The “one on the throne” holds a seven-sealed scroll with writing on both sides (Rev 5:1). No one in all of creation can be found worthy to open the scroll except the “Lamb that was slain” (5:2-5). This scroll is an important symbol in this chapter, but also for chapters 6-7 since a series of things occur as the seals on the scroll are opened. How did John intend for us to understand this scroll?
Normally a scroll is only written on one side (the inside), a two sided scroll is rare. Because of this there are several variations in the textual tradition to try and explain to “fix” the phrase. For example, by changing the wording slightly, one might read the text as “within, on the inside.” David Aune offers several suggestions for the “form of the book.”
First, the book could be an opistograph, or a scroll “written on both sides.” The main problems with this view are the parallels to Ezekiel’s vision of a scroll in Ezekiel 3, and the original reading of the text; if this were an opistograph, it should be described differently. It is possible, however, John did not know this technical term.
Second, the book could be a doppelurkunde, or “doubly written legal document.” It was common enough for a legal document to be written twice with a short gap between the two parts. Jeremiah 32:9-15, for example, describes a double-written deed. A brief description would be written on the outside of the scroll so the general contents might be known without opening the seals.
Third, Zahn argued the scroll is not a scroll at all, but rather a codex (i.e. book.) The Greek word used here is βιβλίον, but in the first century the word meant simply “a document” or scroll. While this view has been criticized because there are clear parallels to the scroll Ezekiel, it is a fact that early Christians were very quick to adopt the codex for their collections of letters and gospels. In addition, a book could be sealed so that individual pages could be opened while later ones remained sealed.
This scroll has been identified as any number of things, including “a bill of divorce for Jerusalem and a nuptial contract for the New Jerusalem” or a sealed copy of the Torah. But the most common suggestion is that the scroll as having something to do with the revelation which follows. In the most general sense, the scroll contains the eschatological punishments inflicted on the world by the will of God.
- The contents of the scroll begin to occur with the opening of the first seal in 6:1 to the seventh seal in 8:1.
- The events of the scroll cannot occur until the scroll is completely opened. This does not happen until 8:1, therefore the contents are 8:2ff.
- If the scroll is “doubly written legal document,” then it is possible the section 6:-7:17 is the exterior while 8:1-22:5 is the interior, the actual content of the scroll. (D. Hellholm made this suggestion)
- The contents of the scroll is Rev 6:1-22:6. The Lamb reveals to John the contents of the scroll after he receives it.
- The scroll is the whole of the book of Revelation. The book is described as prophetic (1:11; 22:7, 9, 18-19) and 22:10 commands John not to seal his book.
It is possible the book does not contain the prophecies which follow. There are several suggested ideas for the contents of the book, such as God’s plan for human beings and the world or even a record of the sins of humankind. After the scroll is opened in chapter 6, it appears that the contents of the book are the seven trumpet and seven bowl judgments. If this is the case, then the book is the “decree of God” for the judgment of the world described in those sections.