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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 5

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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2. The Lamb on the throne ch. 5

John next recorded the revelation of the sealed scroll and its recipient. He did so to continue the revelation of what will be going on in heaven before God pours out the judgments to follow on the earth (chs. 6-18). This chapter continues the vision of God in chapter 4.

Verse 1

The description of the scroll 5:1

John also saw a book (scroll) on God’s "right hand"-suggesting its source, His authority, and power adequate to translate its contents into action-as He sat on the throne. This scroll was the focus of John’s attention in this chapter, and it is what Jesus Christ opens in chapter 6 resulting in the judgments that will come upon the earth. Its contents comprise almost all the revelation that will follow. It was so full of words that John could see writing on the outside as well as on the inside of the scroll (cf. Ezekiel 2:10). Someone, probably God, had sealed it with seven seals, suggesting the profound nature of the revelation it contained. [Note: Charles, 1:138.] Roman law required that people seal wills seven times because they were very important documents. [Note: Ethelbert Stauffer, Christ and the Caesars, pp. 182-83.] The perfect number of seals may also hint at the absolute inviolability of the scroll. [Note: Mounce, p. 142.] In John’s day people used a seal to keep the contents of a document secret, unchangeable, and free from tampering until some authoritative person broke the seal. In this case after Jesus broke the first seal the scroll unrolled until the second seal made it impossible to open it further. Then He had to break the second seal that revealed more of the contents, and so on. Probably the seals were on the edge of the scroll. The book contained the prophecies that follow. It may represent the book of prophecies God instructed Daniel to seal until the end times (Daniel 12:4; Daniel 12:9).

Verse 2

The specific identity of the strong angel is probably unknowable. His loud voice indicated his authority and the importance of what he said. One with sufficient authority was necessary to open (Gr. anoixai) the scroll and by breaking its seals to unleash the judgments on the world that it contained. Any prophet could have revealed this information, but it took someone with adequate power to execute the events foretold as well as to reveal them. The "and" (Gr. kai) is probably epexegetical, meaning "even."

Verses 2-5

The opener of the scroll 5:2-5

Verse 3

No created being (cf. Philippians 2:10) had authority to break the seals or even to learn of God’s plans contained in the scroll-no one in heaven, on earth, or in the place of departed spirits.

"What simpler and more sublime way of picturing God’s ultimate sovereignty over all history could be found than this picture of the scroll resting in the hand of God? However strong evil becomes, however fierce be the satanic evils that assail God’s people on earth, history still rests in God’s hand." [Note: Ladd, pp. 82-83.]

Verse 4

John’s continual weeping reflected his sorrow that the revelation of God’s plans and their execution would remain hidden and postponed because no one had sufficient authority to open the scroll.

"He did not want to see God’s vindication of His people as a part of the OT Messianic hope deferred for an undetermined period . . ." [Note: Thomas, Revelation 1-7, p. 386.]

Verse 5

One of the 24 elders comforted John with the news that Jesus Christ would open the scroll (cf. Luke 7:13; Luke 8:52). He had achieved victory over all God’s enemies and therefore had the authority to open the scroll and to release its contents. The "Lion . . . of Judah" (Genesis 49:9) and the "Root [offspring] of David" (Isaiah 11:1; Isaiah 11:10; Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 33:15; Matthew 22:42-43; Romans 15:12) are both titles of the divine Messiah who would fulfill the Old Testament promises of salvation and rule. This is the only place in the New Testament where they occur together, however. As God’s ultimate Anointed One, Jesus alone possessed the authority necessary for this task. He overcame Satan, sin, and death, so He could implement God’s purposes for the future that this scroll revealed. [Note: See David J. MacLeod, "The Lion Who Is a Lamb: An Exposition of Revelation 5:1-7," Bibliotheca Sacra 164:655 (July-September 2007):323-40.]

Verse 6

As with our dreams, John’s vision contained some unusual features. John saw the Messiah as a Lamb. The diminutive form of amnos ("lamb," namely, arnion) enhances the contrast with the lion. The lion is a picture of strength and majesty, but this lamb was meek and gentle. Christ combines both sets of characteristics. The Lamb is a symbol of Jesus Christ at His first advent, meek and submissive to a sacrificial death as our substitute (Isaiah 53:7; John 1:36; John 21:15). John is the only New Testament writer who described Jesus as the Lamb, though Peter came close in 1 Peter 1:19. The Lion is a symbol of Him at His second advent, powerful and aggressively judging the world in righteousness (Psalms 2).

John saw the Lamb now in the center of all the angelic creatures gathered around the throne as the central character and most important personage in the entire heavenly scene (cf. Revelation 3:21; Revelation 4:6; Revelation 7:17). The Lamb was standing, ready to complete His work, bearing the marks of His death. His self-sacrifice led to His supreme power.

"In one brilliant stroke John portrays the central theme of NT revelation-victory through sacrifice." [Note: Mounce, p. 144.]

