Analysis Of The Chapter
This chapter Revelation 5:1-14 introduces the disclosure of future events. It is done in a manner eminently suited to impress the mind with a sense of the importance of the revelations about to be made. The proper state of mind for appreciating this chapter is that when we look on the future, and are sensible that important events are about to occur; when we feel that that future is wholly impenetrable to us; and when the efforts of the highest created minds fail to lift the mysterious veil which hides those events from our view; it is in accordance with our nature that the mind should be impressed with solemn awe under such circumstances; it is not a violation of the laws of our nature that one who had an earnest desire to penetrate that future, and who saw the volume before him which contained the mysterious revelation, and who yet felt that there was no one in heaven or earth who could break the seals, and disclose what was to come, should weep. Compare Revelation 5:4. The design of the whole chapter is evidently to honor the Lamb of God, by showing that the power was entrusted to him which was confided to no one else in heaven or earth, of disclosing what is to come. Nothing else would better illustrate this than the fact that he alone could break the mysterious seals which barred out the knowledge of the future from all created eyes; and nothing would be better adapted to impress this on the mind than the representation in this chapter - the exhibition of a mysterious book in the hand of God; the proclamation of the angel, calling on any who could do it to open the book; the fact that no one in heaven or earth could do it; the tears shed by John when it was found that no one could do it; the assurance of one of the elders that the Lion of the tribe of Judah had power to do it; and the profound adoration of all in heaven, and in earth, and under the earth in view of the power entrusted to him of breaking these mysterious seals.
The main points in the chapter are these:
(1) Having in Revelation 4:1-11 described God as sitting on a throne, John here Revelation 5:1 represents himself as seeing in his right hand a mysterious volume; written all over on the inside and the outside, yet sealed with seven seals; a volume manifestly referring to the future, and containing important disclosures respecting coming events.
(2) a mighty angel is introduced making a proclamation, and asking who is worthy to open that book, and to break those seals; evidently implying that none unless of exalted rank could do it, Revelation 5:2.
(3) there is a pause: no one in heaven, or in earth, or under the earth, approaches to do it, or claims the right to do it, Revelation 5:3.
(4) John, giving way to the expressions of natural emotion - indicative of the longing and intense desire in the human soul to be made acquainted with the secrets of the future - pours forth a flood of tears because no one is found who is worthy to open the seals of this mysterious book, or to read what was recorded there, Revelation 5:4.
(5) in his state of suspense and of grief, one of the elders - the representatives of that church for whose benefit these revelations of the future were to be made (note on Revelation 4:4) - approaches him and says that there is one who is able to open the book; one who has the power to loose its seals, Revelation 5:5. This is the Messiah - the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David - coming now to make the disclosure for which the whole book was given, Revelation 1:1.
(6) immediately the attention of John is attracted by the Messiah, appearing as a Lamb in the midst of the throne; with horns, the symbols of strength; and eyes, the symbols of all-pervading intelligence. He approaches and takes the book from the hand of Him that sits on the throne; symbolical of the fact that it is the province of the Messiah to make known to the church and the world the events which are to occur, Revelation 5:6-7. He appears here in a different form from that in which he manifested himself in Revelation 1, for the purpose is different. There he appears clothed in majesty, to impress the mind with a sense of his essential glory. Here he appears in a form that recalls the memory of his sacrifice; to denote, perhaps, that it is in virtue of his atonement that the future is to be disclosed; and that therefore there is a special propriety that he should appear and do what no other one in heaven or earth could do.
(7) the approach of the Messiah to unfold the mysteries in the book, the fact that he had "prevailed" to accomplish what there was so strong a desire should be accomplished, furnishes an occasion for exalted thanksgiving and praise, Revelation 5:8-10.
(8) this ascription of praise in heaven is instantly responded to, and echoed back, from all parts of the universe - all joining in acknowledging the Lamb as worthy of the exalted office to which he was raised, Revelation 5:11-13. The angels around the throne - amounting to thousands of myriads - unite with the living creatures and the elders; and to these are joined the voices of every creature in heaven, on the earth, under the earth, and in the sea, ascribing to Him that sits upon the throne and the Lamb universal praise.
(9) to this loud ascription of praise from far-distant worlds the living creatures respond with a hearty "Amen," and the elders fall down and worship him that lives forever and ever, Revelation 5:14. The universe is held in wondering expectation of the disclosures which are to be made, and from all parts of the universe there is an acknowledgment that the Lamb of God alone has the right to break the mysterious seals. The importance of the developments justifies the magnificence of this representation; and it would not be possible to imagine a more sublime introduction to these great events.
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.And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne - Of God, Revelation 4:3-4. His form is not described there, nor is there any intimation of it here except the mention of his." right hand." The book or roll seems to have been so held in his hand that John could see its shape, and see distinctly how it was written and sealed.
