The Scroll and the Lamb, 1-14
Rev 5:1 Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals.
Him who sat on the throne – God himself.
A scroll – Perhaps we should think of this scroll as God’s master-plan of the world’s destiny. It has ‘writing on both sides’: scrolls were usually written on one side only, but this one was crowded with writing, reminding us that God has ‘the whole world in his hand’ – not only the great turning-points of history, but also the (apparently) unsignificant details too, Mt 10:29ff.
Caird’s view has much to commend it. He concludes that the scroll contains ‘God’s redemptive plan, foreshadowed in the Old Testament, by which he means to assert his sovereignty over a sinful world and so achieve the purpose of his creation.’
But God’s plan of redemption is inseparable from his purposes of judgement, for the vindication of his people must necessarily entail the overthrow of his enemies. Consequently, the latter will feature strongly in the actual opening of the seals. See Eze 2:9-10.
The seven seals suggest the unchangeableness of God’s decrees, and their secrecy. Cf. Isa 29:11.
Rev 5:2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?”
A challenge is issued to all, far and near. It is a very great challenge, for the opening of the scroll signifies, not only the revelation of God’s plan, but also it execution.
Rev 5:3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it.
‘No angel in heaven, no saintly man on earth, no prophet in the realm of the departed was sufficient for this’ (Morris)
Rev 5:4 I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.
He might well weep, if no one could be found to execute God’s blue-print of the world’s history.
Rev 5:5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
One of the elders – One of the high-ranking angels mentioned in the previous chapter.
A worthy one has been found: he is described in terms which immediately suggest the Messiah, promised long ago, Gen 9:9f; Isa 11:1-10. See also Rev 22:16.
Jesus, the Messiah, has ‘conquered’. He has won a victory. Even during his earthly ministry he said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven,” Lk 10:18. And in anticipation of his own death he exclaimed, “Now is the judgement of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out,” Jn 12:31. According to Paul, one great achievement of Christ’s death was that ‘He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public spectacle of them,’ Col 2:15.
In his death on the cross, then, Christ has wrought a victory of cosmic proportions. It is this victory which gives him authority, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals. Christ has both the right and the ability to rule the universe in accordance with the Father’s plan.
A worthy one has been found. He is described in terms which immediately suggest that the Messiah, promised so long ago in the OT, has now come, and his rule has begun, Gen 9:9-10 Isa 11:1-10 Rev 22:16.
“The Lion of the tribe of Judah” – An allusion to Jacob’s blessing on Judah, Gen 49:9-10.
“The Root of David” – A reference to Isa 11:1, which speaks of the coming of the future Davidic king who will usher in an era of peace and righteousness.
Jesus, the Messiah, has triumphed. He has won a victory. Even during his earthly ministry, he “saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven,” Lk 10:18. And in anticipation of his own death, he exclaimed, Jn 12:31 “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.” According to Paul, one great achievement of Christ’s death was that he (Col 2:15) ‘disarmed the powers and authorities, making public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.’
In his death on the cross, then, Christ has wrought a victory of cosmic proportions. It is this victory which gives him authority to open the scroll. Christ is the key to history, and to the meaning of history.
Rev 5:6 Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.
I saw a Lamb – What a shock! John may have expected to see a majestic lion, but instead he sees a lamb. The word arnion is a diminutive, in contrast to the usual amnos. The lamb was living, but had all the marks of having died. The Lamb is, of course, Christ, seen in his role as a God-given sacrifice for sin. Jesus is referred to some 28 times in this book as a Lamb (compared with ‘Jesus Christ’ seven times, and ‘Christ’ four times). As the Lamb, he manifests wrath and metes out judgement, Rev 6:16; 14:10; 17:14. But the Lamb is particularly seen in Revelation as the focus of worship. ‘Standing in the control centre of the universe, worshipers rejoice in the salvation he has won for them, Rev 7:9-19; 15:3, look to him for protection and guidance, Rev 7:17 14:4, keenly anticipate his wedding supper as he is joined for ever to his bride, the church, Rev 19:7-9, and confidently predict his future reign at the centre of the new creation, 21:1-22:6.’ (Tidball, The Message of the Cross, 306f). See Ex 12:1-13; Isa 53:7; Jn 1:29; 1 Pet 1:18-19.
Looking as if it had been slain – The picture is one of weakness and vulnerability, as opposed to strength and virility. It is not even on its way to being slaughtered – its appearance is as if it had already been killed. But note, Jesus’ very right to rule in God’s kingdom is based on the fact that he suffered and was slain, Php 2:5-11.
