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Revelation Chapter 5

The Challenge of the Sealed Book

      Verse 1 And I saw in the right hand of Him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals.
      As a new chapter opens, the same view is still before the mind of the apostle. By the words, “Him that sat on the throne,” is evidently meant the Father, as the Son is later introduced as “a Lamb as it had been slain.” The book which John here saw, contained a revelation of scenes that were to be enacted in the history of the church to the end of time. That the volume is held in the right hand of Him that sat on the throne may signify that a knowledge of the future rests with God alone, except so far as He sees fit to reveal it to others.
      The Sealed Book. —The books in use at the time the Revelation was given were not in the form of books as now made. They did not consist of a series of leaves bound together, but were composed of strips of parchment or other material, rolled up. On this point, John Wesley remarks:
      “The usual books of the ancients were not like ours, but were volumes, or long pieces of parchment, rolled upon a long stick, as we frequently roll silks. Such was this represented, which was sealed with seven seals. Not as if the apostle saw all the seals at once: for there were seven volumes wrapped up on within another, each of which was sealed: so that upon opening and and unrolling the first, the second appeared to be sealed up till that was opened, and so on to the seventh.”[1]
      This book was not written within and on the backside, as the punctuation of our common version makes it read.
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“Grotius, Lowman, Fuller, etc.,” says the Cottage Bible, “remove the comma thus: ‘Written within, and on the back (or outside) sealed.’” [2] How these seals were placed, is sufficiently explained.

      Verse 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? 3 And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon. 4 And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon.
      The Challenge. —In the vision God, as it were, held forth this book to the view of the universe, and a strong angel, one doubtless of great eminence and power, came forth as a crier, and with a mighty voice challenged all creatures in the universe to try the strength of their wisdom in opening the counsels of God. Who could be found worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof? A pause ensued. In silence the universe owned its inability and unworthiness to enter into the counsels of the Creator. “No man in heaven,” {Greek- onjdeiv$} oudeis, no one, signifies not merely no man, but no one, no being, in heaven. Is not this proof that the faculties of angels are limited, like those of man, in respect to penetrating the future and disclosing what is to come? When the apostle saw that no one came forward to open the book, he greatly feared that the counsels of God which it contained in reference to his people would never be disclosed. In the natural tenderness of his feelings, and his concern for the church, he wept much. “How far are they,” says John Wesley, “from the temper of St. John, who inquire after anything rather than the contents of this books!” [3]
      Upon the words, “I wept much,” Joseph Benson offers the following beautiful remarks: “Being greatly affected with the thought that no being whatever was to be found able to understand, reveal, and accomplish the divine counsels, fearing they would still remain concealed from the church. This weeping
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of the apostle sprang from greatness of mind. The tenderness of heart which he always had, appeared more clearly now he was out of his own power. The Revelation was not written without tears: neither without tears will it be understood.” [4]

