In Revelation chapter 1, we find the Apostle John on the Isle of Patmos on the Lord’s Day. He is evidently alone, but spiritually he is ‘in the Spirit’. That which concerns the Lord Jesus Christ occupies his mind and heart. He is in the heavenlies when he hears a great voice, v. 10. He is to ‘write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter’, v. 19. A solemn responsibility! Chapters 2 and 3 are taken up with the letters to the seven churches.
Chapter 4 marks the end of this present church age with the words, ‘After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven’. This is a defining moment. John is told to, ‘Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter’. The ‘hereafter’ clearly means after the history of the church has ended and the saints have been raptured to heaven, 1 Cor. 15. 15-58; 1 Thess. 4. 13-18.
John is then introduced to the glorious sight of Christ upon the throne with the seated elders, seven lamps of fire, and four beasts saying, ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come’, v. 8. This scene of pure worship is the acknowledgement of absolute holiness, deity, and the immutability of the One on the throne.1 John had walked with the Lord Jesus through His public ministry, witnessed His death upon the cross and been with Him after the resurrection, but he had never seen Him like this before. The throne room of heaven could not be more different from the scene of earth. As John surveys this glory, his attention is drawn to the book in the right hand of the One upon the throne. It is interesting to observe that the scroll is written within and on the backside. In ancient times, parchments were written on the inside, and, if full, the outside was also used.2 This scroll was filled and what is written thereon has been described as the title deeds of earth, God’s programme for the future. It is crucial, and the identity of the one who can open to read it is also of paramount importance. It is sealed with seven seals and can only be opened by One with the absolute authority to do so.
There is a strong angel proclaiming to all, ‘Who is worthy to open the book [scroll], and to loose the seals thereof?’ 5. 2. There is no man in heaven, the earth, or the underworld able to undertake this task. This brings such distress to John for he says, ‘I wept much’, v. 4. The strength of the statement in the original text suggests that he sobbed with a broken heart.3 What an amazing reaction! A man weeping in heaven of all places. Surely the human mind asks ‘why?’ Heaven is the perfect place - no sorrow, no pain, all things eternally in order. Here in the throne room of heaven, the heart of John breaks with disappointment. What has motivated him to weep? Although by the Spirit he is in heaven, he is still a mortal man inhibited by the limits of the flesh. In addition to his years with Christ upon earth, it was he who was given the task to pen the gospel record of the Lord Jesus as the eternal Son of God, and three most valuable Epistles. He knew something of the immensity of the value of the scroll. He realized it needed someone very special to both open and read it. He wanted a glimpse at God’s programme for the future. This weeping man is a testimony to how a mortal being can live in such communion with Christ.
His weeping reflects his spirituality, his commitment to the things of God, and is a witness of what he had learnt whilst he was with Christ on earth.
Can John continue to weep? No! This is heaven! One of the elders steps forward with the message of great comfort. This is a timeless place, a place of comfort, of order, of worship void of any distractions, and certainly of no disappointments. The role of the elder here is significant. We see in the elder, one who comforts, one with knowledge, one who appreciates the sobbing heart, one who gives personal attention, and one who shows concern. All these are a picture of the person of Christ. We note that it is an elder that comforts, not an angel. The elder understands the distress of a weeping mortal who is yet to permanently enter heaven. We have no record of angels weeping. They may not have the wide spectrum of emotions that mortals have, from deep sorrow to abundant rejoicing. The elder points John to the one in the midst of the throne where he sees a Lamb freshly slain who comes and takes the book. Heaven now rings with a new song, vv. 9, 10, followed by a vast multitude singing a song of exultation with a loud voice, vv. 12, 13. Is it not the task of every elder to point the saints to the person of Christ? Now, the weeping has gone. The desire of John’s spiritual heart has been fully and richly met. The scroll’s contents will be revealed to him. He will be privileged above all the men of earth to carry out with his pen the commission given to him, 1. 19.
The strict translation is not ‘book’ but ‘scroll’, see NKJV, YLT, ESV, Alford.
See Henry Alford, The New Testament for English Readers, Volume 2, Rivingtons, 1872.
‘I began to weep loudly’ ESV, ‘I kept on weeping much … Perhaps weeping aloud’ A. T. Robertson, ‘wept copiously’ W. Macdonald, ‘his tears burst forth in the earnestness of disappointed desire’ Alford.