Revelation 5

Chapter 5

What John sees next is the creator-King sitting on the throne of his rule and holding a scroll in his right hand - the hand of authority and action. It is enscribed on both sides - implying a lot of information and enticing the reader to want to know its contents. But it is sealed with seven seals, meaning that it can't be read. The number 7, signifying perfection and completion, communicates that it is entirely secure, but also looks to the successive stages of its opening in chapter 6 - which build tension. It's contents are only revealed however when the seventh seal is opened. The anticipation of the sixth seal therefore shows its contents must be the details of the end of history surrounding the day of wrath (6v17, 10v10-11, cf. Ezek 2v10). This strongly suggests these details begin with 8v2 and the precursors to final judgment - with 8v1 dramatising the contents about to be revealed. This makes our reading of the book as primarily around the end and the vindication of the persecuted at the judgment. It also suggests the 7s are not concurrent but consecutive.
     v2: The detail of "strong" angel proclaiming in "loud" voice brings home the awe and might bound up with what follows. He proclaims a question asking who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals, so revealing its contents. The answer is that no-one in heaven or on earth is worthy - whether to open or read it. And so tension and frustration builds, moving John to tears. The scroll is clearly critical in being held in God's own hand. And there is a deep longing for it to be opened as only then can justice be brought to the persecuted (ch. 18), evil be finally eradicated (ch. 19-20) and the kingdom be established in all perfection (ch. 21-22). This is what the persecuted long for (6v9-11).
     But then... an announcement. One of the elders representing God's people comforts John, pointing out a mighty character. Lion of Judah picks up Genesis 49v8-12. He is the noble yet terrifying descendent of Jacob promised to judge and receive the obedience of the nations. As the "root" of David, he is the promised Messiah who is to receive David's everlasting kingdom, and take root in such a way that fills and bears fruit throughout the earth, personifying and fulfilling God's purposes for Israel (Is 27v6). These titles teach he is the one long awaited throughout Jewish history - the offspring of Abraham (Gen 12) the serpent crusher (Gen 3). He is therefore the one all history has been been progressing towards, who will crush Satan, reverse the curse and bring blessing to the whole earth.
     And we learn that he is worthy to open the scroll because he has "conquered" which in the context of the 7 letters means, first and foremost, that he has resisted evil by remaining utterly faithful to God. This makes him a model for the persecuted churches. Yet he is unique. He is set-apart from every other creature in heaven and earth - from all humanity for never sinning, and all angels by remaining utterly faithful even to death, and despite such temptation and trial.
     v6-10, however, gives fuller understanding to his conquering. His resisting of evil has actually enabled those captive to its power to be freed and become the people of the promised Davidic kingdom, serving God like priests. And it is this, more specifically that makes him "worthy" to open the scroll (v9-10) and so bring about the final judgment and consummation of God's kingdom. He is the one who brings the contents of the scroll to fruition in defeating Satan. He is therefore very much the supreme conquering King, rescuing a people and establishing his rule over them. We will have to wait to learn of the enemy he defeated on doing so.
     The surprise, however, is what follows. A Lion is announced but John sees a lamb. This is the result of the lions faithfulness and the means of his rescue - he has been "slain" in atonement for sin. The most obvious lamb sacrifice for the reader is that of passover when God's people were redeemed from slavery in Egypt to belong to God. As the coming song declares, Christ has done the equivalent by his "blood." The redeemed are not therefore guiltless. God's judgment has passed over them.
     The lamb is seen between the throne and the living creatures - so closer to the Father, the one from whom and for whom all has been made. Yet he is among the elders just as we have seen Christ amongst lampstands - present with his people. This reveals that the 24 elders must be nearer the throne than the living creatures, reflecting their supreme privileged above all in creation as the adopted children of God. Proximity to God's tremple presence always marked holiness and privilege, as with the people-Levites- priests-High Priest in Israel. Here it is Christ our High Priest with his redeemed-living creatures-angels- everything else in heaven or earth.
     Although a meek creature, we've already seen this lamb is far from weak. It's 7 horns represent complete and perfect (significance of 7) power, just as horns on an ox reflect its own. It's seven eyes are the 7 spirits we have argued represent the Holy Spirit (cf. 1v4). In 4v5 they reflected God's holy presence. Here, his complete and perfect knowledge, because he is present everywhere throughout the earth. But in belonging to the lamb, we see something of the Trinity. He is the Spirit of Christ as well as of God - of the Son as well as the Father. 
     v7: Finally we see one who is able to open the scroll. The lamb takes it from the hand of God and the creatures and elders now fall down on worshipping him! Grammatically, it may be only the elders holding the two objects. Their harps could signify the scroll's words as prophecy, as harps were often played as prophets prophesied. They are therefore the key instrument for the presence of God. Certainly in context they denote joy, as this worship is sung rather than said as before. And it is a "new song" because it marks a new (and the greatest) work of salvation (cf. Ps 96v1f). We are told the golden bowls of incense are the prayers of the saints. They are held before the lamb no doubt to show that they reach God as a sweet smelling offering only through his work. And the song tells us why: The lamb is worthy to take and open the scroll specifically because of his willingness to be slain in order to ransom people for God, and so make them a kingdom - where God's rule is mediated through the lamb as the Lion of Judah and Root of David; and priests who will serve God by reigning over and so looking after a renewed earth as his sanctuary (cf. Rev 21-22, Ex 19v6).
     The picture of Christ here is exalted. As a man he fulfils all history. Yet he also receives the sort of worship due to God alone. And as the God-man he is the perfect mediator, through whom we have access to God in prayer, having them cleansed from all false motive and selfish desire through his blood, which satisfies God's justice and pacifies his wrath at such things. What an encouragement to pray. Our prayers are not only necessary, they are pleasing to God - sweet in flowing from subjects that now love him and testifying to the worthiness of his Son. 
     Striking is the fourfold note on where the redeemed are from. The terms broaden. Nation can comprise various peoples, which can include various languages spoken by various tribes. Obviously all these change through history and are difficult to measure exactly. The point is that God's kingdom doesn't just comprise those from Israel, but from all over the world, and every kind of ancestral group. And so the crisis of Eden is overcome through Eve's offspring, the whole earth is blessed through Abraham's see, and Judah's king receives the obedience of the nations.
     v11: "Then" signifies what follows continues the response to the lamb. New characters are introduced. Circling the throne now are the elders with the lamb amongst them, the four living creatures, and innumerable angels. Myriads and thousands stress their quantity. But as John looks he hears - there is no sense the angels are visible. Rather in a loud and united voice they declare the worthiness of the lamb. Strikingly these words echo 4v11 where God was worshipped as creator. The sense here too then, is of casting our crowns in service of Christ. Christ receives the same, affirming his divinity. In a sense he receives even more because the angelic host was not included previously. But especially here, his worth is linked to his readiness to redeem. God owns and blesses us in creation, and so rightly receives our praise and service. Christ enables a second ownership and blessing by redemption, and so rightly receives the same. And so all ability, riches, insight, force, acknowledgment, excellence and joy, are to he devoted to his service. The sevenfold praise stresses it perfection and completion.
     v13 introduces a final ring of praise that includes everything else in heaven or on earth - the under the earth and in the sea stresses the complete nature of this worship. This includes the creatures already mentioned too. Affirming the equality of God and Christ, of Father and Son, they combine the focus of 4v11 and v9-10, acclaiming to all creation that God who sits on the throne and the lamb are both to receive "blessing and honour and glory and might forever and ever!" And this is affirmed by the living creatures turns declaring "Amen" ("truly") and the elders falling down in worship again.
     This devoted service, then, is what all creatures should be doing now, which is why our self-centredness is so serious and sinful. It is to devote these things to self rather than the one who is worthy of them, worshipping self rather than God. But here we also learn what our activity will involve in the new creation. It will be to devote all we are and can achieve to him - to Father and Son, as we rule the world for them.

     So much finds explanation here. The ultimate purpose of human beings - and worms and horses and sparrows and cod, is to serve God's purposes, devoting all that is excellent about them to him. And the great goal of history is for the Father to glorify his Son by having him receive this worshipful service as the man Jesus Christ, acknowledged by the whole creation for the supremacy of his character in giving himself to be slain so that God his Father might have a kingdom of priests from the sons of Adam, to rule over the animals and natural world, harnessing their excellence in service of him and his Christ.