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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 5

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary

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Revelation 4:0 AND 5


The Heavenly WorshipThe Throne Room of HeavenVisions of the Glory of God and of the LambWorship in HeavenGod Entrusts the Future of the World to the Lamb
Revelation 4:1-6aRevelation 4:1-11Revelation 4:1-6aRevelation 4:1-6aRevelation 4:1-11
Revelation 4:6-11 Revelation 4:6-11Revelation 4:6-8
Revelation 4:9-11
The Scroll and the LambThe Lamb Takes the Scroll The Scroll and the Lamb
Revelation 5:1-14Revelation 5:1-7Revelation 5:1-5Revelation 5:1-5Revelation 5:1-5
Worthy is the LambRevelation 5:6-10Revelation 5:6-10Revelation 5:6-10
Revelation 5:8-14
Revelation 5:11-14Revelation 5:11-14Revelation 5:11-14

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. These two chapters form a literary unit; chapter 4 shows God as Creator (the connotation of Elohim, God as creator, provider, and sustainer of all life, cf. Psalms 104:0) and chapter 5 shows God's Lamb (Jesus) as Redeemer (the connotation of YHWH, God as Savior, Redeemer, and covenant-making God, cf. Psalms 103:0). The larger literary context continues through the opening of the seven seals. However, the seals themselves begin in chapter 6 and continue through Revelation 8:1.

B. Chapter 4 forms a central theme (the secure glory and rule of YHWH) of the book of the Revelation. This heavenly throne scene is similar to the heavenly tabernacle of Hebrews 8:0 and 9. This motif (God's heavenly glory) forms the central goal of early Jewish mysticism.

C. The book of the Revelation is not primarily the how and when of the Second Coming; it is primarily the sovereignty of God in human history. These two chapters are essential in understanding the remainder of the book and its purpose!

D. It is obvious from these two chapters that John was using apocalyptic language to describe spiritual truth. John used imagery from OT apocalyptic passages, particularly Ezekiel, chapters 1 and 10; also Revelation 2:9, Revelation 2:10; Daniel 4:0; Daniel 7:13-14 and also innumerable references to Jewish intertestamental apocalyptic writings, such as I Enoch. If this is true then it is extremely inappropriate to force Revelation into a literal, totally historical interpretive grid, especially when we force the events of our day, our culture, our geographical setting into the details of an ancient apocalyptic book. This is not to imply in any sense that Revelation is not true. It was not meant to be interpreted like historical narrative; a better hermeneutical model may be the parables of Jesus (see Fee and Stuart, How To Read The Bible For All Its Worth, p. 256)!


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. How do chapters 4 and 5 fit into the overall purpose of the book?

2. What is the literary genre of chapters 4 and 5?

3. From what sources does John pull his imagery?

4. Who are the elders?

5. Are the creatures described in Revelation 4:7-10 cherubim or seraphim?

6. List the OT titles of the Messiah which are found in chapter 5.

7. List the fivefold description of the Messiah's worthiness found in Revelation 5:9 and 10.

Verses 1-5

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Revelation 5:1-5 1I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals. 2 And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?" 3And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it. 4Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it; 5and one of the elders said to me, "Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals."

Revelation 5:1 "and I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne" A better translation of this phrase would be "on the right hand of Him" (Peshitta translated into English by Lamsa and the Amplified Bible). It is not the idea of God holding tightly to the book, but God holding it out for someone to take and open.

The phrase "the right hand of Him" is a biblical anthropomorphism to describe God's power and authority (see Special Topic at Revelation 2:1). God does not have a physical body; He is a spiritual being (cf. John 4:24), uncreated and eternal.

"book" The Greek term is "biblion" which later was used to refer to a codex (book). Most commentators agree that books did not appear until the second century, so what we have here is a papyrus or parchment scroll (NKJV, NRSV, TEV and NJB). There are several theories as to the meaning of this book.

1. the book of woes found in Ezekiel 2:8-10; and Revelation 10:8-11

2. the book which the people are unwilling to read because God has spiritually blinded them (cf. Isaiah 29:11; Romans 11:8-10, Romans 11:25)

3. the events of the end-time (cf. Daniel 8:26)

4. a Roman last will or testament, which was traditionally sealed with seven seals

5. the book of life (cf. Daniel 7:10; Daniel 12:1), which is mentioned so often in the book of the Revelation (cf. Revelation 3:5; Revelation 17:8; Revelation 20:12, Revelation 20:15)

6. the Old Testament (cf. Colossians 2:14; Ephesians 2:15)

7. the heavenly tablets of I Enoch 81:1,2.

In my opinion aspects of #1, #2, or #3 seem to be best; the scroll is a book of the destiny of mankind and God's culmination of history.

"written inside and on the back" This was very unusual in the ancient world because of the difficulty of writing on the back side of papyrus, although it is mentioned in Ezekiel 2:8-10 and Zechariah 5:3. It symbolizes God's complete and full control over history and human destiny.

Both of the participles (written and sealed) that describe this scroll are perfect passives. The first is a special grammatical form used to describe Scripture as being inspired (i.e., John 6:45; John 8:17; John 10:34, etc). The second is a way of expressing that the scroll was protected, preserved, and reserved by God.

"sealed up with seven seals" The seven seals have two possible origins.

1. Seven was the number of perfection from Genesis 1:0, therefore, it was perfectly sealed.

2. Roman wills were sealed with seven seals.

The seals were small blobs of wax containing the imprint of the owner, placed where the book or scroll would be opened (see Special Topic at Revelation 7:2). In Revelation 6:1-1 the breaking of these seals brings woes upon the earth, but the content of the scroll is not revealed in this literary unit. As a matter of fact, in the structure of the book, the seventh seal starts the seven trumpets which is the seventh seal.

Revelation 5:2 "I saw a strong angel" Some see a connection etymologically to the name Gabriel, which means "God's strong man." Another strong angel is mentioned in Revelation 5:1 and 18:21. Angelic mediation is common in Jewish intertestamental apocalyptic literature.

"proclaiming with a loud voice" He was addressing all creation.

"Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?" The term "worthy" is a commercial term relating to the use of a pair of scales. It came to mean "that which corresponds to." Something is put on one side of the scales and what is put on the other is equal. It could be used in a negative or positive sense. Here, it is the inestimable value of the sinless Savior. Only Jesus was equal to the task of redemption. Only Jesus was equal to the task of consummation. Only Jesus is worthy (cf. Revelation 5:7, Revelation 5:9-10, Revelation 5:12).

Revelation 5:3 "And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it" This shows the total inability of angels or humans to bring about the will of God! Rebellion has affected them all! Creation cannot help itself! No one is worthy!

Revelation 5:4 "I began to weep greatly" This is an imperfect tense verb, which denotes the beginning of an action or repeated action in past time. This meant "loud wailing," so characteristic of the Ancient Near East.

Revelation 5:5 "one of the elders said to me" Here we find one of the elders acting in the role of an angelic interpreter, as in the book of Daniel. See SPECIAL TOPIC: ELDER at Revelation 4:4.

"Stop weeping" This is a present imperative with the negative particle which usually meant to stop an act which is already in process.

"the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah" This is an allusion to Genesis 49:9-10 (cf. II Esdras 12:31,32). The Messiah is the conquering Lion (king) from the tribe of Judah.

"the Root of David" This is an allusion to 2 Samuel 7:0 and particularly Isaiah 11:1-10. This same idea of a royal Davidic Messiah can be found in Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 33:5 and Revelation 22:16.

"has overcome" This is an aorist active indicative, which implies it was an accomplished fact (i.e.,Calvary and the empty tomb). Notice that the Lion is not going to conquer by His power, but by His sacrifice (cf. Revelation 5:6).

Verses 6-10

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Revelation 5:6-10 6And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. 7And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. 8When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. 10You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth."

Revelation 5:6 "a Lamb standing" This concept of a sacrificial Lamb (i.e., baby lamb, arnion) depicts the vicarious atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Lamb is mentioned throughout the book of the Revelation (cf. Revelation 5:6, Revelation 5:8, Revelation 5:12, Revelation 5:13; Revelation 6:1, Revelation 6:16; Revelation 7:9, Revelation 7:10, Revelation 7:14, Revelation 7:17; Revelation 12:11; Revelation 13:8; Revelation 14:1, Revelation 14:4(twice), Revelation 5:10; Revelation 15:3; Revelation 17:14; Revelation 19:7, Revelation 19:9; Revelation 21:9, Revelation 21:14, Revelation 21:22, Revelation 21:23, Revelation 21:27; Revelation 22:1, Revelation 22:3). The sacrificial metaphor is from

1. the Passover Lamb (Exodus 12:0)

2. one of the lambs that was sacrificed daily in the morning and evening (the continual, cf. Exodus 29:38-46; Numbers 28:3, Numbers 28:6, Numbers 28:10, Numbers 28:23, Numbers 28:31; Numbers 29:11, Numbers 29:16, Numbers 29:19, Numbers 29:22, Numbers 29:25, Numbers 29:28, Numbers 29:31, Numbers 29:34, Numbers 29:38)

3. the slain lamb of Isaiah 53:7 or John 1:7, John 1:29

This metaphor is used of Jesus in two distinct senses: (a) as an innocent sacrificial victim and (b) as the overcoming victor (also found in Jewish apocalyptic literature, cf. I Enoch 90:9; Testament of Joseph Revelation 19:8-9). In the NT only John the Baptist in John 1:29, John 1:36 and John in Revelation 5:6, Revelation 5:8, Revelation 5:12, Revelation 5:13; 61:1, refer to Jesus as "Lamb" (Paul asserts this, but without the term in 1 Corinthians 5:7).

"as if slain" He was dead but now alive. The Messiah's resurrection is parodied by the sea beast (cf. Revelation 13:3).

"having seven horns and seven eyes" The first term refers to power or omnipotence (cf. Exodus 27:2; Exodus 29:12; Deuteronomy 33:17; 2 Chronicles 18:10; Psalms 112:9; Psalms 132:17; Jeremiah 48:25; Ezekiel 29:21; Zechariah 1:18-21). The second term refers to God's omniscience (cf. Revelation 4:6, Revelation 4:8; Ezekiel 1:18; Ezekiel 10:12; Zechariah 3:9 and Revelation 4:10). This symbolism is similar to Daniel 7:13-14.

"which are the seven Spirits of God" See Special Topic at Revelation 1:4 and note at Revelation 4:5.

Revelation 5:8 "When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb" This shows the worship of the Lamb as well as the worship of God (cf. Revelation 5:13), which is a central theme in Revelation.

"and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints" Angels were the regular bearers of prayers to God in inter-biblical Jewish literature (cf. Tobit Revelation 12:15; III Baruch 11). The idea of incense representing prayers is used several times in Scripture (cf. Revelation 8:3-4; Psalms 141:2; Luke 1:10).

"saints" Although the word "church" does not appear after chapter 3, the concept of "saints" does continue throughout the book and must refer to the people of God. The concept of believers as "saints" is common in Revelation (cf. Revelation 8:3-4; Revelation 11:18; Revelation 13:7, Revelation 13:10; Revelation 14:12; Revelation 16:6; Revelation 17:6; Revelation 18:20, Revelation 18:24; Revelation 19:8 and Revelation 20:9).


Revelation 5:9-10 There is a significant Greek manuscript variant related to the pronoun "us." The NKJV has the pronoun "us" in Revelation 5:9, "have redeemed us to God," and in Revelation 5:10, "and have made us kings and priests to our God." Most modern translations (NASB, NRSV, TEV, NJB) omit "us" in both verses. If "us" is present in both verses then Jesus' sacrificial death includes the twenty-four elders who seem to be angelic creatures. Nowhere in the Bible is Jesus' death related to angelic redemption. Also, the presence of "them" (autous) in Revelation 5:10 grammatically excludes the possibility of "us" being original. The United Bible Society's fourth edition rates the two plural pronoun's omission as "certain."

Revelation 5:9 "And they sang a new song" In the OT there are many allusions to the new song (cf. Psalms 33:3; Psalms 40:3; Psalms 98:1; Psalms 144:9; Psalms 149:1 and Isaiah 42:10). At every major event in the OT, the people of God were encouraged to sing a new song praising God's activity. This is the ultimate song about God's revealing Himself in the Messiah and the Messiah's work of redemption on behalf of all believers (cf. Revelation 5:9, Revelation 5:12, Revelation 5:13; Revelation 14:3).

The emphasis on "new" things is characteristic of the new age in Isaiah 42-66.

1. "new things," Isaiah 42:9

2. "new song," Isaiah 42:10

3. "do something new," Isaiah 43:19

4. "new things," Isaiah 48:6

5. "new name," Isaiah 62:6

6. "new heavens and new earth," Isaiah 65:17; Isaiah 66:22.

In Revelation there are also many "new things."

1. "new Jerusalem," Revelation 3:12; Revelation 21:2

2. "new name," Revelation 2:17; Revelation 3:12

3. "new song," Revelation 5:9, Revelation 5:10, Revelation 5:12, Revelation 5:13; Revelation 14:3

4. "new heaven and new earth," Revelation 21:1

"Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals" This new song (Revelation 5:9-10) is a fivefold description of the worthiness of the Lamb.

1. substitutionary death (cf. Revelation 5:6, Revelation 5:9, Revelation 5:12; Revelation 13:8; 1 Peter 1:18-19)

2. redemptive price paid (cf. Revelation 5:9; Revelation 14:3-4; Mark 10:45; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 1 Corinthians 7:23; 1 Timothy 2:6)

3. purchased men from every nation (cf. Revelation 5:9; Revelation 7:9; Revelation 14:6)

4. made the believers a kingdom of priests (cf. Revelation 1:6; Revelation 5:10)

5. they will reign with Him (cf. Revelation 3:21; Revelation 5:10; Revelation 20:4)

"from every tribe and tongue and people and nation" This is a recurrent metaphor of universality (cf. Revelation 7:9; Revelation 11:9; Revelation 13:7; Revelation 14:6). It may be an allusion to Daniel 3:4, Daniel 3:7.

"and purchases for God with Your blood" This is surely a reference to the vicarious atonement of the Lamb of God. This concept of Jesus as the sacrifice for sin is central in Revelation (cf. Revelation 1:5; Revelation 5:9, Revelation 5:12; Revelation 7:14; Revelation 12:11; Revelation 13:8; Revelation 14:4; Revelation 15:3; Revelation 19:7; Revelation 21:9, Revelation 21:23; Revelation 22:3) and also in all the NT (cf. Matthew 20:28; Matthew 26:28; Mark 10:45; Romans 3:24-25; 1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Corinthians 7:23; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:7; Philippians 2:8; 1 Timothy 2:6; Titus 2:14; Hebrews 9:28; and 1 Peter 1:18).


Revelation 5:10 "have made them to be a kingdom and priests" This is an allusion to Exodus 19:6 and Isaiah 61:6. This terminology is now used for the Church, the new Great Commission people of God (cf. Revelation 1:6; Revelation 20:6; 1 Peter 2:5, 1 Peter 2:9). See note at Revelation 1:6.

"they will reign upon the earth" Some translators see this in a future sense and some see it as a present reality. There is a Greek manuscript variant between the future tense in MSS א, P and the present tense in MS A (Alexandrinus). If it is in a present sense it is similar to Romans 5:17 and Ephesians 2:6. If future it possibly deals with the reigning of the people of God with Christ (cf. Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30; 1 Corinthians 4:8; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 3:21; Revelation 5:10). Even this future reign is seen in two ways.

1. in Revelation 20:4, Revelation 20:6 it seems to refer to a millennial reign

2. in Revelation 22:5 it seems to refer to an eternal reign (cf. Psalms 145:13; Isaiah 9:7; Daniel 2:44; Daniel 7:14, Daniel 7:18, Daniel 7:27)

3. possibly the millennium is a symbol of eternity

The UBS4 gives the future tense an "A" rating (certain).


Verses 11-14

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Revelation 5:11-14 11Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, 12saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing." 13And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, "To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever." 14And the four living creatures kept saying, "Amen." And the elders fell down and worshiped.

Revelation 5:11 "many angels" This verse lists three groups of angels: (1) many angels (thousands of thousands); (2) living creatures (four); or (3) elders (twenty-four).

"the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands" This seems to be an allusion to the heavenly court of Daniel 7:10 (see note at Revelation 5:1).

Revelation 5:12 "the Lamb that was slain to receive power" This is the affirmation of the Son from the angelic beings. "Was slain" is a perfect passive participle (cf. Revelation 5:6; Revelation 13:8), which implies "slain in the past" with the marks and effect of the slaying remaining. When we see Jesus He will still have the marks of the crucifixion. They have become His badge of honor! The concept of the cross is implicit and central in Revelation. See note at Revelation 5:9.

In this verse seven attributes are given unto the Lamb by the angelic orders:

1. power

2. riches

3. wisdom

4. might

5. honor

6. glory

7. blessing

These attributes may come from 1 Chronicles 29:10-12, which may also be the OT source for the liturgic conclusion to the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6:13 in the Greek manuscript tradition.

The NASB Study Bible (p. 1855) adds the note that the attributes of God begin with three in Revelation 4:11, then four in Revelation 5:13, and finally seven in Revelation 5:2 and 7:12. Remember apocalyptic literature is a highly structured genre which uses symbolic number often.

Revelation 5:13 All conscious human creation (the largest human choir possible), humans (both alive and dead) in Revelation 5:13 bless the Father and the Son with a fourfold blessing (cf. Revelation 5:14; Psalms 103:19-20; Philippians 2:8-11) and the angelic orders (the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders) surrounding the throne affirm the blessing (cf. Revelation 5:14).

Revelation 5:14 "Amen" This is an affirmation from the four throne angels (the four living creatures). See Special Topic at Revelation 1:6.

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Revelation 5". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/revelation-5.html. 2021.
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