1. And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals.
2. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?
3. And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon.
4. And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon.
5. And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof. 6. And I beheld, and, lo in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.
7. And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne.
8. And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odors, which are the prayers of the saints.
9. And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;
10. And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.
11. And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands;
12. Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing.
13. And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.
14. And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever.
Even the casual reader will notice immediately that this grand vision is a continuation of the vision that was begun to be revealed to John in chapter 4. Chapters 4 and 5 belong together. They are one whole. They constitute one vision. What is told us in chapter 5 simply adds a few new elements to the vision that was begun in chapter 4. It reveals to us above all Him Who is next to the One that sitteth upon the throne, the most important figure of the entire scene, the Lamb that standeth as though it hath been slain, the lion of Juda’s tribe, the root of David, who has overcome to open the book and to loose its seven seals. Jesus Christ is here shown as receiving the power from God to do what no one in all creation was worthy and able to do namely, to bring and complete the glorious kingdom of God in all creation. Hence, the chief thought of the chapter is that the Lamb is found worthy to open the book.
We must, for a correct understanding of this entire passage, bear continually in mind that in it we have no revelation as yet of the things that must come to pass hereafter. It pictures rather the new order of things, the order of the new kingdom, as it exists perfectly in God’s counsel, and as it was in principle realized in the exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ, and as it will give battle in the new dispensation to the still existing power of the prince of darkness on earth, and as also it shall finally have the complete victory and be the realization and manifestation of the kingdom in all the glory of its ultimate perfection in the new heavens and the new earth. It is, from a certain point of view, a picture of the battle force on the side of God opposing the serpent and his armies. Now in our chapter we receive a vision of the general of this battle force of the Almighty, of Him that will lead the armies of God on to victory and that will finally gain complete victory at the time of His second coming. Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb that standeth as though it had been slain, is the chief figure of this entire chapter. Let us then from this central point of view consider the new elements John introduces into the vision.
It is plain that if the apostle did not notice any definite figure on the central throne before, he now does. For he speaks of the right hand of Him that sat on the throne. The right hand in general is the symbol of power and. sovereign authority. And therefore we have here mention made of the power and sovereign authority of the most high. On that right hand John perceived a book. For literally we read in the original that the book is on the right hand of Him that sat on the throne. That it is on the right hand of God indicates evidently that the book is safely kept by the power of the most high and rests on His own authority. The fact that it is presented as being on the hand calls to mind the picture of one that offers something to another. God, therefore, is ready to present, to give, this book to someone else. The book itself is described to us in detail. Many interpreters have attempted to give a graphic and definite description of this book. They have tried to visualize it. Especially have they discussed the question whether here we must picture to ourselves a book as we know it, a number of separate pages bound up in two covers, or whether it was the ancient roll of a book, which John saw in the vision. To us this question appears to be of little importance. In our discussion of the book of Revelation in the future we shall often meet with visions that cannot be visualized concretely whatsoever, of which we cannot draw a graphic picture before our minds. Neither is this necessary. What we must attempt is to ascertain the central significance of each vision, and explain the details of each scene in the light of this central idea more or less as a parable is explained. Thus also with this book. It is, in the first place, a book. And this causes us to think of the thought that is expressed in its contents,—in this case the thought and plan of Him that sitteth upon the throne, the eternal thought of the living God. This book, so we are told, was written within and on the back, that is, it was completely covered. This symbolizes the fact that the thoughts of God in this book are complete, and constitute one whole. Nothing can be added to this book, and nothing may be subtracted from it. Just as the two Stone tables of the Decalogue were covered on both sides, symbolizing the completeness of the law of God, so this book is complete in itself. Further, we notice that the book is sealed. A seal serves to safeguard the contents of any manuscript or book against a possible intruder, for whom the contents of a certain letter or book were not intended. Thus, the fact that the book on the right hand of Him that sitteth upon the throne is sealed and that its seals have never been broken signifies that the contents are as yet secret. They are not known, to anyone outside of Him that sitteth upon the throne and that is its author. Yet the manner in which it is sealed causes us to surmise something in regard to the nature of its contents. It is, namely, sealed with seven seals. And seven is a symbolic, number. Seven is the symbol of completion, and as such it indicates in this instance that the book is completely and safely sealed. But in distinction from the number ten, which also denotes completion, seven has generally to do with the kingdom of God. And thus, the number seven, often indicating the completion of God’s work in the coming of His kingdom, makes us immediately conjecture that this book is somehow connected with the perfecting of the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The question that is of supreme importance in this instance is: what is the significance of this book? This must be answered. And in connection with this first question there is another: what is the meaning of the opening of the book and the breaking of its seals? On this question hinges more or less our entire view of the chapter. And then we remark that there can be little doubt about the fact that this book is symbol of the living and powerful decree of God with regard to the things that must shortly come to pass. Let us clearly understand the implication of this statement. We do not mean to assert that this book is a copy, a dead copy, of that decree, or the symbol of such a copy. In that case the opening of the book would imply nothing more than that the hidden things of God’s counsel were prophetically revealed to us. But that is not so. The book is the symbol of the decree itself, of the living, irresistible, powerful decree of God, Whose chief purpose it is to realize the kingdom of God, which He planned from before the foundation of the world. The breaking of the seals does not simply open the hidden things of God’s counsel. Its idea is not simply that of revelation. But the opening of the book signifies the realization of that powerful, all comprehensive decree of God. It signifies, therefore, the very realization of the kingdom. He that receives the book and may open the seals receives the living decree of God itself and the power to realize it. He that is honored with the distinction of breaking the seals receives therefore the power to establish and to complete the kingdom, actually to bring to pass all that is written in the book. That the book signifies the plan of the Almighty is evident, first of all, from the fact that it is found on His right hand,—indicating undoubtedly too that He alone is its Author. That is shown, in the second place, by the fact that it is sealed with seven seals. The seal is symbol of its secrecy; and seven is connected with the kingdom of God. When all of these seals shall have been loosed, the counsel of God shall have been realized and the kingdom shall have been established in glory. This is evident, in the third place, from Revelation 4:1 in connection with this book. There John was called to heaven to see the things that must shortly come to pass hereafter. It is plain from all that follows in the book of Revelation that these things are contained in the book on the right hand of Him that sat on the throne. And that this book is not a mere dead copy of the decree of God, but symbol of the living decree itself, so that the breaking of its seals involves the realization of God’s counsel, is plain from all that follows. For when seal after seal is broken, we are not simply served with some information read from the book in regard to the things that must come to pass hereafter, but we see these very things being realized before our eyes. Therefore, we conclude that the book is symbol of the irresistible decree of God with regard to the things that must come to pass in this dispensation, and that the opening of the book, the loosing of the seals, implies the power to realize that decree and bring the eternal kingdom to perfection.