And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals. Then I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?" And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll, or to look at it. So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it. 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." And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth. Then He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on 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. And they sang a new song, saying: "You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And 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 on the earth." Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain To receive power and riches and wisdom, And strength and honor and glory and blessing!" 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, I heard saying: "Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!" Then the four living creatures said, "Amen!" And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever." (Revelation 5:1-14, NKJV)
The stage has been set for the revelation of the future. Specifically, for the unfolding of the purpose of God as it is fulfilled under the administration of the Lord Jesus Christ. "Spiritual understanding" is administered from the "throne zone." Hearts and minds must be elevated into the heavenlies before any accurate understanding of the work of the Lord can be experienced. Our entrance into higher realms cannot be casual. John was "in the Spirit on the Lord's day," and was told, "Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this" (1:10; 4:1).
Up! Up! Up! It is a key word regarding the current reign of Jesus. When Jesus blessed the loaves and fishes, He looked "UP into heaven" (Matt 14:19). When He ascended, He was received "UP into heaven" (Mark 16:19). The Gospel of Luke says He was "carried UP into heaven" (Luke 24:51). When Paul heard words that could not be uttered in earthly language, he said he was "caught UP to the third heaven," and "was caught UP into paradise" (2 Cor 12:2,4). Regeneration involves being "raised . . . UP together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph 2:6). When at last we put on immortality, and the natural order passes away, we will be "caught UP together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (1 Thess 4:17).
This is not a mere academic exercise. Rather, it confirms that spiritual insight, regardless of its level, can only occur in separation from the world order. Our hearts and minds must rise above the world and its cares in order to apprehend the things of God. This is why the Spirit strongly urges, "If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God" (Col 3:1-3). The church has been plagued with lifeless academia, which does not require coming up into heavenly places. A heavenly perspective is not critical to an academic view of Scripture. But if you want the view of Jesus, which is the only valid view, you must set your affection where He is, and seek the things that are there (Col 3:1-2). That is precisely what we see occurring in this book.
The door was opened "in heaven!" The throne that is seen is in heaven! The one sitting on the throne is in heaven! The twenty four elders are in heaven. The four living creatures are in heaven! The book to which we will now be introduced is in heaven! We are going to be brought up high, and then given a view of the Lord's workings from the heavenly point of view. We will see the saints from heaven's perspective. The activities of the evil one, and all those in alliance with him, will be seen from this high perspective.
Not A Mysterious Realm
Rather than being a mysterious realm, this is the domain where things are more clearly seen. The "open door" could not be seen from earth. The throne and He that sat upon it cannot be seen from the world. We will now be introduced to a "book" that cannot be seen from this world. That is another way of saying the working of God cannot be comprehended with the natural mind. That, of course, is the precise statement of the Spirit. "But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor 2:14).
As obvious as this is, men will dispute it, declaring that man is capable of discerning without being in heavenly places, or possessing the Spirit of God. This only reveals how lowly their considerations are. Were the professed people of God to occupy themselves with the purpose of God, the blessings of God, and the promises of God, they would soon find out how challenging they are. Questions like "What is the Lord doing?", "How is Jesus reigning?", and "What is the role of the saints in the Divine rule?" are too weighty for the carnal or natural mind. That is why the contemporary church has chosen to speak of other things, and to follow another agenda. Were men to occupy themselves more with the Lord, and less with the activities of men, they would soon understand both God and man better!
THE BOOK IS SEEN
"And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals." The Sovereign God, seated upon the throne, is now seen with something in His hand. It is in His right hand, indicative of something within His power and control. John sees that it is a "book,"--to be more precise, a "scroll." It is filled with writing, on "the front and on the back," or, as we would say it, on both sides of the paper. It is also sealed with seven seals, so that the writing cannot be read.
Similar to Ezekiel's Vision
The vision is similar to one had by Ezekiel, and doubtless represents a manner in which God divulges His workings to the sons of men. Ezekiel's experience is recorded in the second chapter of his book. Like John the Apostle, the prophet of old was in captivity (Ezek 1:1). He was also by a body of water, the "river of Chebar." Instead of facing the glorified Christ, Ezekiel was confronted with "a whirlwind" that "came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire" (1:4). He was being confronted with Deity, but not in the advanced manner as the Apostle John. He also faced "four living creatures" (1:5-26). He also saw a rainbow, as did John (1:27-28). Instead of being "in the Spirit" and being summoned up higher, Ezekiel was told to stand on his feet. The Spirit then entered into him, and he stood upon his feet. He too was told he was being sent with a message. His message was to the children of Israel. John's was to "the churches."
Ezekiel was shown the "roll of a book," remarkably like that of John the beloved. "And when I looked, behold, an hand was sent unto me; and, lo, a roll of a book was therein; And he spread it before me; and it was written within and without: and there was written therein lamentations, and mourning, and woe" (2:9-10). This was a book of judgment, a record of Divine reappraisals upon the disobedient children of Israel. The imagery is too much like that of the Revelation to be coincidental. This, too, is a book of Divine judgment.
Daniel the prophet was also made privy to things written in the book of Divine intent. A mighty angel told him, "I will show thee that which is noted in the scripture of truth" (Dan 10:21). He was not talking about the writings of Moses and the Prophets, but about what was recorded in heaven. Other versions translate "scripture of truth" as "book of truth" ((RSV, NRSV, NIV). It is the same book John saw, although Daniel's exposure to it was comparatively limited. The angel appearing to Daniel prepared to divulge to him what God had determined to be done.
A Book of Judgment
The book of Revelation is also a book of Divine judgment. It is not, however, limited in its execution, as it was in the scroll seen by Ezekiel, and the book of Daniel. God will deal with all who have lifted up their heel against Him! His terrors will be directed toward kings and governments that rose against Him (6:15; 11:15). The false prophets and pretending church will also be judged by God (14:9; 16:19; 18:2,10,21; 19:20; 20:10). Although the Revelation mentions the final judgment of all men (20:12-13), the body of this book, in the right hand of God, does not deal with that reckoning. Neither, indeed, will we find the writing of this book confined to "lamentation and woe,"as that of Ezekiel.
Written Within and Without
Written within and without, or on the front and back, this book is the title-deed of the church--the tracing of its history in the world, and the glorious outcome of it all. The fact that we see a "book" underscores that we are seeing the fulfillment of Divine purpose. It is a declaration of things to come. As it is written, "And new things I declare; Before they spring forth I tell you of them" (Isa 42:9). And again, "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" (Isa 46:10). God never acts by impulse or caprice, but always by design. As it is written, "In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ" (Eph 1:11-12).
The writing within and without also reveals there is nothing dull or monotonous in the working of our Lord. There is continuous activity, for our God neither sleeps nor slumbers (Psalm 121:3-4). Pointing to this aspect of the Divine nature (continually working), Jesus said, "My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working" (John 5:17, NASB). When Isaiah saw the glory of the Lord (John 12:41), the Seraphim were drawing attention to the working of the God. "Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory" (Isa 6:3), i.e., with evidence of His prodigious work..
In God's Right Hand Fulfilling His Purpose
By being "in the right hand" of the living God, we learn this is not a mere prediction of what will happen. It is a book of, what I have chosen to call, Divine intent. This is nothing less than the delineation of the purpose of God. It is also the opening of the reign of Christ Jesus, and some of its principle involvements. There is Divine Sovereignty revealed here, for "the right hand" of God is one of power and invincibility. His "right hand" is associated with "saving strength" (Psalm 20:6), the procurement of blessing (Psalm 78:54), and victory (Psalm 98:1). All of this tells us that God uses His power to achieve His objective, or purpose.
With the Church in Mind
The future is viewed with the church, or body of Christ, as the primary cluster of people. Others are mentioned as they relate to this church, whether friend or foe. We must see that the future of the church, or "things that must be hereafter," is in the hand of the Lord. We are NOT on an uncharted sea! How often this is emphasized in Scripture. "Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them" (Isa 42:9). "And who, as I, shall call, and shall declare it, and set it in order for me, since I appointed the ancient people? and the things that are coming, and shall come, let them show unto them" (Isa 44:7). "Thus saith the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me" (Isa 45:11). "Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure" (Isa 46:9-10). "I have even from the beginning declared it to thee; before it came to pass I showed it thee: lest thou shouldest say, Mine idol hath done them, and my graven image, and my molten image, hath commanded them. Thou hast heard, see all this; and will not ye declare it? I have showed thee new things from this time, even hidden things, and thou didst not know them" (Isa 48:5-6).
You will recall that God even revealed the future to Nebuchadnezzar in a dream, although he was a heathen. Daniel opened the matter to him, explaining what God was doing. "I have even from the beginning declared it to thee; before it came to pass I showed it thee: lest thou shouldest say, Mine idol hath done them, and my graven image, and my molten image, hath commanded them. Thou hast heard, see all this; and will not ye declare it? I have showed thee new things from this time, even hidden things, and thou didst not know them" (Dan 2:28-29).
God's Will, Not Man's
With all of man's wisdom, he cannot determine the future. We to well not to ascribe too much significance to the will of man. It is the will of the Lord that will be done, man notwithstanding! When speaking of the foreknowledge of God, an emphasis is placed upon what HE is doing. As it is written, "Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world" (Acts 15:18). The workings of the Lord are precise and extensive. After delineating the purpose of God regarding both Jew and Gentile, Paul exclaimed, "For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen" (Rom 11:36). That is a doctrinal statement that parallels the vision of the book in the right hand of God!
An Open Hand
We will find that the book is in a Divine hand that is open. The Lord is not gripping the book, but holding it forth in an open and willing hand. We know this is the case, because a challenge will be issued to open the book, not the right hand of God. This picture is nothing less than a depiction of the willingness of our great God to make His works known to the sons of men. How frequently our Lord has revealed this aspect of His Person. Glorious phrases are woven throughout the text of Scripture that portray a willing God. " . . . to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I show the salvation of God" (Psalm 50:23). "With long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation" (Psalm 91:16). "Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not" (Jer 33:3). Any hindrance in our understanding is not due to God, or any unwillingness on His part. The open hand of Omnipotence confirms that if we are straitened, or hindered, it is due to our meager spiritual appetites. Thus it is written, "You are not restrained by us, but you are restrained in your own affections" (2 Cor 6:12, NASB).
The understanding of the future, particularly as it regards the people of God, is seen in the context of an open, willing, gracious, kind, and beneficent hand! To consider the future from any other perspective is to cause the curtain of obscurity to fall upon our heart and understanding.
The Primary Use of His Power
Although God DOES react to disobedience and rebellion, as with the world of Noah's day, Sodom, Egypt, and wayward Israel, that is not the primary use of His Divine power. It is also true that God blesses and sustains the righteous, often causing them to prosper in the midst of impossible circumstances. Yet, that is not the dominant use of His strength. Essentially, His power is used for the execution and fulfillment of His PURPOSE--conceived before the world began. One of the primary teachings of Scripture is that, as men become willingly involved in this purpose, Divine power sustains and benefits them personally.
All of this is to say that the book held in the right hand of Him that sat upon the throne, is a full disclosure (written on the front and the back) of the working of the Lord in the world. It is not a declaration of the working of Satan, but of the fulfillment of God's purpose in spite Satan. Here we will not be given a commentary on the work of an antichrist, false church, and wicked governments. Rather, we will be shown the futility of their activities. Here, we will see the final resolution of the affairs of the earth. History (past, present, and future), will be viewed from the standpoint of God's "eternal purpose." God has a purpose, and it will be fulfilled to the most infinite detail before the universe goes up in flame!
A Sealed Book
The book in the right hand of God was not "open" like the one seen by Ezekiel (Ezek 2:10). Rather, it was "sealed with seven seals." In this respect, it was like the prophecy given to Daniel--sealed, with the words being "shut up" (Dan 12:4). A seven-fold seal is a perfect seal, which means there is no possible way the contents of this book could be known apart from Divine intervention. Man, with all of his disciplined learning, history, and language expertise cannot pry into the mind of the Lord. If, by an act of Sovereign good pleasure, God does not divulge what He is doing, there is no possible way of discovering it. On an elementary level, it is absolutely impossible to arrive at a knowledge of God's workings in Christ Jesus apart from His Word, the Bible. No philosopher, however astute in gifts and disciplines, can discover why Jesus came, died, rose again, and ascended into heaven. The significance of the blood of Christ, His current intercession, and the reality of His return could not be discovered--it HAD to be revealed. God's purpose, so to speak, was "sealed" in these matters until He, in His mercy, made them known.
The book is "in the right hand of Him that sat on the throne." The purpose is His. The execution of the purpose belongs to Him. The future is in His hand because the ONLY reason for a future is the fulfillment of His purpose! Settle it in your mind: If God did not have a purpose, there would be no world, and no humanity. The book is in His hand because He authored it. It is there because He controls it. It is also there because only He can will, or purpose, it to be revealed. There is no spiritual understanding apart from "the Lamb." His Sovereignty over the Kingdom includes the administration of wisdom and understanding. Both are resident in, and hidden with, Him. The pride of man has moved many to reject this condition. Yet, it remains impossible to learn of eternal matters with Him. All praise to Him!
THE ARRESTING CHALLENGE
"Then I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, 'Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?'" Suddenly "a strong angel" appears on the scene. He cries out with a shout that reverberates throughout the universe. "Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?" The book is not intended to remain sealed. God wants His purpose to be known. But first, He must show the need of Himself in the matter. The book has been seen, or, to state it another way, the announcement has been made that He does have intentions. Now the universe is challenged on the matter.
Notice, a "strong angel" shouts the challenge with a "loud voice" that penetrates every area occupied by personalities or things created. But he does NOT ask who is strong enough to open the seals, but who is "worthy" to open, or break, them. He does NOT ask who is wise or cunning enough to open them, but who is "worthy" to do so. Who can unlock the mystery of Divine purpose? Who, on their own, can open up what God is doing in the earth--or anywhere else?
Consider, a man did not issue this challenge, but a "strong angel." This portrays the posture of angels, as elsewhere declared in Scripture. Particularly regarding salvation, it is said of them, " . . unto us they (the prophets, v. 11) did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into" (1 Pet 1:12). From our standpoint, how anxious this angel must have been to hear a response to his challenge: "Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?"
Worthiness, the Preeminent Requirement
The preeminent qualification is WORTHINESS! How different from the requirements of "this present evil world!" Here men are afforded privileges upon the basis of appearance, accomplishments, or even their oratorical abilities. Others are qualified because of their academic credentials, or remarkable feats. But that is not the criteria in heaven! Worthiness in the sight of God is the qualifying factor! We must learn that God will not allow unholy and unworthy people to handle eternal things, much less understand them!
But this worthiness involves more than moral excellence. We will find that accomplishment will be the deciding factor. The one who is worthy must have achieved something of high value to God. And thus the shout reverberates throughout all created realms, "Who is worthy?" John waits with anxious heart! Surely, in this high and holy place, someone will be found worthy to open the book and break the seals that hide the future. The cherubim and seraphim are here, together with mighty angels like Michael and Gabriel. Twenty four elders are here, having completed their race, and sitting upon thrones. Perhaps one from this distinguished population will rise in rely to the challenge.
No One Is Able!
"And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll, or to look at it." Silence reigns supreme in answer to the summons! Among all the "spirits of just men made perfect" (Heb 12:23), there is not a solitary individual found worthy to open the book or, to delineate the working of the Lord! Among that number were Abel, Enoch, Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Peter, and Paul. But they were not worthy to open the book. Upon earth, among the godly, among those walking in the light, none could be found who could declare "the things that must be hereafter." Even "under the earth," in unseen realms, there was no person found worthy to open the book! No historian was worthy! No language expert was worthy! The poverty of all derived wisdom is thus exposed, regardless of who possesses it.
