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Chap. 5. Vitringa thus indicates the contents of this chapter: “First the presentation of a book, sealed with seven seals, which is delivered to the Lamb, that is, Jesus Christ, to be opened, Revelation 5:1-7; then, the celebration of Jesus Christ as the Lamb who was slain and must open the book with the seven seals, consisting of doxologies and songs of the heavenly hosts, Revelation 5:8-14. The doxologies belong partly to the beasts and the elders, Revelation 5:8-10, partly to the angels, Revelation 5:11-12, and partly to all creatures, Revelation 5:13. The sequel to this solemn glorification is the response of the beasts, and the worship of the elders, Revelation 5:14.” It would be more correct to say that Revelation 5:9-12 contain the celebration of the Lamb’s praise by the four beasts, the elders and the angels, and that in Revelation 5:13-14 the Father and the Son are glorified by all creatures, through the concurring voices of their representatives, the elders and the beasts.
Revelation 5:1. And I saw on the right hand of him who sat upon the throne, a book written within and without, sealed with seven seals. Schöttgen: “That book records the sentence, which is given by the judge and his councilors against the enemies of the church. But the vast number of the divine sentences of condemnation is indicated, these being supposed to exist in such a multitude, that the parchment was written within and without.” We have the prototype of this book in Ezek. Ezekiel 2:9-10 (a passage which again rests on Jeremiah 15:16), “and I looked and lo! a hand was stretched out to me, and behold in it a book-roll. And he spread it out before me, and it was written before and behind, and in it was written lamentation, and mourning, and woe.” The book contained the divine word, which Ezekiel had to announce, and was the archetype of the book of his prophecies. The book here likewise is the archetype of the book or section of the seven seals in the Revelation. Besides the passage before us, ch. Revelation 10:2, also rests on that of Ezekiel, and indeed still more closely. For there, as in Ezekiel, (1) the subject discoursed of is an open book (“he spread it out before me;”) (2) that book also respects the fate of a degenerate church, has to do with the world in the church, while the book here contains the judgment upon the world by itself; (3) and that book, like the one of Ezekiel, was eaten by the prophet. The question now arises, whether this book, which Bengel describes as “a concealed sevenfold order of very copious and manifold contents,” “one in accordance with the dignity of the theatre disclosed to our view in the preceding chapter, and with the solemnity of all that we are to see and hear in this chapter,” whether it is the archetype of the whole of the Revelation from chap. 6, or only of the section of the seven seals, Rev 6:1-8:16. The former opinion is most commonly embraced, but the latter is the only correct one. It becomes perfectly established, whenever it is understood, what is elsewhere to be proved, that the seven seals, with which the book alone has to do, come entirely to an end at ch. Revelation 8:1, that the Revelation is composed of a series of independent portions, and that an entirely new series begins at ch. Revelation 8:2. If this book were to be regarded as the archetype of the whole Apocalypse, we should have nothing new to begin that second book with at ch. 10. Its being written within and without—pointing to the rich and varied contents of the book—cannot be pressed against the limitation to Revelation 6:1 to Revelation 8:1. We have only the sketch in what the prophet communicates to us of the contents of the book. There is a great deal to be read between the lines. The judgments which he marks in rough outlines, consist each of a vast assemblage of many single calamities, which were fully noted in the original. It may still be urged, however, that Revelation 4, 5 appear to be too large and majestic as an introduction for a single series: the building seems too little for such a porch. But it is to be borne in mind that this series is the very first after the preliminary portions, and substantially the introduction belongs to the whole.
There is this further objection also against the reference of the book to the whole, that the whole runs out into an extended description of the New Jerusalem. But this could not have existed in the book with seven seals; it could be occupied with nothing of a minute and extended nature but what respects the enemies of the church. “Not merely,” says Züllig, “is it much, but it is also frightful; for this is implied in the reverse side being also written, because such was done in the exemplar referred to in Ezekiel, where there was nothing but lamentation, and mourning, and woe.” It has appeared, that the whole of the preparatory vision in ch. 4 bears a threatening character, that it suspends nothing but judgments over the enemies of the church.
The book was written within and without; properly, within and behind. Book-rolls were usually written only within. Only when from the fulness of matter the inner side did not suffice, the exterior was also brought into use.
The book was in the right hand of him who sat upon the throne [Note: Properly, toward the right hand; comp. the ἐ?πί? likewise in ch. 3:20, 15:2, 20:1; Matthew 27:29, where the other reading ἐ?ν τῆ?ͅ? δεξιᾶ?ͅ? is only to be taken as explanatory.] ; indicating that the book had not its settled place there, but that only for this action was it found in the hand of him who sat on the throne. The Seer beholds it still in motion, as it were, to this place.
The expression: out of the right hand, in Revelation 5:7, corresponds to: in the right hand, here. Accordingly, the right hand comes into view simply as that to which any thing is presented. If it were understood with Bengel, as “the overruling might of God,” we should still not be able even then to say with him, “This indicates the divine power, since the great God has every thing visible and invisible in his power, as the Creator and Governor of all, and shews his unspeakable majesty in all his works;” but the idea would simply be, that God alone absolutely possesses the knowledge of future things.
That the book was in the right hand of him, who sat on the throne, shews, that its subject was of a judicial nature, as is clear also from the entire contents of ch. 4. That the judgment affects the enemies of the church, was plainly intimated by ch. Revelation 4:4. “We would meanwhile,” writes Vitringa, “with the utmost confidence draw from this remarkable image the conclusion, that nothing takes place in the world and the church, which has not been determined in God’s counsel and judgment. This may well administer the greatest consolation to the church in times of trouble.” The book appears as sealed with seven seals. The signification of this sealing is well given by Vitringa, as meaning that” the divine decrees before they are carried into execution, or have by God been antecedently disclosed, are discoverable by no one of the immortal angels or of mortal men; they are shut and concealed from all.” The figurative representation rests upon several passages in the Old Testament, in which a shut and sealed prophecy is all one with the dark and incomprehensible
Isaiah 29:11; Daniel 8:26, Daniel 12:4, Daniel 12:9 (see my Beitr. Th. I., p. 215, ss.) The seven seals denote, not “the carefulness, firmness, and holiness of the sealing” (Züllig), but that the darkness, which rests upon the future, was not a partial, but a complete one: the book-roll was sealed above, below, and all over in the middle. This is clear from the single fact, that whenever a seal was removed, a portion of the contents became known. The seven seals are, so to speak, not the material, but the theological cause of the inaccessible character of the book. Whenever a seal was taken away, a portion of the contents became known. It is to be observed, that it is not the reading which is spoken of in regard to particular seals, but merely that by opening each seal a new part of the book-roll was disclosed to view, another and another portion of God’s decrees or his judgments upon the world were made manifest. A too material view here has involved interpreters in great difficulties, and led them into untenable propositions. A book sealed with seven seals appears to have become accessible only when the whole seven seals were removed; but here a portion of the contents is disclosed with the removal of each particular seal. Grotius, Vitringa, and their followers, hence suppose, that the book was composed of seven leaves, each of which had its particular seal. But this extraordinary circumstance would have required to be mentioned, and John also would not have been able to speak of having from the first seen seven seals. The book had without doubt the common form: a roll, on which outside seven seals were impressed. Others think, that what was communicated at the opening of the particular seals, had not formed a constituent part of its contents. The part that became manifest only with the opening of the last seal, must alone be “the secret of the future world.” But according to this view we should properly learn nothing regarding the contents of the book within the series itself. As certainly as this series stands by itself, so certainly must what was seen at the opening of each seal indicate the contents of it. With the mere fact that the opening was an object of great desire with John, the church, which was sighing under the persecutions, “Lord, how long,” was no way benefited. According to ch. Revelation 1:1, God gives to Jesus Christ the revelation of the future, that he might show to his servants what should come to pass. Nor can we perceive what relation the things reported at the opening of each seal stand in to the book, if they do not constitute its contents. And for any other contents we shall search elsewhere in vain for the least trace. That the book alone contained the final consummation, is but an arbitrary supposition. That it was professedly occupied simply with what is reported at the opening of each particular seal, namely, with God’s judgments on the enemies of his church, is clear alone from the preparatory vision in ch. 4.
