A book sealed with seven seals, which could be opened by none but Christ, who took the book to open it. (1-7) Upon which all honour is ascribed to him, as worthy to open it. (8-14)
Verses 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.
Verses 8-14 It is matter of joy to all the world, to see that God deals with men in grace and mercy through the Redeemer. He governs the world, not merely as a Creator, but as our Saviour. The harps were instruments of praise; the vials were full of odours, or incense, which signify the prayers of the saints: prayer and praise should always go together. Christ has redeemed his people from the bondage of sin, guilt, and Satan. He has not only purchased liberty for them, but the highest honour and preferment; he made them kings and priests; kings, to rule over their own spirits, and to overcome the world, and the evil one; and he makes them priests; giving them access to himself, and liberty to offer up spiritual sacrifices. What words can more fully declare that Christ is, and ought to be worshipped, equally with the Father, by all creatures, to all eternity! Happy those who shall adore and praise in heaven, and who shall for ever bless the Lamb, who delivered and set them apart for himself by his blood. How worthy art thou, O God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, of our highest praises! All creatures should proclaim thy greatness, and adore thy majesty.
Revelation 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 Revelation 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 ( Revelation 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 Ephesians 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, Revelation 20:12 , "Another book was opened . . . the book of life"; Revelation 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 ( Revelation 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.
2. strong--( Psalms 103:20 ). His voice penetrated heaven, earth, and Hades ( Revelation 10:1-3 ).
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.
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.
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 ( Matthew 27:52 Matthew 27:53 ). 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--( Isaiah 11:1 Isaiah 11:10 ). 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, Matthew 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 ( Revelation 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.
6. I beheld, and, lo--One oldest manuscript, A, omits "and, lo." Another, B, CYPRIAN, etc,. support, "and, lo," but omit, "and I beheld."
in the midst of the throne--that is, not on the throne (compare Revelation 5:7 ), but in the midst of the company ( Revelation 4:4 ) which was "round about the throne."
Lamb--Greek, "arnion"; always found in Revelation exclusively, except in John 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 ( Isaiah 53:7 , Septuagint; John 1:29 John 1:36 , Acts 8:32 , 1 Peter 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, Revelation 17:3 ; &c. Daniel 7:7 Daniel 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.
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.
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 ( Revelation 8:3 ) with incense (compare Psalms 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 ( Revelation 19:10 , Revelation 22:8 Revelation 22:9 ). Their own employment is praise (whence they all have harps): ours is prayer.
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 ( Revelation 7:9 , 11:9 , 13:7 , the oldest reading; Revelation 14:6 ). Thus there is here marked the election-Church gathered from Jews and Gentiles. In Revelation 10:11 , for "tribes," we find among the four terms "kings"; in Revelation 17:15 , "multitudes."
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 ( Revelation 4:10 Revelation 4:11 ); though their priestly access has such dignity that their reigning on earth cannot exceed it. So in Revelation 20:6 they are not called "kings" [BENGEL].
we shall reign on the earth--This is a new feature added to Revelation 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 reigning on the earth now, they are "made as the filth of the world and the offscouring of all things." In Revelation 11:15 Revelation 11:18 , 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, Judges 9:8 , Matthew 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 Revelation 3:10 . "The elders were meek, but the flock of the meek independently is much larger" [BENGEL].
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."
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 Revelation 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].
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" ( Psalms 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.
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 Revelation 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 Revelation 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 Revelation 11:1 , "worship" is used absolutely.