"The Day of the Lord"
Having considered the member B, 4:-8-11, we now come to the member A, 5:1-7, the subject of which is The Throne, and the Book: The Lion and the Lamb.
Here, as in A. 4:1-8-, we have the Throne. But, here it is rather Him that sitteth upon the throne, than the Throne itself.
5:1. And I saw on the right hand of Him that sitteth upon the throne, a Book (or Roll), written within and on the back, having been sealed with seven seals] Much ingenuity has been spent in the interpretation of this "Book," and what it represents. Some have suggested that it is the history of the Christian Church, but we trust our readers are fairly convinced by this time that the Church is not the subject of the Apocalypse.
Neither can it be "the book of the Covenant" yet to be made with Israel, because that New Covenant is in mercy (Heb. 10:16, 17), while this book has to do with judgment. Why should we go out of our way to seek for a far-fetched meaning when we have such plain indications in the Word itself of what a sealed book denotes. In Is. 29:11 we read: "And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed." In Dan. 12:1-3, we read of the Great Tribulation, which is the central subject of the Apocalypse. But Daniel is not permitted to do much more than make known the fact of the great Tribulation out of which Daniel's people, the Jews, were to be delivered. The particulars, and the circumstances of that day, were not to be made known at that time by Daniel. Hence, it is said to him (Dan. 12:4): "But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end." And when Daniel enquired (verse 8) as to "what should be the end of these things?" The answer is (verse 9), "Go thy way, Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end." The details of a former vision Daniel was told also to seal up. "Wherefore shut thou up the vision: for it shall be for many days" (8:26).
What ought we to look for as the first thing, in the Apocalypse, which, as we have seen, has the end of the "many days" and "the time of the end" for its great subject, but the unsealing of this book, the sealing of which is so prominently spoken of in the book of Daniel? When the time comes for the fulfilment of all that is written in this book, then the seals are opened. Even then, though these seven seals be opened, there are still certain things which even John himself has to "seal up," viz., "the things which the seven thunders uttered" (10:4). We take it therefore that the opening of the seals of this book is the enlargement, development and continuation of the Book of Daniel, describing, from God's side, the judgments necessary to secure the fulfilment of all that He has foretold. The opening of each seal has a special judgment as its immediate result. The roll given to Ezekiel was of similar import. "He spread it before me, and it was written within and without; and there were written therein, lamentations and mourning and woe" (Ezek. 2:10). In like manner, the opening of the seals of this book disclose tribulation and mourning and woe. But there is more in the "Book" than this. There is also the object of all this judgment. That object is the redemption of the forfeited inheritance. (See the notes on verse 2, below). The special importance of this "Book" (and all that is involved in it) is set forth by its structure, which is as follows:
THE TRANSLATION OF k, 5:2-5.
5:2 And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice "Who is worthy to open the Book, and to loose the seals thereof?"] It looks as though there is something more in this 7-Sealed Book than what we have said on verse 1. There is evidently more in this book than the mere continuation of Daniel's prophecies. This is there, without doubt, but there must be that which calls for all these judgments and requires the putting forth of all this power. If the Book has to do with the whole subject of prophecy, with its causes, and not merely with its consequences and its end, then it may well take us back to the beginning, to which the cherubim already point us, when man was driven out from Paradise, when he forfeited his inheritance; and the promise of a coming Deliverer and Redeemer was given.
This First Vision "in Heaven" (4 and 5) takes up the history of man in relation to the Throne, at the point where it was left in Gen. 3:24. The Throne is here set up; but man is outside and unable still to gain access to "The Tree of Life." Hence this proclamation "Who is worthy?" Who has the right to redeem the forfeited inheritance, the lost Paradise? Satan is in possession of this world now. He is its "God" and "prince" (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11. Eph. 2:2), and as such he was able in a peculiar way to tempt Him who had come to redeem it in the only lawful way in which it could be redeemed. (See Lev. 25:25; Deut 25:5; and Ruth 4:1-6). If this be so, then we understand this proclamation, which has so important a place in this heavenly vision. And the enquiry will be like that of Boaz, Who will act the Goel's (or Redeemer's) part for man and for Israel, and recover his lost estate. Jer. 32 shows that a sealed book was given in connection with such a transaction (read verses 6-16); and if so, then it serves as an illustration for a much weightier redemption, even that of the new song which immediately follows in this Heavenly Vision; the song whose theme is nothing less than the Redemption of Creation, accomplished by One who was altogether worthy, both by unanswerable right and unequalled might. For the Goel was an avenger as well as a Redeemer.
3. and no one was able, in the heaven nor upon the earth, neither under the earth, to open the Book, or to look at it] The worthiness required is so great that no created being is able even to contemplate it. There was not one that could make reply to the herald's challenge.
4. and I was weeping much because no one worthy was found to open* the Book or to look at it] The scene must have been very vivid and real to John to produce this sadness. These tears were not caused by disappointed inquisitiveness! Surely, he must have realised, somewhat, the serious nature of the consequences involved if one worthy could not have been found. There must have been something, and enough in the character or appearance of the Book, to tell him this: for no voice had yet said anything as to its nature or contents. One of the Elders breaks the silence.
5. And one of the elders saith to me "Weep not! Behold the Lion which is of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David,
prevailed* so as to open the Book, and shall loose the seven seals of it]
* Not "hath prevailed," as though referring to some recent act, but "did prevail," i.e., at the Cross.
The Lord Jesus will prevail as the Lion; and it is of this the Book treats; but, He first prevailed as the Lamb slain. Hence, when John turned, he saw, not a Lion, according to the Elder's announcement, but a Lamb, according to the prior historical fact.
He first takes the place of man as outside the garden and the tree of life (Gen. 3:24). His Redemption work commenced on earth by His coming, not into a garden, but into a wilderness (Matt. 4:1). He approaches that flaming sword and hears the words of Him who said "Awake, O sword, against my Shepherd, and against the MAN that is My fellow, saith the Lord of Hosts" (Zech. 13:7). This sword was sheathed in Him, and thus He becomes entitled to enter and worthy to take the Book.
When John first looks (verse 1), he sees only "the Throne and the Book," which are separated from the second by the structure. For when he looks the second time (verse 6), he sees "the Lamb." The Lamb is now seen in the midst of the Throne. He occupies no longer the outside place. He is entitled to enter and approach the throne, for He alone is "worthy."
6. And I saw* in the midst of the throne and of the
four Zoa, and in the midst of the Elders a Lamb, standing as having been
slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God,
having been sent** into the whole earth]
Past payment is the basis of future power (Col. 2:15. Heb. 2:14). This it is which established the worthiness of the true Goël. The horns of the Lamb speak of His power (I Sam. 2:1. 2 Sam. 22:3. Ps. 75:4; 132:17; 148:14. Lam. 2:3. Ezek. 29:21. Dan. 8:5, 20, 21, etc.). This power is Divine and has a spiritual and almighty agency able to carry it out. The seven eyes, Zech. 4:10 and 3:9, denotes the fact that the Lord is about to remove the iniquity of the Land of Israel.
7. And He came and took it* out of the right hand of Him who sitteth upon the throne] Thus ends the member which has for its subject "The Throne and the Book; the Lion and the Lamb." It corresponds with Dan. 7:9-14, where the Son of Man is seen coming to the Ancient of Days and receiving a kingdom, dominion, and glory; and it is this which is immediately celebrated in the New Song which follows in chap. 5:8-14, concluding this first Vision "In Heaven."
B., chap. 5:8-14.
The Theme Redemption.
The last member of C1 is now reached. In the structure it is marked B, and consists of chap. 5:8-14 the subject being, "The New Song of the Zoa, and the elders, and the heavenly utterances of other Angelic Beings."
It is arranged in orderly sequence; the speakers and their utterances being separated and placed in five pairs, or groups.
Here, in q1 to q5 we have the heavenly speakers and singers; while, in r1 to r5 we have their song and their utterances. The latter relate to the scene which has just taken place "in heaven," and to the result of it about to be seen in the consequent judgments which follow and take place "on earth." The point at which the heavenly voices commence is the moment when the Lamb, who alone is entitled and worthy takes the Book.
8. And when He took the Book the four Zoa and the four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb having each a harp*, and golden bowls full of incenses which are the prayers of the Saints] In the Old Testament, the harp is associated with joy and gladness (see 1 Chron. 25:1, 6; 2 Chron. 29:25; Ps. 71:22; 92:3; 149:3); just as sadness is expressed by the absence of it: "The joy of the harp ceaseth" (Isa. 24:8). Harps were also specially associated with prophecy (1 Sam. 10:5; 1 Chron. 25:3; Ps. 49:4).
The golden bowls were vessels belonging to the altar (Zech. 14:20), and the Septuagint uses the word for the vessels of the Temple (1 Kings 7:45, 50; 2 Chron. 4:22; Ex. 25:23-29; 27:3; 37:10-16). The "prayers of the saints" are the prayers referred to by our Lord in the parable of the Judge, where He applies the parable Himself and asks "and shall not God avenge His own elect which cry day and night with Him though He bear long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man cometh shall he find faith (Gr. the faith) on the earth?" (Luke 18:7, 8). The faith here spoken of is that referred to in Rev. 2:19; 13:10; 14:12. These elect are the saints spoken of and referred to in Matt. 24:31, and Dan. 7:18, 22, 27. They are the "Saints of the Most High"; the Most High being a Divine title, always used in connection with the earth; and not with the church. The Elders perform priestly service, because it is on behalf of others. This, the Church cannot do. If the "Elders" are the Church, then the "Saints" cannot be, for the Church cannot offer for itself; nor can one part of it offer for another part! No! The Church is "all one in Christ Jesus," and cannot be separated or divided.
9. and they sing a New Song, saying] The Zoa speak only in this first Vision "in Heaven" and in the last, in chap. 19:4; and no where else. The Elders speak in the first and last, but also a third time in 11:17. This is significant; as showing the weight and importance of those utterances respectively. In this first vision "in Heaven" their voices are heard twice: First, in connection with the Throne and Him who sitteth thereupon (separately); for the Zoa speak first (4:8); and the Elders follow (4:11); their theme being Creation. The second time they speak it is in connection with the Lamb, and the Book, they sing together (chap. 5:9, 10), their theme being Redemption.
Six times in this first Vision "in Heaven," these Heavenly Voices are heard. All Heaven is engaged in singing the worthiness of God as the Creator; and the worthiness of the Lamb as the Redeemer. Surely these are the dominant personages of the whole Book. These are the themes which form its subject: viz., the removal of the curse from creation, the redemption of the purchased inheritance, the ejection of the great usurper; and all accomplished through the payment of Redemption's price by the merits of the Lamb, and the putting forth of Redemption power. Hence, in connection with Him and with the book we have the first of four heavenly utterances:
This is the theme of the New Song. The worthiness of the Lamb to take the Book, because of the Redemption He had accomplished. The People had been once redeemed from Egypt, for it is in connection with the Exodus that Redemption is first mentioned in the Bible, in the Song of Ex. 15:13. "Thou in thy mercy hast led forth the people which thou hast redeemed: Thou hast guided them by thy strength unto thy holy habitation." But now the People have been scattered among "every kindred and tongue, and people and nation," and therefore they must be redeemed from these, "the second time," "like as it was to Israel in the day that he came up out of the land of Egypt" (Is. 9:11, 16).
The importance of the various readings in verse 9 will be seen, and noted; because upon this turns very much the interpretation of the whole Book. The true reading separates the singers from the Redeemed, and makes them heavenly beings who need no redemption, but who sing of the redemption wrought for others.
But the payment of the price is only one part of the work of redemption. If the price be paid and there be no power to take possession and eject the holder the payment is in vain. And if power be put forth and exercised in casting out the usurper, without the previous payment of the redemption price, it would not be a righteous action. So that for the redemption of the forfeited inheritance two things are absolutely necessary, price and power. The first redemption song has for its theme the payment of the price. The second celebrates the putting forth of the power.
We are first told by whom this second utterance is made.
11. And I saw and heard* the voice of many angels around the throne, and of the Zoa, and of the elders, and the number of them was myriads of
myriads** saying with a loud voice
They give this sevenfold ascription as to the Lamb's worthiness. The words "Power" and "Strength" divide the seven into three and four. These are all marked off by the Figure Polysyndeton (i.e., the use of "many ands") which bids us consider each of these seven features of the Lamb's worthiness separately. In doing this we are to note that the great theme is Redemption power and strength.
13. And every creature which is in heaven and on* the earth and beneath the earth and such as are in the sea and all that are in them heard I saying
This is the ascription of the whole creation. Hence it is four-fold because it is in connection with the earth ( of which four is the number) and because He who sitteth upon the Throne is there in relation to the earth. Whereas the ascription to the Person of the Lamb slain is seven-fold because Redemption blood was offered "through the eternal Spirit" (Heb. 9:14).
14. And the four Zoa said
It seems almost profane to attempt to explain, and comment on these heavenly utterances. They are Heaven's own comment on the wondrous facts seen and heard by John, and brought before us in this first vision seen "in heaven." When again He brings the First-born into the world, He said "And let all the angels of God worship Him" (Heb. 1:6). This is the Septuagint rendering of Deut. 32:43, the closing words of the Song of Moses. And why are all the nations there called on to "Rejoice," and why are all the angels of God called on to worship Him? Because He is about to fulfil the threat He there pronounced and records:
These are the concluding words of "the song of Moses." Now, "the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together" (Rom. 8:22), but then, when the day to sing this song of Moses shall have come, and the glory of the Lord shines once more upon Israel, then the song will be in the words written: