Expositor's Greek Testament
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.Revelation 5:1. The central idea of this sealed roll or doomsday book lying open on the divine hand (cf. Blau, Studien zur alt-heb. Buchwesen, 36 f., E. J. Goodspeed, Journ. Bibl. Lit. 1903, 70–74) is reproduced from Ezekiel (Revelation 2:9 f.) but independently developed in order to depict the truth that even these magnificent angelic figures of the divine court are unequal to the task of revelation. Jesus is needed. For God, a motionless, silent, majestic figure, does not come directly into touch with men either in revelation or in providence. He operates through his messiah, whose vicarious sacrifice throws all angels into the shade (cf. the thought of Php 2:5-11). For the ancient association of a many-horned Lamb with divination, cf. the fragmentary Egyptian text edited by Krall (Vom Kömg Bokhoris, Innsbrück, 1898) and the reference to Suidas (cited in my Hist. New Testament,2 p. 687). βιβλίον, which here (as in Revelation 1:11, Revelation 12:7-17) might mean “letter” or “epistle” (cf. Birt’s Ant. Buchwesen, 20, 21), apparently represents the book of doom or destiny as a papyrus-roll (i.e. an ὀπισθόγραφον, cf. Judges 1:6) which is so full of matter that the writing has flowed from the inside over to the exterior, as is evident when the sheet is rolled up. Here as elsewhere the pictorial details are not to be pressed; but we may visualise the conception by supposing that all the seals along the outer edge must be broken before the content of the roll can be unfolded, and that each heralds some penultimate disaster (Song of Solomon 4 Ezra 6:20). There is no proof that each seal meant a progressive disclosure of the contents, in which case we should have to imagine not a roll but a codex in book form, each seal securing one or two of the leaves (Spitta). Zahn (followed by Nestle, J. Weiss, and Bruston) improves upon this theory by taking ὄπ. with κατεσφρ. and thus eliminating any idea of the βιβλίον being ὀπισθόγραφον: it simply rests on (ἐπὶ) the right hand, as a book does, instead of being held ἐν the right hand, as a roll would be. But ἐπὶ τ. δ. is a characteristic irregularity of grammar; to describe a sealed book as “written within” is tautological; ἀνοῖξαι could be used of a roll as well as of a codex; and ἔσωθεν would probably have preceded γεγρ. had it been intended by itself to quality the participle. A Roman will, when written, had to be sealed seven times in order to anthenticate it, and some have argued (e.g. Hicks, Greek Philosophy and Roman Law in the N. T. 157, 158, Zahn, Selwyn, Kohler, J. Weiss) that this explains the symbolism here: the βιβλίον is the testament assuring the inheritance reserved by God for the saints. The coincidence is interesting. But the sacred number in this connexion does not require any extra-Semitic explanation and the horrors of the seal-visions are more appropriate to a book of Doom. Besides, the Apoc. offers no support otherwise to this interpretation, for the sole allusion to κληρονομεῖν is quite incidental (cf. on Revelation 21:7). The sealing is really a Danielic touch, added to denote the mystery and obscurity of the future (not of the past, En. lxxxix–xc). On the writer’s further use of the symbol of the book of Doom, cf. below on ch. 10, Revelation 11:16-19. The silence following the opening of the last seal certainly does not represent the contents of the book (= the promised Sabbath-rest, Zahn). This would be a jejune anti-climax. Possibly the cosmic tragedies that follow that seal are intended to be taken as the writing in question. The βιβλίον is therefore the divine course and counsel of providence in the latter days (ἡ πάνσοφος τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ ἀνεπίληπτος μνήμη, Areth.). Only, while an angel read all the divine policy to Daniel (Daniel 10:21), the Christian prophet feels that Jesus alone is the true interpreter and authority, and that the divine purpose can only be revealed or realised through his perfect spiritual equipment (Revelation 3:1, Revelation 5:6, cf. Revelation 1:5, Revelation 2:27, Revelation 3:21; Revelation 3:17; Revelation 3:14, etc.)
And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?Revelation 5:2. The καὶ after ἀνοῖξαι is either epexegetic or the mark of a hysteron proteron (cf. the awkward οὔτε βλέπειν of 3–4, unless look here means to look into the contents). The cry is a challenge rather than an appeal.
