An Exegetical Commentary
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 28 April 2011; Revised 8 January 2016
Scripture: The Scripture text of Revelation used below is prepared by Blaine Robison with consideration given to the American Standard Version (which is in the public domain) and the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament. The essentially literal translation seeks to reflect the Jewish character of the author and writing. See my web article The Jewish New Testament. Other Bible versions are also quoted. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. Most versions can be accessed on the Internet. Messianic Jewish versions are CJB, DHE, GNC, HNV, MW, OJB, & TLV.
Sources: Bibliographic data for sources cited may be found at the end of the chapter commentary. Works without page numbers are cited ad loc. The Septuagint (LXX) is the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, which was in use by Jews by the mid-2nd century BC. The LXX with English translation may be found here. Unless otherwise indicated references to the Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); available online at Halakhah.com. Click here for Talmud Abbreviations. Works by early church fathers may be found at Christian Classics Ethereal Library.
Syntax: Unless otherwise noted the definitions of Greek words is from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009). See the Greek Guide for the meaning of grammar abbreviations. Definitions of Hebrew words are from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981). The numbering system of the Strong's Exhaustive Concordance is identified with "SH" (Strong's Hebrew number) and "SG" (Strong's Greek number). Strong's Online.
Vocabulary: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Torah (Law), Besekh (New Testament), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ).
The Book of Seven Seals (5:1-7)
1ó And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals.
And I saw: Grk. horaō, aor., refers to the perception of physical eyesight and so means to see, perceive, to catch sight of or to notice. The verb is a strong assertion of personal experience. The declaration, "I saw," occurs frequently in Johnís narrative and affirms the absolute certainty of the visual experience.
in the right hand: Grk. dexios simply means right as opposed to left. The Grk. word for "hand" does not occur in the text. The phrase may be better translated "on the right" (Marshall), which would make it a simple statement of direction. of Him who sat on the throne: Grk. thronos refers to a throne or chair upon which a king sits. John adds a further detail that the direction was the right side of the One seated on the throne, which would have been Johnís left as he was facing the throne. The phrase "Him who sat" likely refers to the Father since the Lamb, the Son of God, is mentioned in verse 6 and takes the book from "Him who sat on the throne" in verse 7. The anthropomorphic translation of "right hand" may be misleading since nothing is really known of the Fatherís physical form and whether He has limbs is an open question.
a book: Grk. biblion means a book, a scroll or a document. In the LXX biblion translates Heb. sepher, which was used for anything that has been written, such as a scroll, book, writing, letter, diary, or a legal document. Biblion is also used in the LXX for individual sacred writings (Dan 9:2), but most importantly as a solemn expression for the Torah (Deut 17:18; 28:58; cf. Heb 9:19). The term "book" refers to a papyrus scroll, although other materials were used in ancient times to make books and documents. John offers no information regarding its size or design. The reference to direction may mean that the book was maintained in a container or on a stand on the right side of the throne.
written: Grk. graphō may refer to the mechanical activity of writing, the content of what is written down, or the literary composition of a work. The perfect tense of the verb indicates the completed action and was often used of legal authoritative documents whose authority continued (Rienecker). inside and on the back: John saw that the scroll was written on both sides, which could only have been observed after all the seals were broken or loosed and the book opened. In ancient practice writing was ordinarily confined to the inside of the scroll (Ladd). Sometimes, but not very often, an ancient scroll was written on both sides, which is referred to as an opisthograph (Metzger-TNT 6). That the scroll was written on the back indicates how extensive and comprehensive are the decrees of God (Mounce). The prophetic scrolls seen by Ezekiel and Zechariah were also written on front and back (Ezek 2:10; Zech 5:3). As the drama unfolds in Revelation, the scroll John is shown contains significant prophecies of the "end of the age" (Matt 24:3) and the reign of Yeshua in the age to come. However, comparing this heavenly book with ancient writing materials that John would have used to write the letters and the Revelation record does not lead to an understanding of the nature of the heavenly book.
sealed: Grk. katasphragizō, to seal completely and securely (Rienecker). The verb is a perfect passive participle indicating that the seals had been put in place sometime in the past, perhaps since creation, and remained in place until this special time. with seven seals: Grk. sphragis may mean either a device used to certify, such as a seal or signet, or a mark left by a device for certification (Danker). The purpose of the seals was to keep the content of the book secret. John further notes that the document had seven seals (cf. Isa 29:11).
What a privilege for John to be on hand for the unveiling of this book and its contents! In normal usage a seal provides both security and proof of authenticity. In ancient times seals were used as a stamping device in place of signatures to make a document valid (cf. Jer 32:10). The impression was normally made on clay, wax or some other soft material (Rienecker). Royal secretaries used seals to indicate the closing of a letter. When the letter was complete, the king would place his royal seal upon it, thus indicating that the matter was closed to further discussion. The affixing of the seal made it official (cf. 1 Kgs 21:8; Esth 3:12; 8:8, 10; Dan 6:17; Matt 27:66) (Sevener 143). According to Roman law a last will or testament was attested with the seals of seven witnesses (Barclay). Johnson describes the Roman custom differently in that he says the document was sealed with six seals, each of which bore a different name of the sealer and could only be opened by him. Since the word "written" has a legal connotation, God no doubt chose to use a familiar practice to communicate His decree that would be far more official and unalterable than the "law of the Medes and Persians" (Dan 6:8).
In determining the meaning of the book, certain facts may be noted. First, only the Lamb breaks the seals. Second, significant events occur after each seal is broken, which gives the impression of the scroll consisting of seven leafs or pages, each rolled and enclosed by another sealed leaf. Thus, John did not know there were only seven seals until all had been broken. Third, God used familiar images to communicate to John, and its unnecessary to assume John borrowed from the legal practice of his day or even from the parallel experiences of Ezekiel and Zechariah to create this story. Lastly, as each seal was broken, significant and generally terrible events were revealed that will take place in the future.
