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Chapter Five The Seven-Sealed Book
In Revelation 5:0 we are still occupied with the same vision as in chapter 4. There we saw the Lord Jesus Christ worshiped as Creator. Here a higher glory is His-He is worshiped as Redeemer. “’Twas great to speak a world from nought; ’twas greater to redeem.”
The Book (Revelation 5:1)
The first thing that attracts our attention is what is said of the seven-sealed book in the right hand of Him who sits on the throne. We have already seen in chapter 4 that the Son is on that throne; but we must not forget that it is likewise the throne of God the Father. And so here we have in the Father’s right hand a book written within and on the backside and sealed with seven seals. When we read of a book we must not think of a volume such as we are familiar with but rather of a roll of parchment. The ancient books of Israel were generally sheepskin rolls. When we are told that this book was sealed with seven seals, we are to understand that the book was rolled up to a certain point, and there a seal was put on the edge so that it could not be opened until that seal was broken. It was rolled up a little farther and another seal put on, and so on until there were six seals on the edge of the book and one seal closing the entire scroll. When the first seal was opened a certain portion of the book was exposed to view and so with each one following. When the seventh was broken then the entire book would be unrolled.
What is this sealed book? I will again remind you of a principle which I want to keep before you throughout our study. In studying the book of the Revelation it is never necessary to fall back on our own imagination as to what a particular symbol means. Every symbol is explained, or alluded to, somewhere else in the Bible. We will turn to the book of Jeremiah for an understanding of this seven-sealed book. The prophet Jeremiah lived in a day just previous to the fall of Jerusalem under Nebuchadnezzar. He had been telling the people of Israel that they were going to be carried captives to Babylon. For seventy years they would be in captivity. At the end of that time, they would be restored and would build again the waste places (Jeremiah 29:10). Hanameel, Jeremiah’s cousin, had a piece of ground and knew well that it was soon to be absolutely worthless. He was anxious to get it off his hands and realize what he could from it. He concluded to try to sell it to his prophet-cousin who was in prison at the time for the truth’s sake. The Lord told Jeremiah to buy the field. He was commanded to accept it as though it were really worth having, because the time was coming when it would be worth having; for just as surely as God’s people were going down into Babylon, so surely were they coming back again. That land would be worth far more in that day, and he would have it in his family.
So we are told in Jeremiah 32:8 that Hanameel came and begged Jeremiah to buy the field. Jeremiah acquiesced. The title deed was made out and sealed and hidden away. The land was purchased by Jeremiah, but he was not going to enter into possession of it for he too was to be driven out-to be rejected and set to one side. Someday when the restoration took place that sealed roll would be of great value. He gave it to his secretary to hide away with a view of making known to his heirs where the deed was which would give them the title to the land. The sealed book was the title deed to Jeremiah’s inheritance. When the people of Israel came back from Babylon there would be a man who could go into court and say, “This deed belongs to me. I am Jeremiah’s heir. I have the right to break the seals and take the property.” With this illustration from the Old Testament before us, we have no difficulty in seeing what the seven-sealed book in Revelation means. The book that John saw in the hand of Him that sat on the throne is the title deed to this world. When God said, “Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?” (5:2) it was just another way of saying, Who is the rightful heir? Who can say, “I have title to break those seals, title to claim that world, it belongs to me?” Who is worthy to take possession of that world and subject it to himself?
The Rightful Heir (Revelation 5:2-7)
Adam, what about you? Wasn’t that world given to you? When God created you and placed you in the garden of Eden, did He not say that all of this was yours? Why do you not come forward and take this title deed and claim your property? Adam says, “I forfeited my inheritance because of sin. It was mine, but I sinned it away. The devil cheated me out of it, and I no longer have any title to it.” Is there any angel who can step up and take the book? No, not an angel among all the serried ranks of Heaven’s hosts can say, “I have title to that world.” Not a man in all God’s universe can say, “It is mine.”
John said, “ I wept much, because no man was found worthy.” But as he was weeping, one of the elders said, “Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda… hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof (5:5). And John looked for the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the majestic roaring king of beasts, ready to spring on the prey; but he saw a Lamb. Why, the Lamb is the Lion! The Lamb of God is the Lion of Judah’s tribe. The lamb that depicts innocence, meekness, gentleness, and sacrifice is the One who is to go forth as the mighty conqueror. He will claim this world as His own and drive all His enemies from before His face. I like the translation of Weymouth here. He says, “I saw in the midst of the throne a lamb that looked as though it had been offered in sacrifice,”-the Lamb in the very glory of God that will have through all eternity the marks of death on His glorified body! It is right to sing as we sometimes do,
I shall know Him, I shall know Him,
As redeemed by His side I shall stand;
I shall know Him, I shall know Him,
By the print of the nails in His hand.
When He came out of the tomb the print of the nails was there. When John saw Him many years after in vision in glory, he saw a Lamb that looked as though it had once been offered in sacrifice. When we get home to Heaven we will never make any mistake in identifying Him. We will never be found worshiping Gabriel instead of Christ. We will not even mistake so loving an apostle as John for his Lord. We will have eyes only for the Lamb on whose body will be for all eternity the marks that tell of our redemption. Ah, what a sight that will be for God’s beloved people-when we look on His face, feel His gentle touch, behold the print of the nails in His hands and feet, and see the mark left by the Roman spear in His side!
The prophet Habakkuk described Him as having “bright beams coming out of His side, and there was the hiding of His power” (Habakkuk 3:4, literal trans.). There, where the cruel spear pierced Him, is the hiding of His power.
Oh, the Lamb, the bleeding Lamb,
The Lamb of Calvary;
The Lamb that was slain, that liveth again,
To intercede for me.
Do you know this blessed Lamb of God? Are you acquainted with Him? Is He your own Savior? Have you thrown yourself on His mercies?
It says that the Lamb in the midst of the throne had seven horns. Horns represent power. In the Old Testament we read of the “strong bulls of Bashan,” of great heads, thick necks, and powerful horns. Israel would thus be accustomed to connect the thought of power with the horns. Yet it is not a mighty bull that is seen, but a lamb and the diminutive form of the word, “a little lamb,” with seven horns! Just as horns speak of power, seven speaks of perfection. Perfect power belongs to the Lamb of God. And we are told He had seven eyes, which is interpreted as meaning “the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth” (5:6). We have connected this phrase with Isaiah 11:1-2. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. “In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9). All spiritual graces are His. He is anointed with the oil of gladness and He it is who gives the Holy Spirit to us.
He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him that sat on the throne. What right had He thus to act? Because He went to the cross in infinite grace to pay the great debt of sin, thus to redeem this forfeited inheritance and free it from Satan’s domination. The Lamb has title to the book! The Lamb can claim the title deed to this world because when He died on Calvary’s cross He purchased the entire world to be His own. The glory of God is to be displayed in this world through a thousand wondrous years. It was His because He created it. He gave it to man, but man forfeited it through sin. The Lord Jesus Christ bought it all back when He hung on Golgotha’s tree; but for almost two thousand years He has been waiting patiently up there in the glory until the appointed time for claiming His inheritance. So the book of the title deeds has been sealed. In this interval, men have been having pretty much their own way down here. The devil has been running things to suit himself, but in a little while Christ is coming again. He is going to put everything right, but He will have to act in judgment to do so. For the very world in which the Lord Jesus died is going to be the sphere in which the glory of God will be displayed. This will be true not only in the millennium, but afterward in the new earth as well as in the new heaven.
