Revelation Chapter 5
Rod: August 27, 2009
Notes are based in part on a sermon preached by Pastor John Piper, at Desiring God Ministries. [Notes from Adam were added on October 14th, and are in blue font. They are based mostly on Steve Gregg’s book “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary).”]
1. Verse 1: A scroll with seven seals. What is this scroll?
John Piper: The scroll represents the decrees of God of what will happen in the future. In chapter 6, we can see that the seals are opened up one by one revealing the coming judgements upon the earth. The opening of the seals is the course of history leading up to the end, and the rest of the scroll is the story of the end of the world and God’s final triumph. (Keep in mind that John Piper writes these things as a futurist who sees most of the book of Revelation as yet unfulfilled. The preterist view sees here the announcing of a series of judgments which were soon, in John’s day, to come upon apostate Israel as the end of the Old Covenant age drew near at that time.)
2. Verse 1: What else do you see that is significant about this scroll?
John Piper: The scroll is being held in God’s right hand. All of earth’s history is in the right hand of God, and nothing can change that. The scroll is also complete, full both front and back. Nothing can be added to it – it is full, complete and safe in the right hand of God.
Steve Gregg (p. 93) quotes Henry Morris and John Walvoord who are Futurists in regard to the judgments spoken of in Revelation:
Henry Morris, in agreement with many dispensational interpreters (e.g. Ironside, Criswell, Lindsey), wrote, ‘But what is this remarkable scroll? It is nothing less than the title deed to the earth itself.’ Walvoord notes, ‘Roman law required a will to be sealed seven times as illustrated in the wills left by Augustus and Vespasian for their successors.’ The mighty judgments of the Tribulation period that are unleashed by the opening of the document all are part of God’s reclaiming for Himself the control of the earth, which was forfeited to Satan by the fall of Adam and Eve long ago. The ‘redemption of the purchased possession’ (Eph. 1:14) is accompanied by long-overdue punishments upon the usurpers who have ‘destroyed the earth’ (Rev. 11:18).
I find these statements a bit odd. Walvoord sounds like he is speaking on behalf of radical environmentalists who are deeply concerned about mankind’s misuse of the planet’s resources (not to say this isn’t a valid concern). It’s the final generation which will experience God’s full wrath for the injustice of altering the environment, he implies. Furthermore, he suggests that their punishment has a lot to do with “our inheritance” (Eph. 1:14, ESV) being granted to us one day yet to come.
On the other hand, Steve Gregg also references Jay Adams, who advocates the Preterist view and goes back to the courtroom theme alluded to in the previous chapter (p. 92): “In Jay Adams’ view, the scroll with the seven seals is the sentence handed down by the judge against Jerusalem for its part in shedding ‘all the righteous blood’ of the martyrs (Matt. 23:35).” I’m personally much more comfortable with this explanation for why God is shown here preparing to release the seal judgments. See also Revelation 16:6, 17:6, and 18:24 in this regard; these passages serve to demonstrate that Jerusalem is one and the same with Babylon the Great here in this book (cf. Rev. 11:8, where Jerusalem is identified as “the great city” just as Babylon the Great is in Rev. 16:19, 17:18; 18:9, 16, 18-21.
Verses 2-5: A strong angel loudly asks for someone who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals. No one in heaven or on earth was found who was worthy to do so, causing John to weep. He had to be told by one of the 24 elders that One had been found, that is, Jesus.
How is Christ recognized in verses 5 and 6?
John Piper: As a Lion, of the tribe of Judah (an animal that is strong, majestic and dangerous). See Genesis 49:9-10.
In verse 6, John is allowed to see the Lion. He now appears before the throne as a Lamb (an animal that is weak, harmless and lowly). Jesus is also referred to as “the Root of David,” a title borrowed from Isaiah 11:1, 10 and Romans 15:12, where the point is that He rises to rule the Gentiles and “in Him will the Gentiles hope.” This is not something awaiting a 21st century fulfillment so that it can become a reality. It was very much a reality in the 1st century AD.