2ó And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?"
And I saw a strong: Grk. ischuros means strong, mighty or powerful. When used to denote living beings ischuros may refer to physical strength, or mental or spiritual power, especially of superhuman beings such as Satan, or when used strictly of human beings the power to wage war or to withstand attacks from enemies. angel: Gr. angelos means messenger. The corresponding Hebrew word is malak, which means messenger, representative, courier or angel. The messenger may be human or angelic, which must be determined from the context. In this verse angelos refers to a divine messenger.
John reports that a "strong angel" appeared, not that there are any weak ones, as Henry quips. Morris theorizes the strong angel was Gabriel because it would take a strong angel with a great voice to issue the challenge throughout the universe. However, John does not define the nature of the angelís strength and the text does not say that the angel was proclaiming throughout the universe.
proclaiming with a loud voice: It may seem superfluous to mention the strength of the angel, not that there are any weak ones, as Henry quips. Morris theorizes the strong angel was Gabriel because it would take a strong angel with a great voice to issue the challenge throughout the universe. However, John does not define the nature of the angelís strength and the text does not say that the angel was proclaiming throughout the universe. The angel may have only made the proclamation in heaven. The angel shouts a question that serves as a challenge.
Who is worthy: Grk. axios is a label that may be used to describe things or persons. When used of persons axios means worthy, fit, deserving or entitled. See 3:4 on "worthy." to open: Grk. anoigō means to open, as to open a closed door or make a room accessible. To be "worthy" may be taken in the sense of legal entitlement. Who has the right to open the document? In the matter of a will, the executor or an heir would have the right to open and disclose the contents. "Worthy" can also refer to the combination of rank, character and ability (Robertson). the book and to break: Grk. luō means to loose or release. its seals: The phrase "to open the book," followed by the phrase "to break the seals," may refer to an outside cover.
3ó And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it.
And no one: The words "no one" refers to people and angels in contrast to God. The three principal spheres where mankind may be found are searched, two of which are realms of the dead. This three-fold division of the universe is common to biblical thinking (Ex 20:4; Php 2:10). in heaven: Grk. ouranos, the area above the earth that encompasses the sky, interstellar space and associated phenomena or the transcendent dwelling-place of God (Danker). See the note on 3:12. Here the residence of God, the angels and the saints who are awaiting the resurrection is no doubt intended. on the earth: a reference to the surface of the earth. or under the earth: a reference to Hades, the place of the unredeemed dead (cf. Eph 4:9; 1Pet 3:19).
was able to open Ö or to look: No interviews are necessary to determine the worthiness of those considered. The omniscient God knows the character and ability of all whom He has created, and spiritual feats require spiritual power. Just as the disciples required special power (Acts 1:8) to be witnesses, so here special power or authority is required to both open and look at the book. The issue is not who could physically remove the seals, but who was worthy (verses 2 & 4). Who had the right to open the book? Only the One who wrote it. Apparently the initial announcement impressed on John the urgency of opening the book and yet heaven waited as the hypothetical search for the worthy-one was made.
4ó And I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it;
And I began to weep: Grk. klaiō means to cry, to weep aloud or to wail. The word is frequently used to mean professional mourning (Rienecker). greatly: Grk. polus, meaning "much," would denote weeping strongly or loudly. because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it: The simple assertions that "no oneÖwas able" in verse 3 and "no one was found" in this verse function as a parallelism of truth, as if an exhaustive search had been made. The repetition of "no one" underscores the sudden sense of futility and loss by John who is overcome by grief. His reaction indicates how much he was a part of the vision. John was not just a spectator, but actively involved in the revelation experience. His weeping may mean that John earnestly wanted to know what the scroll contained and felt as if Godís plan was going to be thwarted.
5ó and one of the elders said to me, "Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals."
and one of the elders: Grk. presbuteros carries the idea of ruling authority, leadership or acting in an official capacity. Interpreters are divided over whether the elders are human or angelic, but this writer favors the latter. See the note on 4:4 and 5:10 below. said to me, "Stop weeping: One of the elders confronts John to stop weeping. There is a time to weep (Eccl 3:4), but this is not it.
behold, the Lion: Grk. leon. See the note on 4:7. of Judah: The elder has good news for John and assures him that the "Lion" has overcome. Though extinct in the Holy Land since the Middle Ages, the lion roamed freely during biblical times and many of its habits and characteristics are mentioned in the Tanakh. As a result of this common experience the lion became a source for many comparisons and particularly serves as an emblem of strength, courage and majesty (Prov 22:13; 26:13; 30:30). Various comparisons are made to lions in Scripture, including God (Isa 31:4; Hos 5:14; 11:10; Amos 3:8), Judah (Gen 49:9), Gad (Deut 33:20), Dan (Deut 33:23), Saul and Jonathan (2Sam 1:23), Davidís mighty men (1Chr 12:8), and the nation of Israel (Num 23:24; 24:9).