The book, according to many expositors, was publicly presented, “not merely that it might be made publicly known, but also that the things written in it might be executed.” At the opening, such expositors remark, there is put forth the performance of this act, the realization of what the book contains. But there is not the least ground to support this notion. The fundamental passages in the Old Testament respecting a shut or sealed book, or prophecy, refer only to its darkness, or the difficulty of understanding it. In Revelation 5:3-4 the opening of the book is brought into notice only as the condition of the seeing. And merely the insight into the future, not the actual accomplishment of the things belonging to it, could possibly have been represented in the manner here employed. The whole book is the Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to shew to his servants, what must shortly come to pass. In it, therefore, what we have to expect is, not the executing, but only the making known of God’s decrees.
THE SEVEN SEALS
The seer is snatched up to heaven, and sees there a holy assemblage, in which all points to the judgment, which, for the benefit of his sorely oppressed church, the Lord is going to execute upon the ungodly world, ch. 4. What the whole scene was of itself fitted to suggest is then brought clearly out in ch. 5, where a book with seven seals is delivered to Christ for the purpose of being opened, containing the judgments to be inflicted on the world. This opening follows, and the judgments- one after another become manifest in ch. 6 and in ch. Revelation 8:1. Ch. 7 forms an intermediate episode, in which is represented the preservation of the faithful in the midst of the judgments which alight on the world.
Revelation 5:2. And I saw a strong angel proclaim with a loud voice: Who is worthy to take the book and to break its seals? The strength does not indicate the angel as one of higher rank (Züllig), which was not required for this purpose; but a strong angel was chosen for it, because of the loud voice, which was to be heard in the heavens above, in the earth, and even under the earth; hence in all regions of being, and also in a powerful manner. Bengel: “The voice of a strong man is heard farther than that of a child; and by the strong angel’s voice those, who heard it, would be the more speedily forced to think of their impotence.” By Ewald’s groundless hypothesis, that the call was not directly addressed to the creatures in the different departments of creation, but to the assembled representatives or angels around God’s throne, the strong angel with a loud voice is rendered superfluous.
Revelation 5:3. And no one in heaven, nor on the earth, nor under the earth, could take the book and look therein. The inhabitants of the three kingdoms of creation are, in like manner, united together in Php_2:10 , “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth;” and also with the same design of showing the subordination of all to Christ; so that it is quite natural to suppose the Seer might have the passage in his eye.
The book contains the decrees of God. To know these one’s self, and with perfect clearness and certainty, pre-supposes the closest intimacy with the being of God, from whom these decrees proceed, such as can belong to no created being, but only to Christ, the Word, who was in the beginning with the Father. In perfect agreement with the mode of representation here adopted, in the conviction that all essential knowledge of a religious kind can only be attained through fellowship with Christ, who in this respect also is the one mediator, John says in his Gospel, in John 1:18, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” And that this conviction has grown out of the doctrine of Christ, is clear from what the Lord says to Nicodemus in John 3:11-13: he alone could give certain intelligence concerning heavenly things, because he sprung from heaven, and is in heaven, and even in his state of humiliation was still, as to his divine nature, in the closest fellowship with God. Likewise Matthew 11:27, where the Lord says, “All things are committed to me of my Father. And no man knows the Son but the Father, and no man knows the Father but the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him;” one of those numerous declarations in the first Gospel, which were quite suited to John’s profound vein of thought.
Revelation 5:4. And I wept much, that no one was found worthy to take the book, nor to look therein. The tears of John arose from no such unsatisfied curiosity, as is represented by many of the older interpreters, who kept their eye too much upon the pre-intimation of particular circumstances, which goes hand in hand with the desire to get at the corresponding facts in history. The tears proceeded from the same cause as those of Mary, in John 20:11, ss., “They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him;” and with the grief of the disciples on the way to Emmaus ( Luke 24:21). “But we hoped that it had been he, who should have redeemed Israel; and besides all this, to-day is the third day since these things were done;” to whom the Lord spake, “Oh fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken, “and beginning at Moses, and going through all the prophets, he expounded to them what had been written of him in the Scriptures.” The whole terrible power of the Roman empire had thrown itself upon the church, and threatened to crush it; comp. ch. Revelation 13:7, “And it was given to him to war with the saints, and to overcome them; and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.” John himself, who here represents the church, found himself in solitary banishment. It seemed as if matters were coming to an end with the kingdom of Christ; the present was despaired of; the future was dark; no answer could be found to the anxious question, “What shall be the end thereof?”
The weeping of John implied the weakness of his faith.
Without that he would not have wept at the inability of all creatures to open the seals, but would have turned with joy to Christ. Without it, also, the book of the future, after all that the prophets of the Old Testament had written, and our Lord had said, would not have been entirely a shut one. It went with him, in regard to his earlier acquired knowledge, precisely as it had done with the disciples in Luke 24. He might have said, I have indeed heard the words, but my faith in them has failed. The Lord had taken from him all that he formerly possessed, in order to penetrate him more thoroughly with the conviction, that he had nothing but what was given to him, given to him by Christ alone through undeserved grace, that he might more gloriously experience the power of divine consolation. The Revelation is a book of consolation, but the consolation takes for granted the grief of those who were to receive it.
