“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?’” (Rev. 5:1-2, RSV)
The mystery of the Divine Plan, hidden from the world and from nominal Christians in parables, figures and symbols - hidden from all except the fully consecrated children of God - is most beautifully symbolized in the Book of Revelation. In the vision, John was shown a symbolic panorama of the Father seated upon His throne of glory, holding in His right hand a scroll sealed with seven seals. The scroll does not symbolize the Bible, but rather the Divine Plan, with its times and seasons. While the Bible is indeed a record of God’s plan, He had the plan from the very beginning, before the Bible was written. It was the mystery, the secret of the Lord, unknown to anyone but Himself - His plan for the salvation of the world.
In the symbol John heard the proclamation, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” In other words, who is worthy to open and execute the great Divine Plan, wonderful for its wisdom and love, for its lengths and breadths and depths and heights past human comprehension? A silence followed the question, and John “wept much.” He feared this signified that none would be found worthy, that the Divine Plan would never be fully revealed and therefore never fully executed. But the angel again touched him and said, “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.” (Rev. 5:4-5, RSV)
Is the Divine Plan really a secret? Are not God’s arrangements so plain that “the wayfaring men, though fools [unlearned], shall not err therein?” (Isa. 35:8) Are not the steps of the plan of salvation simple enough for a child to understand?
Evidently not! Differing opinions about the Divine Plan are everywhere. Not only are there a great variety of utterly false non-Christian theories, but Christian people have various theories that are in direct opposition to each other. Even among the scholars of the various sects of Christendom there are differing conceptions of God’s intentions and methods.
Some claim God’s plan to be one of “Free Grace,” by which He gives an equal opportunity to all to share in it. Yet, looking about us it is evident all are not equally privileged; all are not equally informed; all are not equally circumstanced. Others claim God’s plan is one of “Election.” They deny that grace is free to all, holding that it is restricted to the favored few. Besides these two theories, we have various other conflicting theories, and the most obtuse thinker must admit that if there is so much disagreement among theologians, college professors and doctors of divinity, the unlearned “wayfaring man” has many chances to err.
It is then quite literally true that the Lord’s plan is a secret: “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will show them his covenant.” (Psa. 25:14) He did not disclose it to the angels - not even to the Logos. Nor did He disclose its time features fully to our Lord Jesus while He was in the flesh. And after His resurrection Jesus spoke of these things saying, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.” (Acts 1:7)
All the Prophets spoke more or less obscurely and in parables, including the Great Prophet, our Lord Jesus, of whom it is written that He taught the people in parables and dark sayings: “All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them.” (Matt. 13:34-35; Psa. 78:2) Nevertheless, He promised that in due time the Holy Spirit would guide His true disciples into all truth and would show them things to come. (John 16:13)
THE DIVINE SCROLL
The scroll representing God’s Word has writing on the inside and outside. The things written on the outside represent the easy and simple things of the Bible, like histories, most of its precepts and exhortations and some of its doctrine. Those things written on the inside and sealed by seven seals represent the secret features of the Bible, which could not be made known to men until someone was found worthy to open the seals. They could not be understood until the due time for Jesus to open the seals and expound to God’s elect people (“them that fear Him”) the things inside. Of Jesus the testimony was given: “Worthy art 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.” (Rev. 5:9-10, RSV)
God had intimated to Abraham that He had a plan for the fallen race. He declared to Abraham unconditionally that He would bless the world of mankind. (Gen. 22:18) He also later pointed out through the types and shadows of the Law certain features of the plan by which He would bless the world. He declared that there would be a Redeemer, but kept secret who the Redeemer would be. Both angels and men desired to know but they were not permitted the knowledge. The inspired Prophets spoke concerning this Redeemer, but they did not understand the meaning of their own words.
In due time the Logos was sent forth. A loyal Son before He was sent, He undertook to do the Father’s will, not yet knowing what it would cost to be the Messiah, for God had kept these things secret. He manifested His faith and His trust; He delighted to do the Father’s will, even to the taking of a lower nature. He humbled Himself from His previous glorious condition and took the human nature. He became a man - a perfect man, not a sinful man. Our Lord did this in order to carry out the great program which the Father had in His own mind and which He had not revealed to any other.
Great was the favor bestowed upon the Strong One of the Tribe of Judah in being permitted to open the seals - to carry out and make manifest the grand designs of infinite love - and great is the privilege of those who are permitted to look thereon as the seals are opened.