A book - βιβλίον biblion This word is properly a diminutive of the word commonly rendered "book" (βίβλος biblos), and would strictly mean a small book, or a book of diminutive size - a tablet, or a letter (Liddell and Scott, Lexicon). It is used, however, to denote a book of any size - a roll, scroll, or volume; and is thus used:
(c) epistles which were also rolled up, Revelation 1:11;
When it is the express design to speak of a small book, another word is used (βιβλαρίδιον biblaridion), Revelation 10:2, Revelation 10:8-10. The book or roll referred to here was what contained the revelation in the subsequent chapters, to the end of the description of the opening of the seventh seal - for the communication that was to be made was all included in the seven seals; and to conceive of the size of the book, therefore, we are only to reflect on the amount of parchment that would naturally be written over by the communications here made. The form of the book was undoubtedly that of a scroll or roll; for that was the usual form of books among the ancients, and such a volume could be more easily sealed with a number of seals, in the manner here described, than a volume in the form in which books are made now. On the ancient form of books, see the notes on Luke 4:17. The engraving in Job 19, will furnish an additional illustration of their form.
Written within and on the back side - Greek, "within and behind." It was customary to write only on one side of the paper or vellum, for the sake of convenience in reading the volume as it was unrolled. If, as sometimes was the case, the book was in the same form as books are now - of leaves bound together - then it was usual to write on beth sides of the leaf, as both sides of a page are printed now. But in the other form it was a very uncommon thing to write on both sides of the parchment, and was never done unless there was a scarcity of writing material; or unless there was an amount of matter beyond what was anticipated; or unless something had been omitted. It is not necessary to suppose that John saw both sides of the parchment as it was held in the hand of him that sat on the throne. That it was written on the back side he would naturally see, and, as the book was sealed, he would infer that it was written in the usual manner on the inside.
Sealed with seven seals - On the ancient manner of sealing, see the notes on Matthew 27:66; compare the notes on Job 38:14. The fact that there were seven seals - an unusual number in fastening a volume - would naturally attract the attention of John, though it might not occur to him at once that there was anything significant in the number. It is not stated in what manner the seals were attached to the volume, but it is clear that they were so attached that each seal closed one part of the volume, and that when one was broken and the portion which that was designed to fasten was unrolled, a second would be come to, which it would be necessary to break in order to read the next portion. The outer seal would indeed bind the whole; but when that was broken it would not give access to the whole volume unless each successive seal were broken. May it not have been intended by this arrangement to suggest the idea that the whole future is unknown to us, and that the disclosure of any one portion, though necessary if the whole would be known, does not disclose all, but leaves seal after seal still unbroken, and that they are all to be broken one after another if we would know all? How these were arranged, John does not say. All that is necessary to be supposed is, that the seven seals were put successively upon the margin of the volume as it was rolled up, so that each opening would extend only as far as the next seal, when the unrolling would be arrested. Anyone, by rolling up a sheet of paper, could so fasten it with pins, or with a succession of seals, as to represent this with sufficient accuracy.
And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?And I saw a strong angel - An angel endowed with great strength, as if such strength was necessary to enable him to give utterance to the loud voice of the inquiry. "Homer represents his heralds as powerful, robust men, in order consistently to attribute to them deep-toned and powerful voices" (Prof. Stuart). The inquiry to be made was one of vast importance; it was to be made of all in heaven, all on the earth, and all under the earth, and hence an angel is introduced so mighty that his voice could be heard in all those distant worlds.
Proclaiming with a loud voice - That is, as a herald or crier. He is rather introduced here as appointed to this office than as self-moved. The design undoubtedly is to impress the mind with a sense of the importance of the disclosures about to be made, and at the same time with a sense of the impossibility of penetrating the future by any created power. That one of the highest angels should make such a proclamation would sufficiently show its importance; that such an one, by the mere act of making such a proclamation, should practically confess his own inability, and consequently the inability of all of similar rank, to make the disclosures, would show that the revelations of the future were beyond mere created power.
Who is worthy to open the book, ... - That is, who is "worthy" in the sense of having a rank so exalted, and attributes so comprehensive, as to authorize and enable him to do it. In other words, who has the requisite endowments of all kinds to enable him to do it? It would require moral qualities of an exalted character to justify him in approaching the seat of the holy God, to take the book from his hands; it would require an ability beyond that of any created being to penetrate the future, and disclose the meaning of the symbols which were employed. The fact that the book was held in the hand of him that was on the throne, and sealed in this manner, was in itself a sufficient proof that it was not his purpose to make the disclosure directly, and the natural inquiry arose whether there was anyone in the wide universe who, by rank, or character, or office, would be empowered to open the mysterious volume.
And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon.And no man in heaven - No one - οὐδεὶς oudeis. There is no limitation in the original to man. The idea is, that there was no one in heaven - evidently alluding to the created beings there - who could open the volume. Is it not taught here that angels cannot penetrate the future, and disclose what is to come? Are not their faculties limited in this respect like those of man?
Nor in earth - Among all classes of people - sages, divines, prophets, philosophers - who among those have ever been able to penetrate the future, and disclose what is to come?
Neither under the earth - These divisions compose, in common language, the universe: what is in heaven above; what is on the earth; and whatever there is under the earth - the abodes of the dead. May there not be an allusion here to the supposed science of necromancy, and an assertion that even the dead cannot penetrate the future, and disclose what is to come? Compare the notes on Isaiah 8:19. In all these great realms no one advanced who was qualified to undertake the office of making a disclosure of what the mysterious scroll might contain.
Was able to open the book - Had ability - ἠδύνατε ēdunate - to do it. It was a task beyond their power. Even if anyone had been found who had a rank and a moral character which might have seemed to justify the effort, there was no one who had the power of reading what was recorded respecting coming events.