      Verse 5 And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof. 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. 7 And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him that sat upon the throne.
      John is not permitted to weep for long. God is not willing that any knowledge which can benefit His people shall be withheld from them. Provision is made for the opening of the book. Hence one of the elders counsels John, “Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof.” Why one of the elder in preference to some other being, should impart this information to John, does not appear, unless it is that having been redeemed, they had an acquaintance with Christ, and would be especially interested in all that pertained to the welfare of the church on earth.
      Christ is here called the “Lion of the tribe of Judah.” Why called a lion? And why of the tribe of Judah? —As to the first question, it is probably to denote His strength. As the lion is the king of beasts, the monarch of the forest, he thus becomes a fit emblem of kingly authority and power. As to being “of the tribe of Judah,” He doubtless receives this appellation from the prophecy in Genesis 49:9, 10.
      “The Root of David.” —Christ was the source and sustainer of David in his position and power. That David’s position was specially ordained of Christ, and that he was specially sustained by Him, there can be no doubt. David was the type, Christ was the antitype. David’s throne and reign over Israel was a type of Christ’s reign over His people. He shall reign
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upon “The throne of His father David.” Luke 1:32, 33. As Christ appeared in the line of David’s descendants when He took upon Himself our nature, He is also called “the offspring of David,” and “a rod out of the stem of Jesse.” Isaiah 11:1, 10; Revelation 22:16. His connection with the throne of David being thus set forth, and His right thus shown to rule over the people of God, there was a propriety in entrusting to Him the opening of the seals.
      “Hath Prevailed.” —These words indicate that the right to open the book was acquired by a victory gained in some previous conflict. We find the account of this triumph set forth later in this chapter. The next scene introduces us to the great work of Christ as the Redeemer of the world, and the shedding of His blood for the remission of sin and the salvation of man. In this work He was subjected to the fiercest assaults of Satan. But He endured temptation, bore the agonies of the cross, rose a victor over death and the grave, made the way of redemption sure— triumphed! Hence the four living beings and the four and twenty elders sign, “Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for Thou was slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood.”
      John looks for the Lion of the tribe of Judah and beholds a Lamb in the midst of the throne and of the four living beings and the elders, as it had been slain.
      “In the Midst of the Throne.” —Phillip Doddridge translates thus: “I beheld . . . in the middle space between the throne and the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, . . . there stood . . . a Lamb.” [5] In the center of the scene was the throne of the Father, and standing in the open space which surrounded it was the Son, set forth under the symbol of a slain lamb. Around these there stood those saints who had been redeemed: first, those represented by the four living creatures, then the elders forming the second circle, and the angles (verse 11) forming a third circle. The worthiness of Christ as
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He thus stands forth under the figure of a slain lamb, is the admiration of all the holy throng.
      “As It Had Been Slain.” —John C. Wood house, as quoted in the Comprehensive Commentary, says: “The Greek implies that the Lamb appeared with a wounded neck and throat, as if smitten at the altar as a victim.” [6] On this phrase, Adam Clarke says: “As if now in the act of being offered. This is very remarkable; so important is the sacrificial offering of Christ in the sight of God, that He is still represented as being in the very act of pouring out His blood for the offenses of man.” [7]
      “Seven Horns and Seven Eyes.” —Horns are symbols of power and eyes typify wisdom. Seven is a number denoting completeness, or perfection. We are thus taught that perfect power and perfect wisdom inhere in the Lamb.
      “He Came and Took the Book.” —Commentators have found an incongruity in the idea that the book was taken by the Lamb, and have had recourse to several expedients to avoid the difficulty. But is it not a well-established principle that any action which could be performed by the person or being represented by a symbol, may be attributed to the symbol? The Lamb, we know, is a symbol of Christ. We know there is nothing incongruous in Christ’s taking a book, and when we read that the book was taken, we think of the action, not as performed by a lamb, but by the one of whom the lamb is a symbol.

      Verse 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. 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; 10 and hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.
      “Vials Full of Odors.” —From this expression we form an idea of the employment of those redeemed one represented by
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the four living creatures and the four and twenty elders. They have golden vials, or vessels, full of odors —or, as the margin reads, incense— which are the prayers of saints. This is a work of ministry such as pertains to priests.
      The reader will remember that in the ancient typical service the high priest had many assistants. when we consider that we are now looking into sanctuary in heaven, the conclusion at once follows that these redeemed ones are the assistants of our great High Priest above. For this purpose they were doubtless redeemed. What could be more appropriate than that our Lord should be assisted in His priestly work for the human race by noble members of that race whose holiness of life, and purity of character, had fitted them to raised up for that purpose? (See remarks on Revelation 4:4.)
      We are aware that many entertain in a great aversion to the idea of there being anything real and tangible in heaven. But though the Revelation deals largely in figures, it does not deal in fictions. There is reality in all the things described, and we gain an understanding of the reality when we get a correct interpretation of the figures. Thus, in this vision we know that the One upon the throne is god. He is really there. We know the Lamb symbolizes Christ. He too is really there. He ascended with a literal, tangible body, and who can say that He does not still retain it?
      If, then, our great High Priest is a literal being, He must have a literal place in which to minister. If the four living creatures and the four and twenty elders represent those whom Christ led up from the captivity of death at the time of His resurrection and ascension, why are they not just as literal beings while there in heaven as they were when they ascended?
      The Song. —It is called “a new song,” new, probably, in respect to the occasion and the composition. They were the first that could sing it, being the first that were redeemed. They call themselves “kings and priests.” In what sense they are priests has already been noticed. They assist Christ in His priestly work. In the same sense doubtless they are also
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kings, for Christ is set down with His Father on His throne, and doubtless these as ministers of His have some part to act in connection with the government of heaven in its relation to this world.
      The Anticipation. —“We shall reign on the earth.” Thus, notwithstanding they are redeemed and surround the throne of God and of the Lamb, where all is glory ineffable, their song contemplates a still higher state when the great work of redemption shall be completed, and they, with the whole redeemed family of God, shall reign on the earth, the promised inheritance and the eternal residence of the saints. (Romans 4:13; Galatians 3:29; Psalm 37:11; Matthew 5:5; 2 Peter 3:13; Isaiah 65:17-25; Revelation 21:1-5.)