The Lamb had seven horns representing the fullness of His power. The horn is a common Old Testament symbol for power or strength, and it came to represent kingly authority (Numbers 23:22; Deuteronomy 33:17; 1 Samuel 2:1; 2 Samuel 22:3; 1 Kings 22:11; Psalms 75:4; Psalms 132:17; Daniel 7:20-21; Daniel 8:5). Thus the Lamb is the all powerful warrior and king. The Lamb also had seven eyes representing the fullness of His divine wisdom and discernment (Zechariah 4:10). His eyes are the seven Spirits of God (the seven principal angels of God?). That is, they communicate to Christ all that transpires. The Lamb is omniscient as well as omnipotent.

An alternative interpretation, which I favor, is that the clause "which are the seven Spirits" refers to both the seven horns and the seven eyes. In this case John may have meant that the Lamb had the seven spirits, who are powerful and perceptive, at His disposal.

Verses 6-14

The worship of the Lamb 5:6-14

Verse 7

Next John saw God the Father on the throne and the Lamb (evidently now in human form) coming and taking the scroll out of His right hand. This is evidently a dramatic use of the perfect tense of the verb eilephen ("took"). [Note: Robertson, 6:335.] Clearly this symbolizes a transfer of authority from the Father to the Son to reveal the future and to execute judgment (cf. Revelation 1:1).

"It has been frequently recognized that the vision of chapter 5 gives us a Christian prophet’s version of the enthronement ceremony known to the ancient world, when its potentates ascended their thrones. Here the king is the Christ, his domain the universe, and his throne the throne of God [cf. Philippians 2:6-11]. . . . The steps of the ancient enthronement are commonly described as exaltation, presentation, enthronement. If we apply these to chapter 5, the exaltation must be seen in the conquest of the Lamb referred to in Revelation 5:5, the presentation in Revelation 5:6, and the bestowal of authority in Revelation 5:7." [Note: Beasley-Murray, p. 110.]

Verse 8

This transfer triggered an outpouring of praise for the Lamb because it signaled that Christ would begin judging. While the four living creatures and 24 elders prostrated themselves in worship, only the elders had harps (lyres) and bowls. This is clear in the Greek text from the gender of hekastos, translated "each one." [Note: See Swete, pp. 79-80.] They used the harps to praise God in song (Psalms 33:2; Psalms 98:5). This is the only place in Scripture where angels praise God with harps.

John explained that the bowls contained the prayers of God’s people that are like the fragrant aroma of burning incense to Him (cf. Psalms 141:2; Luke 1:10). In the Old Testament the offering of incense was a priestly prerogative (Numbers 16:6-7), so these angels were functioning in a priestly capacity. The Jews believed that angels carried human prayers to God (cf. Revelation 8:3). [Note: Fritz Rienecker, A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, p. 825.] The prayers offered are probably all those as yet unanswered petitions that people have prayed asking God to judge unrighteousness including, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven" (cf. Revelation 5:10; Revelation 6:10; Revelation 8:3-5; Matthew 6:10; Luke 18:7-8). [Note: Ladd, p. 89.]

Verse 9

The Lamb’s receiving authority from God to advance God’s plan of the ages led these 28 angels to sing a new (Gr. kainen, lit. fresh, distinctive in quality, rather than recent) song of praise. It may be new in the sense that it celebrates His death that inaugurated a new covenant. [Note: Mounce, p. 147.] However, I think it was probably new in the sense that it represented new praise for a new deliverance about to take place.

"This [i.e., "a new song"] is a well-known expression in the psalms, relating to songs sung on festal occasions and celebrating new mercies from God, especially his deliverances from distress (e.g., Psalms 40:1; Psalms 98:1). It receives a deeper meaning in Isaiah 42:10, where the new song relates to the new and greater deliverance which the Lord is about to make in the earth." [Note: Beasley-Murray, pp. 126-27. Cf. Psalms 33:3; 40:3; 96:1; 149:1, 9.]

In this song the Lamb receives honor as being worthy in view of four things. The first is His death. The second is the purchase (redemption) of a people for God by His death, including those yet to be saved (cf. Revelation 14:2-3; Revelation 15:2-4). People from every branch of the human family will make up this company (cf. Genesis 10:5; Genesis 10:20; Genesis 10:31). This does not mean that all will be saved because Jesus died for all, of course. Only those who appropriate the benefits of Christ’s death by faith will be. Tribes, tongues, peoples, and nations represent divisions of humanity based on lineage, language, race, and political orientation. Together these terms describe the universal nature of the redeemed people of God.

Verse 10

The third reason for praise is the creation of a kingdom and priests (a priestly kingdom) for God by the Lamb’s death (cf. 1 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 2:9). Priesthood involves immediate access into God’s presence for praise and worship as well as the privilege of priestly service. The fourth reason for praise is the blessing of His people by allowing them to rule on the earth (during the Millennium and thereafter).