According to the Apocalypse there is still also to be much weeping Christ must constantly perform to his servants anew, what he here performed for the Seer and the church. Scripture alone cannot do it. It must itself be shut up by Christ, and opened again with living power. The word, “I wept much, “can only be understood by those who have lived in great catastrophes of the church, and entered with the fullest sympathy into her sufferings, and thus from their own experience have become acquainted with the heights and the depths of the life of faith. Not a weeping, but only an indifferent weakness of faith, is unbecoming toward a holy God.—“Without tears,” says Bengel, “the Revelation was not written, neither can it without tears be understood.” Itself the answer to the heartfelt and painful longing of the Seer, it will only be apprehended aright by those who participate in the same longing. Whoever goes to it merely as an interesting production of the apostolic age, he will everywhere stumble in darkness.
Only if we take this view of the weeping shall we get rid of the idea, that detailed disclosures of the future are given in the seven seals; and shall come to regard them as given rather for the more general purpose of inspiring the soul with confidence respecting Gods judgments on the world, and the victory of faith.
Revelation 5:5. And one of the elders spake to me: Weep not; behold the lion, who is of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has overcome to take the book, and to break its seven seals. The presbyter represents the whole church of the completely righteous. From the testimony yielded by this to Christ, out of rich experience consolation first comes to the fainting Seer, and a fainting church on earth, and then also from the action of Christ himself. The overcoming is taken here by some in the weaker sense of getting, or attaining. [Note: Vitringa: “The Hebrew word זכה , in the later times of the Hebrew commonwealth, was most frequently used in the sense of deserving, being worthy, or being reckoned such; nay, even simply to obtain, to get a province, or an office to be administered
This suits well here. For the elder wished to signify to John, that there was one who was counted worthy of administering that work, for which John wept that none was equal to.”] But that the idea of overcoming, of a victory, must be retained, may be inferred even from the designation of Christ as” the lion of the tribe of Judah.” For, this is in itself a warlike image; and in the fundamental passages Judah appears as a warrior and a conqueror under the image of a lion. David also was a hero and a conqueror. The comparison also of Revelation 5:9 confirms the view; for there the being slain, etc., corresponds to the conquering here. And, finally, John 16:33, and generally the standing use of νικᾳ?͂?ω , conquering, in the writings of John, where it occurs more frequently than in any others, gives farther confirmation. But the conquering cannot be understood here directly of Christ’s victory over sin, the devil, and the world. The connection is against this, as the conquering is immediately joined to the opening: he has overcome to open, or in opening. [Note: See on the Infi. as used to determine more closely the meaning of a verb, the so-called infin epexegeticus, Matthiac, § 532, and Winer, § 45.] Hence, by the overcoming here can only be meant the overcoming of the difficulties which stood against the opening of the book. For this, it was necessary to tread a long and arduous path, requiring the exercise of gigantic power. An indispensable condition was the victory over sin and Satan, through death and blood. For by this alone was Christ worthy to open the book. The enemies that were first to be conquered, before the book could be opened, are indicated in Revelation 5:9. The opening of the book is, therefore, a reward for having finished redemption. So that this victory has that for its foundation of which John has written in his Gospel.
The designation of Christ as “the lion of the tribe of Judah” rests on Genesis 49:9. There Judah himself appears as a lion, on account of his warlike and victorious energy. But, according to that word of the dying patriarch, Judah must one day find his culmination in the Messiah. Typically he had once already culminated in David, in whom the lion-nature of the tribe became strikingly manifest. Ingenious, though not sufficiently grounded, is the opinion of some expositors, that the patriarch Jacob is the elder who said to John, “Weep not.” etc.
The second designation of Christ, as “the root of David,” is in perfect accordance with the preceding one. In Christ the race of David, as the hero and conqueror, lived anew—that David who boldly said, “By thee can I dash in pieces the warlike people, and by my God I leap over walls. I pursue after mine enemies, and overtake them, and turn not again till I have consumed them” (Psalms 18). This might be said with still greater truth by Christ, to whom David himself also there points, in whom he saw the highest perfection of his being and his race; see my Comm. on the Psalms 18. The root here, and in ch. Revelation 22:16, where the Lord says, “I am the root of David,” marks the product of the root, that through which the root makes itself seen, its shoot, as seed, is very often used for the product of the seed. This appears by comparing the original passage, Isaiah 11:10, where the Messiah is designated the “root of Jesse” Isaiah 53:2), with Isaiah 53:1 of the same chapter, where he is more fully called, “a shoot out of his roots.” In what sense the Messiah is named, in Isaiah 11:10, the root of Jesse, as the one in whom the family of David, that had sunk into the lowest condition, again flourished, is rendered manifest by the parallel passages, Isaiah 11:1, and Isaiah 53:2, where, under the likeness of the shoot of a plant, reference is made to the origin of the Messiah as sprung from a family which had once resembled a proud and stately tree, but now had become one of the lowest. The designation: the root of David, here and in ch. Revelation 22:16, takes for granted all that is said in the Gospels of the genealogy of Jesus in connection with the house of David, and the humble condition of his parents.
Revelation 5:6. And I saw (and lo!) in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, a Lamb standing, as if it had been slain; and it had seven horns, and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of (rod, sent into all lands. Vitringa: “What the elder had announced to John is now in fact and reality exhibited to him.” The Seer beholds Christ in the midst of the throne, with the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders. The form of expression is Hebraistic; see Ewald’s Gr. § 217, q. The meaning is, that Christ stood in the space between the throne with the four beasts, and the elders. “In the innermost part of the circle,” remarks Bengel, “was the throne with the holy creatures (inseparable from it), and in a wider circle were the elders. But the lamb was between, as the Mediator between God and man. The elders are a selection, and represent in a sense the whole of mankind;” more properly, the whole church. Ewald: “In the fittest place which the Messiah could occupy, standing close to God, and elevated far above the elders.”
John saw Christ in the form of a little lamb. Bengel: “He appeared to John under the aspect of a small tender lamb. Lovely image! What this appears to derogate from the majesty of Christ, is at the beginning once for all ascribed to him under the image of “the lion out of the tribe of Judah.” Patience and strength meet in him.
The elder had pointed John to a lion, and yet John beholds only a little lamb. The Lord Jesus is named only once in this prophecy a lion, and this precisely at the beginning before he is culled a lamb. Whence it appears that, as often as we think of him as a lamb, we should also regard him as the lion of the tribe of Judah.
He is not called simply a lamb, but properly a little lamb, and this with an especial respect to the elders. The elders are beyond doubt, in part at least, the patriarchs. These, especially the first (?) among them had attained to some, nay many (?) hundred years of age; but the Lord Jesus, on the contrary, was slain in his thirty-third year. Under the Old Testament, lambs were, for the most part, taken when a year old for sacrifice; and the age of the Lord Jesus may be regarded as that of a year-old lamb in respect to those fathers. Reference is also made in ch. Revelation 12:5 to the tender age and the untimely removal of the Saviour. The image of a lamb is found only with John among the Evangelists; and according to him it was first used by the Baptist He represented Christ to his disciples as the Lamb of God, who was to take away the sins of the world, John 1:29, John 1:36. The contemplation of Christ as the Lamb of God took such hold of the Evangelist, that in John 19:36 he transfers to Christ, without farther remark, what was written in the Old Testament of the Paschal lamb. Even the word little lamb (ἀ?ρνιό?ν dimin. from ἀ?ρνή?ν , Bock) is common to the Evangelist and the passage before us. It occurs only once besides in the whole of the New Testament, John 21:15. That Christ appears here in the form of a slain lamb, was done out of respect to the occasion: his appearance imaged that through which he had conquered to open the book, his sufferings as the God-man, by which he had made reconciliation. The lamb comes here into consideration primarily as a beast for sacrifice. But of all the beasts used for sacrifice the one was chosen which most fitly represented the glorious properties of Christ, his innocence and righteousness ( 1 Peter 1:19), and especially the eminent graces which he manifested under his sufferings, his quiet patience and meekness. Comp. the fundamental passage Isaiah 53:7, according to which the servant of God is led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep that is dumb before the shearers, and opening not his mouth, Acts 8:32. The prophet sees the lamb standing as if it were slain. Bengel: “This lamb was now no more dead, but living, and yet stood so that one could see it had once been slain. The marks appeared of the slaughter, comp. Revelation 1:7. Just because the lamb had been slain, was it worthy to open the book ( Php_2:8-9 ), and that for the joy of his people, for the terror of his enemies. Our Lord Jesus, after his resurrection, had still on his hands and feet the wounds he had received in his crucifixion, and the opening that had been made in his side by the spear was still such that Thomas could put his hand into it. It is a matter of renown rather than otherwise for a warrior to have his body marked with wounds and scars. So it is a great glory to the Lord Jesus that he shows himself as a slain lamb; and to those who follow him it is a perpetual admonition to them to do what he has done for them. The lamb was slain, Luther translates, erwürget (choked), an expression he also uses frequently for such as had perished by the sword. The word slain, however, is much better, and agrees both with the kind of death Christ underwent, and with his designation as a lamb. To be choked or strangled implies that the blood remains in the suffocated body; while by slaying, the blood was separated from the body; and when the Jews killed their sacrifices, the bodies were drained of their blood.”
The lamb has seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God. The latter clause, beginning with οἱ?́? εἰ?σι , whether viewed grammatically or in regard to the sense, can only be referred to the eyes, but not to the horns. As the lion precedes the lamb, so here again allusion is made to the entire fulness of divine power and strength with which Christ is famished for the destruction of his enemies and for the deliverance of his people. The horns are a standing symbol in the Old Testament for victorious power—comp. Psalms 148:14, and the passages there referred to in my Commentary. The number of the horns being seven, shows that this strength was combined in him with the greatest fulness. On the eyes as a symbol of the powers of God put forth in creation, see on ch. Revelation 4:6. The reference of the eyes to his wisdom or omniscience tears this passage asunder from that, and from the fundamental passages of the Old Testament, and is also disproved by the declaration: which are the seven Spirits of God; for the Spirits of God cannot possibly be limited to wisdom and omniscience. That the lamb has the seven Spirits of God (comp. ch. Revelation 1:4, where these Spirits are represented as the medium through which God gives grace and peace; and ch. Revelation 3:1, where the Saviour is said to have the seven Spirits of God, as well as the seven stars), has respect to this, that the Spirit of the Father is also the Spirit of the Son; that all divine powers stand in him; that he is furnished with the whole plenitude of divine omnipotence. Bengel: “This Spirit is also the Son’s Spirit, of whose divine glory we have even here a strong testimony, for our joy and assurance of our faith in him. It has been already shown, that the naming of the seven Spirits of God does not refer to the nature of the Spirit of God. For in that respect there is but one Spirit, as is expressly said in Ephesians 4:4; and therefore the seven point to gifts and operations. Here, therefore, we are told that all power in heaven and on earth is given to Christ, as he testified himself before ascending to heaven. As he also said before his return: All that the Father hath is mine; so it can in particular be said, that the seven Spirits of God, namely, of our Heavenly Father, are also the eyes of the Lamb. The Spirit of the Father is also the Spirit of the Son; and this manifests the divine glory of our dear Redeemer.”
The seven Spirits are described as being sent over all the earth. On this Bengel remarks: “The seven Spirits are frequently mentioned, but this is the only passage where such a message is ascribed to them.” This notification, resting on Zechariah 4:10, puts it out of doubt that it is not the spirit of God in himself that is here discoursed of, not that Spirit in the oneness of his being, but in the multi-fariousness of his operations. It forms a mighty bulwark against despair in the church on account of the threatening power of the world. Should even the whole earth rise against her, Christ, her head, has the seven Spirits of God, that are sent over the whole earth, and whose secret, often deeply concealed, yet irresistible influence, nothing on the earth can resist, however loftily it may exalt itself.
Revelation 5:7. And he came and look the book out of the right hand of him that sat on the throne. The secrets of the future could never in themselves be concealed from him, who has the seven Spirits of God. The Word, who in the beginning was with God, has part in everything that is God’s. He did not need to acquire through blood and death an insight into the secrets of God; not as the lamb that was slain did he first receive it. But here another point is under consideration, the communication of that knowledge of God’s secrets to the church, and the awakening of a joyful confidence in her eternal continuance, in spite of all the persecutions that may threaten her destruction. The lamb takes the book out of the right hand of him that sits upon the throne, to open it and impart its contents to his servant John, and through him to the whole church. But all these hang on the atonement effected by Christ, this is the foundation of every gift and endowment conferred on the church of the New Testament. The Spirit, who among other things imparts to the church whatever insight she has into the future, and dispels the mists that envelope it, was first poured down after Christ had ascended to the right hand of the Father. In John 7:39, it is said, “But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive; for the Holy Ghost was not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified.” Further, in John 16, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth, it is expedient for you that I go away. For if I do not go away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart I will send him unto you But when he, the Spirit of truth is come, he will lead you into all truth; for he shall not speak of himself, but what he hears that will he speak, and he will show you things to come.” The proof can still be made every day. Only if any one is truly in Christ, and, in so far as he is so. he has a clear look into the future. And so John, who represented the fainting church of his time, being for the moment not in Christ, was so oppressed by the heavy burden of suffering’s and persecutions, that he wept as if no one were able to open the book.
