Revelation 5: The Book

Revelation 5  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 8
In chapters 4 and 5 of the Revelation we are carried in spirit into heaven itself, there to have unveiled before us events that will take place when the church has been raptured from earth to heaven. It is true that the rapture, though assumed, is not directly revealed in the Revelation, for the aim of the prophecy is not to declare the secrets of the church, already revealed in other Scriptures, but to set forth the judgments which prepare the way for the setting up of the kingdom of Christ.
The Book. In chapter 4 all centers round the throne and the maintenance of its glory and holiness. In chapter 5 the great theme is the Book that sets forth God's counsels for the blessing of the world, under the reign of Christ, after all evil has been dealt with in judgment. The glory of the throne must be maintained before the blessings of the book can be fulfilled.
“A book written” would indicate that God's will is unalterably settled. Men, from lack of courage, or from motives of policy are often chary of stating their plans in writing. But, to speak after the manner of men, God has committed Himself to writing. Then the book is filled, for it is written within and on the back, there is no room, as there is no need, for any addition to what God has written. When at last, in the future, all is fulfilled it will be found that every judgment foretold has been carried out, every blessing reached, and that there is nothing to take from nor add to the book.
The Angel's Appeal. In the course of the vision the time has at last come to open the book, and the question is raised by a strong angel with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?” To enter into the significance of the angel's proclamation, two things must be kept clearly in mind. Firstly, the character of the book. We must not limit the book to setting forth the judgments of God. It does indeed present these judgments in all their solemnity, and the main portion of the book is occupied with the description of the judgments that will fall upon Christendom, Israel, and the nations. But the world being cleared of all evil by judgment, the book goes on to present the vast system of blessing that God has purposed to establish on the earth for the glory of Christ and the blessing of man.
Secondly, we must bear in mind the true meaning of the opening of the book. Directly the seals are broken events begin to happen. Thus the great significance of the angel's question is, not who can give the interpretation of what is written—a comparatively simple matter—but who can bring to pass the events foretold?
If we seize the immensity of these two truths we shall understand the force of the angel's appeal to the whole universe. For the questions involved are, on the one hand, who can deal with the vast system of evil that has been built up by man's sin during six thousand years of rebellion, in a way that will meet the righteous demands of the throne? On the other hand, who can bring in that vast system of blessing that the goodness of God has purposed for the world to come and for the new heaven and the new earth?
The whole universe is challenged—is there anyone in heaven, on earth, or under the earth that can deal with the evil and bring in the blessing? The result of the challenge is that no one “was able to open the book,” and no one “was found worthy to open the book.” The two requirements in order to open the book are ability and worthiness.
For thousands of years men have been endeavoring to redress the evils of the world and introduce a time of universal peace and blessing. To use the symbolic language of Revelation 5, men have been endeavoring to open the book. They have tried by codes of laws, by courts of justice, by prisons and reformatories to repress evil: they have sought by every form of government—monarchial and republican, dictatorial and democratic—to bring in a time of peace and plenty. Every class has been tested, kings and nobles, plebeians and socialists; but amongst them all no one has been found with either ability or worthiness. Yet men still proceed by desperate efforts, by leagues, conferences, and pacts, to redress the wrongs of the world, and to bring about a time of universal peace and blessing; every effort only proving that they have never yet heard the voice of the strong angel. Those who have heard that voice know full well that it loudly proclaims that all the efforts of men are foredoomed to failure, inasmuch as they are attempts to put the world right without God and Christ. Men consider only the rights of man, they ignore the rights of God and the requirements of His throne.
John weeps. John wept much because no man was found worthy to open the book,1 and to break its seals. Thinking only of man's inability and unworthiness, we too might weep at the pitiful sight of a world directing its energies, its wisdom, its money, its resources, its youth, and its time to a perfectly hopeless task. But however much we may weep on earth, weeping will not do for heaven. John is the only man that ever wept in heaven, and if he “wept much” he was not allowed to weep long, for immediately one of the elders said unto him, “Weep not.” Intelligent in the mind of heaven, elders do not weep, for while they realize the hopelessness of all men's foredoomed efforts, they are in the secret of God. They know, that if the task is too great for man, there is One who is both able and worthy to open the book.
The Lion and the Lamb. Possessed of divinely given intelligence, the elders are able to witness to the One who can open the book. They say to John, “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.” The lion is the symbol of strength as we read, “A lion which is strongest among beasts” (Prov. 30:3030A lion which is strongest among beasts, and turneth not away for any; (Proverbs 30:30)). His power then is irresistible, so the prophet Micah can say of the lion he “both treadeth down, and teareth in pieces, and none can deliver” (Mic. 5:88And the remnant of Jacob shall be among the Gentiles in the midst of many people as a lion among the beasts of the forest, as a young lion among the flocks of sheep: who, if he go through, both treadeth down, and teareth in pieces, and none can deliver. (Micah 5:8)). The lion of the tribe of Judah tells us of this mighty power being exercised in the cause of God's ancient people, according to the prophecy of Jacob, which foretells that Judah will prevail over his enemies—“Thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies.” In order that Judah may prevail he has the strength of “a young lion.” But the real source of Judah's strength is that out of that tribe the One would come unto whom the people would gather (Gen. 49:8-108Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father's children shall bow down before thee. 9Judah is a lion's whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? 10The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. (Genesis 49:8‑10)). Christ is the true Lion of Judah.
Christ is also the Root of David. In David we see the King chosen of God to be victorious over all his enemies. Nevertheless Christ is the true King, the One who will put all enemies under His feet. He is first in the mind of God and hence the Root from whence David sprang. Thus Christ in His irresistible power as the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and as a Divine Person—the Root of David—is the One who alone is able to open the book.
Then John turns to see the Lion and, behold, he sees a Lamb. Having heard of the Lion, he might naturally expect to see in Christ a vision of mighty power, but instead, he sees a Lamb, the emblem of weakness, and, too, as it had been slain. The One that prevails as the Lion, is the One who first suffered as the Lamb. His power to overcome in opening the book is that He has overcome by going into death. As the Lamb slain He overcame sin, and death, and the devil. Having overcome as the suffering Lamb He has acquired the power to overcome every enemy as the mighty Lion. With Him are found the seven horns and the seven eyes. The seven horns speak of complete and irresistible power—omnipotence; the seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, of complete and all searching omniscience in the power of the Spirit. Going forth into all the earth speaks of His omnipresence.
The book taken. As the Lion, Christ is able; as the Lamb, He is worthy to open the book. Hence He can take the book out of the right hand of Him that sat upon the throne. Taking the book signifies that the supreme moment for which angels and saints had waited has at length come. The time of the patience of Jesus is past; the time for action has come.
Heaven realizes the mighty import of the taking of the book. It is seen that the hour of this world's doom has struck, and the world to come is not far off. So we read, “When he had taken the book, the four living creatures, and the four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps and golden bowls full of incenses, which are the prayers of the saints.” The harps speak of the praises of the saints and the bowls of their prayers. The time has come when all the praise that has gone up from all the saints throughout the ages will be publicly justified, and all their prayers will have a glorious answer. Many of these saints went out of the world as martyrs praising a God who did not intervene to deliver them from their enemies; and their prayers, at times, appeared to be unanswered and even unheard. At last their praise will be justified and their prayers answered.
The New Song. The praying time is over, the singing time is come. The song they sing is new. Hitherto the ransomed of the Lord had been on the way to glory singing songs of redemption; but those songs looked on to victory and the reign of glory. They were songs of hope. With the taking of the book their hopes will all be fulfilled, and the songs of hope will be changed to songs of victory. Moreover, their songs celebrate the worthiness of the Redeemer, and the greatness of His redemption, rather than the blessings of the redeemed. Thus, in the better translation, their reference to redemption is impersonal. The song is general as to the people who are redeemed, but special as to the One who has redeemed them. All heaven is occupied with the Lamb—“Thou art worthy,” “Thou wast slain,” “Thou hast redeemed,” and “Thou hast made.”
The Angelic Host. The new song sung by the saints awakens the praise of the whole angelic host. The elders strike the note, the angels prolong the strain. They ascribe worthiness to the Lamb. He is worthy to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing. Men have paid homage to one another, and dishonored the Lamb. They have enthroned man, and crucified the Lamb. The day is coming when it will be seen that the Lamb alone is worthy to receive all power, riches, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, and blessing. The history of the world witnesses that, in the hands of man, all these things have been used to exalt himself and shut out God. The Lamb alone is worthy to receive all these things, for He alone will use them for the glory of God.
The creation. Then, as it has been said, “The vast harmony overflows the bounds of heaven,” and the glorious end is anticipated when earth will join with heaven to praise Him that sits upon the throne and the Lamb. Everything that hath breath will unite in praising God and the Lamb.
The four living creatures, the representatives of those by whom the government of God is accomplished, see the blessed end of their service and add their “Amen.” The saints of all the ages see the mighty triumph of God over all evil, and the fulfillment of all His counsels, in anticipation, and fall down and worship.