|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
5:1-7 The apostle saw in the hand of Him that sat upon the throne, a roll of parchments in the form usual in those times, and sealed with seven seals. This represented the secret purposes of God about to be revealed. The designs and methods of Divine Providence, toward the church and the world, are stated, fixed, and made a matter of record. The counsels of God are altogether hidden from the eye and understanding of the creature. The several parts are not unsealed and opened at once, but after each other, till the whole mystery of God's counsel and conduct is finished in the world. The creatures cannot open it, nor read it; the Lord only can do so. Those who see most of God, are most desirous to see more; and those who have seen his glory, desire to know his will. But even good men may be too eager and hasty to look into the mysteries of the Divine conduct. Such desires, if not soon answered, turn to grief and sorrow. If John wept much because he could not look into the book of God's decrees, what reason have many to shed floods of tears for their ignorance of the gospel of Christ! of that on which everlasting salvation depends! We need not weep that we cannot foresee future events respecting ourselves in this world; the eager expectation of future prospects, or the foresight of future calamities, would alike unfit us for present duties and conflicts, or render our prosperous days distressing. Yet we may desire to learn, from the promises and prophecies of Scripture, what will be the final event to believers and to the church; and the Incarnate Son has prevailed, that we should learn all that we need to know. Christ stands as Mediator between God and both ministers and people. He is called a Lion, but he appears as a Lamb slain. He appears with the marks of his sufferings, to show that he pleads for us in heaven, in virtue of his satisfaction. He appears as a Lamb, having seven horns and seven eyes; perfect power to execute all the will of God, and perfect wisdom to understand it, and to do it in the most effectual manner. The Father put the book of his eternal counsels into the hand of Christ, and Christ readily and gladly took it into his hand; for he delights to make known the will of his Father; and the Holy Spirit is given by him to reveal the truth and will of God.
Verse 1. - And I saw. As in Revelation 4:1, this phrase introduces a new incident in the vision. That which had been witnessed remained, but a further development now takes place. Revelation 4. relates the revelation of the glory of the Triune God (see on Revelation 4:2) surrounded by his Church and creation. The glory of Jesus Christ, the Lamb, is now set forth, since he is the only One worthy to receive and declare to his Church the mystery contained in the sealed book. In the right hand; upon the right hand (ἐπί). That is, lying upon the hand, as it was extended in the act of offering the book to any one who should be able to open and read it. Of him that sat on the throne. The Triune God (see on Revelation 4:2). A book written within and on the back side. In Ezekiel 2:9, 10 the "roll of a book" is "written within and without;" another of the numerous traces in the Revelation of the influence of the writings of this prophet upon the writer of the Apocalypse, though the picture of the Lamb, which follows in this chapter, imparts a new feature peculiar to St. John's vision. The roll was inscribed on both sides. Mention is made of such a roll by Pliny, JuVenal, Lucian, Martial, though Grotius connects ὄπισθεν, "on the back," with κατεσφραγισμένον, "sealed," thus rendering, "written within and sealed on the back." The fulness of the book, and the guard of seven seals which are opened in succession, denote completeness of revelation (on the number seven as denoting full completion, see on Revelation 1:4). This book contained the whole of "the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 13:11). It is noteworthy that - so far as we can gather from the Revelation - the book is never read. The breaking of each seal is accompanied by its own peculiar phenomena, which appear to indicate the nature of the contents. And the opening of the seventh seal especially is attended by a compound series of events; but nowhere are we explicitly informed of the contents of the book. Alford well remarks, "Not its contents, but the gradual steps of access to it, are represented by these visions." This view seems to be held also by Schleiermacher. Dusterdieck considers that the roll is never read, though the incidents attending the opening of each seal portray a portion of the contents. Wordsworth and Elliott understand that, as each seal is broken, a part of the roll is unrolled and its contents rendered visible; and these contents are symbolically set forth by the events which then take place. According to this view, the whole is a prophecy extending to the end of the world. The popular idea is that the roll was sealed along the edge with seven seals, all visible at the same time. If, as each seal was broken, a portion of the roll could be unfolded, of course only one seal - the outermost - could be visible. This is not, however, inconsistent with St. John's assertion that there were seven seals - a fact which he might state from his knowledge gained by witnessing the opening of the seven in succession. The truth seems to lie midway between these views. We must remember that the Revelation was vouchsafed to the Church as an encouragement to her members to persevere under much suffering and tribulation, and as a support to their faith, lest they should succumb to the temptation of despair, and, unable to fathom the eternal purposes of God, should doubt his truth or his ability to aid them. But we are nowhere led to believe that it was the intention of God to reveal all things to man, even under the cloak of symbolism or allegory. There is much which must necessarily be withheld until after the end of all earthly things; and, just as no mortal can possibly know the "new name" (Revelation 3:12), so no one on earth can receive perfect knowledge of the "mysteries of the kingdom of heaven," which were symbolically contained in the book, and which, through the intervention of the Lamb, may one day be published; though a portion - sufficient for the time - was shadowed forth, at the opening of the seals; which portion, indeed, could never have been given to us except through the Lamb. We understand, therefore, that the book is symbolical of the whole of the mysteries of God; that, as a whole, the contents of the book are not, nor indeed can be, revealed to us while on earth; but that some small but sufficient portion of these mysteries are made known to us by the power of Christ, who will eventually make all things clear hereafter, when we shall know even as we are known (1 Corinthians 13:12). The events attending the opening of the seals are therefore a prophecy of the relations of the Church and the world to the end of time. Many opinions have been held as to the antitype of the book. Victorinus thinks it to be the Old Testament, the meaning of which Christ was the first to unlock. And Bede and others consider that the writing within signified the New Testament, and that on the back, the Old. Todd and De Burgh think the roll denotes the office of our Lord, by virtue of which he will judge the world. Sealed with seven seals; sealed down with seven seals; close sealed (Revised Version). Grotius connects ὄπισθεν, "behind," with κατεσφραγισμένον, "sealed down," thus reading, "written within and sealed down on the back."
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
And I saw on the right hand of him that sat on the throne,.... Of this throne, and who it was that sat upon it; see Gill on Revelation 4:2; and who had "in" his right hand, or "at", or "upon" his right hand, as the Syriac and Arabic versions render it, lying by, or near his right hand; though according to Revelation 5:7, the book appears to have been in his right hand, as our version, and others render it:
a book written within, and on the backside, sealed with seven seals: this book was very much like Ezekiel's roll, Ezekiel 2:9; which was written , "within" and "without", before and behind, and indeed it was in the form of a roll: the manner of writings in those times was on sheets of parchment, which, when finished, were rolled up in the form of a cylinder; hence a book is called a "volume". This book seems to have consisted of seven rolls, to which was annexed seven seals; and there being not room enough within, contrary to the common way of writing, some things were written upon the backside of the outermost roll; and such writings were by the ancients called "Opistographi": and the word is used by them sometimes for very prolix writings (b). By this book some understand the Scriptures of the Old Testament, which were written in rolls; see Hebrews 10:5; and which came out of the right hand of God, and were given forth by him; and being written within, and on the backside, may denote the fulness of them, they containing a variety of matter, useful and profitable, for different purposes; or else the literal and mystical, or spiritual meaning of some parts of them: or, as others think, the more clear explanation of the books of the Old Testament, by those of the New Testament; and its being sealed may signify the authenticity of those writings, having the seal of God's truth, and the impress of his wisdom, power, and goodness on them; and also the hidden sense and meaning of them, they being, especially in the prophetic and spiritual part of them, a sealed book to natural men, and of which Christ is the truest and best interpreter; but then this book was opened, and looked into, and read, and, in some measure, understood, even by the Old Testament saints, and had been before this time expounded by Christ, concerning himself; yea, he had opened the understandings of his disciples to understand those Scriptures, and had counted them, and others, worthy to open and explain this book to others, and had sent them into all the world for this purpose; and for the same reasons it cannot be understood of the Gospel published to Jews and Gentiles, the one within, and the other without; rather therefore the book of God's decrees is here meant, which respects all creatures, and all occurrences and events in the whole world, from the beginning to the end of time; and so Ezekiel's roll, according to the Targum on Ezekiel 2:10; which was written before and behind, signified that which was , "from the beginning", and which , "shall be in the end", or hereafter. This book God holds "in his right hand", as the rule and measure of all he does, and of the government of the world, and which he constantly fulfils and executes; and its being written "within and without" may denote the perfection and comprehensiveness of it, it reaching to all creatures and things, even the most minute; and its being "sealed" shows the certainty of its fulfilment, and the secrecy and hiddenness of it, until accomplished; though it seems best of all to understand it of that part of God's decrees relating to the church and world, particularly the Roman empire, which from henceforward, to the end of time, was to be fulfilled; and so is no other than the book of the Revelation itself, exhibited in the following scenes and visions; and this may be truly said to be in the right hand of God, and from thence taken by the Lamb, it being the revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, Revelation 1:1; and may be said to be written, both "within and on the backside", to show that it contains a large account of things, a long train of events to be accomplished; as also to signify, that it regards the church, and the members of it, who are those that are within, in the several ages of time, and the world, or those that are without; for this book prophecy regards both the state of the Roman empire, and of the Christian church; and its being "sealed" shows the authenticity, certainty, and also the obscurity of what was contained therein; and with "seven" seals, with respect to the seven periods of time, in which the prophecies in it are to be fulfilled.
(b) Vid. Alex. ab Alex. Genial. Dier. l. 2. c. 30. & Salmuth in Panciroll. rer. Memorab. par. 1. tit. 42. p. 145.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Re 5:1-14. The Book with Seven Seals: None Worthy to Open It but the Lamb: He Takes It amidst the Praises of the Redeemed, and of the Whole Heavenly Host.
1. in, &c.—Greek, "(lying) upon the right hand." His right hand was open and on it lay the book. On God's part there was no withholding of His future purposes as contained in the book: the only obstacle to unsealing it is stated in Re 5:3 [Alford].
book—rather, as accords with the ancient form of books, and with the writing on the backside, "a roll." The writing on the back implies fulness and completeness, so that nothing more needs to be added (Re 22:18). The roll, or book, appears from the context to be "the title-deed of man's inheritance" [De Burgh] redeemed by Christ, and contains the successive steps by which He shall recover it from its usurper and obtain actual possession of the kingdom already "purchased" for Himself and His elect saints. However, no portion of the roll is said to be unfolded and read; but simply the seals are successively opened, giving final access to its contents being read as a perfect whole, which shall not be until the events symbolized by the seals shall have been past, when Eph 3:10 shall receive its complete accomplishment, and the Lamb shall reveal God's providential plans in redemption in all their manifold beauties. Thus the opening of the seals will mean the successive steps by which God in Christ clears the way for the final opening and reading of the book at the visible setting up of the kingdom of Christ. Compare, at the grand consummation, Re 20:12, "Another book was opened … the book of life"; Re 22:19. None is worthy to do so save the Lamb, for He alone as such has redeemed man's forfeited inheritance, of which the book is the title-deed. The question (Re 5:2) is not (as commonly supposed), Who should reveal the destinies of the Church (for this any inspired prophet would be competent to do)? but, Who has the WORTH to give man a new title to his lost inheritance? [De Burgh].
sealed … seven seals—Greek, "sealed up," or "firmly sealed." The number seven (divided into four, the world-wide number, and three, the divine) abounds in Revelation and expresses completeness. Thus, the seven seals, representing all power given to the Lamb; the seven trumpets, by which the world kingdoms are shaken and overthrown, and the Lamb's kingdom ushered in; and the seven vials, by which the beast's kingdom is destroyed.
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