Revelation 5:1
And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(1) And I saw in the right hand . . .—Better, And I saw on (not “in;” the roll lay on the open palm of the hand) the right hand of Him that sitteth upon the throne a book written within and behind, fast sealed with seven seals. The book is, of course, in the form of a roll; it lies on the open hand of the Throned One; it was not His will that the book should be kept from any. It is written, not on the inside only, as was the usual way, but, like the roll of the book which Ezekiel saw (Ezekiel 2:9-10), it was written within and without. Some have thought that there are two divisions of predictions —those written within the roll, and those written on the outer side. This is merely fanciful; the passage in Ezekiel which supplies a guidance to the meaning might have shown the erroneousness of the thought. Clearly the “lamentation and mourning and woe” inscribed all over Ezekiel’s roll indicate the filling up of sorrows: here the same overflowing writing indicates the completeness of the contents; there was no room for addition to that which was written therein. But what is meant by the book? Numberless interpretations have been offered: it is the Old Testament; it is the whole Bible; it is the title-deed of man’s inheritance; it is the book containing the sentence of judgment on the foes of the faith; it is the Apocalypse; it is part of the Apocalypse; it is the book of God’s purposes and providence. There is a truth underlying most of these interpretations, but most of them narrow the force of the vision. If we say it is the book which unfolds the principles of God’s government—in a wide sense, the book of salvation (comp. Romans 16:25-26)— the interpretation of life, which Christ alone can bestow (see Revelation 5:3-6), we shall include, probably, the practical truths which underlie each of these interpretations; for all—Old Testament and New, man’s heritage and destiny, God’s purposes and providence— are dark, till He who is the Light unfolds those truths which shed a light on all. Such a book becomes one “which contains and interprets human history,” and claims the kingdoms of the earth for God. The aim of all literature has been said by a distinguished critic to be little more than the criticism of life; the book which Christ unfolds is the key to the true meaning of life. The roll is not the Apocalypse so much as the book of those truths which are exemplified in the Apocalypse, as in a vast chamber of imagery. The roll was fast sealed, so that even those who were wise and learned enough to read it had it been unrolled could not do so (See Isaiah 29:11.) There are things which are hidden from the wise and prudent, but revealed unto babes.

Revelation 5:1. And I saw — (This is a continuation of the same vision;) in the right hand of him that sat on the throne — The emblem of his all-ruling power; a book — Which he held openly, in order to give it to him that was worthy and able to make known its contents. Future events are supposed by St. John, as well as by Daniel, and other prophets, in a beautiful figure, to be registered in a book for the greater certainty of them. This book is here represented as being in the right hand of God, to signify that, as he alone directs the affairs of futurity, so he alone is able to reveal them. It is hardly needful (after what was observed on Revelation 4:2) to say that there is not in heaven any real book, of parchment or paper, or that Christ does not really stand there, in the shape of a lion or of a lamb. Neither is there on earth any monstrous beast with seven heads and ten horns. But as there is upon earth something which, in its kind, answers to such a representation; so there are in heaven divine counsels and transactions answerable to these figurative expressions. Writings serve to inform us of distant and of future things. And hence things which are yet to come, are figuratively said to be written in God’s book. The book here spoken of, through the abundance of the matter, is said to be written within and without, or on the back side — As the roll of the book which was spread before Ezekiel (Ezekiel 2:10) was written within and without. This book was also sealed, to signify that the counsels of God are inscrutable; and to be sealed with seven seals, referring to so many signal periods of prophecy. In short, we should consider this book as being such a one as the ancients used, whose books were not like ours, but volumes, or long pieces of parchment, rolled upon a stick, as we frequently roll silks. Such was this volume or roll, consisting of seven volumes all sealed. Not as if the apostle saw all the seals at once, there being seven volumes wrapped up one within another, each of which was sealed: so that upon opening and unrolling the first, the contents only of one volume were laid open, and the second appeared to be sealed up till that was opened, and so on to the seventh. All the contents of this book are included and exhibited in the following chapters. The seals, successively opened, show the state of the church under the heathen Roman emperors, and predict the judgments coming on that empire, (which had so cruelly persecuted the Christians,) and the events whereby it should be brought to the profession of Christianity. By the trumpets, contained under the seventh seal, the kingdoms of this world are shaken, that they may at length become the kingdom of Christ. By the vials, (under the seventh trumpet,) the power of the beast, and whatsoever is connected with it, is broken. This sum of all we should have continually before our eyes. It was all represented to St. John, at Patmos, in one day, by way of vision; but the accomplishment of it extends from that time throughout all ages.5:1-7 The apostle saw in the hand of Him that sat upon the throne, a roll of parchments in the form usual in those times, and sealed with seven seals. This represented the secret purposes of God about to be revealed. The designs and methods of Divine Providence, toward the church and the world, are stated, fixed, and made a matter of record. The counsels of God are altogether hidden from the eye and understanding of the creature. The several parts are not unsealed and opened at once, but after each other, till the whole mystery of God's counsel and conduct is finished in the world. The creatures cannot open it, nor read it; the Lord only can do so. Those who see most of God, are most desirous to see more; and those who have seen his glory, desire to know his will. But even good men may be too eager and hasty to look into the mysteries of the Divine conduct. Such desires, if not soon answered, turn to grief and sorrow. If John wept much because he could not look into the book of God's decrees, what reason have many to shed floods of tears for their ignorance of the gospel of Christ! of that on which everlasting salvation depends! We need not weep that we cannot foresee future events respecting ourselves in this world; the eager expectation of future prospects, or the foresight of future calamities, would alike unfit us for present duties and conflicts, or render our prosperous days distressing. Yet we may desire to learn, from the promises and prophecies of Scripture, what will be the final event to believers and to the church; and the Incarnate Son has prevailed, that we should learn all that we need to know. Christ stands as Mediator between God and both ministers and people. He is called a Lion, but he appears as a Lamb slain. He appears with the marks of his sufferings, to show that he pleads for us in heaven, in virtue of his satisfaction. He appears as a Lamb, having seven horns and seven eyes; perfect power to execute all the will of God, and perfect wisdom to understand it, and to do it in the most effectual manner. The Father put the book of his eternal counsels into the hand of Christ, and Christ readily and gladly took it into his hand; for he delights to make known the will of his Father; and the Holy Spirit is given by him to reveal the truth and will of God.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:

(a) to denote the Pentateuch, or the Mosaic law, Hebrews 9:19; Hebrews 10:7;

(b) the book of life, Revelation 17:8; Revelation 20:12; Revelation 21:27;

(c) epistles which were also rolled up, Revelation 1:11;

(d) documents, as a bill of divorce, Matthew 19:7; Mark 10:4.

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.

CHAPTER 5

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.Revelation 5:1-3 The book sealed with seven seals, which no man is

worthy to open.

Revelation 5:4,5 John weeping thereat is comforted.

Revelation 5:6,7 The Lamb that was slain taketh the book to open it.

Revelation 5:8-10 The beasts and the elders praise him that had redeemed

them with his blood.

Revelation 5:11-14 The angels join with them in ascribing glory to God

and to the Lamb.

Chapter Introduction

The same vision yet proceedeth. Hitherto John had only seen a throne, with a person sitting upon it in a very glorious habit and appearance, twenty-four grave persons, and four living creatures, in the shape of a lion, a calf, a man, and an eagle, each of them with six wings, and full of eyes, about the throne; and heard the twenty-four living creatures constantly giving glory to God, and the twenty-four elders harmonizing with them, and joining likewise in the high praises of God. Now the vision proceedeth.

The disputes what this

book was are very idle; for it was certainly the book of which we read hereafter, that it was opened, and to which the seven seals mentioned in the following chapters were annexed, of the opening of all which we read; and this could be no other than codex fatidicus, ( as Mr. Mede calls it), the book of the counsels, decrees, and purposes of God relating to his church, as to what more remarkable things should happen to it to the end of the world; which book was in the hand of the Father.

Written within, and on the back-side; very full of matter, so as it was written on all sides.

Sealed with seven seals; hitherto concealed from the world, and to be revealed by parts, as to the bringing to pass of those things decreed in it; though all at once by God here revealed, in a degree, by visions unto John.

And I saw on the right hand of him that sat on the throne,.... Of this throne, and who it was that sat upon it; see Gill on Revelation 4:2; and who had "in" his right hand, or "at", or "upon" his right hand, as the Syriac and Arabic versions render it, lying by, or near his right hand; though according to Revelation 5:7, the book appears to have been in his right hand, as our version, and others render it:

a book written within, and on the backside, sealed with seven seals: this book was very much like Ezekiel's roll, Ezekiel 2:9; which was written , "within" and "without", before and behind, and indeed it was in the form of a roll: the manner of writings in those times was on sheets of parchment, which, when finished, were rolled up in the form of a cylinder; hence a book is called a "volume". This book seems to have consisted of seven rolls, to which was annexed seven seals; and there being not room enough within, contrary to the common way of writing, some things were written upon the backside of the outermost roll; and such writings were by the ancients called "Opistographi": and the word is used by them sometimes for very prolix writings (b). By this book some understand the Scriptures of the Old Testament, which were written in rolls; see Hebrews 10:5; and which came out of the right hand of God, and were given forth by him; and being written within, and on the backside, may denote the fulness of them, they containing a variety of matter, useful and profitable, for different purposes; or else the literal and mystical, or spiritual meaning of some parts of them: or, as others think, the more clear explanation of the books of the Old Testament, by those of the New Testament; and its being sealed may signify the authenticity of those writings, having the seal of God's truth, and the impress of his wisdom, power, and goodness on them; and also the hidden sense and meaning of them, they being, especially in the prophetic and spiritual part of them, a sealed book to natural men, and of which Christ is the truest and best interpreter; but then this book was opened, and looked into, and read, and, in some measure, understood, even by the Old Testament saints, and had been before this time expounded by Christ, concerning himself; yea, he had opened the understandings of his disciples to understand those Scriptures, and had counted them, and others, worthy to open and explain this book to others, and had sent them into all the world for this purpose; and for the same reasons it cannot be understood of the Gospel published to Jews and Gentiles, the one within, and the other without; rather therefore the book of God's decrees is here meant, which respects all creatures, and all occurrences and events in the whole world, from the beginning to the end of time; and so Ezekiel's roll, according to the Targum on Ezekiel 2:10; which was written before and behind, signified that which was , "from the beginning", and which , "shall be in the end", or hereafter. This book God holds "in his right hand", as the rule and measure of all he does, and of the government of the world, and which he constantly fulfils and executes; and its being written "within and without" may denote the perfection and comprehensiveness of it, it reaching to all creatures and things, even the most minute; and its being "sealed" shows the certainty of its fulfilment, and the secrecy and hiddenness of it, until accomplished; though it seems best of all to understand it of that part of God's decrees relating to the church and world, particularly the Roman empire, which from henceforward, to the end of time, was to be fulfilled; and so is no other than the book of the Revelation itself, exhibited in the following scenes and visions; and this may be truly said to be in the right hand of God, and from thence taken by the Lamb, it being the revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, Revelation 1:1; and may be said to be written, both "within and on the backside", to show that it contains a large account of things, a long train of events to be accomplished; as also to signify, that it regards the church, and the members of it, who are those that are within, in the several ages of time, and the world, or those that are without; for this book prophecy regards both the state of the Roman empire, and of the Christian church; and its being "sealed" shows the authenticity, certainty, and also the obscurity of what was contained therein; and with "seven" seals, with respect to the seven periods of time, in which the prophecies in it are to be fulfilled.

(b) Vid. Alex. ab Alex. Genial. Dier. l. 2. c. 30. & Salmuth in Panciroll. rer. Memorab. par. 1. tit. 42. p. 145.

And {1} I saw in the {2} right hand of him that sat on the throne {3} a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals.

(1) A passing to the second principal cause, which is the Son of God, God and man, the mediator of all, as the eternal word of God the Father, manifest in the flesh. This chapter has two parts: one that prepares the way to the revelation, by rehearsal of the occasions that occurred in the first four verses Re 5:2-5. Another, the history of the revelation of Christ, from there to the end of the chapter Re 5:6-14.

(2) That is, in the very right hand of God.

(3) Here are shown the occasions for which the principal cause, and this revelation was also necessary: the same are three, the first a present vision of the book of the counsels of God, concerning the government of this whole world, which book is said to be laid up with the Father as it were in his hand: but shut up and unknown to all creature, in this verse. The second is a religious desire of the angels of God to understand the mysteries of this book 1Pe 1:12, Re 5:2. The third is a lamentation of John and all the godly, moved by the same desire Re 5:4 when they saw that it was an impossible thing for any creature to do: which is declared in Re 5:3.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Revelation 5:1. ἐπὶ τὴν δεξιὰν designates not that the book lies “on the right side of the Enthroned One,” and therefore on the throne, as Ebrard thinks, who lays stress upon the fact as to how this peaceful, apparently useless, lying is consistent with its being closed; for this idea, which is of course in itself, and according to the wording, possible, is in conflict with Revelation 5:7, as there the ἐκ τῆς δεξιᾶς, κ.τ.λ., because of its express reference to the ἐπὶ τὴν δεξιὰν, Revelation 5:1, does not well admit of the intermediate supposition that the Enthroned One has first taken the book into his right hand. But of course ἐπὶ τὴν δεξ. does not directly mean, “in the right hand,”[1840] for which no appeal can be made to Revelation 17:8, Revelation 20:1 : on the contrary, the correct idea is derived especially from Revelation 20:1, that the Enthroned One holds the book on his (open) hand, offering it, and likewise waiting whether any one will be found worthy to take and open it.[1841]

The βιβλίον thus visible (καὶ εἶδον) according to its exterior, even to John, is to be regarded, undoubtedly, a מְנִלָּהִ as in Ezekiel 2:9 sq., a book-roll,[1842] which form alone is adapted to its present holy use. Like the book of Ezekiel, this was also an ὀπισθόγραφον,[1843] viz., written not only ἔσωθεν, i.e., within, on the surface turned inwardly about the staff, but also ὄπισθεν,[1844] i.e., on the side turned outwards in unrolling, the ordinarily unwritten side of the parchment. Thus the exceedingly rich contents of the book are indicated, completely comprising[1845] the Divine decrees concerning the future (ἃ δεῖ γενέσθαι, Revelation 4:1); while the sevenfold sealing[1846] shows that these Divine decrees are a deep, hidden mystery, which can be beheld only by an ἀποκάλυψις whose mediator is only the Lamb, since it is his part to open the seals.[1847]

The idea of the book in which the decrees of the Divine government appear written occurs already in Psalm 139:16; cf. also Exodus 32:32; Revelation 3:5; Revelation 20:12. It is only by awkward conjectures that the opinion is obtained, that the βιβλίον is the O. T.[1848] or the entire Holy Scriptures,—possibly the N. T. within, and the O. T. without.[1849] Incorrect also is Wetstein: “The book of divorce from God, written against the Jewish nation, is represented,”—a view contradicting every feature both of the more immediate and more remote context. Inapplicable also Schöttgen, with whom Hengstenb. agrees: “The book contains the sentence designed against the enemies of the Church.” It is true that this passage, considered by itself, does not yet permit us to recognize the contents and meaning of the book in its details;[1850] yet it must be explained here partially from the meaning of chs. 4 and 5, partly from the organism of the entire Apocalypse from ch. 6, and partly from the meaning of Revelation 8:1, that the book sealed with seven seals could have contained not only what is written from Revelation 6:1 to Revelation 8:1, called by Hengstenb. the group of seals,[1851] because Hengstenb. incorrectly affirms that in the entire scene, chs. 4 and 5., nothing else than judgments upon enemies is to be expected, as such are to be represented in the completely closed group of seals in Revelation 8:1. Rather the appearance of the enthroned God, and the entire scene, chs. 4, 5, afford the guaranty that not only enemies are judged, but also friends are blessed, just as both necessarily belong together. To this the consideration must be added, that, according to the clear plan of the Apoc. itself, the so-called group of seals is by no means closed with Revelation 8:1,[1852] nor even with Revelation 11:19,[1853] since from the seventh seal a further development proceeds to the end of the Apoc.,[1854] so that the contents of the seventh seal are presented completely only at the end of the book; consequently the contents of this book comprised in seven seals, which is opened by the Lamb, appear to be repeated in the succeeding Apoc. from ch. 6 on,[1855] as John himself[1856] has proclaimed his entire prophetic writing as a revelation communicated to him through Christ. The plain speech, Revelation 1:1 and Revelation 4:1, clearly makes known the essential significance in ch. 5

It has been found difficult to assign a place in the book-roll to the seven seals. Grot. (who altogether preposterously combines the καὶ ὄπισθεν with κατεσφραγ.), Vitr., Wolf,[1857] were of the opinion that the entire book consisted of seven leaves, each with a seal; C. a Lap., De Wette, etc., thought that attached to the book as rolled up were a number of strings, and on them the seven seals were fastened, so that thus each seal could be opened seven times, and the part of the book that had been closed by the same could be read, but at the same time the seals outwardly attached to the volume were visible to John. But all these artificial hypotheses are unnecessary; and the most natural idea, that the seals fastened the end of the leaves rolled about the staff, and thus hindered the unrolling or opening of the book, is without difficulty, provided it be only considered that it does not belong at all to the opening of the seals that a part of the book be unrolled and read, but rather that—according to the incomparably more forcible and better view—the contents of the book come forth from the loosed seal portrayed in plastic symbols. The revelation concerning the future, described in the book of God, is given to the prophet, as he gazes, in significative images which represent the contents of the book; but there is no reading from the book to him. This mode of presentation, so completely harmonizing with the artistic energy of the writer of the Apoc., has been misunderstood especially by De Wette, as he attempts to explain the circumstance that none other than the Lamb, i.e., Christ, can open the book, by affirming that “with the opening of the book of fate, a sort of fulfilment is combined,” viz., the preparatory carrying out of the Divine decrees in heavenly outlines, as held by the rabbins.[1858] The subject at the loosing of the seals, and the opening of the book, is nothing else than a revelation that is to be given John.[1859]

[1840] Vulg., N. de Lyra, Luther, Vitr.; cf. also Hengstenb.

[1841] Beng. Cf. also De Wette.

[1842] E. Huschke (Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln in d. Off., Leipz. u. Dresd., 1860) understands a document folded together, and sealed outwardly in the Roman way by seven witnesses, concerning the O. and N. T. covenant of God with man. But this strange statement is elaborated in its details neither without great artificialness nor many exegetical errors. Ewald and others have declared themselves against it.

[1843] Lucian, Vit. Auction. 9; Plin., L. III., Ephesians 5.

[1844] A tergo, “on the back,” Juv., Sat. I. 6. In aversa charta, “on the turned leaf,” Mart. viii. 22.

[1845] Cf. De Wette, Stern, etc.

[1846] Cf. Revelation 10:4, Revelation 22:10; Isaiah 29:11; Daniel 12:4; Daniel 12:9.

[1847] Cf. Revelation 1:1.

[1848] Victorin.

[1849] Primas, Beda, Zeger.

[1850] Ebrard.

[1851] Alcas. considers in the same sense the section chs. 6–11.

[1852] Hengstenb.

[1853] Alcas.

[1854] Cf. Introduction, sec. 1.

[1855] Cf. N. de Lyra, C. a Lap., Beng., De Wette, Klief., etc.

[1856] Revelation 1:1.

[1857] Cf. also Ew.

[1858] Maimonid., More Nevoch., ii. Revelation 6 : “God does nothing until he has seen it in the family above,” in Wetst. on Revelation 4:1.

[1859] Cf. also Hengstenb., Ebrard.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.)The Book with Seven Seals. Chap. 5 Revelation 5:1-81. in the right hand] Lit. on the right hand—lying on the open palm.

a book] i.e. a roll: the ordinary meaning for the equivalent words in all ancient literature, though books arranged in leaves like ours were not unknown.

written within and on the backside] So Ezekiel 2:10. It was a recognised but quite exceptional way of getting an unusual amount of matter into a single volume: such rolls were called opisthographi. See Juv. i. 6, where he complains of an interminable poem, “written till the margin at the top of the book is full, and on the back, and not finished yet.” If we are to ask, how St John saw that it was thus written, it may be said that he saw that there was writing on the part outside, between the seals, and took for granted that this implied that the side folded inwards was full of writing too. But perhaps this is too minute: St John saw the book now, and learnt (either now or afterwards) how it was written.

sealed] See Isaiah 29:11; Daniel 12:4.

The traditional view, so far as there is one, of this sealed book is, that it represents the Old Testament, or more generally the prophecies of Scripture, which are only made intelligible by their fulfilment in Christ. But Christ’s fulfilment of prophecy was, in St John’s time, to a great extent past: and he was told (Revelation 4:1) that what he was now to see was concerned with the future. Many post-Reformation commentators, both Romanist and Protestant, have supposed the Book to be the Apocalypse itself: some supposing, by a further refinement, that the seven seals were so arranged that, when each was opened, a few lines of the Book could be unrolled, viz. those describing what was seen after its opening: while the opening of the last would enable the whole roll to be spread out. But of this there is not the smallest evidence in the Apocalypse itself: nor do we ever find the Prophets of Scripture representing, as Mahomet did, that their writings are copies of an original archetype in Heaven. Most modern commentators therefore generalise, and suppose that it is the Book of God’s counsels. Some insist on the fact that though the seals are all broken, “no portion of the roll is actually unfolded, nor is anything read out of the book:” they suppose it to stand for the complete counsel of God, which will not become intelligible till it has all been fulfilled, not therefore before the end of time. But this Book tells us what is to happen until all has been fulfilled, until time has ended: and why then do we not hear of the opening of the Book, even if it be not for us yet to know what is written therein? And to this we may answer, we are told, Revelation 20:12, of the opening of a very important Book, the Book of Life; and that Book belongs to the Lamb that was slain, Revelation 13:8, Revelation 21:27. Is not then this Book the same as that? so that the opening of it will be “the manifestation of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19).Revelation 5:1. Βιβλίον, a book) There were not seven books, but there was one only, sealed with seven seals.—ἔσωθεν καὶ ἔξωθεν) So Ezekiel 2:10 : κεφαλὶς βιβλίουκαὶ ἦν ἐν αὐτῇ γεγραμμένα τὰ ἔμπροσθεν καὶ τὰ ὄπισθεν. And it is possible that the copyists may have introduced into this passage ὄπισθεν for ἔξωθεν, either from ch. Revelation 4:6, or from the passage just quoted from Ezekiel. Ἔμπροσθεν and ὄπισθεν are opposed to each other, as are ἔσωθεν and ἔξωθεν. But since in Ezekiel the expression is פנים ואחור, ἔσωθεν καὶ ὄπισθεν is defended from the Hebraism. The Philocalia of Orige[63]

[64] has ὄπισθεν by itself.—σφραγῖσιν ἑπτὰ, with seven seals) This prophecy abounds with instances of the number seven, of which four are most copiously described: the seven angels of the churches; the seven seals of the sealed book; the seven angels with trumpets; the seven angels with vials. The churches are a model, to which the Universal Church of all climes and ages, together with its teachers and pastors, ought to be conformed. The seals represent all power in earth and in heaven, given to the Lamb. By the trumpets the kingdom of the world is violently shaken, so that it at last becomes the kingdom of the Lord and of His Christ. By the vials the beast is crushed, and whatever is connected with it. We ought always to keep before our eyes this Summary. Thus the whole of the Apocalypse runs on in its own natural order. The division of these sevens into IV. and III. will be explained below. The hypothesis of VII. periods of the Church, represented not only by VII. churches, but also by VII. seals, VII. trumpets, VII. vials—other groups of seven in the Old and New Testament being drawn out to the same hypothesis,—has greatly enervated the Theology of many, especially that which is exegetical.

[63] rigen (born about 186 A.D., died 253 A.D., a Greek father: two-thirds of the N. Test. are quoted in his writings). Ed. Vinc. Delarue, Paris. 1733, 1740, 1759.

[64] And the sainted author exhibited that (reading) also in Vers. Germ. of the New Testament.—E. B.

A Syr. and some MSS. of Origen have ὄπισθεν; B, ἔξωθεν; Vulg. “foris.”—E.Verse 1. - And I saw. As in Revelation 4:1, this phrase introduces a new incident in the vision. That which had been witnessed remained, but a further development now takes place. Revelation 4. relates the revelation of the glory of the Triune God (see on Revelation 4:2) surrounded by his Church and creation. The glory of Jesus Christ, the Lamb, is now set forth, since he is the only One worthy to receive and declare to his Church the mystery contained in the sealed book. In the right hand; upon the right hand (ἐπί). That is, lying upon the hand, as it was extended in the act of offering the book to any one who should be able to open and read it. Of him that sat on the throne. The Triune God (see on Revelation 4:2). A book written within and on the back side. In Ezekiel 2:9, 10 the "roll of a book" is "written within and without;" another of the numerous traces in the Revelation of the influence of the writings of this prophet upon the writer of the Apocalypse, though the picture of the Lamb, which follows in this chapter, imparts a new feature peculiar to St. John's vision. The roll was inscribed on both sides. Mention is made of such a roll by Pliny, JuVenal, Lucian, Martial, though Grotius connects ὄπισθεν, "on the back," with κατεσφραγισμένον, "sealed," thus rendering, "written within and sealed on the back." The fulness of the book, and the guard of seven seals which are opened in succession, denote completeness of revelation (on the number seven as denoting full completion, see on Revelation 1:4). This book contained the whole of "the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 13:11). It is noteworthy that - so far as we can gather from the Revelation - the book is never read. The breaking of each seal is accompanied by its own peculiar phenomena, which appear to indicate the nature of the contents. And the opening of the seventh seal especially is attended by a compound series of events; but nowhere are we explicitly informed of the contents of the book. Alford well remarks, "Not its contents, but the gradual steps of access to it, are represented by these visions." This view seems to be held also by Schleiermacher. Dusterdieck considers that the roll is never read, though the incidents attending the opening of each seal portray a portion of the contents. Wordsworth and Elliott understand that, as each seal is broken, a part of the roll is unrolled and its contents rendered visible; and these contents are symbolically set forth by the events which then take place. According to this view, the whole is a prophecy extending to the end of the world. The popular idea is that the roll was sealed along the edge with seven seals, all visible at the same time. If, as each seal was broken, a portion of the roll could be unfolded, of course only one seal - the outermost - could be visible. This is not, however, inconsistent with St. John's assertion that there were seven seals - a fact which he might state from his knowledge gained by witnessing the opening of the seven in succession. The truth seems to lie midway between these views. We must remember that the Revelation was vouchsafed to the Church as an encouragement to her members to persevere under much suffering and tribulation, and as a support to their faith, lest they should succumb to the temptation of despair, and, unable to fathom the eternal purposes of God, should doubt his truth or his ability to aid them. But we are nowhere led to believe that it was the intention of God to reveal all things to man, even under the cloak of symbolism or allegory. There is much which must necessarily be withheld until after the end of all earthly things; and, just as no mortal can possibly know the "new name" (Revelation 3:12), so no one on earth can receive perfect knowledge of the "mysteries of the kingdom of heaven," which were symbolically contained in the book, and which, through the intervention of the Lamb, may one day be published; though a portion - sufficient for the time - was shadowed forth, at the opening of the seals; which portion, indeed, could never have been given to us except through the Lamb. We understand, therefore, that the book is symbolical of the whole of the mysteries of God; that, as a whole, the contents of the book are not, nor indeed can be, revealed to us while on earth; but that some small but sufficient portion of these mysteries are made known to us by the power of Christ, who will eventually make all things clear hereafter, when we shall know even as we are known (1 Corinthians 13:12). The events attending the opening of the seals are therefore a prophecy of the relations of the Church and the world to the end of time. Many opinions have been held as to the antitype of the book. Victorinus thinks it to be the Old Testament, the meaning of which Christ was the first to unlock. And Bede and others consider that the writing within signified the New Testament, and that on the back, the Old. Todd and De Burgh think the roll denotes the office of our Lord, by virtue of which he will judge the world. Sealed with seven seals; sealed down with seven seals; close sealed (Revised Version). Grotius connects ὄπισθεν, "behind," with κατεσφραγισμένον, "sealed down," thus reading, "written within and sealed down on the back." In (ἐπί)

Lit., on. The book or roll lay upon the open hand.

A Book (βιβλίον)

See on Matthew 19:7; see on Mark 10:4; see on Luke 4:17. Compare Ezekiel 2:9; Jeremiah 36:2; Zechariah 5:1, Zechariah 5:2.

Within and on the back side (ἔσωθεν καὶ ὄπισθεν)

Compare Ezekiel 2:10. Indicating the completeness of the divine counsels contained in the book. Rolls written on both sides were called opistographi. Pliny the younger says that his uncle, the elder Pliny, left him an hundred and sixty commentaries, most minutely written, and written on the back, by which this number is multiplied. Juvenal, inveighing against the poetasters who are declaiming their rubbish on all sides, says: "Shall that one then have recited to me his comedies, and this his elegies with impunity? Shall huge 'Telephus' with impunity have consumed a whole day; or - with the margin to the end of the book already filled - 'Orestes,' written on the very back, and yet not concluded?" (i., 3-6).

Sealed (κατεσφραγισμένον)

Only here in the New Testament. The preposition κατά denotes sealed down. So Rev., close sealed. The roll is wound round a staff and fastened down to it with the seven seals. The unrolling of the parchment is nowhere indicated in the vision. Commentators have puzzled themselves to explain the arrangement of the seals, so as to admit of the unrolling of a portion with the opening of each seal. Dsterdieck remarks that, With an incomparably more beautiful and powerful representation, the contents of the roll are successively symbolized by the vision which follows upon the opening of each seal. "The contents of the book leap forth in plastic symbols from the loosened seal." Milligan explains the seven seals as one seal, comparing the seven churches and the seven spirits as signifying one church and one spirit, and doubts if the number seven has here any mystical meaning. Others, as Alford, claim that the completeness of the divine purposes is indicated by the perfect number seven.

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