The full title "Lion of the tribe of Judah" referred originally to King David, which probably stemmed from his having personally killed a lion (1Sam 17:36) and demonstrated in his courage against the Philistines and other enemies of Israel. Yet, the title would also remind John of Jacobís blessing upon his son Judah,
"Judah is a lion's whelpÖ. The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples." (Gen 49:9-10)
JacobĎs blessing was regarded as an important Messianic prophecy in Judaism (Stern). The actual rule of David came to an end but the promise of Shiloh to come assured the restoration of Davidís throne that would remain forever. John is reminded that Yeshua has fulfilled Jacobís prophecy.
the Root of David: The title "Root of David," also a Messianic title, echoes the prophecy of Isaiah, "Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit" (Isa 11:1). The gospel message of the apostles repeatedly emphasized Yeshua's lineage from King David (Matt 1:1; 15:22; 20:30-31; 21:15; 22:42; Acts 13:22-23; Rom 1:3; 2Tim 2:8). Paul realized that inherent in this revelation to Isaiah was the extension of inclusion in Israel to the Gentiles: "And again, Isaiah says: ĎThere shall be a root of Jesse; and He who shall rise to reign over the Gentiles, in Him the Gentiles shall hopeí" (Rom 15:12). The Isaiah prophecy is followed by details of the Messiahís rule and the age of peace that He will establish. The "root of David" should not be confused with the "root of the olive tree" (Rom 11:17), which would be the faithfulness of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to whom God gave the promise that salvation and blessing would some day come to the Gentiles.
has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals: The Jewish Messiah has prevailed and won a tremendous victory. The Lion of Judah overcame Satan, and through His death, resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father is qualified to open the book.
6ó And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth.
And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures): Grk. zōon. See 4:6 on "creatures." As John regained his composure he saw that standing in the middle of the whole scene was not a Lion but a Lamb. and the elders a Lamb: Grk. arnion denotes a lamb as distinct from probaton, sheep. Originally arnion meant "little lamb," but in the apostolic period it no longer had the diminutive force (Earle). Arnion occurs 30 times in the Besekh, only one of which occurs outside of Revelation (John 21:15). Significant is that Revelation does not use Grk. amnos ("lamb"), which occurs only four times in the Besekh (John 1:29, 36; Acts 8:32; 1Pet 1:29) and is only used of a sacrificial lamb in the LXX. In Revelation arnion represents the victorious Lamb that has accomplished redemption and is worthy of power and glory.
Wilson cites the picture of Yeshua as Lion and Lamb as an example of Hebrew "block logic" (150f). The biblical presentation of truth challenges human reasoning with paradoxical, even seemingly contradictory, concepts in self-contained units or blocks of thought. Western logic cannot reconcile divine wrath and divine mercy (and many other opposites), but Scripture insists on the reality of both, as represented in the word pictures of Lion and Lamb. While the Lion may conquer Satan, the Lamb is necessary to make atonement and satisfy the justice of God. The imagery is a powerful reminder that whereas in the Old Covenant the cost of forgiveness was repeatedly borne by the sinner in presenting sacrifices from his own flocks, in the New Covenant the cost was paid by God Himself once for all mankind (Heb 7:27; 9:11f).
standing, as if slain: Grk. sphazō, "slain," means to slaughter, to slaughter a sacrifice, butcher or murder. Danker gives the simple definition of to put to death in a violent manner. the verb occurs only 10 times in the Besekh, 9 of which are in Revelation. The verb is used in the LXX of killing an animal for a non-religious purpose (Gen 37:31), killing an animal or human for a religious purpose (Gen 22:10; Ex 4:24; 8:15; Ezek 16:21), killing in war (Judg 12:6), execution of a human (1Sam 15:33; 1Kgs 18:40), and assassination (Jer 41:7). The perfect tense of the verb here would indicate its lasting results (Rienecker). Whereas verse 5 rejoices that the Lamb had prevailed, here John sees the Lamb as having suffered death.
Johnson suggests that the verb could be translated "with its throat cut." A related word sphagē occurs in the LXX of Isaiah 53:7, which describes the Suffering Servant as a "lamb led to slaughter." When a lamb was slaughtered for sacrifice, the throat was cut with a knife and the blood drained at the base of the altar (NIBD 934f). However, while lambs were slaughtered by cutting the throat, we know that Yeshua did not suffer in this manner. Since John describes slaughter as a completed act, he does not see the Lamb as covered in blood, but rather the opposite. John may have been referring to the scars of slaughter. The appearance of the Lamb emphasizes the central theme of apostolic revelation ‑ victory through sacrifice (Mounce). Stern comments on this verse,
"The juxtaposition of these contrasting descriptions of the Messiah in vv. 5-6 is one of the clearest expressions in the New Testament of the dual functioning of Yeshua, who came first as a Lamb sacrificed for sin, and returns as a Lion to execute judgment, rule the world and bring peace. Jewish tradition, unable or unwilling to reconcile these two roles in one person, invented the idea of Mashiach Ben-Yosef who dies and a different Mashiach Ben-David who rules."
The image of the slain Lamb in Revelation reflects the accounts in the apostolic narratives of Yeshua's death. He did not die in the normal manner, but was brutally executed by nailing to an execution stake after an illegal arrest, trial and excessive beating. Yeshua accused the Jewish leaders who handed him over to Pilate of a great sin (John 19:11). The apostles likewise did not mince words. The earliest apostolic sermons confronted the culpability of the Sanhedrin who broke the Torah in denying Yeshua due process and courted the favor of uncircumcised pagans to carry out the despicable deed (cf. Acts 2:23; 1Cor 2:8). Peter held all those who had a part in the execution of Yeshua responsible and called for their repentance (Acts 2:23, 36; 3:14-15 and 4:10). Stephen lambasted the Sanhedrin for illegally executing Yeshua and actually accused the Sanhedrin of murder (Acts 7:51-52).
Paul was certainly well acquainted with the chain of events that concluded on Golgotha. While he wrote of Yeshua being crucified (1Cor 1:23; Gal 3:1), Paul spoke far more frequently of Yeshua dying for sinners as an atoning sacrifice and avoids the terminology of Yeshua being executed for sinners. Yeshua himself said that he would voluntarily lay down his life (John 10:15, 17-18). This is the Gospel, that Messiah "died for our sins" (1Cor 15:3).
