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.
Verse 1.—The dividing of the books of Scripture into chapters and verses is not by inspiration. Fallible men have used their discretion in this respect, as they still do, by parceling chapters into sections, paragraphs, &c. And so, although we have passed to another chapter, the vision is the same. The inspired penman had looked upon the great King surrounded by part of his retinue. In earnest expectation of farther discoveries, he beheld “in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the back side,” (or outside, as in some copies.) The book was “sealed with seven seals.” This volume was in the form of a roll, as the word volume signifies the form of a book is determined by the kind of material on which one writes. This has consisted of great variety in the successive ages of the world. The first of which we have any notice in history is stone. When Job, in his affliction, was sustained by faith in the promised Redeemer, and when he would emphasize and transmit an expression of that faith to future generations, he thought of the nearest expedient familiar to his mind—“Oh that my words were now written . . . that they were graven with an iron pen . . . in the rock forever,” (Job xix. 23, 24.) On the same material the law was written at Horeb, (Exod. xxiv. 12.) No doubt this was the usual method of recording events in Egypt in the time of Joseph, as the word “hieroglyphics” or sacred sculpture, appears to imply. Next, it appears that the inside bark of trees was used for this purpose, as of birch, which has a natural tendency to curl or roll together when dry. Hence the word library, and volume, or rolled bark. The royal archives, or “house of the rolls,” is thus explained, (Ezra vi. 1.) “Vellum,” or dressed skins of beasts, appears to have been next used, then linen and cotton, and as now put through chemical process, these are the material in most common use at the present day. Thus contemplating the symbol in the text, we may trace in our thoughts the gradual advancement of this department of science and the mechanic arts. The second stage of progress had been reached in John’s time, from stone to the bark of timber. The “book” appears to have been of cylindrical form, but whether in one piece or in seven separate pieces, revolving on a common axis, it is not easy nor perhaps important to determine. It is of much greater importance to know that the “book” is emblematical of the decrees of God. This will appear by comparing Psalm xi. 7, where we find the same symbol employed to represent the record of covenant agreement or stipulation between the Father and the Son, and to which our Saviour appeals as evidence in his case. (Heb. x. 7.) While the symbol may be safely considered as involving all the purposes of God, it signifies here more especially the following part of the Apocalypse, containing, as it were, a transcript from the great original—“Seals” are for security and secrecy. Both may be included in the case. And indeed their being “seven” in number—a number of perfection, would seem to confirm this two fold meaning. The sealed book, symbolical of the decrees of God, comprehending all events of all time, teaches us the doctrine expressed in plain words thus—“Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world,” (Acts xv. 18.) The complex symbol also teaches more forcibly than in words,—“My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure,” (Is. xlvi. 10.) Some have suggested a little change in the punctuation. Instead of placing the comma after the word “side,” place it after the word “within,” the meaning would then be, that the “book was written only on one side, namely on the side within.” We do not accept the suggestion. The reason is sufficient for its rejection, that the material in the time of the apostle, was too costly to leave one half of it blank, and here our divine Lord “speaks to us of heavenly things” through the medium of earthly things with which we are familiar.
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.
Vs. 2, 3.—Proclamation is made by a “strong angel,” the Almighty Monarch’s herald to the universe, challenging all creatures to the task of opening the seals. His “loud voice” reverberates throughout illimitable space, that all concerned might hear. The challenge is not, “who is able?” but, “who is worthy?”—Who is “worthy,” by personal dignity, or distinguished and meritorious services, “to open the book and to loose the seals thereof?” No response comes from any quarter to break the solemn silence. The whole creation is mute. “Who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?” “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and his ways past finding out!” (Rom. xi. 33, 34)—“And no man in heaven,” &c. The word “man” is in this place, as in many others, an imperfect and inadequate supplement. In some places it is calculated to mislead the “unlearned and unstable,” as John x. 28, 29, (in some copies,) Heb. ii. 9. The former text, as supplemented by the word “man,” contradicts the apostle, Rom. viii. 39. The meaning here is obviously that no creature,—angel or man, was worthy or “able” to “open the book.” To holy angels, devils, and the dead “under the earth,” the purposes of God are as inscrutable as they are to us, until they are revealed (Eph. iii. 10, 1 Pet. i. 12.)
4. And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon.
V. 4.—John understood by the symbol which he saw, that its contents were of deep significance. A sanctified curiosity and anxiety, more powerful than that of the Ethiopian eunuch, (Acts viii. 34,) occupied his soul. But the book is sealed and there is no visible interpreter! (Is. xxix. 11.) The “beloved disciple” is much affected. He has more than once or twice “beheld the glory of God,” and cannot but earnestly desire to know more of his mind. “Hope deferred maketh his heart sick.” He “wept much.” His covenant God “has seen his tears.” He “will heal him,” (2 Kings xx. 5.)
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.
V. 5.—From a quite unexpected quarter comes a hint! How could John anticipate relief from such a source? “One of the elders” is made the messenger of joyful tidings. As Aquila and Priscilla took to them the eloquent Apollos, and “expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly,” (Acts xviii. 26,) so one of the elders—one of the humble disciples was the instrument of comfortable instruction to the aged apostle! The prophet Daniel was similarly affected by a partial exhibition of the same important events, but his anxiety to know the meaning of the vision, though allayed, was not fully gratified, as that of John. (Dan. xii. 8, 9,) “Go thy way, Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed.” The desire of the best of God’s people to know his purposes may be sometimes excessive, as exemplified by the disciples of Christ, (Acts i. 7.) “It is not for them to knew the times and the seasons which the Father hath put in his own power.” So much, however, is revealed as may be necessary to their present support and comfort, and the rest they “shall know hereafter,” (John xiii. 7.) But as the events involved in the secret purpose of God, were concealed from Daniel, because not to be evolved till near “the time of the end” so in John’s time, when as in Abraham’s case, “the time of the promise drew nigh”—the time was approaching when the interests of God’s people would be greatly affected by these events, it became needful that the book should be unsealed and its contents made known. “The time was at hand.” Accordingly, John is exhorted by the elder to dry up his tears, for to the unspeakable joy of himself and of the whole creation, the announcement is made,—“Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.” Here our attention is called away back to the famous prophecy of dying Jacob, (Gen. xlix. 9, 10,) and also to the subsequent and concurrent declaration of the evangelical prophet, (Isa. xi. 1, 10.) Christ is the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” in reference to his human nature, “for it is evident,” from the inspired tables of his genealogy, “that our Lord sprang out of Judah,” (Heb. vii. 14,) and it is no less evident that he us the Root of David, in respect to his divine nature, (John i. 1, 3, Isa. ix. 6, 1 Cor. xv. 47.) The “one Mediator between God and men,” partaking of the nature of each party, is “worthy”—alone worthy, by reason of personal dignity, to “open the book.” It is also to be noticed that worthiness is not his only qualification. In view of the challenge published,—“who is worthy?” the answer is, this champion “hath prevailed!”—Isaiah saw him in vision, victorious over enemies—”travelling in the greatness of his strength,” (Isa. lxiii. 1.) To his personal worthiness is to be added the unrivalled merit of his achievements in conflict with hostile powers, (Gen. iii. 15, Isa. liii. 12, Col. iii. 15.)
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.
V. 6.—In this verse we have the Lord Jesus Christ introduced to the view of John and the intelligent universe in his sacerdotal or priestly office, “a lamb, as it had been slain.” In the order of nature and of merit, his priestly office precedes his prophetical and kingly offices. This is evident from the position which he occupies in relation to the throne and royal retinue. He stands in the attitude of a priest “in the midst of the throne and of the four animals,” etc. As seen here, our Saviour does not sit on the throne. He appeared in a standing posture. His position was obviously before the throne As the priestly function required, he stood nearest to the object of worship, between the ministers and the throne,—in the inmost circle. There he exhibited the scars received in war, the wounds made by the sword of divine justice, (Zech. xiii. 7,) the holes in his hands and side by the nails and soldier’s spear. (John xix. 34, xx. 20.) This “Lamb slain,”—typified by all the spotless lambs offered in sacrifice by divine appointment from the time of Abel, had been marvelously restored to life, as no other victim had ever been. (John x. 18, Ch. i. 18.) The “seven horns and seven eyes,” symbolize the power and wisdom of the Mediator. “It pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell.” (Col. i. 19.) He “giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him.” (John iii. 34, Heb. i. 9.) Christ was privy to all the purposes of his Father, (John v. 20,) and the extent of his knowledge is limited in him as Mediator, only by the authority and will of the Father. “Of that day and that hour . . . knoweth no man . . . neither the Son.” (Mark xiii. 32) The same interesting and important truth is taught by the Father’s holding the book, in his hand, as also in plain words, (Ch. i. 1,)—“the Revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave unto him.” “No man knoweth the Father but the Son.” (Matt. xi. 27.) In office—capacity the Lord Christ is qualified to unfold and execute the decree of God (Ps. ii. 7,) as more fully appears in the following part of the book.
7. And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne.
V. 7.—The Lord Jesus approaches his Father’s throne to receive the roll. And with the prophet we may ask,—“Who is this that engaged his heart to approach?” (Jer. xxx. 21 )—With all who are honored to surround the throne, we may joyfully answer in the words of the Psalmist,—It is the “Lord, strong and mighty in battle.” (Ps. xxiv. 8). “He took the book.”—This action symbolically signified the authoritative commission given by the Father and received by the Mediator to proceed in the execution of the divine decree, and in discharge of his threefold office as prophet, priest and king,—especially and more formally his prophetical and kingly offices.
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 saints.
V. 8.—No sooner does the “Lamb take the book,” than all spectators are apprized of the act, and instantly give expression to their confidence and joy. Among all the worshippers before the throne, the “four animals” take precedence, and lead by their own example as before. (Ch. iv. 9.) They gave glory” etc., to God creator, as in the person of the Father, and now in the presence of the Father’s manifested glory, they prostrate themselves before the “Lamb,” in obedience to the Father’s command, “That all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father.” (John v. 23.)—The “four and twenty elders,”—the representatives of all the children of God, cordially join the ministry in these acts of solemn worship. Some of the furniture employed in the temple worship, is here introduced, to harmonize with the rest of the symbolic scenery. “Harps and golden vials” signify praise and prayer. Our modern advocates for instrumental music in God’s worship, to be consistent, must associate with the “harps,” the “incense—cups” and the “golden altar” for all belonged alike to the service of the temple. Even in the time when such “vessels of the ministry” were in use with divine approbation, the Psalmist had greater clearness,—more evangelical conceptions of the temporary use of those “beggarly elements whereunto many desire again to be in bondage” than, they seem to have. (Gal. iv. 9.) He knew, even then, that “incense and the evening sacrifice” represented spiritual worship. (Ps. cxii. 2.) Others there are, who question whether Christ as Mediator be the formal object of worship? While they acknowledge his supreme deity as God equal with the Father, they are in doubt on his assuming human nature, whether, “as such, he is the object of worship!” Such doubts are groundless, as unanswerably shown in this place, and in many others, such as John xx. 28, xxi. 17, Ps. xlv. 11, xcvii. 7, Heb. i. 6. All these worshippers appear to know that the nature of the altar at which they worship determines the kind of oblations to be offered namely,—“spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. ii. 5.)
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.
Vs. 9, 10.—“They sung a new song” They all agreed in the matter, as well as in the divine object of worship. “Now will I sing to my well beloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard.” (Isa. v. 1.) Agreed as to the object and matter of the song none is silent in Immanuel’s praise,—no select choir, not one who worships by proxy. Such belong to a different fellowship. This is the “song of the Lamb,” which joined to the “song of Moses,” constitutes the whole of the “high praises of the Lord,” leaving no place for the vapid, empty, bombastic, amorous and heretical effusions, of uninspired men, whether of sound or “corrupt minds.”—The burden of the song is the same as the “Song of Songs” and the forty—fifth Psalm,—”Christ crucified,”—Christ glorified, “the praises of him who hath called them from darkness into his marvelous light.” The key—note among them all is the work of redemption. “Thou hast redeemed us to God by thy blood,”—us, and not others in the same condition. Others may talk of a ransom that does not redeem but these dwell with emphasis upon the price and power that brought them “out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.” This happy and joyful company never conceived the idea that, in order at once to vindicate Jehovah’s moral government and give the most impressive demonstration of his opposition to sin, he subjected his beloved Son to untold sufferings, which should be equally available by all his enemies, but specially intended for none in particular! They never imagined that their adorable Creator was under a natural necessity of “seeking the greatest good of the greatest number,” that he might thereby escape the just imputation of partiality. Such impious conceptions imply distributive injustice on the part of God, when he “spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell.” (2 Pet. ii. 4.) Neither man’s chief end nor God’s is the happiness of creatures,—no, neither in creation nor redemption, as is clear to unsophisticated reason, and plainly determined by the Spirit of God. (See Ch. iv. 11, Isa. xliii. 7, 21, Eph. i. 12.) The manifestation of his own perfections,—his own glory, is the highest and ultimate end of Jehovah in all his purposes and works “The Lord hath made all things for himself. (Prov. xvi. 4, Rom. xi. 36.) Now, if the Lamb has redeemed the whole human family, as some affirm, then it will follow that all must be saved, or Christ died in vain, in reference to them that are lost and besides, the “Judge of all the earth” would be chargeable with exercising distributive injustice, in exacting double payment, first from the Surety, and then from the sinner! “That be far from God.” “He is just and having salvation,”—“a just God and a Saviour” (Zech. ix. 9, Isa. xlv. 21.) As there can be no liberty without law, so there can be no mercy without justice, though there may be “justice without mercy.” (James i. 25, ii. 13.) This worshipping company, the representatives of the universal church, ascribe their redemption to the blood of Christ. It is their declared faith that pardon is grounded on atonement, that “without shedding of blood is no remission.” (Heb. ix. 22, Lev. xvii. 11, Ch. i. 5.) They believe, moreover, that as the obedience of Christ unto death, his doing and dying, is an adequate satisfaction to law and justice, so by compact between the Father and the Son, his penal sufferings avail the believing sinner for pardon. Thus it is, that “if we confess our sins, he (God the Father,) is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. (1 Jno. i. 9) This doctrine the apostle, as the mouth of the whole church, had already avowed (Ch. i. 5, 6,) and now again we have it repeated and incorporated in the song of praise. Thus, while “Christ crucified is to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness,” to them who are saved this humbling doctrine is “the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor. i. 24, 25) God’s glory and the saints’ honor and felicity equally spring from the slaying of the Lamb. These good things the blood of Abel’s sacrifice spake in type soon after the fall and here we have the same things proclaimed as the faith of all believers (Heb. xi. 1.)
By this blood they are consecrated a “royal priesthood” to offer up spiritual sacrifices, and there is a period in the world’s eventful history, when they shall “reign on the earth.” Of the nature of this reign there are two views entertained. That of the Millenarians, under the supposed corporeal presence of Christ, which is too gross, after the manner of carnal Jews the other too refined and remote, after the manner of carnal Christians, who “will not have this man to reign over them,”—except in the church. Such Christians come very near the views and sentiment of those who exclaimed—“Not this man, but Barabbas.” (John xviii 40.) Of the nature of Christ’s royal dominion we will have occasion to treat in other parts of the Apocalypse, but we take occasion to remark, that his kingly office is formally and meritoriously founded on the efficacy of his sacrifice. “Thou art worthy, for thou wast slain.”—That the saints shall “reign in glory” in company with their Saviour is a precious scripture truth, but it is not the truth taught in the words,—“we shall reign on the earth.” This is not the place to enter on a full discussion of the doctrine here avowed, yet the following may be adduced as part of the warrant of this doctrine (Dan. vii. 27, Rev. xx. 4.)
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.
Vs. 11, 12.—Here we have the concurrence of holy angels, as seen by John in vision, with all the redeemed in acts of solemn worship offered directly to the Lamb—“Many angels,” how many? Some divines have actually attempted, by arithmetical rules, to compute the number! Such employment may amuse, but it cannot edify. The definite here mentioned for indefinite numbers, may be easily computed, (as in Dan. vii. 10, Ps. lxviii. 17,) but still we would labor in vain “to find out the account,” for we are expressly told that they are “innumerable.” (Heb. xii. 22) Like the ransomed children of Adam, they are “a great multitude which no man can number.” (Ch. vii. 9) Why then attempt that which the Holy Spirit has pronounced impossible? “Vain man would be wise.” It is of much more consequence for us to contemplate their position, relations and employments. Their position is “round about the throne,” beholding the “Lamb as it had been slain.” The law of their creation could not reveal to them this object of adoration. That they may know their duty to the Mediatorial Person as their moral Head, it is requisite that they be directed by a new revelation. Accordingly, we find a “new commandment” issued from God the Father expressly to them. (Ps. xcvii. 7, Heb. i. 6) “Worship him, all ye gods,” that is, “Let all the angels of God worship him.” By the development of the eternal counsels of God in his dealings with the church, these “principalities and powers in heavenly places,” discover with adoring wonder more and more of the “manifold wisdom of God.” They stoop down, as it were, “to look into this” mysterious economy, (Eph. iii. 10, 11, 1 Pet. i. 12.) They are humbly but intensely desirous to discover still/more of “the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the world unto the glory” of their fellow worshippers. (1 Cor. ii. 7 ) Such is their position—They are related to the Lamb as his subjects by the Father’s grant and command. “He (Jesus)is gone into heaven . . . angels . . . being made subject unto him.” (1 Pet. iii. 22) They are also related to the “elders” and “animals,” the members and ministers of the church. Said one of them to John,—“I am thy fellow servant.” (Ch. xix. 10.) Angels are not ashamed to call them “fellow servants,” whom the Lord Jesus “is not ashamed to call his brethren.” (Heb. ii. 11.) As the “four animals” are nearer the throne than the “elders, so are the “elders” nearer the throne than the angels. These are ranged, in John’s view, in the outside segment of the circle. All the redeemed, ministry and membership, are “nearer of kin” to the Lamb than angels are. “He took not on him the nature of angels, but he took on him the seed of Abraham.” (Heb. ii. 16.) All believers are “members of his body, of his flesh and of his bones.” (Eph. v. 30) He has highly advanced human nature, by taking it into real and indissoluble union with his divine person. This is the special ground of nearness and intimacy between Christ and his brethren And O, how ought we to emulate holy angels in adoring this precious Redeemer! “He loved the church and gave himself for it,” (Eph. v. 25,) and he loved and gave himself for every member of the church (Gal. ii. 20.)
The employments of this innumerable company of angels, besides “ministering for them who shall be heirs of salvation,” (Heb. i. 14,) consist much in admiring contemplations of the glory of the “Lamb slain,” and in ascriptions of praise to him who is “worthy to receive power,” etc. In this they cordially harmonize with the redeemed, whose delightful exercise is “to show forth the praises of him who hath called them out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Pet. ii. 9 ) and all the honor, thus ascribed to the Mediator by both classes of worshippers, is intended to terminate ultimately on the person of God the Father. (Phil. ii. 9-11.) The Father “has committed all judgment unto the Son, that all men, yes, and all angels, “should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father.” (John v. 22, 23.)
13. And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such are in the sea, and 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.
Vs 13, 14.—In addition to angels and men, we have here enumerated “every creature” in the whole vast universe, co—operating in the worship of the two Divine Persons as associated in concerting and executing the plan of redemption. Thus the “host of heaven” and all inferior creatures according to the several capacities unite in ascribing “blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.” And we may say with Nehemiah,—They are both “exalted above all blessing and praise” (Neh. ix. 5) Fallen angels and reprobate men are excluded, from the nature of the case, and by the unalterable laws of the moral government of the Most High, from any participation in this service (Ps. cx. 1, 1 Cor. xv. 24, 25, Luke xix. 27.)—Can any one who denies the supreme deity of the Lord Jesus, or who refuses to worship him, over join the society of these worshippers? Or, supposing the possibility of their admission, could they be otherwise than miserable? O the “blasphemy of them who say they are Jews!”—This is one of the sublime doxologies framed by the Holy Spirit, for the use of all creatures on special occasions, but not to be abused by “vain repetitions” as by Papists and Prelates. The like specimens of the “high praises of the Lord” we have in Ps. lxix. 34—As the three ranks of worshippers here presented in vision to John, beautifully harmonize in holy exercises, each in its appropriate sphere, so the “animals and elders,”—the rulers and ruled of the church, take precedence of all others in acts of solemn worship, and also close the solemn service, saying,—“Amen.”
The “sealed book” being delivered by the Father into the possession of the Mediator, the whole creation awaits with confidence and joy the development of the counsels of God, as they may affect the destinies of his redeemed people. The “Lamb has prevailed to open the book,” and his established character is sufficient guarantee for success in accomplishing the responsible work assigned him by his Father. This feeling of confidence is expressed by the worshippers, not only by the master of their praise, but also by the closing word, “amen,” which word is expressive of their “desires and assurance to be heard.”