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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 5

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary

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Chapter 4-5 The Vision of Heaven - the Book with Seven Seals - and the Lamb.

Verse 1

‘And I saw on the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll written on the inside and on the outside, close sealed with seven seals.’

The fact that the scroll is sealed demonstrates its great, official importance. The number of seals demonstrates the divine perfection and completeness of its contents. The number seven was seen worldwide as the number of divine perfection. It also demonstrates that it contains within itself the whole plan of God. It is complete in itself.

In the law of that time an important will or other official document had to be sealed by seven witnesses. It could then only be opened by an authorised person. The same is clearly true here. But its even greater importance lies in the fact that it was on the Sovereign God’s right hand. It clearly contains within it the will and purpose of God. Thus once it is opened His purpose will be carried out and His will will be done. But it is awaiting the proper time. The use of ‘on’ rather than ‘in’ suggests that it is lying there in His hand waiting for the One Who is worthy to take it.

The expressions used in this verse are partly taken from Isaiah 29:11; Ezekiel 2:9-10 and Daniel 8:26. In Isaiah there is a sealed book, sealed because the people have refused to listen to the prophets, and therefore prophecy will be withheld. It must await a future day. Now prophecy will be opened up and fulfilled. In Ezekiel 2:9-10 Ezekiel receives a scroll written within and without, as here, and ‘there was written in it lamentations and mournings and woe’. The scroll here is partly patterned on that scroll for its description and contents are similar. In Daniel 8:26 Daniel is told to ‘shut up the vision for it belongs to many days to come’. Now the vision will be revealed and come into action.

Here then we have a scroll, perfectly sealed, written within and without and full of lamentations and mournings and woe, which contains the vision of future days and is about to be opened up. It contains the fulfilment of prophecy. The coming of the Word made flesh has meant a new beginning.

Verse 2

‘And I saw a strong angel proclaiming, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and to break its seals?’

Surely there will be no problem. Here are the four living creatures who protect the throne of God and preserve His holiness, who go with Him wherever He goes and desire only to do His will. Here are the twenty four elders, crowned and seated on thrones, trusted by God with responsibility for His own redeemed people. Here are the seven angels of the Presence with responsibility for the whole earth, waiting to carry out the will of God. Surely one of them will be worthy to open the scroll?

Verse 3

‘And no one in Heaven or earth or under the earth was able to open the book or read it.’

This is the great surprise. Having considered all the virtues, all the powers, all the authority of these heavenly beings they are found not to be able to open the scroll. And why is this? It is because it contains the future destiny of Heaven and earth, and only One Who has the right qualifications can fulfil that destiny, and with all their glory they do not have those specific qualifications.

Verse 4

‘And I wept much because no one was found worthy to open the book or to read it.’

What tension John is under. He has seen things beyond the imaginations of men, and now he sees the book of the destiny of Heaven and earth, and it remains sealed because no one can open it. No wonder he breaks down and weeps.

Verse 5

‘And one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. See, the Lion who is of the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:9-10), the Root of David (Isaiah 11:1), he has overcome so as to be able to open the book and break its seven seals”.’

The opening of the book requires someone very special. He must be the fulfilment of prophecy, the promised Messiah of the house of David, for, as Scripture has made clear, only through Him can God’s purposes be fulfilled. And He must be an overcomer. He must have faced every test on earth and have come through it, successful and unscathed. And there is only One such, and He is here for John to see.

The idea of the lion of the tribe of Judah comes from Genesis 49:9-10. The lion was the most splendid and awesome of beasts, the powerful hunter. It thus represented someone strong and powerful, before whom all were afraid. The root of David stresses someone directly descended from David, the prototype of the coming everlasting king.

Verse 6

‘And I saw in the midst of the throne, and in the midst of the elders, a Lamb standing as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God who are sent out into all the earth.’

What a paradox. The great overcoming Lion turns out to be a slain Lamb. The victor turns out to be a bleeding victim. But the lesson is that it was only through His becoming a victim that He has become the victor. Only His death has made possible the fulfilment of the purposes of God.

Yet He is not only the slain Lamb, He is also the Lord of Creation. Under His personal control are seven great powers (horns), seven all-seeing powers (eyes). These are the seven chief angels who control all earthly activity. The horn in prophecy is ever the symbol of power, it is the means by which a beast exerts its authority and accomplishes his will. It regularly represents kings (e.g. Daniel 8:3; Daniel 8:5; Daniel 8:20-21). Here it represents those who are greater than kings.

Reference to Jesus as the Lamb of God is only found in John’s writings (John 1:29; John 1:36; and constantly in Revelation, but compare Acts 8:32; 1 Corinthians 5:7; 1 Peter 1:19 and Hebrews). In John He is the Passover lamb, slain as a sacrifice for sin (it was solemnly offered in the Temple showing it was seen as a sacrifice) and as a guarantee of safety from the wrath of God and of deliverance through His power (Exodus 12:1-36). But it is clear that He is also the suffering Servant who has sacrificed Himself for the sins of others, the lamb led to the slaughter of Isaiah 53:7, Who has taken away the sin of the world (John 1:29). It is through His sacrifice on the cross that the purposes of God can unfold.

Verses 7-10

‘And he came and took the scroll out of the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints, and they sing a new song, saying “You are worthy to take the scroll and to break its seals, for you were slain and purchased for God with your blood those of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and you made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they are reigning (or shall reign) on the earth.’

The release of the scroll by the One on the throne demonstrated the authority and rightness of the Lion of Judah and Lamb of God for the task in hand. The Lamb is recognised as having the right and authority to open the scroll, for it is released into His care. Thus the One worthy to open the scroll had to be extremely powerful, and yet have been offered as a sacrifice on behalf of the world which the scroll will affect.

And at this the living creatures and the elders fall down and worship Him, and the elders, the representatives of the church on earth, break into singing holding each in their hands a harp and golden bowls full of incense which are the prayers of God’s people. Here we see their priestly function. They are represented as presenting men’s worship before God.

The idea of prayers as incense is taken from the words of the psalmist, ‘Let my prayer be set forth as incense before you, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice’ (Psalms 141:2). The golden bowls were those used in the Holy place and the Holy of Holies (e.g. Exodus 25:29; 1 Kings 7:50 contrast v. 45) for the use of the priests. It is clearly the elders’ responsibility to gather the prayers of God’s people and pass them on to Him (compare Daniel 10:12-13). But there is no suggestion that we should pray to them, and John is later admonished for doing such a thing. The harp was associated with joy, thanksgiving and worship (1 Chronicles 25:1; 1 Chronicles 25:6; Psalms 71:22; Psalms 92:3; Psalms 149:3). The description ‘of every tribe and tongue and people and nation’ is an amplification of a phrase in Daniel 3:29.

‘They sing a new song’. Compare Isaiah 42:9-10 where singing a new song occurs because something new is about to happen. The presence and actions of the Lamb produce a different song from the elders than that of Revelation 4:11. It is a new song, the song of redemption. The one thing that has fitted the Lamb for His task is that He has bought for God, through the offering of Himself, people from every nation under Heaven. He has further made them a kingdom, and priests to God (i.e. a kingdom of priests: see on Revelation 1:5-6). They are His kingdom, and His priestly kingdom, given the task of making offerings of praise and thanksgiving (Hebrews 13:15; compare Psalms 107:22; Psalms 116:17) and of presenting God’s truth to all.

‘And they are reigning on the earth’. The manuscripts, which are somewhat lacking in Revelation, tend to favour the present tense, but some have the future tense. The present tense, which is most probable, and ties in with the fact that they are enjoying the present position as a kingdom of priests, (note that in 1 Peter 2:9 we are a royal priesthood), stresses that through Christ His people are already reigning, as described in Ephesians 1:20-21 with Revelation 2:6. Compare Romans 5:17, Colossians 3:1. They share with Christ His present reign.

If we prefer the future tense it really says the same. It says that because they are a kingdom of priests they will reign on earth in the forthcoming days. It is a statement of confident assurance in the wellbeing of God’s people. They will reign on earth, as one day they will be resurrected and reign with Christ over the universe (2 Timothy 2:12: Revelation 22:5).

Verses 11-14

‘And I saw, and I heard a voice of many angels round about the throne and the living creatures and the elders, and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a great voice “Worthy is the Lamb who has been slain to receive the power, and riches, and wisdom, and might, and honour, and glory, and blessing”. And every created thing which is in the heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and on the sea, and all things that are in them heard I saying, ‘To him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be the blessing, and the honour, and the glory, and the dominion, for ever and ever”. And the four living creatures said, “Amen”. And the elders fell down and worshipped.’

The number of angels parallels Daniel 7:10, but this is more an indication of John’s knowledge of Daniel than evidence that this is the same scene, for it is simply a way of declaring their number as being too large to count. In the court of God are angels without number.

These angels now add to the worship of the Lamb. Their cry is sevenfold, an indication of divine completeness, and in it they acknowledge His worthiness for what He is about to do, and what as a consequence He will receive. At His ascension He was seated at God’s right hand as the One Who was given all authority and power in Heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18; Acts 2:30-35; 1 Corinthians 15:25-26; Ephesians 1:20-21 compare Daniel 7:13-14). Now will begin the full realisation of that gift, until all is put under His feet. In a sense, of course, this process began at the ascension, but the emphasis here is that the churches must see the coming troubles as specifically part of that process. They can find strength from the fact that their tribulation is taking forward the purposes of God.

The fact that He will receive ‘riches’ is drawn to our attention by the fact that the word is omitted in a similar worship in Revelation 7:12. The riches He is to receive are spiritual riches (Luke 16:11) and include the ‘riches of the glory of His inheritance in God’s people’ (Ephesians 1:18).

Earth then gives its reply. This is, of course, in vision. And in that vision John sees every living thing on earth glorifying God and the Lamb. Nature does naturally what man will not do. The fourfold nature of their cry is an indication of the involvement of the whole earth for four is the number of earth. So Heaven and earth proclaim the worthiness of God and of the Lamb. And the living creatures say “Amen’ to creation’s worship, for they are the representatives in Heaven of that creation. And the elders fall down and worship, for they are the representatives of the people of God. The conjunction of the worshipping of the One on the throne with the worshipping of the Lamb is evidence of Christ’s full divinity.

Notice the way in which the praise and worship commences with the living creatures and the elders, moves on to the angels, on to the whole creation, then back to the living creatures and the elders.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Revelation 5". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/revelation-5.html. 2013.
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