The Bootstrap Paradox
"Guess you guys aren't ready for that yet, but your kids are gonna love it."
—Marty McFly after playing "Johnny B. Goode" to the crowd at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance in Back to the Future
Admittedly, this is going to be one of those mind-melting articles designed to get you to think beyond the plain reading of the text, and envisage both the logic and the logistics of Revelation chapter five. I don't have any answers for this, however, I have a ton of questions and some speculations as to what I "think" happens, but I am by no means dogmatic about how it actually happens. I am just like you, trying to wrap my head around it. Let's go.
And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals. Then I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?” And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look at it.
So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it. But one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.”
And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth. Then He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. Revelation 5:1-7 (my emphasis)
This is one of those passages I long struggled with (and still do to an extent) because I'm trying to wrap my head around John's frame of mind in this scene. First, we know historically according to Irenaeus, the Book of Revelation was written toward the end of the reign of the Roman Caesar Domitian (he dies in 96AD). This puts the date of the book around the year 95AD when John was imprisoned on the isle of Patmos. This would have been some 62 years after Christ ascended. Since John was the youngest of the apostles, he would now have been an elderly man by 95AD.
During his apocalypse (i.e., the revelation), John first sees the glorified Christ and later describes Him in the first chapter. Then Jesus gives John the revelation, and breaks the book up into three parts- the things you have seen, the things which are, and the things which take place after this (Revelation 1:19). The things which John saw, was the glorified Christ. The things which are, were the church age (which by 95AD, he was well into). The things after these things were the things after the church age comes to an end.
Just after Jesus finishes giving John the Seven Letters to the Seven Churches, John is then caught up to heaven through an open door. John is caught up (raptured) into heaven and becomes an eyewitness to the throne room and the coronation of the upcoming judgments. The call goes out throughout heaven, earth, and under the earth, to find one who is worthy to take the scroll and open its Seals. John is clearly upset that no one can, and thus begins this paradoxical issue we come to today.
1. Why did John weep? Why didn't he either immediately or instinctively know that Jesus was the one worthy enough to do the job? He just met Christ in chapter 1 in His glorified (or natural) state.
2. How could John, in the first century, be transported to the future to become an eyewitness to the events of the last days?
3. Does this prove time-travel exists and is it an example of the Bootstrap Paradox?
The bootstrap paradox is a hypothetical causal loop in time travel in which one event causes a second, which was actually the cause of the first. (Source)
The namesake of the term comes from Robert A. Heinlein's book, By His Bootstraps (1941), and is a fiction book, which primarily deals with the issues of time travel. Albert Einstein (decades earlier) in his Theory of General Relativity, theorized that mankind had unlimited future travel potential, but that the past was pregnant with paradoxical problems, chief of which, are causal time loops. However, for the sake of brevity, the simplest and most basic example of an ontological paradox, is found in the proverbial question- which came first, the chicken or the egg? If you don't believe in biblical creation and you subscribe to some form of Darwinian Evolution, then this becomes quite problematic. [However, we believers know God created the chicken and thus, laid the egg].
Another popular example is found in the movie Back to the Future where Marty McFly plays "Johnny B. Goode" at the 1955 Enchantment Under the Sea dance. While Marty is playing, Marvin Berry, the lead guitarist, and Chuck Berry's brother hears the song and then phones Chuck to let him listen to it. Chuck then goes on to create the song in 1958 from whence Marty eventually hears it and learns to play it. Granted this is just a movie, but if it were true, then who really created the song? Hence, the Bootstrap Paradox.
There are several derivations of this ontological paradox. The Bootstrap Paradox deals with things and information. The Predestination Paradox deals with actions (like going back in time to change some event that happens anyway because you changed it). The Grandfather Paradox is when you would go back in time to kill your grandfather, so your father and yourself could not be born to go back in time.
I don't get it either.
Now, I don't know if or how Revelation 5 fits in with any of these, but there is definitely something wonky going on with time here. We know John is transported into the future (from 95AD), witnesses everything, and then is sent back and told to write it out, so that it will play out on the earth at the appropriate time. So I have summarized a list of questions here that might help us think through some of the issues pertaining to the only known instance of legitimate time travel. Here are some follow-up questions regarding Revelation Chapter 5.
Would the events of Revelation have happened had John not been taken to the future and shown them? We know God could have chosen not to tell us anything and just let them happen, however, we know that is not something He does (Amos 3:7). He tells us things beforehand so when they happen, it a) validates His word, b) allows us not to be caught unaware.
Have these events already played out? Remember, John is in heaven witnessing the things actually happening both in heaven and on the earth.
Where was Jesus prior to John being shown the throne room Seal unveiling?
When was the throne room scene? We know God exists outside of time and space, however, does His place in the realm eternal correlate (chronologically speaking) to ours in any way, shape, or form?
