Posted by: stpowen | June 3, 2012

Revelation. Things that must Shortly take Place, Part Two


Rev 5:12.  ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!’

In the last article, we saw in Chapter Four a picture of heaven and God seated on the throne reigning in it.  We saw the Holy Spirit (v5), the angelic world represented by the four ‘Living Beings,’ and we saw twenty-four elders representing God’s redeemed people from Old and New Testaments.  We saw God ruling over all His creation and receiving worship from all.  However, there is obviously one Person missing from this picture and He is now brought to John’s attention and to ours.

Chapter Five is a direct continuation of John’s vision.  He now notices a new detail; a scroll or parchment in the hand of God.  This scroll is full of writing on both sides;  in other words, it’s complete- there is no room for any more.  This is God’s decree for the Last days- the time between the ascension of Christ and His return.  If this is not immediately obvious to the reader, it will surely become so by the end of Chapter Six.  It is already decreed; the fact that it is full on both sides means that there is no more to be added, nothing has been left to chance.  ‘For I am God, and there is no other;  I am God and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, “My counsel shall stand and I will do all My pleasure’ (Isaiah 46:9-10).  Hence the whole of Open Theology which has become so popular in recent years is shown at once to be nonsense.  God rules over all in His creation and over every aspect of it.

John sees that this scroll is sealed with seven seals, that is, sealed completely, since seven is the number of perfection or completeness.  This tells us two things:  firstly, it is not for humans to look into, it has to be revealed, and, secondly, if it is not opened, what is contained in it cannot take place.

Then John sees a ‘strong angel.’  There are many angels depicted in Revelation, and a few of them are called ‘strong’ or ‘mighty.’  Some commentators have suggested that these might actually be the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is obviously not the case here, and if not here, then perhaps not elsewhere.  The angel asks, “Who is worthy?”  The scroll can only be opened by someone who is worthy to do so.  But no one can be found (v3).  A search is made throughout creation to find someone to look inside the scroll.  No angel in heaven can do the job, nor can any living person on the earth, nor any hero from the past like Moses, Samuel or David (‘under the earth’).  No created person at all is found who is able so much as to look at the scroll, much less to open it and read it.

The horror of the situation is clear to John.  If the scroll cannot be opened, God’s plan cannot happen;  in that case there is no hope, no redemption, no salvation.   ‘….If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty [or ‘futile’] and your faith is also empty.  Yes, and we are found to be false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up- if in fact the dead do not rise.  For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen.  And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!  Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If in this this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable’ (1 Cor 15:14-19).  If there is no one worthy to execute God’s plan, then mankind is doomed.  No wonder John ‘was weeping much.’

Verse 5.  ‘But 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 scroll and to loose its seven seals.”’   One of the twenty-four elders before the throne (4:4) comforts John by pointing him to Christ.  He alone is the One who brings meaning to the world.  ‘Lion of the tribe of Judah’ and ‘Root of David’ are Old Testament terms for Christ.   The first appears in Gen 49:9, the writer to the Hebrews helpfully adding, ‘For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah’ (Heb 7:14).  The second term appears in Isaiah 11.  In verse one, the Lord  Jesus is called ‘A shoot from the stem of Jesse’ (NKJV margin) and a ‘Branch’ meaning that He is a descendant (according to the flesh) of David’s father, Jesse.  But in v10, He is called a ‘Root of Jesse.’  These names are a proof of our Lord’s divinity as well as His humanity.  In His human nature, He is of the tribe of Judah and descended from Jesse and David, but in His divine nature He is the Lion of which Judah is the whelp, and the Root from which Jesse and David came (John 1:3). As He told the Pharisees, ‘Before Abraham was, I AM’ (John 8:58).

The Lord Jesus has also ‘prevailed.’  He has performed the will of His heavenly Father, and redeemed all those whom the Father gave Him (John 6:39; 17:2).  It would be good to pause now and read Phil 2:5-11 and Heb 12:2.  He has prevailed against all that Satan and sinful men could bring against Him, and He has earned the right to open the scroll.

‘And I looked, and behold, a Lamb’ (v6).  The Lion of Judah is actually a sacrificial Lamb.  The One who is King over all creation is the very One who died in shame and apparent weakness on the cross.  There He is, right in the middle of the throne, but hidden from John’s eyes until that moment.  Is that not something like our condition?  Until God opens our eyes to see, we can behold nothing special about Jesus (Isaiah 53:1-3).  We may believe in Him as an historical character, but unless God gives us new birth, we shall never see Him as both the sacrificial Lamb and the Lord of Glory.

This Lamb has seven horns.  The horns stand for power and authority (cf. 17:12), and seven is the number of perfection.   He also has seven eyes.  ‘The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch over the evil and the good’ (Prov 15:3. cf. Zech 4:10).  ‘And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account’ (Heb 4:13).  The seven eyes also speak of the Holy Spirit which, according to the ancient creeds, proceeds from both the Father and the Son (4:5).  The Spirit was ‘Sent out into all the earth’ at Pentecost.  The verb ‘was sent’ here is in the Perfect Tense.  The Spirit was sent out once for all.

Verses 7-8.  ‘Then He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat upon the throne.  Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.’

It is worth comparing these verses with 4:9-10.  The same honour and worship is given to the Lamb that was given to God.  If we then consider 19:10 we can only come to the conclusion that Christ, the Lamb who was slain, is very God.  While both creatures and elders fall down before the Lamb, it is my belief that only the elders are holding the harps and the bowls as these images are from Temple worship in the Old Testament. There, harps were held by the Levites (1 Chron 25:1, 6) and they were also responsible for the golden bowls in Solomon’s Temple (1 Chron 9:28-29; 28:17; 1 Kings  7:50).  However, New Testament incense is the prayers of God’s people (Psalm 141:2; Luke 1:9-10; Rev 8:3).  Our prayers are a pleasing, sweet aroma to God.

Verse 9.  ‘And they sang a new song saying:  “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals;  for You were slain, and You have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation; and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign upon the earth.”’   The elders sing a ‘new song’ of praise to Christ.  In the O.T., new songs are about the mighty works of God (Psalm 33:3).  Here the new song is about His mightiest deed of all- the redemption of the world through the Lamb.  Who is singing this song?  In my view, only the elders, because angels, represented by the Living Beings, were not redeemed by Christ (1).   We have seen  in 4:11 that God is worthy to be praised  for who He is and for His mighty act of creation.  In these verses we see that the Lamb is worthy because of who He is and for His mighty act of redemption.  He has redeemed us out of slavery to sin for God at the measureless cost of His own blood (1 Peter 1:18-19).  We can see here that any view of Calvary that does not place substitutionary atonement at its centre is entirely wrong.  A price was paid on the cross for the redemption of sinners and it was paid by Christ with His precious blood.  No blood- no atonement!  Steve Chalke and others, please note!

The reference to ‘Every tribes and tongue and people and nation’ reminds us of Dan 3:4.  Here, Instead of the nations bowing down in ignorance to idols, we have God’s people worshipping the true and living God.   We are already ‘kings and priests;’ the verb is in the past tense.  What was a conditional promise to Israel in Exod 19:6 is a reality in Christ (cf. 1:9; Luke 12:32).  We are the sons and daughters of the King of kings (1 John 3:1-2) and a nation of priests (1 Peter 2:9).  The future tense of ‘We shall reign’ is therefore a future of logic.  We are reigning now, through our prayers (James 5:16) and through our union with Christ.  Of course this will become evident when Christ returns, but we should not allow appearances and circumstances on earth to make us forget who we are right now in Christ.

Until now, the song of praise has been sung by the human race, but now (v11) the angelic realm joins in, rejoicing in the victory of the Lamb.  ‘Ten thousand times ten thousand’ is literally a hundred million, but the figures really represent an uncountable number.  The Greek word for ten thousand is murios, from which we get the English word ‘myriad’ (cf. Dan 7:10).  Angels rejoice whenever a sinner is saved (Luke 15:7, 10).  They know nothing of redemption by experience, but they have learned about it (Eph 3:10; 1 Peter 1:12) and delight in it.  In verse 12 there are seven attributes ascribed to the Lamb, the number of completeness.  It is worth comparing this doxology with 4:11 and 1 Chron 29:11-12; qualities that belong only to God are here ascribed to Christ.

In verse 13, the whole universe resounds with praise to Father and Son together.  Christ has redeemed not only mankind, but all creation.  The curse pronounced on the world in Gen 3:17 is taken away in Rev 22:3 (compare these verses with Rom 8:18-23).  The Living Creatures say the ‘Amen’ on behalf of Creation (v14) and the elders worship on behalf of mankind.  Notice that they worship ‘Him….’  Although they have been worshipping Father and Son together, there is still only one God sitting upon the throne; one God in three persons who reigns ‘forever and ever.’


(1)  If you, the reader, are reading a NIV, ESV or other modern Bible, you will see that the song is put into the Third Person to allow the living creatures to join in the song .  The NIV reads, “You are worthy to take the scroll and 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.  You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign upon the earth.”  It has to be admitted that the majority of extant manuscripts favour the modern versions, but I still incline to the view that the Traditional Text is more likely to be correct.   



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