Revelation 5 is Christ’s enthronement after His ascension to heaven.

Summary

As discussed in the article on Revelation 4, that chapter does not describe a point in time but provides a timeless description of heavenly worship. Revelation 5, on the other hand, describes a specific meeting of all the billions of angels to see the Son receive the book that is sealed with seven seals. In Revelation 6, He breaks the seals one by one, causing catastrophes on earth. Therefore, to determine when the Lamb takes the book and to date the catastrophes caused by breaking the seals, we have to date the meeting of Revelation 5.

Many put this meeting in the end-time; shortly before Christ’s return. However, for the following reasons, it is proposed here that Revelation 5 describes Jesus’ enthronement immediately after his ascension to heaven. This is justified as follows:

(A) Revelation 5 fits the New Testament’s description of his ascension.

What we see in Revelation 5 fits exactly with what the New Testament says happened after His ascension. According to the New Testament:

After Jesus was slain, raised to life, and caught up to heaven, He was enthroned at the Father’s right hand (e.g., Eph 1:20-22).

Fifty days after His crucifixion on the feast of the Passover and ten days after His ascension, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:33).

This is also what we see in Revelation 5:

In verse 5, one of the elders says that the Son has “overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.” Then Jesus appears as “a Lamb … as if slain” (Rev 5:6). These verses point to His death. In the next verse, Jesus takes the book (Rev 5:7). Since He receives the book because He overcame, it implies that He receives the book immediately after His death.

The book is in or on the right hand of God (Rev 5:1). The New Testament frequently states that Jesus sat down “at the right hand of God” (e.g. Mark 16:19). Presumably, when He took the book, He also sat down at God’s right hand.

In Revelation 4, “the seven Spirits of God” are “before the throne” (Rev 4:5) but, after the Son appears as a slain lamb, the Spirit is said to be “sent out into all the earth” (Rev 5:6). This corresponds with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

(b) Rev 3:21 puts Rev 5 in the prophet’s past.

This verse refers to Revelation 5 as something that happened in the prophet’s past. In other words, the meeting of Revelation 5 occurred before the year AD100. To explain:

Revelation 3:21 is one of the verses in Revelation that are found in the climax of one part of the book that serves as an introduction to the next. Rev 3:21 is the climax of the seven letters. At the same time, it outlines the next main section in Revelation 4 to 7. It reads:

He who overcomes,
I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne,
as I also overcame
and sat down with My Father on His throne.

Based on the verb tense, this verse may be divided into the past, present, and future:

Past Tense

The two past tense verbs describe events in John’s past. Both these verbs correspond to Revelation 5:

        • I also overcame” is equivalent to Jesus “has overcome so as to open the book” (Rev 5:5).
        • Sat down with My Father on His throne” aligns to verse 7, where He ascends to His Father’s throne.

Since the past tense verbs align with Revelation 5, and since the past tense indicates that these things happened in John’s past, Revelation 5 describes events in John’s past.

Future Tense

The future tense “I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne” is fulfilled in Revelation 7, where John saw “a great multitude” (Rev 7:9) enjoying the glories of eternal life (Rev 7:15-17).

Present Tense

Since the past tense refers to Rev 5 and the future tense to Rev 7, the present tense “He who overcomes” aligns with Rev 6. The breaking of the seals in Rev 6, therefore, describes events in the prophet’s time and in our time; the time between His death and His return.

Since the events of Rev 5 precede the events of Rev 6, this again confirms that Rev 5 describes events right at the beginning of the church age.

(c) The Synoptic Apocalypse aligns the four horsemen with the church age.

The conclusion above is also supported by the Synoptic Apocalypse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21). In it, Jesus divided history into three great parts. Revelation 6 follows this pattern:

Synoptic Apocalypse Revelation 6
General realities of the Christian age (gospel, wars, famines, pestilence); The first four seals
Great persecution toward the end of that era; Fifth seal
Signs associated with His return; Sixth seal.

These parallels indicate that the first four seals describe the church age. Since chapter five precedes the first four seals, Revelation 5 must be an event right at the beginning of the Christian era.

Conclusions

Revelation 5 is the enthronement of the Son after His ascension. For that reason, and because Revelation 6 ends with the signs of Christ’s return (Rev 6:12-17), the seals in Revelation 6 describe the church age; the present-tense overcoming of God’s people.

It also means that Revelation 5 is not an end-time judgment event, as some suppose. This is confirmed by the absence of books being opened, as one finds in other judgment scenes (Dan 7; Rev 20), and the absence of typical judgment language. 

If Revelation 5 is also not the anti-type of the great Old Testament day of judgment. This is confirmed by the absence of the ark of the covenant, judgment language, the Most Holy Place and the mention of a male goat.

– END OF SUMMARY –

Revelation 5 is a specific event.

Several key markers in the text suggest that Revelation 4 does not describe a point in time but rather a general description of heavenly worship:

      • When John enters the throne room, THE THRONE IS ALREADY THERE. This is in contrast with Daniel 7:9, where the throne was set in place for a specific event.
      • The four living creatures are saying “holy, holy, holy” DAY AND NIGHT without a pause (Rev 4:8). This is the language of continuous action over a period of time rather than action at a specific moment.
      • Rev 4:9-11 describes worship as a repetitive action.

While Revelation 4 is a general description of God’s throne room, Chapter 5 is a specific and very important meeting at a specific point in time. All the praise of chapter 4 suddenly stops with anticipation and silence when the whole universe gathers in God’s throne room to see Jesus receive the sealed book. The millions and millions of angels looking on (Rev 5:11) and the interest of “every created thing” (Rev 5:12) emphasize the intense importance of this heavenly meeting. The question which we will explore in this article is what point in time and what event this scene is referring to.

Jesus is seated
at His Father’s right hand.

New Testament Testimony

A common theme in the New Testament is that Jesus was seated at His Father’s right hand at His ascension to heaven, for example:

He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority” (Eph. 1:20-22).

We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven ” (Heb 8:1-2, NIV; cf. Acts 2:31-36; 5:30-32; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Heb 1:3,13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; Acts 5:30-31; Phil 2:6-11; Col 3:1; Heb 1:3; 10:12; 12:2, 21; 1 Peter 3:21-22; Matt 22:44; 26:64; Mark 12:36; 14:62; Luke 10:42; 22:69).

The cross is the center point of all Christian faith (1 Cor 1:17-18; Gal 6:14; Eph 2:16; Phil 2:6-11; Col 1:20). The value of His victory was confirmed when He sat down at the right hand of His Father (Matt 26:64; Acts 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Heb 1:3, 13; 1 Pet 3:22). These two events—His cross and enthronement—are decisive to the Christian story.

Furthermore, the New Testament identifies the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2)—fifty days after the crucifixion on the feast of the Passover and ten days after His ascension—as the earthly counterpart of Jesus’ enthronement, for example:

The Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:39).

Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear” (Acts 2:33).

Revelation 5 fits the New Testament’s description of his ascension.

We will now show that these three elements are contained in Revelation 5:

    1. Jesus was slain
    2. But enthroned at His Father’s right hand while
    3. The Holy Spirit was poured out.

Jesus was slain.

John hears that Jesus “has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals” (Rev 5:5). When John looks, He sees Jesus appearing as a slain lamb (Rev 5:6, 12).  The heavenly beings later confirm by saying to Jesus, “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” (Rev 5:9-10). This emphasis on the cross implies that Revelation 5 shows how Jesus received the book immediately after His ascension.

Enthroned at His Father’s right hand

Similar to what the New Testament claims, Revelation 5 indicates Jesus was glorified at His Father’s right hand:

The NASB reads that the scroll is IN the Father’s right hand (Rev 5:1), but the main meaning of the word translated “in” (epi) is “over, upon or on” (Strong G1909). The book is therefore ON God’s right hand—the place at which Jesus was to be glorified. When He took the book, He also took that position

Jesus is glorified in Revelation 5. He—together with God—is praised by “every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them” (Rev 5:13)

In Revelation 5, Jesus He appears “in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts” (Rev 5:6 KJV). The four living beings are “in the center and around the throne” (Rev 4:6).  Jesus, therefore, appears at the center of the throne.  Also in Rev 7:17, which is a later scene of God’s throne room, Jesus is “in the center of the throne.” Jesus, therefore, “sat down” on the throne.

The Holy Spirit poured out

The seven Spirits of God” are “before the throne” before Jesus appears (Rev 4:5) but sent out into all the earth” when He appears as a slain lamb (Rev 5:6), apparently a reference to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2.

Conclusion

By way of summary, according to the New Testament, Jesus was slain, raised to life, ascended into heaven, glorified at the Father’s right hand while the Holy Spirit was poured out.

This is what we see in Revelation 5:

      • Jesus appears as “a Lamb … as if slain” (Rev 5:6). 
      • He then takes the book on the right hand of God, which points to His enthronement, and is glorified with God (Rev 5:13).
      • At the same time, the “seven Spirits of God (are) sent out into all the earth” (Rev 5:6).

Revelation 5, therefore, describes what happens in heaven after Jesus ascended.

The reference to the Holy Spirits sent out implies that Jesus was enthroned on the very day of Pentecost.

Rev 3:21 puts Rev 5
in the prophet’s past.

The second line of support for this conclusion comes from Revelation 3:21. This is one of the verses in Revelation that are found in the climax of one part of the book that serves as an introduction to the next part of Revelation. Revelation 3:21 is the climax of the overcomer promises given to the seven churches. At the same time, it is an outline of the seven seals in Revelation 4 to 7. It reads:

To him who overcomes,
I will give the right to sit with me on my throne,
just as I overcame
and sat down with my Father on his throne
(NIV).

This verse may be divided into the following elements:

To him who overcomes – In the Greek, this is an extremely continuous construction. This is stated in the present tense, which means that God’s people are NOW overcoming. According to this verse, the primary task of a Christian is to overcome.

I will give the right to sit with me on my throne – This is in the future tense. The people of God will share Jesus’ right to rule with God (sit on His throne) when He returns (Rev 20:4; 7:15-17; cf. Gen 1:26).

Just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne –Both verbs are stated in the past tense, which indicates that, from the perspective of John’s time, Christ already overcame and already sat down on His Father’s throne. This statement also implies that Jesus “sat down” IMMEDIATELY AFTER He “overcame.”

Compare this to Revelation 5:

Revelation 5 also mentions that Jesus overcame. And, from the time perspective of Revelation 5, Jesus also “overcame” in the past:

One of the elders said that Jesus “has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals” (Rev 5:5). John then saw “a Lamb … as if slain” (Rev 5:6). This indicates HOW Jesus overcame, namely, by living a sinless life, even when tempted to the point of death.

As argued above, Revelation 5 also describes Jesus sitting down on His Father’s throne. Rev 5:7 says that He “came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.” As stated above, when He took the book, He also “sat down” at the “right hand” of God. 

Revelation 5, therefore, elaborates on the phrase in Rev 3:21: “I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne:

      • In both Rev 3:21 and Rev 5, Jesus overcame in the past.
      • In 3:21, “sat down” is in the past tense. This means that Revelation 5 points to an event in John’s past.

Rev 3:21 outlines Revelation 4-7.

Revelation 3:21, therefore, provides an outline of the seven seals of Revelation 4-7:

    • Revelation 4 describes the Father’s throne.
    • In chapter 5, Jesus “sat down with my Father on His throne.”
    • I will give the right to sit with me on my throne” is fulfilled in Revelation 7, where the overcomers are the great multitude that is able to stand before God (Rev 7:9; cf. 6:17):

They are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them” (Rev 7:15).
The Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd” (Rev 7:17).

The remaining portion of Rev 3:21 (“him who overcomes”) aligns with the remaining portion of the seals, namely Revelation 6. In that chapter, the seals are broken, triggering events on earth. This means that Revelation 6 is about the overcoming of God’s people; from the time when the Lamb takes the book – before the time of Johnuntil the second coming of Jesus (Rev 6:15-17). Like Matthew 24, Revelation 6 is about the going forth of the gospel into the world, its acceptance and rejection, and the experience of the people of God on earth, struggling to overcome under much opposition and many trials.

The seals describe how God’s people overcome.

The main meaning of the seven seals may, therefore, be summarized as overcoming:

    • First, the Lamb overcomes and joins His Father on His throne (Revelation 5).
    • Then the people of God struggle to overcome and join Jesus on His throne when He returns.

The Synoptic Apocalypse aligns the four horsemen with the church age.

So far, we have shown the following:

      • The parallels with the New Testament imply that Revelation 5 describes Christ’s enthronement at the Father’s right hand; after His ascension.
      • Revelation 3:21 confirms that that event took place in the first century.

The parallels with the synoptic apocalypse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21) is further evidence for this conclusion. In this sermon, Jesus divided history into three great eras and Revelation 6 follows the same pattern:

SYNOPTIC APOCALYPSE REVELATION 6
First, the general realities that are typical of the whole Christian age (preaching the gospel, wars, rumors of wars, insurrections and rebellions, famines, pestilence, earthquakes). Jesus was explicit to say that they are not signs of the end (Matt 24:6-8). The four horsemen of the first four seals (Rev 6:1-8) resemble the general realities of the Christian age (preaching of the gospel, war, famine, pestilence, wild beasts, etc).
Secondly, Jesus spoke about great persecution toward the end of that era: Jerusalem is to be “trodden underfoot” (Luke 21:24). In Matthew and Mark, this period is blended into the realities of the whole age. Only in Luke is there a clear distinction and progression. The fifth seal (Rev 6:9-11) focuses on persecution: The souls under are told to “rest … until the number of … their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also” (Rev 6:11).
Thirdly, Jesus moves to the end-time with its heavenly signs preceding the return of Jesus (Luke 21:25-28). Again, in Matthew and Mark, these tend to be blended together, but in Luke the distinction between the three eras is clear. The chapter climaxes in the sixth seal with heavenly signs associated with the second coming of Jesus and the end (Rev 6:12-17).

Conclusions

Firstly, since the heavenly scroll is fully sealed in chapter five and the seals are broken one by one in chapter six, Revelation 5 precedes the first four seals. The parallel to Jesus’ synoptic apocalypse indicate that these four seals describe the church age. For that reason, Revelation 5 must be an event right at the beginning of the Christian era, and the ascension and enthronement of Christ qualify as that.

Chiastic Structure

Further evidence that the time of Revelation 5 is at the beginning of the Christian era, rather than its end, can be found in the overall structure of Revelation. The entire book is structured as a chiasm. This means that the earlier chapters are parallel to the later chapters and the structure moves in stair-step or pyramid fashion toward the center of the book. The events in the last eleven chapters focus on the final days of earth’s history. The first eleven chapters of the book of Revelation, on the other hand, of which the seven seals are part, covers the entire Christian age. This is further evidence that the taking of the book by the Lamb in Revelation 5 must have occurred at the beginning of the Christian era.

This argument depends on the conclusion that the seven letters and the seven trumpets also cover the church age. These conclusions are discussed in other articles.

Revelation 19 is parallel to the seals.

As an example of this chiasm, the following shows that Revelation 19 is the counterpart of the seals:

Common Elements

Both (Revelation 19 and the seals) mention 24 elders, 4 living creatures, the throne, worship, and praise:

      • In Revelation 19, the great multitude praises God for destroying end-time Babylon.
      • In Revelation 4-5, God is praised for creation (Rev 4:11) and for redemption at the cross (Rev 5:9, 10, 12, 13).

White Horses

The white horse of Revelation 6:2 is parallel to the white horse of Revelation 19:11. The riders on both horses wear crowns and in both instances, Jesus is the Rider:

      • The rider has a victory crown (stephanos – like an Olympic gold medal) in the first seal, which is appropriate to the Christian age, symbolizing that the gospel will always continue to go forth.
      • In chapter 19, the rider has a royal crown of rulership (diadêma). This is appropriate in that chapter because there Jesus is putting an end to all opposition on the earth.

Judged and avenged

The most impressive single parallel between Revelation 6 and Revelation 19 concerns the fifth seal, where the souls under the altar cry “How long will you be not judging and avenging?” (Rev 6:10) In other words, God’s judgment and vengeance, for the crimes they have been subjected to, HAS NOT YET BEGUN. In Revelation 19:2 comes the triumphant declaration that God HAS judged and avenged the blood of His servants in the destruction of Babylon.

Time of the End

The sixth seal provides an overview of the end-time events. Then, the people of the world hide in the mountains for fear of Him who sits on the throne (Rev 6:15-17). This is parallel to the Return of Christ in chapter 19, where an angel invites the birds of the air “for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and mighty men, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, small and great.” (Rev 19:17-18). These are the same people that hide in the mountains in the sixth seal. Revelation 19:17-18 is the end of time (a point in time) but Rev 6:15-17 is the time of the end (a period), moving toward the end of time.

New Earth

The seals conclude with the great multitude coming out of the great tribulation and praising God for their deliverance (Revelation 7). This is the same scene as in Revelation 19 (see the references to the great multitude in Rev 19:1 and 6).

Conclusion

In Revelation 5, Jesus appears on God’s throne—at His Father’s right hand—as a slain lamb, receives a book because He overcame, is glorified by the whole universe, while the Holy Spirit is sent out into the entire world. This fits exactly with what the New Testament says happened after His ascension. So the time of Revelation 5 is just after Christ’s ascension to God’s throne (cf. Rev 12:5). This was somewhere between AD 30 to 33, based on astronomical calculations.

At that time, the book was still sealed. In Revelation 6, the Lamb breaks open the seals one by one.  Each time that He breaks a seal in heaven, something happens on earth. The sixth seal is the return of Christ (Rev 6:16-17). A further conclusion, therefore, is that Revelation 6 symbolizes the present-tense overcoming of God’s people over the broad sweep of history from the ascension of Jesus to His Second Coming (Rev 6:17) and beyond.

Thus far, we discussed what Revelation 5 and 6 symbolize. The remainder of this article discusses various alternative interpretations.

Revelation 5 is not the rapture.

In Dispensationalism, Rev 4.1 is regarded as the rapture. Since we have shown above that Revelation 5 represents Jesus’ enthronement, Rev 4.1 cannot be the rapture, Furthermore:

      • The interpretation of 4:1, where John is called “Come up here,” as the rapture of the Church, rests on very slender evidence. It is much more likely that Rev 11:12, where the two witnesses are also called to “Come up here,” represents the rapture of the church.
      • In Rev 10:1, John sees an angel coming down from heaven. John, therefore, in this chapter, is still on earth. Later in that chapter, John represents the church when he receives the little book and further instructions (Rev 10:8-9). This means that the church is on earth in Revelation 10.
      • The purpose of John’s ascension to heaven in Rev 4:1 is not to rescue the church from tribulation. It is explicitly stated that the purpose is to show John “what must take place after these things” (4:1). “These things” refer to the seven letters in Revelation 1-3 (cf. Rev 1:19). In other words, John is called up to heaven to receive knowledge of future events.

See also the article on the rapture in the discussion of the seven plagues: Revelation 16:15 and the Rapture.

Revelation 5 is not
an end-time judgment.

It is not the Daniel 7-judgment.

The strongest parallel to Revelation 5 is probably in Daniel 7:9-14. In both passages:

      • God is on the throne,
      • Is a reference to books,
      • The Son of man appears after God is already introduced, and
      • Authority” (Rev 12:10; Dan 7:14) is bestowed on the Son of man.

Daniel 7 seems to be a judgment scene shortly before the return of Christ. Many understand Revelation 5 as that judgment, however:

      • No books are opened in Revelation 5, as is done in Daniel 7:16.  Jesus takes the book, but He breaks the seals in Revelation 6.
      • We find no typical judgment language (judge, avenge) in Revelation 5.  Except for the fifth seal, which is only a request for judgment; not the judgment itself, we find such language only in the second half of Revelation.
      • If Revelation 5 was the judgment before Christ’s return, then Revelation 6 must have been His return.  But the first five seals symbolize the history of the Church.
      • The fifth seal (Rev 6:9-11) is a point in historical time after Revelation 5 – after the first four seals, and, therefore, after the events of Revelation – but it is before the end-time judgment for the souls of God’s slain people are told to wait, for more of God’s people are to be killed after this point in time.

In conclusion, the scene of Revelation 5 precedes the judgment at the end. Revelation 5 represents the events in heaven after Christ’s ascension while Daniel 7 is a judgment prior to Christ’s return. These seem to be two different but related meetings in God’s throne room.

It is not the Day of Atonement.

There are a number of additional reasons for ruling out the Day of Atonement (the great Old Testament day of judgment) as the primary sanctuary reference in Revelation 4 and 5:

(a) The primary piece of furniture associated with the Day of Atonement is the ark of the covenant. John mentions the ark in Rev 11:19 but he makes no mention of the ark in Revelation 4 and 5.

(b) There is no judgment language in Revelation 4-5. Revelation reserves that language for clear end-time settings. As we have noticed, even at the time of the fifth seal, which is much later than Revelation 5, judgment has not yet begun.

(c) The Day of Atonement was associated with the Most Holy Place (Greek: naos). John uses this term about a dozen times (e.g. Rev 11:19) but all such references are found in the second half of the book and are completely absent from Revelation 4-5.

(d) In Revelation 5, the elders hold bowls of incense which are the prayers of the saints (Rev 5:8). This implies intercession.

(e) If Revelation 5 was the true Day of Atonement, we would also expect a male goat instead of a Lamb as the central figure.

These factors rule out the Day of Atonement as the focus of Revelation 5.

Tamid Background

The Jewish sanctuary system had annual, monthly, and daily feasts and services. Another line of evidence that the opening of the scroll begins with the ascension of Jesus is that the first half of Revelation alludes to all the activities of the “tamid“– the daily service in the temple. This service involved:

      • Trimming the lamps (Rev 1:12),
      • Opening the doors (Rev 4:1),
      • Slaying a lamb (Rev 5:9),
      • Pouring out the blood (Rev 5:9),
      • Burning incense (Rev 8:4),
      • A period of silence (Rev 8:1), and
      • Seven trumpets (Rev 8-9).

The Day of Atonement pointed to the end-time events. Since the first half of the book of Revelation is based on the tamid service, it naturally covers the whole Christian era. That would also apply to the seven seals. This supports the conclusion that Revelation 5 is at the beginning of the Christian era.

Final Conclusions

      • While Revelation 4 is a general description of God’s throne room, Revelation 5 presents a specific event.
      • Revelation 5 describes Christ’s enthronement at the Father’s right hand after He ascended into heaven; somewhere between AD 30 to 33.
      • The seals in Revelation 6 describe:
        • The overcoming of God’s people
        • Over the broad sweep of history from the ascension of Jesus to His return.
      • Revelation 4:1 is not the rapture.
      • Revelation 5 is not:
        • A judgment prior to Christ’s return, or
        • The anti-typical Day of Atonement.

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.

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