Some translations render this song in the first person ("You have redeemed us . . .," Revelation 2:8, AV). Others put it in the third person ("You have redeemed men . . .," e.g., NASB, NIV). This variation reflects a difference in the Greek texts that underlie these translations. I prefer the text family used as a basis for the NASB and NIV translations. The second reading is better, and it harmonizes with the identification of all these creatures as angels. These creatures offer worship to God for man’s salvation.

Verse 11

An innumerable host of angels now joined the four creatures and 24 elders in ascribing worth to the Lamb (cf. Daniel 7:10; Psalms 68:17-18; Matthew 2:13). The word order "myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands" may seem anticlimactic.

"The word order is deliberate and the resultant anticlimax brings even more emphasis to the expression. When ten thousand is multiplied by itself, even this does not match the number of angels involved. The leftover still comes to a figure amounting to a thousand multiplied by itself. This is an apocalyptic symbol for countless thousands of angels who lift their voices in this great doxology." [Note: Thomas, Revelation 1-7, pp. 403-4. Cf. Lenski, p. 210; and Rienecker, p. 825.]

Verse 12

The Lamb deserves all power, riches, wisdom, might, honor, glory, and blessing. All seven qualities belong intrinsically to Christ.

"The angels use seven expressions (the perfect number is probably significant) to indicate the wonder of the Lamb." [Note: Morris, p. 101.]

The repetition of "and" (Gr. kai) between each quality brings special emphasis to each one individually. This is a literary device called polysyndeton. It "produces the impression of extensiveness and abundance by means of an exhaustive summary." [Note: F. Blass and A. Debrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, paragraph 460 (3).]

Verse 13

In his vision John saw every creature giving praise to God and to the Lamb. The creatures in view must be intelligent beings who can appreciate God and the Lamb, not the stars, planets, and animals. This probably involved a forward (proleptic) look to the end of the history of planet earth when every creature will bow the knee to Jesus Christ (cf. Revelation 5:10; Philippians 2:8-11). There is much proleptic revelation in this book, as will become clear. God often gave John previews of things further ahead in the future than the future events that he was then considering.

"In these two chapters [4 and 5], the sequence of hymns shows that the first two are addressed to God, the next two to the Lamb, and the last one to both. There is also a gradual enlargement in the size of the choirs. The internal movement also builds as the last hymn is sung by ’every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth’ to ’him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb’ (Revelation 5:13)." [Note: Johnson, p. 464.]

". . . that blessing and that thanksgiving are the one gift that we who have nothing can give to Him who possesses all." [Note: Barclay, The Revelation . . ., 1:227.]

"In all three doxologies the repeated us of kai ["and"] heaps up the ascriptions like a great tower of praise." [Note: Lenski, p. 212.]

Verse 14

The worship culminated in John’s vision with the four creatures saying "Amen" repeatedly after the vast crowd fell silent. The elders worshipped by prostrating themselves before God’s throne (cf. Revelation 4:10). [Note: See David J. MacLeod, "The Adoration of God the Redeemer: An Exposition of Revelation 5:8-14," Bibliotheca Sacra 164:656 (October-December 2007):454-71, for another exposition of this pericope.]

These chapters (4-5) present heaven, God’s dwelling place, as a real place. John saw God receiving great honor there surrounded by innumerable angelic worshippers. Even though John saw a vision, it was a vision of something that truly exists. We may be able to see it and the individuals said to be there someday.

In chapters 4-20, John described what he saw in heaven and on earth. The following chart identifies which place was in view in each of the sections that compose these chapters.

The Focus of John’s Visions in Chapters 4-20
In HeavenOn Earth
The heavenly throne (ch. 4)
The Lamb on the throne (ch. 5)
The first four seal judgments (Revelation 6:1-8)
The fifth seal judgment (Revelation 6:9-11)
The sixth seal judgment (Revelation 6:12-17)
The sealing of the 144,000 witnesses (Revelation 7:1-8)
The great multitude (Revelation 7:9-17)
Preparations for the trumpet judgments (Revelation 8:1-5)
The first six trumpet judgments (Revelation 8:6 to Revelation 9:21)
The little book (ch. 10)
The ministry of the two witnesses (Revelation 11:1-14)
The announcement of the seventh trumpet judgment (Revelation 11:15-19)
The expulsion of Satan (Revelation 12:1-12)
The activity of Satan (Revelation 12:13-17)
The activity of the two beasts (ch. 13)
Judgment at the end of the Great Tribulation (ch. 14)
The announcement of the seven last judgments (ch. 15)
The seven bowl judgments (ch. 16)
Religion in the Tribulation (ch. 17)
Commerce in the Tribulation (ch. 18)
Praise for judging (Revelation 19:1-10)
The second coming of Christ (Revelation 19:11-21)
The millennial reign of Christ (ch. 20)
Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Revelation 5". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/revelation-5.html. 2012.
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