"VERSE 1. 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." p. 391, Para. 2.
A new chapter here opens, but not a new scene. The same view is still before the mind of the apostle. By the words "him that sat on the throne," is evidently meant the Father, as the Son is subsequently introduced as "a Lamb as it had been slain." The book which John here saw, contained a revelation of scenes that were to transpire in the history of the church to the end of time. Its being held in the right hand of him that sat on the throne may signify that a knowledge of the future rests with God alone, except so far as he sees fit to reveal it to others. p. 391, Para. 3.
The Book. -- The books in use at the time the Revelation was given were not in the form of books as now made. They did not consist of a series of leaves bound together, but were composed of strips of parchment or other material, longer or shorter, one or more, and rolled up. On this point, Wesley remarks:-- p. 391, Para. 4.
"The usual books of the ancients were not like ours, but were volumes, or long pieces of parchment, rolled upon a long stick, as we frequently roll silks. Such was this represented, which was sealed with seven seals. Not as if the apostle saw all the seals at once; for there were seven volumes wrapped up one within another, each of which was sealed; so that upon opening and unrolling the first, the second appeared to be sealed up till that was opened, and so on to the seventh." p. 391, Para. 5.
On the same point Scott remarks: "It appeared as a roll consisting of several parchments, according to the custom of those times; and though it was supposed to be written within, yet nothing could be read till the seals were loosed. It was afterward found to contain seven parchments, or small volumes, each of which was separately sealed; but if all the seals had been on the outside, nothing could have been read till they had all been loosed; whereas the losing of each seal was followed by some discovery of the contents of the roll. Yet the appearance on the outside seems to have indicated that it consisted of seven, or at least of several parts." p. 392, Para. 1.
Bloomfield says: "The long rolls of parchment used by the ancients, which we call books, were seldom written but on one side; namely, that which was in rolling turned inward." So, doubtless, this book was not written within and on the backside, as the punctuation of our common version makes it read. "Grotius, Lowman, Fuller, etc.," says the Cottage Bible, "remove the comma, thus: 'Written within, and on the back [or outside] sealed,' etc." How these seals were placed, is sufficiently explained in the notes from Wesley and Scott, given above. p. 392, Para. 2.
"VERSE 2. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof? 3. And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon. 4. And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon." p. 392, Para. 3.
The Challenge. -- God, as it were, holds forth this book to the view of the universe, and a strong angel, one doubtless of great eminence and power, comes forth as a crier, and with a mighty voice challenges all creatures in the universe to try the strength of their wisdom in opening the counsels of God. Who can be found worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof? A pause ensues. In silence the universe owns its inability and unworthiness to enter into the counsels of the Creator. "And no man in heaven," not merely no man, but no one, no being, in heaven. Is not here proof that the faculties of angels are limited, like those of man, in respect to penetrating the future and disclosing what is to come? And when the apostle saw that no one came forward to open the book, he greatly feared that the counsels of God which it contained in reference to his people, would never be disclosed; and in the natural tenderness of his feelings, and his concern for the church, he wept much. "How far are they," says Wesley, "from the temper of St. John, who inquire after anything rather than the contents of this book!" p. 392, Para. 4.
Upon the phrase, "I wept much," Benson offers the following beautiful remarks: "Being greatly affected with the thought that no being whatever was to be found able to understand, reveal, and accomplish the divine counsels, fearing they would still remain concealed from the church. This weeping of the apostle sprang from greatness of mind. The tenderness of heart which he always had, appeared more clearly now he was out of his own power. The Revelation was not written without tears, neither without tears will it be understood." p. 393, Para. 1.
"VERSE 5. And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof. 6. 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. 7. And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne." p. 393, Para. 2.
Not long is John permitted to weep. God is not willing that any knowledge which can benefit his people shall be withheld. Provision is made for the opening of the book. Hence one of the elders says to him, "Weep not; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof." Why one of the elders should impart this information to John in preference to some other being, does not appear, unless it is that having been redeemed, they would be especially interested in all that pertained to the welfare of the church on earth. Christ is here called the "Lion of the tribe of Judah." Why called a lion? and why of the tribe of Judah? -- As to the first, it is probably to denote his strength. As the lion is the king of beasts, the monarch of the forest, he thus becomes a fit emblem of kingly authority and power. "Of the tribe of Judah." Doubtless he receives this appellation from the prophecy in Gen. 49:9, 10. p. 393, Para. 3.
The Root of David. -- The source and sustainer of David as to his position and power. That David's position was specially ordained of Christ, and that he was specially sustained by him, there can be no doubt. David was the type, Christ the antitype. David's throne and reign over Israel was a type of Christ's reign over his people. He shall reign upon the throne of his father David. Luke 1:32, 33. As Christ appeared in the line of David's descendants when he took upon himself our nature, he is also called the offspring of David, and a root out of the stem of Jesse. Isa. 11:1, 10; Rev. 22:16. His connection with the throne of David being thus set forth, and his right thus shown to rule over the people of God, there was a propriety in intrusting to him the opening of the seals. p. 394, Para. 1.
Hath Prevailed. -- These words indicate that the right to open the book was acquired by a victory gained in some previous conflict; and so we find it set forth in subsequent portions of this chapter. The very next scene introduces us to the great work of Christ as the Redeemer of the world, and the shedding of his blood for the remission of sin and the salvation of man. In this work he was subjected to the fiercest assaults of Satan. But he endured his temptations, bore the agonies of the cross, rose a victor over death and the grave, made the way of redemption sure -- triumphed! Hence the four living beings and the four and twenty elders sing, "Thou are worthy to take the book and to open the seals thereof; for thou wast slain, and has redeemed us to God by thy blood." p. 394, Para. 1.
John looks to see the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and beholds a Lamb in the midst of the throne and of the four living beings and the elders, as it had been slain. p. 394, Para. 2.
In the Midst of the Throne. -- Doddridge translates thus: "And I beheld in the middle space between the throne and the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders there stood a Lamb," etc. In the center of the scene was the throne of the Father, and standing in the open space which surrounded it was the Son, set forth under the symbol of a slain lamb. Around these there stood those saints who had been redeemed: first, those represented by the four living creatures, then the elders forming the second circle, and the angels [verse 11] forming a circle. The worthiness of Christ, as he thus stands forth under the figure of a slain lamb, is the admiration of all the holy throng. p. 395, Para. 1.
As It Had Been Slain. -- Woodhouse, as quoted in the Comprehensive Commentary, says: "The Greek implies that the Lamb appeared with a wounded neck and throat, as if smitten at the altar as a victim." On this phrase, Clarke says: "As if now in the act of being offered. This is very remarkable. So important is the sacrificial offering of Christ in the sight of God, that he is still represented as being in the very act of pouring out his blood for the offences of man. This gives great advantage to faith; when any soul comes to the throne of grace, he find a sacrifice there provided for him to offer to God." p. 395, Para. 2.
Seven Horns and Seven Eyes. -- Horns are symbols of power, eyes of wisdom; and seven is a number denoting completeness, or perfection. We are thus taught that perfect power and perfect wisdom inhere in the Lamb, through the operation of the Spirit of God, called the seven Spirits of God, to denote the fulness and perfection of its operation. p. 395, Para. 3.
He Came and Took the Book. -- Commentators have found an incongruity in the idea that the book was taken by a lamb, and have had recourse to several expedients to avoid the difficulty. But is it not a well-established principle that any action may be attributed to a symbol which could be appropriately performed by the person or being represented by the symbol? And is not this all the explanation that the passage needs? The Lamb, we know, is a symbol of Christ. We know there is nothing incongruous in Christ's taking a book; and when we read that the book was taken, we think of the action, not as performed by the lamb, but by the one of whom the lamb is a symbol. p. 395, Para. 4.
"VERSE 8. 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 odors, which are the prayers of saints. 9. And they sung a new song, saying, Thou are worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and has redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation: 10. And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth." p. 396, Para. 1.
Vials Full of Odors. -- From this expression we form an idea of the employment of those redeemed ones represented by the four living creatures and the four and twenty elders. They have golden vials, or vessels, full of odors -- or, as the margin reads, incense -- which are the prayers of saints. This is a work of ministry such as pertains to priests. p. 396, Para. 2.
Scott says: "It is indisputably manifest that the four living creatures join in, or rather lead, the worship of the Lamb as having redeemed them to God; and this proves beyond controversy that part of the redeemed church is meant by this emblem, and not angels, whose worship is next described, but in language entirely different." p. 396, Para. 3.
A. Barnes, in his notes on this passage, remarks: "The idea here is, therefore, that the representatives of the church in heaven, the elders, spoken of as 'priests,' are described as officiating in the temple above in behalf of the church still below, and as offering incense while the church is engaged in prayer." p. 396, Para. 4.