Remember, John the aged Apostle is hearing these words--but he is not worthy either. Do not forget, we are in the very throne room of God. The challenge rings throughout the halls of heaven, "Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?" But there is no answer, no response! There are times, and this is one, when the mouths of everyone are silenced--when the Divine demand is too great. Like Job, we must lay our hand upon our mouth at such times (Job 40:4). If the opening of this book depends upon any created being, it will forever be closed!
THE FERVENT DESIRE TO KNOW
"So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it." Bursting into tears, John begins, and continues, to weep copiously. Oh, he fervently wanted to know "the things that must be hereafter!" He was not content, like many, to remain in spiritual ignorance. Nor, indeed, can anyone standing in the presence of the Lord be satisfied to remain ignorant of things that can be known! The prevailing ignorance in the church betrays a spiritual condition most serious. Those who "dwell in the uttermost parts are afraid" of the workings of the Lord, and thus maintain their distance from them, refusing to probe into His truth (Psalm 65:8).
It is with great sorrow that I must acknowledge the majority of church people I know would have been content to remain ignorant of the book`in the right hand of God. Some theological expert would have stepped forward to tell us it cannot be known, because "no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon." Their religion hinges upon the expertise of men, not upon God. They forget that the book is in God's hand! So, when men cannot open the matter, they are quite content to let it remain closed. But it was not so with John!
He weeps much! He was not worthy! The angels were not worthy! The redeemed were not worthy! Not even the four living creatures were worthy! Yet, the book was there, in the open hand of the Lord, awaiting for one worthy to open it. John's love of the truth and at-homeness with the Lord, caused him to weep copiously at this condition.
For the spiritually minded, there is a certain sorrow that attends ignorance. They have a desire to know, and cannot be content to remain in a state of nescience when something can be known--particularly when it regards the purpose of Almighty God. Earnest thinkers are often weeping because they do not understand God's judgments. They are, after all, "a great deep" (Psalm 36:6).
You must see the gravity of the situation. Long ago, the Lord said through Amos, "Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing His plan to His servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7, NIV). Now, John has been told he will be shown "the things that must be hereafter" the plan or purpose of God. When he perceives these things as a book in the right hand of God, it is suddenly made known that no one can be found worthy to open the book, or divulge the purpose of God. It now seems that there is no one in the entire universe to whom God can reveal these secrets! This appears to contradict God's word to Amos. We will see that this problem will be resolved, praise the Lord!
A Principle to be Seen
There is an important principle to be seen here. William Barclay, past lecturer from the University of Glasgow, once said, "It is a problem when the teacher cannot deliver a message to a congregation totally incapable of comprehending it. It is the eternal problem of love; love cannot tell its truths or give its gifts to those incapable of hearing or receiving. The need of the world is for men and women who will keep themselves sensitive to God. He has a message for the world in every generation; but that message cannot be delivered until there is found a man capable of receiving it. And day by day we either fit or unfit ourselves to receive the message of God."
A weighty consideration, indeed. And it is much more true of God than of the teacher. He will NOT "manifest" Himself, share His "secret," or "show" His covenant, to those unsuited to receive it (John 14:21,23; Psalm 25:14). If ever a person is to learn from God (and it is written "they shall all be taught by God," Isa 2:3; John 6:45), they must have such an intense interest in available truth that they weep when they cannot see it! Oh, that more would hear the Word of God like that! Search the Scriptures for prophets and men of God that spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. None of them were casual or haphazard in their relationship to God. None were given to see heavenly things while dominated by the flesh, or distracted by the world. God simply will not show His truth to those whose ear is uncircumcised (Jer 6:10) and insensitive to Him. This is a truth that MUST be grasped by every soul desiring to know the truth as it is in Christ Jesus. Becoming immersed in the world order necessarily excludes one from spiritual understanding. Many a soul has forfeited indispensable Kingdom insights in preference for the carnal mind.
ONE WITH AUTHORITY TO OPEN THE BOOK
Do Not Weep!
We now embark upon one of the most majestic scenes in all of Scripture. As John is weeping, one of the twenty-four elders speaks to him. It looks hopeless to the aged Apostle, but it is not! There is really no cause to weep, but as yet, the real situation is hidden from John. He has been told he would be shown "the things that must be hereafter," and now it appears that is not possible.
"But one of the elders said to me, 'Do not weep.'" For the first time, we hear from one of the twenty- four elders, and he has a good word indeed! It is as though John's genuine interest has been tested, and he has passed the test. The words of the elder remind us of the three times Jesus said them to discouraged and frustrated souls. To the widow of Nain, whose son had died, Jesus said "Weep not!" (Luke 7:13). To those at Jairus' house, weeping and mourning because of the death of his daughter, Jesus said, "Weep not; she is not dead, but sleepeth" (Luke 8:52). As Jesus was on the way to the cross, devout women followed who mourned and lamented. He said to them, "Weep not . . . " (Luke 23:28).
Now, John hears the same words from an enthroned victor from the good fight of faith. It is as though he said, Your analysis of the situation is wrong! All is not hopeless! The word of the elder, "Weep not," is similar to other Scriptural exhortations. "Fret not . . . " (Psa 37:1), "Let not your heart be troubled . . . " (John 14:2), and "Fear not" (Rev 1:7). This is a word of comfort that declares more is to come! It is just not that it is a sin to weep. There is no real cause to weep! The dilemma has been addressed by the One upon the throne.
One Has Prevailed!
"Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.'" Here we find that worthiness is not found in character alone, but in accomplishing the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. This passage has scarcely an equal in all of Scripture. The utterance lies at the very heart of God's redemptive purpose, and focuses on the One Individual upon Whom the hopes of our race are suspended. The Lamb suddenly becomes the center of the scene. While the "book" in the hand of the One upon the throne is intriguing, it is the Lamb that holds the answer to its contents. I want to emphasize this because of the undue exaltation of scholarship in our times. It has become a shrine at which every novice bows. But where is scholarship in this scene? Here is fulfilled the saying that dominates the environs of salvation. "Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" (1 Cor 1:20). A strong angel has hurled the challenge for one worthy person in the universe of intelligence, and none has answered. Let them forever keep silence when we come into the realm of sacred knowledge, for they can offer us no advantage! One has "prevailed," and only One can take the book of destiny and open it to our hearts and minds.
There Was A Conflict
Learn too that there was a conflict BEFORE the book could be opened. The adversary of both God and man had to be brought down, death defeated, and life and immortality brought to light. The indebtedness created by our infractions of the Law had to be taken "out of the way" so we could be justified by faith (Col 2:14). Sin itself had to be "taken away," "blotted out like a thick cloud," and "cast into the depth of the sea" (Heb 9:26; Isa 44:22; Mic 7:19). Even though we were "saved" and "called" according to God's "purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began" (2 Tim 1:9), a battle had to be fought and won before that purpose could be fulfilled. Like it or not, salvation could not be effected by a Divine mandate. The worlds were created by Divine word, but our salvation was a Divine work.
The Lion of the Tribe of Judah
The first living creature was "like a lion," but this IS the Lion! He was prophesied by our father Jacob as he pronounced blessings upon his children. "Judah is a lion's whelp; From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He bows down, he lies down as a lion; And as a lion, who shall rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor a lawgiver from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes; And to Him shall be the obedience of the people" (Gen 49:9). In John's vision, the promised descendant is no more a "lion's whelp," or cub! He is in His glory now, having risen to full strength. Now, no one dares to rouse Him, knowing none can contend with Him successfully. Shiloh has come, and the scepter has been given to Him. He is "THE Lion of the tribe of Judah," and the government is upon His shoulder. His wrath is "as a roaring lion" (Prov 19:12), and his strength is unexcelled (Prov 30:30).
Jesus shook off the powers of hell Satan and all of his combined hosts leading them away captive (Eph 4:8). In the mightest struggle the universe has ever witnessed, Christ and Satan locked in mortal combat. For three days it appeared on earth as though Satan had won as though the grave had again conquered. But in the midst of the darkest hour, and as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Christ rose triumphant from death and the grave, triumphing over them. In the wake of that triumph, He became the "Author and Finisher of our faith," and the "Captain of our salvation," and is now "bringing" us "to glory" (Heb 12:2; Heb 2:10).
