All Scripture quotations are from the 1901 American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
1 And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the back, close sealed with seven seals.
This continues the scene in Heaven from chapter 4.
“him that sat on the throne” (God the Father)
This seven-seal book is a book of revelation. Thus it’s a book of revelation within a book of revelation, because it reveals the events of the world from the time of the Apostle John to the return of Christ. The seven seals lead to the seven trumpets and the trumpets lead to the seven bowls of wrath or plagues. It’s a revelation of the defeat of Christ’s enemies, as well as the persecution and suffering of Christ’s followers.
2 And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a great voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?
3 And no one in the heaven, or on the earth, or under the earth, was able to open the book, or to look thereon.
4 And I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open the book, or to look thereon:
“no one in the heaven, or on the earth, or under the earth”
No one in all the universe was able or worthy to open the book or to view its contents, except One……
“And I wept much”
Why did John weep so bitterly? Why would it make him weep so much just because no one was found worthy to open the book? We can’t say for sure, but I suspect that while John didn’t know the details of this book at the time, he was made aware of what kind of book this was. That is, he was aware that this book revealed the times and difficulties that the people of God would face throughout the Church era till the time of Christ’s return. Initially, he was given the idea that there was no one worthy to reveal these things to God’s people. Thus, perhaps knowing that this was a book that revealed things to come for followers of Christ, and not being allowed to know the details, unsettled him.
Or perhaps, knowing that this book revealed the judgements of God upon the enemies of God, he understood that anyone worthy to open it also had the right and the power to execute these judgments on God’s behalf. Thus if he initially thought that there was no one worthy, from where would justice and our vindication come?
5 and one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not; behold, the Lion that is of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath overcome to open the book and the seven seals thereof.
“the Lion that is of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David”
Anytime David is mentioned in the New Testament in relation to Christ, it normally refers to the throne and kingship of Christ, as the One who would fulfill the prophecy of 2 Samuel 7:12-16 (Acts 2:30; Ps 132:11; Ps 89:3-4). David was of the tribe of Judah.
In regard to the title “Lion,” a lion is majestic and stately, regarded as king of beasts. Thus the lion is a symbol of kingship (1 Kings 10:19-20; Pr 30:30). Jesus is the King who came through the line of Judah.
One of the most important things to see here, is that this allusion to Christ sitting upon the throne of David, indicates that His kingdom is now (1 Cor 15:23-28; Rev 3:21; Rev 1:5-6,9; Rev 5:10), and reigns over His people now, and does not await some earthly kingdom, such as what premillennialism teaches. The prophesied kingdom of Christ is a spiritual kingdom (Col 1:13), and the Church is that kingdom. It’s certainly evident that the Church is in view in this passage. Thus this book reveals the events that will occur throughout the Church age.
“hath overcome to open the book and the seven seals thereof”
Why was Jesus the only one who was worthy to open the seven seals? It’s because he “overcame.” As the Lamb of God He provided the only means of salvation for the world, defeating death. As King, He sits at the right hand of the throne of God (Acts 2:33-36; He 1:8-13; 1 Cor 15:23-28; Rev 3:21) and rules the universe. He will ultimately defeat His enemies upon His return, while saving His people. Jesus will then sit upon His throne of judgment as the people of the world stand before Him to give an accounting of their lives (Rev 20:11-15). Thus as Savior and King, He alone has the right to reveal the end of both groups of people. He alone has the right and privilege of executing God’s judgments upon the enemies of God. That honor goes to Him alone.
6 And I saw in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, having seven horns, and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent forth into all the earth.
“four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders”
(See commentary on Revelatilon 4:4-6)
“a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain”
The “Lamb standing,” is, of course, Jesus. A slain lamb does not stand, but here Jesus stands as the Lamb of God who shed His blood for the sinners of the world. However, John sees Him “as though” He had been slain. Meaning he’s seeing Jesus after He had risen from the dead. Though Jesus was slain, He’s now alive and stands ready to be the Lord and Savior of anyone who places their trust in Him.
“having seven horns”
A lamb, of course, if it has any horns at all, only has two horns. But John sees Jesus as having seven horns.
“Horns were familiar symbols of honor, power, authority, and glory in the Biblical and other Hebrew literature.”
Emblems of authority and power – for the horn is a symbol of power and dominion. Compare Deuteronomy 33:17; 1 Kings 22:11; Jeremiah 48:25; Zechariah 1:18; Daniel 7:24. The propriety of this symbol is laid in the fact that the strength of an animal is in the horn, and that it is by this that he obtains a victory over other animals. The number seven here seems to be designed, as in other places, to denote completeness. See the notes on Revelation 1:4. The meaning is, that he had so large a number as to denote complete dominion.
“seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent forth into all the earth.”
(See commentary on Revelation 1:4)
We know this refers to the Holy Spirit, so in regard to the “seven eyes,” seven, being a number of perfection or completion, it has to refer to the all-seeing eyes of God, that nothing in the universe falls outside His eyesight. Thus in the context of this book, nothing happens in this world that God does not see (“sent forth into all the earth”). Nothing anyone does escapes God’s attention. Therefore, I believe this is an allusion to the accountability of mankind to God, that each and every person will stand before Him one day.
However, I believe there’s more here than that. Since the book of Revelation is largely about the persecution and suffering of God’s people, He sees that too, and will not forget. Christians who are faithful in the midst of persecution, will be greatly and eternally rewarded.
7 And he came, and he taketh it out of the right hand of him that sat on the throne.
Jesus is seen taking the seven-seal book from God the Father.
8 And when he had taken the book, the four living creatures and the four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having each one a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
That they fell down before Jesus in worship, reveals His deity, as the Second Person of the Trinity. In fact, the Trinity of God is seen in verses 6 thru 8 — the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
A harp soothes a troubled spirit, as we see in the account of David and Saul (1 Sam 16:23). Thus when combined with the mention of the “prayers of the saints,” these harps are symbolic of the comfort we’ll receive from the Lord in eternity after trials of persecution and suffering and hardships in this life.
That the “prayers of the saints” has all Christians throughout the Church era in view, should seem obvious. This is confirmed in the next two verses. There’s way too much evidence that this book covers the whole Christian era, rather than a mere seven year period, such as premillennialism teaches (see commentary on chapter 4).
9 And they sing a new song, saying, Worthy art thou to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and didst purchase unto God with thy blood men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation,
10 and madest them to be unto our God a kingdom and priests; and they reign upon the earth.
“And they sing a new song”
This “new song” would have to be a song of redemption. It would, thus, be limited to and sung by the saints (“prayers of the saints” vs. 8) – all saints of all time – those who belong to Christ, who have obtained salvation in Him.
The mention of this “new song” sung by the saints in Christ, is a major KEY verse in identifying the time period of the book of Revelation. Compare this passage with the passage below from Revelation 14:
1 And I saw, and behold, the Lamb standing on the mount Zion, and with him a hundred and forty and four thousand, having his name, and the name of his Father, written on their foreheads. 2 And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and the voice which I heard was as the voice of harpers harping with their harps: 3 and they sing as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four living creatures and the elders: and no man could learn the song save the hundred and forty and four thousand, even they that had been purchased out of the earth. 4 These are they that were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they that follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were purchased from among men, to be the firstfruits unto God and unto the Lamb 5 And in their mouth was found no lie: they are without blemish. 6 And I saw another angel flying in mid heaven, having eternal good tidings to proclaim unto them that dwell on the earth, and unto every nation and tribe and tongue and people; (Rev 14:1-6)
(Also compare with Revelation 7)
Compare verses 6-9 of this chapter (ch 5) with this passage from Revelation 14, and you will see an identical scene. Present in both scenes are the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures, harps, a new song, and those who were purchased. In this chapter (5:9), those who have been purchased are all the saints in Christ; in chapter 14 those who have been purchased are the 144,000 (12,000 from each tribe – Rev 7:4-9). If you compare the three passages: Rev 5:6-9; Rev 14:1-4; Rev 7:4-9, we can positively identify the 144,000 as all believers in Christ. The sum of the 12,000 from each tribe is a symbolic number of completion of true Israel in Christ, which is the Church. Israel has its fulfillment and continuation in Christ and His Church. Israel continues in Christ as a spiritual nation (1 Pet 2:5-10). The comparison of these three passages absolutely confirms that. This confirms all that we learned in our preliminary study leading up to Revelation about Israel and the Church. If you have not done so yet, I strongly encourage you to read through that whole series (“Israel and the Church”).
As I said, this “new song” in relation to these three passages, is a major key in identifying the time period of the events of this book. Dispensational premillennialists identify the 144,000 as Jewish believers, which they say takes place during the “seven year tribulation period” prior to the return of Christ. However, when we compare these three passages, that’s simply not what’s revealed to us. There is no reasonable way to come to any other conclusion other than that the 144,000 are the saints of Rev 5:9-10 and Rev 7:9-10, who are all believers in Christ, both believing Jews and believing Gentiles. In other words, the 144,000 is symbolic of the Church. Thus we can conclude with absolute certainty that the time period of the events of this book take place throughout the whole Church age…..NOT a mere seven year period. Only a positional bias would lead one to come to any other conclusion.
“for thou wast slain, and didst purchase unto God with thy blood men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation”
In all three passages of Revelation (7:9 and 14:6), there is the mention of every nations and tribes and tongues and people. This is significant, because, again, this verse reveals the 144,000 to be all the redeemed in Christ, and not a separate group of Jewish believers. Do your own careful comparison between these three passages, because an unbiased interpretation can only lead to the conclusions this commentary has come to, that the 144,000 is symbolic of the Church, and that the book of Revelation is about the entire Christian era, and not just a seven year period.
