5:1 The right hand of God symbolizes power and authority. With writing on both sides echoes Ezk 2:9-10, where God showed the prophet a scroll with words written “on the front and back . . . of lamentation, mourning, and woe.” The scroll John saw foretold woe (8:13; 9:12; 11:14), but it also disclosed God’s perfect plan (symbolized by the seven seals) of judgment and the redemption of his creation, which will culminate in the end times. Because the outer edge of the scroll was sealed, the contents could be seen only when all seven seals were removed. Thus, as the seals are opened in chap. 6, what takes place is not the content of the entire scroll, but only those judgments that precede it being fully opened.
5:2-4 The apostle John was emotionally distraught because no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was found worthy to open the scroll and read the destiny of the world.
5:5-7 Speaking of Jesus as the Lion from the tribe of Judah echoes the messianic prophecy in Gn 49:9-10. Christ was able to open the scroll and its seven seals on the basis of an accomplished fact—his death on the cross like a slaughtered lamb (Is 53:7; Jn 1:29). On the four living creatures, see note at 4:6-7. On the elders, see note at 4:3-4. In the apocalyptic book of Daniel, horns stand for power and authority (Dn 7:8,20,24). On the seven spirits of God, see note at 1:4. God’s sending of the seven spirits immediately after the description of the redemptive work of the Lamb (5:6) may preview “the eternal gospel” being preached climactically to the entire world in 14:6-7. The Lamb taking the scroll out of the right hand of the Father signifies a transfer of authority, allowing the Lamb to fulfill the contents of the scroll (i.e., the judgments and other events of the rest of the Apocalypse). For a parallel account, see Dn 7:13-14.
5:8 Believers’ prayers are described as filling golden bowls before the throne of God. The gold emphasizes their reality and exceeding value to God. The word saints means “holy ones.” These are not elite and exceptional Christians. Instead, the NT uses this term for all believers in Christ (Rm 1:7).
5:9-10 The new song sung in heaven about Christ is inspired by his redemptive work, the shedding of his blood on the cross. The target group for redemption (described as every tribe . . . nation; cp. 7:9; 10:11; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6; 17:15, where the same terms are used in differing order) is the same group that is identified in the Great Commission: “all nations” (Mt 28:19). The reference to Christ’s shed blood and the phrase a kingdom and priests echo Rv 1:5-6 and may be partially fulfilled in heaven in 7:15. The promise that they will reign on the earth is fulfilled in 20:6.
5:11-14 On the living creatures, see note at 4:6-7. On the elders, see note at 4:3-4. This scene looks ahead to the time when “every knee will bow . . . and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Php 2:10-11).