. God displayed Jesus Christ publicly “to demonstrate His righteousnes” (Rom. 3:25-26). This confirmed Him to be “worthy” to reveal the contents of the book.

At the same time, Satan’s cruel persecution of the innocent and vulnerable Son of man illustrated his true character and purpose and revealed him shown to be a false witness. Through Jesus Christ, God “made a public display of” “the rulers and authorities” (Col. 2:15)

Christ’s sinless life, therefore, had two separate but related consequences:

      • By dismantling Satan’s arguments, Christ purchased people for God.
      • By demonstrating Him as the “true Witness,” He is accepted trustworthy to explain God’s judgments.

WHY IS THE BOOK NOT IMMEDIATELY OPEN?

This question may be phrased as follows: Over the past millennia, God had declared many people to His own, but they remain dead. Jesus died about 2000 years ago. Why does sin still reign on earth?

It can only mean that there is something else that must be done before God will destroy sin and its consequences and resurrect His saints. This may be explained using the terminology in Revelation 5:

Through His sinless death, even to death, Jesus purchased men for God and “made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God” (5:9-10). He “released us from our sins by His blood” (1:5). Christ’s sinless life on earth demonstrated His character, God’s character, and Satan’s character. Satan, as a person, has been discredited. His argument that God’s laws are impossible to keep, has been shown to be unjustified.

However, even after all of that, the book of life remains sealed. That means that God’s judgments are still not understood. Satan’s objections to specific names in the book of life have not been refuted.  Neither has Christ, by overcoming evil, shown that the specific names in the book of life are the right names.

Consequently, we may view redemption as divided into two parts:

      • What was already accomplished at the cross and
      • What remained to be done after the cross.

This double concept of redemption was prefigured in the Old Testament Sacrificial System: On a daily basis, the Jews took their sacrifices to the temple to receive forgiveness, but their sins, symbolically, remained in the temple. Only in the last month of the year, on the Great Judgment Day (Yom Kippur – Day of Atonement) was the sanctuary symbolically cleansed from the sins of the people.

What remains to be done, after Christ’s death, is for Christ to break the seals and open the book:

      • Since the seals symbolize Satan’s accusations that prevent God’s created intelligent beings from understanding the contents of the book, Christ will refute these accusations.
      • Since it is the book of life, containing the names of the redeemed, it means that Christ will do things to ratify God’s judgments and to show that the specific names in the book of life are the right names.

Just like Christ’s life was a demonstration of His eternal character, demonstrations will show that God’s people are worthy of salvation. But that is the topic of another article.

FINAL CONCLUSIONS

BEFORE CHRIST

That the book of life is sealed up symbolizes that God’s created intelligent beings are unable to fully understand God’s judgments.

The seals of the book of life are Satan’s brilliant accusations. Due to these accusations, intelligent creatures are unsure whether God’s judgments are completely accurate.

John’s weeping symbolizes the distress caused by the controversy over God’s judgments, for as long as Satan’s accusations remain unrefuted, evil must continue and God’s people cannot be resurrected. If those questions can never be answered, sin will always exist and God’s dead people will never be raised to life.

CHRIST’S VICTORY

Christ’s death serves as a symbol of how He overcame His entire life.

Jesus purchased men for God by dying without sin. This is explained as follows:

      • Satan claimed that the fault lies with God, namely that God is unjust when He forgives some sinners but condemns others, for God’s laws are impossible to keep under all circumstances.
      • Jesus refuted Satan’s arguments by showing that it is possible to remain faithful to God under the most severe circumstances.

The book remains sealed after Christ’s death because He, by overcoming evil, has not shown that the specific names in the book of life are the right names.

AFTER CHRIST

To break the seals mean to refute Satan’s objections.

God delays the implementation of His judgments until the intelligent beings understand that His judgments are perfect.

Christ is trust-“worthy” to explain God’s judgments because the purity of his life demonstrated His eternal character.