And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon.Revelation 5:3. ὑποκάτω, the under-world of departed spirits or of daemons. Not even angels ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ (cf. Mark 13:32) can discharge this function; their rôle in the Apocalypse is prominent but limited. Gunkel prefers to think of a magical background to the whole symbolism; the book defies the necromancy of the universe, but yields to the superior power of “the new god, the lord of the book”. For the mythological basis of the idea of an opened heavenly book cf. Winckler (Alt-orient. Forsch. ii. 386) and Brandis (Hermes, 1867, 283). The triple division of the universe was originally Babylonian but it had long ago become a popular religious idea, (cf. Php 2:10).
And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon.Revelation 5:4. A naïve expression of disappointment, the expectation of Revelation 4:1 being apparently thwarted. The sense of consolation and triumph is so strong in this book that no tears are shed in self-pity. The prophet only weeps at the apparent check to revelation.
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.Revelation 5:5. ἀνοῖξαι … σφραγῖδας, cf. Dittenberger’s Sylloge Inscr. Graec. 79047 (first century) τὰς σφ. ἀνοιξάτω. Christ’s success is due to his legitimate messianic authority as a Davidic scion (ῥίζα = shoot or sprout on main stem, cf. Sibyll. iii. 396); the Davidic descent of Jesus was a tenet of certain circles in primitive Christianity (Dalman i. § 12). Possibly there is an allusion to the original bearing of the O.T. passage:—Jesus irresistible and courageous, yet in origin humble. In 4 Esdr. 12:31, 32 the messiah’s rebuke to the Roman empire is thus described: leonem quem uidisti de silva euigilantem mugientem et loquentem ad aquilam et arguentem eam iniquitatis … hic est unctus, quern reseruauit altissimus in finem [dierum, qui dicitur ex semine David]. ῥάβδος, in sense of “shoot” occurs with ῥίζα in Isaiah 11:1 (cf. 10; Ezekiel 19:11-12; Ezekiel 19:14); hence the combination with the idea of “sceptre” (ἐνίκησεν, cf. Revelation 2:27) in a messianic connotation (cf. on Revelation 22:16). The enigma of the world’s history lies with Christ, to be solved and to be controlled. Jewish eschatology (En. xlvi. 3, xlix. 1) had already proclaimed the revealing power of messiah, who is “mighty in all the secrets of righteousness … and who reveals all the treasures of that which is hidden”. John claims that Jesus is the legitimate messiah, whose power to unfold God’s redeeming purpose rests upon his victorious inauguration of that purpose. The victory of Christ in Revelation 5:5 f. follows dramatically upon the allusion in Revelation 3:21, but it is to press the sequence too far when this scene is taken to represent his arrival in heaven “just after the accomplishment of his victory” (Briggs).
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.Revelation 5:6. Christ, crucified and risen, is in the centre. To him all things bow and sing. It is prosaic to attempt any local definition, as though the author had some architectural plan in his mind (ἐν μ. = “half-way up the throne,” or by repetition = “between,” cf. Genesis 1:7), or to wonder how so prominent a figure had hitherto escaped his notice. Plainly the ἀρνίον did not originally belong to the mise-en-scène of iv., though the symbol may have none the less had an astral origin (= Ram, in Persian zodiac). The prophet brilliantly suggests, what was a commonplace of early Christianity, that the royal authority of Jesus was due to his suffering for men, but the framework of the sketch is drawn from messianic dogmas which tended to make Christ here a figure rather than a personality.—ἀρνίον (like θηρίον, diminutive only in form) is not aries (so variously Havet and Selwyn, 204–208), nor substituted (Vischer, Rauch) for the “lion” of the original Jewish source, but probably applied (cf. Hort on 1 Peter 1:19) to Jesus from the messianic interpretation of Isaiah 16:1 or Isaiah 53:7, though the allusions elsewhere to the Exodus (Exodus 15:2 f.) and the Johannine predilection for the paschal Lamb suggest that the latter was also in the prophet’s mind. The collocation of lion and lamb is not harder than that of lion and root (Revelation 5:5), and such an editor as Vischer and others postulate would not have left “lion” in Revelation 5:5 unchanged. Christ is erect and living (cf. Revelation 14:1 and Abbott’s Joh. Vocabulary, 1725), ὡς ἐσφαγμένον (as could be seen from the wound on the throat), yet endowed with complete power (κέρατα, Oriental symbol of force, cf. reff. and the rams’ horns of the Egyptian sun-god) and knowledge. For ἀρνίον and ἀμνός, cf. Abbott, 210 f. In Enoch lxxxix. 44 f. (Gk.) David is ἄρνα prior to his coronation and Solomon “a little sheep” (i.e., a lamb).—ὀφθαλμοὺς κ.τ.