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THE OPENER OF THE SEALED BOOK
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
HAVING duly conserved the honour of the one and only Lord God Almighty, attention can be again fixed on the ministry of the Living Christ. He has been presented under symbols bearing relation to His work in the Church; now He is present under symbols bearing relation to His place and rights in heaven. He is conceived of as there, “highly exalted,” and “having a Name above every name”; because “He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross”; because He “poured out His soul unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors, and bare the sin of many.” Christ in heaven is the accepted Sacrifice, and therefore figured as a slain Lamb. That is not His figure for earth. Here he is the present Sanctifier through the control of all the discipline of human life. Here He is presiding over the carrying through of His redemptive mission. If this distinction be fittingly apprehended, some of the apparent incongruity between the several figures of the Redeemer will be relieved. We must see Him as God sees Him, and then He is the slain Lamb. We must see Him as the Church sees Him, and then He is the Living Sanctifier, through discipline, and even through judgments.
Revelation 5:1. Book.—That it should be written on both sides implied abundance of matter. “It represents the history of the conflicts of the Church from St. John’s days to the day of doom” (Wordsworth). Most modern writers generalise, and suppose that it is the book of God’s counsels. But this is too vague. “Conflictus et triumphos Ecclesiœ reser at futuros” (Bede). It is, in precise relation to the subject about which St. John is writing the book which contains the mystery why the Church is left in the world, and called to bear the brunt of such calamities, temptations, and persecutions, and the present work of the Living Christ—a work entrusted to Him because He has offered a perfect and infinitely acceptable sacrifice of Himself—in the Church for the sake of the world, and in the world for the sake of the Church. The Divine purposes concerning the Church and the world are a secret, and they are symbolised by this sealed book. “The roll is not the Apocalypse so much as the book of those truths which are exemplified in the Apocalypse, as in a vast chamber of imagery” (Carpenter). Seals.—See Isaiah 29:11; Daniel 12:4. Note that the seals are placed in such positions that the contents can be gradually disclosed in an ordinary way. When the first seal was broken, the manuscript could be unrolled until one came to a second seal, and so on. But this idea must not be unduly pressed, so as to involve the historical and chronological order of the book of Revelation.
Revelation 5:2. Strong angel.—Suggesting that the proclamation was made throughout the whole realm of existence. His voice reached from utmost East to utmost West. Worthy.—Either on the ground of personal dignity or of extraordinary services. The term certainly implies moral fitness.
Revelation 5:3. Look thereon.—So as even to make a guess at its contents.
Revelation 5:5. Lion, etc.—As the lion is regarded as king among animals, so Christ is Lion, King of the tribe of Judah (see Genesis 49:9). Root.—Or sprout (Isaiah 11:1; Zechariah 6:12). Prevailed.—Conquered. Christ acquired the power to open the book by His great endurance, struggle, and victory (see Philippians 2:6-10). The right belongs to Him alone, because He alone had suffered and conquered in doing and bearing the holy will of God. To open the book was at once the honour and privilege God gave to His accepted Son, and the work which His experience brought Him the ability to perform.
Revelation 5:6.—Omit words “and lo!” Lamb, etc.—The word used means “a little Lamb.” It was in the middle front of the throne. Remember that St. John records the title given to Christ, “Lamb of God” (John 1:29; John 1:36; Isaiah 53:7). Had been slain.—With marks which showed it had been slain in sacrifice, and offered to God. Compare our Lord showing the marks of His crucifixion in hands and side to doubting Thomas. The death-marks are the sign of the completion of that life-sacrifice which is infinitely acceptable to God, and proves Christ to be fitted to undertake the further and final stages of the redemptive work. Seven Spirits.—Sign of perfect competency.
Revelation 5:8. Harps, etc.—To give expression to the praises and prayers of the world-wide and age-long Church of Christ. The prayers of the saints are expressions of confidence in Christ, as undertaking this new trust—the sanctifying of the Church He has redeemed. Its prayer is embodied in the word “come” and in the sentence “come quickly.”
Revelation 5:10. Shall reign on the earth.—As sharing the victory Christ will surely win. “They reign with and in Christ, but they also reign on the earth. Christ gives them a kingship, even sovereignty, over themselves—the first, best, and most philanthropic, of all kingships. He gives them, too, a kingship on the earth among men, for they are exerting those influences, promoting those principles, and dispensing those laws of righteousness, holiness, and peace, which in reality rule all the best developments of life and history” (Carpenter).
Revelation 5:11. Ten thousand, etc.—Lit. “myriads of myriads” (see Daniel 7:10).
Revelation 5:12. Power, etc.—This is the most complete of the doxologies. A sevenfold doxology. An expression of the highest adoration that language can express.
Revelation 5:13. Under the earth.—Possibly an inclusion of the holy dead. In the sea.—Better, “on the sea.” Unto Him that sitteth … unto the Lamb.—“This linking of the Lamb with God as the Throned One is common throughout the book. Here they are linked in praise; in Revelation 6:16 they are linked in wrath; in Revelation 7:17 they are linked in ministering consolation; in Revelation 19:6-7, they are linked in triumph. In the final vision of the book the Lord God and the Lamb are the temple (Revelation 21:22), and the light (Revelation 21:23), the refreshment (Revelation 22:1), and sovereignty (Revelation 22:3), of the celestial city.”