Revelation 5:8. And when he took the book, the four beasts and the four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb; having every one harps and golden vials full of incense, which are the prayers of saints. Bengel: “Hereupon were heard many and various songs of praise, by the description of which the narrative of the taking of the book and the opening of the seals is interrupted. These songs of praise, of which this chapter is full, proceeded along with that, which the Lamb did with the book. As we have then to note it as a leading point, that in this prophecy two things are written that were done simultaneously, so the one is divided, the one half being written first and the other last, while that which took place at the same time is put in the middle. Here now, in such wise, along with that which the lamb did, when he took the book and opened the seals, proceeds the heavenly music.” But that the songs of praise and the opening of the seals went on together, is not once indicated here, and there is no collateral reason for supposing it to have taken place. The order therefore should rather be: first the taking of the book, then the solemn ascription of praise, finally the opening. It has been thought extraordinary that the four beasts should here fall down. Züllig sees in this a confirmation of one of his untenable hypotheses, “We have remarked above, that in the Apocalypse the Cherubim do not, as in Ezekiel, themselves bear the throne, but only as mutes (!) stand around it. That such was actually the case, is perfectly obvious here, since otherwise they could not have fallen down without the throne also falling.” But the falling down of the beasts will lose its extraordinary aspect, if it is considered that the Cherubim never in the proper sense bear the throne, not even in Ezekiel: how could they in that case fly with it? That the throne moves above them so as to admit of its being said in a certain way to be borne by them, only images the truth, that the Lord is the absolute ruler of the earthly creation. The words: and having every one, &c., refer immediately to the elders only, not to the Cherubim. For the harps, human instruments, are found elsewhere in the Apocalypse only in the hands of members of the church (comp. ch. Revelation 14:2-3, Revelation 15:2); the golden vials full of incense, which are the prayers of saints, are only suitable in the hands of the heavenly representatives of the church; a celebration of the deeds of Christ so copious is nowhere else found in the mouths of the Cherubim, and does not appear to suit them, rather indeed opposes their nature and signification, and their own peculiar song of praise is addressed only to God as the almighty Creator, Revelation 4:8; finally, all doubt is taken away by the words in Revelation 5:9, “Thou hast redeemed us, &c.,” which are not suitable in the mouth of the beasts, and oblige those, who defend their participation in the songs of praise, to resort to a change in the text. But, on the other hand, we must not exclude the four beasts from any participation in what follows, after their being said to fall down, along with the elders, before the lamb. Though the falling down does not justify us in supposing, with many expositors, that the Cherubim had a full participation with the elders, yet a sort of counterpoise might have been given in what follows, by its being expressly remarked that the elders alone had part in it. Farther, a merely dumb prostration, where all besides, not excepting the angels, sing praise, appears unsatisfactory. The natural supposition is, that the elders came forth as the speakers of the chorus, which was formed of them and the four beasts. Both are connected together by an internal bond. The elders represent the church, which is redeemed from the earth, “out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.” They are the bloom of the earthly creatures represented by the Cherubim, specially of the human race. So that both the two is natural—that the Cherubim should have also come forth, and that they should have allowed the elders to speak, who were more immediately partakers of the grace bestowed on the earthly creatures, the human race. The benefit respects primarily the earth, and more especially the church. Hence the four beasts and the elders come forth first, before the angels, with their song of adoration and’ praise. The elders have each harps and golden vials full of frankincense, the prayers of saints. The difficulty has here been raised: “The instrument-player, who requires both hands for the purpose, could not at the same time hold the vessel of incense.” And to solve it the elders have been supposed to hold the harps and the vials alternately in their hands, or else to have given the vials to the Cherubim. But all such questions are out of place in the Apocalypse. We have to do in it, not with gross material forms, but with airy images, circumstances of a light and ethereal nature. The gently indicated vials float softly on the hands, as do also the harps. The harps and the golden vials full of incense go together. The harps accompany the new songs, the prayers proceed on this, that occasion had been given to them. Even till now the church has in the one hand a harp, and in the other a vial. Without vials no harps. Without prayer no occasion for thanks. Without harps no vials. Only where one can pray, can one also give thanks. The harps here take precedence, because the subject has mainly to do with adoration and praise, because the new song, mentioned in Revelation 5:9, must be accompanied with the harp.
Smoking sweet-smelling frankincense is in Scripture the common symbol of believing prayer, which is precious in God’s sight; comp. Psalms 141:2. “Let my prayer be acceptable before thee as the incense-offering;” Ezekiel 8:11: “every one his censer in his hand, and the prayer of the cloud of incense went up,” Revelation 8:3; Luke 1:10; also my Beitr. Th. III, p. 645.
The words: which are the prayers of saints, can be grammatically referred only to the vials, not as Vitringa thinks, to the incense. But the vials are brought into notice in connection with their use.
Prayer is here, not prayer in the most general sense, but supplicatory prayer, תפלה . The great object of the prayers of the saints, is, according to the historical starting-point of the book and the parallel-passage, ch. Revelation 8:3-4, the support of the church in the midst of persecution, its completion, and the execution of judgment upon the enemies; comp. ch. Revelation 6:10, Revelation 11:18, Revelation 18:20. In the time of the Revelation this was the business which engaged all minds. The cry: “Hear the prayer of our distress,” went incessantly up.
By the saints are primarily to be understood the saints on earth—comp. ch. Revelation 13:7; Revelation 13:10—who sighed under the hardships of persecution, and were members of the militant church. Still, there is no reason for excluding the saints in glory—comp. ch. Revelation 11:18, Revelation 18:20. These look down upon the sufferings and conflicts of their brethren, who are still in the flesh, and entreat God to accomplish their redemption and perfect his church. Bengel: “Whether the saints were those in heaven or those on earth, is not specified. The text makes no distinction, and we also make none. The saints in both regions are brethren. The saints in heaven are now entirely without sin, and if the saints on earth are still in this miserable tabernacle, they yet have forgiveness of sin, and so are accepted before God as well as the others. Now, prayer rises as a precious incense. It gives a sweet savour before God, and draws great power along with it.”
The elders as representatives of the church only present their prayers before Christ. Bengel: “The elders are not mediators; for there is but one God and one Mediator between God and man, here as also the Lamb, that had been slain, is himself worshipped by the elders as Mediator.” They fall down with the Cherubim before the Lamb, extol him by their songs on their harps, direct to him their prayers for redemption: all a proof of the true and essential Godhead of him, to whom has been given a name above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee might bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth.
Revelation 5:9. And they sing a new song, saying: Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open its seals; for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation. Revelation 5:10. And hast made us kings and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth. The elders sing a new song. Bengel: “new work, new song, Isaiah 42:9-10, Isaiah 43:18-19; and in the Psalms once and again ( Psalms 33:3, Psalms 40:4, Psalms 96:1, Psalms 98:1). So also Revelation 14:3.” The subject of the new song is not the blessing of redemption already old, but the opening of the book, the new act of grace, which has been bestowed on the church for the revivication of her hope and confidence, at a time when her way was hedged in, and her right appeared to have been forgotten by her God, when she bitterly wept because no one could open the book and break its seals.