λ., the function ascribed by Plutarch (de defectu orac. 13) to daemons as the spies and scouts of God on earth. The naïve symbolism is borrowed from the organisation of an ancient realm, whose ruler had to secure constant and accurate information regarding the various provinces under his control. News (as the Tel-el-Amarna correspondence vividly shows) was essential to an Oriental monarch. The representation of Osiris in Egyptian mythology consisted of an eye and a sceptre (cf. Revelation 2:27), denoting foresight and force (Plut. de Iside, 51), while the “eyes” and “ears” of a Parthian monarch were officials or officers who kept him informed of all that transpired throughout the country. Elsewhere the seven spirits are identified with seven torches, but John is more concerned to express from time to time his religious ideas than to preserve any homogeneity of symbolism (seven eyes similarly varied in Zech. cf. reff.). The inconsistency cannot, in a writing of this nature, be taken as evidence of interpolation or of divergent sources, though it may be an editorial gloss. An analogous idea underlies Plutarch’s explanation of the “travelling” power of Isis (Iside, 60), for which he adduces the old Greek etymology (= knowledge and movement, θεὸς from θέειν “to run”); and this etymology in turn (cf. Otto on Theoph. ad Autolyc. i. 4) reaches back to a star cultus.—N.B. In the Apoc. ἀρνίον, which is opposed to θηρίον and is always (except Revelation 13:11 f.) used of Jesus, denotes not only the atoning sacrificial aspect of Christ (Revelation 5:6; Revelation 5:9 f., 12, Revelation 12:11) but his triumphant power (horned) over outsiders (Revelation 17:14) and his own people (Revelation 7:16 f.). Neither the diminutive (cf. below, on Revelation 12:17) nor the associations of innocence and gentleness are to be pressed (cf. Spitta, Streitfragen der Gesch. Jesu, 1907, 173 f.). The term becomes almost semi-technical in the Apocalypse. As a pre-Christian symbol, it is quite obscure. The text and origin of the striking passage in Test. Ios. xix. do not permit much more than the inference that the leader there (a μόσχος) becomes an ἀμνός, who, supported by Judah the lion, ἐνίκησεν πάντα τὰ θηρία. The virginbirth is probably a Christian interpolation. No sure root for the symbolism has yet been found in astro-theology (Jeremiah 15 f.). For attempts to trace back the idea to Babylonian soil, cf. Hommel in Exp. Times, 14:106 f., Havet, 324 f., and Zimmern in Schrader, 597 f. One Babylonian text does mention the blood of the lamb as a sacrificial substitute for man, which is all the more significant as the texts of the cultus are almost wholly destitute of any allusion to the significance of the blood in sacrifice. But no influence of this on pre-Christian messianism, or of contemporary cults on this element of Christian symbolism, can be made out from the extant evidence. In any case, it would merely supply the form for expressing a reality of the Christian experience.
And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne.Revelation 5:7. A realistic symbol of the idea conveyed in John 3:35; John 12:49, etc.
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.Revelation 5:8. A thrill of satisfaction over Christ’s ability. “It is the manner of God thus to endear mercies to us, as he endeared a wife to Adam. He first brought all creatures to him, that he might first see that there was not a helpmeet for him among them” (Goodwin). John lays dramatic emphasis on Jesus only. ἐνωπ. τ. ἀ. (as before God himself, Revelation 19:4).—γ. θ., cf. Soph. Oed. Tyr. 4, πόλις δʼ ὁμοῦ μὲν θυμιαμάτων γέμει. An essential feature in the rites of Roman sacrifice was music played on tibicines; the patera, a shallow saucer or ladle with a long handle attached, was also employed to pour wine on the altar. Harps held by living creatures who had no hands but only wings, and the collocation of a harp played by a person who is at the same time holding a bowl, are traits which warn us against prosaically visualising such visions. Hirscht compares the adoration of Rameses II. before the sun-god, the monarch’s left hand holding his offering, his right grasping a sceptre and scourge. The fragrant smoke of incense rising from the hand of a worshipper or from an altar in the primitive cultus (cf. Ezekiel 8:2) to lose itself in upper air, became a natural symbol for prayer breathed from earth to heaven; see Philo’s τὸ καθαρώτατον τοῦ θύοντος, πνεῦμα λογικόν.—αἱ … ἁγίων, probably an editorial gloss like Revelation 19:8 b, suggested by the verbal parallel in Revelation 8:3 (so, e.g., Spitta, Völter, Briggs, Julicher, J. Weiss, Wellhausen, etc.). Contrast with this verse (and Revelation 5:4) the description of the enthusiastic seamen and passengers who “candidati, coronatique, et tura libantes,” praised and blessed Augustus in the bay of Puteoli as “He by whom we live, and sail secure, and enjoy our freedom and fortunes” (Suet. Vit. Aug. 98.)
