Revelation commentary, Chapter 5
In chapter four we saw John being given a vision of the throne room of God and the worship that comes from recognising that God is the source of all life. Unlike the throne rooms of Egypt, Babylon, Rome and a whole host of other empires this throne room is eternal – from beyond the horizons of the horizon.
The throne room reveals a glimpse of the unspeakable power of God as the persecuted church sees all other powers radically displaced from the centre of the world which belongs to God alone. Yet God does not give up on fallen man.
“The love of God is illustrated by the proof that God makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and unjust. This is to say it is a love which is impartial. It is also undefeatable. No matter whom a man is or what he does, the love of God seeks nothing but his highest good.”
Dr.W. Barclay in, ‘The Character of God,’ page 47.
Now, in chapter five the heavenly vision expands as it moves on to picture redemption and judgement. It will then continue onwards and speak of harvests reaped by God and fallen man. In all of this we clearly see that this world is not a cog caught up in a cold mechanistic universe. Life is not ruled by chance or by the attempts of those who dominate their environment as a means of overcoming insecurity or making a name for self. This world belongs to someone, it has an owner and we need to focus our attention on Him.
“Without a sustained awareness of God who invades the impossible, I will reduce ministry to what I can accomplish with my ministry gifts. These gifts are like sails on a boat – without the wind, they’re useless. We all need the wind of God to breathe on what we are gifted to do so that those gifts become eternally effective. If we fail to regularly remember who God is, what he has done, and what he is going to do, we will make decisions on the basis of what we can accomplish without Him, which restricts us to a life of the “possible.” This leads to discouragement, small vision, mediocrity, burnout, and all the other problems that plague Christian leaders who lose touch with what God is doing.”
Bill Johnson in, ‘Releasing the Spirit of Prophecy,’ page 152.
Legal documents in the Roman Empire were often sealed with hot wax then imprinted with a signet ring denoting official use. They could be sealed with multiple seals and were sometimes sealed with seven seals witnessed by seven witnesses. The seals protected the document and also revealed that the contents, whatever they may be, had been set in place and could not be altered in any way.
“The seals were not merely to indicate whom the document was from but to reserve the contents of the scroll for its proper recipient. It also made clear that the content was valid, important, and official. If the seals were broken, it would be evident that someone unauthorised tried to read the document.”
B. Witherington 3rd in, ‘Revelation’ page 119
The One on the throne holds a scroll in His hand which has seven seals on it. In the biblical setting we see that this means it contains the perfect will of God concerning what He has done, is doing and will do; it cannot be altered. The One who was seated on the throne was communicating at a very high level and only the legal recipient could open it, yet who amongst men would be worthy to open the scroll?
As John looks on he sees an angel and hears him ask who was worthy to break the seals and open the scroll. There was no one worthy and John is overcome with emotion. Scripture states that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We have all fallen short of our true identity and position as sons and daughters of the living God (Rom 3:23) for man was to be the glory of God.
Adam forfeited the promises of God through following an alternative world view birthed by a subtle and powerful enemy (Gen 3:1-5). However it was not the power of the enemy that defeated Adam and Eve; it was the weakness of their own convictions that made the enemies words seem plausible.
The promises were made to man and it was man who fell into sin and came under judgement. The legal requirements of God’s law could no longer be met and this is why there was no one to open the scroll. There was no one worthy: no religious leader or so-called saint, no president or pharaoh, no Caesar or charity-giving philanthropist. Nor was there any biblical ‘hero’ for no righteous person could be found for all the biblical heroes of the faith were flawed. For example, Abraham and Sarah used their slave-girl as a tool (Gen 16:3,6), Moses argued with God and later got so angry that God would not allow him to enter the Promised Land (Num 20:11-12), David broke up a family (2 Sam 11;15)and Solomon went about peace treaties in a worldly way and was, at times, enticed by his wives to serve their gods (1 Kings 11:4-6). The religious elite of Jesus day did not recognise the Messiah (Mat 12:24), Peter lied and denied Christ (Mat 26:24-25) and Paul knew himself to be a sinner (1 Cor 15:9). There was no one righteous; (Rom 3:23) none who could open the scroll.
