Revelation scares a lot of people. It also attracts a lot of people. And I know a lot of people who just through their hands up in the air and declare that they cannot understand it, so they leave it alone.
There are two main things to remember about Revelation. The first, which is in the first verse of the first chapter of the book, is that it is a revelation “of Jesus Christ.” Everything in the book furthers reveals Jesus. Somehow it all ties in with Jesus’ identity and ministry. The second is that it is full of symbolism that was perfectly well known to the Jewish people and God-fearing Gentiles (Gentiles that worshiped in the synagogues and believed that the God of Israel was the one, true God) because those symbols come from the Old Testament.
One more thing to keep in mind is that when John hears something in Revelation, it usually has something to do with the Jewish story. When he sees something, it usually takes a Christian twist. This reading is no different:
Then I saw a scroll in the right hand of the one seated on the throne. It had writing on the front and the back, and it was sealed with seven seals. I saw a powerful angel, who proclaimed in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or look inside it. So I began to weep and weep, because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look inside it. Then one of the elders said to me, “Don’t weep. Look! The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has emerged victorious so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” Then, in between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb, standing as if it had been slain. It had seven horns and seven eyes, which are God’s seven spirits, sent out into the whole earth.
Several things about this passage. First, the scroll is written on both sides fully. This means nothing can be added to it. Second, it is sealed with seven seals–a number of perfection in the Bible–so nothing can be taken away from it. Third, it is in the Father’s right hand, the symbol of his power and authority. This is the will of God–that to which nothing can be added or taken away, and the search is for who can disclose God’s will in creation.
Then John hears that the Lion of the Tribe of Judah can open it. This is a powerful image of the Davidic Kingdom in Jewish thought. It is a symbol of conquering and power. It is the kind of Messiah the Jewish people expected. What John sees, though, is completely different. He sees a Lamb that was slain–the antithesis of power–and the kind of Messiah Jesus is. This slain Lamb is still alive, so there is a conquering that has happened, and in fact the way the passage is structured implies that the conquering is the opening of the scroll and the disclosing of God’s will in the world. In other words, by Jesus being crucified and resurrected, that revealed the will of God in the world.
Finally, the Lamb is between the throne and the Living Creatures and the twenty-four elders. These are symbolic of creation and the Church. The throne is God’s throne. The fact that the Lamb is between them shows that he belongs to all three–he is God, and therefore has the right to be on the throne; he is human, and therefore has the right to be with the Living Creatures; and he is intimately a part of the Church, as it is his body.