The amazing truth is that Jesus has the right to rule in God’s kingdom, and this right is based on the fact that he suffered and was slain, Phil 2:5-11.
Standing in the centre of the throne – Right in the middle of the scene. The Lamb has the appearance of having been killed, but is standing in the place of majesty. ‘The slain Lamb is the risen Lord.’ (Beasley-Murray) And ‘he is the central figure on whom all attention is focused, to whom all eyes look and for whom all voices are raised in adoration. He is encircled by the heavenly choir as the footballer who scores the winning goal is encircled by his team-mates in celebration, and as jubilant soldiers shows their victorious general with praise.’ (Tidball)
‘As the vision of Revelation unfolds, and the drama of judgement is played out until God reigns omnipotent in his holy grace, it is this Lamb who is key to it all. His person and his activity decide the course of history as it marches from the old age to the new era, and beyond it to the consummation of all things. It is he who defeats all who stand in opposition to God. He is the one who has put into effect God’s great plan of redemption and who, now enthroned in heaven, will ensure that it comes to completion.’ (Tidball)
Encircled by the four living creatures and the elders – The four living creatures are described in Rev 4:6-8. They seem to represent all that is noble, powerful, wise, and lofty in creation.
He had seven horns and seven eyes – The Lamb is further described in terms which baffle the imagination, and yet are deeply instructive. In his lion-like greatness, his seven horns and seven eyes represent his power and wisdom, 1 Cor 1:24. The horn is a symbol of power, and it is just this quality which Jesus claimed for himself, Mt 28:18; Jn 17:2.
There is another reference to the sevenfold Spirit of God; the very close association of the Spirit with Jesus here should not surprise us, for did not our Lord virtually identify himself with the Spirit in at least one place, Jn 14:18 (where “I will come to you”seems to refer to the coming of the Holy Spirit”). Cf. also Gal 4:6, which refers to the Holy Spirit as ‘the Spirit of Jesus’.
Now, the Spirit of Jesus has been sent out into all the earth. If we ask, ‘When was he sent?’, then our minds immediately turn to Pentecost, Acts 2:33.
The OT contains a twofold messianic hope: a victorious conqueror, and a suffering servant. Here, in the image of the Lion who is a Lamb, the two are combined. Thus, ‘whenever the Old Testament speaks of the victory of the Messiah or the overthrow of the enemies of God, we are to remember that the gospel recognises no other way of achieving these ends than the way of the Cross.’ (Caird)
Rev 5:7 he came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne.
He came and took the scroll – The Father delights to give Christ the commission to carry out his secret counsels; the Son delights to do it. This is just another view of that great moment when God Eph 1:20ff ‘raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion.’
Rev 5:8 And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
They fell down before the Lamb – See also v12. They are confident and joyful, but humble and reverent.
It is implied that the Lamb has now taken his place at the right hand of God. And the terms of the worship here offered to the Lamb further imply his full divinity (cf. Rev 4:10f).
Harp = symbolic of praise.
Incense is, of course, symbolic of prayer, as in Ps 141:2; Lk 1:9-10.
It is a wonderfully sublime thought that the prayers of God’s people here on earth, afflicted as they are by weaknesses within and perils without, are nevertheless taken up by those who are nearest the throne and mingled with their praises. Their prayers may be despised on earth, but they are precious in heaven.
In the present context – the revelation and execution of God’s eternal plan – we may suppose that the prayer which is especially in mind here is (Mt 6:10) ‘your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’
Rev 5:9 And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
And they sang a new song – In the OT, a ‘new song’ was often sung at times of great triumph and rejoicing, Ps 40:3; Isa 42:10. This ‘new song’ contrasts with the song in Rev 4:11. There, the theme was the sovereignty of God in creation. Here, they rejoice in the redemption which the Lamb has achieved. See 1 Cor 6:19-20; Gal 4:4-5.
According to Morris, the word translated ‘new’ (‘kainos’) signifies ‘fresh’, rather than ‘recent’. ‘It is concerned with quality rather than date.’
“…because you were slain” – Everything here focuses on the Lamb’s death and what flows from it. ‘That is what qualifies him for the role and permits him to set in train the events on earth that will culminate in the new creation. His once-for-all death on the cross has repercussions for world history which are still unfolding today, both in the theatre of our Planet Earth and behind the scenes in the heavenlies too.’ (Tidball)
“With your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” – This is the language of ransom, of redemption. See Acts 20:28; 1 Cor 6:19-20; 1 Pet 1:18-19. John’s emphasis here is on God’s ownership of the people who have been thus purchased. ‘The blood of Christ, shed on the cross, not only set them free but purchased them for God. Therefore it is not for Satan to act as if he owns them and can do what he likes with them. Nor is it for them to choose whom they will serve. They belong irrevocably to one master, from whom they gain protection and receive a destiny, and whom, consequently, they should serve with unquestioning obedience.’ (Tidball)
…from every tribe… – Salvation is not the exclusive possession of a select elite; nor will those who are saved be pitifully few either in number or in type. Representatives of all races, languages and social classes will receive eternal life because of the merits of the Lamb of God. ‘The new eschatological people of God have burst out of the narrow nationalism of Israel and foreshadow his universal reign.’ (Tidball)
Rev 5:10 “you have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”
“…to be a kingdom and priests” – The idea of God’s kingdom is, of course, a recurring one in Scripture. Unlike earthly kingdoms, it is not so much a geographical realm so much as it is God’s kingly rule manifested in the lives of his people, Lk 17:21. A priest is primarily one who has full and immediate access to God. It should be noted that this is not the prerogative of a few, but the blessed privilege of all true believers. In other words, the NT teaches the ‘priesthood of all believers’. See Eph 2:18; Heb 10:19.
‘Two ordinary words describing political entities – “kingdom” and “nation” – were transformed by the way they were qualified. The kingdom was to be populated by priests, and the nation was to be holy.’ (Tidball)
‘John does not think of Christ as having withdrawn from the scene of his earthly victory, to return only at the Parousia. In and through his faithful followers he continues to exercise both hs royal and priestly functions.’ (Caird)
“to serve our God” – The word ‘serve’ is supplied in this and some other translations (e.g. NIV).
“and they will reign on the earth” – These words recall Daniel’s vision, Dan 7:18. See also Mt 5:5; Lk 22:28ff. The glorious life to come is often described in ‘heavenly’ terms, Php 3:20; 2 Tim 4:18; Heb 11:16. However, the earth itself has a continuing part to play in the future of the redeemed. The earth, after all, is a part of God’s creation, and there is promised a new earth as well as a new heaven, Rev 21:1. Man was originally created to have dominion over the earth, Gen 1:26ff, and he will at last realise this potential by reigning on earth. (See Hughes, 82f)
‘As so often in Revelation, they are celebrating not the current but the ultimate reality.’ (Tidball)
Rev 5:11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders.
The voice of many angels – On angels’ worship, see Ne 9:6; Lk 2:14; Heb 1:6.
Angels would appear to be myriad in number. Jesus said that he could call on his Father, who would put at his disposal more than twelve legions of angels, Mt 26:53. A legion could comprise between 36,000 – 72,000. In Rev 5:11, the number of angels encircling God’s throne is ‘thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand’.
Rev 5:12 In a loud voice they sang: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”
We hesitate to analyse this overwhelming song of praise. We just pause to compare its elements with qualities of Christ which are testified elsewhere in the NT:-
- Power – 1 Cor 1:24. And this, though the cross suggests defeat.
- Wealth – Eph 3:8. And this, though the cross suggests poverty.
- Wisdom – Col 2:3. And this, though the cross suggests foolishness.
- Strength – 2 Thess 1:9. And this, though the cross suggests weakness.
- Honour – Heb 2:9. And this, though the cross suggest shame.
- Glory – Jn 1:14 17:5. And this, though the cross suggests disgrace.
- Praise – Mk 11:9. And this, though the cross suggests curse.
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain” – ‘What the evil powers of the universe and the unredeemed powers of the world viewed as a symbol of defeat, poverty, folly, weakness, shame, disgrace and cursing was transformed by the gracious action of God into an instrument of power, wealth, strength, honour, glory and blessing. And the focal point of it all, the slain Lamb, is worthy to receive our worship for ever and ever!’ (Tidball)
This list of attributes is subversive, because they are precisely the attributes Roman emperors claimed for themselves.
Rev 5:13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”
I heard every creature…singing… – It is fitting that the whole creation should return a song of praise to the Creator, Ps 19:1. But God’s work of redemption is as extensive as his work of creation: through the cross the whole universe will be reconciled to God, Rom 8. ‘The universality of Christ’s achievement calls for a universal response.’ (Mounce)
And if the creation sings silent but eloquent praise to God now while still under the curse which man’s sin brought upon it, Gen 3:17, how much more when the redemption which is in Christ Jesus reaches it consummation? See Rom 8:21; 2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1.
Notice again how the Lamb is mentioned in the same breath as him who sits on the throne – truly, he is very God of very God.
Rev 5:14 The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
The four living creatures said, “Amen” – Having resounded throughout all creation, the chorus of praise returns to those nearest the throne of God, from whose lips it began, Rev 4:11.