10 and madest them to be unto our God a kingdom and priests; and they reign upon the earth.
This verse further identifies the 144,000 of chapters 7 and 14 to be all the redeemed in Christ, and that we are already in that time that this book reveals.
In Christ we are a “kingdom and priests” unto God (Rev 1:6). Peter confirms that we are a “holy priesthood,” a “royal priesthood” in 1 Peter 2:5,9. Furthermore, Peter identifies, in very descriptive terms, that the Church is Israel in Christ, that Israel continues in Christ as a spiritual nation (1 Pet 2:5-10). We are a kingdom of believers in Christ, which is the Church. The Kingdom of Christ is the Church, and that kingdom is now.
“and they reign upon the earth”
According to Greek scholars, the Greek here is difficult. It could be rendered “they reign” or it could be rendered “they will reign.” However, it really doesn’t matter which is the correct rendering, because the meaning is the same either way. Since we are a kingdom and priests now, John is telling us that we reign now and will continue to reign as members of the Church in Christ, up till the time of His return. To be more clear, as part of the Church, believers reign now in the present, and we will continue to reign throughout the whole Christian era.
However, I believe the context demands that the correct rendering be “they reign,” since we have already been made to be a “kingdom and priests” unto God (also Rev 1:6). This is not something that will occur in the future, but is the present reality of believers in Christ (the Church).
I would like to finish this section with a discussion by James Coffman on this verse (Coffman Commentaries):
THE EARTHLY KINGDOM VIRUS
The first and greatest mistake ancient Israel ever made was rejecting the theocratic government of God and demanding a king like the nations around them (1 Samuel 8); and this mistake was likewise their last, for it blinded them against the coming of their hoped-for Messiah. At the time of the First Advent, the Jewish nation, especially its leaders, wanted nothing either in heaven or upon earth as ardently as they wanted the restoration of their earthly monarchy, obliviously ignorant of the fact that a secular kingdom was contrary to God’s will from the first. By the times of Jesus, their hopes of a Messiah had degenerated into a carnal malignant patriotism; and when they knew that Christ had no intention of organizing an army and chasing the Romans, they crucified him!
People of our own times who long for some earthly, secular appearance of Christ to establish some kind of a literal kingdom on this earth are guilty of the same mistake as that of ancient Israel. Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. It is a reign over the passions and appetites of the body, a reign over the lusts and vanities of the flesh, a spiritual reign of a people who, in a sense, are “called out” of the world with its secular value judgments. The very word “church” means “called out.” Every line of the New Testament denies that Christ ever intended or that he ever plans to rule in any temporal sense on this earth. The church age is not to be followed by any so-called “kingdom age.” The church is the kingdom; and the thousand years reign refers to the whole time between the First Advent and the Second Advent of Christ. Many people are not satisfied by the type of kingdom established by Christ, resulting in the projection of all kinds of bizarre and unscriptural notions regarding some “future” kingdom. If people can bear to hear it, the “kingdom” has already been in existence since the first Pentecost following the resurrection of Christ. The saints of the New Testament were baptized into that kingdom; and there is none other.
11 And I saw, and I heard a voice of many angels round about the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands;
Ten thousand times ten thousand is 100 million angels — plus “thousands of thousands.” We’re talking about an innumerable number of angels.
12 saying with a great voice, Worthy is the Lamb that hath been slain to receive the power, and riches, and wisdom, and might, and honor, and glory, and blessing.
Christ is all-powerful, possessor of unfathomable riches, infinite in wisdom and might, worthy of the kind of honor and glory and blessing (praise) that only He can receive as Ruler of the universe.
13 And every created thing which is in the heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and on the sea, and all things that are in them, heard I saying, Unto him that sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb, be the blessing, and the honor, and the glory, and the dominion, for ever and ever.
“heard I saying” (“I heard saying”)
Quite obviously, not everyone on earth at the time of this writing, or now, is voicing this kind of honor and worship to the Father and Son. I believe this is meant to project the truth that everyone in the universe is accountable to God and that He is worthy of this kind of praise and worship. But it’s also prophetic: one day all people who have ever lived will give the Lord Jesus Christ the honor that is due Him, to the glory of God the Father:
9 Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name which is above every name; 10 that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:9-11. Also Ro 14:11).
Before anyone steps out into eternity without Christ, they will first bow their knee to Him and confess that He is Lord. They will recognize Him for who He is: King of kings and Lord of lords, Creator and Ruler of the universe, Savior of the world, as Almighty God. They will recognize Him and respond to Him as demonstrated by the four living creatures and twenty-four elders:
14 And the four living creatures said, Amen. And the elders fell down and worshipped.