When Jesus reached the age of thirty, the earliest age at which He could present Himself to God under the Law, He went to Jordan and made a consecration of Himself with the determination to do everything that was in the Father’s plan - everything that typically and prophetically had been written in the Holy Scriptures concerning Him. “Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.” (Psa. 40:7-8; Heb. 10:7,9)
This was our Lord’s consecration. His human nature became His sacrifice; He laid down His life. He did not finish laying down His life at Jordan; but so far as His will was concerned, He committed it there. He there became the Priest, the great High Priest, His flesh being typed by the bullock of sin-offering, sacrificed on Israel’s Day of Atonement. During the three and a half years of His ministry He carried out this sacrificing satisfactorily, and everything the Father gave Him to do was finished at the cross.
THE DEEP THINGS UNFOLDED AT JORDAN
Our Lord Jesus received the anointing of the Holy Spirit when He came up out of the water at His baptism and the heavens were opened to Him. The Scriptures were unfolded to His view and the higher things which He had not previously understood became clear. He knew He was going up to Jerusalem to be crucified. He knew that He would be betrayed by one of His chosen disciples, and He knew which of them would be the betrayer. He knew these things because He had been begotten of the Holy Spirit and accepted of God as a Son on the Divine plane. (Mark 1:10-11)
During the three and a half years of His ministry He was the Messiah, the One sent of God, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. He had sacrificed His will, but this was not sufficient. God wished Him to sacrifice not only His will, but actually to lay down His human life. And God purposed to prove Him by certain crucial tests. So He was “in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb. 4:15) When all His tests were completed at His death on the cross, God gave Him a name at which all should bow, both in heaven and in earth. (Phil. 2:10)
Here we find the answer to the words “Who is worthy?” This inquiry encompassed the period from before Jesus came into the world until His resurrection from the grave. God had given the most honorable One of all the host of heaven the first opportunity to prove His worthiness to loosen the scroll of God’s great plan and to fulfill its provisions. He was given this opportunity because, as the First-born of the Father, He had the right to the first privilege of service, and He did not allow the privilege to go to waste. He accepted it; He was faithful; He humbled Himself to the human nature. Being born as a man to the Tribe of Judah, He thus became the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, a title He did not have in His position as the Logos. It was as the Son of Mary that He was the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David.
PROCLAIMED WORTHY BY THE ANGELS
Our Lord’s worthiness was not proven when He was born as a man; it was not proven when He made His consecration. It was only when He finished His course in death that He was proven worthy to receive glory, honor and power. The demonstration was not complete until He cried with His dying breath, “It is finished!” (John 19:30) From the time of Adam until Jesus no one had been found worthy to open the great scroll. But then John the Revelator depicted Jesus thus: “And I beheld, and, lo . . . a Lamb as it had been slain.” Myriads of Angels were then heard proclaiming, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.” (Rev 5:6, 11-12)
After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension the scroll was given into His hands to be opened, meaning that the Divine Plan as a whole was then made known to Him. He already had knowledge of much of it, the part of the plan that was written on the outside of the scroll. But then all things were then given to Him to unloose, the part written on the inside. While still in the flesh He had said, “But of that day and that hour [of His second coming] knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.” (Mark 13:32) The things that were sealed were not proper to be understood by our Redeemer until He had received all power, after His resurrection. The execution of God’s plan was then given into His hands.
Our Lord Jesus had proven His loyalty to the Heavenly Father by His obedience, not only in humbling Himself to take man’s estate for the suffering of death, but also in His obedience “unto death, even the [ignominious] death of the cross.” (Phil. 2:8) Then and there He proved Himself worthy of every confidence and trust. As the Apostle declares, “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:9-11)
Thus is pictured the high exaltation of the Heavenly Father’s representative, the “Messenger [servant] of the Covenant.” (Mal. 3:1) Because of His humility, complete submission and obedience to the Father’s will, He is proclaimed thenceforth the sharer of the Father’s throne. Finally “every creature” will understand that God has very highly exalted His Only Begotten Son, even to association with Himself in the Kingdom, and shout their approval, saying, “Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever!” (Rev. 5:13)
No wonder, we are instructed henceforth: “That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.” (John 5:23)
GRADUAL OPENING OF THE SEALS
Then came the opening of the seals, the revealing by Jesus, the disclosing of one after another of the various features connected with the Divine purpose. Each seal as it was loosed permitted the scroll as a whole to open a little wider, and a little wider, thus permitting “the mystery of God” to be a little more clearly discerned, “That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.” (Matt. 13:35)
The opening of the seals has progressed all during the Gospel Age. The whole plan of God is represented in this scroll. It has required all of the present age and will require all of the next age to complete the plan. The Plan of God includes the “the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.” (Acts 3:21)
We are now able to see these wonderful things and to tell about them, because each of the seals as it has been opened has made the plan a little clearer. We may suppose that the Lord Jesus was made aware of all its features after He ascended to the presence of the Father. We who are God’s people seek to know these things more and more fully. The Master declared that as the Father revealed them to Him, so would He reveal them to us; but this revelation has been gradual, as the successive seals have been broken.