The scene or stage of the apocalyptical drama is occupied by an angelic and heavenly chorus, who upon this solemn and glad occasion give their plaudite or acclamation of glory to the Lord, The future which God rules is revealed by him through Christ; and this moves enthusiastic gratitude, till the universe rings from side to side with praise.
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;Revelation 5:9. ᾠδὴν κ. followed (14) by ἀμήν, as in the worship of the church on earth (Colossians 3:16, 1 Corinthians 14:15-16). ᾄδουσιν (historic present) no longer to God as creator (Revelation 4:11) but to the Lamb as redeemer, for the cost and scope and issue of his redemption. This unique and remarkable passage in early Christian literature marks the growing sense and value attaching to Jesus as being far more than a mere national messiah, in fact as the one assurance of God possessed by men, as their pledge of bliss and privilege and pardon. And this is due to his redeeming function, upon which the relationship of men to God depends. It is a further stage of the Christian development when, as in Asc. Isa. ix. 27–32, the vision and praise of Jesus is followed by that of the Holy Spirit (ver 35, 36) and of God himself (ver 37–42). The prophet John’s “theology” is less advanced. Universal allegiance and homage paid not, as in the contemporary sense of the οἰκουμένη, to a Cæsar’s proud pretensions, but to the sacrifice of a Christ (see G. A. Smith, Hist. Geogr. 478, 479) is a new thing in the world. An undivided church, gathered from the divisions of humanity, is also a new and unexpected development, to which a foil is presented by the exclusiveness voiced at the annual Jewish paschal rite, and in the daily Shema-prayer (“For Thou hast chosen us from amongst all nations and tongues.… Blessed be the Lord that chose in love his people Israel”). For ἀγοράζειν (cf. note on Revelation 1:5) = the buying of slaves, cf. Dittenberger’s Orientis Gr. Inscript. Selectae, 33823.
And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.Revelation 5:10. An allusion not so much to the idea of Revelation 20:4, where the literal sway of the saints (= life eternal, in substance) is confined to a certain section of them, or to Revelation 22:5 (on the new earth, cf. Revelation 21:1), as to Revelation 2:26. Compare the primitive patristic notion, reflected, e.g., by Viet, on Revelation 1:15 : adorabimus in loco ubi steterunt pedes eius, quoniam ubi illi primum steterunt et ecclesiam confirmauerunt, i.e., in Judæa, ibi omnes sancti conuenturi sunt et dominum suum adoraturi. The whole verse sets aside implicitly such a Jewish pretension as of Philo, who (de Abrah. 19) hails Israel as the people ὅ μοι δοκεῖ τὴν ὑπὲρ παντὸς ἀνθρώπων γένους ἱερωσύνην καὶ προφητείαν λαχεῖν.
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;Revelation 5:11. This outer circle of myriads (the following χιλιάδες is an anti-climax) of angelic retainers—a favourite trait in the later Jewish pageants of heaven—does not address praise directly to the Lamb.
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.Revelation 5:12. For similar arrangements in Jewish doxologies, see Gfrörer, ii. 146–8; and, for ἰσχ. τιμ. δόξ. see Daniel 2:37 (LXX). τήν groups together the seven words of the panegyric; honour and glory and praise are due to one whose victorious death has won him the power of bestowing incalculable riches on his people and of unriddling the future, against all opposition (Weiss). The refrain of δύν. is heard in Revelation 11:17, and δόξα had been already associated with “wealth” and “power” (Ephesians 1:18 f.) or “wisdom” (2 Corinthians 3:7 f., Revelation 4:4, etc.) in Christ (contrast Isaiah 53:2 LXX). The act of taking the book (Revelation 5:7) suggests the general authority and prestige of the Lamb, which is acknowledged in this doxology. The order in 12, 13 is the same as in Psalm 103:20-22, where the angels are followed by creation in the worship. When God’s creatures and servants magnify, praise, and bless him, yielding themselves to his dominion, and acknowledging that to him all the strength and wealth and wisdom of life rightly belong, God is honoured. Christ was glorified by God (cf. Acts 3:13, Romans 6:4, John 17:1) at the resurrection, when God’s power raised him to eternal life; he is glorified by men in their homage and submission to him as the sole medium of redemption and revelation.