4. In verse 5, the elder says that the Lion of Judah has conquered. What does this conquering refer to, as mentioned later in the text?
In verse 9, the four living creatures and twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb and sang a song exclaiming that He conquered by being slain and His blood ransomed people for God.
Steve Gregg remarks (p. 94): “Comparing Christ with a lamb is not a reference to His gentleness, since He is portrayed in the following chapters as anything but gentle (cf. 6:16)! His role as the Sacrificed One explains His being likened to a lamb (cf. John 1:29).”
5. Jesus is symbolized as a Lamb standing before the throne. What are some characteristics of this lamb and what do they mean?
John Piper: The Lamb (who was once slain) is now standing. He has seven horns, which is a sign of strength and power throughout Revelation (12:3; 13:1; 17:3, 12) and also in the OT (Deuteronomy 33:17; Psalm 18:2; 112:7). The number seven signifies completeness and fullness. John Piper concludes that Jesus is shown here as “a Lion-like Lamb and a Lamb-like Lion.”
Verses 8-10: Steve Gregg comments on the heavenly scene pictured here in these verses, along with the significance of the song sung by the four living creatures and the 24 elders (pp. 96, 98):
The taking of the scroll by the Lamb provokes an outburst of worship and praise in heaven, and a new song (v. 9) is introduced. In Revelation 4:11, they had sung an “old song” of praise to God for His older work of creating all things. The new song praises Him for His new work of redemption in Christ. This worship is accompanied by the priestly worship form of the offering up of incense (v. 8), which here represents the prayers of the saints—most likely the Christians who are being persecuted and are pleading for deliverance (cf. 6:10). This deliverance comes when their persecutors in Jerusalem are judged, after the seven seals of the scroll are broken. Making the redeemed kings and priests (v. 10), or, as some manuscripts have it, “a kingdom of priests,” implies that the original kingdom of priests, Israel (Ex. 19:5-6), has been done away with and replaced by the Church (cf. Heb. 7:12; 8:13).
The Futurist view of verse 10 is expressed this way in Gregg’s book (p. 99):
The reign of the saints on the earth (v. 10)—as opposed to “in heaven”—is a reference to the millennial reign of the saints with Christ after He has returned to earth to establish His kingdom. Henry Morris writes: “Three times in the book of Revelation it is said that believers are to be made kings and priests (Rev. 1:6; 5:10; 20:6). These functions apply particularly in the millennial kingdom, when there is still need for them.” According to dispensational expectations, many unsaved people will live on earth during the Millennium, and the saints will reign over these people from their headquarters in Jerusalem (cf. Luke 19:17).
I highlighted part of Morris’ quote above because I find it rather astonishing. To be fair, he didn’t say the functions of believers as kings and priests apply exclusively to a future Millennium, so I suppose he leaves room for them to apply now. I certainly hope so. Revelation 1:6 was written beyond the shadow of a doubt to a group of first-century churches, and they were very much a kingdom of priests then just as believers are now: “John to the seven churches that are in Asia…Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Rev. 1:4-6). This has been a present reality for all believers ever since Jesus died and rose again. Peter, writing to a different first-century audience, concurs: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (I Peter 2:9).
It seems that Morris made his statement based on the common Premillennialist idea that sacrifices will be carried out in a physical temple in Jerusalem during a future Millennium period. Thus, for Morris, there would be a need for believers to function as priests, apparently just as there was once such a need under the Old Covenant. This would suggest a regression back to the types and shadows that have been fulfilled by Christ’s first coming. Whether or not this is the idea intended by Morris’ statement, let it be clear that followers of Jesus are, in this present age, that kingdom of priests which John and Peter wrote about.
–Verses 11-14: “The song of 4:11 was sung by the 24 elders alone. In the song of 5:9-10, they were joined by the four living creatures. Now many angels (v. 11), numbering into millions, add their voices in attributing glory to the Lamb” (Steve Gregg, p. 100). They cry out:
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing! …To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!
Our study of Revelation 6 (Part 1) can be found here.
All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.