The strength of the Son of God is Divine strength, not raw energy as men imagine. That means it is focused, being used for the fulfillment of God's purpose. "It is evident," Scripture apprizes us, "that our Lord sprang out of Judah" (Heb 7:14). With strength and aggression He is now living to "make intercession" for the saints (Heb 7:25). His current ministry as "the Lion of the tribe of Judah" is in order to our salvation. But to obtain that ministry, He had to prevail over the enemy. He had to triumph over temptation, and finally over the grave itself. He, and He alone, is worthy to open the book, and to break the seals that conceal its contents to mortals, and even angels.
The Root of David
But the Lamb is also "the Root of David." How gloriously this was prophesied. "A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots" (Isa 11:1). He the fulfillment of God's promise to David: "I will establish his throne forever" (1 Chron 17:12). David's glorious reign was but an introduction to that of the prevailing Lamb! Isaiah said the Messiah would reign "upon the throne of David" (Isa 9:7). Jeremiah affirmed God would "raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth" (Jer 23:5), and David's throne would "never lack a man to sit on it" (Jer 33:17). Ezekiel referred to the coming Savior as "My servant David," who would be "a prince among" the people (Ezek 34:23-24). Hosea spoke of Israel returning to seek the Lord "and David their King" (Hos 3:5). What we are seeing is involved in the fulfillment of those marvelous prophecies. A prevailing Lamb ready to open the Divine workings in the earth.
The Standing Lamb
"And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain . . . " Jesus spoke of His identity with the throne of His Father to the Laodicean church. "To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne" (Rev 3:21). I do not know if the Lamb had been there all of the time or not. If He was, then the book had captured John's vision so as to obscure the triumphant Lion of the tribe of Judah. It is important that we do not allow the Book to detract us from the Person of Christ. How can such a thing happen? By being more enamored with what is said than with Who said it. Note, He is not at the side of the throne, but in the middle of it. He is the locus, or center, of activity. The four living creatures are around Him, as well as the twenty-four elders. All of heaven honors and adores Him!
John does not see a lion standing, but "a Lamb as though it had been slain." The risen Lord is a "Lion" to His enemies, but a "Lamb" to His "many brethren," and to God as well. To Satan and his hosts, the Lord is a Lion. To God and His children, He is a Lamb. This is, of course, clear reference to His vicarious and atoning death. That death is of perpetual significance in glory. There is never a day that King Jesus is viewed in disassociation from His death. God sees Him as a Lamb newly slain. That is the meaning of the phrase "as it had been slain." The marks of death remain upon Him, and it is seen as though He was just offered for the sins of the world. We should not marvel that God calls upon us to see Him in the same manner. Enough of an historical Jesus! Let us banish that academic thought from our vocabulary and view the conquering One as heaven does: "as though He had been slain." The vision is vital, for He was "slain" for us! That is why, to the saved, the "preaching of the cross" is "the power of God" (1 Cor 1:18). Because of its effect upon our understanding, and its power to accomplish the purpose of God, Paul "determined not to know any thing among" men, "save Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Cor 2:2). Here is the center of preaching, the concentration of knowledge, the heart of preservation, the reason for self-mortification, and the stimulus of hope.
In an act of apparent weakness, the Lord Jesus triumphed over the adversaries, fulfilling the will of the Father (2 Cor 13:4). Mark it well, the "Lion of the Tribe of Judah" was also the sacrificial "Lamb as it had been slain." His triumph did not lead to His death, but His death led to His triumph!
One further thing should be observed as we linger before this arresting vision. You will notice that we are brought back to our salvation before we consider the future. The great truths of the Gospel are repeatedly sounded out in the Revelation. In my judgment, this is designed to teach us something. The key to perceiving the future is found in comprehending the greatness of our salvation. Those who have no interest in that, will not experience the opening of the book of Divine intent, or purpose. God will not divulge the outcome of the battle to those who neglect His salvation. They will be shut up to doubt and confusion.
Perception and Influence
As we should know, this is no ordinary Lamb. First, it appears as though it has just been slain. Now we are exposed to more of His Person. The Lamb that is standing in the midst of the throne has great power and is omniscient, or all-seeing.
" . . . having seven horns . . . " The "seven horns" depict Christ's great and perfect power. This kind of language was developed by God in old time, in order that we might comprehend the nature of Christ Jesus as now declared. In a graphic picture, Moses spoke of Joseph possessing great power. In this description, he refers to "horns." "In majesty he is like a firstborn bull; his horns are the horns of a wild ox. With them he will gore the nations, even those at the ends of the earth" (Deut 33:17, NIV). Zedekiah the prophet made iron horns as a sign of victory over the Syrians (1 Kgs 22:11). With great solemnity, the wicked are warned, "Do not lift up your horn" (Psa 75:4). Zechariah spoke of "four horns," depicting powerful nations that "scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem" (Zech 1:18-19). The Lamb's seven horns declare His total and unquestioned power.
The "horns" also declare the HONOR due the Son. The Word of God has also acquainted us with this manner of thinking. "For You are the glory of their strength, And in Your favor our horn is exalted" (Psa 89:17). "He has dispersed abroad, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever; His horn will be exalted with honor" (Psa 112:9). "And He has exalted the horn of His people" (Psa 148:14). The seven horns on the Lamb affirm His glorious exaltation. "God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name" (Phil 2:9).
" . . . and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth." There is only one other reference to "seven eyes" in Scripture, and it is a significant one. Remember, in our consideration of the figures and symbols in this book, we will resort to the prophets. Here is Zechariah's arresting prophecy. "Hear, O Joshua, the high priest, You and your companions who sit before you, For they are a wondrous sign; For behold, I am bringing forth My Servant the BRANCH. For behold, the stone that I have laid before Joshua: Upon the stone are seven eyes. Behold, I will engrave its inscription,' Says the LORD of hosts, 'And I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day" (Zech 3:8-9). This is doubtless a declaration of the coming Messiah. He is the "Servant" and "Branch," as confirmed by the other prophets (Isa 42:1; 49:6; 52:13; Jer 33:21,22,26; Ezek 34:23,24; 37:24; Isa 4:2; 11:1; Jer 23:5; 33:15). The "stone" laid, or set, before Joshua is later called the "capstone," or "headstone" (4:7). The stone was to have engravings, like the stones of the high priest's breastplate "engraved, as signets are engraved" (Ex 39:6). This was a veiled picture of the coming Savior. We know this is the case because of the following promise: "And I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day." Notice, that stone of Zechariah's vision had "seven eyes." This vision declared the pervasive influence of the Kingdom of God, as well as the Omniscient reign of its King. The "stone," from this view, is like the stone of Nebuchadnezzar's dream, which was cut out of a mountain without hands. Beginning small, it eventually filled the whole earth, consuming all other kingdoms (Dan 2:35-45).
The only other reference to "seven eyes" in the entire Bible is in our text, Revelation 5:6. Here the Lamb standing in the midst of the throne is said to have "seven eyes." He, and He alone, is the total fulfillment of the prophecies before Him. While His "seven horns" speak of His power and honor, made known in His mediatorial reign, the "seven eyes" declare the nature of the reign, one of wisdom and purpose. That is how His omniscience, or all-knowingness, is exercised. With discernment that takes everything in the earth into consideration, He is bringing the sons of God to glory. His is a wise, as well as a powerful, reign. There is no place on the face of earth where He does not behold His people, their adversaries, and their troubles. He will bring them through it all!
What a thorough picture of Christ is provided in this text! He fulfills the promise of a powerful High Priest. He is also a reigning King. Having taken away the sins of the world, He is ever pictured as a newly- slain Lamb, with great honor and unquestioned authority. High and exalted, yet meek and lowly! We see in one holy glimpse the humiliation of His death and the glory of His heavenly reign. All glory to the conqering Lamb!