Neither to look thereon - That is, so to open the seals as to have a view of what was written therein. That it was not beyond their power merely to see the book is apparent from the fact that John himself saw it in the hand of him that sat on the throne; and it is evident also Revelation 5:5 that in that sense the elders saw it. But no one could prevail to inspect the contents, or so have access to the interior of the volume as to be able to see what was written there. It could be seen, indeed Revelation 5:1, that it was written on both sides of the parchment, but what the writing was no one could know.
And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon.And I wept much, because no man was found worthy ... - Greek, as in Revelation 5:3, no one. It would seem as if there was a pause to see if there were any response to the proclamation of the angel. There being none, John gave way to his deep emotions in a flood of tears. The tears of the apostle here may be regarded as an illustration of two things which are occurring constantly in the minds of people:
(1) The strong desire to penetrate the future; to lift the mysterious veil which shrouds what is to come; to find some way to pierce the dark wall which seems to stand up before us, and which shuts from our view what is to be hereafter. There have been no more earnest efforts made by people than those which have been made to read the scaled volume which contains the record of what is yet to come. By dreams, and omens, and auguries, and astrology, and the flight of birds, and necromancy, people have sought anxiously to ascertain what is to be hereafter. Compare, for an expression of that intense desire, Foster's Life and Correspondence, vol. i. p. 111, and vol. ii. pp. 237, 238.
(2) The weeping of the apostle may be regarded as an instance of the deep grief which people often experience when all efforts to penetrate the future fail, and they feel that after all they are left completely in the dark. Often is the soul overpowered with grief, and often are the eyes filled with sadness at the reflection that there is an absolute limit to the human powers; that all that man can arrive at by his own efforts is uncertain conjecture, and that there is no way possible by which he can make nature speak out and disclose what is to come. Nowhere does man find himself more fettered and limited in his powers than here; nowhere does he feel that there is such an intense disproportion between his desires and his attainments. In nothing do we feel that we are more absolutely in need of divine help than in our attempts to unveil the future; and were it not for revelation man might weep in despair.
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.And one of the elders saith unto me - See the notes on Revelation 4:4. No particular reason is assigned why this message was delivered by one of the elders rather than by an angel. If the elders were, however (see the notes on Revelation 4:4), the representatives of the church, there was a propriety that they should address John in his trouble. Though they were in heaven, they were deeply interested in all that pertained to the welfare of the church, and they had been permitted to understand what as yet was unknown to him, that the power of opening the mysterious volume which contained the revelation of the future was entrusted particularly to the Messiah. Having this knowledge, they were prepared to comfort him with the hope that what was so mysterious would be made known.
Weep not - That is, there is no occasion for tears. The object which you so much desire can be obtained. There is one who can break those seals, and who can unroll that volume and read what is recorded there.
Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah - This undoubtedly refers to the Lord Jesus; and the points needful to be explained are, why he is called a Lion, and why be is spoken of as the Lion of the tribe of Judah:
(a) As to the first: This appellation is not elsewhere given to the Messiah, but it is not difficult to see its propriety as used in this place. The lion is the king of beasts, the monarch of the forest, and thus becomes an emblem of one of kingly authority and of power (see the notes on Revelation 4:7), and as such the appellation is used in this place. It is because Christ has power to open the seals - as if he ruled over the universe, and all events were under his control, as the lion rules in the forest - that the name is here given to him.
(b) As to the other point: He is called the "Lion of the tribe of Judah," doubtless, with reference to the prophecy in Genesis 49:9 - "Judah is a lion's whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion"; and from the fact that the Messiah was of the tribe of Judah. Compare Genesis 49:10. This use of the term would connect him in the apprehension of John with the prophecy, and would suggest to him the idea of his being a ruler, or having dominion. As such, therefore, it would be appropriate that the power of breaking these seals should be committed to him.
The Root of David - Not the Root of David in the sense that David sprung from him as a tree does from a root, but in the sense that he himself was a "root-shoot" or sprout from David, and had sprung from him as a shoot or sprout springs up from a decayed and fallen tree. See the notes on Isaiah 11:1. This expression would connect him directly with David, the great and glorious monarch of Israel, and as having a right to occupy his throne. As one thus ruling over the people of God, there was a propriety that to him should be entrusted the task of opening these seals.
Hath prevailed - That is, he has acquired this power as the result of a conflict or struggle. The word used here - ἐνίκησεν enikēsen - refers to such a conflict or struggle, properly meaning to come off victor, to overcome, to conquer, to subdue; and the idea here is, that his power to do this, or the reason why he does this, is the result of a conflict in which he was a victor. As the series of events to be disclosed, resulting in the final triumph of religion, was the effect of his conflicts with the powers of evil, there was a special propriety that the disclosure should be made by him. The truths taught in this verse are:
(1) that the power of making disclosures, in regard to the future, is entrusted to the Messiah; and,
(2) that this, so far as he is concerned, is the result of a conflict or struggle on his part.
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.And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne - We are not to suppose that he was in the center of the throne itself, but he was a conspicuous object when the throne and the elders and the living beings were seen. He was so placed as to seem to be in the midst of the group made up of the throne, the living beings, and the elders.
And of the four beasts - See the notes at Revelation 4:6.
Stood a Lamb - An appellation often given to the Messiah, for two reasons:
(1) because the lamb was an emblem of innocence and,
(2) because a lamb was offered commonly in sacrifice. Compare the notes on John 1:29.
As it had been slain - That is, in some way having the appearance of having been slain; having some marks or indications about it that it had been slain. What those were the writer does not specify. If it were covered with blood, or there were marks of mortal wounds, it would be all that the representation demands. The great work which the Redeemer performed - that of making an atonement for sin - was thus represented to John in such a way that he at once recognized him, and saw the reason why the office of breaking the seals was entrusted to him. It should be remarked that this representation is merely symbolic, and we are not to suppose that the Redeemer really assumed this form, or that he appears in this form in heaven. We should no more suppose that the Redeemer appear: literally as a lamb in heaven with numerous eyes and horns, than that there is a literal throne and a sea of glass there; that there are "seats" there, and "elders," and "crowns of gold."
Having seven horns - Emblems of authority and power - for the horn is a symbol of power and dominion. Compare Deuteronomy 33:17; 1 Kings 22:11; Jeremiah 48:25; Zechariah 1:18; Daniel 7:24. The propriety of this symbol is laid in the fact that the strength of an animal is in the horn, and that it is by this that he obtains a victory over other animals. The number seven here seems to be designed, as in other places, to denote completeness. See the notes on Revelation 1:4. The meaning is, that he had so large a number as to denote complete dominion.
And seven eyes - Symbols of intelligence. The number seven here also denotes completeness; and the idea is, that he is able to survey all things. John does not say anything as to the relative arrangement of the horns and eyes on the "Lamb," and it is vain to attempt to conjecture how it was. The whole representation is symbolical, and we may understand the meaning of the symbol without being able to form an exact conception of the figure as it appeared to him.
Which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth - See the notes on Revelation 1:4. That is, which represent the seven Spirits of God; or the manifold operations of the one Divine Spirit. As the eye is the symbol of intelligence - outward objects being made visible to us by that - so it may well represent an all-pervading spirit that surveys and sees all things. The eye, in this view, among the Egyptians was an emblem of the Deity. By the "seven Spirits" here the same thing is doubtless intended as in Revelation 1:4; and if, as there supposed, the reference is to the Holy Spirit considered with respect to his manifold operations, the meaning here is, that the operations of that Spirit are to be regarded as connected with the work of the Redeemer. Thus, all the operations of the Spirit are connected with, and are a part of, the work of redemption. The expression "sent forth into all the earth," refers to the fact that that Spirit prevades all things The Spirit of God is often represented as sent or poured out; and the meaning here is, that his operations are as if he was sent out to survey all things and to operate everywhere. Compare 1 Corinthians 12:6-11.
And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne.And he came and took the book out of the right hand ... - As if it pertained to him by virtue of rank or office. There is a difficulty here, arising from the incongruity of what is said of a lamb, which it is not easy to solve. The difficulty is in conceiving how a lamb could take the book from the hand of Him who held it. To meet this several solutions have been proposed:
(1) Vitringa supposes that the Messiah appeared as a lamb only in some such sense as the four living beings Revelation 4:7 resembled a lion, a calf, and an eagle; that is, that they bore this resemblance only in respect to the head, while the body was that of a man. He thus supposes, that though in respect to the upper part the Saviour resembled a lamb, yet that to the front part of the body hands were attached by which he could take the book. But there are great difficulties in this supposition. Besides that nothing of this kind is intimated by John, it is contrary to every appearance of probability that the Redeemer would be represented as a monster. In his being represented as a lamb there is nothing that strikes the mind as inappropriate or unpleasant, for he is often spoken of in this manner, and the image is one that is agreeable to the mind. But all this beauty and fitness of representation is destroyed, if we think of him as having human hands proceeding from his breast or sides, or as blending the form of a man and an animal together. The representation of having an unusual number of horns and eyes does not strike us as being incongruous in the same sense; for though the number is increased, they are such as pertain properly to the animal to which they are attached.
(2) another supposition is that suggested by Prof. Stuart, that the form was changed, and a human form resumed when the Saviour advanced to take the book and open it. This would relieve the whole difficulty, and the only objection to it is, that John has not given any express notice of such a change in the form; and the only question can be whether it is right to suppose it in order to meet the difficulty in the case. In support of this it is said that all is symbol; that the Saviour is represented in the book in various forms; that as his appearing as a lamb was designed to represent in a striking manner the fact that he was slain, and that all that he did was based on the atonement, so there would be no impropriety in supposing that when an action was attributed to him he assumed the form in which that act would be naturally or is usually done. And as in taking a book from the hand of another it is wholly incongruous to think of its being done by a lamb, is it not most natural to suppose that the usual form in which the Saviour is represented as appearing would be resumed, and that he would appear again as a man?
But is it absolutely certain that he appeared in the form of a lamb at all? May not all that is meant be, that John saw him near the throne, and among the elders, and was struck at once with his appearance of meekness and innocence, and with the marks of his having been slain as a sacrifice, and spoke of him in strong figurative language as a lamb? And where his "seven horns" and "seven eyes" are spoken of, is it necessary to suppose that there was any real assumption of such horns and eyes? May not all that is meant be that John was struck with that in the appearance of the Redeemer of which these would be the appropriate symbols, and described him as if these had been visible? When John the Baptist saw the Lord Jesus on the banks of the Jordan, and said, "Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world" John 1:29, is it necessary to suppose that he actually appeared in the form of a lamb?