Brethren, beloved in Christ, realizing that our God has counted us worthy to look upon the wondrous scroll of His great Plan, which has been unsealed for us by Jesus our Lord, let us continue to prove ourselves worthy to look therein and comprehend the glorious things of His Word, by faithfulness, obedience and loyalty to His plan in everything! Let our appreciation continually increase for our wondrous privilege in being permitted to share this blessed ministry of bearing Divine Truth to other hungry hearts that they also may rejoice in the Lord and in the power of His might!
(Based on several writings of Pastor Russell, primarily reprint 5943)
“Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk.” (Matt. 22:15)
The Pharisees and Sadducees were the religious leaders at the time of our Lord’s first advent. Having formed an alliance or federation of sorts, they rarely attacked each other, although their doctrines were directly opposed. The Pharisees acknowledged God, the Prophets and the Law, and believed in a future life by a resurrection from the dead. They believed a coming Messiah would exalt their nation and through it bless the world. The Sadducees, on the other hand, believed none of these things – they were agnostics, the “Higher Critics” of their time. They sought to make the best of the present life, doubting any future life existed.
The Pharisees opposed Jesus because He did not acknowledge their religious authority. He instead criticized them and exposed their hypocrisies in claiming to be perfect and holy in the keeping of the Law. He also reproved them for their lack of sympathy for the poor and less prominent.
The Sadducees also opposed Jesus because, as unbelievers, they considered Him a fraud. Even so, they only bothered themselves to oppose Him because they perceived that He was gaining influence with the people. They feared this influence might sooner or later lead to some disturbance of the peace and influence the Roman Empire against the Jews. So while the Sadducees and Pharisees both opposed Jesus, their opposition was for different reasons.
Five days before His crucifixion, Jesus made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the multitude cried, “Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord!” (Matt. 21:9) This awakened envy in the minds of the Pharisees, but in the Sadducees it produced fear that the common people would be incited to involve their nation in conflict with the Empire.
From the time Jesus called Lazarus back from the tomb, the Pharisees had privately determined to kill Him. (John 11:44-53) His driving out of the money-changers, etc., from the Temple was a further manifestation of His power with the common people, who would not stand by quietly and see Him injured. Whatever was done must be done quietly and quickly. Moreover, since the people revered the Roman soldiers, the Pharisees reasoned it would be desirable to have Him executed under Pilate’s decree.
But how could they bring the matter before Pilate? What charges could they make? It was the people who had proclaimed Him king and not Himself. They reasoned that they must get Him to make some treasonous statement which would result in Him being brought before Pilate as an enemy of the Roman Empire. He could then be legally executed in a manner which the public could not protest. The Pharisees wanted to turn the sympathy of the people away from the Great Teacher.
THE PHARISEES SET A TRAP
To this end, on the last day of our Lord’s public ministry (two days after His entry into Jerusalem), a group of Pharisees, along with members of another Jewish sect, the Herodians, came to Jesus seeking to entrap Him with the question: “Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?” (Matt. 22:17)
The Pharisees generally held that the Jews as the people of God were to be the rulers of all other peoples, and that they should never pay tribute (taxes) to other rulers. They kept these teachings privately, however, for fear of being apprehended as traitors to Rome. The Herodians sided with Herod, standing firmly and publicly for the control of the Roman Empire. They claimed that it was to the advantage of the people of Israel and that the paying of tribute was right and proper. The common people seemed to favor the view of the Pharisees and oppose the view of the Herodians.
By coming to Jesus in public, the representatives of these two sects hoped to get Him to do one of two things: either agree with the Herodians that the tax was right and proper and thus break His influence with the common people, or publicly side with the Pharisees and common people, declaring the tax improper and contrary to the Divine will, thus labeling Himself as a traitor and a leader of sedition.