AVAILABLE ARTICLES ON REVELATION

INTRODUCTORY

Why is the title of this website Revelation BY Jesus Christ?
Every main part of Revelation begins in the temple in heaven.
Are events described in chronological sequence?
Is a consistently literal interpretation appropriate?
Does Revelation present Jesus as God?
God’s throne – the center of the universe.

SEVEN SEALS

Introduction to the Seven Seals – What book is this?
Revelation 4:1-8 – Verse-by-verse
Revelation 4:8-11 – Worship in God’s presence
The 24 elders are human beings that rule under God.
Revelation 5 is Christ’s enthronement after His ascension.
The sealed book is the Lamb’s Book of Life.
Why can God not explain His judgments? CURRENT
The Sixth Seal concludes with Christ’s Return.
Does the seventh seal include the seven trumpets?
Seven seals explained

BABYLON

Babylon; the mother of harlots – main article
Babylon’s merchants are her false prophets.
Babylon is not the reconstructed ancient city of Babylon.
Babylon is the driving force behind the beast.

SEVEN-HEADED BEASTS

The Seven-Headed Beasts of Revelation identified
The three beasts are three of the seven heads.
   The Seven Heads identified

REVELATION 13

13:1-2 – The Beast relates to Daniel 7.
13:3-4 – The fatal wound
The beast of Revelation is the Mainstream Church of Christendom.

SEVEN PLAGUES

The Plagues of Revelation – 16 articles

For further reading, Jon Paulien’s commentary is recommended. For general discussions of theology, I recommend Graham Maxwell, who you will find on the Pineknoll website.

The sealed book in Revelation 5 is the Lamb’s Book of Life.

SUMMARY OF THIS ARTICLE

Book of LifeJohn saw a book in the hand of God that is sealed up with seven seals (5:1). A sealed book symbolizes things that are not understood. In the first four verses of Revelation 5, nobody is found “worthy” to break the seals and open the book (5:3). In other words, nobody is “worthy” to explain these things.

For that reason, John “weep greatly” (5:4). This symbolizes the sorrow in heaven because these things are not understood. Apparently, to understand these things are of vital importance. Revelation 5:1-4 describes the time before Jesus’ Cross as a crisis in heaven. But from verse 5 – after the Cross – the sorrow turns into joy, for “the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah … has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals” (5:5).

The Book of Revelation mentions the “book of life” 6 times. It is one of the books that will be opened in the last judgment; 1000 years after the return of Christ (20:12; cf. 19:11; 20:7). As the name indicates, it contains the names of those who will inherit eternal life.

This article provides six reasons to identify the sealed book as the book of life:

1. LAMB’S BOOK OF LIFE

The “book of life” is specifically called “the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (13:8; 21:27). In Revelation 5, Jesus appears as “a Lamb … as if slain” (5:6). “And He came and took the book” (5:7). The connecting words “lamb,” “slain” and “book” imply that the sealed book is the book of life.

2. PART OF SALVATION

According to 5:9, Jesus died BOTH to “purchase” people for God and to be worthy to open the book (5:9). This connects the sealed book to the process of redemption. It implies that opening the book is required for the ultimate redemption of God’s people. Since the opening of the book of life will reveal the names of the redeemed (20:12, 15), it is likely that these are one and the same book.

3. GOD’S BOOK

Book of LifeSince the book is in God’s hand (5:1; cf. 4:11), it is His book; He wrote and He understands the book, which implies that it contains His utterances and judgments. Since the book of life contains the names of the redeemed and since God decides who are to be redeemed, this again connects the sealed book to the book of life.

4. REVELATION 12

Both Revelation 5 and 12 show the consequences of Christ’s victory on earth. In Revelation 5, Christ is enthroned. On the other hand, in Revelation 12, Satan is defeated and expelled from heaven.

