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 odours, which are the prayers of saints. 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; and hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.
George F. Handel’s magnificent oratorio, Messiah, concludes with the powerful song of praise, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain.” The entire choir, including soloists, join in singing praise to the Lamb. The lyrics for this last song in the Messiah are taken from this fifth chapter of the book of Revelation. How beautifully this chapter sets forth the great glory and the blessed purpose of Christ’s ascension into heaven.
The context explains that John beholds in the vision the throne of God and the book held in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. The book or scroll is written on both sides and has seven seals. A strong angel sounds forth a challenge throughout the entire universe and to every creature, “Who is worthy to open the book and loose the seals thereof?” And John wept much because no one was found worthy upon earth, or in the highest heavens, or even in the depths of hell.
But an elder of the church triumphant immediately comforted the apostle by calling his attention to the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, a Lamb as it had been slain. The Lamb came forward and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat upon the throne. And the rest of the chapter is one grand hallelujah to God and to the Lamb, because the Lamb was worthy to take the book and open it. “Thou art worthy!”
Do we see the significance of this as far as the ascension and exaltation of Christ are concerned? For us as the people of God in the midst of the trials and tribulations of this present time; for the church of Christ even as Satan rages against her, knowing his time is short; especially as we see the end of the ages hastening upon us—it is of unspeakable comfort to know that our ascended Lord and Savior is worthy. He is ruling over all, directing all things unto the salvation of His people and the coming of His kingdom.
This book or scroll, with its seven seals, is obviously of great significance in the vision. The seals must be loosed or broken before the book can be opened and read. Evidently, it is so constructed that each seal must be broken in order, and as each seal is broken a new section of the book can be read. But, of course, the important question is: what is written in the book? Without a doubt the book contains “things which must shortly come to pass” (1:1); “things which must be hereafter” (4:1). This is what God purposed to reveal to His servants, notably here to His servant John. The book contains the counsel of God with regard to all that must take place from the ascension of Christ till the kingdom is fully realized and perfected in the new heavens and the new earth.
The book is given to the ascended and glorified Christ. He is worthy! It is given to Him, not only so that He can read it and be aware, in His human nature, of what is yet to take place in history. Certainly the fact that the book is sealed indicates that the content is secure and unknown to all except God who is seated upon the throne. And the fact that there are seven seals would show that the content concerns the full and perfect realization of the kingdom and covenant of our God.
In addition, in light of all that follows in the book of Revelation, it is clear that when the seals are opened things begin to happen. That the Lamb is found worthy to open the book means that Christ receives all power to develop and to complete the kingdom and covenant of God. Christ now receives power and authority to control and direct all history to that end. He is able to control even all forces of darkness that rise against God’s kingdom in this present dispensation.
So we see in chapter six that, when the Lamb opened the first seal, the white horse with its rider appears and runs its course through the earth. When the second seal is broken, the red horse with its rider goes through the earth to take away peace and to kill with the sword. And in the scheme of the book of Revelation, the opening of the seventh seal ushers in seven trumpets, the seventh of which brings forth seven angels with seven vials full of the wrath of God. All of these things Christ causes to take place as He opens the seals of the book. Breaking seal after seal, Christ brings to pass all that must come to pass unto the salvation of the church and the bringing in of the glorious kingdom of God.
No wonder heaven breaks out in praise and adoration of Him who sits upon the throne and of the Lamb! The four beasts or creatures, representing the redeemed creation, and the twenty-four elders, representing the church, take the lead in acknowledging the worthiness of the Lamb to bring the kingdom of God to perfection. They fall down before the Lamb, acknowledging Christ’s dominion. Each one of them has a harp and a golden vial (bowl) full of odours (incense) representing the prayers of the saints. The harp in Scripture represents the prophetic office (cf. I Sam. 10:5; I Chron. 25:1-3; Ps. 49:4). The vials of incense represent the priestly office, and the text itself explains that the incense or odours are the prayers of saints, which was the calling of the priests to present in devotion to God. Our prayers express our love and devotion to our God, the God of our salvation.
They sing a new song. Not now simply a song of praise and adoration to the Triune God of heaven and earth, the almighty Creator and Sustainer of all things; but this new song focuses directly on the Lamb, and through the Lamb to Him who sits on the throne. The Lamb that has been slain, ascended and exalted, now holds the book with its seven seals. They sing, “Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof.” Christ will accomplish all that must be done. He will obtain the ultimate victory, establishing the kingdom of God in the glory of the new creation.
But this new song is then a song of redemption! Christ is the Lamb, the Lamb as it had been slain. His cross is on the foreground in this song, His atoning sacrifice for the sins of those given Him of the Father. The reason He is worthy is that He was slain and has redeemed us to God by His blood (v. 8). This new song glorifies the Lamb for His work of redemption. The cross is the legal basis for His glorious exaltation and for the right given Him to cause all these things to come to pass that God has decreed for the realization of His kingdom. And thus, at the same time, this song magnifies the amazing grace of God who gave His only begotten Son to be slain upon that cross. Salvation is of the Lord! As the passage demonstrates, every knee must bow and every tongue must confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
This new song is then a song of victory. It declares that the Lamb has made the saints to be kings and priests unto God and that they reign upon the earth (v. 10). We, as His people, are already a kingdom in principle. The kingdom of God has been established within us spiritually already now. And the full realization of the kingdom is certain. For the Lamb has taken the book and is even now opening the seals thereof. The beasts and the elders are able to speak as if everything were already accomplished. Already Christ has made them priests and kings. Already they and, in principle, we also reign with Him over all things! As His priests, we more and more consecrate ourselves and all that we have unto His service. As kings in Christ, we rule our members and possessions unto His glory.
And this new song becomes ours: Worthy is the Lamb! A seven-fold praise is rendered unto Him—“to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing” (v. 12).
What comfort this heavenly perspective of the ascension of Christ affords us! The psalmist David had prophesied of it, “The Lord said unto my Lord, sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool” (Ps. 110:1). How wonderful to live in the assurance that our Savior has such power and dominion at God’s right hand. It is He who loved us unto death who holds all things in His hands. Everything that happens comes to pass under Christ’s direction as He breaks the seals in perfect wisdom. He sees to it that the judgments of God are called out with the blasts of the seven trumpets and that they are poured out with the emptying of the seven vials. And it is all directed unto the full salvation of His beloved bride, the church, and the coming of the kingdom, and the glory of our God.
Even those things that would fill our minds with dread—tribulation, famine, pestilence, earthquakes, the reign of the antichrist—these too come by His appointment and are under His control. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Not one of His people, redeemed by His blood to be a king and priest of God in the new creation, shall be separated from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord! Even as His church must pass through many troubles and trials, all is well for her and her future glory is assured.
Let us too fall upon our knees before the Lamb, the Aposascended and exalted Christ of God. Worthy is He! Let us serve Him with gladness and zeal as His priests and kings. Worthy is He! Let us flee unto Him with all of our troubles, fears, and sorrows. Worthy is He! His ascension and glory will assure us of our glory when the things that must shortly come to pass have all been executed by Him.
Handel’s oratorio, Messiah, concludes with a powerful “Amen.” The “Amen” goes on and on, echoing back and forth from the choir, some 138 times. It confirms that the Lamb truly is worthy. The Word of God that has been sung is true. All these things shall truly and certainly be! Thanks be to God!