Do not all at once understand him as referring to traits in his character, and to the work which he was to accomplish, which made it proper to speak of him as a lamb? And why, therefore, may we not suppose that John in the Apocalypse designed to use language in the same way, and that he did not intend to present so incongruous a description as that of a lamb approaching a throne and taking a book from the hand of Him that sat on it, and a lamb, too, with many horns and eyes? If this supposition is correct, then all that is meant in this passage would be expressed in some such language as the following: "And I looked, and lo there was one in the midst of the space occupied by the throne, by the living creatures, and by the elders, who, in aspect, and in the emblems that represented his work on the earth, was spotless, meek, and innocent as a lamb; one with marks on his person which brought to remembrance the fact that he had been slain for the sins of the world, and yet one who had most striking symbols of power and intelligence, and who was therefore worthy to approach and take the book from the hand of Him that sat on the throne." It may do something to confirm this view to recollect that when we use the term "Lamb of God" how, as is often done in preaching and in prayer, it never suggests to the mind the idea of a lamb. We think of the Redeemer as resembling a lamb in his moral attributes and in his sacrifice, but never as to form. This supposition relieves the passage of all that is incongruous and unpleasant, and may be all that John meant.
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 odours, which are the prayers of saints.And when he had taken the book, the four beasts ... - The acts of adoration here described as rendered by the four living creatures and the elders are, according to the explanation given in Revelation 4:4-7, emblematic of the honor done to the Redeemer by the church, and by the course of providential events in the government of the world.
Having every one of them harps - That is, as the construction, and the propriety of the case would seem to demand, the elders had each of them harps. The whole prostrated themselves with profound reverence; the elders had harps and censers, and broke out into a song of praise for redemption. This construction is demanded, because:
(a) the Greek word - ἔχοντες echontes - more properly agrees with the word "elders" - πρεσβύτεροι presbuteroi - and not with the word "beasts" - ζῶα zōa;
(b) there is an incongruity in the representation that the living creatures, in the form of a lion, a calf, an eagle, should have harps and censers; and,
(c) the song of praise that is sung Revelation 5:9 is one that properly applies to the elders as the representatives of the church, and not to the living creatures - "Thou hast redeemed us to God by thy blood."
The harp was a well-known instrument used in the service of God. Josephus describes it as having ten strings, and as struck with a key (Ant. Revelation 7:12, Revelation 7:3). See the notes on Isaiah 5:12.
And golden vials - The word "vial" with us, denoting a small slender bottle with a narrow neck, evidently does not express the idea here. The article here referred to was used for offering incense, and must have been a vessel with a large open mouth. The word "bowl" or "goblet" would better express the idea, and it is so explained by Prof. Robinson, Lexicon, and by Prof. Stuart, in loco. The Greek word - φιάλη phialē - occurs in the New Testament only in Revelation Rev 5:8; Revelation 15:7; Revelation 16:1-4, Revelation 16:8,Revelation 16:10, Revelation 16:12, Revelation 16:17; Revelation 17:1; Revelation 21:9, and is uniformly rendered "vial" and "vials," though the idea is always that of a "bowl" or "goblet."
Full of odours - Or rather, as in the margin, full of incense - θυμιαμάτων thumiamatōn. See the notes on Luke 1:9.
Which are the prayers of saints - Which represent or denote the prayers of saints. Compare Psalm 141:2, "Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense." The meaning is, that incense was a proper emblem of prayer. This seems to have been in two respects:
(a) as being acceptable to God - as incense produced an agreeable fragrance; and,
(b) in its being wafted toward heaven - ascending toward the eternal throne.
In Revelation 8:3, an angel is represented as having a golden censer: "And there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. The representation there undoubtedly is, that the angel is employed in presenting the prayers of the saints which were offered on earth before the throne. See the notes on that passage. It is most natural to interpret the passage before us in the same way. The allusion is clearly to the temple service, and to the fact that incense was offered by the priest in the temple itself at the time that prayer was offered by the people in the courts of the temple. See Luke 1:9-10. The idea here is, therefore, that the representatives of the church in heaven - the elders - spoken of as "priests" Revelation 5:10, are described as officiating in the temple above in behalf of the church still below, and as offering incense while the church is engaged in prayer.
It is not said that they offer the prayers themselves, but that they offer incense as representing the prayers of the saints. If this be the correct interpretation, as it seems to be the obvious one, then the passage lays no foundation for the opinion expressed by Prof. Stuart, as derived from this passage (in loco), that prayer is offered by the redeemed in heaven. Whatever may be the truth on that point - on which the Bible seems to be silent - it will find no support from the passage before us. Adoration, praise, thanksgiving, are represented as the employment of the saints in heaven: the only representation respecting prayer as pertaining to that world is, that there are emblems there which symbolize its ascent before the throne, and which show that it is acceptable to God. It is an interesting and beautiful representation that there are in heaven appropriate symbols of ascending prayer, and that while in the outer courts here below we offer prayer, incense, emblematic of it, ascends in the holy of holies above. The impression which this should leave on our minds ought to be, that our prayers are wafted before the throne, and are acceptable to God.
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;And they sung a new song - Compare Revelation 14:3. New in the sense that it is a song consequent on redemption, and distinguished therefore from the songs sung in heaven before the work of redemption was consummated. We may suppose that songs of adoration have always been sung m heaven; we know that the praises of God were celebrated by the angelic choirs when the foundations of the earth were laid Job 38:7; but the song of redemption was a different song, and is one that would never have been sung there if man had not fallen, and if the Redeemer had not died. This song strikes notes which the ether songs do not strike, and refers to glories of the divine character which, but for the work of redemption, would not have been brought into view. In this sense the song was new; it will continue to be new in the sense that it will be sung afresh as redeemed million continue to ascend to heaven. Compare Psalm 40:3; Psalm 96:1; Psalm 144:9; Isaiah 42:10.
Thou art worthy to take the book, ... - This was the occasion or ground of the "new song," that by his coming and death he had acquired a right to approach where no other one could approach, and to do what no other one could do.
For thou wast slain - The language here is such as would be appropriate to a lamb slain as a sacrifice. The idea is, that the fact that he was thus slain constituted the ground of his worthiness to open the book. It could not be meant that there was in him no other ground of worthiness, but that this was what was most conspicuous. It is just the outburst of the grateful feeling resulting from redemption, that he who has died to save the soul is worthy of all honor, and is suited to accomplish what no other being in the universe can do. However this may appear to the inhabitants of other worlds, or however it may appear to the dwellers on the earth who have no interest in the work of redemption, yet all who are redeemed will agree in the sentiment that He who has ransomed them with his blood has performed a work to do which every other being was incompetent, and that now all honor in heaven and on earth may appropriately be conferred on him.
And hast redeemed us - The word used here - ἀγοράζω agorazō - means properly to purchase, to buy; and is thus employed to denote redemption, because redemption was accomplished by the payment of a price. On the meaning of the word, see the notes on 2 Peter 2:1.
To God - That is, so that we become his, and are to be henceforward regarded as such; or so that he might possess us as his own. See the notes on 2 Corinthians 5:15. This is the true nature of redemption, that by the price paid we are rescued from the servitude of Satan, and are henceforth to regard ourselves as belonging unto God.
By thy blood - See the notes on Acts 20:28. This is such language as they use who believe in the doctrine of the atonement, and is such as would be used by them alone. It would not be employed by those who believe that Christ was a mere martyr, or that he lived and died merely as a teacher of morality. If he was truly an atoning sacrifice, the language is full of meaning; if not, it has no significance and could not be understood.
Out of every kindred - Literally, "of every tribe" - φυλῆς phulēs. The word "tribe" means properly a comparatively small division or class of people associated together (Prof. Stuart). It refers to a family, or race, having a common ancestor, and usually associated or banded together - as one of the tribes of Israel; a tribe of Indians; a tribe of plants; a tribe of animals, etc. This is such language as a Jew would use, denoting one of the smaller divisions that made up a nation of people; and the meaning would seem to be, that it will be found ultimately to be true that the redeemed will have been taken from all such minor divisions of the human family - not only from the different nations but from the smaller divisions of those nations. This can only be true from the fact that the knowledge of the true religion will yet be diffused among all those smaller portions of the human race; that is, that its diffusion will be universal.
And tongue - People speaking all languages. The word used here would seem to denote a division of the human family larger than a tribe, but smaller than a nation. It was formerly a fact that a nation might be made up of those who spoke many different languages - as, for example, the Assyrian, the Babylonian, or the Roman nations. Compare Daniel 3:29; Daniel 4:1. The meaning here is, that no matter what language the component parts of the nations speak, the gospel will be conveyed to them, and in their own tongue they will learn the wonderful works of God. Compare Acts 2:8-11.
And people - The word used here - λαός laos - properly denotes a people considered as a mass, made up of smaller divisions - as an association of smaller bodies - or as a multitude of such bodies united together. It is distinguished from another word commonly applied to a people - δῆμος dēmos - for that is applied to a community of free citizens, considered as on a level, or without reference to any minor divisions or distinctions. The words used here would apply to an army, considered as made up of regiments, battalions, or tribes; to a mass-meeting, made up of societies of different trades or professions; to a nation, made up of different associated communities, etc. It denotes a larger body of people than the previous words; and the idea is, that no matter of what people or nation, considered as made up of such separate portions, one may be, he will not be excluded from the blessings of redemption. The sense would be well expressed, by saying, for instance, that there will be found there those of the Gaelic race, the Celtic, the Anglo-Saxon, the Mongolian, the African, etc.
And nation - Εθνους Ethnous. A word of still larger signification; the people in a still wider sense; a people or nation considered as distinct from all others. The word would embrace all who come under one sovereignty or rule; as, for example, the British nation, however many rumor tribes there may be; however many different languages may be spoken; and however many separate people there may be - as the Anglo-Saxon, the Scottish, the Irish, the people of Hindustan, of Labrador, of New South Wales, etc. The words used here by John would together denote nations of every kind, great and small; and the sense is, that the blessings of redemption will be extended to all parts of the earth.
And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.And hast made us unto our God kings and priests - See the notes on Revelation 1:6.