The elders say: Thou art worthy (and able) to open the book and break its seals, because thou wast slain and hast redeemed us. They speak in the name of the church which they represent—comp. the they in the next verse, where the change intentionally points to this, that the elders appear not as individuals, but as representatives of the church; and also ch. Revelation 1:6. The reading αὐ?τού?ς , them, for ἡ?μᾶ?ς , us, corresponds to the ἡ?μᾶ?ς , us, and the βασιλεύ?σομεν , we shall reign, in the following verse. It has been thought, either that the us here must be conformed to the them there, or that the they in the next verse: they shall reign, must be conformed to the us here, because the relation of the elders to the church was not perceived.
The kindreds, tongues, and peoples, point to the tables in Genesis 10—comp. there Genesis 10:5, Genesis 10:20; Genesis 10:31-32. This shows that the spiritual territory is co-extensive with the natural one, excludes all partiality, marks the œcumenical character of the work of Christ, and of the church of Christ, in contrast to the kingdom of God under the Old Testament. In the same direction points also the number four, which was also intentionally used by Moses in Genesis 10—comp. Genesis 10:5; Genesis 10:20; Genesis 10:31, being the signature of the earth. [Note: Bengel compares 8:9, 11:9, 13:7, 14:6, 10:11, 17:16, and remarks: In these passages tongues, nations, peoples, are always mentioned; but in place of θυλῶ?ν , ὀ?́?χλοι once, kings once. The number four is therefore always preserved, having reaped to the four quarters of the earth.] That by the kindreds we are not, with Bengel, to understand the tribes of Israel, is clear by comparing Genesis 10:5, Genesis 10:18, Genesis 12:3 in the Sept. translation. The tone of the Revelation is one so thoroughly œcumenical, that so much of a special respect to the Jews would be quite unsuitable to its character. On Revelation 5:10 Bengel remarks: “They do not say: Thou hast made us thereto, and we shall reign, although they themselves must be understood in what is said. Thou hast made them, namely the redeemed, a kingdom and priests by virtue of this very redemption.” Bengel preferred the reading, a kingdom, to that of kings, on the ground that it was unseemly for those, who were in the presence of the great King, to call themselves kings, as they also cast their crowns before him. But the reading: kings, is best supported, and there are no internal considerations against it: they confess here also that they hold their crowns only in fief; they wonder that Christ has conferred such honour on such persons, with the same humility that David praises the grace of God, in Psalms 8, in granting royal dignity to his poor creature, man. But if the elders, as representatives of the church, in ch. Revelation 4:4, bear golden crowns on their heads, Christians might here also be called kings. We may compare also the diversity in the two readings at ch. Revelation 1:6.
Züllig remarks on kings falsely: such as shall one day be such, comp. on ch. Revelation 1:6. We must rather explain: kings even now, but kings still more gloriously in the future, when the meek shall inherit the earth. The kingdom of the saints has its stages, as that of the Lord, comp. ch. Revelation 11:17.
That the words: and they shall reign, follows the designation priests, shews, that the priestly and the royal dignity are most closely conjoined together; on the spiritual territory he who is priest is also king; nearness of relationship to God has dominion in God over all that is out of God as its necessary consequence.
On the words: they shall reign, Vitringa remarks: “If we take into account the feeble beginnings of Christianity, and the circumstances of the times, this must have appeared quite incredible and beyond all hope. The saints, however, taught by the Word of God, anticipated with their hope that great revolution of things, which at last began to take effect under Constantine, and sought especially to learn this out of the book before us.”
The fundamental passage is in Daniel 7:27, “And the kingdom, and the dominion, and the power over the kingdoms under the whole heaven is given to the people of the saints of the Most High.” We can either explain: they shall reign over the earth, by comparing ch. Revelation 2:26, Matthew 2:22; or: on the earth. Even if we follow the latter meaning, according to Revelation 5:13, we need not exclude ch. Revelation 20:6, according to which the already completed number of the saints shall reign in heaven with Christ for a thousand years. For its being said to be on the earth does not necessarily require the seat of the kingdom to be on the earth; this only is implied, that the earth is the sphere of their government, their domain. But ch. Revelation 22:5 points to the final consummation.
Revelation 5:11. And I saw, and heard a voice of many angels round about the throne, and about the beasts and the elders, and their number was ten thousand of ten thousands and thousands of thousands. Bengel: “The many angels make a circle; this circle surrounds the throne, and the beasts, and the elders. The holy beasts are like a part of the throne itself, although they are no carved inanimate figures, but living. The elders, however, are nearer the throne than the angels. It is a question, on account of the comparison between angels and men, which form of the two orders of creation is the more excellent in its nature. The angels, because they are spirits, so far agree more with the nature of God than ours. But because the Son of God has become man, men also have an honour which the angels have not; and one might almost say, that an angel might wish to be a man, so that he might be like the Son of God in his humanity. There can be no doubt, then, that there is at least somewhat of man nearer to God than the angels.” But the elders here are nearer to the throne, because the matter in hand concerns the church on earth. The question of rank, therefore, has nothing to do here. But that the angels encompass not merely the throne of God with the beasts, but also the elders on every side, arises from this, that they are the servants, not merely of God, but also of the church, or God’s servants for the good of the kingdom of his anointed upon earth—comp. Psalms 34:8; John 1:52; Hebrews 1:14.
The original passage is Daniel 7:10, “Thousand of thousands served him, and myriads of myriads stood before him.”
That here the thousands stand after the ten thousands, while we would have expected the opposite order, is to be explained from the consideration, that in enormous multitudes distinctions vanish. Bengel’s supposition, that the smaller numbers being added to the greater is a proof that the former must be taken exactly, is quite too little. After the myriads stand also the thousands in Psalms 68:18, where in like manner reference is made to the angelic hosts as agents in the administration of God’s kingdom on earth.
Revelation 5:12. And they speak with a loud voice: The Lamb that was slain is worthy to receive the power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. We must supply: and so to open the book. For, it is in regard to the opening of the book, that the praise of Christ is here celebrated. Bengel: “In Revelation 5:9 it is said: Thou art worthy, and now: The Lamb is worthy. And so again in Revelation 5:13. The songs more immediately belong to the Lamb.” Here, the mode of representation is more an objective one, there the direct address carries more of feeling. The encomiums mentioned are seven, corresponding to the same number of God in ch. Revelation 7:12, and the ten number of encomiums in regard to God in 1 Chronicles 29:11-12. [Note: Vitringa: “The formula approaches nearest to that used by David in 1 Chronicles 29:11-12, where he publicly praised God before an assembly of the Israelites. Which is itself a proof, that the personage, whose praise is celebrated here, is not merely illustrious, but a partaker of true Godhead,” Schöttgen: “But those who are unwilling to concede divine properties to Christ’s human nature, can be most easily refuted from this passage. For, Sephiroth, or properties, which belong only to God, which neither the Jews nor any of the sacred writers ever ascribe to any but God, are here ascribed to the Lamb, which without doubt is Christ.”] Bengel: “We should pronounce these seven encomiums as if they were but one word, because they all stand together under a single article.” The Lamb is worthy to take or receive the power, etc., they ascribe to him, in the acknowledgment and celebration of it—comp. on ch. Revelation 4:9.