In both chapters, there is a crisis in heaven and Christ’s victory solves the crisis. In both chapters, that crisis relates to a lack of certainty. While Revelation 5 symbolizes the lack of certainty as a sealed book, in Revelation 12 the uncertainty is about the perfect accuracy of God’s judgments. This implies that the things that are not understood in Revelation 5 are God’s judgments; about who should be saved. Consequently, the sealed book is the book of life, for that book contains God’s judgments with respect to who will live (21:27) and who will die (20:15).

The book of life is sealed in the sense that, due to Satan’s brilliant and informed accusations against God’s people, God’s intelligent beings are unable to confirm that God’s judgments are without error.

5. OPENED AFTER CHRIST’S RETURN

In Revelation 6, Jesus breaks the seals one by one, causing catastrophes on earth. The sixth seal, at the end of Revelation 6, symbolizes the end-time events that are associated with Christ’s return. Revelation 7 depicts the new heaven and new earth. The seventh seal of the book, therefore, is broken only after the return of Christ (8:1).

The book of life” will, according to 20:12, similarly also only be opened in the final great judgment—one thousand years after Christ’s return (19:11, 20:7).

6. WHO IS WORTHY TO STAND?

Following on from the previous point, the final seals describe the inhabitants of the world, hiding in the mountains, asking, who can stand? Then we see God’s people, standing before the throne. Finally, the seventh seal probably relates to the destruction of the lost multitudes that previously hid in the mountains.

Since we see the contrast between these two groups in the final two seals, it implies that the content of the sealed book relates to God’s judgments of people.

And since the focus in the seals is particularly on God’s people (e.g. fifth seal and Revelation 7), it implies that the “great multitude” represents the contents of the sealed book, which confirms it as the book of life.

– END OF SUMMARY –

INTRODUCTION

John saw a book in the right hand of God. God is described as “Him who sat on the throne” (5:1; cf. 4:11). The book is sealed up with seven seals (5:1).

It is not a literal book. A book symbolizes knowledge. A sealed book is a symbol of things that are not understood. For example, Daniel wrote his prophecies in a book, but an angel told him, “seal up the book until the end of time; many will go back and forth, and knowledge will increase” (Dan 12:4, 9).

No one is found “worthy” to break the seals and open the book (5:3).

Not even the all-seeing four living creatures (4:6) were able to look into the book. “Our Lord and our God” (the Father) is “worthy” “for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being” (4:11) but not even God Himself is “worthy” to open the book.

John “weep greatly” because nobody is able to open the book (5:4).

Since John is now in heaven (4:1), his weeping symbolizes the sorrow in heaven because these things are not understood. To understand these things is somehow of vital importance to the universe. Were no one found to open the book, the consequences would be severe. There is a crisis in heaven.

However, as from 5:5, the sorrow turns into joy, for “the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah … has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals” (5:5). This refers to Jesus Christ and to His victory on earth (3:21). While 5:1-4 describes the time before Christ, verse 5 is after His victory.

PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE

The purpose of this article is to show that the sealed book is the book of life. This is an extremely important concept for the interpretation of the seven seals.

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from the NASB translation of the Book of Revelation.

BOOK OF LIFE

The “book of life” is mentioned 6 times in the Book of Revelation. Several books will be opened in the last judgment, 1000 years after the return of Christ (20:12; cf. 19:11; 20:7). Most of these books will contain the deeds of people, but one of them is “the book of life” (20:12). As the name indicates, it contains the names of those who will inherit eternal life. For example:

Nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it (the new Jerusalem), but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (21:2, 27).

If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” “This is the second death, the lake of fire” (20:14-15; cf. Ps. 69:28; Ph. 4:3; Rev 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:15; 21:27)

THE SEALED BOOK IS THE BOOK OF LIFE.

This article provides six reasons to identify the sealed book as the book of life:

1. LAMB’S BOOK OF LIFE

The “book of life” is specifically called “the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (13:8; 21:27). Jesus appears in Revelation 5 as “a Lamb … as if slain” (5”:6). “And He came and took the book” (5:7). The connecting word “lamb,” “slain” and “book” imply that the sealed book is the book of life.