The Lamb is Praised (Revelation 5:8-14)
The moment that the Lamb takes the book, the four living ones and the four and twenty elders fall down before Him. Every one of them has harps and golden bowls full of odors, which are the prayers of saints. I am very sentimental about the harp. I love it. When I hear the harp being played I always think that it is the instrument I am going to play in Heaven. It is a symbol, of course, but a very lovely one. “And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth” (9-10). They sing, not merely of themselves but of all the redeemed; so the living ones, the divine attributes, join in it too. And note the great throng suggested by the words of the song. Far more people will be in Heaven than will ever be lost in Hell! All the babies that died in infancy will be there. What a throng will fill that home and how wonderful the fellowship will be! We will have the society of all the pure and holy, made pure by the blood of Jesus. But notice carefully what they sing up there. They ascribe their redemption entirely to the Lamb and His work. Those are the saints of God. There are angels too but the inner circle is composed of sinners that were redeemed. That will be the glory of Heaven.
You often hear of the angels singing. But it is remarkable that when you go to the Bible (King James version) there is only one place where you read of angels singing; it is in Job 38:0. The morning stars there are angels, and they sang together when this world in its pristine beauty sprang from God’s hand. But that ancient song was stilled. Sin came in and marred that beautiful creation, and from the time that sin came in we never read again that angels sang. At the birth of our Lord Jesus a multitude of the heavenly hosts praised God, saying, “Glory to God in the highest” (Luke 2:14); but we do not read that they sang. It is the redeemed that sing, and they sing a new song-the song of redemption. Will you be able to sing that song?
We next read of the host of angels that surround the throne. You would think that God had enough without us. John Bunyan said, “Oh, this Lamb of God! He had a whole heaven to Himself, myriads of angels to do His pleasure, but this could not satisfy Him. He must have sinners to share it with Him!” If you are ever going to sing up there you will have to start in down here. Can you say, “Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed me…by thy blood”?
The angels stand in an outer circle. In other words, the angels stand off and look on and say, “The Lamb deserves all the honor He is receiving.” Then there is a third company, a third circle, embracing all creation. John looks throughout the universe, and he sees every creature extoling the Lamb. The day is coming when all created intelligences will join in saying, “Glory to the Lamb.”
In Revelation 6:0 we read that the Lamb, having taken the book, proceeded to open the seals. Here I want to pause for a moment in the course of the exposition. Many have asked if perhaps the great tribulation has already commenced. My answer is this: There can be no period of tribulation such as is depicted in the book of Revelation until the Lamb breaks the seals of the seven-sealed book. But the Lamb does not break the first seal of this book until the redeemed are seen crowned in Heaven; and no redeemed one will ever get his crown until he is taken up at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ to the air and the setting up of the judgment seat. All the crowns are going to be given out at the judgment seat of Christ before the Lamb takes the book and before the seals are broken.
During World War I a lady said to me, “But, dear brother, what tribulation could be worse?” Well, conditions were certainly terrible, but never before had there been a war in which the organizations that profess to stand for righteousness did as much for the soldiers, and the relatives, and the afflicted, as in that awful conflict. Consider the Red Cross, for instance. It was the spirit of sacrifice that caused people to start the society, and many of the founders of it were devoted to Christ; wherever the red cross was seen it was the reminder of the cross of Christ. There will be no Red Cross in the great tribulation. The cross of Christ will be so hated then that it will never be seen anywhere. Then look at the Y.M.C.A. I know all about the criticisms, and I have had to speak plainly myself, but the Y.M.C.A. movement was started by a man of God, and its original objective was to bring men to Christ. Much of their recent work is indeed open to just criticism; it is a shame that it has added to and detracted from its original purpose, yet we can thank God for its distribution of the New Testament and the comfort it has brought to millions of men. Take the work of the Salvation Army: I have heard scores testify about the Salvation Army preaching the gospel of God in the trenches. Now think of a greater war than this (and it is in the future), a war in which there will be no Salvation Army, no Y.M.C.A., no Red Cross, no Bible Societies, no Christian workers -absolutely no spiritual ministry of any kind to alleviate the awful conditions that will then prevail. The thought is unspeakably terrible, but such a war is predicted in this book of Revelation.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Revelation 5". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34