Note on the “book.”—The reason why a book is chosen for the symbol in this case will be very apparent to a careful reader of the Hebrew Scriptures. The Book of Life has a limited significance, and is employed only in respect to the state of individuals, whose weal or woe, life or death, depends on what is recorded therein. But in the present case the book before us contains a record of the secret counsels of God—i.e., hitherto secret in regard to the Christian Church and its enemies. Texts which make use of the like imagery may be found in Malachi 3:16; Psalms 139:16; and probably Deuteronomy 32:34 (Moses Stuart).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Revelation 5:1-14
The Acknowledgment of the Champion’s Rights.—“The fifth chapter pictures the glory of the Lamb, Jesus sacrificed and risen again. In His hands is a roll made up of seven leaves, and sealed with seven seals; this book contains the Divine decrees which are about to be put into execution, with regard to the world. These two circumstances—that the Lamb is entrusted with it, and that it is He who successively breaks its seals—evidently signify that it is He who is to be the executor of the designs of God; accordingly, He is represented as possessing the seven eyes and the seven horns; that is to say, the fulness of omniscience and of omnipotence, without which He could not accomplish this Divine work” (F. Godet, D.D.).
I. The champion.—The figures employed in Revelation 5:5 indicate His representative character. He who has undertaken to deliver man from the thraldom of sin, and has gloriously succeeded, is the very one to whom may be entrusted the further work of delivering men from the consequences of sin, and from the influence of evil surroundings. The Champion may be still entrusted with champion’s work.
II. His rights.—The successful general considers he has rights to new commissions; rights to the full confidence of his sovereign. Rights are won by
(1) proofs of ability;
(3) experience. There are rights of reward; but, to noble souls, the best reward is further and larger trust.
III. The acknowledgment by God.—Take the passage in Philippians 2:0 : as fully unfolding this, and Isaiah 53:0 as anticipating it. No one could be so profoundly interested in the redemption of humanity as He who has successfully carried through the first stage of it. Nobody could be so fully in the secret of the Divine love, or so fully in sympathy with the Divine purpose. So to Him is entrusted the sealed book.
IV. The responsive acknowledgment of all creation.—Indicated by the worship and praise of the representatives of all animate being. There is recognition of the dignity of the new trust; and there is recognition of the hope for humanity that lies in the further mission of the Lamb that was slain.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
Revelation 5:1. The Glorified Christ.
I. The solution of the mysteries of God.—
1. The book in the right hand. God always works by a plan. Characteristics of this plan—order, completeness, duration.
2. The book sealed. Its secrets hid.
3. Christ the revealer of the mysteries of God. This is true in relation to history—to the soul. The purpose of the Christian life is to reveal His glory and promote it.
II. The object of worship.—Christ worshipped by the redeemed.—R. Vaughan Price, M.A.
What was the Book?—Numberless interpretations have been offered. It is the Old Testament; it is the whole Bible; it is the title deed of man’s inheritance; it is the book containing the sentence of judgment on the foes of the faith; it is the Apocalypse; it is part of the Apocalypse; it is the book of God’s purposes and providence. There is a truth underlying most of these interpretations, but most of them narrow the force of the vision. If we say it is the book which unfolds the principles of God’s government—in a wide sense, the book of salvation (Romans 11:25-26), the interpretation of life which Christ alone can bestow—we shall include, probably, the practical truths which underlie each of these interpretations; for all—Old Testament and New, man’s heritage and destiny, God’s purposes and providences—are dark till He who is Light unfolds those truths which shed a light on all. Such a book becomes one “which contains and interprets human history,” and claims the kingdoms of the earth for God.—Bishop Boyd Carpenter.