THE BOOK IS TAKEN
At last, the book in the open hand of God will be taken by a worthy Person the Son of the living God. He has made Himself "worthy" by removing sin, subduing alien forces, taking away the Law as a means to righteousness, and triumphing over death and the grave.
The Book Taken From the One on the Throne "Then He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne." Here we see the willingness of the Lamb to take the book. We also see the total absence of hesitancy on the part of the One sitting on the throne to give it to Him. This confirms the eagerness with which our Savior seeks to enlarge our understanding. It also declares again the satisfaction of the Father with the Son, and His commitment of all things into His hand even the future. But there is also an element of boldness and familiarity here. He did not come and ask for the book, but "He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him that sat upon the throne." He did not come to look at the book, but to TAKE it! Among other things, that means it belonged to Him. He, by the will of the Father, is the Architect of the future. The Father purposed it, the Lamb will fulfill it! With "seven horns," He has the fulness of power to do it. With "seven eyes," He has the wisdom to do it well, and to the everlasting glory of God.
Jesus Christ is the Administrator of Divine purposes. What God wills, He does. See the picture. The Lamb "came and took the book." That settles the future. There is no cause for us to be unduly concerned about what will happen no cause to fear. This is why holy men and women can shout with Paul, " . . . I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day" (2 Tim 1:12).
Immediate Response Registered
No sooner has the Lamb taken the book, and there is activity around the throne instant response. The standing Lamb is given praise for His glorious accomplishments. Looking at this passage as a whole, we will see three grand swells of adoration. Each portrays the addition of participants in olne grand chorus of praise. The first comes from the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders. The second comes from myriads of angels. The third is lifted up by every created thing in the universe, from the nearest to the far flung depths of creation. What a mighty chorus it is! And all of it is sparked by the SIGHT of the Lamb as He stands in the midst of the throne!
"Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb . . . " These twenty-eight heavenly personalities (four living creatures and twenty-four elders), representing all of nature and all the redeemed, do not faint, or collapse from a cessation of strength, as did Daniel upon earth (Dan 10:8-17). The presence of the Lamb did not so clash with their beings that they were struck down like Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:3-4). Rather, their comprehension of the Lamb moved them to fall before Him in honor and preference for Him. This is no mere formality, although it is formal. One further thought, it was the consideration of the Lamb's control of the future that elicited this display of honor. Let all with faith follow their example, and cease to allow the future to intimidate them. The King controls it, and all is well!
The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fall down before the PERSON of the Lamb before Him. His attributes and accomplishments constrain them to pay homage to Him. They were also ascribing greatness to Him, as others did throughout Scripture (Mark 8:33; Luke 5:8; 8:41; 17:16). Throughout the Word, when people were conscious of Deity, they fell down on their faces (Deut 9:18,25; Job 1:20; Matt 2:11; 18:26). Even demons and unclean spirits fell down before the Son of God, knowing His greatness (Mark 3:11). All glory be to the Lamb who evokes such honor!
The four living creatures play a key role in the rest of the Revelation (5:14; 6:1,6; 7:11; 14:3; 15:7; 19:4), and the twenty-four elders as well (5:14; 7:11,13; 11:16; 19:4). Their positions, however, are always in view of the Lamb of God with Him dominating their vision and conscience. This is the heavenly manner. On earth, we do not well to attempt to conduct Kingdom affairs without an acute awareness of the reigning Lamb. I fear that much of what goes on in His name is done apart from a cognizance of His Person. Such works are an abomination to God, regardless of the accolades they receive from men. In all things pertaining to salvation, God does nothing apart from Jesus Christ. It is certain He will give no recognition to those who are at variance with that practice.
Harps and Bowls
" . . . each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints." Something of particular interest is said of the twenty-four elders. Everyone of them has a harp, and was holding golden bowls of incense. For some Christian groups, this is a most inappropriate sight, indeed. Mind you, the twenty-four elders represent the redeemed of the earth, from both Jew and Gentile. They will confess they have been redeemed to God, and made kings and priests to God (v. 9-10). Whether or not men concur with this view, they are faced with the Holy Spirit associating "harps" with heavenly praise. Two other times "harps" are mentioned, and once they are called "the harps of God" (Rev 14:2; 15:2). Of old time, the "harp" was sanctified for God's use. God is depicted as being "praised upon the harp" (Psa 33:2; 43:4). Singing and praising are said to be "with the harp" (Psa 71:22; 98:5; 147:7; 149:3; 150:3). A "solemn sound" was sent up to God upon the harp (Psa 92:3). Once David said, "I will open my dark saying upon the harp" (Psa 49:4).
Remember, Revelation is saturated with language introduced by holy men of God in the Scriptures. On earth, there were only a few who had harps, employing them in praise to God. But around the throne, all the redeemed will have them. These harps speak of adept and comely praise. We know the Lord is well pleased with such expressions, and the powers of darkness are not. Once, when an evil spirit from the Lord troubled king Saul, he sent for David, noted for his cunning use of the harp. Of that occasion, it is said, "David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him" (1 Sam 16:23). The mighty prophet Elisha once requested a skilled minstrel, or harpist, to play before him that he might prophecy. It is written, "But now bring me a harpist. While the harpist was playing, the hand of the LORD came upon Elisha" (2 Kgs 3:15, NIV).
This language, couched in Scriptural phraseology and concepts, speaks of willing, insightful, and pleasing praise. It also teaches us that the future is accomplished within the framework of praise. Too, everyone of the twenty-four elders were included, something rare indeed upon the earth.
THE BOWLS, OR VIALS. The elders also held golden vials (KJV), or bowls, filled with pleasing odors, or incense. We are told precisely what these represent: "the prayers of saints." There are at least four things that stand out to me about these "golden bowls." First, they were precious "golden." Second, they are containers "bowls." Third, they are totally used "full." Fourth, they have an appeal to God "incense." Scripture has already associated prayer with incense. As it is written, "May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice" (Psa 141:2). The Psalmist was saying, May my prayer be pleasing to You! Here we have a picture of PLEASING prayers prayers that are the type the Lord desires.
Insight into the power and reign of Christ has provoked prayers among "the saints." Are these prayers limited to the saints on earth? I believe, for the most part, they are. However, we do have a prayer in this book uttered by those who had left the earth via martyrdom (Rev 6:9-10). The point of our text, however, is not WHERE the saints are, but that an abundance of pleasing prayers are being presented to the Administrator of the Kingdom the Lamb of God.
The Future Is Associated With Prayer
The prayers of the saints DO have a bearing upon the future. They are mentioned again in the eight chapter of the Revelation. "Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel's hand" (8:3-4). In a very poignant affirmation of the role of prayer in the future of the saints, the Lord spoke through Ezekiel the prophet. "Thus says the Lord GOD: 'On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will also enable you to dwell in the cities, and the ruins shall be rebuilt. The desolate land shall be tilled instead of lying desolate in the sight of all who pass by. So they will say, 'This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden; and the wasted, desolate, and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited. Then the nations which are left all around you shall know that I, the LORD, have rebuilt the ruined places and planted what was desolate. I, the LORD, have spoken it, and I will do it. Thus says the Lord GOD: 'I will also let the house of Israel inquire of Me to do this for them: I will increase their men like a flock'" (Ezek 36:33-37).
You will remember that the Lord Jesus taught us this very truth. He taught them to pray, "Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven" (Matt 6:10). Again, He urged His disciples, "Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest" (Matt 9:38). This is one of the means through which we enter into the determined will of the Lord. Daniel knew this truth, and, seeing the Word of the Lord was about to be fulfilled, engaged in prayer. Here is the account. "In the first year of his (Darius) reign I, Daniel, understood by the books the number of the years specified by the word of the LORD through Jeremiah the prophet, that He would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem. Then I set my face toward the Lord God to make request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes" (Dan 9:2-3). The fatalist view is an utterly false one the whatever will be will be notion! There is no room for such foolishness in the Kingdom of God. We have been called into participation with the King of kings, and we may zealously enter into it.
