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Bible Commentaries

Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament

Revelation 5

Verse 1

Rev 5:1. Him that sat on the throne was God, for he is said to be the creator of all things, in the last verse of the preceding chapter. What was called a book in old times is the same as we call a roll; something like a long strip of paper and rolled up from one end. Let us remember we are in a book of signs or symbols. This book or roll is a symbol of the future events, and being sealed signifies that the future is unrevealed to all unless the seals can be broken so that the writing can be read. There were seven seals which is the complete number again, signifing that the future is hidden from the world. If the seals can be broken and the writing read, each one will reveal a part of the events that are to come in the future. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Verse 1. The sealed book--Rev 5:1-5. 1. "In the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book"--Rev 5:1. The book was a scroll wherein things were registered, engraved. The productions that are now called books were unknown in this early age in the present form of printing and binding. They were usually in the form of a scroll, written or engraved on material known as parchment. (2Ti 4:13) A sealed book was a roll of parchment, or scroll, bound by a band, with a seal affixed to the tie of the band or to the knot. Reference is made to this usage in Isa 29:11, and illustrations of it have been produced in most of the dictionaries of the Bible lands and times. This book which was written within and on the backside contained the events which were depicted. The unsealing of the closed book was the revelation of the predicted events within.

Verse 2

Rev 5:2. Strong angel proclaiming. He was asking a question with a loud voice which signifies a general call in order to give all a chance. The call was to the task of opening the book which means to make predictions of the coming events. Rev 5:3. Heaven (where God dwells), earth (the abode of living human beings), under the earth (the abode of departed spirits). These three regions take in all intelligent creatures in the universe. Note that no man in any place was able to respond, which signifies that the future is a sealed book as far as uninspired beings are concerned, whether they be in heaven or• on earth. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Verses 2-3. 2. "Who is worthy to open-and to loose-no man in heaven nor in earth"--Rev 5:2. The strong angel is emphasizing the important proclamation. The great voice is comparable to the announcement. The declaration no man in heaven nor in earth meant that it belonged only to the One on the throne to open it; no created being, terrestrial or celestial; no man in earth belonging to authorities of the earth; and, neither under the earth, or belonging to any order of humanity whether in authority as head or under subjection to powers of the earth, whether in the realm of living men or of the hadean domain of the disembodied spirits of men--no man, no created being was worthy or able, in finite limitations to open the book. The restriction neither to look thereon meant that they were not permitted to see or know what was in the book. To open meant to understand and reveal the significance.

Verse 4

Rev 5:4. Since the loud request had been made by a strong angel the importance of the subject was evident, which explains why John wept when no one (the word for man is not in the original) was able to respond. Read the book, neither to look thereon signifies that unless the seals can be broken, no uninspired person can even see the writing much less read (understand and interpret) it. Rev 5:5. One of the elders means one of the four and twenty who represent the two great systems of religion. He was able to console John and bid him refrain from weeping, because there was one available who would be able to open the book. Lion of the tribe of Juda (Judah). In Gen 49:9-10 this lion is predicted and Heb 7:14 tells us that Christ came from the tribe of Juda. Root of David means that Christ was the very important descendant of David the son of Jesse (Isa 11:1 Isa 11:10). This conversation represents the leaders of the two organized systems of religion as understanding that the great plans in which they were only agents in the service of God, were made good through the merits of this Lion. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Verses 4-5. 3. "And I wept because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book"--Rev 5:4. The inspired seer wept in the awesome realization that the things within the book were beyond human disclosure. 4. "Weep not: behold the Lion of Judah, the root of David hath prevailed"--Rev 5:5. The comforting counsel to weep not shows that the anxiety was premature and the fear was unfounded; they were only tears of interruption; hence they were to withhold the weeping and wait to see the full procession. The title, Lion of Judah was symbolic of power. The lion is the most courageous beast, the king of the forest, an emblem of strength and valor. It was used here with prevailed to designate the invincible Christ who would conquer his own and his people's enemies. The symbol of the tribe of Judah connects with the prophetic blessing of Gen 49:8-12. The capital of the tribe was Ariel, meaning "lion of God" (Isa 29:1) . Hence, the lion of the tribe of Judah was descriptive of the lineage and character of the divine descendant of the tribe. Judah, under divine favor, was a nation in itself, typical and prophetic, in such biblical phrases as the "house of Judah, the kindred, stock, and lineage" as in Gen 12:17; 1Ti 5:8; Luk 2:4; 2Sa 7:18. The prophecies pointed to Christ, the spiritual head of the house of Judah -- Isa 22:21-22 --having the ruler-ship--the divine government, which Judah typified. And he was the minister of the new covenant which God made with the "house of Judah," as stated in Hebrews 8:1-13, verses 8 to 10. The limited phrase "with the house of Israel," in verse 10, indicated that in the new covenant there would be no distinction--Israel was Judah, the whole. Thus the Lord sprang out of Judah. (Heb 7:14) The root of David: By metonymy the Christ is called the root of Jesse (Isa 11:10) and of David (Rev 5:5). The plant or branch springs from and grows out of the root. Christ is the root, instead of the branch, which springs from the root of the spiritual people of David. (Rom 15:12) Isaiah uses the words, rod, stem and branch (Isa 11:1); and Zechariah gives him the title of "The Branch" (Zec 3:8); also in Zec 6:12, the title Branch is used to show that He was to be the plant itself, the stem (source), and rod (on which branches grow) as on the vine of Joh 15:1. The name of David in prophetical office and regal character was the most eminent type of the Christ. (1Sa 16:13; 2Sa 2:4; 2Sa 5:3). As ruler over the temporal kingdom of Israel, he was the forerunner to the Son of David who should be ruler of the spiritual Israel forever. (Isa 9:7; Mat 1:1; Mat 9:27; Mat 12:23; Luk 1:32-33) In the prophecy of Eze 34:23-24 Christ is the new David of the new Israel; the one shepherd of the one flock. The distinction between Judah and Israel would be lost, and would no longer exist. Further references to the tabernacle, the throne, the mercies, the blessings, and the key of David were all applied and ascribed to Jesus Christ.

Verse 6

Rev 5:6. In the midst, etc. Thayer gives us the rendering as follows: "And I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and the elders." He then offers his explanation as follows: "In the vacant space between the throne and the living creatures (on one side) and elders (on the other side), accordingly nearest the throne." As it had been slain. A lamb may be slain and then come back to life still bearing the marks of its death wounds. Thus Jesus was permitted to retain the wound marks until He had completed the great work with His apostles. (See Joh 20:20.) Horns in symbolic language means authority, and seven of them means complete authority. (See Mat 28:18.) Seven eyes signifies a perfect vision which would be necessary in order to see into the future. Seven Spirits is explained at Rev 1:4. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Verse 6. The Lamb in the midst of the throne--Rev 5:6-10. 1. "In the midst of the throne and of the four beasts (beings), 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"--Rev 5:6. The Lamb in the midst of the throne was Christ, here represented as a lamb instead of a lion because of his having been sacrificially slain; but the slain Lamb was now risen and is seen as the conquering Lion of the tribe of Judah to deliver his people from their foes and oppressors. 2. "Having seven horns and seven eyes-which are the seven spirits of God sent forth"--Rev 5:6. The seven horns and eyes are the symbols of perfection in all of his divine attributes, and the seven spirits of God, which were sent forth were symbolic of the perfection of the truth in the testimony of his witnesses. (Heb 1:7; Heb 1:14).

Verse 7

Rev 5:7. He (this Lion and Lamb) came to the throne to get the book. Him that sat upon the throne means God, and in giving the book to the Lamb signifies that God gave his Son the ability to reveal the future events. This fact is stated literally in the first verse of the book of Revelation. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Verse 7. 3. "He came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat on the throne"--Rev 5:7. The Lamb took the book from him on the throne. The One on the throne is God. The One who took the book is Christ--the Lamb "in the midst of the throne."

Verse 8

Rev 5:8. When God gave to his Son the right to open the book it caused rejoicing of all concerned in the great plans. The verse symbolizes this by telling of the actions of the four beasts (living creatures) and the four and twenty elders. They all fell down before the Lamb which is the usual practice of manifesting homage arid recognition to a superior. Harps in symbolic language signify instruments of praise, and the next verse will tell us that these instruments were the human voice because they were used by which to sing. Odors in literal performances refers to incense offered to God in the services to Him (Exo 30:7-8), but John interprets it as prayers of saints. This denotes that under whatever system of God's religions a man has lived, he is regarded as a saint (righteous person) and has the privilege of praying to God. This explains why it was said to Cornelius, "Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God" (Act 10:4), he having lived under the Patriarchal Dispensation, the unorganized system of religion. And it also accounts for the fact that Saul of Tarsus spent the time praying in Act 9:11. It is true the system under which he was brought up was done away but he had not realized it as yet. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Verse 8. 4. "The four creatures (beings), the four and and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of the saints"--Rev 5:8. Because he was the One who was "able to open the book" and to Him complete and united homage was due; not one creature (being), nor one elder, but the four of the one group, and the twenty-four of the other, representing complete and united worship and adoration: having every one of them harps and golden bowls (vials) full of odors, which are the prayers of the saints. 5. "Having every one of them harps"--Rev 5:8. The harp was not an instrument of mourning, but of rejoicing. In Israel's captivity the harps were hung on the willows (Psa 137:2) in representation of Israel's sorrow. The symbol here is not that of sorrow in the calamities to come, but of rejoicing in the triumph of their deliverance, by the Lion that "hath prevailed," and who would lead them through all the scenes of conflict enclosed in the book, which was now about to be disclosed by him, in scenes of the ultimate eventual victory of the unfolding experiences. 6. "And golden vials full of odors"--Rev 5:8. The vial, or censer, was a vessel used in altar service to contain the fire with which incense was burned, the perpetual fire from the altar of burnt offerings. It sometimes stands for the altar itself as in Heb 13:10 : "We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle." Its use for common purposes was positively forbidden, and no other composition or preparation was acceptable, either of fire or of incense than that which was prescribed. (2Ch 26:16-21; Lev 10:1-4). 7. "The prayers of saints"--Rev 5:8. The incense was symbolic of intercession, typical of the intercession of Christ for his saints. Here it is designated to be the prayers of saints because the saints in tribulation were imploring the intercession of the Lamb. In Rev 8:3, the incense was "added to the prayers of the saints," which signified the merits of the death of Christ, and which extended and amplified the symbol of intercession. The altar stood for that upon which sacrifice was offered as mentioned in 1Ki 13:1-34 1Ki 18:30, and it was appropriated exclusively in the offering of sacrifices for sin on behalf of the one who had offended the law. It symbolized Christ as the Christian's only sacrifice, and there is no need for any other altar. It is upon his altar that spiritual offerings are now made (Heb 13:10) and to him all true worship ascends (Heb 13:15). This vision of Revelation is based on the typical significance of the sacrificial offerings of the Old Testament, which not only reminded the people of sin and the need of expiation, but prefigured the atonement of Christ doctrinally envisioned in Isa 53:10, and mentioned in 1Pe 2:24, as having been accomplished.

Verse 9

Rev 5:9. It is important to note that the pronoun they means the four beasts (living creatures) and the four and twenty elders of the preceding verse. Also that the connection shows the word saints (righteous persons) applies to those who have lived under the systems designated by these four and four and twenty. After their performance of homage to Christ these creatures state their reasons for it, that He was worthy to be the one to open the book. In stating their reasons they will give their identity to which reference was made in the comments at chapter 4:7. They say, Thou wast slain, and least redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and 'nation. We know that human beings only are the subjects of salvation, therefore these living creatures represent the redeemed human beings of the earth. The reason there are just four of the creatures in the one group is the fact that the surface of the earth has just four directions, and hence the saved would all come within the scope of those four areas. The four and twenty could join in the identifying declaration on the principle that both of the organized systems of religion were conducted in a way that was looking toward the universal salvation of mankind. Sang a new song. It was new in that they could not sing the praises of Christ as the actual Redeemer until he had qualified by being slain and giving His blood. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Verse 9. 8. "They sang a new song, saying, thou wast slain . . . and hast redeemed us to God . . . out of every kindred, people, nation"--Rev 5:9. The new song was the theme of redemption from sin by the blood of the Lamb, in contrast with redemption of Old Testament Israel from the physical servitude of the song by the sea. "Redeemed to God" signified the restoration and repossession of a forfeited state, a redemption by a blood price of an inheritance that was lost. "Out of every kindred, tongue, people, nation." The new Israel was not tribal or national but composed of all men of all nations, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. It was the sublime vision of the new people of God. (Hos 1:10; Rom 9:25-26; 1Pe 2:10)

Verse 10

Rev 5:10. See the comments on Rev 1:6 for the explanation of this verse. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Verse 10. 9. "And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth"--Rev 5:10. Kings: This refers to the reign of Christ in the kingdom now present and existing--"made us"--it was of past performance and establishment; not a future kingdom, but present. The church is the priesthood now (1Pe 2:5; 1Pe 2:9), an analogy based on Exo 19:6. The church sustains a kingly relation to Christ, and of it the members "reign with Christ"; hence, they are kings in royalty with him. (Rom 8:17) It is a reference to the state of the church under the gospel--under the spiritual government of Christ. (1Ti 6:15) The term "king" signified a sovereign prince or ruler in a kingdom. (Pro 8:15) It is applied to God, the Supreme Ruler of the universe (Psa 44:4); and to Jesus Christ, the King and Head of the church (Psa 2:6; Psa 45:1; Eph 4:5); and to all true Christians who as heirs, reign with him in life. (Rom 8:17; Rom 5:17; 2Ti 2:12) Priests: The church sustains a priestly relation to Christ, and its members participate in the offering of spiritual sacrifices. (Heb 13:15) The word priest is contracted from elder or presbyter, and was a general name for ministers of God's service. (Heb 10:11) In all scriptures it denotes one who offers sacrifice. It is applied to Jesus Christ in the highest office, who offered himself for the sins of all men. (Heb 4:14; Heb 7:17; Heb 8:4; Heb 9:11-12) It applies to every true believer (Christian), who himself offers spiritual sacrifices. (Heb 13:15; 1Pe 2:5; Rev 1:6) Under the law the priest was a person consecrated and ordained to teach the people, pray for them and offer sacrifices. (Lev 4:5-6) Christians perform all of these services and functions now in the new priesthood, the church. Reign: The word is variously used literally and figuratively. Commonly the word to reign means to rule, or to govern as a sovereign prince. (2Sa 5:4-5; Mat 2:6) God reigns as absolute monarch, he governs and disposes of all things in heaven and earth. (Psa 93:1); Christ reigns in this dispensation in his kingdom, the church (Luk 1:33; Mat 2:6; Rom 15:12; 1Co 15:24-25); Death reigned from Adam to Moses, Rom 5:15 --that is, prevailed, held sway, dominion; Sin reigns, when the motions of sin are obeyed, as one obeys the law or command of a king, when it exercises an absolute uncontrolled power over the soul (Rom 6:12); Grace reigns through righteousness, prevails through the gospel to abolish the rule and dominion of sin, as we are governed by what it teaches (Rom 5:21; Tit 2:11-12); and Christians reign in righteous living with Christ (Rom 5:17). All who receive grace in gift of righteousness (forgiveness in Christ), and partake of the spiritual life, whereby sin is conquered, reign with apostles in conforming to their teaching and example; and reign with Christ as in the sufferings with him in the death to sin and partaking of his suffering (2Ti 2:12) We shall reign: Literally rendered the passage reads are reigning--referring in the Revelation context to their continuing conquests in the trials that were present. What the four creatures and twenty-four elders were chanting in unison, as a complete representative company, was the prospect of a glorious triumph over their oppressors. It symbolized a reign of victory, a symbol that the oppressions to be revealed in the seals could not consume them; the wrath of monarchs could not destroy them; nor the power of kings and emperors defeat them. They would survive; they would live; they would reign on the earth, not in future glory, but reign there and then as conquerers and overcomers in an undefeated, triumphant cause. The church was symbolized as being complete and imperishable in conflict with their heathen oppressors.

Verse 11

Rev 5:11. The several phrases in the end of this verse are represented by only two Greek words in the original which The Englishman's Greek New Testament renders "thousands of thousands." Whichever translation we adopt, we should understand it to be a figurative statement to indicate a very great number of the heavenly host. They were joining in the praises of the four creatures and the four and twenty elders. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Verse 11. The angelic symphony--Rev 5:11-12. 1. "I heard the voice of many angels . . . and the beasts (beings), and the elders . . . ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands"--Rev 5:11. The voice: The sound of myriad thousands of angels and beings was but one voice, a concert of praise; with one object, the Lamb; and with one theme, in symphony of the adoration to the Lamb. Thousands: The literal computation would be ten thousand times ten thousand--100,000,000--One hundred million, plus thousands of thousands, on multiplied thousands more. So figuratively it signified that all the church on earth, represented by the four and twenty elders, and the whole family of heaven (Eph 3:14), represented by the multiplied decimals, joined in the adoration of the Lamb in the midst of the throne. (see verse 13)

Verse 12

Rev 5:12. The praises of these angels were along the same line as those that were given by the creatures in verse 9 and for the same reason. The favors named in the verse do not refer to any specific blessings. As a group they signify that the Lamb of God is entitled to every blessing that God can bestow, and that they will rejoice in the great honors thus given to Him. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Verse 12. 2. "Worthy is the Lamb . . . to receive power, riches, wisdom, strength, honour, glory, blessing"--Rev 5:12. The number of these attributes is seven. It represents the complete essence of divinity. The seven attributes are distinct, no overlapping, no synonymous repetition, every word a definition of its own, a jewel in his crown of divine splendor. Power: It is that attribute of supreme and absolute and underived authority (Rom 1:20; 1Ti 6:16 --the inherent right to do what is his will, and to hinder what is not his will. (Mat 6:13) It is all power (Mat 28:18); in earth over men (Joh 17:2; Psa 110:1-7); over the devil (Heb 2:14); in heaven over angels (Col 1:16; 1Pe 3:22); to him, the head of all principalities and power, the angelic chorus ascribed all praise. Riches: The abounding unlimited sources to bestow and endow all things pecuniary and spiritual. (Psa 24:1; Romans 12:33) Wisdom: The attribute and the title of him from whom it emanates (Pro 3:19; Pro 8:22-23). Jesus Christ is the wisdom of God personified from everlasting before all worlds, to be the Word through whom the Father resolved all of his purposes, to create, to govern, to uphold, to judge, to save-all wisdom is ascribed to him (Col 2:3)--"Where shall wisdom be found"?--Job exclaimed: Referring to the sublime and eminent wisdom, existing only in the counsels of God far beyond man's reach. The excellence of knowledge and prudence are combined and centered in him who is from everlasting the wisdom of God. The eighth chapter of Proverbs is a large and profound' discourse on the divine wisdom personified in Him. Strength: The strength of anything is its substance, and in beings it is their character. The strength here mentioned is an integral attribute belonging to God, an essential divine emanation; the prerogative to rule over all things; and is joined to omnipotence and majesty. (Psa 93:1) The Lamb of the apocalypse was worthy to receive all the adoration in these attributes. Honour: The word is not employed here in the sense of outward respect or deference, but denotes the integrity of a Being who deserves adoration, a divine Being, clothed with honor as a part of his Being; it is an attribute, not a term of praise. In its original sense honor is derived from honesty; it denotes what is a superlative moral attribute. Glory: In this word is the effulgence or brightness of God, called in Heb 1:3, the brightness of his glory. It is absolute perfection in holiness, in contrast with men who come short of it (Rom 3:23). God is the King of Glory (Psalms 24:80, and Christ is the "express image of his person," "being the brightness of his glory"--the divine effulgence. As God is called "King of glory" (Psalms 24:80), Christ is called "Lord of glory" (Jas 2:1) , and the "hope of glory" (Col 1:27). Moses pleaded to see the glory of God (Exo 33:8) in manifestation; the heavens declare it (Psa 19:1); Christ is His glory (Heb 1:3); and has the glory of God (Joh 17:5); and glory is ascribed to him in all the benedictions in the apostolic epistles (Rom 16:27; 1Ti 1:17; Php 4:20); and in the climax of them all the angelic anthem in chorus and song ascribe to Him all honour and glory. Blessing: This is a word of frequent occurrence, the meaning of which must be determined by the connection. Men bless God in ascribing praise; God blesses men in temporal and spiritual mercies bestowed. The evident meaning here in the doxology of the angels, is praise, adoration, thanksgiving, blessing, that he alone, the Lamb in the midst of the throne, was able to open the book, and reveal its seals. In this sense Israel blessed God (Jos 22:23); so did Nehemiah, Ezra and Job (Neh 8:6; Job 1:21); in the same circumstances Daniel blessed the God of heaven (Dan 2:19); and Simeon blessed God for Jesus (Luk 2:28); and Paul proclaimed the Creator blessed forever (Rom 1:25) and the Christ is God blessed forever (Rom 9:5)--"Who is the blessed and only potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords, who only hath immortality, dwelling in light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen." All of this was the mingled praise of "the voice of many angels."

Verse 13

Rev 5:13. Heaven, earth and under the earth is explained at verse 3. In the sea and all that are in them. This cannot mean the men who had lived on the waters for they are included in the creatures on the earth. It means the living creatures of that domain which constitutes three fourths of the surface of the earth. Of course those dumb things cannot intelligently praise the Lord, but their very existence and service to humanity under the supervision of Him is a form of praise and an evidence of the existence and wisdom and power of the Almighty. (See Psalms 14 S:1-10.) Him that sitteth upon the throne is God the Father and the Lamb is God the Son. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Verse 13. The universal antiphonal--Rev 5:13-14. 1. "Every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea"--Rev 5:13. The whole creation in antiphonal response joined the symphony of praise "unto him that sitteth on the throne"-- God, the creator--"and unto the Lamb"--Christ, the saviour As the host is enlarged to "every creature," the praise is expanded to include both the One on the throne and the One in the midst--God and the Lamb.

Verse 14

Rev 5:14. The four creatures and the four and twenty elders had already expressed their admiration (verses 8, 9), and when all these other beings uttered their praises it caused the creatures and elders to voice their pleasure by an amen of approval. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Verse 14. 2. "And the four creatures (beings) said, Amen"-- Rev 5:14. Their scene was finished. "And the four and twenty elders . . . worshipped him that liveth forever." Thus was ascribed united homage to Him who sat on the throne, to God, and to the Lamb of God who lives forever and ever. He who had no beginning and shall have no end, who created all things and is over all things, is the One who did these things.
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Bibliographical Information
Zerr, E.M. "Commentary on Revelation 5". Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/znt/revelation-5.html. 1952.