Revelation 5:6. The Vision of the Slain Lamb.—This is one of the Scripture sentences that has a holy fascination for pious, meditative souls. The figure under which it presents our Lord is exquisite with its tender suggestions. The gentleness and the sacrifice of the “Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world,” come fully into view. The soul gains a holy nearness to her Lord, and a kindling of new affections, by the aid of such a painfully beautiful symbol. Of all the visions that may come to renewed souls, none can surpass this one, the “vision of the Slain Lamb.” We treat this subject meditatively as a spiritual preparation. An exposition of the passage, as it stands connected with the book of Revelation, is beyond our purpose. We do not presume to treat it exhaustively; we shall feel as deeply as any one how much has been left unsaid. But sometimes we may more easily reach the very heart of truth by the way of meditation than by the way of study and research; and at sacramental seasons we want to get quite away from the bustle of Biblical controversy into the “desert place” where we can be quiet, and, in the holy stillness, find “Jesus only.” A few words will suffice to give a general idea of the purpose of this book of Revelation. On the ground of His completed obedience and perfected work on earth, the New Testament teaches us that the Lord Jesus Christ is constituted Mediatorial King, and appointed to preside over the whole work of the redemption of the human race, and, indeed, the entire creation, from the consequences and dominion of sin. We are to think of our Lord as now engaged in this most blessed work, carrying out His great commission in the individual life, in the Church, in the world, and in heaven. A sublime work, whose full issues will only be revealed in the “day of Jesus Christ.” But it is altogether too complicated and too vast a matter to be set down in plain human language. Human words will not reach “to the height of this great thought.” And yet, in some way, the Church must receive assurance that her Lord liveth, reigneth, and is working out His beneficent purposes through all the changes of the ages, the rising and falling of nations, the calamities of famine, pestilence, and war, and the prosperities and persecutions, declinings and reformations, of the Church. Christ uses for this purpose prophetic figures; He tells the story of the Christian ages in the highest forms of poetry and parable; paints it in visions which spiritual insight may fill up and translate, as the ages pass on. Setting however, this one thing in constant prominence, as though He would fix permanently the outlook of His Church. Christ reigns. Christ works. Everything that happens is known to Him. All things, however strange they may seem, work towards His final redemption ends. “I am He that liveth and was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore, and have the keys of Hades and of death.” In this great faith His Church must live, labour, and die. The key to the prophecy is given to us, we think, in some of the opening sentences of the first chapter. “Behold, He cometh with clouds”; not, He shall come merely in some great day of manifestation, but He “is coming,” always coming; He does come to every occasion of the Church’s need, to every new circumstance, both of the Church and of the world. Whatever may happen, believe that Christ has come, and is there, in the very midst of it. Separate your Lord from nothing that concerns you or your fellow-men. Is it persecution? Christ is come, Christ is there. Is it national calamity? Christ is come, Christ is there. Is it the falling of the Church into perilous errors? Christ is come, Christ is there. Is it abounding antichrists of scepticism, luxury or indifference? Christ is come, Christ is there. And His victorious powers will yet be displayed, when death and hell, man’s last enemies, are “cast into the lake of fire.” The times will often be very hard, the outlook very dark, and Christians will need much patience and faith; but they may expect and prepare for the struggle. John tells them he is their “Brother and companion in tribulation”; and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, the kingdom whose characteristic virtue is the patience of faith that clings hard to this great fact in the darkness and in the light—“Jesus lives,” “Jesus is here.” So the Christian soul ought to have its abiding vision of the present Saviour. And thus arises the question which our text is designed to answer—at least, in part. If we are to have a vision of Jesus, how are we to figure Him? It seems that we are to conceive of Him as directly related to His Churches, and to their spiritual life and progress, under the figures that are given to us in the first chapter of this book, as the powerfully, searchingly pure One—the fire that burns unto whiteness for the consuming of the Church’s sin. But we are also to conceive of Him more generally in His mediatorial sovereignty, and this we may do with the aid of the figures of our text, standing as the central Person of all creation—a Lamb with marks of slaughter on Him, and endowed with all power and authority in His perfection of horns and perfection of eyes. “In the midst of the throne, and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.” We fix, then, attention on the Lord Jesus Christ, as Christian souls ought to apprehend Him. Observe His form, His marks, His attitude, and His place.
I. His form.—“A Lamb.” We are very familiar with the way in which animals are regarded as types of character. The lion, for instance, represents for us majesty and force; the fox dexterity and cunning. Our Lord used the characteristic qualities of animals in commending virtues to His disciples, saying,’ “Be ye wise as serpents, harmless as doves.” It is the business of poetry to observe the instincts of animals, and trace their analogies with the virtues and vices of men; and prophecy, such as we have in our text, is kin to the highest poetry; it finds its only befitting expression in figurative and symbolical terms. There are certain ideas universally associated with the “Lamb.” It is the common symbol of gentleness, innocence, and obedient meekness. The word used by John, however, is a peculiar one, carrying these ordinary notions and something more—something of unusual tenderness and endearment, as if this Lamb won our Love, and took at once His place in our heart. We lose something of the strength of the actual word used when we translate it, in the only words possible to us: “dear little Lamb.” Perhaps our best addition to it would be the word “precious,” reminding us of Peter’s words: “Unto you that believe He is precious.” Then we may read our verse, “In the midst of the throne stood a precious Lamb, as it had been slain.” The symbol is used in connection with two others. Before John saw Christ Himself, the angel had spoken of Him in very striking terms “The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the Book and to loose the seven seals.” These three figures show that He who might prevail to open the Book was no other than the Messiah of the older prophecies. “Lion of the tribe of Judah” is the prophecy of Jacob, uttered far back in the patriarchal times. “Root of David” is the prophecy of the middle ages of the Jewish Church. And the “Lamb slain “reminds us at once of the evangelical prophet Isaiah, and his familiar words, “He was led as a lamb to the slaughter.” The chief relations in which Christ stands to us seem indicated in these triple figures: Lion, Root, and Lamb. As the Lion, He is our Ruler and Head. As the Root, He is our Life, whence all vitality is drawn. As the Lamb, He is our Exemplar, the model of the conduct that would worthily express the life lived in Christ’s kingdom. Model of conduct and character that may stand the testing of uttermost sorrow and sacrifice. A Lamb led meekly even to the shearing and the slaughter. The expected Messiah was a Lion and a Root. These figures helped men to the knowledge of Him: but, behold, when He is fully revealed, when we see Him as He is, a new figure appears. We looked for a Lion and a Root, and we see a Lamb, with slaughter-marks and blood-stains on Him. And yet, though the change causes a passing shudder, this Lamb figure is the one for Christ that is so deeply true, so attractive, so satisfying. It embodies the very highest and most spiritual conceptions of Christ we can have. His glory is the glory of character. The Lamb-like purity, His fleece never once sullied with a sin-stain; the Lamb-like gentleness, neither “striving, nor crying, nor letting His voice be heard in the street”: the Lamb-like obedience, knowing nothing but His Father’s will, lead wheresoe’er it may. It may seem at first as though His glory was His work of redemption and sacrifice; but soon we begin to feel that not even His work must hide us from Himself. “Be hold the Lamb of God!” This is the all-satisfying vision. It is the fitting figure for Christ’s character, but it is the equally-fitting figure for Christ’s office. As “mediatorial King” He is the Lamb. This is the symbol of His reign. He rules in righteousness. He wins by yielding. His force is gentleness. His commands are, “Hear and obey.” He dignifies the “passive graces” of character. He bids us look away from the mighty things that take men’s eye, to discern the secret, gentle, lamb-like forces of love, trust, patience, forbearance, submission, and hope, which are fast redeeming the world. Would you, then, see Christ, would you get a vision of Him to your soul? Behold the window opened in heaven, and a “Lamb as it had been slain.” Your Lord is a Lamb, and remember He is—
“Lord of lambs, the lowly;
King of saints, the holy”
II. His marks.—“As it had been slain.” He retains, in heaven, the marks of His slaughter, and by the holy signs we may know Him who have these soul-visions of Him now. Slaughter is surely the right word for the cruel and dreadful death He died. To spiritual vision, indeed, it rises to the height of a sublime sacrifice; the smoke of that perfected obedience in death rose up to God to win an infinite acceptance. This Lamb was in Divine purpose “slain before the foundation of the world.” “He that hath redeemed us to God by His blood.” By “the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” But, to human apprehension, it was still a slaughter, leaving blood-stains, and five holy wounds.
“Hath He marks to lead me to Him,
If He be my guide?
In His hands and feet are wound-prints,
And His side.”
I know nothing that touches the soul like this sight of Christ, which we should ever keep before us. A Lamb, as if it had been slain. A modern poet has shown how his deepest heart was reached by it:—
“I saw, in a vision of the night,
The Lamb of God, and it was white;
White as snow, it wander’d thro’
Silent fields of hare-bell blue,
Still it wandering fed, and sweet
Flower’d the stars around its feet.
“Then suddenly I saw again,
Bleating like a thing in pain,
The Lamb of God, and all, in fear,
Gazed and cried as it came near,
For on its robe of holy white
Crimson blood-stains glimmer’d bright.
Oh, the vision of the night!
The Lamb of God! the blood-stains bright!”
Thomas knew his Lord by the marks, which told He was, indeed, the crucified One. And we who see Him now in the visions of the soul, we must keep in sight those marks, and so feel sure that it is, indeed, He, the “Man of love, the Crucified.” For this is a part of Christ’s hallowed influence upon us, as we bring Him into close and living relations. We see Him who was “slain for us.” We feel Him near “who loved us, and gave Himself for us.” We “consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, that we be not weary or faint in our minds.” And what influence shall the abiding presence of those slaughter-marks have upon us? Surely they should keep us ever humble; what are we, that our redemption should have cost so much as this! They should be a voice pleading for an all consuming, self-mastering love for Him that died. They should bring us to a hearty submission unto Him who, by agony and shame, has won the right to rule. They should call upon us continually to accept of the Christian life as a sacrifice; following Him cheerfully, and saying, “It is enough for the disciple that he be as his Master, and the servant as his Lord.” Believe in the Living Christ. He is the Lamb. But never fail to observe that it is as if He had been slain, and “Learn of Christ to bear the cross.”
III. His attitude.—“Stood.” Not now lying down, slaughtered, and dead; but standing, raised again, with but the sad marks left behind of all that is now passed through and done. Once the fainting Head bowed, and they loosened the piercing nails, and bent down the rigid limbs, and lay the poor body out, and folded the spices round, and lifted it upon the bier, and carried it into the garden tomb. Then the Lamb of God was lying crucified, slaughtered, dead. But not thus is He to be seen by our spiritual vision now. “No more the bloody cross; the nails and spear no more.” We have not to keep before us a dead Redeemer; the sound has long since rung through heaven, and earth, and hell, “He liveth, and is alive for evermore.” Keep your spirits humble and solemn by the memory of His cruel death; but be sure of this: the Redeemer LIVES. Before the throne He stands in all the vigour of His eternal life. We have “a great High Priest passed into the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God”; and “He abideth a priest continually.” And yet, how Christian thought will cling about that shameful scene of Calvary, and about that tomb where Jesus was, though we know He is no longer there. It is the secret source of so much of our bondage and error, that we let our minds dwell so constantly on a dead Christ. We preach too much a dead Christ. We paint too many artistic pictures of a dead Christ. We think too often over the dead Christ. Our vision is not cleared enough of prejudice to observe Christ’s attitude before the throne. As we usually see it, the Lamb is lying down, as if it were slain. Nay, look again; the Lamb is standing up, only it has upon it the marks that tell it was once slain. How hard it is to take Paul’s comparative estimate of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. “It is Christ that died, yea, rather, that is risen again.” But another thought gathers round the attitude of Christ as Mediatorial King. He is “standing” as expressive of His activity and energy. He stands before the throne as one attentive, quick, waiting that He may obey. Like the visioned cherubim of Isaiah, who stood covering face and feet, with poised wing waiting to fly. So we are helped to feel that His rule is a living, active thing; not some sublime possibility; not some future glory; not a wondrous “maybe”; but a present fact. He stands concerned now for us; ruling now over us; active now to bless us. Applying now the virtue of His wounds; sanctifying us wholly—body, soul, and spirit; changing us now into the image of His own Lamb-like purity. He not only liveth, but is working, until all enemies be put under His feet. With Stephen, we may “see Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”
IV. His place.—“In the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders.” The term “midst” should be middle, in the central place, the place that properly belongs to the representative and leader. All nature is figured as present before the rainbow-girdled throne of God. The four living creatures represent all animated nature. The Church of God is there, the older and the newer Church, for which stand four-and-twenty elders. But in the very middle, in the central leader’s place, is “Jesus,” standing for them all, Head and Representative of all. In Eastern lands the gorgeous pavilion of the great king or general is placed in the very centre of the encampment. Round it the tents of captains and soldiers are gathered, in ever-widening circles, every man’s tent-door opening to the view of the king’s tent. The central place is the place for the leader. And so with this feature of the vision we are helped to realise the surpassing dignities that belong to the slain Lamb; for, blending poetic figures, we read, “On His vesture and on His thigh is this name written, King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” The sadness of those wounds and blood-stains almost seems to pass; nay, the very Lamb-figure fades a little from our view, when we see the place He occupies, and know that to Him every knee shall bow, of things in heaven and things in earth. He is in the midst—the central place—of nature; her glory and her crown; the secret of her infinite beauty to all open, reverent souls. He is in the middle—the central place—of the old Judaic life and system. Abraham saw His day. David sang His praise. And prophets painted the coming glories of His salvation. He is in the midst—the central place—of the Christian Church, as it marches down through the ages to the great day of redemption, and of God. He leads His witnesses through martyr’s fires, He keeps His followers amid fierce persecutions. He nerves His soldiers to the great warfare, and His labourers to the arduous toil. He steers the great mission ship, as it carries the gospel far and wide over the earth, while His servants sing:—
“Fly, happy, happy sails, and bear the press,
Fly happy with the banner of the cross;
Kuit land to land, and, flowing havenward,
Enrich the markets of the Golden Year.”
It is His rightful place. Centre everywhere and of everything. Let Him have His rightful place in your hearts, your thoughts, your life! Complete the vision you keep before your soul of the “Lamb as it had been slain,” by adding this: “He stands in the midst of the throne, and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders.” We are to see Jesus, to be always seeing Jesus, to keep Him ever well in view. We come to His table of communion that, in the way of His own providing, and by the aid of His own symbols, we may clear and renew our visions of Him. We find no mystic presence in the bread and wine, but we find a real presence in our soul: and Him whom we see and recognise; Him before whom we freshly bow; Him whose honoured Name we anew confess; Him whose redemption-work we lovingly remember; Him whose “prepared place for us” we hope to occupy; Him whose smile we feel will make our everlasting heaven;—Him we behold as a “Lamb.” Looking as if He once was slain. Standing before the throne of God. Head of nature and of man. He is the Lamb-like leader of lambs, the lowly One. Then let us become the lowly lambs He leads. He is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,” then let us trust the whole burden of sin and salvation on that great sin-bearer. He is the Lamb risen to die no more, exalted to heaven’s first place, crowned with the Name above every name. He is our strength, our triumph, and our hope. Let us join beasts, elders, angels, and redeemed, as they bow before Him, and sing: “Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever.”
The All-conquering Christ.—It is needless to say to the biblical student that this imagery has its base on Genesis 49:8-10. An old Hebrew Sheikh comes to die, and, dying, blesses his boys. He talks poetically. It is easy for a Semitic man to speak in poetry. One old Arab is on record as having composed a poem of one hundred and fifty-seven lines when dying. But this Sheikh is a prophet of the most High God, and his utterances are more than poetry. They are discriminating and far-seeing prophecy. They forth-tell as well as foretell the destiny of the sons, through generations to come.