Was John brought back in time to His ascension o/a 33AD and post-resurrection appearance of Christ arriving as the victorious champion? And then taken forward to see the end?
Why would John wonder have to wonder who was worthy?
When Jesus ascended at the end of Luke and the beginning of Acts, did He ascend to this scene? (John 20:17, Luke 24:50-52, Acts 1:9-11)
When Stephen was being stoned to death, He saw Christ standing at the right hand of the Father (Acts 7:55-56), while Hebrews 8:1 tells us He is seated at the right hand of the Father (see questions #3 and #4).
Once we are in eternity, will we be able to go back in time to see the great events in the Bible, such as Creation, the Flood, the tower of Babel, David and Goliath, Jesus walking on water, etc.?
If we are allowed, will we be able to interact or remain silent/invisible observers to these events?
Will we be able to travel into the future from eternity to see events far ahead of us in the eternal realm timeline? (I realize eternity doesn't have a timeline but I have no other way to phrase it.
If we did go back in time, would these simply be like watching a movie recording, or if it's really time travel, would we actually be present when these things were taking place?
If we did go back in time, would we actually be seen by other celestial observers, angels, or even Christ Himself? (Hebrews 12:1)
We know God exists apart from time and space, and yet, can interact with all of existence all at the same time, or chronologically, or both simultaneously. For example, it would be like when God is walking and talking with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day in the Garden of Eden before the fall into sin, He was also listening to you speak to Him right now as you pray. I would think if He is truly outside of time and space, then He could do both simultaneously as crazy as that sounds.
Now if that is true (and I can't say that it is or isn't) then all of time (from His perspective) has already played out and we are simply predestined to do what we do. Not to sound Calvinistic about this, because we have free will to make our own choices, however, God has already seen what we will do and how we will choose in every circumstance. For example, it would be like if I set two bowls in front of you, one full of dead mice and the other cereal; I know which you will choose to eat before you do. (Got this example scenario from CARM's Matt Slick)
In Isaiah 46:9-10, God states that He declares the end from the beginning. If that is true (and I believe it is) then everything has already played out. Everything that is supposed to happen already has from God's perspective (the book of Revelation for example). Or is it simply that He sovereignly knows it will happen because He wants it to happen. Either perspective certainly argues against the heresy known as Open Theism (the belief that God knows everything that can be known, but doesn't know the future).
Author's side note: I don't know how popular Open Theism is these days, but I actually know a Church of Christ pulpit minister who believes this because he told me he does.
Is it paradoxical that God brought John forward (or dimensionally) into the eternal realm, to witness our future only then to send back to the past to give us our future? To us, it is because we live on a sequential and chronological timeline. However, we would have to take into account Christ's actions at the right hand of the Father (i.e. standing, sitting, meditating), as well as Him arriving at this coronation scene as the "Lamb slain" from the foundation of the world (Rev. 5:6, 13:8) to know how the correlation between the realm eternal and our own timeline works.
It is my theory that when Christ ascended to heaven for the first time, He first appears in Revelation 5:5-7 as both the victorious slain Lamb as well as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, and took the sealed scroll from the right hand of the Father. John was brought back to this exact moment where, in heaven, just moments before He (Jesus) arrives. I cannot say specifically why he was weeping about no one being found worthy, but perhaps he was also taken back to the same state of mind he felt after Christ's death and burial, but before he sees Him resurrected. There simply isn't any logical reason I can think of why John wouldn't already know Jesus was the worthy one since John saw Him both resurrected and later, in His glorified (or natural) state.
Now, when we read the book of Revelation, we incorrectly assume no time passes between Revelation 5:14 and Revelation 6:1. However, there is nothing in Scripture to indicate that it does, or that there isn't time built into (such as we have seen in other places in Scripture. The way the verses are read does not adequately capture the amount of time that passes between events. Furthermore, no other places in Scripture where we see Jesus either standing or sitting, do we get any glimpse of what He is holding other than the seven stars (Rev. 1:16). He could be holding the sealed scroll now for all we know in His left hand signifying both the age of the church in one and the coming judgment in the other. We do know in Matthew 28:18 what the Father had given Him after the resurrection, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth." This authority is what He now possessed and shared with John to take back to the first century on our behalf.
The Seal Judgments unleash the rest of the 21 judgments from heaven to occur upon the earth. It is an interesting point to consider if, in fact, Jesus has been holding this scroll all this time how precariously close mankind has hung near the edge of the end for these past two millennia. This then corresponds to the Psalmist (Psalm 90:4), Peter (2 Peter 3:8), and the prophet Hosea's (Hosea 6:2-3) supernatural insight of God's perspective on how little time has passed between His resurrection and the conclusion of all things. Granted, we won't know for sure about how all this transpires this side of the vale, but perhaps Paul, after his own rapture-event (2 Corinthians 12) had this in mind when he penned these words-
And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Romans 13:11-12 (emphasis mine)
The day of the Lord is at hand?
In His hand?