The Vision Of The Sealed Book - Rev. Herman Hoeksema
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, bath 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 odours, 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 honour, 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 honour, 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 which 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 which was begun in Chapter 4. It reveals to us above all Him Who is next to the One Who sitteth upon the throne, the most important figure of the entire scene: the Lamb that standeth as though it bath 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 which 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 Who will lead the armies of God on to victory and Who 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.
He 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.
The Sealed Book
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 who 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 which 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 Who 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 Who 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 Who sitteth upon the throne and Who is the author of the book. Yet the manner in which it is sealed causes us to surmise something in regard to the nature of its contents. For it is 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 which 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 symbolic of the living and powerful decree of God with regard to the things which 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 very realization of that powerful, all-comprehensive decree of God. It signifies, therefore, the very realization of the kingdom. He who receives the book and may open the seals receives the living decree of God itself and the power to realize it. He who 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 also 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 which 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. We conclude, therefore, that the book is symbol of the irresistible decree of God with regard to the things which 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.
If we accept this as the correct interpretation of the book and of the breaking of its seals, it will not be difficult to understand what follows. First of all, a challenge is sent forth to every creature in all the world to open the book: "And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?" In general, we find in these words of the angel a challenge sent to every creature to open the book if he is able.
John beholds a strong angel. Strong the angel is, not because he holds any special office. It is not necessary to make various conjectures as to the identity of this angel. Scripture tells us nothing about him. He must be strong for the simple reason that his present task requires that strength. He must shout with a strong, with a great voice. His message must resound throughout all creation. It must reach every possible creature in the whole world. It must rebound over the earth; it must echo through all the heavens; it must penetrate into the deepest realms of darkness. All must receive the message. A strong angel, then, with a great voice, causes the challenge to go forth: "Who is worthy to open the book and to loose the seals thereof?"
The meaning of this invitation is plain. The angel does not merely invite everyone that will make an attempt to take the book and break the seals. No, the question is whether there is any creature that is worthy, that possesses the legal right and the power to receive and open the book. And if we now remember that the loosing of the seals of the book implies really the bringing and completion of the kingdom of righteousness and peace and bliss, the kingdom of God in all the world, the question amounts to a challenge, sent forth to all creation, to bring that kingdom and to realize it if they are able.
Thus the passage becomes pregnant with significance. It is by no means irrelevant to the character of the Book of Revelation as a whole. The book pictures to us the coming of the kingdom of God in its battle against the kingdom of darkness. It must become very plain that this kingdom is a kingdom of God indeed. It is a kingdom of God, divinely conceived in His eternal counsel. It is a kingdom God did establish in the blood of the Lamb. It is a kingdom God Himself does historically realize and complete and lead on to its final manifestation in glory. It is a kingdom of God from beginning to end. It must become very plain that there is no creature that could possibly establish a kingdom like it. It must become evident that all the world could not produce the creature that could bring to the world the kingdom of peace and righteousness and everlasting glory. All the attempts of the creature must publicly fail, in order that the power and grace of the Most High may become plainly evident.
Hence, the creature receives the opportunity first. Before the Lamb that stands as though it had been slain steps forward and takes the book out of the hand of Him Who sat on the throne, every creature must receive the invitation. Hence, the message goes forth. It goes forth to the angels in heaven: "Can ye open that book, ye myriads of holy spirits, who day and night surround the throne of God? Can ye save the world? Can ye bring peace and bliss to a world of sin?" The challenge also comes to the earth, particularly, of course, to man. "Man, here is your opportunity. If you are worthy, take the book, and bring the kingdom. Send righteousness and bliss to all the world. Ye wise men of the world, ye giants of thought, hear the message resound. Do you know how to open the book? Can you suggest the way of salvation for the world? Ye rulers and mighty ones, can ye open the book? Can ye by your laws and institutions, by your armies and power, inaugurate the kingdom of peace? All ye that speak so highly of the regeneration of society,, of a better world to live in, of social righteousness, here is the challenge! Are ye important enough to take the book, and are ye able to break the seals? Come on, now, human wisdom and power, riches and wealth, science and invention, come and take now the book, and open its seals." The message goes forth under the earth. It resounds even to the depth of hell. It trembles in the ears of the prince of darkness and his angels. 0, surely, he is shrewd, he is powerful and mighty! He once proposed to take the place of God and sang the deceitful siren-song that man would be like God if he only would obey him, the devil, instead of his divine Friend and rightful Sovereign. Since then all the promises of the devil proved empty and deceiving. Sin, evil, suffering, and black death he brought to the world. Here then is the opportunity. If he is able, let him come! That book possesses the secret of power necessary to bring the kingdom. Let him now take the book and bring bliss and righteousness if he is worthy!
The Silent Answer To The Challenge
All creation is silent. "And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon."
The angels stand in breathless silence; and their profound silence is the testimony of their unworthiness. The devil shrinks back into the remotest corner of the regions of darkness and fails to respond; he and all his devils must confess that they are not able and that they are not worthy to open the book. All the earth confesses mutely that no one is able to break the seals and therefore to bring in the kingdom of God.
Neither must you receive the impression that this entire scene merely belongs to the embellishment of the vision and that there is nothing in history that presents us with the realization of this challenge. On the contrary, this message of the angel and the profound silence with which it is met symbolize the vain efforts which are always being put forth by the creature, outside of the Lamb that standeth as though it had been slain, to restore peace and bliss to the world. Men have repeatedly exerted themselves to work out their own salvation and the salvation of the world.
Systems of thought, world-systems of philosophy, have been built up by human minds one after another, to show the true way to peace and righteousness and to establish an imitation of the kingdom of bliss. But they have all met with utter failure and disaster. No human wisdom has been able to call back the paradise lost. The might of the world, kings and rulers, have throughout history attempted to realize the world-kingdom, embracing all the earth. If only they would attain their end, if only such a universal kingdom could be realized, they would surely bring peace to the world. Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander the Great, Caesar, Charlemagne, Napoleon, William of Hohenzollern, and Hitler are their names. But they have failed. Their glory is faded. Their power is broken. Their name is trampled under foot. Today we are told that the glorious dawn of a new day is faintly seen at the horizon of history. Democracy will perform what autocracy failed to bring. Crowns must be removed. Thrones must tumble in the dust. We must have the rule of the people. Besides, all the nations of the world must combine in this great movement for universal peace and righteousness. A league of nations is what we need and what has already been established. In this way righteousness shall come to dwell on earth, and peace shall reign undisturbedly. But already it may safely be predicted that also this ideal shall never be realized. Never shall it bring the much longed for kingdom of peace. Also in our day men of social service assure us that society must undergo a radical transformation. It must itself be regenerated. It must have new laws, new institutions, new customs, new relationships between capital and labor, shorter working days and better living conditions for the workingman, the abolishment of liquor and other evils of society. If thus we labor, so they say, for the regeneration of society, we shall bring in the kingdom of God. All these human efforts, put forth by mere human strength and ingenuity, present the historical realization of the challenge of the angel: "Who is worthy to open the book and to loose the seals thereof?" And the ultimate failure of all these attempts constitutes the historical realization of the statement: "And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon." History must reveal the failure of all attempt to bring the kingdom of God without the Lamb, and that simply because of the great fundamental truth entirely ignored by the men of the world, that at the basis of all trouble and confusion and war and destruction lies the guilt of sin and the corruption of the nature of man.
We further read in the text: "And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon." These words picture to us the effect which the silence of all creation in answer to the challenge that had been sounded by the strong angel had upon John himself. He was very sorely disappointed. He was filled with bitter sorrow. And it seems to us that this weeping and wailing on the part of John corroborates the view that the book on the hand of Him Who sitteth on the throne is not a mere copy of the decree, but a symbol of the decree itself, and therefore that the opening of the book does not merely involve a revelation of the things which must come to pass hereafter, but the realization of them and the bringing of the kingdom of heaven. It hardly seems possible to us that John would have wept so sorely and would have wept so bitterly if the keeping closed of the book merely meant to him that he would not have received a vision of the future. Hidden or revealed, John certainly would know that the future was in safe hands, and that the Almighty would bring it to pass, whether or not it was revealed to him. But now the book stands for the bringing of the kingdom itself. If that book is not opened, if it must remain scaled, the kingdom will never come. John evidently realizes this. Hence, he weeps sorely. This book is the testament of the kingdom, still sealed, but waiting for the heir that may receive and open it. And therefore that there is in all creation evidently none that is found worthy to open the book and to look thereon is to him nothing less than a terrible disaster.
Hence, in the vision all are silent. No-answer is given. No one appears to take the book. In the vision John has not yet seen the Lamb, for otherwise he would have fixed his hope on Him. In the vision John feels as if that book must remain closed. And in the vision he weeps.
The Lamb Worthy To Open The Book
But he is also immediately comforted and bade not to weep: "And ono of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe Of Juda, the Root of David, bath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof."
This is indeed a beautiful picture. The elder is representative of the church, of the church triumphant, while John is still in the church militant. And the church triumphant here comforts the church militant in her grief by assuring her of victory. Not as if there is an actual contact between the church triumphant and the church militant, except, of course, in the Spirit Who dwells in them both. No, but who in the entire scene would be more worthy and more qualified to comfort the weeping apostle than this elder? John here is weeping because he cannot see how the victory will be won and the kingdom for which he hopes and longs will ever be perfected, since no one appears worthy to open the book and to break the seals thereof. And there is the elder, already enjoying the victory of the kingdom. And therefore, by actual experience he is acquainted with the power of the Lamb to win the victory. He knows that the victory is certain. He also knows who is the Victor. And therefore, it is his privilege and honor to announce to John the Victor, Who is worthy to open the book.
As to the announcement itself, the one who is here proclaimed as being worthy to open the book and to loose the seven seals is presented as the Lion of Juda's tribe and the Root of David.
The Lion in nature is the king of all the beasts of the field. As such he appears time and again in the Word of God. As such he is also mentioned in our text. He is the symbol of royal majesty and power, of the power to conquer and to subdue, as well as to reign and to be acknowledged as sovereign. Here we may remark in anticipation that he serves as the symbol of Jesus Christ, the glorious and victorious King. As such he stands directly over against His antagonist. The devil's symbol and ensign is the serpent, the type and symbol of sneaky subtlety. There is nothing royal about the serpent, crawling in the dust, stealthily coming for an attack in the back of his opponent and biting his heel. There is nothing servile about the lion. Conscious of his superiority, he is ready to stare his enemy in the face, meet him without fear, and battle in the open. Thus is also the difference between Christ and the devil. Christ is the Lion; the devil is the serpent. The very onlook of them will assure you that not the serpent, but the Lion shall have the victory. He is further called the Lion of Juda's tribe. The source of this expression we find in Genesis 49:9, 10. There we read of Jacob's blessing his sons, the heads of the future tribes of the people of God. And it is of Juda that he says: "Judah is a lion's whelp; from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: He stooped down, he couched like a lion, who shall rouse him up? The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until Shiloh come, and unto him shall the obedience of the people be." Here we have mention made of Juda under the symbol of a lion. And rabbinical writings inform us that as the children of Israel encamped in four divisions in the desert, each under a leading tribe, and that leading tribe with its tribal ensign, the symbol of
Juda was a lion. Juda, therefore, was the royal tribe: he should rule over his brethren. His would be the dominion over the people of God. From him would come forth the king that would lead the people of God on to victory and defend them against their enemies. But all this was bestowed on Juda because on him the blessing and privilege was conferred to bring forth the King, Who would have dominion forever and reign over the people of God without end. Juda carried in his loins the Lion. All the kings who might come forth from him were after all but types of the Lion, of the Lion Who would finally be brought forth, the Shiloh, after which Juda as the royal tribe and earthly type of Christ might disappear. And therefore, if you ask who is the Lion of Juda's tribe, because of whose presence in Juda's loins he might be called a lion, the answer can be but one: Christ Jesus, and He alone.
In the second place, He is announced as the Root of David. Also this expression occurs in other places of Scripture. In the first place, we find it in this same Book of Revelation, 22:16, where the Lord announces Himself and says, "I am the Root and offspring of David." And for its Old Testament source we must turn to Isaiah 11: 1, 10: "And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots. And in that day, there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious."
The general meaning of this is perfectly clear. It refers to the Christ as the offspring of David, as being the seed of David. Yet it seems to us that we lose exactly the beauty and the power of the figure if we would say no more than this. Jesus is not called the off-spring of David without anything further. But He is named the Root of David. And no doubt, when the Savior in Revelation 22 says, "I am the Root and the off-spring of David," the meaning is: "I am the off-spring of David because I was his Root. The very fact that I was the Root of David made it possible that I am his off-spring." A brief consideration of the symbol here used will make this perfectly evident. A root bears the tree, and not the tree the root. From the root the tree sprouts forth and develops. From and through that root it derives its life and strength. And the picture which is implied in the symbolism of the text here is this, that you may level a tree to the ground; but leave its root, and the tree will again sprout forth, and that in a more glorious manifestation than before.
In that sense Christ is the Root of David. David was king; and God had made a covenant with him that on his throne, on the throne of Israel, his seed should sit forever. But the essence, the root, the life, of that covenant and everlasting kingdom was not David, nor was it Jesse, nor was it Judah. It was David because he was the type of his own Root. The essence of David and of his kingdom was Christ Jesus. That is the Root. Because he carried in his loins the Seed Who was to sit on the spiritual throne of Israel in the future, therefore that everlasting covenant could be made with him. From that root of Christ, the typical manifestation of the spiritual kingdom sprouted forth in David's time and for some years thereafter. But this typical manifestation might disappear. It was levelled to the very ground. At the time when Jesus was born it had almost been destroyed. No one would be able to point you to the Davidic kingdom at that time. Nevertheless, it still existed: for the Root was still there. And that Root was Christ. That Root blossomed forth anew. It sprouted. A shoot came forth out of it. And that shoot will continue to develop until the tree is completed and the kingdom of David shall appear glorious and beautiful, everlasting and without a possibility of destruction, in the day of the Lord. The Lion of Juda's tribe is at the same time the Root of David. But this symbol pictures in unmistakable language the unity of the old and the new dispensations. The kingdom of David from its spiritual side is no other than the kingdom of Christ in the new dispensation. The one kingdom is in its outward manifestation only typical of the other. In essence it was the same. For that same Root that sprouted and brought forth a shoot which will. develop into the new and everlasting kingdom of Christ Jesus was present also in the loins of David. Israel and the congregation, the old and the new kingdom, are not two, but one.
Of Him the elder says that He has overcome to open the book. The opening of the book, we remember, is the bringing and completion of the kingdom through the breaking of the seven seals. And therefore, that the Lion has overcome to open the book implies that He has already gained that particular victory which was required to complete the kingdom of God. In what capacity He has gained this victory becomes clear when He Himself appears on the scene before the wondering eyes of John.
"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." Thus we read in the text.
Also in regard to this wonderful Lamb interpreters have exhausted their ingenuity to picture to their minds its image, and artists have tried to the utmost of their creative genius to present its picture on canvas, but with little result. Evidently if you read the text, it seems quite impossible to picture a Lamb with seven horns and seven eyes. And even though this were possible, so that a graphic presentation might be given of this Lamb, certainly the fact that the Lamb stands as though it had been slain can never be concretely represented. Neither is this at all essential to the interpretation of the symbolism.
Rather than this, we should pay attention to all the details which are mentioned, in order to obtain a true interpretation.
We note, therefore, in the first place, what also John must have noticed with surprise, that here stands a Lamb. The one who would be able to take and to open the book had been announced as a Lion. But if John now also expects that he will see a Lion in all his royal majesty appearing before his vision, he is utterly mistaken. And yet it is perfectly in order that the Savior should appear in the vision as the Lamb, though He had been announced as the Lion of Juda's tribe. You see, the assurance has been given that the Lion has overcome. But the question that is now answered by the appearance of this Lamb is: how and in what capacity has He overcome? Has He gone forth like a roaring Lion, to conquer the enemy by His royal power? No, the answer to this question is: the Lion of Juda's tribe has overcome in the capacity of a Lamb. In fact, He has done so in the capacity of a Lamb for the slaughter. Perhaps if it had required the mere power of the Lion, the creature could have fought the battle that would make him worthy to open the book. But it required something far different. And that something is pictured in the symbolism of the Lamb. The lamb in Scripture is the symbol of most perfect submission, and therefore of absolute obedience. As we read in Isaiah 53: "As a lamb that is led to the slaughter, so he opened not his mouth." And for that reason it is the symbol of the most perfect sacrifice to God, brought in absolute submission and obedience, without rebellion and murmuring.
In the second place, note that the Lamb stands as though He had been slain. That means, of course, that the Lamb bears the marks of having been led to the slaughter, of having been sacrificed. But it also brings out very forcibly that this Lamb did not succumb, but stands even after it has been slain. Although it was already sacrificed, yet it stands and lives.
Thirdly, we note about this Lamb that it has seven eyes, which the text interprets as being the seven Spirits of God. The Lamb has received the
Spirit of God in all His fulness. And that Spirit dwells in Him, but is also sent forth into all the kingdom, so that He is the life of that kingdom.
Then, too, note that the Lamb also has seven horns. The horn is the symbol of royal power and dominion in Scripture. Seven is the number of completeness with a view to the kingdom of God. Especially is this the case when it is compared with the power of the beast. The beast receives ten horns, and therefore he also possesses a complete dominion. But the dominion of the beast is limited by the decree of God, and therefore his number is ten. Whenever you see the beast appear with the mark of ten, you may depend on it that it is the kingdom of the devil. Even though he tries to imitate this number seven, you must never believe him. This, indeed, is what he tries to do: he continually makes an attempt to change the number of his horns, as Daniel tells us. When he receives ten, he destroys three of them and tries to appear, therefore, under the symbol of the number seven. But never believe him! Seven is the number of the Lamb. And this number seven you find only there, where the marks of the Lamb that has been slain also appear. If therefore the devil appears with beautiful imitations of the kingdom of Christ and tries to have us enlist in the service of his kingdom, ask immediately for his marks of sacrifice. It is the only thing which he cannot show. The Lamb has seven horns, and therefore He is King over the entire kingdom, and King everlasting.
Finally, note also that this Lamb stands in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures and of the four and twenty elders. He is the life and center of them all, and His seven Spirits pervade them all.
It is not difficult to understand the meaning of all this. This Lamb is Christ Jesus, and that in His humiliation and exaltation. It shows how He has overcome and that He has overcome to open the book. He has overcome like a Lamb, that is, as the Servant of God, ready to perform the will of the Father to perfection. He was ready to bear His wrath. He was ready to suffer under that wrath. He was ready to walk the dark and difficult way of the cross. He was ready to give His life and to fulfill all the righteousness of God. There is only one way in which the kingdom of God can ever be established. That is the way of obedience even unto death. Hence, if one can be found who is able to bear the wrath of God and the penalty of sin, able to suffer and die, and who can satisfy the unchangeable righteousness of God, He, and He only, will be worthy and able to open the book. That Lamb is Christ. But not only in His humiliation, also in His exaltation He stands there. He stands there, and therefore He lives. He died; but He arose and lives forever. He stands there, but only as the Victor. He has already received His glory and possesses the power of the kingdom. He possesses the Spirit Who dwells in Him and Who must complete the kingdom for the Father. In a word, that Lamb is Christ crucified; but at the same time it is Christ glorified.
The Lamb Takes The Book
This Lamb, then, takes the book: "And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne."
We need not dwell on this at great length any more, after all that has been said. The general meaning of this action is perfectly clear. Only a few words we must add to this. We are here almost immediately reminded of that beautiful portion in the Book of Daniel where he describes how the one like unto the Son of Man approaches the Ancient of days, Who sitteth on the throne. There we read, Daniel 7:13, 14: "I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away,, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed."
In principle we have the same vision here in the Book of Revelation. Of course, in harmony with the difference in point of view, Daniel sees the transaction in a little different light than John. In Daniel's time none of these things were as yet fulfilled; in John's time they had principally become reality. In Daniel's time the prophet could not realize the distinction between the first and the second advent of the Messiah; John plainly realized this distinction. Daniel, therefore, sees the entire transaction all in one vision. He sees the approach of the Son of Man to the Ancient of days; that is, in vision he sees the Christ approach the Father along the path of humiliation and exaltation, along the way of obedience. He sees that this Son of Man receives the power and the kingdom, the authority to bring and realize the kingdom. But he also sees that this kingdom is actually given Him and completed, so that all nations bow before Him. The first of these had already been realized, so that John merely beholds the Lamb as standing as though it had been slain. The third of these must still be realized in the future, so that John does not as yet see the completion of the dominion. What John here beholds is that second element, namely, that the power and authority is given to Christ to bring the kingdom of God. The Lamb takes the book. It does not say that the book is given Him: He takes it, in answer to the challenge. He waits till all creation acknowledges that it cannot bring the kingdom, that it is not worthy to receive the book from Him that sitteth on the throne. Then He steps forward, silently, majestically, fully conscious of His being worthy to open the book and its seven seals, and takes it out of the hand of Him Who sitteth upon the throne.
We may ask: when was this realized? When did Christ receive the book from the hand of Him Who sits on the throne?
In order to understand this, we must be careful, and not bring the time element into the vision. The Lamb receives the book not at the time when John sees it, in the last decade of the first century. Nor can it be said that the Lamb receives the book after He has received what is symbolized by the horns and the eyes. On the contrary, the whole is symbolic, to picture to us forcibly that Christ Jesus has received all power in heaven and on earth and in hell. After He has been slain and is risen from the dead, after He has ascended to the Father, He is exalted to the highest position, and that in the capacity of the Lamb that has been slain. Exalted, He is, to the right hand of God. And this being seated at the right hand of God simply means that to IEm all dominion is given in principle, that all power in heaven and on earth is surrendered into His hands. Christ rules His church and His kingdom as it has been spiritually established on earth in the new dispensation. Christ rules the world also: the world, that is, from its evil point of view. He controls all history in the name of Him Who sitteth on the throne. And therefore it is literally true that the Almighty has given to the Lamb the decree that is powerful to its own fulfillment. Christ now controls all history. He is busy in the preaching of the gospel, busy in wars and bloodshed of the world, busy in pestilence and famine, busy in all the social relations of our time. And through them all He works out the decree. He breaks seal after seal, as we shall see, and brings to pass all that must come to pass in this present dispensation, and all this with a view to the bringing of the glorious kingdom of God. When that kingdom shall have been completed, and the power of opposition shall have been broken, then He shall surrender Its absolute power and subject Himself and reign over the completed kingdom under God forever and ever.
So, then, the Lamb is found worthy to open the book. That means that Christ received all power to develop and to complete the kingdom, and to control all forces that rise against it in this present dispensation. Is it a wonder that the entire new economy of things as they are pictured in heaven breaks out in praise and adoration of Him Who sits on the throne and of the Lamb? "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."
The creatures and the elders, that is, the representatives of the church and of the redeemed creation, take the lead in this heavenly choir. They come to acknowledge the dominion of Christ Jesus and the worthiness on His part to open the book, to bring the kingdom of God to perfection. They do so, in the first place, by falling down before Him. Just as the elders fell down before Him Who sits on the throne in the preceding chapter, in order to acknowledge that He is absolutely sovereign and that they had no independent dominion, so now the representatives of the church and of all the redeemed world acknowledge that Christ is King by falling down before Him because He has taken the book. They come and fall down before the Lamb, having harps and golden bowls of incense, representing the prayers of the saints. The harp in Scripture is the instrument that is symbolic of the prophetic office. In I Samuel 10:5 we read that Samuel informs Saul that he will meet a band of prophets carrying harps. When, in II Kings 3, we are told about the request of the kings of Israel, Judah, and Edom, warring against the Moabites, that Elisha the prophet may give them counsel, we read that the prophet calls for a minstrel to play for him. In I Chronicles 25:1-3 we read that David set apart the sons of Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun, who should prophesy with the harp and other instruments. And in Psalm 49:4 we read: "I will open my dark sayings upon the harp." The harp, therefore, is symbolic of the prophetic office in the highest sense of the word, namely, to adore and glorify God Almighty with our lips. The golden bowls of incense are explained by the text itself. Incense is the symbol of the priestly office. It was the priest above all who burned incense before Jehovah on the altar of incense and when he appeared in the holy place. This is again in full harmony with the symbolical significance of the incense. It symbolizes the prayers of the saints, to present which was the office of the priests. And these prayers are, of course, especially the expression of devotion and consecration to God. The highest purpose and the highest idea of prayer is not that it is an expression of our needs, but rather in the highest sense of the word it is the expression of our devotion and consecration to the Lord our God, -the laying of ourselves in love upon His altar, even as sweet incense, pleasing unto Him. So these creatures and elders come here to acknowledge the kingly dominion of Christ. And therefore they fall down and glorify His name with their lips. Hence, they each have a harp; and they come to express their consecration to Him. And for the same reason they have golden bowls of incense, filled with the prayers of the saints.
And they sing a new song. This song is new because it is different in kind from any song ever sung before. Its subject is different. The object of its adoration is different. The original song of creation sang the glory of the Triune God because He had made all things and was worthy to receive the honor and glory and the power forever. But this song is new. It is also a song of adoration, but not to God immediately and directly, but to the Lamb, and through the Lamb to Him. The Lamb that has been slain now holds the book with its seven seals. It means, therefore, that He will do battle and that He will have the ultimate victory, to establish the kingdom of God in glory. For this all creation gives Him glory and honor. They sing: "Thou art worthy to open the book." What a contrast! A moment ago all creation was silent, and John lay weeping because no one could open the book. Here the Lamb is praised and glorified, for He is found worthy to open the book. Thus it is in reality. The world in all its struggles, outside of the Lamb that was slain, is bound to suffer defeat and will ultimately have to acknowledge that the Lamb only has the victory. A new song, therefore, this is: for the object of adoration is the Lamb.
But a new song it is also because of the contents. It does not merely speak of creation; it speaks of glorious redemption: "For thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation." It is the song that glorifies the Lamb for His work of redemption. But at the same time, and through this glorification of the Larnb, it adores the incomprehensible grace of God, Who gave His only begotten Son that He might bear our sins on the accursed tree. It is a song of victory. For it mentions that the Lamb has made the saints to be kings and priests unto God, and that they reign upon the earth. Now they are already a kingdom in principle: for the kingdom of God has been established spiritually even in this dispensation. But the completion of the kingdom is assured. For the book has been taken out of the hand of Him that sitteth on the throne. When that book shall be opened by Him that is worthy, the kingdom shall be perfected. And therefore, after the book has been taken and the future of the kingdom secured, after it has been ascertained that the Lamb shall bring the kingdom to final perfection, these creatures and elders speak as if the whole were already accomplished. Once more, it is the picture of the perfected creation which we see here. Already Christ has made them priests and a kingdom. Already they reign with Him on the earth.
But this song resounds and rebounds through creation, so that more and still more creatures appear to give glory to Christ Jesus. They are myriads of angels: ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands. And they also join in the song of the creatures and elders. With seven-fold glory adoring the Lamb, they sing: "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing." Seven-fold is this adoration. The Lamb is worthy to receive all the power and the glory of the kingdom over which He shall reign forevermore. But even this is not all. Finally all creation joins together. No creature can keep silence at this glorious occasion, now that the victory is assured and the coming of the kingdom safely rests in the hand of the Lion of Juda's tribe. Wider and wider the circles become, and the voices and shouts and music, all of adoration, join together and blend into one great harmonious song, the song of the new creation, the new song glorifying God and the Lamb, and saying: "Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever." Glory to God and the Lamb! Such is the contents of the new song. For we are of Christ, and Christ is God's. God shall be all and in all through the Lamb that was slain. God through the Lamb shall in the eternal and glorious future, when the book shall have been completely opened to its last leaf and seal, be the song of creation. Because the Lamb was slain, and in the slain Lamb the eternal and incomprehensible grace, holiness, and righteousness of Him Who sitteth upon the throne was revealed in the highest sense of the word, God and the Lamb, - God through the Lamb, - is therefore the subject of this new song. At this song all the creatures represented by the four living creatures shall say, "Amen, even so." And at this song the elders shall fall down, and all the redeemed of God shall worship.
Such is the picture, a picture of overwhelming beauty and glory. It is a picture which we can but very inadequately represent in words. But it is a picture the reality of which will still surpass our boldest expectation. That kingdom shall surely come! Seal after seal shall be broken, till the kingdom shall have been perfected. But it will come only through the power of the Lamb that was slain. In the church, therefore, only the crucified Jesus will be known and recognized. And only those that believe in Him shall never be ashamed!