Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/Revelation/Chapter 5
Only the Lamb Is Found Worthy to Open the Book of Judgment
- 1And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book with writing inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals.
Commentary: The "book" is actually a scroll with seven messages, each separated by a seal that has to be broken. It is interesting to note that the author took the time to indicate in which hand the scroll was held. Most readers of the Bible are familiar with Jesus sitting at the right hand of God, indicating Jesus' elevated and honored status. By extension, the fact that the scroll is described as being held in the right hand of God is a clear indication of the scroll's importance and value.
The next piece of information readers are given about the scroll is that it contains writing on both the front and the back. If scrolls were used during this time period, the writing was largely found only on the front of the papyrus. Some scholars, who have studied this image, have suggested that the additional writing apparent on the back merely indicates that the scroll is very full. While this is possible, given that there are other ancient authors such as Martial who indicate that it was unusual and somewhat unseemly to write on the back of scrolls. However, alternate translations show that the writing was "written on the inside, and sealed on the back," indicating that all the writing is inside the scroll.
The seals themselves are also fascinating. The seven seal on the scroll, open one at a time, and when one is opened, one message is revealed. When the Book of Revelation was written, the vast majority of sealed documents were official document or wiils, or treaties. The purpose of the seal was to show that the important message had not been read before it reached the intended receiver.
Whereas Revelation chapter 4 is about God and his creation, Revelation chapter 5 moves on to talk about God and his role in redemption.
- 2And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?”
Commentary: The Father could open the scroll, but will not because that privilege is reserved to the Son. The angel's question is not simply who can open it, but who has the right to judge the world by revealing what is written and executing the judgments? Since only the Son can open it, this passage reflects the specialness of what is contained in the scroll. The seven seals also reflect this in two ways. First, the use of seals shows that what is in the scroll must be kept secret until the right person can open it. Second, the fact that there are seven seals shows to what degree this must be kept secure. The number seven, which is found numerous places in Revelation, indicates wholeness and/or flawlessness. Also, since none are worthy besides the Lamb, it seems that this scroll will hold something more important than any writing or testament that came before it.
The word worthy (axios) is used seven times in the book of Revelation and it's literal translation is "of sufficient weight." The "strong angel" also appears later in the book (chapter 10 & 18). Some have considered this angel to be Gabriel, but it is never directly said by John if this is the case. Also, the word "angel" means messenger. So this shows that the Angel is not the one who is meant to open the book, his power is to deliver the message that someone truly all powerful must open the book.
- 3And no one in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, nor to look thereon.
Commentary: No one in all creation in heaven or earth is able to open this book. To "look thereon" means to read it. (Obviously John is looking at it). It is not known whether this ability is either physical or metaphorical. The division between God and man shows that man is truly in need of a Savior as there are things, such as opening this book and reading it that man is not able to do for himself. Man falls short, but Christ Jesus is capable, willing, and worthy to open and read. This is also stated in Isaiah 29 vs 11.
- 4And I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and to read the book, nor to look thereon. 5And one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.”
Commentary: John momentarily thinks the scroll, which he is now longing to understand, will not be revealed after all. But Christ has now appeared and will open it. The Lion of the tribe of Judah and the Root of David are messianic titles that uniquely apply to Jesus Christ. A lion is represented as king of the animaals and Judah is the strongest tribe. This indicated that Christ rules over all human kind. The root of David refers to the ties that Christ has with the family of David.
This passage is reminiscent of the words of Paul to the church in Rome: “There is none righteous, no not one.. for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:10,23), and those of the epistle to the Hebrews: “We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15).
Only the lamb could open the seals of the scroll due to his sacrificial death. What follows is not the language of a treaty or a covenant as some have suggested. It is clearly that of judgment. The number seven represents perfection, thus showing the perfection of God’s pronouncements. It has also been suggested that the scroll may be a last will and testament, especially in the sense that the audience is not only expected to read it, but also to act on it.
In another translation, verse 5 is translated, "Then one of the elders said to me, 'Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals'". The use of the phrase "has conquered" refers to Jesus conquering Rome when he allowed himself to be crucified. He conquered even as the people of Rome thought they were conquering him. This illustrates an important point in the book of Revelation--things are not always what they appear to be.
- 6And I looked, and in the midst of the throne and of the four creatures, 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. 7And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne.
Commentary: This odd vision of Christ is to bring together the twofold aspect of His coming: First as Savior, then later as Sovereign. His right to rule, judge, and possess the earth is emphasized by the reminder that He submitted to the torture of the cross in order to bring redemption to mankind. Christ conquers not through force, but through sacrifice and martyrdom The lamb here could once again be symbolizing Jesus with the fact of it being slain referring back to him being crucified. The sevenfold spirit may reveal the fullness of God's character, perfection, and completeness. Isaiah 11:2 (NIV) shows seven aspects of the spirit or the sevenfold ministry of the Lord:
" The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD."
The word "arnion" in this verse is universally translated as "lamb." This is a literal translation (arnion meaning "small lamb") but the horns lead to imagery of a ram. In the passover sacrifice a lamb, not a ram, would be slaughtered and so despite the horns translators consider the "arnion" a lamb. The animal imagery is noteworthy in this text. One would expect a lion or a majestic animal to step forward, but the reader's expectations are inverted by the presentation of a slaughter lamb.
Seen by Witherington, the lamb is standing, living, showing the signs of sacrifice, as part of a theme in the book fetishizing and sanctifying martyrs.
A Multitude Worships Christ in Heaven and on Earth
- 8And when he had taken the book, the four creatures and twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odors, which are the prayers of saints.
Commentary: This is the only time in the Revelation in which heavenly courts bow down to the Lamb. This shows that Christ is indeed the lamb, and no less worthy of such honor, praise, and devotion. He is God's sacrifice (John 1:29). When Christ takes the scroll, He signifies that He will begin the execution of the judgments. The prayers of saints have long asked for this, so that all the wrongs done will finally be avenged and the Messianic Kingdom established. The elders are the representatives of the church holding the vials that are the prayers of the saints. By the Lamb being the only one to hold the ability to open the book, it shows his power. Also, Since it is said that a very powerful angel asks for someone to open the book, it shows that someone even more powerful than the Angel must open the book. Thus, we may conclude that this Lamb is Christ. He has earned the right top open the scroll not only because he is the son of God, but because he was slain for the good of man.
- 9And they sung a new song, saying, “You are worthy to take the book and to open the seals thereof, for you were slain, and have redeemed us to God by your blood out of every kindred, tongue, people, and nation, 10and have made us kings and priests to our God, and we will reign on the earth.
Commentary: This outburst of praise is in gratitude for the Lamb's gift of salvation and for the fact that the day of fulfillment is finally at hand. It also shows that by everyone coming together to praise the Lamb, that the Lamb truly has authority. Typically new hymns of praise in The Bible mark and celebrate special occasions, and this is no different. The image of heavenly and earthly beings adds to the mysticism of the book of Revelation. It is interesting to note the striking similar adoration of the Lamb and the God. This suggests that God and the Lamb are, in a sense, equal in majesty.
- 11And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the creatures and the elders, and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, 12saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, riches, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, and blessing.”
Commentary:The "ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands" written in this verse are not to be taken literally. It is simply to exaggerate that the number of angels was overwhelming. Interpreters differ over whether the presence of the great host surrounding God's throne should be understood to include members of the Church who had been "raptured" to Heaven and spared from going through the tribulation period. Aune points out the allusion to Daniel 7:10 (see also 1 Enoch 14:22, which is quoted in Jude 14). The sheer number is presumably the main point, and no details are given about specific individuals or groups that may or may not be present, apart from the elders previously mentioned.
One can imagine the scene being like a sports stadium, when some exceptional play happens and everyone jumps up and starts yelling. It's a spontaneous outburst of praise and excitement.
- 13And 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, I heard saying, “Blessing, honor, glory, and power to him that sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb for ever and ever.” 14And the four beasts said, “Amen.” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped him that lives for ever and ever.
Commentary: As do all the creatures and souls that are neither angels nor resurrected spirits. This is somewhat cryptic, but may refer to the as yet unrewarded Old Testament saints, or perhaps there are other classes of spirits or beings we haven't been told of. (The four creatures, for example, are clearly different from other angels). All creatures, heavenly or earthly, believers or nonbelievers, give praise to God and the Lamb. They are praising God because he is the creater of all living things. Everyone is giving praise to the Lamb for he has died so that everyone may have eternal life. This passage is showing that all creatures will give praise to God and the Lamb at some point in the future.
Here we see the fulfillment of Paul's words in Phillipans when he states every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. According to Revelation 5, this praise is not an option, it is an obligation. At this point all have realized Jesus is their Lord regardless if they are in heaven, earth, or hell.
It is interesting that all things in heaven, earth, and below are praising God. This opens up the question as to whether this act takes away from the free will of man to basically force them into praising God. This would mean that atheists, Muslims, Jews, and any other non-believing (of Christ) people would be praising Him out of their own free will since the Bible states that this was the one thing separating Man from beasts. This could mean that there was some phenomenon on Earth that turned everyone into a believer or the Heavenly spirit overcame every person, creature, and angel making them consciously performing this act without understanding why.
The chapter ends paralleling what appears to be an early coronation ceremony. The lamb is announced, exalted, and enthroned as king. The lamb finished the chapter seated on the throne. What was once twenty-four elders and four animals is now described as myriads.
- David E. Aune, Revelation 1-5 (Word Biblical Commentary, 52a; Dallas: Word, 1997) 363.