REVELATION - CHAPTER 5
A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
Copyright 2000 James Melough
5:1. “And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the back side sealed with seven seals.”
5:2. “And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?”
5:3. “And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon.”
5:4. “And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon.”
There has been considerable speculation as to the significance of this seven-sealed scroll, but the explanation that seems most valid is that which takes account of the connection with Ez 2:9,10 - 3:1-4, and Jer 32:1-15. The link with Ezekiel lies in the fact that while certainly he prophesied of impending judgments, his message, like that of many of the prophets, also embraced a then far distant day, specifically the now imminent Tribulation era and its terrible judgments. The seven seals binding the scroll seen by John, are intimately connected with the enactment of those judgments. It is clear, however, that Revelation 5 is concerned less with the judgments that will precede the inauguration of the kingdom, than with the presentation of the title deed to the earth upon which that kingdom is to be established. What God wishes to show beyond any shadow of doubt is that Christ is the One Who alone has rightful claim to the earth. That title is twofold: it is His by right of creation, and also by right of redemption, He having paid the redemption price with His own blood at Calvary.
The writing on the inside is generally accepted as being the description of the terms of the contract, etc., and that on the outside, the description of the contents, and the names of the witnesses.
A picture of that redemption is presented in Jer 32:1-15, for few will fail to see in Jeremiah’s purchase of the field of Anathoth - meaning affliction: answers, and clearly a type or symbol of this earth which is a place of affliction, but also the place where God’s answers are given to those who repent and trust in Christ - a miniature of Christ’s redemption of the earth at Calvary, for the field is a type of the world (Mt 13:38). When the Anathoth transaction occurred, Israel was under the dominion of Babylon; and Jeremiah, God’s prophet, was consigned to the dungeon because of the Jews’ hatred of him.
In spite of its seeming to be utter folly in view of the circumstances, Jeremiah, in obedience to God’s command, purchased the field of Anathoth for “seventeen shekels of silver,” in the presence of witnesses, “all the Jews that sat in the court of the prison.” In regard to the two records of the deed - one sealed, the other open - God commanded, “... put them in an earthen vessel, that they may continue many days, for thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Houses and fields and vineyards shall be possessed again in this land” (Jer 32:14-15).
The type was fulfilled that day when Israel, again under the heel of an oppressor (Rome), consigned God’s Messenger to the “dungeon” (the cross). The field being purchased by Jeremiah in obedience to God’s command, is a type or symbol of this earth, purchased, not “with corruptible things, as silver and gold ... but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a Lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pe 1:18-19). And again, the transaction was in the presence of witnesses - the multitude who sat in callous mockery around the cross to watch Him die. And as two deeds (one sealed, the other open) recorded the purchase of the field of Anathoth, so do two “deeds” - one “sealed” (the Old Testament with its enigmatic signs and symbols), the other “open” (the clear plain language of the New Testament) - record the purchase of this world.
That transaction at Calvary also seemed like utter folly, but in regard to earth, as earlier in regard to the field of Anathoth, God looked to a day, now not far off, when a repentant Israel, returned from the long “captivity” (her two-thousand-year absence from her own land during which she has been scattered amongst the Gentiles) of which the Babylonian captivity was only a type, will enjoy millennial blessings, pictured in the promise to Jeremiah that there would be again the pursuits of peace in a land occupied by an Israel repentant, restored, obedient, and blessed.
5:5. “And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.”
There can be little reasonable doubt that the scene before us here in Revelation 5 is that in which God presents us with a symbolic view of Christ about to return to take possession of the purchased “field.” Well might the elder exhort John, “Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda ... hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.” He Who came once as the Lamb to buy the “field” and redeem the men in it, is about to return, but as the mighty Lion of Judah, to claim the purchased possession. The fact that judgments accompanied the opening of the seals, however, reminds us that the terrible Tribulation judgments will precede the Lord’s return to claim the earth, and establish His millennial kingdom.
5:6. “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 had been slain, having seven horns, and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.”
It might have been expected that John would have been presented with the sight of a lion, but he saw instead, “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.” God would have it known that before there could be a reign of peace on the earth, there must be atonement for sin. He would make the world aware that all its blessings must come through the Christ Who has died to make that atonement. He would teach Israel what she has been so slow to learn: that the Lion of Judah, upon Whom all their expectation rests, is also “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29).