But I see yet another facet of the Kingdom in these golden bowls, filled with the prayers of the saints. Throughout the ages, the saints of the Lord have lifted prayers to God that appeared to go unanswered at least to their generation. Think of some of the imprecatory prayers uttered by the Psalmist. Allow me to give a few of them. "The wicked in his pride doth persecute the poor: let them be taken in the devices that they have imagined" (Psa 10:2). "Break thou the arm of the wicked and the evil man: seek out his wickedness till thou find none" (Psa 10:15). "Let me not be ashamed, O LORD; for I have called upon thee: let the wicked be ashamed, and let them be silent in the grave" (Psa 31:17). "As smoke is driven away, so drive them away: as wax melteth before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God" (Psa 68:2). Some have faulted David for praying in this manner, viewing such expressions as vindictive. But there is no need to view them in this way at all.
The Lord Himself has said, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord" (Rom 12:19). Do men imagine this is a vain word, or that it is mere rhetoric? Let them run from such foolish notions! David was entering into what God declared He was going to do. God also revealed this aspect of His nature to Moses, saying, "Vengeance is Mine, and recompense; Their foot shall slip in due time; For the day of their calamity is at hand, And the things to come hasten upon them" (Deut 32:35). Nahum also declared this trait of the Lord's nature. "God is jealous, and the LORD avenges; The LORD avenges and is furious. The LORD will take vengeance on His adversaries, And He reserves wrath for His enemies" (Nahum 1:2). No person of sound mind doubts that God will, in fact, judge His enemies or that He does not often do it now, in this world. Thus early saints prayed in accordance with this revealed aspect of God's nature, refusing to avenge themselves, taking matters into their own hands.
With this in mind, consider the text again. God is getting ready to pour judgements upon the earth. Wicked men will suffer Divine reappraisals for their rejection of His purpose, salvation, and the reign of His Son. As He prepares to execute judgment, the prayers of the saints of all ages are brought before Him. Holy men and women from every age, prayed in accordance with His revealed will, and in faithful acquiesce to it. Now, their prayers will be answered. None of their prayers were uttered in vain! They chose, while in the world, to side with God in their prayers. Now the pleasing fragrance of their prayers rises to the King of kings. He is administering the Kingdom in their interest, and it is fitting that their prayers are supplications are therefore remembered. It is true, indeed, "the prayer of the upright is His delight" (Prov 15:8). Such a view of the prayers of the godly will prove a great encouragement in times of difficulty and trial. The fervent effectual prayers of the righteous always "avail much." Hold on to that truth!
A NEW SONG
With an acute awareness of the glorified Lamb, and amidst insightful worship and the prayers of the saints, a "new song" is wafted toward the throne and the Lamb. It is "new" because it is of another order. It is characterized more by insight than obligation, and is sung with a new perspective. Greater kingdom- clarity has produced this song. It is "new" in respect to all other ages. It is "new" in relation to all other experience. It is "new" as regards all other privileges. It is "new" because it is more in keeping with the nature of Christ's mediatorial reign. After all, newness characterizes His glorious Kingdom. We have a "new covenant," " new commandment," and are "new creations" (Heb 12:24; John 13:34; 2 Cor 5:17). There is now a "new man," a "new and living way," and "newborn babes" (Col 3:10; Heb 10:20; 1 Pet 2:2). We are serving our Lord "in newness of Spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter" (Rom 7:6). We look forward to receiving a "new name," dwelling in the "new Jerusalem," and inhabiting "a new heavens and a new earth wherein dwells righteousness" (Rev 2:17; 21:2; 21:1). I ask you, is it not fitting that there also be a "new song!"
He Is Worthy
" And they sang a new song, saying: 'You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals . . . " Remember, the challenge of finding someone "WORTHY" to take the book was sounded. Now the insightful see that such an One has been found. Mind you, some rulers are unworthy of their position. Pharaoh was not worthy of his position, as he oppressed the Israelites. Nebuchadnezzar proved himself unworthy of his kingship when he took the credit for the glory of his kingdom. Pilate and Herod proved themselves unworthy when they joined in an unholy alliance against the Lord Jesus Christ. But Christ is WORTHY of His position! He is WORTHY of the praise and adoration He receives. Jacob confessed, "I am not worthy" (Gen 32:10), but Jesus IS worthy! John the Baptist confessed he was "not worthy" to carry the shoes of Jesus (Matt 3:11), but Jesus IS worthy! A centurion seeking mercy from Jesus said he was "not worthy" for the master to come under his roof (Matt 8:8), but Jesus IS worthy! We are not witnessing a mere formality in this section of Revelation! We are seeing the Lamb as He really is WORTHY! WORTHY! WORTHY! He is deserving, and merits what He receives. It is fitting, proper, and exemplary to give Him praise.
But this is not a general ascription of worthiness to the Lamb. It directly relates to the unfolding of the future taking the book and opening its seals for the saints. He is "worthy to take the book, and to open its seals." It is good that He is, for God will not relinquish the book of Divine intent to an unworthy person!
He Was Slain
"For You were slain . . ." Remember, the Lamb is standing in the midst of the throne as a newly slain Lamb bearing the marks of death. His was a violent death, but a purposeful one and the ones praising Him perceive it. Here is a central pillar in the temple of truth the Lamb of God was "slain." It is the FIRST thing ascribed to Him by the insightful worshipers, for it is the thing that is most dominant about Him. He was "the Prince of life" (Acts 3:15), and yet was "slain," or killed. His was not the death of a martyr. It was a purposeful one, in which He "laid down" His life in order to fulfill a Divine commandment and objective (John 10:18). When with His disciples, Jesus affirmed this was going to happen He would be "slain" (Luke 9:22). Peter declared on the day of Pentecost that Jesus, through the hands of wicked men, was "slain" (Acts 2:33). Later, affirming that the purpose of God was fulfilled in His death, Jesus will be referred to as "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev 13:8). The discerning praise, however, will confirm that Christ's death was not an end of itself. It is what resulted from it that gave it true worth.
He Redeemed Us
"And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation . . . " Just as sin proliferated to "every tribe and tongue and people," so does the effectiveness of Christ's death. Elaborating on this very marvelous aspect of redemption, the Spirit says, "But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many . . . Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous" (Rom 5:15,18,19).
Notice the redemption was "to God," not merely to a system of thought or a way of life. It is true, we are "redeemed from the earth" and "from among men" (Rev 14:3,4), but we are "redeemed to God." He has called us unto Himself to bless us, and grant us participation in both His nature (2 Pet 1:4) and purpose (Rom 8:29). What insightful praise is this!
He Made Us Kings and Priests
"And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth." Here is an aspect of Christ's death scarcely, if ever, mentioned in the institutional church. If you are a proclaimer or teacher of the Word, make it your business to put the people in mind of this truth: Christ has made us "kings and priests to God!" We are destined to "reign with Christ" (Rom 8:17), sitting with Him in His throne (Rev 3:21). Even the prayers of the saints, as has already been affirmed, have been integrated into the rule of the Almighty. It should not surprise us that our very persons are being made suitable to participate with Jesus in the administration of His kingdom.
" . . . and we shall reign on the earth." Although I have often mentioned this, Daniel thrice declared the time was coming when the saints would take the kingdom (Dan 7:18,22,27). This praise confesses that purpose is seen. Remember, "priests" minister to God (Ex 28:1,3,4,41), while "kings" share in the rule (2 Tim 2:12; Rom 8:17). The "earth" in reference is the "new" one, long anticipated by the godly. It is true that in a preliminary way, we reign now, having been raised with Christ to sit with Him in heavenly places. However, that reign is abbreviated in comparison to what it will be. This aspect of redemption is another one grossly neglected by the nominal church. Of old time it was written, " . . . those that wait upon the LORD, they shall inherit the earth" (Psa 37:9). "But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace" (Psa 37:11). "For such as be blessed of him shall inherit the earth" (Psa 37:22). Jesus confirmed this to be precisely the case when He said, "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth" (Matt 5:5). The day of God's people is coming! Currently, the earth is the place of our probation and proving. But soon, it will be the place of our reign! Now it is positioned in wickedness (1 John 5:19), but soon it will be purged and given to us! We will judge the world and angels (1 Cor 6:2-3), and all things will be put under our feet, as God designed from the beginning (Heb 2:8-9). Not the least of this reign will be realized in the bruising of Satan under our feet. "And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen" (Rom 16:20).
Prior to this "new song," sung by those who have completed the race, sorrow and regret permeated the songs of creation. The "whole creation" groaned in its song, expectant, yet in sorrow (Rom 8:22-23). There was a weight of darkness that hung over every realm while it remained in a state of nature. All of the redeemed also "groan within" themselves, "waiting for the adoption," the "redemption" of their bodies (Rom 8:23), while they cry "wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death" (Rom 7:24). There are songs of thanksgiving and praise, but they are mingled with songs of regret, sorrow, and pain. When faith and hope dominate the heart, there are joyful songs of hope and anticipation that erupt from the saved. These are but a prelude to the "new song" that will be sung insightfully when all things are made new.
Now, the wave or ever-increasing praise continues. We have seen the throne, and the One sitting upon it. The Lamb has also been seen, standing in the midst of the throne. The four living creatures and the twenty- four elders have been brought to our attention, together with their insightful praise and adoration. Suddenly, John realizes there is an infinite number of personalities in this holy place.
The Inquiring Look
"Then I looked, and heard . . . " Here, again, is the Kingdom manner. First look, then hear! What John now sees has been there all along, but his attention must be drawn to the coming event before he can profit from it. Do not wonder that we are told, "Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth," (Col 3:2), and "looking unto Jesus" (Heb 12:1-2). Many a soul has never effectively heard from God because He does not have their attention. You will remember that Jesus did not speak to Saul of Tarsus until He had his attention. Now, in keeping with this Kingdom manner, John looks, then hears, a great swell of praise.
" . . . and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice. . ." The personalities around the throne of God appear to be ranked. First, the Lamb, in the center of the throne. Then the four living creatures. Then the twenty-four elders. Now, another circle of personalities is seen a vast multitude of angels described as "many angels" and "ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands." If you considered this a mathematical expression (which it is not), ten thousand times ten thousand is one hundred million. Then "thousands OF thousands." This is the Spirit's way of referring to an "innumerable company of angels" (Heb 12:22). There are no wayward or recalcitrant ones among them. They are ALL "around the throne," focused and devoted to the One upon it. We have just heard a reference to the redemption of men, and the reconstituting of them as "kings and priests to God." We know from First Peter 1:11-12 that salvation is of particular interest to the angels. In fact, they "desire to look into these things." Knowing this, we would expect them to respond to the praise given to the Lamb and respond they do!
He Is Worthy!
" . . . saying with a loud voice: Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!" Remember, the summons for someone worthy to take the book and open its seals has been delivered. The praise we are hearing directly relates to that matter. And what do these mighty and numerous angels ascribe to the Lamb? Of what is He worthy? In keeping with the environment, they speak with a "loud voice."
POWER! This refers to objective power, or authority to fulfill God's eternal purpose. Every place the word "power" is used in Apostolic doctrine, it has to do with the fulfillment of Divine objective. Jesus is declared to be "the Son of God with power" (Rom 1:4). The Gospel is God's "power unto (in order to) salvation" (Rom 1:16). This is the power that works "effectively," accomplishing the will of the Lord (Eph 3:7,20). By saying the Lamb is "worthy to receive power," the angelic hosts are declaring He alone is qualified to carry the will of the Lord to its completion, and complete it He will!
RICHES (wealth) ! There are Kingdom resources that are needed in order to the safe arrival of the saints in glory. Having turned their back to the world, they can no longer depend upon what it has to offer, for all of it is temporal. These riches, however, cannot be obtained apart from Divine distribution. Who will give them to us? Who will bring to us the gifts and graces needed to negotiate through this evil world? It is the Lamb Who stands in the midst of the throne! It is written, " . . . Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col 2:3). The "riches of His grace" are dispensed by the Lord Jesus, the Lamb in the midst of the throne. Those who insist on maintaining their distance from Him, refusing to suspend all their hopes upon Him, will find no resources for spiritual life. Those who do rely upon Him, will realize an abundance of good and essential things.
WISDOM! The wisdom Christ receives is not for Himself, any more than the power and riches are. The power is to execute the purpose of God, and the riches are to distribute to the saints. So it is with the wisdom. He has received it because He is worthy, and none can obtain it apart from Him. When we lack wisdom, and ask for it, according to James 1:5, it is Jesus Who will dispense it to us. God has put us into Christ, and made Him our wisdom. As it is written, "But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God; and righteousness and sanctification and redemption" (1 Cor 1:20). Once again, the "treasures of wisdom and knowledge" are hidden in Christ, and cannot be obtained apart from Him (Col 2:3).
STRENGTH (might)! This is strength to be imparted to those en route to glory. They need strength, because their own is insufficient for the journey. They must be "strong in the Lord and in the power of His might" (Eph 6:10). If ever Christ is to dwell in their hearts, they must be "strengthened with all might by His Spirit in the inner man" (Eph 3:16). And where will they receive this strength? It must come from Christ, for He alone has received it to give to us! He died for us when we were "without strength" (Rom 5:6), but He will see to it that condition does not remain for those believing in Him. This strength is His strength. He refers to it as "MY strength," declaring that it is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9). When we recognize our personal spiritual impotence, we comfort ourselves in the knowledge that the Lamb has been given the strength we need, and will give it to us through the channel of our faith.
HONOR! The "honor" the Lord has received begins with God Himself, Who "crowned Him with . . . honor" (Heb 2:9; 2 Pet 1:17). That honor, however, is also given to His body, the church. Those seeking for honor will receive it from Him (Rom 2:9). There are vessels that have been prepared for "honor," and Jesus will give it to them. Ultimately, it will come when He says to the "sheep" on His right hand, "Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matt 25:34). That will be the bestowment of "honor" which He Himself received and will share with us.
GLORY! Before "the Word became flesh" (John 1:14), He had "glory" inexpressible glory! But that glory could not be shared with our race, which, in every individual part, had "come short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23). This is not the case now, however, that He has "put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself" (Heb 9:26). He has now received a glory He can share with His brethren. Prior to His death, Jesus anticipated this, and fervently prayed for its fulfillment. "Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world" (John 17:24). When He appears, He will share that glory with those who have lived by faith that is why He received it! As it is written, "When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory" (Col 3:4). As the Spirit well said in Romans 8:17, " . . . if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him," NRSV).
Oh, the angels know it now! The Lamb is worthy to receive all of the things we require to complete our pilgrimage. The Father wanted us to have them, but His righteousness would not allow their distribution until the Lamb had prevailed. Now, praise God, the Lamb has prevailed, the distribution is being made, and the book of Divine intent can be opened.
The Whole Creation Responds Together
"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, I heard saying: 'Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!'" Now the praise reaches its crescendo! It goes so far, it can go no further. Every created thing in heaven, earth, and under the earth, and all that is in the sea joins the mighty chorus. The picture is that of united song, with everyone and everything joining in. What we are seeing here fulfills the exhortation of Psalm 150:6, "Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD."
Every Creature In Heaven. Whether we are speaking of the heavens wherein the sun, moon, stars, and planets reside--or the heaven in which the singing birds fly or the realm occupied by the four living creatures, the twenty-four elders, and an innumerable company of angels--they all are included. Everything above the earth joins the song.
Every Creature On the Earth. This includes man at the high end, and creeping things at the low end. The cattle on a thousand hills, which belong to God, join the song. It is the song of a redeemed earth that we hear, and of redeemed personalities. Long the whole creation has waited to sing the song, and sing it they shall. John sees beyond time, into eternity, and sees "the whole creation" joining in praise to the exalted Lamb.
Under the Earth. This phrase is mentioned several times in Scripture, and is an intriguing one. The prohibition of idolatry mentioned this area. "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth" (Ex 20:4). It does not appear this is the meaning of our text, however i.e., creatures in the water under the earth. It is generally understood that this refers to the seas, also including subterranean waters. Our text already mentions the seas, and all that is in them. Philippians 2:10 proclaims that every creature "under the earth" will eventually bow to Jesus. I prefer to see this as referring to the region of the dead. This being the case, the honor due to Jesus reaches into the extremities of creation, where even the dead are held. The reign of Christ even extends there, as is evidenced by Jesus preaching to the "spirits in prison" after He died and prior to His resurrection (1 Pet 3:21; 4:6). The point is, there is no place in all of creation where the conquering Lamb is not honored and praised where His reign is not known.
The praise that is rendered to the victorious Lamb is worthy of our consideration. It is insightful, and pregnant with meaning. No frothy expressions here! It is praise produced by a recognition of the Lamb.
BLESSING. The word literally means good or fine speech, or a bestowed gift. The recipients of blessing now declare it has come from the Lamb in the midst of the throne. They extol Him in their best speech, giving their praise freely and willingly. This is not mechanical praise, made so popular in our day. Nor, indeed, is it under the domination of emotion. Here is the ultimate fulfillment of the expression, "Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name" (Psa 103:1). Not to be overlooked, this blessing brings satisfaction to the Lord Himself, because it is prompted by a recognition of His Person and accomplishments.
HONOR. This word means reverence, respect, and recognition, esteem, and dignity. The Lamb towers above all other personalities in His Person, character, and achievements. He is worthy of esteem, and it is grossly sinful to withhold it from Him. Here is an expression that confesses a recognition of this truth. The capacity to give recognition is gathered together, and focused upon the Lamb who is worthy. The Lamb is really the only One worthy of being in the forefront.
GLORY. Glory means radiance, brightness, splendor, and a manifestation of excellent power. Here is an expression that affirms Christ's Person bursts through and dominates all other radiance. Joseph, for example, had "glory in Egypt" (Gen 45:13). Babylon was "the glory of kingdoms" (Isa 13:19). Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom has glory (Dan 4:36). But all of that pales into insignificance before the glory of the Lamb. He outshines them all!
POWER. This word means Sovereignty, might, and dominion. All other power is derived. As it is written, "There is no power, but of God" (Rom 13:1). But true Sovereignty belongs to the Lamb it is His by right. He DOES have the dominion over all other kingdoms, whether it appears to be so or not. He truly is "King of kings and Lord of lords." Before God's redemptive purpose is completed, the words will reverberate throughout the universe, "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!" (Rev 1:15).
The purpose of our text is not to define all of these areas, but to affirm that honor comes to the triumphant Christ from every quarter. How appropriate that the peak of the praise comes from all realms! After all, it is written, "For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him" (Col 1:17). It is therefore essential that praise eventually come to Him from all of these domains!
The Final Amen
"Then the four living creatures said, 'Amen!' And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever.'"" The personalities closest to the throne, and with the greatest insight, shout the "AMEN" surely, so be it, and this is trustworthy! The praise they have heard is accurate, and stands as it is. It does not require further interpretation of explanation, and has not been flawed in its expressions. Much of the purported "praise" that rises from earth's confines is flawed and imperfect. Expressions are often redundant, inaccurate, and sometimes even false. Some praise is only received because of the heart of those offering it, whose spiritual understanding is something less than mature. If you will review the "new song," in which everything created participated, you will find no vagueness or ambiguity. There is no falsehood or flaw. It is precise and it is true, from beginning to end! Allow me to put that song together, beginning with praise from the redeemed.
"You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, and 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 on the earth . . . Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing! . . . Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!"
It is no wonder the four living creatures shouted "AMEN," and the twenty-four elders fall down and worship Him who "lives forever and ever." Christ's death is extolled. The results of His death are proclaimed. His worthiness is lauded. What He has received is declared. Every form of recognition is freely and rightfully given to Him, and Him alone. The only personalities withholding praise from Him are those who have not seen Him as He really is! To that we can only say, "AMEN," and prostrate ourselves before the conquering Lamb!
We have been in heavenly places! The stage has been set for the unfolding of the future. With care you should have noted the repeated references to things familiar to the redeemed. Redemption by Christ's blood, the constitution of God's people as kings and priests, and Christ's triumph over all, has been accentuated. The reason the future directly relates to that. Any view of this book that puts the Lamb into the background cannot be true! We have seen Him clearly brought into the foreground in this marvelous chapter. A perspective of Revelation that causes other events to overshadow the death of Christ is false to the core. His triumph and exaltation are associated with Him being a "Lamb as it had been slain." We must not allow our hearts to be distracted from that view, for it has set the stage for the rest of the book. Christ's glory is associated with His redemption. His Sovereignty directly relates to His great salvation. The honor ascribed to Him comes because of His Lamb-accomplishments.
When men approach this book with world situations in the foreground, and the saints in the background, they are simply not approaching it with the mind of Christ. Jesus approached it by first speaking to the churches. We are then given to witness an open door in heaven, where there is tranquility, an acute awareness of the holiness of the Lord, and insightful worship. Now we behold the Lamb of God, as if He had just been slain. Redemption is the context of this book. Everything is to be filtered through the salvation of God, as accomplished in and through Christ Jesus, the Lamb.
Revelation begins with a view of Jesus, continues with His Word of the churches, and ends with His promise of coming again. Thirteen times in this book, those redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, "the saints," are mentioned (5:8; 8:3,4; 11:18; 13:7,10; 14:12; 15:3; 16:6). "Jesus," the redemptive name of our Lord, is mentioned 14 times throughout the book (1:1, 2, 5, 9; 12:17; 14:12; 17:6; 19:10; 20:4). Words like "redeemed" (5:9; 14:3,4), "saved" (21:24); "washed" (1:5; 7:14), "by Thy blood" (5:9), and "victory" (15:2), connect the Revelation with the ongoing redemptive work of Jesus. Regarding the saints, the book relates to His High Priesthood. Regarding the opponents of the saints, they relate to their demise. Judgments will be rendered because of the world's treatment of the saints (6:9-10; 16:6; 17:6; 18:20-21).
The context of Revelation is the salvation of God, as administered by the Lord Jesus Christ, and the rest of Scripture. It does not proclaim a new agenda, a new purpose, or an era of history divorced from the people of God. The notion that the church has been removed from the scene from chapter four on, is an absurdity unworthy of consideration by any person of sound spiritual mind. It simply will not stand the test of Scripture or of spiritual understanding. That view has been concocted by men who do not understand what God has purposed or what Jesus is doing. Thrust this imagination from you as you would a filthy rag, for it is precisely that!
If it seems too strong to speak in this manner, you must understand that these corrupted views of the book of Revelation have fostered reactions that are inconsistent with the salvation that is in Christ Jesus. Not a few people are more fearful of "the great tribulation" than they are of the lake of fire, which is the second death. Some have more dread of an anti-Christ who will place a mark upon you, than they have being rejected by the Lamb.
A corrupted view of Revelation permeates the rest of Scripture, moving men to interpret it in view of the Revelation, instead of vice versa. This book uses the language of the rest of Scripture to express its message, which procedure would be an inanity if it spoke of a different agenda. I have taken the time to state this as clearly as I know how because of the sobriety with which this book begins and concludes. "Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near" (1:2). "For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book" (22:18-19). These sober words forbid us to shun familiarity with this volume, entertain novel views of it, or take the liberty of imposing tradition upon it. It has been given for our blessing, and carries great benefits for the saints. Also, it is unquestionably the Word of the Living God, given through Christ to the churches. Men dare not tamper with its contents as though its meaning were open to private views, or the opinions of men. Let it stand as it is. Believe what it affirms. Its message is in perfect accord with the rest of Scripture.