I. The victorious leadership and power of Judah.—Of Judah, the old man says that he shall be chief amongst his brethren. “Thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise; … thy father’s children shall bow down before thee.” He is to be a victorious power. “Thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies … from the prey thou art gone up.” His is to be a legislative and regal power. “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet.” He is to be the true centre of government, the rallying point of the world’s hopes; “to him shall the gathering of the people be.” Let us trace the history to see the facts that fulfil the prophecy. Two hundred years after the old man’s dying words were spoken, we find the children of Israel going up out of Egypt, and God gives directions about the order of their encampment. “On the east side (Numbers 2:3) … shall they of the standard of the camp of Judah pitch.” Why is Judah assigned the principal place in the front of the Tabernacle? Why is he here the chief tribe? Why should not Reuben, the first-born, be appointed here? There is no explanation to be given except that for his sin he had boon displaced, “and the genealogy is not to be reckoned after the birthright,” and “Judah was made the chief ruler” (1 Chronicles 5:1-2). Again, in Numbers 7:12, when the offerings were to be made, Nahshon … of the tribe of Judah was assigned the dignity of offering first. In Numbers 24:9 Balaam warns Balak that he would better beware of these people, because, according to an old tradition, they destroy their enemies with a lion’s strength. “He couched, he lay down as a lion, and as a great lion, who shall stir him up?” save at his own peril. The tradition does not die, and Moses re-announces it at his dying. He blesses the descendants of the boys whom Jacob blessed a-dying. He renews and re-formulates the prophecy (Deuteronomy 33:7): “And this is the blessing of Judah: Hear, Lord, the voice of Judah, and bring him” (victorious from battle) “unto his people; let his hands be sufficient for him; and be thou an help to him from his enemies.” The same all-conquering element, the all-prevailing, all-victorious might must still abide with Judah. When the tribes had passed into Canaan the remnants of the people were to be overcome, and Israel inquires of the Lord who shall be put in the forefront of the fray, who should lead to battle. “Who shall” (Judges 1:2-3) “go up for us against the Canaanites first, to fight against them? And the Lord said, Judah shall go up: behold, I have delivered the land into his hand.” Still later the tribe of Benjamin revolt (Judges 20:18) and the people “went to the house of God” and “asked counsel of God. Which of us shall go up first to the battle against the children of Benjamin? And the Lord said, Judah shall go up first.” The regal pomp and power of the Messiah was symbolised by David, and the foundation of his royalty he recognised to be this old legend of his people, this prophetic decree of the father of his line. The Lord chose me, and my father’s house, for He hath chosen Judah to be the ruler (1 Chronicles 28:4). When the north wind ripples over his harp, he sings, “Judah is my” (Israel’s) “lawgiver” (Psalms 60:7).
II. But this all-conquering and all-controlling power of Judah but symbolised the real royalty and supreme sway of Jesus Christ, and hence we go on to the New Testament. Matthew opens with a long chapter of hard names—the family record of the Lord Jesus, “the book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David.” The old promise of Jacob in Genesis was that this regal might, this conquering splendour, should abide with Judah till the Peace-Bringer, the Shiloh, should come (Genesis 49:10). We have been wont to remark how this was fulfilled, and to emphasise the fact that when the Shiloh did come, this power departed from Israel. Rome’s greedy eagles flew over Jerusalem and struck their bloody talons into Judæa’s heart, and since then they have been peeled, scattered and scorned, hunted and hated, without a priest, without an ephod, without a sceptre, the byword of the world. But that is not the deeper and inner meaning of the utterance. The truth is, that the regal power and splendour never did depart from Judah. Look at Matthew’s record. It is a record which God kept through three thousand years, and which, after Shiloh came, of Judah, fell into confusion, so that no Jew on earth, it is said, can prove to-day to what tribe he belongs. The power never did depart from Judah. It only centred in the Shiloh, and He was of the tribe of Judah. All that had been before, as compared with the race-power of the Shiloh, was only a dim foreshadow. It was as unequal to the real might and majesty of the real Lion of the tribe of Judah as “a painted ship upon a painted ocean” is to the real ship on the real ocean. It is needless to point out the manifested regal sway of Jesus Christ. It is needless to remind ourselves, at length, that Christian kings, and Christian princes, and Christian presidents rule to-day more than half the land surface of the globe, and all the seas. The unobserved but steady transfer of the thrones and of all political power from heathen and Moslem to Christian hands is but one of the many indications that the sceptre has not yet departed from Judah, nor a “lawgiver from between his feet.”
III. It would be interesting to note at length the blending of the Lion of the tribe of Judah and Shiloh the Peace-Bringer, as the two elements are portrayed in the book of Revelation.—The Rest-Man is to rule, until He put all enemies under His feet. He is to be the Prince of Peace, “that in the dispensation of the fulness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth even in Him” (Ephesians 1:10), for to this Lion, Shiloh, “shall the gathering of the people be.” In our text (Revelation 5:5-6), John was asked to behold a Lion, and he looked and beheld a Lamb. He looked for the Lion of the tribe of Judah and beheld the Shiloh. And now henceforth John flashes and flames with the record of his visions of the all-conquering, all-controlling, all-compelling power, the regal splendour, the triumphant sway, of the Shiloh—the Lamb slain. The Lamb is the centre of thrones and principalities and powers. He is the centre of the homage and honour of the whole creation. The elders with harps are before the throne (Revelation 5:8), and the assembly shouts His worth, saying, “Worthy is the Lamb to receive power … and strength, and honour, and glory,” and His enemies overthrown are fearful in His presence, crying (Revelation 6:16), “Hide us … from the wrath of the Lamb.… Who shall be able to stand” before the irresistible sweep of His “sceptre”? And (Revelation 7:9-10) an international multitude, too vast to be estimated, victorious in His might, wave palms before the throne on which He sits, and these are they (Revelation 7:10) which washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb, and He (Revelation 7:17) fed them and led them, and “wipedaway all tears from their eyes.” And yet again (Revelation 11:15), amid the thunders and lightnings great voices in heaven say, “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ, and He shall reign for ever and ever.” And still further, when the head of all the organised evil forces is overthrown, it is said he was cast down by “the blood of the Lamb.” Christ’s forces are enrolled, His registry is complete, and power was given Him (Revelation 13:7-8) over all kindreds and tongues and nations, and this marshalled and enrolled multitude whose names are written in the Book of Life, of the Lamb slain, ascribe unto Him all dominion. The scroll unfolds, vision rushes after vision, and one regiment of 144,000, the “King’s own,” a personal escort branded with the love-brand of the Father’s own name in their foreheads, in sweet and royal submission “follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth.” John’s wing does not weary; he soars on. Now it is over a sea of glass, mingled with fire, where is another group of victors who had gotten the victory over the beast, who sing the song of Moses and the Lamb. The nineteenth chapter ushers us into the banqueting room for the “marriage supper of the Lamb.” And now the central courts of the universe are flooded with light, and the Lamb is the Light thereof (Revelation 21:23), and the book closes with the outflow of peace and prosperity from the centre of the regal splendour, and a “river of water flows out from the throne of God and of the Lamb.”—J. T. Gracey, D.D.