The reader will remember that in the ancient typical service the high priest had many assistants; and when we consider that we are now looking into the sanctuary in heaven, the conclusion at once follows that these redeemed ones are the assistants of our great High Priest above. For this purpose they were doubtless redeemed. And what could be more appropriate than that our Lord, in his priestly work for the human race, should be assisted by noble members of that race, whose holiness of life, and purity of character, had fitted them to be raised up for that purpose? [See remarks on chapter 4:4.] p. 396, Para. 5.
We are aware that many entertain a great aversion to the idea of there being anything real and tangible in heaven: and we can easily anticipate that the views here presented will be altogether too literal for such. To sustain themselves in their position, they dwell much on the fact that the language is highly figurative, and that we cannot suppose there are or were any such things in heaven as John describes. We reply that, though the Revelation deals largely in figures, it does not deal in fictions. There is reality in all the things described; and we gain an understanding of the reality when we get a correct interpretation of the figures. Thus, in this vision we know that the One upon the throne is God. He is really there. We know the Lamb symbolizes Christ. He too is really there. He ascended with a literal, tangible body; and who can say that he does not still retain it? If, then, our great High Priest is a literal being, he must have a literal place in which to minister. And if the four living creatures and the four and twenty elders represent those whom Christ lead up from the captivity of death at the time of his resurrection and ascension, why are they not just as literal beings while there in heaven as they were when they ascended? p. 397, Para. 1.
The Song. -- It is called "a new song," new, probably, in respect to the occasion and the composition. They were the first that could sing it, being the first that were redeemed. They call themselves kings and priests. In what sense they are priests has already been noticed, they being the assistants of Christ in his priestly work. In the same sense, doubtless, they are also kings; for Christ is set down with his Father on his throne, and doubtless these, as ministers of his, have some part to act in connection with the government of heaven in reference to this world. p. 397, Para. 2.
The Anticipation. -- "We shall reign on the earth." Thus, notwithstanding they are redeemed, and surround the throne of God, and are in the presence of the Lamb that redeemed them, and are surrounded with the angelic hosts of heaven, where all is glory ineffable, their song contemplates a still higher state, when the great work of redemption shall be completed, and they, with the whole redeemed family of God, of every age, shall reign on the earth, which is the promised inheritance, and is to be the final and eternal residence of the saints. Rom. 4:13; Gal. 3:29; Ps. 37:11; Matt. 5:5; 2 Pet. 3:13; Isa. 65:17-25; Rev. 21:1-5. p. 397, Para. 3.
"VERSE 11. 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; 12. Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing." p. 398, Para. 1.
The Heavenly Sanctuary. -- How little conception have we of the magnitude and glory of the heavenly temple! Into that temple John was introduced, at the opening of chapter 4, by the door which was opened in heaven. Into the same temple, be it remembered, he is still looking in verses 11 and 12. And now he beholds the heavenly hosts.  Round about the throne are those represented by the four living creatures.  Next come the four and twenty elders.  Then John views, surrounding the whole, a multitude of the heavenly angels. How many? How many would we suppose could convene within the heavenly temple? "Ten thousand times ten thousand!" exclaims the seer. In this expression alone we have one hundred million! And then, as if no numerical expression was adequate to embrace the countless throng, he further adds, "And thousands of thousands!" Well might Paul call this, in Heb. 12:22, "an innumerable company of angels." And these were in the sanctuary above. Such was the company that John saw assembled at the place where the worship of a universe centers, and where the wondrous plan of human redemption is going forward to completion. And the central object in this innumerable and holy throng was the Lamb of God; and the central act of his life, which claimed their admiration, was the shedding of his blood for the salvation of fallen man; for every voice in all that heavenly host joined in the ascription which was raised, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing," Fitting assemblage for such a place! Fitting song of adoration to be raised to Him who by the shedding of his blood became a ransom for many, and who, as our great High Priest, still pleads its merits in the sanctuary above in our behalf. And here, before such an august assemblage, must our characters soon come up in final review. What shall fit us for the searching ordeal? What shall enable us to rise and stand at last with the sinless throng above? O, infinite merit of the blood of Christ! which can cleanse us from all our pollutions, and make us meet to tread the holy hill of Zion! O, infinite grace of God! which can prepare us to endure the glory, and give us boldness to enter into his presence, even with exceeding joy! p. 398, Para. 2.
"VERSE 13. 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 honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever. 14. And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshiped him that liveth forever and ever." p. 399, Para. 1.
A Clean Universe. -- In verse 13 we have an instance of what very frequently occurs in the Scriptures; namely, a declaration thrown in out of its chronological order for the purpose of following out to its completion some previous statement or allusion. In this instance the time is anticipated when redemption is finished. In verse 10 the four living creatures and four and twenty elders had declared, "We shall reign on the earth." Now the prophet's mind is carried forward to that time. The greatest act of Christ's intervention for man -- the shedding of his blood -- having been introduced, nothing could be more natural than that the vision should, for a moment, look over to the time when the grand result of the work then inaugurated should be accomplished, the number of the redeemed be made up, the universe be freed from sin and sinners, and a universal song of adoration go up to God and the Lamb. p. 399, Para. 2.
It is futile to attempt to apply this to the church in its present state, as most commentators do, or to any time in the past since sin entered the world, or even since Satan fell from his high position as an angel of light and love in heaven. For at the time of which John speaks, every creature in heaven and on earth, without any exception, was sending up its anthem of blessings to God. But to speak only of this world since the fall, cursings instead of blessings have been breathed out against God and his throne from the great majority of our apostate race. And so it will ever be while sin reigns. p. 399, Para. 3.
We find, then, no place for this scene which John describes, unless we go forward, according to the position above taken, to the time when the whole scheme of redemption is completed, and the saints enter upon their promised reign on the earth, to which the living creatures and elders looked forward in their song in verse 10. With this view, all is harmonious and plain. That reign on the earth commences after the second resurrection. Dan. 7:27; 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1. At that resurrection, which takes place a thousand years subsequently to the first resurrection [Rev. 20:4, 5], occurs the perdition of ungodly men. 2 Pet. 3:7. Then fire comes down from God out of heaven and devours them [Rev. 20:9]; and this fire that causes the perdition of ungodly men is the fire that melts and purifies the earth, as we learn from 2 Pet. 3:7-13. Then sin and sinners are destroyed, the earth is purified, the curse with all its ills is forever wiped away, the righteous "shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father," and from a clean universe an anthem of praise and thanksgiving ascends to God. In all the fair domain of the great Creator, there is then no room for a vast receptacle of fire and brimstone, where myriads, preserved by the direct power of a God of mercy, shall burn and writhe in unspeakable and eternal torment. In this glad anthem of Jubilee there is no room for the discordant and hopeless wailings of the damned, and the curses and blasphemies of those who are sinning and suffering beyond the pale of hope. Every rebel voice has been hushed in death. They have been burned up root and branch, -- Satan and all his followers, deceiver and deceived. Mal. 4:1; Heb. 2:14. Into smoke have they consumed away. Ps. 37:20. Like the perishable chaff have they vanished in the flames. Matt. 3:12. They have been annihilated, not as matter, but as conscious and intelligent beings; for they have become as though they had not been. Obadiah 16. p. 400, Para. 1.
To the Lamb, equally with the Father who sits upon the throne, praise is ascribed in this song of adoration. Commentators, with great unanimity, have seized upon this as proof that Christ must be coeval with the Father; for otherwise, say they, here would be worship paid to the creature which belongs only to the Creator. But this does not seem to be a necessary conclusion. The Scriptures nowhere speak of Christ as a created being, but on the contrary plainly state that he was begotten of the Father. [See remarks on Rev. 3:14, where it is shown that Christ is not a created being.] But while as the Son he does not possess a co-eternity of past existence with the Father, the beginning of his existence, as the begotten of the Father, antedates the entire work of creation, in relation to which he stands as joint creator with God. John 1:3; Heb. 1:2. Could not the Father ordain that to such a being worship should be rendered equally with himself, without its being idolatry on the part of the worshiper? He has raised him to positions which make it proper that he should be worshiped, and has even commanded that worship should be rendered him, which would not have been necessary had he been equal with the Father in eternity of existence. Christ himself declares that "as the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself." John 5:26. The Father has "highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name." Phil. 2:9. And the Father himself says, "Let all the angels of God worship him." Heb. 1:6. These testimonies show that Christ is now an object of worship equally with the Father; but they do not prove that with him he holds an eternity of past existence. p. 401, Para. 1.
Coming back from the glorious scene anticipated in verse 13 to events transpiring in the heavenly sanctuary before him, the prophet hears the four living creatures exclaim, Amen. p. 401, Para. 2.
© S. D. Goeldner, February, 2011. Last updated October, 2019.
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