And I wept much because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it. Rev 5:4.
We are often reluctant to identify with the positive characters in the Bible. We assume that people like John were on a far higher spiritual level than we are. Yet the Bible invites us to model our lives on the characters in it (Heb 6:12). Paul, for example, encourages the members of his churches to imitate him (1 Cor 4:6-7, 16; 11:1; 1 Thess 1:6-7). One of the best ways to apply the Bible’s moral lessons to our lives is to give careful attention to the positive and negative examples we find in the stories of the Bible.
In this and other verses, John becomes part of his own vision! And it is encouraging to realize that John does not portray himself as a great saint, but as one who makes mistakes and is even a bit clueless at times. In Revelation 5:4 John weeps because he has no idea what is going on in heaven. He sees but he doesn’t understand. In Rev 7:14 an elder asks him a question and he has no idea how to answer it. In Rev 19:9-10 and 22:8-9 he falls down to worship an angel only to be rebuked for it. Now to do this once might be understandable. But to do it a second time a short while later really looks foolish! Apparently prophets are not automatically smart in all areas.
I can be pretty clueless at times myself. I remember when I was in high school a college choir came by, directed by a PhD in music. I was not impressed with the choir and figured the conductor must be no good, in spite of her high degree. So when I joined my friends at the water cooler after the performance, I began to expound about how PhDs are usually less competent than people with lesser degrees because they get out of touch with real life, etc. I got on a roll about how bad this conductor was, and so on. In the middle of my monologue I turned around, only to discover the conductor standing behind me, taking in every word. I have rarely felt so dumb!
The good news is that readers like me can identify with John and other biblical characters in their weakness. Elijah was easily discouraged and depressed, yet at God’s command he could make it stop raining! David murdered at least 201 innocent people in his lifetime, yet God found a way to forgive him! John the Baptist questioned whether Jesus was really the Messiah yet Jesus called him the greatest of the prophets (Matt 11:1-13)! Job and Jeremiah were “saints” who wished they had never been born (Job 3:3; Jer 20:14-15)! “It is encouraging to our desponding hearts to know that through God’s grace they could gain fresh vigor to again rise above their evil natures; and, remembering this, we are ready to renew the conflict ourselves.”