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.Revelation 5:13. From the whole creation a third doxology rises, catching up the last word (εὐλογίᾳ) of the preceding, and addressed—as in the primitive and distinctive confessions of early Christianity (e.g., John 17:3, 1 Timothy 2:5) to God and Jesus alike (Revelation 7:10). In this chorus of praise (Revelation 1:6), by a sweep of the poet’s imagination, even departed spirits and sea-monsters (ἐπὶ τ. θαλ., rather than seafaring men) join—“even all that is in” earth and sea and heaven (cf. the title of the sun in the Rosetta inscription of 196 B.C.’ μέγας βασιλεὺς τῶν τε ἄνω κ. τ. κάτω χωρῶν). Sacrifice is on the throne of the universe; by dying for men, Jesus has won the heart and confidence of the world. Thus the praise of God the creator (ch. 4) and the praise of Jesus the redeemer (ch. 5) blend in one final song, whose closing words indicate that the latter’s prestige was not confined to a passing phase of history. The crime for which the messiah dethrones the rulers (in Enoch xlvi.) is just “because they do not praise and extol him, nor thankfully acknowledge whence the kingdom was bestowed upon them, … because they do not extol the name of the Lord of Spirits”. In the papyrus of Ani (E. B. D. 3) Râ is worshipped by the gods “who dwell in the heights and who dwell in the depths”; whilst Isis and Osiris, as possessing supreme power, received honour “in the regions under the earth and in those above ground” (Plut. de Iside, 27). Compare the fine rabbinic saying of Rabbi Pinchas and R. Jochanan on Psalm 100:2 : “though all offerings cease in the future, the offering of praise alone shall not cease; though all prayers cease, thanksgiving alone shall not cease”.
And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever.Revelation 5:14. The prologue is brought to a splendid close by “amen” from the four ζῷα, who have the last as they had the first word (Revelation 4:8), followed by silent adoration from the πρεσβύτεροι. As in the liturgical practice of early Christian assemblies, so in the celestial court, the solemn chant of praise to God is succeeded by the “amen” (“ad similitudinem tonitrui … amen reboat,” Jerome); , Areth., etc. Alf., bring this out by reading here τὸ Ἀμήν. By prefacing the struggle on earth (Revelation 5:6 f.) with a vision of the brilliant authority and awe of heaven (Revelation 5:4-5), the prophet suggests that all the movements of men on earth, as well as the physical catastrophes which overtake them, are first fore-shadowed in heaven (the underlying principle of astrology, cf. Jeremias, 84 f.) and consequently have a providential meaning. In 4., 5. the writer takes his readers behind the scenes; the whole succeeding tide of events is shown to flow from the will of God as creator of the universe, whose executive authority is delegated to Jesus the redeemer of his people. This tide breaks in two cycles of seven waves, the seventh (Revelation 8:1) of the first series (Revelation 6:1 to Revelation 7:17) issuing in a fresh cycle (Revelation 8:2 to Revelation 11:19) instead of forming itself (as we should expect) the climax of these preliminary catastrophes in nature and humanity, disasters which were interpreted (R. J. 237–239) as the premonitory outbursts of an angry deity ready to visit the earth with final punishment. Observe that throughout the Apocalypse wind and fire are among God’s scourges handled by angels in order to punish the earth and the waters, according to the conception preserved in Apol. Arist. 2: “Moreover, the wind is obedient to God, and fire to the angels; the waters also to the daemons, and earth to the sons of men” (Ante-Nicene Library, ix. 257 f.). The visitation is divinely complete, sevenfold like Ezekiel’s oracles against the nations (ver 25–32). Revelation 6-9 has, for its staple, little more than a poetic elaboration of Mark 13:8 (Mark 13:24-25), international complications due to the scuffling and strife of peoples, and physical disasters as a fit setting for them.
 An eighth century version of Codex Vaticanus
The vision of the seven seals opened (Revelation 6:1 to Revelation 8:2): Revelation 6:1-2, a Parthian invasion.