      Verse 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; 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.
      The Heavenly Sanctuary. —How little conception we have of the magnitude and glory of the heavenly temple! Into that temple John was introduced at the opening of Revelation 4, by the door which was open in heaven. Into the same temple, he is still looking in Revelation 5:11, 12. Now he beholds the heavenly hosts. About the throne are those represented by the four living creatures. Next come the four and twenty elders. Then John views a multitude of the heavenly angels surrounding the whole. How many? How many would we suppose could convene within the heavenly temple? “Ten thousand times ten thousand!” exclaims the seer. In this expression alone we have one hundred million! Then, as if no numerical expression is adequate to embrace the countless throng, he further adds, “And thousands of thousands!” Well might the writer of Hebrews call this “an innumerable company of angels.” Hebrews 12:22. These were in the sanctuary above.
      Such was the company that John saw assembled at the place where the worship of a universe centers, and where the
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wondrous plan of human redemption is going forward to completion. The central figure in this innumerable and holy throng was the Lamb of God, and the central act of His life which claimed their admiration was the shedding of His blood for the salvation of fallen man. Every voice in all that heavenly host joined in the ascription which was raised, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing.” Fitting assemblage for such a place! Fitting song of adoration to be raised to Him who by the shedding of His blood became a ransom for many, and who as our great High Priest in the sanctuary above still pleads the merits of His sacrifice in our behalf. Here, before such an august assemblage, must our life record soon come up in final review. What shall fit us for the searching ordeal? What shall enable us to rise and stand at last with the sinless throng above? O infinite merit of the blood of Christ, which can cleanse us from all our pollutions, and make us meet to tread the holy hill of Zion! O infinite grace of God, which can prepare us to endure the glory, and give us boldness to enter into His presence, even with exceeding joy!

      Verse 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. 14 And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped Him that liveth for ever and ever.
      A Clean Universe. —In verse 13 we have a declaration thrown in out of its chronological order for the purpose of following out to its completion the previous statement or allusion. This occurs frequently in the Bible. In this instance the time is anticipated when the work of redemption is finished. In verse 10 the four living creatures and four and twenty elders had declared, “We shall reign on the earth.” Now the prophet’s mind is carried forward to that event. He looks forward to the time when the number of the redeemed shall be made up, the
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universe be freed from sin and sinners, and a universal song of adoration go up to God and the Lamb.
      It is futile to attempt to apply this to the church in its present state, or to any time in the past since sin entered the world, or even since Satan fell from his high position as an angel of light and love in heaven. For at the time of which John speaks, every creature in heaven and on earth without any exception was sending up its anthem of blessings to God. But to speak only of this world since the fall, cursings instead of blessings have been breathed out against God and His throne from the great majority of our apostate race. So it will ever be while sin reigns.
      We find, then, no place for this sense which John describes, unless we go forward to the time when the plan of redemption is completed, and the saints enter upon their promised reign on the earth.
      To the Lamb, equally with the Father who sits upon the throne, praise is ascribed in this song of adoration. “Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever.” Revelation 5:13.
      Coming back from the glorious scene anticipated in verse 13 to events taking place in the heavenly sanctuary before him, the prophets hears the four living creatures exclaim, Amen.

      [1] John Wesley, Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament, p. 697, comment on Revelation 5:1.
      [2] The Cottage Bible, Vol. II, p. 1391, note on Revelation 5:1.
      [3] John Wesley, Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament, p. 698, comment on Revelation 5:4.
      [4] Joseph Benson, Commentary on the New Testament, Vol. II, p. 721, note on Revelation 5:4.
      [5] Phillip Doddridge, The Family Expositer, Vol. VI, p. 405, paraphrase of Revelation 5:5.
      [6] William Jenks, Comprehensive Commentary, Vol. V., p. 684, note on Revelation 5:6.
      [7] Adam Clarke, Commentary on the New Testament, Vol. II, p. 991, note on Revelation 5:6.

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