And we shall reign on the earth - The redeemed, of whom we are the representatives. The idea clearly is, in accordance with what is so frequently said in the Scriptures, that the dominion on the earth will be given to the saints; that is, that there will be such a prevalence of true religion, and the redeemed will be so much in the ascendency, that the affairs of the nations will be in their hands. Righteous people will hold the offices; will fill places of trust and responsibility; will have a controlling voice in all that pertains to human affairs. See the notes on Daniel 7:27, and Revelation 20:1-6 notes. To such a prevalence of religion all things are tending; and to this, in all the disorder and sin which now exist, are we permitted to look forward. It is not said that this will be a reign under the Saviour in a literal kingdom on the earth; nor is it said that the saints will descend from heaven, and occupy thrones of power under Christ as a visible king. The simple affirmation is, that they will reign on the earth; and as this seems to be spoken in the name of the redeemed, all that is necessary to be understood is, that there will be such a prevalence of true religion on the earth that it will become a vast kingdom of holiness, and that, instead of being in the minority, the saints will everywhere have the ascendency.
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;And I beheld - And I looked again.
And I heard the voice of many angels - The inhabitants of heaven uniting with the representatives of the redeemed church in ascribing honor to the Lamb of God. The design is to show that there is universal sympathy and harmony in heaven, and that all worlds will unite in ascribing honor to the Lamb of God.
Round about the throne and the beasts and the elders - In a circle or area beyond what was occupied by the throne, the living creatures, and the elders. They occupied the center, as it appeared to John, and this innumerable company of angels surrounded them. The angels are represented here, as they are everywhere in the Scriptures, as taking a deep interest in all that pertains to the redemption of people, and it is not surprising that they are here described as uniting with the representatives of the church in rendering honor to the Lamb of God. Compare the notes on 1 Peter 1:12.
And the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand - 100 million - a general term to denote either a countless number, or an exceedingly great number. We are not to suppose that it is to be taken literally.
And thousands of thousands - Implying that the number before specified was not large enough to comprehend all. Besides the "ten thousand times ten thousand," there was a vast uncounted host which one could not attempt to enumerate. The language here would seem to be taken from Daniel 7:10; "Thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him." Compare Psalm 68:17; "The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels." See also Deuteronomy 33:2; 1 Kings 22:19.
Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain - See the notes on Revelation 5:2, Revelation 5:9. The idea here is, that the fact that he was slain, or was made a sacrifice for sin, was the ground or reason for what is here ascribed to him. Compare the notes on Revelation 5:5.
To receive power - Power or authority to rule over all things. Compare notes on Matthew 28:18. The meaning here is, that he was worthy that these things should be ascribed to him, or to be addressed and acknowledged as possessing them. A part of these things were his in virtue of his very nature - as wisdom, glory, riches; a part were conferred on him as the result of his work - as the mediatorial dominion over the universe, the honor resulting from his work, etc. In view of all that he was, and of all that he has done, he is here spoken of as "worthy" of all these things.
And riches - Abundance. That is, he is worthy that whatever contributes to honor, and glory, and happiness, should be conferred on him in abundance. Himself the original proprietor of all things, it is fit that he should be recognized as such; and having performed the work which he has, it is proper that whatever may be made to contribute to his honor should be regarded as his.
And wisdom - That he should be esteemed as eminently wise; that is, that as the result of the work which he has accomplished, he should be regarded as having ability to choose the best ends and the best means to accomplish them. The feeling here referred to is what arises from the contemplation of the work of salvation by the Redeemer, as a work eminently characterized by wisdom - wisdom manifested in meeting the evils of the fall; in honoring the law; in showing that mercy is consistent with justice; and in adapting the whole plan to the character and needs of man. If wisdom was anywhere demanded, it was in reconciling a lost world to God; if it has been anywhere displayed, it has been in the arrangements for that work, and in its execution by the Redeemer. See the notes on 1 Corinthians 1:24; compare Matthew 13:54; Luke 2:40, Luke 2:52; 1 Corinthians 1:20-21, 1 Corinthians 1:30; Ephesians 1:8; Ephesians 3:10.
And strength - Ability to accomplish his purposes. That is, it is meet that he should be regarded as having such ability. This strength or power was manifested in overcoming the great enemy of man; in his control of winds, and storms, and diseases, and devils; in triumphing over death; in saving his people.
And honor - He should be esteemed and treated with honor for what he has done.
And glory - This word refers to a higher ascription of praise than the word honor. Perhaps that might refer to the honor which we feel in our hearts; this to the expression of that by the language of praise.
And blessing - Everything which would express the desire that he might be happy, honored, and adored. To bless one is to desire that he may have happiness and prosperity; that he may be successful, respected, and honored. To bless God, or to ascribe blessing to him, is that state where the heart is full of love and gratitude, and where it desires that he may be everywhere honored, loved, and obeyed as he should be. The words here express the wish that the universe would ascribe to the Redeemer all honor, and that he might be everywhere loved and adored.
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 honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.And every creature which is in heaven - The meaning of this verse is, that all created things seemed to unite in rendering honor to Him who sat on the throne, and to the Lamb. in the previous verse a certain number - a vast host - of angels are designated as rendering praise as they stood round the area occupied by the throne, the elders, and the living creatures; here it is added that all who were in heaven united in this ascription of praise.
