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Worthy. Revelation 5:1-14.
April 29, 2018

Recently, there was a meeting of commonwealth representatives to discuss plans of succession in the event of the death of Queen Elizabeth. It was not an open and shut case, for they sought to determine who was worthy to occupy the throne. Eventually they choose Prince Charles. Of the many factors that call into question this suitability, he unilaterally changed his present role which has traditionally been “defender of the faith” to uphold Christian teaching, to “defender of the faiths”, plural, seeking to take no personal position. One may argue that this is appropriate for essentially a political figure, but it just reinforces that there is a unique worthiness to Christ and Christ alone. Only one individual has the right, the power, and the authority to rule the earth: the Lord Jesus Christ. He will one day take back what is rightfully His from Satan the usurper, and all the rebels, demonic and human. No one else is worthy or capable of ruling the worldno evil man, no good man, no demon, and no holy angel. Revelation 5 introduces Jesus Christ, earth’s rightful ruler, who is pictured about to return to redeem His people from sin, Satan, death, and the curse. He is the central theme of John’s second vision of heaven. The worship of God for his role in creation gives way to the worship of the Lamb for his work of redemption (Mounce, R. H. (1997). The Book of Revelation (pp. 128–129). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.)


The events of Revelation 5 occur right after those of chapter 4. The scene, as in chapter 4, is the throne of God in heaven. Present are the cherubim, the twenty-four elders (representing the raptured, glorified church), and the Holy Spirit in His sevenfold glory (4:5). The events described in these two chapters anticipate the holocaust of divine judgment about to be poured out on the sinful, rebellious, cursed earth (chaps. 6–19). Awestruck by the indescribable majesty of God’s throne, and the flashes of lightning and peals of thunder that proceed from it, the cherubim and elders begin a series of hymns of praise to God. Those hymns celebrate God as creator and redeemer, and rejoice that He is about to take back what is rightfully His. This is the moment that all Christians (Eph. 1:14) and the entire creation (Rom. 8:19–22) long for.


As that moment approaches, God begins to stir.  John begins verse 1 of chapter 5 with the phrase I saw, or “I looked,” which introduces the various scenes described in this chapter (cf. vv. 2, 6, 11) and stresses John’s status as an eyewitness. In his vision, John saw in the right hand of Him who was seated/sat on the throne a scroll/book written within/inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals. God stretched out His hand, as it were, and in it He held a scrod/book. Biblion (scroll/book) does not refer to a book in the modern sense, but specifically to a scroll (cf. 6:14). A scroll was a long piece of papyrus or animal skin, rolled from both ends into the middle. Such scrolls were commonly used before the invention of the codex, or modern-style book, consisting of square pages bound together. While Roman wills were sealed up with seven seals, this scroll is not a will but a deed or contract. Dr. Robert L. Thomas explains: This kind of contract was known all over the Middle East in ancient times and was used by the Romans from the time of Nero on. The full contract would be written on the inner pages and sealed with seven seals. Then the content of the contract would be described briefly on the outside. All kinds of transactions were consummated this way, including marriage-contracts, rental and lease agreements, release of slaves, contract-bills, and bonds. Support also comes from Hebrew practices. The Hebrew document most closely resembling this scroll was a title-deed that was folded and signed, requiring at least three witnesses. A portion of text would be written, folded over and sealed, with a different witness signing at each fold. A larger number of witnesses meant that more importance was assigned to the document. (Dr. Robert L. Thomas Revelation 1–7: An Exegetical Commentary [Chicago: Moody, 1992], 378) (cf. Jer. 32:9-15)


The scroll John saw in God’s hand is the title deed to the earth, which He will give to Christ. Unlike other such deeds, however, it does not record the descriptive detail of what Christ will inherit, but rather how He will regain His rightful inheritance. He will do so by means of the divine judgments about to be poured out on the earth (Rev. 6:1ff.). While the scroll is a scroll of doom and judgment, it is also a scroll of redemption. It tells how Christ will redeem the world from the usurper, Satan, and those men and demons who have collaborated with him. (cf. Ezek. 2:9-10). We can see how Christ is Worthy to redeem in Revelation 5:1-14  through: 1) The search for the worthy one (Revelation 5:2-4), 2) The selection of the worthy one (Revelation 5:5–7), and 3) The song of the worthy one (Revelation 5:8–14).


Christ is Worthy to redeem as seen through:

1)   The Search for the Worthy One (Revelation 5:2-4)

Revelation 5:2-4 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. (ESV)


The mighty/strong angel (cf. 10:1; 18:21) is not named. Some identify him as Gabriel, others as Michael, but since the text does not name him, he must remain anonymous. He is described here as proclaiming with a loud voice so that his proclamation would penetrate to every corner of the universe. The angel sought someone both worthy and able to open the scroll/book and to break its seals Opening the scroll is mentioned before loosening the seals not because the seals are placed at intervals within the scroll but because the content of the scroll is of first importance(Mounce, R. H. (1997). The Book of Revelation (p. 130). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.)


Who, John asked, has the innate, virtuous worthiness of character and the divine right that would qualify him to break the seals? And who has the power to defeat Satan and his demon hosts, to wipe out sin and its effects, and to reverse the curse on all of creation?  The purpose of the seals here is to keep the contents secret until the time of fulfillment, a common apocalyptic theme (Dan. 8:26; 12:9) (Osborne, G. R. (2002). Revelation (p. 248). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.)


As the echoes of John’s cry recede there is only silence. The powerful archangels Michael and Gabriel do not answer. Uncounted thousands of other angels remain silent. All the righteous dead of all the ages, including Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Moses, David, Solomon, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Peter and the rest of the apostles, Paul, and all the others from the church age, say nothing. Their reason for such is explained in verse 3, for: no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll/book or to look into it. A search of the entire universe, from hell to heaven and all points in between, turns up no one worthy or able to open the scroll.


Please turn to Luke 7 (p.863)


Overwhelmed with grief and dismay at this turn of events, in verse 4, John began to weep loudly/greatly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll/book or to look into it. Weep is from klaiō, the same word used to describe Jesus’ weeping over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41), and Peter’s bitter weeping after betraying the Lord (Luke 22:62). It is thus a word that expresses strong, unrestrained emotion. This is the only time in Scripture that tears are seen in heaven (cf. 7:17; 21:4). Why did John weep? W. A. Criswell explains why John wept: [John’s tears] represent the tears of all God’s people through all the centuries. Those tears of the Apostle John are the tears of Adam and Eve, driven out of the Garden of Eden, as they bowed over the first grave, as they watered the dust of the ground with their tears over the silent, still form of their son, Abel. Those are the tears of the children of Israel in bondage as they cried unto God in their affliction and slavery. They are the tears of God’s elect through the centuries as they cried unto heaven. They are the sobs and tears that have been wrung from the heart and soul of God’s people as they looked on their silent dead, as they stand beside their open graves, as they experience in the trials and sufferings of life, heartaches and disappointments indescribable. Such is the curse that sin has laid upon God’s beautiful creation; and this is the damnation of the hand of him who holds it, that usurper, that interloper, that intruder, that alien, that stranger, that dragon, that serpent, that Satan-devil. “And I wept audibly,” for the failure to find a Redeemer meant that this earth in its curse is consigned forever to death. It meant that death, sin, damnation and hell should reign forever and ever and the sovereignty of God’s earth should remain forever in the hands of Satan. (W. A. Criswell. Expository Sermons on Revelation [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1969], 3:69–70)


John’s weeping, though sincere, was premature. He need not have wept, for God was about to take action.  This is how Jesus approached sorrow:

Luke 7:11-17 11 Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. 12 As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. 13 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” 15 And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16 Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” 17 And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country. (ESV) (cf Lk. 8:52)

  • John wept because he wanted to see the world rid of evil, sin, and death. He wanted to see Satan vanquished and God’s kingdom established on earth. He wanted to see Israel saved and Christ exalted. John knew that the Messiah had been executed, Jerusalem destroyed, and the Jewish people massacred and scattered. He was well aware that the church faced intense persecution and was infected with sin (chaps. 2–3). Everything seemed, from his perspective, to be going badly. Would no one step forward to change this? Was no one going to unroll the scroll and redeem God’s creation? But John need not have wept, because the search for the one worthy to open the scroll was about to end.


Illustration: Here is the impetus for living with eternity’s values in view. Here is the impetus for holiness. Here is the impetus for repentance and faith, for we will all stand before this God on the last day. Here is the impetus for missionary call, for doing something useful with your life. Here is the impetus to do something with your retirement. Here is the impetus for thinking big thoughts, giving up small ambitions, and thinking about eternity. As the poet said: “ In this rebel world where we fear the light, All our gods must be domesticated, tame. But the sovereign Lord, who sees through the night Is not threatened by pretensions built on shame. In majestic splendor God rules throughout our days. He is holy in his deeds and wise in all his ways.

Mighty Babylon, and the Third Reich too, Join the dust of empires that have passed away.

Full of strutting pride, mouthing boasts untrue, They lie crushed before the God whose word holds sway. Surely all the nations are dust upon the scales, So with whom will you compare this God whose will prevails?

Not the patriarchs, not the priestly clans, Not the wise in all their learning glimpsed the cross. Not the royal court, not the zealot bands, Thought that God would buy back rebels at such cost. Who has comprehended the wisdom of the Lord? For the grandeur of his plans our God must be adored!

Who will take the scroll in the Sovereign’s hand, Break the seals and bring God’s purposes to pass? While we wait in fear at what God has planned, From the throne the Lion roars—and death has passed. Sing to Christ the Conqueror a new song full of praise. For the triumph of the Lamb means God must have his way. (Carson, D. A. (2016). Vision of a Transcendent God—Part 2. In D. A. Carson Sermon Library (Re 5). Bellingham, WA: Faithlife.)


Christ is Worthy to redeem as seen through:

2)      The Selection of the Worthy One (Revelation 5:5–7)

Revelation 5:5–7 And one of the elders said to me,Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. (ESV)

Because his tears were inappropriate, one of the elders told John to weep no more. This is a PRESENT IMPERATIVE with the NEGATIVE PARTICLE which meant to stop an act which is already in process. (Utley, R. J. (2001). Hope in Hard Times - The Final Curtain: Revelation (Vol. Volume 12, p. 53). Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International.)


Then he drew John’s attention to a new Person emerging on the scene, the Lion of/from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David. No human and no angel can redeem the universe, but there is One who can. This Person, of course, is the glorified, exalted Lord Jesus Christ, described here by two of His messianic titles. The title the Lion of/from the tribe of Judah derives from Jacob’s blessing on the tribe of Judah given in Genesis 49:8–10.  Out of the lionlike tribe of Judah would come a strong, fierce, and deadly rulerthe Messiah, Jesus Christ (Heb. 7:14). The Jews of Jesus’ day expected the Messiah to be powerful and to liberate them from the heavy hand of their oppressors, at that time the Roman rulers. It was partly because Jesus failed to live up to those expectations that they rejected and killed Him. He had no political aspirations (cf. John 6:15; 18:36), nor did He use His miraculous powers against the Roman oppressors. Instead, He offered a spiritual kingdom. Tragically, the Jews completely misjudged their Messiah. He is a lion, and will tear up and destroy their enemies. But He will do so according to His timetable, not theirs. His lionlike judgment of His enemies awaits the yet-future day that He has chosenthe day that begins to unfold in Revelation chapter 5. But here the central paradox of Revelation and of Christian faith in general comes to the fore: Jesus conquered not by force but by death, not by violence but by martyrdom. The Lion is a Lamb! (Keener, C. S. (1999). Revelation (p. 186). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.)


Jesus is also seen here as the Root or descendant of David (cf. 22:16; Jer. 23:5–6; 33:15–17). That messianic title derives from Isaiah 11:1, 10.  As the genealogies of Matthew 1 and Luke 3 reveal, Jesus is a descendant of David both on His father’s and on His mother’s side. In Romans 1:3 the apostle Paul said that Jesus was “born of a descendant of David according to the flesh.” The term “Son of David” is a messianic title used frequently in the Gospels (e.g., Matt. 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30–31; 21:9, 15; 22:42; Mark 12:35). Isaiah predicted that Judah (the royal line of David) would be like a tree chopped down to a stump, but from that stump a new shoot would growthe Messiah. He would be greater than the original tree and would bear much fruit. Christ, the Messiah, is the fulfillment of God’s promise that a descendant of David would rule forever (2 Samuel 7:16; see also Romans 15:12). (Barton, B. B. (2000). Revelation. (G. R. Osborne, Ed.) (p. 61). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.)


Jesus is the One worthy to take the scroll because of who He is, the rightful King from David’s loins; what He is, the Lion from Judah’s tribe with the power to destroy His enemies; and also because of what He has done—He has conquered/overcome. At the cross He defeated sin (Rom. 8:3), death (Heb. 2:14–15), and all the forces of hell (Col. 2:15; 1 Pet. 3:19). Believers are overcomers through His overcoming (Col. 2:13–14; 1 John 5:5). Notice that the Lion is not going to conquer by His power, but by His sacrifice (Utley, R. J. (2001). Hope in Hard Times - The Final Curtain: Revelation (Vol. Volume 12, p. 53). Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International.).


As John looked at the incredible scene before him, all described in chapter 4, the glowing, blazing reflection of God’s glory emanating from the throne, the bright green rainbow surrounding it, the brilliant pavement on which it sat, the flashes of lightning and peals of thunder foreshadowing fearsome divine judgment, the worshiping four living creatures and twenty-four elders, John’s attention in verse 6, was irresistibly drawn to what he saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders. Instead of the anticipated mighty Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the all-conquering Davidic King, John saw a Lamb. The Lord Jesus could not be the Lion of judgment, or the King of glory, unless He was first “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The Lamb (Arnion) imagery derives from the Passover, when Jewish families were required to keep the sacrificial lamb as a household pet for four days before sacrificing it (Ex. 12:3–6). While every lamb sacrificed under the Old Covenant pointed toward Christ, He is only referred to as a lamb once in the Old Testament (Isa. 53:7). In the New Testament outside of Revelation, He is only called a lamb four times (combined in John 1:29, 36; Acts 8:32; 1 Pet. 1:19). But in Revelation He appears as the Lamb thirty-one times. In Revelation our Lord is presented both as Lamb and Lion. As the Lamb of God, He is the sacrificial One, bearing (the sins of His people). As the Lion, He is the Judge, punishing His enemies. At His First Coming, He was the Lamb. At His Second Coming, He will be the Lion (MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2362). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.).


Several features indicate that this was no ordinary lamb. First, He was standing, alive, on His feet, yet looking as if He had been slain. The scars from the deadly wound this Lamb received were clearly visible; yet He was alive. Though demons and wicked men conspired against Him and killed Him, He rose from the dead, thus defeating and triumphing over His enemies. The use of the Greek perfects (“a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain,”) emphasizes the lasting benefits of his sacrificial death and resurrection.( Mounce, R. H. (1997). The Book of Revelation (p. 134). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.)


Another feature about this Lamb that John noted was that it had seven horns. In imagery drawn from the animal world, horns in Scripture symbolize strength and power (e.g., 1 Sam. 2:1, 10; 2 Sam. 22:3; Pss. 18:2; 75:10; 89:17, 24; Jer. 48:25; Mic. 4:13). Seven, the number of perfection, symbolizes the Lamb’s complete, absolute power. The Lamb in John’s vision also had seven eyes, again denoting perfect omniscience and complete understanding and knowledge. Those eyes, John noted, represented the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. |As we saw from Rev. 1:4 and 4:5, the phrase seven Spirits of God describes the Holy Spirit in all His fullness. Here, as in 4:5, the Holy Spirit’s fullness is seen in relation to judgment, as He goes out into all the earth searching for guilty, unrepentant sinners to be judged (cf. John 16:8).


Verse 7 records the final, monumental act in the heavenly scene. Everything John has been describing since this vision began in Rev. 4:1 had been building toward this moment. This views the great, culminating act of history, the act that will signal the end of humanity’s day. The ultimate goal of redemption is about to be seen; paradise will be regained, Eden restored. Before John’s wondering eyes the Lamb went/came and took the scroll/book from/out of the right hand of Him who was seated on the throne. The phrase “the right hand of Him” is a biblical anthropomorphism to describe God’s power and authority. God does not have a physical body; He is a spiritual being (cf. John 4:24), uncreated and eternal. (Utley, R. J. (2001). Hope in Hard Times - The Final Curtain: Revelation (Vol. Volume 12, p. 53). Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International.)


Please turn to Daniel 7 (p.744)


Under Jewish law, real estate that had been forfeited by a man could be redeemed (bought back) by any near kinsman (Lev. 25:25). To redeem the earth, forfeited by humanity, the redeemer must be a kinsman (hence a man, not an angel) and must come forward with the purchase price in hand—something that no one in the universe could do except Jesus (cf. 1 Pet. 1:18–19) (Gregg, S. (1997). Revelation, four views: a parallel commentary (p. 95). Nashville, TN: T. Nelson Publishers.)


This is the same scene described by Daniel in Daniel 7:13–14, although Daniel does not mention the scroll:

Daniel 7:13–14 13 I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. (ESV)

  • The worthy One has arrived to take back what is rightfully His.


Illustration: The world would be terrible if there were no Jesus, but there is Jesus. He is trustworthy. He is good. And he has taken control of history. In the spring of the year 2000, James Montgomery Boice, pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, was diagnosed with cancer. He was sixty-two years old. Eight weeks later, on June 15, 2000, he died. On May 7, 2000, he addressed the congregation he served. In the midst of his remarks to the congregation that morning, he said to them, “If God does something in your life, would you change it? If you’d change it, you’d make it worse. It wouldn’t be as good. So that’s the way we want to accept it and move forward, and who knows what God will do?” The great comfort of our lives is the fact that Jesus is good, and he has taken hold of the scroll. He is in control. (Hamilton, J. M., Jr. (2012). Preaching the Word: Revelation—The Spirit Speaks to the Churches. (R. K. Hughes, Ed.) (p. 160). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.)


Finally, Christ is Worthy to redeem as seen through:

3)      The Song of the Worthy One (Revelation 5:8–14)

Revelation 5:8–14 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” 11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” 13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” 14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped. (ESV)


The appearance of the Lamb as He moves to take the scroll causes praise to break out from everywhere in the universe. The praise accelerates in an ascending crescendo of worship as the oratorio of redemption reaches its climax. To the two majestic doxologies of chapter 4 are added three more in chapter 5. The spontaneous outburst of worship results from the realization that the long-anticipated defeat of sin, death, and Satan is about to be accomplished and the Lord Jesus Christ will return to earth in triumph and establish His glorious millennial kingdom. The curse will be reversed, the believing remnant of Israel will be saved, and the church will be honored, exalted, and granted the privilege of reigning with Christ. All of the pent-up anticipation of millennia finally bursts out at the prospect of what is about to take place. The Lamb is about to inaugurate the events that will dissolve this present order and institute the final kingdom and glorious reign of God.( Osborne, G. R. (2002). Revelation (p. 258). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.)


Please turn to Psalm 2 (p.448)


As they began their song of praise and worship, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. That they offer the same worship to Christ that they did to the Father in 4:10 offers convincing proof of Christ’s deity, since only God is to be worshiped (cf. 19:10; Matt. 4:10).Psalm 2:6–12 speaks of the future day when Christ rules on the earth:

Psalm 2:6–12 “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” 10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. 11 Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. 12          Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (ESV)

  • Currently, there are four things out of place in the universe: the church, which should be in heaven; Israel, which should be living in peace occupying all the land promised to her; Satan, who belongs in the lake of fire; and Christ, who should be seated on His throne reigning. All four of those anomalies will be set right when Christ takes the scroll from His Father’s hand (Dr. Donald Gray Barnhouse).


But before He begins to unroll it in chapter 6 comes the song of praise in chapter 5. As they bowed themselves before the Lamb in worship, John noticed that each one of the twenty-four elders was holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. (The grammatical structure of the Greek text seems to indicate that it was only the elders, not the living creatures, who held those two items.) Harps were frequently associated in the Old Testament with worship (e.g., 2 Sam. 6:5; 1 Chron. 15:16, 20, 28; 16:5; 2 Chron. 5:12; 29:25; Pss. 33:2; 71:22; 92:1–4; 144:9; 150:3; cf. Rev. 14:2; 15:2), but they were also closely linked to prophecy (2 Kings 3:15; 1 Chr. 25:1-6). The harps held by the elders probably symbolize all of prophecy, which culminates in the momentous events about to take place.


In addition to the harps, the elders were also holding golden bowls full of incense. These wide-mouthed bowls were used in the tabernacle and the temple (1 Kings 7:40, 45, 50; 2 Kings 12:13–14; 1 Chron. 28:17; 2 Chron. 4:22; Jer. 52:19; Zech. 14:20), where they were connected with the altar. They symbolized the priestly work of intercession for the people. Scripture elsewhere associates the burning of incense with the prayers of the saints in Psalm 141:2; Luke 1:9–10; and Revelation 8:3–4 (cf. 6:9–10). The incense in these bowls represents the prayers of believers through the ages that God’s prophesied and promised redemption of the earth might come. Taken together, the harps and the bowls indicate that all that the prophets ever prophesied and all that God’s children ever prayed for is finally to be fulfilled. This is startling: the judgments of the seals, trumpets, and bowls are in part God’s answer to the prayers of the saints! (Osborne, G. R. (2002). Revelation (p. 259). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.)


In verse 9, as the elders brought before God the desires and prayers of the saints, they sang a new song. Since (with the possible exception of Job 38:7) the Bible nowhere records angels singing, it is best to see only the elders as singing here. That is consistent with the rest of Scripture, which pictures the redeemed singing praise to God (cf. Judg. 5:3; 2 Chron. 5:13; Neh. 12:46; Pss. 7:17; 9:2; 61:8; 104:33; 146:2; Acts 16:25; Eph. 5:19) and angels speaking it (cf. Luke 2:13–14). Throughout Scripture the new song is a song of redemption (Pss. 33:3; 40:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; 149:1; Isa. 42:10; Rev. 14:3).


The song opens with a reaffirmation that Christ is worthy … to take the scroll/book and to break its seals. He is worthy because He is the Lamb, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and the King of kings and Lord of lords. To break the scroll/book’s seals means to enact the judgments written in it. Then, further reinforcing Christ’s worthiness, the song continues, for You were slain, and by your blood you ransomed/purchased people for God from every tribe and language/tongue and people and nation. That phrase elaborates on the statement of verse 6 that the Lamb had been slain, explaining the significance of His death. It was Christ’s substitutionary, sacrificial death that ransomed/purchased for God people for God from every tribe and language/tongue and people and nation. Ransomed/Purchased is from agorazō, a rich New Testament word for redemption that pictures slaves purchased in the marketplace and then set free. At the cross, the Lord Jesus Christ paid the purchase price (His own blood; 1 Pet. 1:18–19) to redeem His people from every tribe (descent) and language/tongue and people (race) and nation (culture) from the slave market of sin (cf. 1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23; Gal. 3:13). Those four terms appear together frequently in Revelation 7:9; 11:9; 13:7; and 14:6 and encompass all of humanity.It must have been a thrilling, exhilarating realization for John that the redeemed would one day include people from all over the world. In a day when the church was small, isolated, struggling, and sinful, John must have been concerned about its futureespecially because five of the seven churches addressed in chapters 2–3 had such serious and potentially fatal problems. The knowledge that persecution and sin would not extinguish the spreading flame of Christianity must have brought joy and hope to the apostle’s heart. Anyone who comes to God in repentance and faith is accepted by him and will be part of his kingdom. We must not allow prejudice or bias to keep us from sharing Christ with others. Christ welcomes all types people into his kingdom (Barton, B. B. (2000). Revelation. (G. R. Osborne, Ed.) (p. 66). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.).


In verse 10, the song moves on to express the results of redemption: You have made them a kingdom and priests to our God; and they shall/will reign upon the earth. The use of them instead of “us” indicates the vastness and comprehensiveness of redemption. The twenty-four elders move beyond themselves to sweep up all the saints of all the ages into their hymn of praise and adoration. The redeemed are a part of God’s kingdom (cf. 1:6), a community of believers under God’s sovereign rule. They are also priests to our God (cf. 20:6), signifying their complete access to God’s presence for worship and service. The present priesthood of believers (1 Pet. 2:5, 9) foreshadows that future day when we will have total access to and perfect communion with God. During the millennial kingdom, believers will reign upon the earth with Christ (20:6; 2 Tim. 2:12).


In verse 11 John says for the fourth time in the chapter that he saw something. As he looked, he heard around the throne, and the living creatures  and the elders, the voice of many angels numbering myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands (cf. Dan. 7:10). To the voices of the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders are now added those of innumerable angels. Myriad means “ten thousand,” apparently the highest number for which the Greeks had a word. The phrase myriads and myriads describes an uncountable host. We should resist any temptation to multiply out the figures in an attempt to reach a precise number. John is concerned simply to indicate that the total was vast. In fact what he means is ‘innumerable’.( Morris, L. (1987). Revelation: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 20, p. 101). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.)


The vast host began in verse 12 saying with a loud voice (cf. Neh. 9:4; Pss. 33:3, “shout”; 98:4, “shout”) the familiar doxology, Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth/riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing. Once again, the emphasis is on Christ’s death providing a perfect redemption, because of which He must be given worship, praise, and adoration. He is worthy to receive recognition because of His power and omnipotence. He is worthy to receive recognition because of the spiritual and material wealth/riches that He possessesHe owns everything (Ps. 50:10–12). He is worthy to receive recognition because of His wisdom and omniscience. For all those things and all His other absolute perfections, Jesus Christ is worthy of all honor and glory and blessing.


As the great hymn of praise reaches a crescendo in verse 13, John reports that he heard every creature/created in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them joins in. This all-inclusive statement is reminiscent of Psalm 69:34: “Let heaven and earth praise Him, the seas and everything that moves in them,” and the concluding verse of the Psalms,Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord!” (Ps. 150:6). This mighty chorus cries out, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and might/dominion forever and ever.” Endless blessing, endless honor, endless praise, endless glory, and endless worship belong to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. The creation is unable to contain its joy over its imminent redemption (cf. Rom. 8:19–22).


Finally in verse 14, lost in wonder, love, and praise, the four living creatures could only keep saying, “Amen.” That solemn affirmation meanslet it be,” “make it happen” (cf. 1:6–7). And the elders fell down once again and worshiped. Soon, this mighty host would march out of heaven to execute judgment, gather the elect, and return with Christ when He sets up His earthly kingdom. The stage is set.


(Format Note: Outline & some base commentary from MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1999). Revelation 1–11 (pp. 162–173). Chicago: Moody Press.)


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