This is a verse-by-verse discussion of Revelation 5. Other articles that discuss specific aspects of Revelation 5 include the following:
- Revelation 4 is not a point in time but provides a general description of the worship that is constantly going on in heaven (Rev 4:2, 8, 9). The article – Revelation 5 – shows that this chapter shifts the focus to a specific event, namely Christ’s glorification at the Father’s right hand after He ascended into heaven.
- Another article shows that the sealed book is the Lamb’s Book of Life, containing God’s judgments with respect to who will be saved.
- This article – The book which not even God can open – discusses consequences of the conclusion that the sealed book is the Lamb’s Book of Life. It discusses questions, such as:
- Why are God’s judgments not understood?
- Why could God not explain His judgments?
- How did Jesus’ death make Him worthy to explains God’s judgments? And
- Why is the book not immediately open after Jesus’ victory on earth?
The current article depends on these three articles. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from the NASB translation of the Book of Revelation.
5:1-4 – BEFORE JESUS CHRIST
The chapter begins with “a book … sealed up with seven seals” in the right hand of God (5:1). “Sealed up” means that the contents of this book are unknown.
As argued in a previous article, the seals are Satan’s brilliant accusations. Due to these accusations, intelligent creatures are unsure whether God’s judgments are perfect.
A strong angel shouted, “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals” (5:2)? To open the book is to explain God’s judgments; to show that His judgments are perfect.
As no one in heaven or on the earth was found able to open the book, John began to weep profusely (5:3-4). This symbolizes the great sorrow that is caused by the dispute over the perfection of God’s judgments. As long as Satan’s objections to God’s judgments remain unrefuted, God cannot execute His judgments and sin must continue.
5:5 – JESUS CHRIST HAS OVERCOME
Then one of the 24 elders said to John, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah … has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals” (5:5).
The “lion” is Jesus Christ. To “overcome” means to overcome evil. In other words, by overcoming evil while He lived on earth, Jesus Christ earned the right to explain God’s judgments.
This made an end to the sorrow in heaven. However, the book is not yet open. This means that the perfection of God’s judgments must still be proven. Nevertheless, Christ’s life on earth was a decisive turning point in the history of mankind, as explained below.
5:6 – SLAIN LAMB
In verse 6, Christ appears as a slain lamb. This is the answer to the unspoken question in verse 5: HOW did He overcome? He “has overcome” (5:5) sin and evil; not by using His lion-like power but by offering up His life; like a lamb. Jesus Christ has overcome by remaining faithful to God through all the trauma of His entire life. But His highest test was in the hours preceding His death. For that reason, His death symbolizes how He overcame throughout His life.
The lamb has seven eyes, which are defined as the seven Spirits of God “sent out into all the earth.”
- Since the weeping in verse 4 switches to joy in verse 5, verse 5 refers to a specific point in time, namely to when Jesus Christ died.
- Revelation 5:1-4 and John’s weeping, therefore, describes the time before Christ’s victory on earth.
- In the context of a slain lamb, the seven Spirits “sent out into all the earth” evidently refers to the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples.
Consequently, Revelation 5 describes events in heaven after Christ’s ascension. For further discussion, see Revelation 5. Since the seventh seal will only be broken AFTER Christ’s return (see, Book of Life), the seven consecutive seals in Revelation 6 began at the time of Jesus Christ and cover the entire church age.
5:7-10 – HE TOOK THE BOOK.
Jesus Christ then came and took the book out of the hand of Him who sat on the throne (5:7). This is the moment when the Lamb sits down at God’s right side (3:21).
When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the 24 elders fell down before the Lamb. 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 … nation.
- You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God,
- and they will reign upon the earth. (NASB)
This song refers to the past, the present and to the future:
- The three verbs in red font (“slain … purchased …. made”) indicate that these things have already been accomplished.
- For that reason, Christ is NOW “worthy.”
- Once He has broken all the seals, Jesus’ rule over the earth will become literal and actual and “they will reign upon the earth.”
While verse 5 indicates that Christ is able to open the book because He “has overcome,” the current verses put the emphasis on His death (“slain … with your blood”). But these are saying the same thing in different words. His blood is a metaphor for His death, and His death serves as a symbol of how He overcame during His entire life.
Jesus Christ is “worthy” to open the scroll (5:9) because He overcame (5:5). “Worthy,” means that He is trust-“worthy.” The contrast with Revelation 12, where Satan is thrown out of heaven because he is found to be untrustworthy (12:10), confirms this. Christ’s character has been thoroughly tested. He has proven to be “the faithful and true Witness” (3:14; 1:5). As such, He is trust-“worthy” to show that God’s judgments are perfect.
DID CHRIST’S LIFE ACHIEVE ONE OR TWO GOALS?
According to 5:9, He “has overcome” (5:5) with two consequences:
- He purchased people for God, and
- He is worthy to open the book.
One option is to take these two things as different ways of saying the same thing. In other words, He purchased people for God by becoming worthy to open the book. However, this article proposes that it is possible to distinguish between these two things:
- Purchased people – Jesus Christ “has overcome” by remaining faithful to God under the most severe circumstances. This implies that Satan argued that that is not possible. Satan could further have argued that, since it is not possible to remain faithful to God under all circumstances, God is unjust when He forgives some sinners but condemns others. Christ, by showing that it is possible to remain faithful to God under the most severe circumstances, substantiated the basis of God’s judgments, and thereby He “purchased” people for God. This is the ‘theory of atonement’ according to the Book of Revelation.
- Worthy to open the book – Even after the Cross, the book remains sealed because Christ, by overcoming evil, did not show that the specific names in the book of life are the right names. However, an additional consequence of His life on earth was to confirm Him as “the faithful and true Witness” (3:14) and Satan, in contrast, as a false witness (12:10). Therefore, Christ is trust-“worthy” to prove that God’s judgments are perfect. Satan, on the other hand, has been thrown out of heaven in the sense that he is no longer believed.
5:11-12 – ANGELS ADD THEIR VOICES
In 5:7-10, the four living creatures and the 24 elders praise Christ in a song. In verses 11-12, myriads and myriads of angels add their voices in praise to Jesus Christ. The throne is in the center, surrounded by the four living creatures, the elders in the next circle, and the larger multitude of angels in the outer ring.
5:13-14 – EVERY CREATED BEING
The chapter concludes with every created thing in heaven and on earth saying:
“To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.”
There are five songs of praise in Revelation 4-5:
- The first two are sung to the One sitting on the throne, “for You created all things” (4:11).
- The third and fourth hymns are sung in praise to the Lamb, “for You … purchased for God with Your blood men” (5:9-10).
- But this final hymn, as the climax of the series, is sung to both by every created being.
HOW GOD RULES HIS CREATION
God created all things through His Son, but His Son came as a Lamb led to the slaughter. This shows how God rules the universe. He is infinitely powerful but that power is exercised through self-sacrificial love:
God populated the universe with creatures that are truly free.
A chief of the angels, named Lucifer, became proud because of His beauty. Consequently, evil developed within him. God condemned him to eternal punishment but also allowed Satan to freely state his case. Lucifer criticized God’s judgment. With his vast knowledge of the evil which each person has committed, he accused specifically God’s people. By implication, he accused God of applying grace in an arbitrary way and of being severe in His judgment of those who oppose Him.
God knows and understands all things. His intelligent creatures, however, are limited. Given the context of Satan’s clever accusations, they are unable to confirm that God’s judgments are perfect. That is what the sealed book represents. This implies that additional explanations, even by God, will not resolve the crisis.
To combat this rebellion with the use of force, before the intelligent creatures are able to understand that Satan’s allegations are false, might only serve to confirm to them that Satan’s charges are true.
God chose to provide a demonstration of the perfect accuracy of His judgments in a form that the creation could understand. This is what Christ’s life and the seven seals in Revelation 6 are about.
Christ’s victory did not bring an end to sin, but with it, the victory over sin and Satan was assured, for Jesus Christ became worthy to open the sealed book.
– END OF SUMMARY –
5:1 – THE SEALED BOOK
I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals. (NASB)
And I saw
This phrase often introduces a new vision (6:1; 8:2; 10:1).
… In the right hand
This Greek phrase can mean “in” the right hand or “at” the right hand (or side – of God). The New Testament often portrays Jesus Christ as “at the right hand of God” (Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Heb. 10:12, etc.) or seated “at the right hand of the throne” (Heb. 8:1, 12:2). For this reason, and because, later in this chapter (5:7), Jesus moves to take the book, it may be better to understand the book to be AT the right side of God rather than IN God’s right hand. In that case, the moment when the Lamb takes up the book (5:7) is when He sits down at God’s right side (Rev. 3:21; 22:1, 3; see also Matt 22:44; Mark 12:36; Luke 20:42).
In Psalms 80:17 and 110:1, the king of Israel sits at God’s right side. This meant that the king ruled subject to God. Similarly, when Jesus Christ sits down on God’s right hand, He is elevated or acknowledge as Ruler of the creation; subject only to God. (See, God in Revelation)
… of Him who sat on the throne
This refers back to Revelation 4, where John saw “One sitting on the throne” (4:2), later identified as “our Lord and our God” (4:11).
… a book
In the ancient world, books took two primary forms:
- A scroll is a long sheet of writing material that is rolled up. In the time before John saw the visions recorded in the book of Revelation, the scroll (as in the Dead Sea Scrolls) was the predominant book form.