Mention is made also in Ephesians 3:8 of “the unsearchable riches” of Christ. On account of these riches he possesses glorious gifts, which are discoursed of in Ephesians 3:9-10, and can impart them to our poverty. Comp. John 1:16-17, “And of his fulness have we all received grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.”
The blessing denotes in an objective sense manifold blessings, for example Romans 15:29, where the blessing of the gospel is spoken of. But that it is used here in the sense of an encomium, appears from the corresponding thanks in ch. Revelation 4:9, and the connection in which it stands with the thanksgiving in ch. Revelation 7:12. The word is intentionally placed here at the end, and in Revelation 5:13 at the commencement of the whole enumeration. It points to this, in what sense the power, etc., are taken, in the acknowledgment.
Revelation 5:13. And every creature, that is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and in the sea, and what is in them, heard I all saying: To him that sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing, and honour, and glory, and honour for ever and ever. Revelation 19:1, the proclamation of God’s glory is attributed to the stars, as being a matter-of-fact celebration of it. From these analogies the praise of the Lamb can here also be ascribed to all the different parts and orders of creation, only in so far as he participated in the creation of the world. It is thus in unison with John 1:3, “All things were made by him, and without him was nothing made that is made;” John 1:10, “The world was made by him;” comp. John 17:5, “And no, O Father, glorify me with thyself, with that glory, which I had with thee before the world was;” also 1 John 1:1, and Hebrews 1:2, “By whom also he made the worlds,” Hebrews 1:3, “He upholds all things by his mighty word,” Colossians 1:15-17. In this book itself Christ appears as the first and the last, Revelation 1:17, the beginning of the creation of God, Revelation 3:14. Those, who will not accede to this view, according to which even those under the earth, the devil and the lost must praise Christ—for their existence and the gifts with which they are furnished, are a speaking proof of his greatness and love—have only to resort to a poetical figure without any profound substantial meaning. [Note: De Wette’s remark, too light for a solemn subject, “To him upon the throne and to the Lamb—therefore no Trinitarian representation,” is disposed of by what has been said. The apparent separation of the sitter on the throne and of the Lamb is by John himself again resolved into unity, when in ch. 7:17 he speaks of the Lamb in the midst of the throne.] Here there is no more mention of the opening of the book, but the whole scene runs out into the general praise of God and the Lamb. Bengel: “There are many creatures on the earth, many in the sea, rational and irrational, blessed and cursed. Each has its proper dwelling and abode. And now all, that are in the four great regions, are summoned together, even though they should be in hell. All must honour the Son, as they honour the Father. The great regions are four, and the encomiums are also four.” The addition: and is in them, points to this, that we are not to think merely of the great parts of creation—for example of the earth in its mountains and valleys, but also in its smaller things, which have their abode in it.
The all, πά?ντας , not everything, [Note: Bengel in his Apparatus: “The reading καὶ? τὰ? ἐ?ν αὐ τοῖ?ς πάντα ἤ?κουσα λέγοντας , is supported by the greater number of codicis. A few turn πά?ντας , or even λέγοντας , into the neuter.”] is used on account of the personification. The blessing, which ends Revelation 5:12, forms the beginning here.
Revelation 5:14. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. That the heaven is the heaven of the princes is clear from what has been already remarked in the two preceding verses. The heaven is used so not merely in Isaiah, but also in Haggai. Vitringa has remarked, “The image of the heaven rolled together denotes the annihilation of the whole civil and ecclesiastical system of the empire, here under consideration. For, in the prophetic style the whole body of the rulers of a people have the designation of heaven applied to it; but the people that are subject to the rulers, are represented as the earth.” A book rolled together is in a manner vanished, since nothing can any longer be seen and read in it. The figure of the sea as a designation of the world and the nations was found already in use by the Seer; see on this figure my Commentary on Psalms 107:23, and the passages there referred to; and with himself it is quite common, see at Revelation 7:1, Revelation 8:8, Revelation 10:2, Rev. 12:18, Revelation 16:3, Revelation 20:13. It is a farther extension of this image, when particular kingdoms are denoted by the islands, along with the current designation by mountains. So, besides this passage, in ch. Revelation 16:20. But here also the Seer connects himself with the Old Testament. Isaiah makes very frequent mention of the islands, more frequently than might have been expected, had he followed the common phraseology. In Isaiah 12:1, Isaiah 49:1, Isaiah 51:5, he places the islands and the nations together. In Isaiah 11:11 he puts “the islands of the sea” as a compound expression after the enumeration of a series of particular kingdoms. Also in Isaiah 24:15, under the islands of the sea are most suitably understood the kingdoms of the earth. Likewise in Isaiah 42:4, “And on his law shall the islands wait,” where the LXX. and Matthew in Matthew 12:21 have nations instead of islands. “To the islands will he repay their gifts,” it is said in Isaiah 59:18. Before, the prophet had been speaking of the adversaries and opponents of the Lord. But the islands in the common sense were not specially leagued in the impious resistance to the Lord. The same figurative use of the islands also occurs in Zephaniah, Zephaniah 2:11. The islands of the heathen there could only mean their countries in general. For, in the parallel clause are the gods of the earth, and the inland territories of the Ammonites and Moabites belong to the islands. These are the particular, while under the name of islands a rise is made to the general. It is a similar expansion of the image of the sea, when in Psalms 107:23-32, and Isaiah 42:10, the inhabitants of the world appear as sea-farers, and when, in Revelation 8:9, men are spoken of as creatures in the sea, and their habitations, villages, and cities as ships.