2. PART OF SALVATION

According to 5:9, Jesus died both to “purchase” people for God and be worthy to open the book. This connection implies that the sealed book is part of redemption and that opening the book is required for the ultimate salvation of God’s people. Since the opening of the book of life will reveal the names of the redeemed (20:12, 15), it is likely that these are one and the same book.

3. GOD’S BOOK

Since the book is in God’s hand (5:1; cf. 4:11), it is His book; He wrote and understands the book, which implies that it contains His utterances and judgments. Since the book of life contains the names of the redeemed and since God decides who are to be redeemed, this again connects the sealed book to the book of life.

4. REVELATION 12

SAME EVENT

Both Revelation 5 and 12 show the consequences of Christ’s victory on earth:

      • Revelation 5 is Christ’s enthronement after His ascension (See Revelation 5).
      • In Revelation 12, Satan is expelled from heaven after his defeat in the war in heaven. This is the direct consequence of Christ’s victory on earth:
        • Satan brought rebellion from heaven when he deceived Eve. The “war in heaven” (12:7), therefore, was started before Adam was created.
        • The dragon (Satan – see 12:9) attempts to devour Christ as soon as He was born (12:4) but it failed. “Her child (Jesus) was caught up to God and to His throne” (12:5).
        • The events in Revelation 12 are not given in chronological sequence for verse 14 repeats the wilderness period of verse 6.  Verses 13-14 indicate that Satan was defeated in the war in heaven (12:7-12) after the Cross but before the wilderness period of verses 14 and 6.  This implies that Satan’s defeat was the direct consequence of Christ’s victory on earth.

SAME UNCERTAINTY

In both these chapters, Christ’s victory solves a crisis that relates to a lack of certainty:

      • Revelation 5 symbolizes the lack of certainty as a sealed book.
      • In Revelation 12, the lack of certainty relates to God’s judgments:

In the war in heaven (12:7), Satan “accuses” God’s people “day and night” (12:10). He does not accuse his own followers but specifically God’s people, giving reasons why God’s people should not be saved. We also see Satan elsewhere in the role of the accuser (Job 1:8-10; Zech. 3:1-2).

By implication, Satan accuses God of unfair and arbitrary judgment. Perhaps Satan argued that, if God forgives some people their sins, Satan and his angels should also be forgiven.

If we remember that many of the mighty angels have been convinced by Satan’s arguments (12:4, 7), we realize that his arguments must be very convincing, and even loyal angels would be uncertain about the perfect accuracy of God’s judgments.

CONCLUSIONS

      • These chapters use two different sets of symbols for the same lack of certainty.
      • Therefore the lack of understanding in Revelation 5, symbolizes by a sealed book, is the uncertainty in Revelation 12, which is about God’s judgments; about who should be saved.
      • This implies that the sealed book is the book of life, for it is the book of life that contains God’s judgments with respect to who will live (21:27) and who will die (20:15).
      • The book of life is sealed in the sense that, due to Satan’s brilliant and informed accusations, God’s intelligent beings are unable to confirm that God’s judgments are without error. This means that Satan’s accusations are the book’s seals.  When the seals are broken, his accusations are refuted.
      • This lack of certainty about God’s judgments was the cause of the great sorrow in heaven before Christ’s victory (12:4).

5. BOTH BOOKS ARE OPEN AFTER CHRIST’S RETURN.

In Revelation 6, Jesus breaks the seals one by one, causing catastrophes on earth. The sixth seal, at the end of Revelation 6 (16:12-14), symbolizes the end-time events that precede (or, are associated with) Christ’s return (cf. Mt. 24:29-30). For example, in that seal, the people of the world hide in the mountains from “Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb” (6:16). They ask:

The great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand” (6:17)?

Revelation 7 provides the answer:

A great multitude which no one could count, from every nation … standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (7:9)

The remainder of Revelation 7 depicts the new heaven and new earth. The seventh seal of the book, therefore, is broken only after the return of Christ (8:1).

