X Close Menu

Real Worship! A Study of Revelation 4-5 (Part II)

B.        Our Redeemer - 5:1-14

1.            the Scroll - v. 1

G. B. Caird argues convincingly, in my opinion, that "the content of the scroll is God's redemptive plan, foreshadowed in the Old Testament, by which he means to assert his sovereignty over a sinful world and so to achieve the purpose of creation. John proposes to trace the whole operation of this plan from its beginnings in the Cross to its triumphal culmination in the new Jerusalem" (72). The scroll contains the content, course, and consummation of history, how things will end for both Christian and non-Christian (cf. Ps. 139:16).

Other theories of the identity of the book include:

·      The book of life, already mentioned in 3:5

·      The Old Testament (Jesus alone can open it because the OT prophecies find their fulfillment in him)

·      A book containing the events of a future tribulation period

·      The book is a covenantal promise of inheritance to be understood against the legal background of Roman wills

Scholars disagree on whether the book was a rolled-up scroll or a codex (the forerunner of the modern book form). Those who believe it was a scroll contend that its contents cannot be revealed until all seven seals are broken. However, others have pointed out that there is evidence that seals on a legal document would have written upon them a brief summary of the contents of the scroll. Thus with the breaking of each seal an element of the more complete contents of the scroll would be revealed. If that is the case, the book’s contents would consist of what transpires immediately in chapter 6 and the remainder of Revelation. If the former is the case, the book’s contents would be revealed only after the seventh and final seal is removed.

Richard Bauckham makes a strong case for identifying the “book” of Rev. 5 with the “little book” in Rev. 10. He then argues that the primary content of the “book” consists of the events narrated in Rev. 11.

2.            the Search - vv. 2-4

All creation in heaven and earth stands motionless and speechless, which explains John's sorrow. It seems as if no one is capable of bringing history to its ordained end. "John weeps with disappointment because the hope of God's action appears to be indefinitely postponed for lack of an agent through whom God may act" (Caird, 73). Is there no one who can take authority over history and insure that God’s enemies will be judged and his people vindicated?

The term “worthy,” does not simply mean “able” but “qualified” in the sense of having the proper qualifications to perform this special task. The purpose for opening the scroll is not so that it can be read (nothing is explicitly said anywhere in Revelation about the contents of the scroll) but so that the eschatological events can begin to take place.

But suddenly . . .

3.            the Savior - vv. 5-7

No doubt thinking he will see a lion, he is amazed to see a lamb! Note three things about this lamb: (1) the fact that it is a "lamb" points to his atoning sacrifice (Isa. 53:7; perhaps also the Passover Lamb is in view); (2) this lamb is "standing, as though slain,” lit., slaughtered, with its throat cut. But if it is slain, how does it stand? Resurrection! (3) this lamb bears the marks of death and the marks of sovereignty: “seven horns” (perfect power = the Messianic conqueror) and “seven eyes” (perfect wisdom).

The words “in the midst of” (v. 6) could suggest that the Lamb is actually on the throne, surrounded by the four creatures and the twenty-four elders. But it is more likely that the Lamb is standing near the throne, for in v. 7 he is portrayed as coming up to the throne and taking the book from the one who sits upon it. Thus again we see the consistent NT portrait of the Son at the right hand of his Father’s throne.

·      The phrase “the slaughtered Lamb” is also found in 5:12; 13:8. Here the fact that the word “slaughtered,” is introduced with the comparative particle “as, like,” does not mean that the Lamb only appeared to have been slaughtered but rather that the Lamb had been slaughtered and was now alive, thus combining the two theological motifs of death and resurrection.

·      The scene here is highly reminiscent of Daniel 7:13ff. in which “one like a son of man” “comes” before God to receive authority to reign.

4.            the Song - vv. 8-14

The “prayers of the saints” (v. 8b) may well be the prayers for just retribution on the enemies of God’s people described in 6:9-11 (and 8:4ff.). “Therefore, the prayers mentioned here are not just praises but especially requests that God defend the honor of his reputation for justice by judging the persecutors of his people” (Beale, 357).

The term translated “bowl” or “vial” occurs twelve times in Revelation (5:8; 15:7; 16:1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 10, 12, 17; 17:1; 21:9). The meaning of “bowl” in 5:8, however, appears to be slightly different from the meaning in the other eleven references. Here the “bowls” are filled with incense and are used in a positive, beneficial way, while in the other references they are said to contain the wrath of God and are used to inflict punishments on the earth and its inhabitants.

They sing a "new song" (cf. Ps. 98:1-3; Isa. 42:10-13). Why? Because the Lamb has defeated the powers of evil and has inaugurated a new creation. And why is the lamb worthy of praise? Because he has died, and by dying has redeemed men and women from every corner of the earth, and by redeeming them has made them (i.e., you and me!) into a kingdom and into priests. It is therefore as priests in God's kingdom that we come to praise and worship him.

·      The best manuscript evidence for v. 10 leads to the translation: “And Thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests . . .” rather than “made us.” If the latter were correct, it would lend support to the idea that the elders are human, but the far better attested “them” would seem to differentiate the elders from “those” who are redeemed by the Lamb and made a kingdom of priests.

·      There is also the question of the verb tense of “reign” in v. 10. Both the future (“they will reign upon the earth”) and the present tenses (“they are [or do] reign upon the earth”) are supported by substantial manuscript evidence. According to Rev. 1:5-6 we are already a kingdom and priests to God, as is also the case here in 5:10. This would lend support to the idea that the redeemed currently reign on the earth. This is an example of the “already / not yet” tension in Scripture. We already reign as a kingdom and priests, but not yet have we entered into the full dimensions of that reign (which will come only with the creation of the “new earth”).

Suddenly there is a snowball effect in this service of praise. As the choir sings of God's majesty the adoration of the lamb moves out in ever-widening circles (see vv. 11-13). At first, it was the four living creatures singing their song of praise. They are then joined by the twenty-four elders. Now we read in v. 11 that myriads and myriads and thousands and thousands of angels follow suit. And if that were not sufficient, we read in v. 13 that "every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them" begin to praise the lamb!

This is a verbal repetition of 5:3, where no one in the entire universe was able to open the scroll, though here the phrase “upon the sea” is added. “Every created thing,” at first sight appears to refer to intelligent creatures, since they sing a doxology; i.e., “every created being in heaven” seems to refer to angels and not to birds. However, the phrase “and all things in them” is redundant, since it does no more than repeat the phrase “every created thing.” But it also indicates that all creation singing the praises of God is a metaphor simply because most creatures are not able to sing in human language.

The 7-fold shout of worship in v. 12 rings out like the sound of a huge bell:

POWER! . . . RICHES! . . . WISDOM! . . . MIGHT! . . . HONOR! . . . GLORY! . . . BLESSING!

And even with that they do not cease . . . v. 13!

An important point is that the God who is adored for his beauty and holiness and majesty in Rev. 4-5 is the same God who pours forth wrath and destruction and terror through the series of seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments.

First, it is the four living creatures who worship God in Rev. 4-5 who also call forth the four horsemen of the first four seal judgments in 6:1ff. The seven trumpets are blown by the seven angels who stand before God in heaven (8:2,6). And the designation of God in 4:9-10 as he “who lives forever and ever” is found in 15:7 in connection with the “bowls full of the wrath of God.” As Bauckham observes, “it is the God whose awesome holiness the living creatures sing unceasingly who manifests his glory and power in the final series of judgments” (Theology, 41).

Second, even more explicit is the literary link between the seventh of each series of judgments and the statement in 4:5a. In the latter we read of “flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder” issuing from the throne. This formula is then echoed at the opening of the seventh seal judgment (8:5), the sounding of the seventh trumpet (11:19), and the pouring out of the seventh bowl (16:18-21). In other words, the holiness of God described in Rev. 4-5 is most clearly manifested in the judgments on evil in the seals, trumpets, and bowls.

John saw it. Handel, in his own way, saw it. Now you and I, in our own way, have also seen it. How shall we respond?