To put beyond any question the identification of the Lamb with the Lion, the Lamb is portrayed standing (John saw a resurrected Christ), with seven horns, but since a horn is the Biblical symbol of power; and seven, the number of perfection or completeness, the One represented by the Lamb is shown to be possessed of omnipotence. He is God the Son. The Lamb had also seven eyes, a fact which declares the omniscience of the One represented by the Lamb, for the eye is the Biblical symbol of discernment. The eyes, however, are said to be “the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.” This is not to say that the eyes don’t represent omniscience, but that He Who is portrayed as a Lamb is co-equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and to indicate also that the Holy Spirit, sent to administer grace during this present age, will be also the One through Whom the Lord will administer judgment in the coming Tribulation. (As has been noted in our study of Re 1:4, there are not seven Holy Spirits. It is the sevenfold fullness of the one Holy Spirit which is symbolically represented here).
5:7. “And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne.”
5:8. “And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odors, which are the prayers of saints.”
5:9. “And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;”
5:10. “And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.”
As the Lamb took the scroll from the hand of God and prepared to open the seals, the four beasts (living creatures) and the twenty-four elders worshiped, “having every one of them harps, and golden vials (bowls) full of odors (incense), which are the prayers of saints (those set apart for God).”
The reader’s attention is called to the fact that the term “saint” simply describes one who is sanctified i.e., set apart for God. It is in fact the term used very frequently in the NT in relation to believers still living here on earth. The four living creatures join in worship with the elders (the redeemed), not on the basis of having themselves been redeemed, but because of the worthiness of the Lamb. This is mentioned to show that the four living creatures are not representative of the redeemed (we have noted that they seem to represent the attributes of Christ as demonstrated in the activity of the angels who represent Him, their power being the revelation of His), and to show also that a translation of verses nine and ten, different from the KJ may be more accurate. Many excellent manuscripts omit “us” from verse 9, and change the “us” and “we” of verse 10 to “them” and “they,” so that the rendering is, “... and hast redeemed to God by thy blood out of every kindred ... and hast made them unto our God a kingdom of priests, and they shall reign over (rather than on) the earth.” The KJ translation gives the wrong impression that the four living creatures, as well as the elders, represent the redeemed, but as has been noted in our study of Re 4:6, there are too many features which point to the living creatures as being the indirect representatives of the Lord rather than of redeemed men.
This confirms the assurance of other Scriptures, e.g., 2 Tim 2:12, that the redeemed will reign with Christ, but it should be noted that they will reign over the earth without being on it. The inhabitants of the millennial earth will not be resurrected men and women, but living believers who will have survived the
terrible Tribulation judgments, and who will remain on the earth as the Millennium begins. All other believers, resurrected and translated, will be in the heavenly Jerusalem which will be poised over the earth during the millennial age.
5:11. “And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands;”
5:12. “Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing.”
5:13. “And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.”
5:14. “And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever.”
Immediately the elders and the four living creatures were joined by a countless multitude of angels ascribing to the Lamb sevenfold worth - power, riches, wisdom, strength, honor, glory and blessing. To the praise of heaven was added also that of earth, and it is worth noting that the praise ascends not only from the fowls that fly in the open heavens, from the creatures upon the earth, and from those that inhabit the sea, but also from those that are “under the earth” (verse 13). While those under the earth may refer to the creatures under the earth’s surface, the term may well apply also to the souls in hell. Those who refuse to bow the knee to Christ in time, will be compelled to bow in eternity when they will have become the objects of His wrath rather than His mercy.
In contrast with the sevenfold (number of perfection) praise of heaven, that of earth is only fourfold (number of earth). This declares the imperfection of the earthly state. Only when we are in heaven will we know even as also we are known, (1 Co 13:12). Only then will we be able to worship as now we wish we could. Missing from the earthly praise are riches, wisdom and strength. The believer, however, lives in anticipation of that day when the poverty of earth will be exchanged for the riches of heaven, when perfect wisdom will replace the partial intelligence possessed now, when human weakness will be transformed to spiritual strength, and our worship will be according to the power of a perfect state.