According to 20:12, “the book of life” will similarly also only be opened in the final great judgment—one thousand years after the return of Christ (19:11, 20:7). Since both books are only opened after the return of Christ, it implies that they are the same book.

6. WHO IS WORTHY TO STAND?

As mentioned in the previous point, the sixth seal describes:

      • The inhabitants of the world, hiding in the mountains, asking, who can stand?
      • God’s people, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.

The seventh seal is fairly vague – silence for a period. This probably relates to the judgment or destruction of the lost multitudes that previously hid in the mountains.

Since we see this contrast between these two groups in the final two seals, it implies that the content of the sealed book relates to God’s judgments of people.

And since the focus is particularly on God’s people (e.g. fifth seal and Revelation 7), it implies that the “great multitude” represents the contents of the sealed book, which confirms it as the book of life.

JON PAULIEN

Jon Paulien agrees that, for the sealed book to be the book of life is a very appealing possibility, but he argues as follows:

The nature of the cosmic conflict addressed in chapter twelve and hinted at in chapter five suggests that the book of life has a more narrow focus than the universal crisis described so dramatically in Revelation 5.

My question to Jon would be, what can be of greater significance than if the intelligent beings of God’s creation are unsure about the perfect accuracy of God’s judgment, with the result that sin continues and that the resurrection of God’s people is indefinitely postponed?

BOOK OF REVELATION 10

One of the possibilities which Jon Paulien lists for the sealed book is that it is related to the book of Revelation 10. My main argument against this proposal is that the book of Revelation 5 is sealed until after the return of Christ while the book in Revelation 10 is open when it comes down, is eaten (understood) by John, and becomes the basis for his preaching (10:10-11), which must be before the return of Christ.

Furthermore, as Jon mentions, a different word for book is used (Greek: Rev 5 biblion, Rev 10 biblaridion).

FINAL CONCLUSIONS

  • In the time before Christ, there was a crisis in heaven. The created beings were unsure about the perfect accuracy of God’s judgments. This was the cause of great sorrow in heaven.
  • Christ died to be “worthy” to explain God’s judgments.
  • The sealed book is the book of life:
  • Both Revelation 5 and 12 show the consequences of Christ’s victory on earth. On the one hand, Christ is enthroned. On the other, Satan is expelled from heaven.

AVAILABLE ARTICLES ON REVELATION

INTRODUCTORY
Why is the title of this website Revelation BY Jesus Christ?
Every main part of Revelation begins in the temple in heaven.
Are events described in chronological sequence?
Is a consistently literal interpretation appropriate?
Does Revelation present Jesus as God?
God’s throne – the center of the universe.
SEVEN SEALS
Introduction to the Seven Seals – What book is this?
Revelation 4:1-8 – Verse-by-verse
Revelation 4:8-11 – Worship in God’s presence
The 24 elders are human beings that rule under God.
Revelation 5 is Christ’s enthronement after His ascension.
The sealed book is the Lamb’s Book of Life.
The Sixth Seal concludes with Christ’s Return.
Does the seventh seal include the seven trumpets?
Seven seals explained
BABYLON
Babylon; the mother of harlots – main article
Babylon’s merchants are her false prophets.
Babylon is not the reconstructed ancient city of Babylon.
Babylon is the driving force behind the beast.
SEVEN-HEADED BEASTS
The Seven-Headed Beasts of Revelation identified
The three beasts are three of the seven heads.
   The Seven Heads identified
REVELATION 13
13:1-2 – The Beast relates to Daniel 7.
13:3-4 – The fatal wound
The beast of Revelation is the Mainstream Church of Christendom.
SEVEN PLAGUES
The Plagues of Revelation – 16 articles

For further reading, Jon Paulien’s commentary is recommended. For general discussions of theology, I recommend Graham Maxwell, who you will find on the Pineknoll website.