There is no-one and John weeps and weeps. Then the voice of an elder breaks through his emotion turmoil and says, “Do not weep. See the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals (5:5). Jesus takes hold of the scroll: all history is in His hands.
The Lion of Judah.
Revelation chapter five is the only place in the book of Revelation where Jesus is called the Lion of the tribe of Judah. The title points us back to Gen 49:9-10 which prophetically speaks of the tribe from which the Messiah would come forth with other scripture revealing that the Messiah came to die in our place (Isaiah 53).
“…the Christian God came to earth to deliberately put himself on the hook of human suffering. In Jesus Christ, God experienced the greatest depths of pain. Therefore, though Christianity does not provide the reason for each experience of pain, it provides deep resources for actually facing suffering with hope and courage rather than bitterness and despair.”
Dr T. Keller in, ‘The Reason for God’ pages 27-28
The Lion was a symbol of strength and power in Israel with the image of a lion often being used on Torah shrines which housed the law scrolls. The One who was prophesied across the centuries is the Law-maker who came to stand in the place of the Law-breaker and in the title, ‘Lion of Judah’ we see His oneness with our human nature, yet without sin. The Lion of Judah is the One Isaiah speaks of as a child who is born, the son who is given, who carries all authority and power and is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). A prince in Isaiah’s day would be sent out by his father to deal with problems and evil in the kingdom. Because of this a prince became known as the One who consumes evil. Jesus is The Prince of Peace who comes to consume all that opposes God.
In Jesus we have the Lion of the tribe of Judah and legal heir to the throne of David (Isaiah 11:1) who lived in the seven-fold fullness of the Holy Spirit. In Jesus we have the covenant-keeper coming to stand in the place of the covenant-breaker so that in Him we might exchange the rags of our existence and failure for the riches of fellowship with our heavenly Father (2 Cor 8:9). One man who was able to make this exchange was Steven Wells.
Steven Wells is a surgeon who grew up as a Black Muslim practicing a form of Islam that mixes Black Nationalism with hatred of white people. As a teenager he started playing basketball with a boy who always talked about Jesus – the Jesus who was Saviour and also God. Steven started to gather more information about Jesus and started perceiving that Jesus actually worked in people’s lives. He wrote…
“The Jesus I came to know was human and closer to me. He came to earth to seek me, to show me compassion, to show me God’s love. That view of God was foreign to me because the Muslim god is far away. He has no real contact with you on a personal level. But I began to see that Jesus is the one who comes down and touches you, he talks to you, and he’s precious to you. He feels what you’re feeling and is touched by your infirmities. And that was what drew me and caught me and won my heart.”
‘He’s Been Faithful’ p 130.Editor: Carol Cymbala.
The lamb that was slain.
John hears an elder encouraging him with words of the approaching Lion of the Tribe of Judah yet when He turns He sees the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8).
During the aftermath of the Japan Earthquake rescuers reached the ruins of a young woman’s house and saw her dead body through the cracks. Her pose was strange in that she was on her knees with her hands stretched forwards. A beam had hit the back of her head. The rescue leader reached through the gap in the wall and, on touching her, found she was dead. The team then started moving on. However the leader felt something was compelling him to turn back. He reached through the crack in the wall and with his hand searched the small space under the dead body and felt a small child. The 3-month-old little boy, in a small flowery blanket, was sleeping.
The medical doctor was called in to examine the boy. On opening the blanket he saw a cell phone in the folds. There was a text message on the screen, and it said, “If you can survive, you must remember that I love you.” Such was the mother’s great love for her child.
Through the Lion of Judah our sins have been atoned for (1 John 2:2, 4:10) and we are covered in His work for He is also the Lamb who was slain (John 1:29-30). The word ‘atone’ (kaphar) comes from the root ‘to cover’ and is a word found in Gen 6:14 that speaks of Noah’s Ark being covered with pitch. The pitch surrounded the Ark and protected it from the waters of judgement. In Christ we have forgiveness; we are no longer under judgement (John 3:17).
“No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.”
Man’s power is a corrupt power yet in Jesus we see perfect power manifest in perfect love (1 John 4:8-10).
“The power of Jesus’ kingdom was the power of the cross-centred Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8); the law of His kingdom was the law of agape (John 13:34) and the ethic of His kingdom was a self-forgetting ethic (Matthew 5:1-12).”
Dr B. Hunt in, Redemption page 75.
Seven horns and seven eyes.
In Jewish thought the horn is a symbol of power and Kingship. Therefore in the seven- horn imagery we see that the Lamb who is slain is the supreme ruler of heaven and earth, the One whose word creates and destroys; the One of whom it is written:
"Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the sceptre of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy." He also says, "In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end."
The horns represent the true leader of God’s flock who is the Good Shepherd, the Shepherd of the Covenant and long-awaited Messiah.
Next John speaks of seven eyes which are the seven spirits of God sent into the entire world referring to the perfect vision and work of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity.
Elsewhere scripture points out that that “the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” (2 Chron 16:9) These particular words were spoken by Hanani to Asa, a rebellious king of Judah who had relied on other kings to help him instead of God. Hanani had effectively said, “When you relied on God he delivered you from a much more powerful army – so why rely on others now?”(2 Chron 16:7-9). God looks to help all who turn to Him in repentance and faith, take for example the story of Brian Greenway.
Brian Greenway is an ex ‘Hells Angel’ who as a child, was bullied and rejected by his family. As a means of gaining some sort of identity Brian entered a life of crime, violence and drugs. However his life was turned upside down when he opened His life to Jesus whilst in prison on Dartmoor. He has spent the last thirty-two years working with prisoners and has seen God’s Spirit move in amazing ways as men without hope turn to a living Saviour. Brian writes…
“Jesus didn’t die on a cross only for the good people. He died for the unlovely people, like me. Nobody should think they are too good for that or better than the guys in prison. So often Christians say, “There but for the grace of God go I.” I often wonder if they really understand what they are saying. I know I do. I’m living proof of that.”
B. Greenway in, ‘The Monster Within’, p 160
Jesus is the All-Seeing One. He sees the abused housewife, the cry of the orphan, the imprisoned believer, the hopeless teenager and the persecuted church. He sees all things right down to two sparrows that falls to the ground.
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” Matthew 10:29-30
In the Lamb of God we have the perfect man who lived in intimate fellowship with the Father and a total reliance on the leading of the Holy Spirit in all that He did. He is the All-Sufficient, All-Giving One.
Jesus is the One who said, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35), “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12), “I am the gate for the sheep” (John 10:7), “I am the good Shepherd” (John 10:11) – meaning He is the true Shepherd of the covenant. Jesus also says, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25-6), “I am the way, the truth and the life (John 14:16), “I am the true vine” (John 15:1). He is our friend and there is power in the name of Jesus and it is because of Him alone that we hope. He is the true ‘worthy one’ because He was slain and purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. Therefore in this world of mountains of hardship and valleys of despair there is hope, because He stands with His church.
Biblically speaking the word hope is not about wondering if something is going to happen or not; it is knowing that something will happen. For example we don’t hope that God wants to be with us, we know He wants to be with us as seen in Jesus, God with us.
In a transient ever-changing world where we are sold the lie that we can carry on in our own strength, our real hope, our trust, our steadfastness, needs to be in Him. As the prophet Jeremiah once said, “Our hope is in you” (Jer 14:22) with another prophet Isaiah saying,
“…but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
Isaiah 40: 31
The word ‘wait’ - an ingredient in hope – speaks of binding and twisting together like pieces of rope. So waiting on God – trusting and hoping in Him is not an inactive sitting around but looking for and expecting God to be present.
God is the master of every situation…not you, nor I, not this church or any other fellowship, not our intellect or our abilities, not our strength or our power but God. He is the master of every situation and the only reason you or I can be strong in the ways of the kingdom. Because of His strength and power in the presence of the Holy Spirit Paul can say:
“…And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
God is the One who said to his people in Egypt, I am concerned about your suffering (Ex 3:7-9) and who said, “I will be with you” (Ex 3:12) to Moses, a struggling failed hero in the backside of the desert. God is the One who said to Pharaoh, “Let my people go” (Ex 5:1). God is also the One of whom Hannah said, “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap….the foundations of the earth are the Lord’s; upon them he has set the world….it is not by strength that one prevails” (1 Sam 2:7-9).
God is the One who said through Amos, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24) and His Son, the only One who can open the scroll, is the One who said:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” Luke 4:18-19.
Because of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Lamb who was slain we have hope even in the darkest and most difficult of situations. Because of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah’s decision within the Trinity to come and stand in our place God has always been able to reach out to man.
For example, when we look in scripture we see that He is willing to come after us, even if we’ve made terrible mistakes. After all He is the One who went after Adam and Eve when they fell into sin (Gen 3:8-9) and he is the One who made garments of skin for them; who clothed them (Gen 3:21). I find hope in this because I know that the word for garment speaks of a garment of authority and so I remember yet again that in His provision, in His presence and by His touch upon my life I can have authority where I need it most: over me; therefore I have hope. I have hope because I am clothed in the work of Christ (Gal 3:27).
We have hope in the Lord because when we feel that life is overwhelming us and find ourselves in that ‘didn’t aim to end up here place,’ we can still know that He is present even in the desert of our own making or places we have allowed ourselves so be pushed into by others. Yet there is nothing that escapes His eye.
For example we see the angel of the Lord going to Hagar (an abused slave-girl) who had run away into the desert and saying “I know of your misery, I will help you and your child will be called ‘Ishmael’ meaning, ‘God hears.’ (Gen 16:11). We have hope because we know that God helps the downtrodden and we know that, as Jesus said, God provides us with living water (John 7:38) in my place of failure.
We have hope in the Lord because when we feel weak and useless God’s words remind us that He never asked us to live in our strength but in His. This explains how it is that the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon and said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior,” (Jud 6:12). That’s also why God says, “Not by might or power but by my Spirit” in Zech 4:6.
This explains why Gideon was told his army was too big when he raised one against the Midianites. The Midianites and their allies numbered 135000 whilst Gideon’s army numbered 32000 – but it was too big for God and he reduced it to 300. Why? Because “Man does not live by bread alone.” (Deut 8:3; Mat 4:4) and due to our ability to march off in our own strength God wanted Gideon and us to recognise that victory is totally from Him.
We have hope in the Lord because His mercy and grace is far greater than our ability to fall and fail. Like David, who certainly did not get it right all of the time, we can say, “The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The Lord protects the simple-hearted; when I was in great need, he saved me.” Psalm 116:16
And we can have hope in the Lord because even when I don’t really want to listen to what He says and wrestle with my conscience, He is still there and challenges me to think things through as He has did with Israel when He said, "Come now, let us reason together," says the Lord. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18). He is also the one who told John to say: “If we do sin we have one who speaks in our defence, Jesus Christ the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2).
And then, when it seems as if God is distant and my situation so hopeless, I find myself being drawn back to the heavenly King yet also to stories in scripture that remind me of His amazing compassion and love, even to those who came against His people.
For example, Gehazi the servant of the Lord was struggling on one particular occasion (2 Kings 6:17-22). He was scared and overwhelmed by the presence of the enemy and it is then that we read these words: -
“And Elisha prayed, "O Lord, open his eyes so that he may see." Then the Lord opened the servant's eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all round Elisha. As the enemy came down towards him, Elisha prayed to the Lord, "Strike these people with blindness." So he struck them with blindness, as Elisha had asked. Elisha told them, "This is not the road and this is not the city. Follow me, and I will lead you to the man you are looking for." And he led them to Samaria. After they entered the city, Elisha said, "Lord, open the eyes of these men so that they can see." Then the Lord opened their eyes and they looked, and there they were, inside Samaria. When the king of Israel saw them, he asked Elisha, "Shall I kill them, my father? Shall I kill them?" "Do not kill them," he answered. "Would you kill men you have captured with your own sword or bow? Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink and then go back to their master."
We have hope because God is the master of every situation and circumstance we find ourselves in and we can praise Him come what may. In writing at the time of apartheid in S. Africa Allan Boesak comments on this God-given ability to keep on praising God in this way…
“…..Prison wardens, policemen, and heavily armed soldiers cannot understand how people can sing under such circumstances. The more joyful the singing the more aggressive they become. And so over the last few years we have learned another valuable lesson: The joy of the oppressed is a source of fear for the oppressor. But we sing because we believe, we sing because we hope we sing because we know that it is only a little while, and the tyrant shall cease to exist…. The song of the twenty-four elders is the same age-old song of Israel and it vibrates with the same power and certainty ( 1 Chron 29:11)…”
Allan Boesak in ‘Comfort and Protest’ pages 61-62
We have hope because the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Lamb who was slain stands at the centre of the Universe. It is because of His work and His living presence by the Spirit that Paul could write:
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” 2 Cor 4:7-9
We have hope because we have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb (1 Peter 1:18-21). We have hope because God has poured His Spirit into our hearts (Rom 5:5) and because God has not come into our plans but has brought us into His work through unconditional love and forgiveness. A nominal Muslim who committed his life to Jesus Christ whilst in prison wrote of his discovery of this unconditional love and forgiveness saying...
“All began when I had lost everything; my house, my children, my wife…I found myself locked up here, full of pain and remorse. Despair took hold of me…and then one day I met a man who came to visit me in my cell, who prayed for me, who brought me to know and love Jesus so that he might help me. I opened my heart to Jesus. He put his love in the place of my despair; he came into me, not all at once, but little by little, without frightening me, to cure me, to comfort me in my sorrow, to bring back my smile and my joys. He came into me like a seed which, day after day, grew peacefully into love and joy…”
Testimony taken from ‘Called from Islam to Christ, p168; Editor: Jean-Mare Gaudeul
Harps and bowls.
The Lamb of God takes the scroll and the Elders and living creatures then bow before the Lamb this clearly pointing to His deity. Each of the elders has a harp and bowl of incense in their hands.
The harp was used by the Levitical priesthood in the context of worship (1 Chron 25:1,3,6) and prophecy. Prophetic utterance reminds us of the nature and character of God, and our worship is to be a proclamation of all He has done. But what about the bowls of incense?
The bowls of incense signify the prayers of God’s people (Ps 141:2); God hears our prayers - He knows what is going on. We are the sheep of His pasture and He knows the number of hairs on our head (Luke 12:7).
“No problem is too large for God’s intervention, and no person is too small for God’s attention.”
J. Mason in, ‘An Enemy Called Average’ page 93
Ten thousand times ten thousand.
A crescendo of praise erupts from the throne room as the elders and ten thousand times ten thousand angels sing praises.
The number 10,000 was said to be the largest number that the Greek language used as a ready term therefore in using the plural in Greek we see that the number is innumerable. Innumerable numbers of angels sing and are joined with the whole of creation in the acknowledgement that everything which is good and just and true has come about because of the Lamb of God – the ‘worthy one.’
In all that John hears and sees we are encouraged to see not an alternative world but the reality of the world that is – one where the Kingdom is advancing person by person in extraordinarily moving and gracious ways. In all of this God encourages the church across the ages – from the dawn of time to when God will remove all that stains and ruins – to remain faithful to Him. In light of all this the power, pomp arrogance and claims of a whole host of emperors look totally futile and ridiculous to say the least. The Kingdom of God is present with His people and all that is necessary to live the new life we are called to in Christ is ours.
“Jesus’ voice calls us, His death redeems us, His word emboldens us, His life inspires us, His Spirit empowers us, His resurrection revives us, His wounded hands heal us, His grace remakes us, His peace surrounds us, His presence overcomes us, His love sustains us. So His name be praised, today, now and forever.”
A. Boesak in, ‘The Fire Within’ page 51.