Re 5:15. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the captains, and the rich and the strong, and every bondman and every freeman hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains. Re 5:16 And say to the mountains and to the rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him, who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb. Re 5:17. For the great day of his wrath is come, and who is able to stand? In the kings and other magnates we have the explanation of the stars in Revelation 5:13, of the heaven in Revelation 5:14, and see that by these was meant all that is brilliant, great, and mighty. In Revelation 5:12-14 we had what was done towards them, but here it is, how they were thereby affected. Bengel remarks, “The very people who were least afraid on earth, who were themselves most feared, and in this sought their great glory and joy, stand foremost.” The classes named number seven altogether, divided by the three and the four—the three the governing party, with the king at their head, then the possessors of dignity in civil and military life. Along with the seven number there is the four, as the signature of the earth, the king and three pairs, beside “the possessors of dignity in civil and military life,” the “notables also, whether through wealth or power, and the people, bond and free.” With the enumeration here we may compare that in Mark 6:21: Herod gave on his birth-day a feast to his great men, and captains, and principal men of Galilee. The principal men there (πρῶ?τοι ) are here the rich and the strong. Bengel: “The great are those who have most to say in matters of policy, sit at the helm of the state, execute important commissions and other things of moment. In Spain they bear precisely the name of grandees, elsewhere of magnates, senators, members of Parliament, etc., and often indeed exercise more power than the kings themselves, and rule over kings. The rich and the strong are often self-willed and insolent persons, who are full of confidence in themselves, and ask nothing after God the Almighty. Then come at last all bondmen and free, consequently all men, even those who have no peculiar distinction. Every individual is either a bond person or free, though servitude and freedom have different stages among the higher and lower ranks of society. They know not whither to betake themselves. What in times of outward security were the most frightful places, those they now flee to for refuge, and that in vain. . . . Sometimes in summer, when a heavy storm, charged with lightning, thunder, and wind, breaks forth, how frequently will men, even those who are naturally courageous, and in fields of slaughter and other warlike encounters are undismayed, be seized with a fear and trembling, even creeping into vaults and such like places, because God now causes something to appear of his majesty, although it is still the time of his forbearance! How shall it then be, when the Almighty in full earnest strikes terror into his enemies! How insupportable must it be to the wicked!” The kings, according to the more exact import given by the connection, are such as breathe hostility to God and Christ. For, we have here a phase of God’s judgment on the ungodly world.
The bondmen, according to ch. Revelation 13:16, also receive the mark of the beast. There, and in ch. Revelation 19:18, it is “free and bond,” but here “bond and free,” that the whole might not find its termination with the bondmen, who can here occupy but a subordinate position. Here respect is had mainly to those who stood in the more prominent places. Slaves were not the object of dread on the part of those for whom John prophecied; these had to suffer especially from kings and men of power; and if persons in a state of bondage became afraid and found themselves in a miserable condition, such was less to be wondered at, and not so striking a proof of the power of the Lamb.
Julian’s exclamation: O Galiletin, thou hast conquered, was a fulfilment of our prophecy. But the course of history furnishes many that must unite in this confession, and at the present time especially it is again extorted. Those who shortly ago lifted themselves proudly up against him who sits on the throne and against the Lamb, the advocates of Rationalism, who robbed God and Christ of their honour, the persecutors of the true church, are fain now to hide themselves in caves and clefts of the rocks. In what form the wrath of the Lamb manifested itself in regard to the immediate object of the prophecy against the all-dominant Roman power of St John’s time, will be found in ch. 17 in connection with the ten kings, whom he armed against Rome. But to stand simply at that would be no better than if one should confine the declarations of Christ regarding his coming for judgment to Jerusalem, which, as being the hostile power at the time, was more immediately respected in them.
The words, “they hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains,” refer to Isaiah 2:19, “And they (those who during the time of forbearance were such proud enemies of God) go into the holes of the rocks and into the caves of the earth for fear of the Lord and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.” The next clause, “And they say to the mountains and to the rocks, Fall on us and hide us,” points to Hosea 10:8, where it is said in regard to the apostate ten tribes, “The high places of Aven, the sin of Israel shall be destroyed; the thorn and the thistle shall come up on their altars; and they say to the mountains, Cover us, and to the hills, Fall on us.” This word had already been transferred by our Lord from the Old to the New Covenant, Luke 23:30, where he says, after announcing great tribulations on Jerusalem, “Then shall they begin to say to the mountains. Fall on us, and to the hills, Cover us.” The carrying of the Old Testament prophecies, which had primarily another object, over to the New, is a manifest proof how inadmissible it is to confine the prophecies of the New Testament to their more immediate object, and provides us with a kind of finger-post for the right understanding of them.
We are not, with Züllig, to suppose that there was properly a first and second thought: “Their first thoughts, therefore, must have been to withdraw themselves there, in the most secret and inaccessible hiding-places, from the judgment of the approaching avenger; but afterwards, when they saw that he could also reach them there, they sought in the anguish of despair rather to be buried under the precipitated mountain-rocks than to suffer the recompense due to their misdeeds.” We should rather take the two together: They concealed themselves there indeed, but the misery of their existence and the distress which accompanied them there, gave birth to the wish that they might be buried under the rocks. It seemed better to them to die at once than to continue in being. Züllig remarks on their call to the rocks to fall on them, “They wished it, but it did not take place, at least not here, because in this preparatory vision there was still no actual infliction of judgment;” more correctly, because we are here still at the sixth seal and not the seventh, where the judgment comes finally to an end. Ch. Revelation 9:6 is parallel as to the meaning; it is said there at the first woe, the fifth trumpet, the locust plague, “And in those days shall men seek death and not find it, they shall desire to die and death will flee from them.”
On the expression: before the face, Bengel remarks, “which is set against evil-doers,” Psalms 34:16; Revelation 11:18; Psalms 2:5.
It has been affirmed without the least reason that the name of the Lamb suits better in the mouth of followers than of adversaries. Here it is quite in its place. It points to the quiet patience and meekness of Christ (see on ch. Revelation 5:6), which had encouraged them to set themselves against him, instead of allowing themselves to be thereby drawn to repentance. Now they must feel to their horror that the Lamb is also the Lion. As much as: him whom we thought we could venture to despise on account of his mildness and leniency, but who to our dismay manifests the other side of his character.
In Rev 5:17 the expression, “it is come,” indicates the assured conviction: it is already as good as present. For, in reality the day was still not come, since they could not in that case have continued in life; and as certainly as we are here only at the sixth seal, it cannot be till the seventh, that the judgment of the world actually arrives. But at the beginning of the end they feel as if the end itself were present. The same anticipatory character belongs to the, “it is come,” in ch. Revelation 11:18.
The great day is from Joel 2:11, “Great is the day of the Lord and very terrible, and who can bear it?” We find “the who can stand,” also in Malachi 3:2, “And who shall abide the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears,” comp. Luke 21:36.
The standing is in contrast to the sinking down together of the guilty out of distress and fearful apprehension of what was coming. That these could not stand appears too well from the preceding verses, in which their misery and despair are delineated. Bengel remarks on this part, “Now many treat it quite lightly. But it is no joke. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, and to seek, yet without being able to find, a refuge from the Almighty as an enemy, when heaven and earth are convulsed together. On the other hand, for those who have passed from wrath to grace, it is a matter of great joy that things cannot always continue as they are with the world, but that all shall be broken up, and a new order of things arise.”
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Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Revelation 5". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany