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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary
Revelation 5



Other Authors
Verses 1-14

THE BOOK IN the hand of Him who sat on the throne, written on both sides and sealed with seven seals is evidently the book of judgment, now completed by man’s sin. Men had filled to overflowing the cup of their iniquity, the record was complete, but as yet the seals restrained. Who was worthy to break the seals? This was the question now raised. The judgment is richly deserved, but who can execute it?

This was the question raised in the incident recorded in John 8:1-11. The sinner was undeniably guilty and the law explicit. But who was there so clear of every charge under the law as to be worthy to execute this sentence? All the accusers slunk away, and the only worthy One declined the office at that time. His mission then was to save and not to judge. Now however the hour of judgment is come and He is about to act.

In the vision John wept much. He did not rejoice at the thought of judgment against evil failing by default of a worthy executioner. The very reverse: it outraged his feelings to imagine that it should fail in this manner. We know that, “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil” (Ecclesiastes 8:11). It would be a crowning calamity if it were never executed at all, and John might well weep at the thought of this. The elders however, were in the secret of heaven and one of them gave John the key to all. It is by a Man that God is going to judge the world in righteousness, and that Man has prevailed and acquired the title to do it. He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah, an allusion to Genesis 49:9, Genesis 49:10, and at the same time the Root of David—not merely the Offspring of David, but the Root, from whom sprang all David’s authority and victory. The title to the crown was His to begin with. It is doubly His as the Overcomer. The closing verses of Psalms 78:1-72 indicate how definitely God’s purposes for the government of the earth centre in David and Judah. All failed in David’s immediate successors, for he had to lament, “Although my house be not so with God” (2 Samuel 23:5) and yet all is accomplished in Christ. Nothing fails.

The Lion of Judah, then, has prevailed, and so is worthy to open the book of judgment. But how did He prevail? Verse Revelation 5:6 tells us. It was by dying as the Lamb of sacrifice.

The Lord Jesus is mentioned 28 times in the book of Revelation as the Lamb, and verse Revelation 5:6 is the first occurrence. It is worthy of note that here and all through the book a diminutive form of the word is used— “little Lamb”—emphasizing thus the fact that He, who now appears wielding omnipotence, was once the Lamb of sacrifice, minimized and depreciated by men. He now has sevenfold power—symbolized by horns and the sevenfold discernment of the Spirit of God, who as the seven Spirits of God is now sent forth into all the earth. Therefore no corner is hid from His penetrating gaze and intelligence, and nothing will escape His powerful hand.

The Lamb, in lion-like power, came forward to take the book and thus assume His rights and execute the judgments of God in the earth: an action which provoked an outburst of praise and worship, that reverberated to the utmost bounds of creation.

This outburst begins in the inner circle of the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders, who were involved in the earlier ascription of glory and honour and thanks to Him that sat on the throne, when creation was in question. Now redemption was in question, and consequently the Lamb is the Object of worship. All gladly honour the Son even as they honour the Father. Indeed the Father refuses honour professedly offered to Himself, if the Son be not honoured.

The elders had harps, golden vials of incense and a new song: symbols taken from the Old Testament. The temple worship as ordained through David was based on Asaph with his harpers, the priests with their censers of incense, and then also there was “the song of the Lord,” as mentioned in 2 Chronicles 29:27. So the elders are seen functioning as priests both in song and in prayer. The Psalmist said, “Let my prayer be set forth before Thee as incense” (Psalms 141:2), and here are prayers which arise as incense and song which is based on redemption. The song is new, since it is based on a redemption out of every nation, instead of having a national character as in Exodus 15:1-27; and also inasmuch as it celebrates His worthiness to judge rather than to save.

The worship of the elders is characterized by three things. First, by intelligence and personal directness. They understand that the basis of all God’s purposes is the redeeming blood of the Lamb, and they address Him personally, saying, “Thou art worthy.” They do not merely sing about Him in the third person— “Worthy is the Lamb.” Second, they sing, whereas the angels of verse Revelation 5:11 and the creatures of verse Revelation 5:13 are marked by “saying” and not by singing. Song, as we have remarked, belongs to those who have been redeemed.

Third, though redeemed themselves, they celebrate in an abstract way the Lamb’s work of redemption by blood, being carried in spirit far beyond themselves. They are occupied not so much with their part in it as with the supreme worth and excellence of the redemption in itself for the pleasure of “our God.” This we say, because the better attested reading omits the “us” which occurs twice, and has, “they shall reign,” rather than “we.” The glorified, heavenly saints are lifted out of themselves to view things and worship from the Divine standpoint. This feature should surely be seen in the worship of the church today, though the reigning time is not yet come. In Revelation 5:1-14 we are on the threshold of the time when “the saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever” (Daniel 7:18), and consequently it can be said, “they shall reign [on or over] the earth.”

Now comes the voice of the innumerable angelic band, followed by the voices of all created things. In both these cases, as we have noted, they praise the Lamb without addressing Him personally. The ascription of praise is sevenfold on the part of the angels; fourfold on the part of every creature—four being the number indicating universality in creation. The angels declare that the Lamb, who was adjudged by men to be worthy of death, and who was led to the slaughter, is worthy of all glory in sevenfold completeness. Every creature sees the Lamb to be associated with Him who sits on the throne, and inheriting all blessing, honour, glory and power. To this the living creatures add their Amen. The elders are moved afresh to worship.

Before passing to chapter 6, we may again remind ourselves that John is recording for us a vision He was permitted thus to see and hear things heavenly and earthly, and so put on record in advance the ultimate outcome of the Lamb intervening in judgment. This particularly applies to verse Revelation 5:13. In subsequent chapters he records much evil and blasphemy, rather than praise, from creatures on earth; but ultimately all creatures will have to declare His praise.


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Revelation 5:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". 1947.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, October 30th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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