They artfully endeavored to ensnare the Master by prefacing their question with a compliment upon His truthfulness, impressing upon Him their appreciation of Him as a Teacher: “Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men.” (Matt. 22:16)
These treacherous compliments were intended to entrap Him, but He promptly answered, “Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? [Why do you veil your base designs under guise of speaking for the Truth?] Show me the tribute money.” They handed Him a denarius inscribed with Caesar’s likeness and superscription. Jesus then asked, “Whose is this image and superscription?” They answered, “Caesar’s.” Jesus replied, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” (Matt. 22:18-21)
Jesus did not go into a discourse on the advantages to the Jewish nation from the protection of Rome, nor did He declare that the tribute tax was just in every respect. But He did sum up the matter in those few words: If Caesar had just claims against them, they were to render to him accordingly. This would not interfere with God’s just claims which they should be equally ready to meet. This answer was not an evasion of the question. It was an answer in the full sense, far beyond what his questioners could fully comprehend.
They did comprehend, however, that they had failed to entrap Him. He had answered their question in a manner which would never have occurred to them, and they saw that He had a wisdom far beyond theirs and beyond all natural earthly wisdom. He had the wisdom from above: pure, peaceable, gentle, full of mercy and good deeds. (Jas. 3:17)
THE SADDUCEES’ ATTEMPT
Having failed, the Pharisees and Herodians left; but then on the same day the Sadducees came to Jesus. These agnostics, who did not believe in a resurrection, tried to entrap the Great Teacher by asking one of their stock questions: Seven brothers in turn married the same woman and all died before she did. They asked, “Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven?” (Matt. 22:28) They did not ask whose wife she would be in heaven or eternal torture or purgatory, for neither Jesus nor any of the Jewish sects held any such belief. The Pharisees and Jesus taught the resurrection of the dead, and it was against this teaching that the Sadducees aimed their sarcastic question, which aimed to show an absurdity in the doctrine of a future life, implying that human affairs would be so muddled that all eternity would not straighten them out.
Note the majesty of the Master’s answer: “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.” (Matt. 22:29-30) The Sadducees did not understand the Scripture teachings and ignored the great Divine power to be exercised at the resurrection, which will straighten out all difficulties. The Great Teacher explained that those who would gradually attain the resurrection, the complete raising up out of sin and death conditions, would be sexless, as are the angels. The crowds who heard this were astonished at Jesus’ teaching. Thus the supposed great and unanswerable question of the Sadducees fell flat and their ignorance was exposed.
ONE LAST QUESTION
When the Pharisees learned that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they again gathered together to question Him. One of them who was a lawyer (one considered an expert in religious law) questioned Jesus about the relative importance of the Divine commandments, asking which commandment Jesus considered the greatest one of all. This perhaps was another attempt to entrap Jesus or it may have been asked in all sincerity, the lawyer having witnessed how well Jesus answered previous questions.
The Great Teacher promptly divided the Ten Commandments into two, quoting from the Old Testament. He answered, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great [chief] commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matt. 22:37-40; Deut. 6:5)
What could the lawyer say to such a summarization of the Law? He had nothing left to say. He had never before heard such an answer. Who today, hundreds of years later, could more completely summarize the great truth of this text? Heavenly Wisdom was manifested in the original statement and the same Heavenly Wisdom was manifested when our Lord quoted it; He added nothing, because nothing could be added.
We see more and more clearly the power of this statement. Love is the principal thing! In times past many might have changed this statement to conform to their creeds, making it convey the idea that we should dread, fear, and tremble, because the Almighty God of the Universe purposed to eternally torment the great majority of humanity. The Bible stands distinctly separate from all human creeds and superstitions, and tells us that God is love, that He is the Father of light and mercy, from whom comes every good and perfect gift. (1 John 4:16: Jas. 1:17)
THEN JESUS ASKED THE QUESTIONS
The Great Teacher then asked the Pharisees, “What think ye of Christ? whose son is he?” They answered, “The son of David.” He then asked, “How then doth David in spirit [prophetically] call him Lord, saying, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? If David then call him Lord, how is he his son?” (Matt. 22:42-45)
This question was of course too deep for the Pharisees. The Great Teacher could answer all of their questions, but they could not answer His. How beautifully clear we see it: Messiah, “according to the flesh,” was born of the lineage of David (Rom. 1:3), but God’s purposes were not fully accomplished in Messiah of the flesh. He laid down His flesh sacrificially and was raised from the dead to the plane of glory, honor and immortality. We perceive that while in the flesh He was the Son of David, but in His glorification He is David’s Lord. Through Him, David will in due time receive not only resurrection from the dead, but also the blessing of participating in the Messianic Kingdom.
The father of Messiah in the flesh will thus become the son of the Messiah of glory, whose earthly life is to be the restitution price for the whole world, including David. Thus it is written, “Instead of thy fathers shall be thy children, whom thou mayest make princes [rulers] in all the earth.” (Psa. 45:16)
(Based on several Reprints, including 4686, 3852 and 5521)