- The other form is the book as we know it today with pages glued together at one end. It is called a codex. The earliest reference to books in codex form is a brief mention around 40-100 AD. On the other hand, all manuscripts of the New Testament, including the very earliest fragments that we have (around 115-120 AD), are in the codex form. For this reason, the codex may have been invented by Christians to enable one person to carry the entire New Testament, something that would not have been possible with scrolls.
What was the form of the book at God’s right hand? According to Revelation 6:14, “the sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up.” Here “scroll” translates the same word (Greek: biblion) which is translated as “book” in 5:1. The book (biblion) in 5:1, therefore, was a scroll.
… written inside and on the back
It was customary to write ancient scrolls on one side only because that was more convenient for reading as the book is unrolled. That the scroll in this verse is written on both sides probably means that much is written in this book. “Inside” refers to the side that is hidden from view when the scroll is rolled up.
… sealed up with seven seals
In the ancient world, a king might stamp his seal on a document to make it official. But the scroll of Revelation 5 is sealed for concealment as indicated by:
- The statement that “no one was found worthy … to look into it” (5:4) and by
- The phrase, “sealed up.”
It means that the book’s contents are unknown, similar to Daniel’s prophecies (Dan. 12:4).
Since the number seven signifies completeness in terms of time, the seven seals may suggest that complete knowledge will only be possible at the end of human history, as we know it. This is supported by the conclusion that this book will only be read after the return of Christ (See, Book of Life).
5:2 – WHO IS WORTHY?
And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?” (NASB)
And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice
Since there is no such thing as a weak angel (Ps. 103:20), this one must have been exceptionally strong. Assuming that angels have some sort of hierarchy, this angel would have been one of the chief angels.
… who is worthy
This question is one of vast importance.
“Worthy” is an important word in this chapter. The word appeared for the first time in Revelation in 4:11. To be worthy is to be judged able to accomplish a task or an office. At the Jordan River, John the Baptist did not feel worthy to untie Jesus’ sandal (John 1:27). The centurion of Capernaum did not feel worthy to have Jesus enter his house (Matt 8:8). Mere physical strength does not make one “worthy.” Not even this mighty angel is able to open the scroll.
… to open the book and to break its seals?
Since the book is the Book of Life, containing God’s judgments, to open the book is to explain God’s judgments to show that He judges perfectly. A previous article concluded that the seals are Satan’s objections to the grace which God grants to the people listed in the Book of Life.
5:3 – NO ONE IS WORTHY
And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it. (NASB)
This was a problem so large that not even God could solve it.
If the scroll is the book of life and the issue is uncertainty whether God’s judgments are perfect, it becomes clearer why not even God is able to open the book:
God certainly explains His judgments. However, God also protects the freedom of His intelligent creatures and, therefore, has allowed Satan to freely state his case. Satan, whom God has condemned to eternal punishment, with his vast knowledge of the evil each human being has committed, and with his unparalleled communication skills, has brilliantly accused God’s people. By implication, Satan claimed that God applies grace in an arbitrary fashion and that His judgments are severe on those marked for eternal punishment.
Given this context, created beings, without God’s infinite knowledge, are unable to confirm that God’s judgments are perfect. That is what the sealed book symbolizes.
This implies that additional explanations, even by God, will not resolve the crisis.
5:4 – JOHN WEEPS
Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it (NASB)
John’s weeping symbolizes the huge sorrow in God’s creation that is caused by Satan’s allegations that God’s judgments are less than perfect. As long as Satan’s objections to God’s judgments remain unrefuted, God has to allow sin to continue and God cannot execute His judgments.
As from verse 5, we will read that Christ overcame to open the book, Revelation 5:1-4 and John’s weeping, therefore, describe the time before Christ’s victory on earth. At that time, the war raged in heaven:
- “Day and night” Satan accused God’s people (12:10), and, by implication, God Himself.
- At the same time, the all-seeing four living creatures defend God. “Day and night” they do not cease to say, “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is THE LORD GOD” (4:8).
5:5 – HAS OVERCOME
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.” (NASB)
and one of the elders said to me
The 24 elders have been introduced in Revelation 4:4. They represent humanity before God (See 24 elders). Note that it is one of the elders who explain things to John, rather than an angel.
… the Lion of the Tribe of Judah
This is Jesus Christ. He descended physically from Judah (Heb. 7:14), the fourth son of Jacob (later called Israel). He was the promised Messiah (Gen 49:10). He is called a lion because Jacob described Judah as a lion’s whelp (Gen. 49:9). A young lion was placed on the flag of the tribe of Judah, which led Israel’s march through the desert during the Exodus.
… the root of David
This is another name for Jesus Christ (see also Isa 11:1, 10; Rom 15:12). The worthy one is not only descended from Judah but he is the root or foundation of David. These two phrases imply the two natures of Christ: He is a human being, descended from a human forebear, but also the Son of God; the one who existed before David and gave David his throne (2 Sam 7:8-14). This same concept is expressed in another way in Rev 22:16, where He is both “the root and the descendant of David” (see also Matt 22:42-45; Mark 12:35-37; Luke 20:41-44).
… has overcome
“Has overcome” echoes Revelation 3:21 where Jesus Christ says “I overcame.” In verse 6, Christ will appear as a slain lamb (5:6, 9, 12). The cross is the place where the Lamb overcame. The word “overcome” is used many times in Revelation and means to overcome evil, for example, “He who overcomes …” (2:26). Jesus overcame His entire life by remaining without sin through all the trauma of His life. But His highest test was in the hours preceding His death. For that reason, and because His test was concluded at His death, His death symbolizes how He overcame throughout His life.
Since the weeping in verse 4 switches to joy in verse 5, we are able to date 5:5, namely to when Christ died.
… so as to open the book and its seven seals
Jesus Christ is “worthy” to open the scroll because He overcame (cf. 5:9). This means that He is trusted. This is confirmed by the contrast to Revelation 12, where Satan is thrown out of heaven because the truthfulness of his witness is rejected (12:10). How Christ’s victory made Him worthy is explained in the article The book which not even God can open:
Jesus Christ’s character has been thoroughly tested by trials, even to the point of death. Through His suffering, He has proven to be “the faithful and true Witness” (3:14; 1:5). As such, He is trust-“worthy” “to open the book and to break its seals” (5:2), which means to refute Satan’s allegations and to show to the whole universe that God’s judgments are perfect.
Satan’s merciless persecution of Christ also exposed Satan as a liar.
Sin still reigns on earth today because the book is not yet open.
5:6 – SLAIN LAMB
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. (NASB)
And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders
This recalls some detail of the vision of chapter four. The throne was at the center of that vision, surrounded by the four living creatures and further surrounded by the 24 elders.
There is a disagreement between the translations where the Lamb was standing:
- “between the throne … and the elders” (NASB)
- “at the center of the throne” (NIV) (See, BibleHub)
In Revelation 3:21, Jesus Christ asserted, “I also sat down with my Father on His throne.” In 5:7, the Lamb moves to take the book. If the scroll was at the right side of God (see discussion of 5:1), it implies that Jesus moves onto the throne in 5:7. In that case, in 5:6, He is not yet His on the throne but is inside the ring of the elders and immediately in front of the throne, as reflected in the NASB.
… a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered
According to verse 5, “the Lion” had some sort of victory that made him worthy to open the book. The “lamb” in verse 6 shows how He obtained that victory. The lion symbolizes power. The lamb symbolizes weakness. He “has overcome” (5:5) sin and evil; not by using His power but by restraining His power in apparent weakness; offering up His life; like a lamb. “Power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). This recalls the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53:7.
John hears about a lion but never sees the Lion. He sees a lamb. He is told that the Lion of Judah has overcome and that that has qualified Him to open the book by breaking its seals (5:5). But when he actually looks (5:6), he sees a Lamb standing as if slaughtered. What John sees and hears seems like opposites, but the “Lion” and the “Lamb” are two are different perspectives of the same person; reflecting two different roles of Jesus Christ.
The lamb appears as if its throat had been cut, yet he is not dead or dying; he is standing. As Jesus said, “I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore” (1:18).
… having seven horns
While the Lamb has seven horns, the seven-headed dragon, sea beast, and the beast of Revelation 17 each have ten horns (Rev 12:3; 13:1; 17:3).
It is not a literal lamb and not seven literal horns. These chapters depict reality by means of symbols. The number seven in Revelation is the number of completion in terms of time. Horns symbolize authority. The seven horns mean that He will ALWAYS reign: “His Christ … will reign forever and ever” (11:15). Jesus Christ said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Mt. 28:18).
… and seven eyes which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth.
The image of the seven eyes is drawn from the Old Testament (2 Chr. 16:9; Zech. 3:9; 4:10). There, they indicate divine watchfulness over all the earth. The Lord knows everything there is to know because His eyes roam to and fro across the earth.
The seven spirits are also mentioned in Revelation 1:4; 3:1 and 4:5. The Holy Spirit is sent both by Jesus (John 15:26) and the Father (John 14:26). The seven eyes symbolize that, through the working of the Spirit, Christ knows everything that happens on the earth.
The seven horns and seven eyes combined, therefore, tell us that the Lamb has both complete power and complete knowledge.
The seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth, in the context of a slain lamb, evidently refers to the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples. This may imply that this particular verse describes Jesus Christ in heaven on the Day of Pentecost (See, Revelation 5). If so, Pentecost is the starting point of the seven consecutive seals in Revelation 6.
HOW GOD RULES HIS CREATION
I would like to comment further on the image of the slain lamb. What startles the mind is that the One through whom God created all things, in whom “all things hold together” (Col. 1:16-17), is expressed by the weakness of the Lamb that was slain. He came as a Lamb led to the slaughter (Isa 53:7). In this picture, we catch a glimpse of how God chooses to rule the universe. While He is infinitely powerful, that power is exercised through self-sacrificial love:
God populated the universe with creatures that were and continue to be truly free, for true love is only possible in freedom. For love to be genuine, it must be freely given. God’s creatures must be free to love, but also free to reject love and rebel against the Creator without even the fear of punishment. If we fear punishment for rejecting God, then we are not really free.
In Revelation 12 and other places (like Job 1-2, Isaiah 14, and Ezekiel 28), it becomes evident that a chief of the angels, named Lucifer (originally light bearer) but later known as the devil and Satan, exercised that freedom. At first, he was without sin (Ezek. 28:15) but became proud: “Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty” (Ezek. 28:17). For that reason, “unrighteousness was found in you” (v15).
ACCUSES GOD OF UNFAIR JUDGMENT
When God condemned his behavior and showed to him the error and consequences of his ways, Lucifer further exercised that freedom and began a rebellion in heaven, in which he criticized God’s judgment. The repeated refrain which we find in the Bible is that Satan accuses God’s people (Revelation 12:10; 3:1-2; Job 1 and 2). This implies that He accused God of applying grace in an arbitrary way and of being severe in His judgment of those who oppose Him. Satan seems intent on creating doubt in the minds of the intelligent beings about God’s ability to judge.
UNABLE TO REFUTE SATAN
God knows and understands all things. His intelligent creatures, however, are limited. Without God’s complete understanding, given the context of Satan’s clever accusations, they are unable to confirm that God’s judgments are perfect. God is able to explain, but His intelligent creatures are not able to understand. This is what is symbolized in Revelation 5 as a sealed book. Opening the scroll was something that even God could not do on His own because His explanations are beyond the understanding of limited beings.
GOD PROVIDES EVIDENCE
To combat this rebellion with the use of force, before the intelligent creatures are able to understand that Satan’s allegations are false, might only serve to confirm to them that Satan’s charges are true.
To ignore Satan’s charges would be to continue sin, sickness, and death indefinitely.
God chose a third option, namely to provide evidence of the perfect accuracy of His judgments. This is what the seven seals in Revelation 6 are about. This thought is expanded in the other articles in this series.
The sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross shows “the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:1). It shows how God rules the universe, namely through self-sacrificing love. In the ministry of Jesus on earth, in the way that He died, God renounced all use of force and intimidation. Instead, it revealed Christ as “the faithful and true Witness” (3:14).
5:7 – HE TOOK THE BOOK.
And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. (NASB)
Lambs do not have hands and cannot take books. This confirms that these visions are not to be taken literally. John did not literally see these things. In vision, he JUST KNEW these things. We must interpret the symbols; not visualize the images literally.
The key theological concepts in Revelation 5 are those that apply to the first century. For example:
- The cross of Christ is the towering reality of the New Testament and is mentioned in nearly every book.
- Christ’s exaltation to the heavenly throne room is a past event that is often mentioned in the New Testament.
- Our inauguration as kings and priests had already taken place when John wrote the book (1 Peter 2:9-10).
Nothing in Revelation 5 is inappropriate to the first century or requires us to think that the Lamb takes the book long after the first century. As discussed in the article titled Revelation 5, Jesus Christ took the book after His ascension to heaven.
5:8 – PRAYERS OF THE SAINTS
When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. (NASB)
When He had taken the book
This refers back to the action of the Lamb in verse 7 and indicates that the praise of verses 9 and 10 follows immediately upon the Lamb taking the book.
… the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb
The word translated “fell down” is one of the two main Greek words for worship (the other is proskuneô – see also 4:10; 5:14; 7:11; 11:16; 19:4). This is the ancient form of obeisance—falling down on one’s face (1 Cor. 14:25), much as Muslims do still today.
… each one holding a harp
The word translated “each” is masculine, as are the 24 elders. The four living creatures are grammatically neuter. It is the elders alone, therefore, who have harps and who hold bowls of incense that represent the prayers of the saints. If the elders are representatives in heaven of redeemed humanity (see 24 elders), it makes sense that they would be the ones in the heavenly chorus to represent the prayers of the saints before God.
Each elder carried a harp, with which they accompanied the song that immediately follows. The harp was the chief instrument for expressing thanksgiving in the temple services (1 Chr. 13:8; 2 Chr. 5:12; Neh. 12:27; Ps. 33:2).
… and golden bowls full of incense
The bowls mentioned here are of the shallow variety, much like saucers. These are often associated with the sanctuary and the temple in the Old Testament (Exod. 27:3; 38:23; Num. 4:14; 1 Kings 7:26, 31). They would be used for burning incense (Exod. 30:1-10).
It is hard to visualize someone playing a harp (or a guitar) while also holding a bowl of incense. This is another warning not to take the visions of Revelation too literally. The visions of Revelation were intended to be read more than seen.
… which are the prayers of the saints
The combination of prayer with incense is consistent with Old Testament usage:
“Let my prayer be counted as incense before you” (Ps. 141:2; cf. Lev 16:12-13).
In the temple context, while the priest was offering incense inside the temple, the people outside were in prayer before God (see Luke 1:9-10). Likewise, here, the elders, representatives of humanity, offer incense to God while the church on earth is praying.
Just as incense naturally rises, so do the prayers of God’s people rise up to the throne.
The “saints” in this phrase are not to be confused with the 24 elders, nor are they to be understood as dead humans who have ascended to heaven and intercede there before God. Saints, in the New Testament, consistently refer to living believers on earth. In Greek, the word “saint” is the same as “holy.” “Saints” are essentially equivalent to the church (Rom 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:2; Heb. 13:24; Rev. 8:3-4; 11:18; 14:12; 16:6; 17:6, etc.).
5:9 – A NEW SONG
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. (NASB)
And they sang a new song
There have already been two songs sung in the course of this vision (4:8, 11). The song in this verse is specifically called a “new song,” so they sing about something new, namely Christ’s victory on earth (5:5-6). An Old Testament parallel is Psalm 144:9, where David sings a new song that celebrates the victory God provided over his enemies.
The new song is sung by the 24 elders and the 4 living creatures. In 14:3, only the 144000 can sing their “new song” because only they had that unique experience. The song in Revelation 14, therefore, must be different from the one in 5:9.
… saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals
The word “worthy” here is one of five occurrences in the vision of Revelation 4 and 5:
- 4:11 – The one sitting on the throne is worthy because He created all things.
- 5:2 – Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?
- 5:4 – No one was found worthy to do so (5:4).
- 5:12 repeats the conclusion in 5:9 that the Lamb or worthy.
One of the elders assures John in 5:5-6 that Christ has overcome, enabling Him to open the scroll, but these verses do not mention the word “worthy” but, rather, explain HOW he became worthy, namely because He overcame.
… for You were slain
This confirms that the Lamb is worthy on account of His victory on the cross. The cross enables the opening of the book.
The word for slain can also be translated as slaughter (Rev 13:3, 8) or as murder (1 John 3:12; Rev 18:24). It also has sacrificial overtones (Lev. 4:4, 24, 33, etc.). So it is an appropriate word to use with reference to the cross, which combined murder and sacrifice.
“Slain” is the first of three verbs (the other two are “purchased” and “made”) that indicate why the Lamb is worthy to open the scroll. All three verbs describe something that occurred at a point in the past. “Slain” is a clear reference to the cross. This implies that Christ “purchased … men” also through the Cross.
… and purchased for God
The word for “purchase” can also be translated as “ransom” (ESV, NRSV, RSV) or “redeemed” (KJV). “Purchase” (NASB, NIV) has a broader meaning, with ransom and redemption being particular sub-categories of the larger concept. The translation “ransom” would be most convincing in a context where one is ransomed from slavery or captivity, but that language does not appear in chapter five.
… with Your blood
The fact that His blood is the price paid for the purchase confirms that the cross is the place of both the slaying and the purchase.
As discussed in the article – The book which not even God can open:
- Christ’s death serves as a symbol of how He overcame during His entire life.
- Jesus Christ purchased men for God by dying without sin. This is explained as follows:
- Satan accuses specifically God’s people. This implies that Satan claimed that God is unjust when He forgives some sinners but condemns others.
- Jesus overcame by dying without sin. That implies that Satan claimed that that is impossible, namely that it is not possible to keep God’s laws under all circumstances.
- Combining these two points, Satan’s allegation was that God is unjust when He forgives some sinners but condemns others because it is not possible to keep God’s laws under all circumstances.
- Jesus Christ refuted the basis of Satan’s arguments by showing that it is possible to remain faithful to God under the most severe circumstances.
- However, the book remains sealed after Christ’s death because He, by overcoming evil, has not shown that the specific names in the book of life are the right names.
… from every tribe and tongue and people and nation
Is it not a wonderful thought that people from every category of people will be saved?
Similar four-fold listings of the people in the world are found throughout Revelation (see, for example, Rev 10:11; 14:7) although the items in each list and their order changes from text to text. The number four represents worldwide extension, as in the four corners of the earth (Rev 7:1). These four elements, therefore, are truly intended to sum up all the people in the world. The text portrays an undivided people of God that is drawn from all the divisions of humanity.
The King James Version adds a single word that makes a big difference in the meaning of the text. It reads, “You have purchased … us.” However, the earlier and better manuscripts leave this word out. Furthermore, the song is sung not only by the 24 elders but also by the four living creatures, which appear to be angels. Are they also redeemed? So it appears that the original likely did not have “us” but said that some from every division of humanity is saved.
5:10 – A KINGDOM AND PRIESTS
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign upon the earth. (NASB)
You have made them
“Made” is the third of three verbs that explain the basis upon which Lamb is considered to be worthy to take the scroll and open its seals. The first two verbs (“slain” and “purchased”) occurred in the context of the cross. This implies that they have been “made” kings and priests also by Jesus’ death and resurrection; rather than at their conversion and baptism.
In the Greek Old Testament, the word translated “made” is one of the major words for creation in Genesis 1. It is a consistent theme in the New Testament that the creative power of God, which made the physical world in the beginning, also creates new life in the lives of those who put their trust in Jesus Christ.
The KJV has “us” in this phrase but both the majority text and the scholarly text agree that the correct reading is “have made them.” The singers of the song in Revelation 5:9-10, therefore, are not singing about themselves, but about those on earth who have embraced the cross. They have been made a kingdom of priests.
… to be a kingdom and priests to our God
In the ancient world, kings had the highest status in the political realm and priests had the highest status in the religious realm. Those who sacrificed much to embrace the gospel are assured that, in eternity, they are considered to have the highest level status in Jesus Christ.
The majority text of the Greek reads “kings and priests.” In this reading, those redeemed at the cross have a double identity, they are kings and they are priests. However, the earlier and generally better manuscripts favor the reading “a kingdom and priests.” 1 Peter 2:9, similarly, describe the believers as a royal priesthood.
A priest is someone who stands between God and the people. God called Israel a kingdom of priests (Ex. 19:6). Israel was not called for its own sake, but to be a blessing to the nations (Gen. 12:1-3). The New Testament writers understood the church to be a new Israel, with the twelve disciples taking on the role of the leaders of the twelve tribes (Matt 19:28-30). The church, as a kingdom of priests, is a nation that stands between God and all the other nations, intended to bless the nations through the spreading of the gospel.
Israel is thus no longer constituted on the basis of physical descent from Jacob but in relation to the Jewish Messiah Jesus. Thus Israel has been expanded beyond the ethnic and geographical boundaries of ancient Israel to include Gentiles from every corner of the world.
… and they will reign upon the earth
This kingdom and reign are the outcomes of Christ’s work; not earned by human performance. Through the cross of Christ, the power of His resurrection is made available to all who trust in Him.
“They will reign on the earth” when Jesus’ rule over the earth becomes literal and actual in practice. While this earth is the very place where believers are so often rejected and mistreated, they are invited to look forward to the day when they will participate in Jesus’ reign over the earth.
5:11 – ANGELS
Then 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
Then I looked, and I heard …
The phrase “then I looked” often introduces a new vision or a new aspect to a vision (e.g. Rev 5:1, 6; 6:1). Previously, only the four living creatures and the 24 elders were featured in the vision, but now the much larger angelic host are introduced to join in the praise. There are five songs in Revelation 4 and 5 and each song gets louder and louder:
- The first song was sung by the 4 living creatures (4:8).
- The second was sung by the 24 elders (4:11).
- The third is sung by the four living creatures AND the 24 elders (5:9-10).
- The fourth adds myriads and myriads of angels (5:11-12).
This sequence of hymns leads to a crescendo which is the universal acclamation of the fifth song (Rev 5:13) of both the one sitting on the throne and the Lamb.
… the voice of many angels
Angels are interested in the affairs of humanity (1 Peter 1:12). They learn more about God’s eternal purposes in observing human beings (Eph. 3:10-11). Now that the victory of the cross has been announced by the 24 elders and the four living creatures, the wider body of angels is ready to join in the chorus.
… around the throne and the living creatures and the elders
The throne is in the center, surrounded by a rainbow (4:3), the four living creatures, the elders in the next circle, and the larger multitude of angels in the outer ring (cf. 4:4).
… and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands
The number of angels is too large to be exactly counted (cf. Heb. 12:22; Daniel 7:10). In Revelation 7:11, the number of the redeemed is also too large to count. This, therefore, is not literally true. It just means that there is a vast multitude of angels around the throne.
5:12 – SEVEN-FOLD PRAISE
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. (NASB)
The “myriads of myriads” of angels of verse 11 naturally speak with a loud voice.
The phrase, “worthy is the Lamb that was slain” repeats 5:9. This is followed by a seven-fold praise:
- Power – The end-time reign of God begins when He takes His “great power” (11:17). God has infinite power. The seven horns of the Lamb symbolize His power (5:6). He said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Mt. 28:18).
- Riches may include spiritual riches (Eph. 3:8).
- Wisdom recalls the seven eyes of the Lamb (Rev 5:6) and the spirit of wisdom, understanding, and knowledge possessed by God’s Messiah in Isaiah 11:2.
- Strength – The strength of Jesus Christ is seen in creation: “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:3). It was also witnessed while He was on earth in His power over wind and waves, His healing of diseases, and His conquest of death.
- Honor expresses that Christ is highly esteemed by others. “All will honor the Son even as they honor the Father” (John 5:23).
- Glory is similar to honor but is an even higher ascription of praise.
- Blessing means to speak a good word about another. The Lamb is worthy of our blessing.
5:13 – THE FATHER AND THE SON ARE PRAISED.
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.” (NASB)
… Every created thing
“Every created thing” foreshadows the day when all who have ever lived, including those who reject Him, will acknowledge the justice and truth that lies at the foundation of God’s rule (Rev 15:3-4). Then every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil 2:9-11).
… which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them
These are the four great regions of creation, according to ancient thinking. Similar expressions are found in Exodus 20:11, Psalm 146:6, Philippians 2:10; and Revelation 14:7.
“Under the earth” may refer to the tomb (Job 10:20-22); called the land of Sheol in Hebrew (Isa 14:9). It then refers to those who currently are dead but will one day rise (Rev 20:4-6, 12-13) to join in the final acclamation.
… To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb
This is the fifth and final hymn of Revelation 4-5:
- The first two are sung to the One sitting on the throne, “for You created all things” (4:11).
- The third and fourth hymns are sung in praise to the Lamb, “for You … purchased for God with Your blood men” (5:9-10).
- But this final hymn, as the climax of the series, is sung to both.
… blessing and honor and glory and dominion
The seven-fold praise of verse 12 is followed by the four-fold praise of verse 13. These numbers probably have symbolic significance. The number 7 signifies all time and the number 4 signifies all people.
… forever and ever
This song is sung after the Lamb takes the book after His ascension but the phrase “forever and ever” takes the mind to the timeless worship of God in eternity.
And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped. (NASB)
As the mighty song of acclamation echos through the heavens and slowly fades into silence, the four living creatures quietly say Amen, and the twenty-four elders fall down and worshiped. There is nothing more to say, nothing more to do, except to open the book.
God is the Creator, but He created all things THROUGH His Son (e.g. John 1:3; Heb. 1:2; 1 Cor. 8:6). God is the sole Ruler, but He gave all authority to His Son (Mt. 28:18). God alone is worthy of worship, but “all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father” (John 5:23), for that is God’s wish (Phil. 2:9; Heb 1:6). To elevate Jesus to the level of the Almighty God distorts the Word of God. God’s end-time people are called to “Fear God, and … worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters” (Rev. 14:7). For a further discussion, see worship in God’s presence or Does the book of Revelation present Jesus Christ as God?)
The seven consecutive seals in Revelation 6 began at the time of Jesus Christ and cover the entire church age.
His blood is a metaphor for His death, and His death serves as a symbol of how He overcame during His entire life.
Jesus Christ is “worthy” to open the scroll because He overcame. “Worthy,” means that He is trust-“worthy.”
Christ, by showing that it is possible to remain faithful to God under the most severe circumstances, substantiated the basis of God’s judgments and thereby He “purchased” people for God.
AVAILABLE ARTICLES ON REVELATION
Why is the title of this website Revelation BY Jesus Christ?
Every main part of Revelation begins in the temple in heaven.
Are events described in chronological sequence?
Is a consistently literal interpretation appropriate?
Does Revelation present Jesus as God?
God’s throne – the center of the universe.
Revelation 4:1-8 – Verse-by-verse
The 24 elders are human beings that rule under God.
Revelation 4:8-11 – Worship in God’s presence
Revelation 5 is Christ’s enthronement after His ascension.
The sealed book is the Lamb’s Book of Life.
Why can God not explain His judgments?
Revelation 5 verse by verse CURRENT
The Sixth Seal concludes with Christ’s Return.
Does the seventh seal include the seven trumpets?
Seven seals explained
Introduction to the Seven Seals – What book is this?
Babylon; the mother of harlots – main article
Babylon’s merchants are her false prophets.
Babylon is not the reconstructed ancient city of Babylon.
Babylon is the driving force behind the beast.
The Seven-Headed Beasts of Revelation identified
The three beasts are three of the seven heads.
The Seven Heads identified
13:1-2 – The Beast relates to Daniel 7.
13:3-4 – The fatal wound
The beast of Revelation is the Mainstream Church of Christendom.
The Plagues of Revelation – 16 articles
For further reading, Jon Paulien’s commentary is recommended. For general discussions of theology, I recommend Graham Maxwell, who you will find on the Pineknoll website.