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Revelation Chapter 5

Introduction

I see Revelation chapter 5 as an important chapter in Revelation because it answers one of the two most important questions within Revelation - "Who is worthy to open the book?" And the answer directs us to the One alone who is found worthy - our Savior. To truly understand why He is worthy and what He is asking of and offering to His people will be a great help to them and the work they are to do in the last days. I see chapter 4 as a scene describing an activity of recording in heaven whereas chapter 5 begins a process of judgment.

Him That Sat on the Throne

"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." (Rev 5:1)

The "him that on the throne" is the Father Himself, the Almighty God of the universe. The throne is, I believe, the throne described as the table of showbread in the holy place of the heavenly sanctuary. Before it is the sea of glass and the candlestick. In the Old Testament sanctuary 2 stacks of loaves of showbread (with six loaves in each stack) were placed on it. The showbread was also known as the bread of the presence representing the Father and His Son.

Notice these two verses:

"And upon the table of shewbread they shall spread a cloth of blue, and put thereon the dishes, and the spoons, and the bowls, and covers to cover withal: and the continual bread shall be thereon:" (Num 4:7)
"And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness." (Exo 24:10)

The table of shewbread was covered with a cloth of blue and those who "saw the God of Israel" saw a sapphire (blue) material under the throne.

How Was the Book Sealed?

The book was likely a scroll likely of papyrus. A codex or book bound together at the edges was not developed until the second century. However, this book is in heaven not on earth so we can't be certain.

"Seven seals" could indicate that it is perfectly sealed or it may have other meanings. There are different understandings of what these seals are and how they are applied to the book. If it is one long scroll rolled up and the seven seals are holding it closed you wouldn't be able to view the contents inside unless all 7 seals were removed. It could be that scrolls were rolled one around another each having its own seal. The description of the unsealing gives a clue:

"And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see." (Rev 6:1)

Why say "come and see" unless when only the first seal is removed some contents are then revealed? Here is a note about the number of seals:

"The practice of sealing documents with more than one seal was widespread throughout the ancient Near East in John's day. Archeologists have brought to light many documents sealed with two to seven or more seals. For instance, Roman law dictated that a will or testament had to be sealed with a minimum of seven seals of witnesses in order to render its contents valid...The same Roman legal system, however, also required that some other documents, including contracts and birth registers, be certified by the signatures of seven witnesses." (Revelation of Jesus Christ: Commentary of the Book of Revelation by Ranko Stefanovic, 2002, Andrews University Press)

There is another, totally different understanding of the meaning of the seals which also makes sense. (And, as we have noted in this study of Revelation, there can be more than one meaning to a passage.) In this understanding, the scroll is a marriage contract between Christ and His bride ("the marriage supper of the Lamb" - Rev 19:9) which, similar to the above quote, required seven signatures to validate it. The Hebrew word for this is a "ketubah" which will be described on a separate page.

While, we cannot be certain of the structure of the scroll, we can study what is revealed to us about the contents. First of all the problem seems to be finding someone to open it.

Who is Worthy to Open the Book?

"And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?" (Rev 5:2)

This is not a question of ability or strength to open a book but of finding one who is qualified but of victory and moral worth. As the One who is finally found to open the book is described we will learn more of His qualifications. The proclamation with "a loud voice" will draw attention to the One Who is found worthy or able to loose the seals.

"And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon." (Rev 5:3)

The word "man" is not in the original. It is translated from Greek word "oudeis" (Strong's #3762) which is a combination of the words "oude" (Strong's # 3761, translated in the AV as: neither 69, nor 31, not 10, no not 8, not so much as 2, then not 1) and "heis" (Strong's # 1520, translated in the AV as: one 229, a 9, other 6, some 6)

So "no man" does not mean necessarily "no man" as in a human but no being including angels or anyone else present. This will emphasize the very unique qualifications of the One who finally is found.

"And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon." (Rev 5:4)

What is going on here? Why did John weep much? There must have been something of great importance about the contents of that book. John must have known at least what the book was about. You don't "weep much" over trivial, unimportant matters. This was something very important even to John himself. He wanted to know the details of the contents of the book.

What is it about this book and its contents? It relates to the redemption of this earth and who is able and willing to solve the controversy and rescue this earth and its people. It actually relates back to the Old Testament theme of the kinsman/redeemer.

Here Comes the Lamb

"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." (Rev 5:5)

"The Lion of the tribe of Judah" is a term used to describe Jesus who was descended from the tribe of Judah:

"For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda ..." (Heb 7:14)

Judah is described as a lion:

"Judah is a lion's whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up?" (Gen 49:9)

"The Root of David" (or, better "shoot of David") refers to Jesus as a descendent of David. Jesus is often called the "son of David"

"And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: ... And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious." (Isa 11:1,10)

Jesus "hath prevailed" not "is able to" or "has the power to" or "is willing to." The "hath prevailed" suggests it is because He has prevailed over some challenge and been victorious. It is not a question of physical strength or Satan would not stand a chance. It is an issue of trust among all of God's subjects.

"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." (Rev 5:6)

John, when He was told to behold, looked for this lion and instead saw a lamb. He was not to look for a physical, literal lion but to see One who had certain qualities resembling those of a lion. But this One also, and more importantly, had the qualities of a lamb. The Lamb appeared in the midst of the throne - it was the center of attention.

The Lamb was described as having some rather strange features. Seven horns could represent the possession of perfect or all or complete power. Seven eyes could represent perfect wisdom or knowledge. Similarly, "seven Spirits of God" could represent the perfection or completeness of God's spirit. We know that God and He has one Spirit:

"For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father." (Eph 2:18)
"There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;" (Eph 4:4)

Revelation 5:6 need not be seen as a contradiction. Jesus is not a Lamb nor does He literally have seven horns or seven eyes. These are all symbolic, descriptive terms that make particular points. The Spirit of God can be manifested in different ways or be represented in a variety of ways as in this verse:

"And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD;" (Isa 11:2)
"And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne." (Rev 5:7)

In this verse, it is Jesus who is taking the book from the Father. The Father is the ultimate source of all. That is reflected in the opening verse of Revelation:

"The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John:" (Rev 1:1)

Jesus "came" from somewhere to the Father. Remember, He was not there in the scene described in earlier in the chapter. Where He came from is unspecified.

Worship for the Lamb

"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." (Rev 5:8)

"Harps" are really lyres which are like a small hand-held harp. "Vials" are bowls or saucers. "Golden" shows the high regard of heaven for the prayers of the saints. We will look more at the prayers of the saints in later chapters which are centered on the altar of incense.

"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;" (Rev 5:9)

It is the four beasts and the 24 elders who are singing this song. Is the song new because someone just wrote the words and composed the music for it or is it new because it is a song about something that is new, something that has not been seen before? The term "new song" also appears in Rev 14:3 where it is sung by the 144,000.

"And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth." (Rev 14:3)

Another song in Revelation appears in chapter 15:

"And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints." (Rev 15:3)

The Lamb is declared to be worthy because of what He had done to secure redemption. In Revelation 4:11, the 24 elders said He was worthy because of His work of creating all things.

Kings and Priests

"And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth." (Rev 5:10)

See a separate file for more discussion of the meaning of kings and priests.

Some suggest that the "us" of verse 9 should be translated as "men" and that the "us" and "we" in verse 10 should be "them" and "they" respectively, suggesting that "the four beasts and four and twenty elders" were not the ones that were "redeemed" but that they are speaking of others. This is done in many versions; here are a few examples:

"And they sing a new song, saying, Worthy art thou to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou was slain, and didst purchase unto God with thy blood men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, and madest them to be unto our God a kingdom and priests; and they reign upon earth. (Rev 5:9-10, ASV)
And their voices are sounding in a new song, saying, It is right for you to take the book and to make it open: for you were put to death and have made an offering to God of your blood for men of every tribe, and language, and people, and nation, And have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they are ruling on the earth. (Rev 5:9-10, BBE)
Then they sang a new song, "You are worthy to receive the scroll and open its seals, because you were killed. And with your own blood you bought for God people from every tribe, language, nation, and race. You let them become kings and serve God as priests, and they will rule on earth." (Rev 5:9-10, CEV)
"and they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy art thou to take the scroll and to open its seals, for thou wast slain and by thy blood didst ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, 10 and hast made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on earth." (Rev 5:9-10, NIV)

The Aramaic English New Testament, curiously, retains the "us" of verse 9 yet uses the "them" and "they" in verse 10:

"And they sang a new song, saying: 'Worthy are you, to take the book, and to open the seals; because you were slain and have redeemed us to Elohim by your blood, out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation; and you have made them kings and priests to our Elohim; and they shall reign on the earth." (Rev 5:9-10, Aramaic English New Testament)

Of course, a mere 28 individuals could not have come from "every tribe and tongue and people and nation." There would have to be many more of them than that.

When will they "reign on earth"? Not until after the millennium. They will reign with Him in heaven for the millennium (Rev 20:4) and, in Revelation 22:5, we are told "the saints shall reign forever and ever." This would be on the new earth after its recreation.

All Are Praising the Lamb

"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;" (Rev 5:11)

The angels are here mentioned separately from the beasts and elders. The expression "ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands" may be a way of saying an innumerable number. We do know that 10,000 x 10,000 = 100,000,000 or 100 million and there are even more than that.

"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." (Rev 5:12)

The focus of the chapter is really on the worthiness of the Lamb. The question is asked "Who is worthy to open the book?" The fact that no one else was found worthy points to His uniqueness in this regard. And, it is not that others in heaven are bad or defective in some way, it is just that only the Lamb has prevailed in terms of demonstrating His worthiness through His self-sacrificing love. This worthiness is the admiration of heaven. This is certainly a fulfillment of:

"And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted." (Matt 23:12)

To say someone is worthy is, in a sense, to worship them. Worship is simply an acknowledgement of the worth of someone or something. The Lamb has exhibited His wonderful, self-sacrificing character in His willingness to give His life for us.

"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13)

The Lamb received seven things from the Father:

1. power <1411, dunamis, from which we get dynamite>

"And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power <1849, exousia> is given unto me in heaven and in earth." (Matt 28:18)

2. riches - to be passed on to God's people

"But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." (Phil 4:9)

3. wisdom

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him." (Jam 1:5)
"In whom (Christ) are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." (Col 2:3)

4. strength

"Their Redeemer is strong; the LORD of hosts is his name: he shall throughly plead their cause, that he may give rest to the land, and disquiet the inhabitants of Babylon." (Jer 50:34)

Christ receives to give:

"I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." (Phil 4:13)

5. honour

"Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen." (1 Tim 1:17)

6. glory

"And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was." (John 17:5)

7. blessing

"Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God." (Matt 5:8)
"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." (Rev 5:13)

According to ancient cosmology, "in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth" was an expression for the entire universe.

Notice that four of the seven items mentioned in the previous verse are repeated: blessing, honour, glory and power. The praise goes to both the Father and the Son who together have provided salvation for fallen man.

"And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever." (Rev 5:14)
The "amen" is similar to how a congregation might use it today to affirm or agree with something another speaks.  

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