And on the earth - All the universe was heard by John ascribing praise to God. A voice was heard from the heavens, from all parts of the earth, from under the earth, and from the depths of the sea, as if the entire universe joined in the adoration. It is not necessary to press the language literally, and still less, is it necessary to understand by it, as Prof. Stuart does, that the angels who presided over the earth, over the under-world, and over the sea, are intended. It is evidently popular language; and the sense is, that John heard a universal ascription of praise. All worlds seemed to join in it; all the dwellers on the earth, and under the earth, and in the sea, partook of the spirit of heaven in rendering honor to the Redeemer.
And such as are in the sea - All that dwell in the ocean. In Psalm 148:7-10, "dragons, and all deeps; beasts, and all cattle; creeping things, and flying fowl," are called on to praise the Lord; and there is no more incongruity or impropriety in one description than in the other. In the Psalm, the universe is called on to render praise; in the passage before us it is described as actually doing it. The hills, the streams, the floods; the fowls of the air, the dwellers in the deep, and the beasts that roam over the earth; the songsters in the grove, and the insects that play in the sunbeam, in fact, declare the glory of their Creator; and it requires no very strong effort of the fancy to imagine the universe as sending up a constant voice of thanksgiving.
Blessing, and honour, ... - There is a slight change here from Revelation 5:12, but it is the same thing substantially. It is an ascription of all glory to God and to the Lamb.
And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever.And the four beasts said, Amen - The voice of universal praise came to them from abroad, and they accorded with it, and ascribed honor to God.
And the four and twenty elders fell down, ... - The living creatures and the elders began the work of praise Revelation 5:8, and it was proper that it should conclude with them; that is, they give the last and final response (Prof. Stuart). The whole universe, therefore, is sublimely represented as in a state of profound adoration, waiting for the developments to follow on the opening of the mysterious volume. All feel an interest in it; all feel that the secret is with God; all feel that there is but One who can open this volume; and all gather around, in the most reverential posture, awaiting the disclosure of the great mystery.
The truths taught in this chapter are the following:
(1) The knowledge of the future is with God, Revelation 5:1. It is as in a book held in his hand, fully written over, yet sealed with seven seals.
(2) it is impossible for man or angel to penetrate the future, Revelation 5:2-3. It seems to be a law of created being, that the ability to penetrate the future is placed beyond the reach of any of the faculties by which a creature is endowed. Of the past we have a record, and we can remember it; but no created being seems to have been formed with a power in reference to the future corresponding with that in reference to the past - with no faculty of foresight corresponding to memory.
(3) it is natural that the mind should be deeply affected by the fact that we cannot penetrate the future, Revelation 5:4. John wept in view of this; and how often is the mind borne down with heaviness in view of that fact! What things there are, there must be, in that future of interest to us! What changes there may be for us to experience; what trials to pass through; what happiness to enjoy; what scenes of glory to witness! What progress may we make in knowledge; what new friendships may we form; what new displays of the divine perfections may we witness! All our great interests are in the future - in what is to us now unknown. There is to be all the happiness which we are to enjoy, all the pain that we are to suffer; all that we hope, all that we fear. All the friends that we are to have are to be there; all the sorrows that we are to experience are to be there. Yet an impenetrable veil is set up to hide all that from our view. We cannot remove it; we cannot penetrate it. There it stands to mock all our efforts, and in all our attempts to look into the future we soon come to the barrier, and are repelled and driven back. Who has not felt his heart sad that he cannot look into what is to come?
(4) the power of laying open the future to mortals has been entrusted to the Redeemer, Revelation 5:5-7. It is a part of the work which was committed to him to make known to people as much as it was proper to be known. Hence, he is at once a prophet, and is the inspirer of the prophets. Hence, he came to teach people what is to be in the future pertaining to them, and hence he has caused to be recorded by the sacred writers all that is to be known of what is to come until it is slowly unfolded as events develop themselves. The Saviour alone takes the mysterious book and opens the seals; he only unrolls the volume and discloses to man what is to come.
(5) the fact that he does this is the foundation of joy and gratitude for the church, Revelation 5:8-10. It is impossible that the church should contemplate what the Saviour has revealed of the future without gratitude and joy; and how often, in times of persecution and trouble, has the church joyfully turned to the developments made by the Saviour of what is to be when the gospel shall spread over the world, and when truth and righteousness shall be triumphant.
(6) this fact is of interest to the angelic beings, and for them also it lays the foundation of praise, Revelation 5:11-12. This may arise from these causes:
(a) from the interest which they take in the church, and the happiness which they have from anything that increases its numbers or augments its joy:
(b) from the fact that in the disclosures of the future made by the Redeemer, there may be much that is new and of interest to them (compare notes on 1 Peter 1:12); and,
(c) from the fact that they cannot but rejoice in the revelations which are made of the final triumphs of truth in the universe.
(7) the universe at large has an interest in these disclosures, and the fact that they are to be made by the Redeemer lays the foundation for universal joy, Revelation 5:13-14. These events pertain to all worlds, and it is proper that all the inhabitants of the universe should join in the expressions of adoration and thanksgiving. The universe is one; and what affects one portion of it really pertains to every part of it. Angels and human beings have one and the same God and Father, and may unite in the same expressions of praise.