Revelation 5:12. The Slain Lamb.—John was the bosom friend of Christ. To his affectionate, confiding nature may be traced the intimacy formed with his Lord. Through him, the beloved disciple, we have disclosed the inner life of the Lord Jesus. In gospel and epistle John makes Christ the central figure. When isolated from men, exiled at Patmos, he was not cut off from Christ, but made to witness the sublime revelations of his enthroned Redeemer, as well as the events of coming history exhibited as an opening panorama, even down to the end of time. He sees the vials poured, the trumpets blown, and Satan bound. He beholds the bewildering glory of the eternal world and hears the song, “Worthy the Lamb.” Let us consider—
I. The Lamb slain.
II. The Lamb worshipped as worthy.—There is nothing dubious or defective in this matter. The statement is clear. John the Baptist pointed to Jesus, saying, “Behold the Lamb of God.” The lamb is an emblem of purity and innocence. Christ is holy, harmless, and undefiled. We eat the flesh of a lamb and wear its fleece. Christ’s flesh is meat indeed, and His blood our drink, spiritually. So, too, we are to put on the Lord Jesus. The sacrifice of Jesus delivers us from wrath, for His death cancels the debt due to justice. The demands of the law are met in our surety, and we are delivered from wrath. How was He slain?
1. He was slain in the counsel of God. His purpose who can annul? It was “before the foundation of the world.” He saw man ruined through their federal head. He determined to save. That was a marvellous consultation had between the three Persons of the blessed Trinity. God gave up His Son, by eternal, inevitable, and necessary generation. Amazing act of generosity! Where can its equal be found? He doomed His Son to ignominious death. He furbished the sword of justice.
2. He was slain in promise and in type. The seed of the woman is to bruise the serpent’s head. This is the germ of all succeeding promises, all of which are exceedingly precious. The serpent bruises His heel; that is, the humanity of Christ. In David’s psalms, in Zechariah, Isaiah, and Daniel, we learn more of Him who was to be slain for our offences and cut off “not for Himself.” He is the Paschal Lamb. The true day of Atonement was hastening, when the promise and type were to be fulfilled on Calvary.
3. He was actually slain. Infidelity has denied this, but the fact stands. He climbed the fatal hill, being straitened until the sacrifice was accomplished. The cross was erected. The nails, forged in hell, were driven as the murderous hammer fell. Blood streams from His hands and feet. The cross becomes as a rock against which the waves of the curse dash in vain—the lightning-rod that turns away the wrath of God from us, which otherwise would have slain us. The Lord of glory dies. The graves open. There is a preternatural chill in the air. Legions of hell rejoice as He cries, “My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Thus was the Lamb slain.
III. The Lamb who was slain is worthy of praise.—
1. Because of His essential dignity. This meek and lowly Jesus was also kingly. This root out of a dry ground was also the fairest among the children of men. He who to some had no form or comeliness was really “altogether lovely.” By Him all things were made, and by Him all things consist, stand together. The universe reflects the glory of Christ. Great is the dignity and mystery. He, too, is Prophet, Priest, and King. His name shall endure for ever. When Cæsars are forgotten and Alexanders pass into obscurity, the Lamb that was slain shall still reign in undying renown. The orchestra of heaven, and the shouts of the redeemed, proclaim Him King of kings and Lord of lords.
2. His interposition on our behalf makes Him worthy of praise. When restitution was demanded, Christ met the claim. How could God be just and yet justify the sinner? When the Father asked, “Who shall go for us?” the Son replied, “Here am I, send Me; I delight to do Thy will.” We admire the self-forgetfulness of men in philanthropic endeavour, but it is not worthy to be compared with the self-abnegation of the Redeemer of the world.
3. His exaltation makes Jesus worthy of praise. He hath been “highly exalted” to the right hand of the Father. In the name of Jesus every knee shall bow to pray, for Him hath God made Lord of all. He drank of the brook by the way, and therefore hath He lifted up the head. To Him are given dominion, and glory, and power, and blessing. All in heaven worship the Lamb who was slain. Shall not we join them in this adoration? Yes, let us kiss the Son, lest He be angry.
4. Christ is represented as receiving the homage of the whole creation. All in heaven, and in earth, and under the earth, join in this recognition of the Lamb that was slain. This is with the approval of God the Father. Then we should not delay to bring our worship and service to Christ. In conclusion, I remark:
1. Here is revealed the love of God the Father. He so loved the world, He gave Christ to die. The apostle also says, “He gave Himself for us.” Here is love which is measureless. Paul prays that we may be able to comprehend its length, breadth, height, and depth, yet adds that it passes knowledge.
2. We infer the value of the atonement. “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift.” We cannot compute the worth of this infinite sacrifice. We walk on the brink of an ocean of fathomless depth, as Newton said he stood by the sea-shore picking up, as it were, mere pebbles of truth, knowing little of treasures hid.
3. This memorial supper is an appropriate recognition of the work of Christ’s atoning grace. Men keep the deeds of heroes in mind by memorial observances; they build shrines and rear pillars. But here is a sublimer event, that calls us to more solemn and reverent recognition of the Lamb that was slain for our salvation.
4. I offer you this Saviour as your only hope, Do not pass by with indifference, but seek His favour, which is life, and His lovingkindness, which is better than life. In the love and favour of Jesus Christ, the Lamb that was slain, you are safe for time and safe for eternity.—D. Steele, D.D.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 5
Revelation 5:1. Written Scrolls.—Sometimes the scrolls were written on both sides, and the manner in which this was done is so well explained by a modern traveller, who saw two ancient rolls of this description in Syria, that we shall give the account in his own words: “In the monastery,” says Mr. Hartly, “I observed two very beautiful rolls, containing the liturgy of St. Chrysostom and that attributed by the Greeks to St. James. You begin to read by unrolling, and you continue to read and unroll, till at last you arrive at the stick to which the roll is fastened; then you turn the parchment round, and continue to read on the other side, rolling it gradually up till you complete the liturgy.” It was thus written within and without, and it may serve to convey an intelligible and correct idea of the books described both by Ezekiel and John.—Paxton.
Revelation 5:6. The Plea in Christ’s Intercession.—(“As it had been slain.”) “A rare illustration of the efficacious intercession of Christ in heaven we have in that famous story of Amintas, who appeared as an advocate for his brother Æschylus, who was strongly accused, and very likely to be condemned to die. Now, Amintas, having performed great services, and merited highly of the commonwealth, in whose service one of his hands was cut oil in the field, he came into the court, in his brother’s behalf, and said nothing, but only lifted up his arm and showed them an arm without a hand, which so moved them that without speaking a word, they freed his brother immediately. And thus, if you look into Revelation 5:6. you shall see in what posture Christ is represented visionally there as standing between God and us: ‘And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it bad been slain;’ that is, bearing in His glorified body the marks of death and sacrifice. Those wounds He received for our sins on earth are, as it were, still fresh bleeding in heaven; a moving and prevailing argument it is with the Father to give us the mercies He pleads for.”—Flavel.
The “Agnus Dei.”—In early Christian art, symbolical representations of our Saviour as a lamb are found, and it was at the Trullan Council (692 A.D.) that it was decreed that the Lord should no longer be pictured in churches under the form of a lamb, but in human form. It was an ancient custom to distribute to the worshippers, on the first Sunday after Easter, particles of wax taken from the paschal tapers, each particle being stamped with the figure of a lamb. These were burned in houses, fields, or vineyards, to secure them against evil influence or thunderstrokes. A waxen Agnus Dei is said to have been among the presents made by Gregory the Great to Theolinda, Queen of the Lombards; but proof of. this is wanting. One was found in 1725 A.D., in the Church of San Clemente, at Rome, in a tomb supposed to be that of Flavius Clemens, a martyr. A legend preserved by Robert of Mount St. Michael tells how, in the year 1183, the Holy Virgin appeared to a woodman at work in a forest, and gave him a medal bearing her own image, and that of her Son, with the inscription, “Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, Dona nobis pacem.” This she bade him bear to the bishop, and tell him that all who wished the peace of the church should make such medals as these, and wear them in token of peace.—Biblical Dictionary of Antiquities.
Revelation 5:8. The Praises and Prayers of the Church.—The vials (which seem to be censers, as they hold the incense) and the harps, it is perhaps more natural to suppose, were in the hands of the four and twenty elders, and not of the living creatures. Here, then, we have the praises (represented by the harps), and the prayers (represented by the censers), of the world-wide and age-long Church of Christ. The true odours are the heart-prayers of God’s children. Archbishop Leighton says, alluding to the composition of the Temple incense: “Of these three sweet ingredient perfumes—namely, petition, confession, thanksgiving—is the essence of prayer, and by the Divine fire of love it ascends unto God, the heart and all with it; and when the hearts of the saints unite in joint prayer, the pillar of sweet smoke goes up the greater and the fuller.”—Bishop Boyd Carpenter.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Revelation 5". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany