Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
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.
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.
And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?
2. strong—(Ps 103:20). His voice penetrated heaven, earth, and Hades (Re 10:1-3).
And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon.
3. no man—Greek, "no one." Not merely no man, but also no one of any order of beings.
in earth—Greek, "upon the earth."
under the earth—namely, in Hades.
look thereon—to look upon the contents, so as to read them.
And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon.
4. and to read—inserted in English Version Greek text without good authority. One oldest manuscript, Origen, Cyprian, and Hilary omit the clause. "To read" would be awkward standing between "to open the book" and "to look thereon." John having been promised a revelation of "things which must be hereafter," weeps now at his earnest desire being apparently frustrated. He is a pattern to us to imitate, as an eager and teachable learner of the Apocalypse.
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.
5. one of—Greek, "one from among." The "elder" meant is, according to some (in Lyra), Matthew. With this accords the description here given of Christ, "the Lion, which is (so the Greek) of the tribe of Juda, the root of David"; the royal, David-descended, lion-aspect of Christ being that prominent in Matthew, whence the lion among the fourfold cherubim is commonly assigned to him. Gerhard in Bengel thought Jacob to be meant, being, doubtless, one of those who rose with Christ and ascended to heaven (Mt 27:52, 53). The elders in heaven round God's throne know better than John, still in the flesh, the far-reaching power of Christ.
Root of David—(Isa 11:1, 10). Not merely "a sucker come up from David's ancient root" (as Alford limits it), but also including the idea of His being Himself the root and origin of David: compare these two truths brought together, Mt 22:42-45. Hence He is called not merely Son of David, but also David. He is at once "the branch" of David, and "the root" of David, David's Son and David's Lord, the Lamb slain and therefore the Lion of Juda: about to reign over Israel, and thence over the whole earth.
prevailed—Greek, "conquered": absolutely, as elsewhere (Re 3:21): gained the victory: His past victory over all the powers of darkness entitles Him now to open the book.
to open—that is, so as to open. One oldest manuscript, B, reads, "He that openeth," that is, whose office it is to open, but the weight of oldest authorities is with English Version reading, namely, A, Vulgate, Coptic, and Origen.
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.
6. I beheld, and, lo—One oldest manuscript, A, omits "and, lo." Another, B, Cyprian, &c., support, "and, lo," but omit, "and I beheld."
in the midst of the throne—that is, not on the throne (compare Re 5:7), but in the midst of the company (Re 4:4) which was "round about the throne."
Lamb—Greek, "arnion"; always found in Revelation exclusively, except in Joh 21:15 alone: it expresses endearment, namely, the endearing relation in which Christ now stands to us, as the consequence of His previous relation as the sacrificial Lamb. So also our relation to Him: He the precious Lamb, we His dear lambs, one with Him. Bengel thinks there is in Greek, "arnion," the idea of taking the lead of the flock. Another object of the form Greek, "arnion," the Lamb, is to put Him in the more marked contrast to Greek, "therion," the Beast. Elsewhere Greek, "amnos," is found, applying to Him as the paschal, sacrificial Lamb (Isa 53:7, Septuagint; Joh 1:29, 36; Ac 8:32; 1Pe 1:19).
as it had been slain—bearing marks of His past death wounds. He was standing, though bearing the marks of one slain. In the midst of heavenly glory Christ crucified is still the prominent object.
seven horns—that is, perfect might, "seven" symbolizing perfection; "horns," might, in contrast to the horns of the Antichristian world powers, Re 17:3; &c.; Da 7:7, 20; 8:3.
seven eyes … the seven Spirits … sent forth—So one oldest manuscript, A. But B reads, "being sent forth." As the seven lamps before the throne represent the Spirit of God immanent in the Godhead, so the seven eyes of the Lamb represent the same sevenfold Spirit profluent from the incarnate Redeemer in His world-wide energy. The Greek for "sent forth," apostellomena, or else apestalmenoi, is akin to the term "apostle," reminding us of the Spirit-impelled labors of Christ's apostles and minister throughout the world: if the present tense be read, as seems best, the idea will be that of those labors continually going on unto the end. "Eyes" symbolize His all-watchful and wise providence for His Church, and against her foes.
And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne.
7. The book lay on the open hand of Him that sat on the throne for any to take who was found worthy [Alford]. The Lamb takes it from the Father in token of formal investiture into His universal and everlasting dominion as Son of man. This introductory vision thus presents before us, in summary, the consummation to which all the events in the seals, trumpets, and vials converge, namely, the setting up of Christ's kingdom visibly. Prophecy ever hurries to the grand crisis or end, and dwells on intermediate events only in their typical relation to, and representation of, the end.
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.
8. had taken—Greek, "took."
fell down before the Lamb—who shares worship and the throne with the Father.
harps—Two oldest manuscripts, A, B, Syriac and Coptic read, "a harp": a kind of guitar, played with the hand or a quill.
vials—"bowls" [Tregelles]; censers.
prayers of saints—as the angel offers their prayers (Re 8:3) with incense (compare Ps 141:2). This gives not the least sanction to Rome's dogma of our praying to saints. Though they be employed by God in some way unknown to us to present our prayers (nothing is said of their interceding for us), yet we are told to pray only to Him (Re 19:10; 22:8, 9). Their own employment is praise (whence they all have harps): ours is prayer.
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;
9. sung—Greek, "sing": it is their blessed occupation continually. The theme of redemption is ever new, ever suggesting fresh thoughts of praise, embodied in the "new song."
us to God—So manuscript B, Coptic, Vulgate, and Cyprian. But A omits "us": and Aleph reads instead, "to our God."
out of—the present election-church gathered out of the world, as distinguished from the peoples gathered to Christ as the subjects, not of an election, but of a general and world-wide conversion of all nations.
kindred … tongue … people … nation—The number four marks world-wide extension: the four quarters of the world. For "kindred," translate as Greek, "tribe." This term and "people" are usually restricted to Israel: "tongue and nation" to the Gentiles (Re 7:9; 11:9; 13:7, the oldest reading; Re 14:6). Thus there is here marked the election-Church gathered from Jews and Gentiles. In Re 10:11, for "tribes," we find among the four terms "kings"; in Re 17:15, "multitudes."
And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.
10. made us—A, B, Aleph, Vulgate, Syriac, and Coptic read, "them." The Hebrew construction of the third person for the first, has a graphic relation to the redeemed, and also has a more modest sound than us, priests [Bengel].
unto our God—So B and Aleph read. But A omits the clause.
kings—So B reads. But A, Aleph, Vulgate, Coptic, and Cyprian, read, "A kingdom." Aleph reads also "a priesthood" for priests. They who cast their crowns before the throne, do not call themselves kings in the sight of the great King (Re 4:10, 11); though their priestly access has such dignity that their reigning on earth cannot exceed it. So in Re 20:6 they are not called "kings" [Bengel].
we shall reign on the earth—This is a new feature added to Re 1:6. Aleph, Vulgate, and Coptic read, "They shall reign." A and B read, "They reign." Alford takes this reading and explains it of the Church EVEN NOW, in Christ her Head, reigning on the earth: "all things are being put under her feet, as under His; her kingly office and rank are asserted, even in the midst of persecution." But even if we read (I think the weightiest authority is against it), "They reign," still it is the prophetical present for the future: the seer being transported into the future when the full number of the redeemed (represented by the four living creatures) shall be complete and the visible kingdom begins. The saints do spiritually reign now; but certainly not as they shall when the prince of this world shall be bound (see on Re 20:2-6). So far from reigning on the earth now, they are "made as the filth of the world and the offscouring of all things." In Re 11:15, 18, the locality and time of the kingdom are marked. Kelly translates, "reign over the earth" (Greek, "epi tees gees"), which is justified by the Greek (Septuagint, Jud 9:8; Mt 2:22). The elders, though ruling over the earth, shall not necessarily (according to this passage) remain on the earth. But English Version is justified by Re 3:10. "The elders were meek, but the flock of the meek independently is much larger" [Bengel].
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;
11. I beheld—the angels: who form the outer circle, while the Church, the object of redemption, forms the inner circle nearest the throne. The heavenly hosts ranged around gaze with intense love and adoration at this crowning manifestation of God's love, wisdom, and power.
ten thousand times ten thousand—Greek, "myriads of myriads."
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.
12. to receive power—Greek, "the power." The remaining six (the whole being seven, the number for perfection and completeness) are all, as well as "power," ranged under the one Greek article, to mark that they form one complete aggregate belonging to God and His co-equal, the Lamb. Compare Re 7:12, where each of all seven has the article.
riches—both spiritual and earthly.
blessing—ascribed praise: the will on the creature's part, though unaccompanied by the power, to return blessing for blessing conferred [Alford].
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.
13. The universal chorus of creation, including the outermost circles as well as the inner (of saints and angels), winds up the doxology. The full accomplishment of this is to be when Christ takes His great power and reigns visibly.
every creature—"all His works in all places of His dominion" (Ps 103:22).
under the earth—the departed spirits in Hades.
such as are—So B and Vulgate. But A omits this.
in the sea—Greek, "upon the sea": the sea animals which are regarded as being on the surface [Alford].
all that are in them—So Vulgate reads. A omits "all (things)" here (Greek, "panta"), and reads, "I heard all (Greek, "pantas") saying": implying the harmonious concert of all in the four quarters of the universe.
Blessing, &c.—Greek, "the blessing, the honor, and the glory, and the might to the ages of the ages." The fourfold ascription indicates world-wide universality.
And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever.
14. said—So A, Vulgate, and Syriac read. But B and Coptic read, "(I heard) saying."
Amen—So A reads. But B reads, "the (accustomed) Amen." As in Re 4:11, the four and twenty elders asserted God's worthiness to receive the glory, as having created all things, so here the four living creatures ratify by their "Amen" the whole creation's ascription of the glory to Him.
four and twenty—omitted in the oldest manuscripts: Vulgate supports it.
him that liveth for ever and ever—omitted in all the manuscripts: inserted by commentators from Re 4:9. But there, where the thanksgiving is expressed, the words are appropriate; but here less so, as their worship is that of silent prostration. "Worshipped" (namely, God and the Lamb). So in Re 11:1, "worship" is used absolutely.