Revelation 5 verse-by-verse – Jesus Christ is worthy to open the book.

INTRODUCTION

This article is a verse-by-verse discussion of Revelation 5. It is highly dependant on the following three articles that discuss specific aspects of Revelation 5:

Christ’s enthronement
Revelation 5 presents a specific event. Based on descriptions in the rest of the New Testament, this chapter describes Christ’s enthronement after His ascension 2000 years ago.

The Lamb’s Book of Life
The sealed book symbolizes things that are not understood or agreed upon, namely the book of God’s judgments as to who will inherit eternal life and who will die; also known as the book of life. The seven seals symbolize things that prevent understanding.

Christ resolves the crisis of the sealed book through demonstrations.
The book of Rev 5 is sealed because of a dispute between the angels of heaven over God’s judgments. Christ refutes Satan’s accusation through demonstrations of faithfulness: Firstly, during the hours of His own death, He overcame Satan’s ultimate temptation. Secondly, the deaths of God’s elect demonstrate their worthiness. God delays Christ’s return and the implementation of His judgments until all understand that His judgments are perfect.

The reader may prefer to read these three articles first. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes on this website are from the NASB translation.

SUMMARY OF THIS ARTICLE

REVELATION 5:1

I saw in the right hand
of Him who sat on the throne

This Greek phrase can mean either “in” the right hand or “at” the right hand (or side – of God). If we assume that Jesus, when He took the book (Rev 5:7), also sat down with His Father on His throne (Rev 3:21; 22:1), it is possible to understand the book to be AT the right side of God because the NT frequently states that Jesus sat down “at the right hand of God” (e.g., Rom 8:34).

a book written inside and on the back,
sealed up with seven seals.

Both Revelation 5 and 12 describe a crisis in heaven that relates to a lack of understanding and that was solved by Christ’s death, namely the sealed book in Revelation 5 and the war between the angels in Revelation 12 (Rev 12:7). For that reason, it was concluded that these two chapters describe the same crisis with different symbols.

On the basis of Revelation 12, the crisis in heaven has been identified as a dispute between the angels of heaven over the perfection of God’s judgments. Consequently, the sealed book has been interpreted as the book of God’s judgments (the book of life) and the seals as Satan’s informed accusations against God’s elect. Through these accusations, Satan effectively accuses God of unfair judgment.

God’s judgments are known. “Sealed up,” in this instance, means that, due to Satan’s accusations, even God’s loyal angels are unable to fully refute Satan’s allegations of unfair judgment.

REVELATION 5:2

And I saw a strong angel
proclaiming with a loud voice,
“Who is worthy to open the book
and to break its seals?”

Since the book contains God’s judgments, to open the book is to explain God’s judgments; to show that His judgments are perfect. The book is opened by breaking the seals, which means to refute Satan’s accusations against God’s elect. How Christ does that is explained in Revelation 6.

REVELATION 5:3

And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth
was able to open the book or to look into it.

The Son of God defended God’s people and God judgments. As part of Satan’s strategy to discredit God’s judgments, Satan was able to create doubt in the minds of the created universe of the truthfulness of the Son’s defense of God’s people and of God’s judgments. In that sense, before His death, not even the Son was not regarded as “worthy” to open the book. 

REVELATION 5:4

Then I began to weep greatly
because no one was found worthy
to open the book or to look into it;

John’s weeping symbolizes the great sorrow in God’s creation caused by the inability to conclusively prove the perfection of God’s judgments. For as long as Satan’s objections to God’s judgments remain unrefuted – until all understand that His judgments are perfect, God delays Christ’s return and the implementation of His judgments; both the destruction of evil and the resurrection of God’s elect. For that reason, evil still rules on earth today; 2000 years after Christ died.

REVELATION 5:5

and one of the elders said to me,
“Stop weeping;

Since joy now replaces the weeping of verse 4, verse 5 describes a specific point in time. In verse 6, Jesus will appear as a slain lamb. That explains HOW he overcame, namely at the cross as “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29). Revelation 5:5, therefore, can be dated to Christ’s death. Consequently, the remainder of Revelation 5 describes events in heaven immediately AFTER Christ’s ascension. For the same reason, Revelation 5:1-4 and John’s weeping describe the time BEFORE Christ’s death. 

Jesus walks on water

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.”

The word “overcome” is used many times in Revelation (e.g., Rev 2:26). It means to be “faithful until death” (Rev 2:10); to maintain your testimony “even when faced with death” (Rev 12:11). People are not persecuted for their faith, but for their testimony.

Jesus overcame throughout His life. But His highest test and greatest victory were in the hours of His death, for He overcame by remaining “faithful until death” (Rev 2:10). For that reason, His death – understood as the final hours of His life – symbolizes how He overcame throughout His life.

Why did Jesus have to remain “faithful until death” to be able to open the book (explain God’s judgments)? Before His death, the Son of God, due to Satan’s accusations, was not regarded “worthy” by all. But, by remaining faithful to God under the most severe circumstances, He was demonstrated to be “worthy” (Rev 5:9).

REVELATION 5:6

And I saw between the throne
(with the four living creatures)
and the elders

This recalls some detail from chapter four. The throne was at the center of that vision, surrounded by the four living creatures and by the 24 elders.

Lamb of Goda Lamb standing, as if slain,

He “has overcome;” not by using His lion-like power (Rev 5:5) but by restraining His power and, like a lamb, by offering up His life

John hears about a lion (Rev 5:5) but when he looks, He sees a lamb. These animals seem like opposites, but reflect two different roles of the same person; Jesus Christ.

having seven horns and seven eyes,
which are the seven Spirits of God,

It is not a literal lamb and not seven literal eyes or horns. Revelation depicts reality by means of symbols. As discussed under Rev 4:5, the number seven symbolizes completion in terms of time. The seven eyes symbolize that, through the working of God’s Spirit, Christ knows everything that happens on the earth.

Horns symbolize authority (Rev 17:10). The seven horns mean that He will ALWAYS reign (Rev 11:15; cf. Matt 28:18).

sent out into all the earth.

Before Jesus appeared in the throne room, “the seven Spirits of God” are “before the throne” (Rev 4:5) but, now they are “sent out into all the earth.” In the context of a slain lamb, this points to the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples (cf. Acts 2:33). 

REVELATION 5:7

And He came and took the book
out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.

Lambs do not have hands and cannot take books. This shows again that these visions are not to be interpreted literally. John did not literally see literal things.

The book is in the “right hand” of God (Rev 5:1). The Scriptures, elsewhere, frequently states that Jesus sat down “at His right hand” (e.g. Eph 1:20; cf. Rev 3:21). This implies that, when Jesus takes the book in the current verse, He also sits down on God’s throne. 

Christ’s victory did not immediately open the book. The book remains sealed because He, by overcoming, did not refute Satan’s objections against God’s elect.

In the current verse, Jesus receives the book but He does not open it immediately. He breaks the seals one by one in Revelation 6, causing catastrophes on earth. The sixth seal has the signs of His return (Rev 6:12-15). This means that Jesus refutes Satan’s accusations in the time between His death and His return by directing events on earth. Particularly during the end-time crisis, the lives (deeds) of God’s elect will demonstrate that they are worthy of salvation.

REVELATION 5:8

When He had taken 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 proskuneó – see also Rev 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 and golden bowls full of incense,
which are the prayers of the saints.

The Old Testament also associates prayer with incense (Psa 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.

REVELATION 5:9-10

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

The Cross of ChristChrist’s blood symbolizes His death. His death does not only refer to when He breathed His last but to His final hours when tempter inflicted the most severe torment and temptation possible on Him.

men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.

Similar four-fold listings of the people are found throughout Revelation (e.g., Rev 10:11; 14:7; 17:15). The number four represents worldwide extension, for example, in the four corners of the earth (Rev 7:1). These four elements, therefore, sum up all the people in the world.

Is it not wonderful that people from every tribe and tongue will be saved? According to Rev 7:9, an innumerable multitude will be saved. Praise the Lord!

REVELATION 5:10

“You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God;

A priest is someone who stands between God and the people. God called Israel a kingdom of priests (Exo 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 becoming the leaders of the twelve tribes (Matt 19:28-30). Israel, therefore, is no longer constituted on the basis of physical descent from Jacob but in relation to the Jewish Messiah Jesus. See the discussion under Rev 4:4 or the article on the 24 elders.

and they will reign upon the earth.”

Note the cause-consequence sequence in this song:

        • PAST: The three verbs “slain … purchased …. made” indicate what has already been accomplished.
        • PRESENT: For that reason, Jesus Christ is now “worthy.”
        • FUTURE: Once He has broken all the seals, “they will reign upon the earth.”

REVELATION 5:11

11 Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders;

The throne is in the center, surrounded by a rainbow, the four living creatures, the elders in the next circle, and the larger multitude of angels in the outer ring (Rev 4:3-4).

and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands,

The number of angels seems too large to be exactly counted (cf. Heb 12:22; Dan 7:10). In Rev 7:11, the number of the redeemed is also too large to count. This, therefore, is not literally true. It symbolizes that there is a vast multitude of angels around the throne.

REVELATION 5:12

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.”

REVELATION 5:13-14

13 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.” 

14 And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped.

There are five songs of praise in Revelation 4 and 5:

        • The first two are sung to the One sitting on the throne, “for You created all things” (Rev 4:11).
        • The third and fourth hymns are sung in praise to the Lamb, “for You … purchased for God with Your blood men” (Rev 5:9-10).
        • But the final hymn in Rev 5:13, as the climax of the series, is sung to both and by every created being.

 – END OF SUMMARY – 

Revelation 5:1

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.

And I saw

This phrase often introduces a new vision (Rev 6:1; 8:2; 10:1).

… in the right hand

This Greek phrase can mean either “in” the right hand or “at” the right hand (or side – of God). For the following reasons, it is possible to understand the book to be AT the right side of God rather than IN God’s right hand:

    • The rest of 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).
    • Revelation confirms that Jesus sat down with His Father on His throne (Rev 3:21). For that reason, it is “the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Rev 22:1).
    • But Revelation does not explicitly state that Jesus sat down at the right hand of God. However, in Rev 5:7, Jesus “came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.” This, combined with the statement that Jesus Christ sat down with His Father on His throne (Rev 3:21), may imply that the moment when the Lamb takes up the book (Rev 5:7) is when He sits down at God’s right side.

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” (Rev 4:2), later identified as “our Lord and our God” (Rev 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 these visions, 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 of 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, some believe that the codex has 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 Rev 5:1. The book (biblion) in Rev 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 phrase “sealed up,” rather than just “sealed,” and by the statement that “no one was found worthy … to look into it” (Rev 5:4).

It does not mean that the book’s contents are unknown. Rather, similar to Daniel’s prophecies, that would be known but only be understood in “the end of time” (Dan 12:4), the contents are not understood.

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).

Revelation 5:2

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 angel proclaiming with a loud voice

Since there is no such thing as a weak angel (Psa 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 Rev 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 Christ enter his house (Matt 8:8). Mere physical strength does not make one “worthy” to open the scroll, for not even this mighty angel is able to do it.

… 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. The seals are Satan’s objections to the grace which God granted to the people listed in the book of life. To open the book is to explain God’s judgments; to show that His judgments are perfect.

Revelation 5:3

And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth
was able to open the book or to look into it.

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 complete freedom to defend himself. Satan, whom God has condemned to eternal punishment, with his vast knowledge of the evil which he has tempted each human to commit, 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, who do not have God’s infinite knowledge, are unable to confirm that God’s judgments are perfect. That is what the sealed book symbolizes.

Revelation 5:4

Then I began to weep greatly
because no one was found worthy
to open the book or to look into it

John’s weeping symbolizes the huge sorrow in God’s creation that is caused by the uncertainty about the perfection of God’s judgments. As long as Satan’s objections to God’s judgments remain unrefuted, God has to allow evil to rule on earth and God cannot execute His judgments, which includes resurrecting the people in the book of life “to everlasting life” (Dan 12:2; cf John 5:29).

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 (Rev 12:10), and, by implication, God Himself of unfair judgment.
      • 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” (Rev 4:8).

Revelation 5:5

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 said to me

The 24 elders have been introduced in Revelation 4:4. They represent humanity before God (See 24 elders). 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” (cf.  Psa 110:1 – 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 (Rev 5:6, 9, 12). The Lamb overcame at the cross. The word “overcome” is used many times in Revelation, for example, “He who overcomes …” (Rev 2:26). It means to be “faithful until death” (Rev 2:10). Jesus overcame throughout the trauma of His life. But His highest test and highest victory were in the hours before He “bowed His head and gave up His spirit” (John 19:30). 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 Rev 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. Rev 5:9). This means that He is trusted to tell the truth. This is confirmed by the contrast to Revelation 12, where Satan is thrown out of heaven because the truthfulness of his witness is rejected (Rev 12:10).  How Christ’s victory made Him worthy is explained in the article Resolved:

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” (Rev 3:14; 1:5). As such, He is confirmed trust-“worthy” “to open the book and to break its seals” (Rev 5:2). This means to refute Satan’s allegations and to show that God’s judgments are perfect.

At the same time, Satan, who “disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14) has been revealed as a murderer and liar by his cruel persecution of the Son of man.

However, evil still reigns on earth today because the book is not yet open.

Revelation 5:6

6 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) 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 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 Rev 5:7, the Lamb moves to take the book. If the scroll was at the right side of God (see discussion of Rev 5:1), it implies that Jesus ascended the throne in Rev 5:7. In that case, in Rev 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” (Rev 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 (Rev 5:5). But when he looks (Rev 5:6), he sees a Lamb standing as if slaughtered. What John sees and hears seem 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” (Rev 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” (Rev 11:15). Jesus Christ said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matt 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 Chron 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 over 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 represented 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:

FREEDOM

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.

LUCIFER

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” (Ezek 28:15).

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 all about.  This thought is expanded in the other articles in this series.

CONCLUSION

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” (Rev 3:14).

Revelation 5:7

And He came and took the book
out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.

Lambs do not have hands and cannot take books. This confirms that these visions are not to be taken literally or interpret visually. 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.

Revelation 5:8

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.

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 Rev 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. In ancient times, the harp was the chief instrument for expressing thanksgiving in the temple services (1 Chron 13:8; 2 Chron 5:12; Neh 12:27; Psa 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 (Exo 27:3; 38:23; Num 4:14; 1 Kings 7:26, 31). They would be used for burning incense (Exo 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 heard 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” (Psa 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.).

Revelation 5:9

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

There have already been two songs sung in the course of this vision (Rev 4:8, 11). The song in this verse is specifically called a “new song,” so they sing about something new, namely Christ’s victorious death (Rev 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 Rev 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 Rev 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:

      • Rev 4:11 – The one sitting on the throne is worthy because He created all things.
      • Rev 5:2 – Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?
      • Rev 5:4 – No one was found worthy to do so (5:4).
      • Rev 5:12 repeats the conclusion in Rev 5:9 that the Lamb is worthy.

One of the elders assures John in Rev 5:5-6 that Christ has overcome, enabling Him to open the scroll. 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.

How Christ paid for the people in the book of life is explained in the summary of the current article and will not be repeated here.

… 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? According to Rev 7:9, an innumerable multitude will be saved. Praise the Lord!

Similar four-fold listings of the people in the world are found throughout Revelation (see, for example, Rev 10:11; 14:7). However, 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 are saved.

Revelation 5:10

You have made them to be a kingdom
and priests to our God,
and they will reign upon the earth.

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 by or 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 (Exo 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 becoming 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. Evidence from the book of Revelation is discussed in the article – 24 elders.

… 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 Christ’s rule over the earth becomes literal and actual. 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. Man has been created to “rule over the fish … the birds … the cattle and over all the earth” (Gen 1:26).

Revelation 5:11

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 featured in the vision, but now the much larger angelic host joins 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 (Rev 4:8).
      • The second was sung by the 24 elders (Rev 4:11).
      • The third is sung by the four living creatures AND the 24 elders (Rev 5:9-10).
      • The fourth adds myriads and myriads of angels (Rev 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 (Rev 4:3), the four living creatures, the elders in the next circle, and the larger multitude of angels in the outer ring (cf. Rev 4:4).

… and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands

The number of angels seems too large to be exactly counted (cf. Heb 12:22; Dan 7:10). In Rev 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.

Revelation 5:12

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.

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” (Rev 11:17). God has infinite power. The seven horns of the Lamb symbolize His power (Rev 5:6). He said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matt 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.

Revelation 5:13

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.”

… 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” (Rev 4:11).
      • The third and fourth hymns are sung in praise to the Lamb, “for You … purchased for God with Your blood men” (Rev 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.

Revelation 5:14

And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.”
And the elders fell down and worshiped.

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 (Matt 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:

FINAL CONCLUSIONS

When-conclusions:

      • Verse 5 refers to Christ’s death.
      • John’s weeping in verses 1-4 describes the time before Christ’s victory on earth.
      • The remainder of the chapter describes events in heaven immediately after Christ’s ascension.
      • When Jesus Christ takes the book in verse 7, He also sits down at God’s right side.
      • The seven consecutive seals in Revelation 6 began at the time of Jesus Christ and cover the entire church age.

His death – His blood is a metaphor for His death. His death refers to His final hours. Those hours were His highest test and His highest victory. His death also reflects how He overcame during His entire life.

Overcame – Christ “purchased” people for God because He overcame, which means to remain “faithful until death.

Worthy – Jesus Christ is “worthy” to open the scroll (Rev 5:9). This means that He is trust-“worthy.” The Christ-event revealed Christ as trustworthy and Satan as untrustworthy.

Purchased – He has already purchased people for God but, He has not yet received His purchase because Satan’s objections against specific names in the book of life have not yet been refuted. By breaking the seals, Christ will show that the names in the book of life are the right names.

ARTICLES ON THE SEVEN SEALS

OVERVIEW

REVELATION 4

REVELATION 5

REVELATION 6

    • Seal 1: The white horse is the gospel.
    • Seals 2 to 4: Bloodshed, famine and death
    • Seal 5: Who are the souls under the altar?
    • Seal 6 includes the plagues and concludes with Christ’s return.

REVELATION 7

REVELATION 8

For further reading on Revelation, I recommend Jon Paulien’s commentary. For general discussions of theology, I recommend Graham Maxwell, who you will find on the Pineknoll website.

2 Replies to “Revelation 5 verse-by-verse – Jesus Christ is worthy to open the book.”

  1. Hi Andries,
    I spent a lot of time reading this article and have several questions.

    Could you elaborate on this?

    • 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.

    A) You say that in spite that Christ has ‘overcome’ and is worthy to open the book, the book cannot be open. Don’t you think that the fact that Christ is breaking the seals(i.e. in the process of opening the book) , contradict you?

    B) When you write: did not show that the specific names in the book of life are the right names.

    There is several ways to interpret this. It could mean that others names should have been written too and therefore are missing. Or it could means that the names written are the wrong one. Anyway, who could contest the content of the book when the book is not open yet?

    C) “on the other hand, has been thrown out of heaven in the sense that he is no longer believed.” Do you mean that ‘Satan being throwing out’ is only symbolic and he is still in heaven?

    D) If Satan is no longer believed, who would contest the names in the book of life?

    1. Hi Yves,

      Thanks for your questions. I would like to respond as follows:

      Yves: You say that, in spite that Christ has ‘overcome’ and is worthy to open the book, the book cannot be open. Don’t you think that the fact that Christ is breaking the seals (i.e. in the process of opening the book), contradicts you?

      Response: I wrote that “the book remains sealed.” I did not write “the book cannot be open.” Currently, Christ is opening the book, which means that the book is not yet open. Breaking the sixth seal brings us to “the great day of their wrath” (6:17), which is the return of Christ. In other words, at His return, the entire book, or at least part of the contents of the book, will still be concealed. Christ has earned the right to open the book, but the book is not open right away.

      Yves: Who could contest the content of the book when the book is not open yet?

      Response: I argued that the contents of the book are known but sealed in the sense that it is not understood. I argued that the book is the book of God’s judgments (the book of life). His judgments are known but contested. The book is sealed in the sense that Satan’s accusations and arguments made it impossible for lesser beings to be sure that God’s judgments are perfect.

      Yves: Do you mean that ‘Satan being throwing out’ is only symbolic and he is still in heaven?

      Response: In my view, the primary meaning is symbolic, namely that Satan is no longer trusted or believed. About the physical location of Satan, I do not have a view.

      Yves: If Satan is no longer believed, who would contest the names in the book of life?

      Response: Satan has been confirmed as a liar but God wants all of his objections to be addressed. I quote from Rick Joyner in “The Call,” which I regard as inspired:

      By choosing death rather than to go against God’s laws they will reveal the glory of God in such a way that it would be a witness to every power and authority, created or yet to be created, for all of eternity. During this battle the glory of the cross would be revealed, and the wisdom of God would be known in a special way. Jesus could have judged the world after His resurrection, but the course of the world was allowed to continue so that His righteous ones could be proven and the power of what He did on the cross would be seen in mankind.

      This says it better than I can. Notice all the words that indicate that the end-time will be a demonstration “to every power and authority, created or yet to be created, for all of eternity.”

      Regards
      Andries

Your comment is important.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.