John then notes a distinctive aspect of this Lamb. having seven horns: In the Tanakh the "horn" was proverbially a symbol of courage, strength and might (Rienecker). In the battle of Jericho Joshua was instructed to have seven priests to carry rams horns during the march around the city. On the seventh circuit the priests would blow the horns to signal Godís people to shout thereby announcing Godís superior power and assured victory to their enemies (Josh 6:4f). and seven eyes: The "eye" in biblical teaching may represent comprehension; thus Stern observes that the two attributes of horns and eyes means the Lamb has complete knowledge to match His complete power. However, in the Hebrew vernacular an "eye" may also refer to the capacity for generosity (cf. Matt 6:19-23).
which are the seven Spirits of God: Johnís guide provides the simple explanation that the seven spirits are individual heavenly spirit beings, most likely the seraphim witnessed by Isaiah (Isa 6:2). (See 1:4 on "seven spirits" and 4:5 on "seven lamps"). sent: Grk. apostellō means to be sent away or out and used especially in the apostolic writings of the disciples selected and sent out by Yeshua. The perfect passive participle points to their commission having been received in the distant past, continues without revocation and represents their purpose for existence. out into all the earth: The text declares that the seven spirits have a mission, apparently as ambassadors of Godís generosity and lovingkindness to the saints, as the Tanakh declares, "For the eyes of Adonai move here and there throughout the whole earth to show Himself strong on behalf of those who are wholehearted toward Him" (2Chr 16:9 CJB). The same sentiment is expressed also in Zechariah 4:10.
7ó And He came and He took it out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.
And He came and He took it: Grk. lambanō, meaning to receive or to take, is in the perfect tense ("has taken" or "has received"), but is interpreted as a highly dramatic historical present (Rienecker). Given the relationship between Son and Father the intent of the verb is more likely that the Father offered the book to the Lamb and He received it. out of the right hand: The Grk. word for "hand" does not occur in this verse. The text could be rendered "from the right of the One sitting on the throne." The Lamb then moves from His position and receives the book from His Father, since no one else is of equal rank, character or ability to qualify as worthy. Having atoned for the sins of the whole world and victoriously been raised from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father, the Lamb, the Son of God, may now open the scroll and execute the Fatherís will for the future of the earth and His kingdom.
Worship of the Lamb of God (5:8-10)
8ó And when He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, having each one a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
And when He had taken the book: The living creatures and elders immediately recognize the significance of the Lamb removing the book. By the awesome One seated on the throne allowing the Lamb to take the book, the implication is that the Lamb has the authority to reveal the sovereign judgments of God. Bowing to the Lambís authority, the creatures and elders show their respect and submission to Godís choice by falling down before the Lamb. It would be prudent if those on the earth showed the same respect (cf. Ps 2).
having each one a harp: Grk. kithara, a hand-held musical instrument, having strings and a wooden frame. Ancient Hebrews had two stringed instruments, the lyre (Heb. kinnor) and the harp (Heb. nebel), which were used to accompany singing for religious purposes, as well as recreation and relaxation. In the LXX kithara translates both kinnor and nebel. The difference between the two instruments is that the harp typically had ten or twelve strings (cf. Ps 33:2; 92:3) (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, VII, 12:3). The harp was larger than the lyre with a deeper tone. During the second temple era there were never less than two harps or more than six in the temple orchestra (Edersheim 52).
The first mention of a stringed instrument in Scripture is Genesis 4:21 where Jubal is named as "the father of all those who play the lyre [Heb. kinnor]." King David was a skilled musician on both the kinnor (1Sam 16:23; 18:10; 1Chr 13:8; ) and the nebel (Ps 57:8; 108:2). He also organized musical ensembles with these stringed instruments to play for worship (1Chr 15:16; 25:1).
That the angelic elders play harps is significant, since no other musical instrument is mentioned in the descriptions of worship in heaven (cf. 15:2), even though man has used many different instruments for religious purposes. The use of kithara provides no actual description of the instrument. Perhaps angels play guitars. At any rate John gives no indication that "harps" should be taken symbolically. While worship in heaven may be expected to be clearly be different from anything experienced on earth, there will still be familiar elements.
and golden bowls: The word "bowl" means a flat, shallow cup or bowl for drinking or libations (Rienecker). full of incense: The elders are also seen holding bowls of incense. Incense was an important feature in Jewish liturgy as directed by the Lord God in the Torah (Ex 30:1; Deut 33:10). Edersheim offers this interesting account of the practice in the first century:
"The incensing priest and his assistance now approached first the altar of burnt-offering. One filled with incense a golden censer held in a silver vessel, while another placed in a golden bowl burning coals from the altar. Ö Slowly the incensing priest and his assistants ascended the steps to the Holy Place, preceded by the two priests who had formerly dressed the altar and the candlestick, and who now removed the vessels they had left behind, and, worshipping, withdrew. Next, one of the assistants reverently spread the coals on the golden altar; the other arranged the incense; and then the chief officiating priest was left alone within the Holy Place, to await the signal of the president before burning the incense. Ö As the president gave the word of command, which marked that Ďthe time of incense had come,í Ďthe whole multitude of the people withoutí withdrew from the inner court, and fell down before the Lord, spreading their hands in silent prayer" (Edersheim-Temple 127f). [Edersheim notes that the practice of folding the hands together in prayer dates from the fifth century AD and is of purely Saxon origin.]
which are the prayers: Grk. proseuchē means a prayer or entreaty and is the most frequent word in the apostolic writings for prayer, appearing in contexts of worship, personal requests and intercession, always to the God of Israel (DNTT 2:861). Of special interest is Johnís explanation to the congregations, which included Gentiles that may have been unfamiliar with Jewish temple worship, that the incense represents prayers of humans, because as incense is offered it drifts heavenward (cf. Ps 140:2; Luke 1:10). In the Jewish liturgy priests and people offered several specific prayers of praise, petition and benediction in unison.
of the saints: pl. of Grk. hagios means "the holy ones" and in the apostolic writings is used of followers of Yeshua and members of congregations as consecrated to God. The hagios word-group translates the Heb. qadosh, "holy," and its derivatives (DNTT 2:224), which means to be separated from what is common, unclean or contrary to Godís holiness (TWOT 2:788). The phrase "prayers of the saints" is also mentioned in 8:3-4 where the adjective "all" is added to "saints." Some have linked this reference to the cry of the martyrs in 6:10, but it could also be taken in a more general sense. All the saints are enjoined to prayer. "With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints" (Eph 6:18). What a blessing to think that the prayers of Godís people matter to Him and are remembered long after they are uttered (Ps 142:2)!
While many disciples would not be comfortable calling themselves "saints," it was a common term used in the Tanakh and other Jewish writings for the people of God (Deut 7:6; 1Sam 2:9; Ps 16:3; 34:9; 97:10; 135:4; Isa 41:8-9; Dan 7:18, 21-22, 25, 27; 8:24; 1Enoch 58:1ff; 103:1; 1Macc 1:46; Tobit 12:15.). "Saints" literally means "holy ones" and originated when God called Israel to be a people consecrated to worship and obey Him. The term succeeds in having a corporate meaning as well as an individual meaning. "Saints" occurs frequently in the apostolic writings and refers to those who have accepted the truth of the Good News of the Messiah, repented of their sins, put their trust in the atoning sacrifice of Yeshua for their sins and separated themselves to be faithful to their Lord.
Paul addressed virtually all his epistles to the saints, but he did not use the term in any elitist sense. The historical restriction of "saint" to designate only the apostles and later Christian leaders acclaimed for their ministry and miracles is unfortunate and unnecessary. In modern times many ministry leaders, writers and singers are revered, but thousands of faithful believers pray, witness and serve God without being heralded. The holy ones are those who are wholly His and who seek to live by His standards. Unlike modern Christians who refer to themselves as "sinners saved by grace" the apostles never mixed their metaphors and never called faithful believers "sinners" (cf. 1Cor 6:11).
9ó And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are you to take the book and to break its seals; for you were slain, and purchased for God with your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.
And they sang a new song: With hymns of praise the angels further expound on what gives the Lamb the right to open the sealed scroll. The description "new song" occurs seven times outside of Revelation, all in Psalms (33:3; 40:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; 149:1) and Isaiah 42:10, and in 14:3 where a new song is sung by the 144,000 elect. The brand new life bought and brought by the Lamb mandates a new song to celebrate it. Indeed, every new act of mercy calls forth a new song of gratitude and praise (Mounce). One of the great blessings to the Body of Messiah across the centuries has been the prolific musical creation of inspired composers who have enriched worship with "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" (Col 3:16). In Judaism it was taught that Israel would first sing a new song in the days of the Messiah as a song of praise for the miracle of deliverance (Mounce).
Worthy are you to take the book and to break its seals; for you were slain, and purchased: Grk. agorazō means to buy or purchase. Its figurative use is based on the analogy of religious law that bestowed freedom on a slave purchased by a divinity. The first person plural of "redeemed us" in the KJV is based on only a small number of MSS. The earliest and majority of MSS have no pronoun as a direct object of "purchased." The lyrics of the first song extol the great deed performed by the Lamb on behalf of the saints, by which He has "purchased" people from every national and ethnic background. "Purchased" means that those who benefit from the death of the Lamb now belong to Him (cf. Acts 20:28; 1Cor 6:20). for God with your blood men: The Lordís census categories occur six times in Revelation (here, 7:9, 10:11, where "tribes" is replaced with "kings," 11:9, 13:7, 14:6 and 17:15, where "multitude" replaces "tribes"). Sometimes the categories refer to those who have been redeemed out of the world, as here, and sometimes to those associated with the unbelieving world.
from every tribe: Grk. phulē. See the note on 1:7. "Tribe" is a grouping based on blood kinship or habitation. and tongue: Grk. glossa, language. This is an archaic translation given that glossa either means the physical organ in the mouth or a distinctive language system unique to a people. The word does not refer to a group of people that experience unintelligible speech while in religious ecstasy.
and people: Grk. laos means people and may refer to a crowd, people in contrast to their leaders, or people of a particular nation. Laos is used primarily in Scripture, though not exclusively, to refer to Israel or the congregational members as the people of God. Sometimes laos is used as a parallel to "nations" (Grk. ethnos). The essential difference between the two words is that laos could be interpreted as a group deliberately formed, and ethnos would be a natural grouping bound by ties of family, clan and a common descent (DNTT, II, 796). The word translated "people" is the same word from which "laity" is derived. Its basic meaning in the apostolic writings refers to ordinary folks, the masses, without any specific ethnic or racial overtones.
and nation: Grk. ethnos. See the note on 2:26. "Nation" is a grouping based on common culture and may or may not be confined within specific political borders (cf. John 11:52; Acts 26:4). These demographic groupings may overlap in definition as illustrated by Acts 2:5, 8-11, but together they serve as testimony that God loves the entire world (John 3:16). The Lambís death provided atonement not only for the Jews, but for all Gentiles (1Jn 2:2) that have been grafted into the Hebrew olive tree and granted the privilege of citizenship in the commonwealth of Israel (Rom 11:17, 24; Eph 2:12).
10ó "And you have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth."
And you have made them: The KJV's use of the first person plural ("us" and "we") has little MS support. The best and the earliest MSS use the third person plural "made them" and "they shall reign" at those points (Mounce). The M-Text also contains the third person plural pronouns. The song of the elders continues with praise about what God has done and will do for those who have been redeemed, modeling the principle of rejoicing with those that rejoice (Rom 12:15). The song betrays no hint of jealousy on account of God favoring human beings with honors of privilege and position. The song highlights three blessings, although closely interrelated. to be a kingdom: Grk. basileia. See the note on 1:6. First, God had made those redeemed from every tribe, tongue, people and nation into a single kingdom without borders, echoing Johnís greeting to the congregations.
and priests to our God: Second, the priesthood is returned to the people of God rather than being confined to a privileged class. and they will reign: Grk. basileuō means to be king, to reign as a king, or obtain royal power. Third, the saints "shall reign on the earth." If earth were translated as "land," the statement would reflect the prophetic expectation of Israel for self-rule and global primacy. The phrase also functions as a contrast to the location of the elders. upon the earth: The reigning will not take place in heaven, but upon the earth. However, by virtue of being redeemed and grafted into Israel Gentiles inherit this same privilege. Paul said, "If we endure, we will also reign with Him" (2Tim 2:12). Daniel was the first to be shown that the saints would receive or take possession of the kingdom after the destruction of the fourth beast (Dan 7:22, 27). Likewise, in Revelation those who overcome the beast and refuse his mark will receive the kingdom and reign with the Messiah for a thousand years (cf. 20:4, 9).
Godís realm bears little resemblance to the kingdoms of this world. Heavenís sovereign ruler governs according to an absolute set of standards and, without favoritism, demonstrates His care and compassion for all the citizens. He is even willing to share power with His faithful servants by rewarding them with positions of authority over cities (Luke 19:17-19). Yeshua also promised His apostles that they would "judge" the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt 19:28). Therefore, the saints are not just subjects of the King, but partners in His reign.
During the present age the kingdom has been manifest in the faithful remnant of Israel and disciples of Yeshua who have been loyal to the King in heaven. With the second advent of Yeshua, the kingdom in exile (cf. Gal 4:26; Php 3:20; Heb 11:13; 1Pet 1:1) will become the only kingdom as Yeshua the King establishes his "political" rule on the earth (1Cor 15:23-25). Although there is a strong interest by some Christian groups to establish a Christian government or at least to elect Christians to public office, the only biblical mandate the saints have with respect to the world is to proclaim the Gospel. God did not intend for the saints to reign on the earth without the Messiah (cf. 2Tim 2:12).
The Chorus of Praise Resounds (5:11-14)
11ó And I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands,
And I looked, and I heard: Again, John reinforces his testimony with the affirmation of personal experience by the double reference seeing and hearing. and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne: Other biblical characters were fortunate if they encountered one angel, and all those experiences had been on earth; however, John had come to that place in the heavens where the angels reside in vast numbers and discovers that there are even far more than Yeshua said He could call upon for help (Matt 26:53). and the living creatures and the elders: the four living creatures and the twenty-four angelic elders also join in the loud song of praise. and the number of them was myriads: Grk. muriadēs, pl. of murias, which in ordinary usage equaled 10,000. Idiomatically the term can refer to a very great number, tens of thousands (Rienecker, I, 321).
Although John says generally in the first clause that there were "many" angels Ė an understatement of the first order Ė he goes on to cite a more approximate number. He already knows the number of living creatures and angelic elders, so obviously they are not included in this larger number. He does not speak in generalities as he does in 7:9 where the number of great tribulation martyrs are such that "no one could count" them. of myriads: pl. gen. of Grk. murias. Since murias means ten thousand, the phrase "myriads of myriads" probably means 10,000 times 10,000 or one hundred million angels glorifying God. Obviously he was told how many angels were present. Johnís own experience validated Paul's witness, "But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels" (Heb 12:22).
and thousands: Grk. chiliadēs, pl. of chilias, which means one thousand. of thousands: Grk. chiliadon , pl. gen. of chilias. The first angel census is followed by a second count of a thousand times a thousand. This second count must refer to a separate group. Otherwise, to refer to a million after a hundred million would be superfluous. The second count could refer to the angelic leadership, such as the separation of officers and enlisted in a military organization. The revelation of heavenís angelic population was also given to Daniel, "A river of fire was flowing and coming out from before Him; thousands upon thousands were attending Him, and myriads upon myriads were standing before Him" (Dan 7:10). Daniel also notes that the million-angel-group was serving or attending to the Ancient of Days who sat on the throne, whereas the hundred-million-group was only standing before the throne.
Some prefer not to take the number of angels literally. Modern versions have opted to interpret the phrase as hyperbole (CJB, HCSB, MSG, NCV, NIV, NLT, TEV and TNIV), while at the same time translating an almost identical phrase in 9:16 (Grk. dismuriades muriadon) literally as "two hundred million." The only difference between the two Greek phrases is the addition of the prefix "two" in 9:16. If "myriads of myriads" is just an exaggerated estimate in one place, the same principle should apply in the other. One final consideration. There is no implication that the angels mentioned here are all that exist. This number may not include the angels on the earth that serve as guardians for all the saints.
12ó saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing."
saying with a loud voice: The sound of 101 million angels speaking in unison would indeed be loud. Worthy is the Lamb that was slain: Grk. sphazō, perf. pass. part. See the note on verse 6 above. The worthiness of the Lamb is reasserted, which has its basis in the Lamb being slain, a shorthand phrase for His overcoming Satan and accomplishing atonement for the human race.
Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive: Since the Lamb is spoken of as receiving, it is reasonable then to ask from whom would He receive the list of gifts that follows? The list reads like a manifest of tribute presented to a king. They all have tangible meaning and are not merely intangible character qualities. Elsewhere in the apostolic writings these gifts are treated as qualities that Yeshua possesses: power and wisdom (1Cor 1:24), riches (2Cor 8:9; Eph 3:8), might (Luke 11:22), honor (Php 2:11), glory (John 1:14), and blessing (Rom 15:29) (Mounce).
Certainly, the Father could provide all seven gifts, just as the Father has delegated judgment to the Son (John 5:22), but it would not take being slaughtered for the Father to consider the Son worthy of them. However, worthiness does relate directly to the Lamb receiving from the saints. His receiving does not mean that the Lamb is deficient in quantity or that He is being given something He lacks. He is receiving something the saints possess, which is willingly and sacrificially surrendered to Him. Later when the Beast is introduced people will give him these same gifts, but he certainly is not worthy of them. As Satanís agent he will kill and destroy, not give life.
power: Grk. dunamis. See the note on 1:16. When God enabled the apostles to receive His power on Pentecost, He demonstrated how power is manifested in His kingdom. For the Lamb to receive power from the saints means that any perceived "right" to rule is voluntarily surrendered, both in this present life and in the coming millennial kingdom. Whenever the saints pray "Your kingdom come, your will be done" and "Yours is the kingdom and the power" (Matt 6:10, 13), Godís "right" to control oneís life and destiny is being acknowledged. Ironically, those who refuse to surrender their power will have it forcibly taken from them (cf. 1Cor 15:24).
and riches: Grk. ploutos referred to considerable wealth or riches in earthly goods (DNTT 2:842). The Lamb is worthy to receive "riches." God makes it clear that the ability to obtain and accumulate wealth comes from Him (Deut 8:18; Matt 25:14). Because God gave to His people, He expected His people to demonstrate the same generosity by presenting tithes and offerings to support the priests and Levites and to care for the needy. Throughout the apostolic writings there are warnings about the deceitfulness of riches (Matt 13:22) and those with riches will find it difficult to enter the kingdom of God (Matt 19:23f). In fact, for those with a measure of wealth the key to the door of the Kingdom is to surrender them to the Lord for the Kingdomís use (Matt 19:21; Luke 12:33; 1Tim 6:17-18). In so doing, the Lord promises eternal dividends to those who invest their resources in ventures that benefit the Kingdom of God and spread the good news of salvation (Matt 25:20ff; Luke 12:33; 1Tim 6:19).
and wisdom: Grk. sophia means wisdom. In Greek culture sophia referred to practical knowledge, e.g., the sophia of a carpenter, but later incorporated theoretical knowledge (DNTT 3:1027). In the LXX sophia was used to translate the wisdom possessed by a specialist in a particular field (Ex 36:1f), or economic shrewdness (Prov 8:18). Over and above these elements sophia is concerned with the learned and perceptive ability that enables a man to master life (Prov 8:32-36) (DNTT 3:1028). The Lamb is worthy to receive "wisdom." Like riches, true wisdom originates from God (Prov 2:6; James 1:5). And, since God freely gives His wisdom to all, especially those who ask, He expects His children to use His wisdom for the benefit of others, such as in doing justice (1Kgs 3:28) and peacemaking (Jas 3:13, 17). In addition, the practical wisdom or "natural ability" that all people possess should be offered as required for the good of His kingdom (cf. Ex 36:1f). When Godís wisdom is used as He intended He receives the fruit of a stronger kingdom.
and might: Grk. ischus may be translated as strength, power or might. The word denotes the physical strength of living beings or things (DNTT 3:712). In the LXX ischus is used to translate 30 different Hebrew words altogether, most frequently used to denote manifestations of power. In Scripture ischus can express manís physical strength or his mental power, but is used particularly for divine power (DNTT 3:713). The Lamb is worthy to receive "might." This word, when used of people in Scripture, may refer to physical, intellectual or spiritual capability. However, the saints are only too aware how anemic manís might is to accomplish great spiritual feats and that spiritual power can only come from God (cf. John 1:13; 2Cor 3:5; Eph 1:19; 6:10). One area that all saints can be mighty in is prayer (Jas 5:16). Nevertheless, God chooses to receive meager human resources, empower them by His Spirit and then return them in order for His saints to do greater works for Him.
and honor: Grk. timē. See the note on 4:9. The Lamb is worthy to receive "honor." All in heaven give honor to the One seated on the throne. Yeshua lamented while on earth that He received no honor from his countrymen (John 4:44). Paul asserted that Christians are to give "honor to whom honor is due" (Rom 13:7). The Lamb is worthy of the greatest honor and the day will come when everyone will bow and give tribute to Yeshua as Lord of all (Php 2:10f). Furthermore, Johnís Gospel points out that the Son deserves honor from everyone because the Father has "entrusted all judgment to the Son" (John 5:22-23).
and glory: The Lamb is worthy to receive "glory." (See the note on 4:9.) All the glory of the nations and kingdoms of the world should be laid as trophies at the feet of the Lamb. No one can add to His glory, and while the glory of man pales by comparison, the Lamb still deserves for men to surrender it. Shulam recounts this insightful rabbinic commentary:
"R. Ishmael says: And is it possible for a man of flesh and blood to add glory to His Creator? It simply means: I shall be beautiful before Him in observing the commandments. Ö R. Jose says: I shall proclaim the glories and praise of Him by whose word the world came into being, before all the nations of the world." (Shulam 51)
and blessing: Grk. eulogia means praise, fine speaking, well-chosen words or blessing. Eulogia also carries the idea of something being bountiful. The Lamb is worthy to receive "blessing." Throughout Scripture "blessing" has three uses: ritual, edification and conveyance of a benefit. Ritual blessing is exemplified by prayers of priests pronouncing Godís benevolence on His people (Deut 11:29; 33:1). A common use of blessing is in connection with a meal (e.g. Mark 14:22) where it is used to express gratitude to God for His supply. As an example of edification, blessing is treated as a verbal activity that is contrasted with cursing (James 3:10) and insulting language (1Pet 3:9). The third significant usage of "blessing" is in reference to the conveyance of a tangible benefit (Deut 28:1-14) or inheritance (Heb 12:17).
A special use of blessing that has a bearing on this passage occurs in 2 Corinthians 9:5-6 where the word is used four times (translated "bountiful") to describe the financial gift that Paul was collecting for famine relief. Paul acknowledged that such sacrificial giving was a direct result of the Macedonian believers having given themselves first to God (2Cor 8:3-5). Elsewhere Paul likens financial and other practical support to his ministry as a "fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God" (Php 4:18). Yeshua, too, pointed out in the parable of the judgment that when the sheep sacrificially helped and supported their needy brethren, it was the same as Yeshua receiving the benefit (Matt 25:40). "Blessing" is an appropriate word since no one would give generously to another if the recipient were not well regarded.
13ó And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, "To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing, and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever."
And every created thing: Grk. ktisma refers to that which is created by God or to creatures created by God. Ktisma occurs only three other places in the apostolic writings - 1 Timothy 4:4, James 1:18 and Revelation 8:9 Ė in which the word means animals. The rejoicing of the heavenly creatures, elders and angels gives way to a new doxology lauding the Lamb, although the verse repeats previous themes. The phrase "every created thing" refers to creatures that God has created apart from man. Psalm 148 records a similar picture of creatures giving praise to God. All of Godís creatures respond with praise, echoing the same sentiments as the angels and four living creatures.
Four locations are cited from which the praise comes, all four referring to components of the earth. which is in heaven: The first location, "in heaven," which could refer to Godís throne, but more likely refers to the atmosphere of the earth. If "heaven" refers to earthís atmosphere, then the creatures would be the many varieties of birds. and on the earth: Grk. gē can mean soil (as in receiving seed), the ground, land as contrasted with the sea, and the earth in contrast to heaven. Creatures "on the earth" include a great variety of mammals and reptiles, which make their home on the surface of the land or in the trees. The great swelling chorus of voices from the earth that John heard may have been echoing the praise of heaven. and under the earth: The Greek word for "earth," though, should be understood as referring to the land in contrast to the ocean, since the only thing "underneath" the globe-earth would be outer space. Creatures "under the earth" would probably be those animals that burrow, such as rodents, rabbits, gophers, etc. and on the sea: The fourth location mentioned is "on the sea," which would identify marine mammals or birds Ė otters, seals, penguins, etc.
and all things in them: This phrase would include the fish and great sea creatures and any animal on land not covered by the previous categories.
I heard saying: The highly descriptive language implies that for one miraculous moment all the animals on the earth were suddenly given the power of communicating in human speech, such as the serpent in the Garden of Eden conversed with Eve (Gen 3:1) or the famous talking donkey that quite coherently complained of Balaamís abusive treatment (Num 22:28). Of course, no one from that time recorded any such miraculous event occurring and there is no reason to take Johnís report in a literalistic fashion. Nevertheless, John heard what he heard. The Scriptures affirm that the saints are not the only ones that sing the praises of the Creator God and extol His greatness. Certainly animals are not physically equipped to formulate intelligible speech as humans, but they do have the ability to communicate within their own kinds by sounds, gestures and other non-verbal means.
Thus the creatures responded to heaven in accordance with their individual design and John heard the translation in the following words. "To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb: this is the third time of seven that the reference to God sitting on a throne occurs in Revelation. See the note on 4:9. be blessing, and honor and glory: Three of the gifts mentioned in verse 12 are repeated in the animal's acclaim of adoration. and dominion: Grk. kratos, the quality of being strong, usually translated as "strength" or "might." forever and ever": lit. "the ages of the ages" (Marshall). The adoration acknowledges that these are the gifts that keep on being made throughout eternity.
14ó And the four living creatures kept saying, "Amen." And the elders fell down and worshiped.
Amen: The four living creatures express their hearty approval in unison by declaring "amen." (See the note on 1:6.) The Hebrew "amen" is always used in reference to something previously said, hence its use in English as well as Hebrew by those listening to a prayer. Again the adoration of the elders causes them to fall down before Him and acknowledge their submission to Godís authority.
Barclay: William Barclay, The Revelation of John. 2 Vols. The Westminster Press, 1976.
Danker: Frederick William Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. The University of Chicago Press, 2009.
DNTT: Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 3 Vols. Colin Brown, ed. Zondervan Publishing House, 1975.
Edersheim-Temple: Alfred Edersheim, The Temple-Its Ministry and Services, Updated Edition. Hendrickson Publishers, 1994. Online.
Johnson: Alan F. Johnson, Revelation. Expositorís Bible Commentary. Zondervan Publishing House, 1983. (Zondervan CD-ROM Version 2.6, 1989-1998)
Ladd: George E. Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972.
Metzger-TNT: Bruce Metzger, The Text of the New Testament. 2nd ed. United Bible Societies, 1994.
Mounce: Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation. rev. ed. New International Commentary on the New Testament. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998.
NIBD: Nelson's Illustrated Dictionary of the Bible. Herbert Lockyer, ed. Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986.
Rienecker: Fritz Rienecker, A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament. 2 Vols. The Zondervan Corporation, 1980.
Robertson: Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament. 6 Vols. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1933. (Parsons CD-ROM Version 2.0, 1997) Online.
Sevener: Harold A. Sevener, Godís Man in Babylon. Chosen People Ministries, 1994.
Stern: David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary. 5th ed. Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., 1996.
TWOT: Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. 2 Vols. ed. R. Laird Harris. Moody Bible Institute, 1980.
Wilson: Marvin Wilson, Our Father Abraham. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1989.
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