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Introduction to Alethea In Heart Ministries

The Revelation of John - Chapter V
Commentaries on the Entire Bible

By Rev. Henry Cowles
Professor of Church History and Prophesy at Oberlin College, and Main Editor of
The Oberlin Evangelist (responsible for giving us most of Finney's sermons).





The great feature of this chapter is the book of destiny seen in heaven (v. 1); the question, Who can open and read it (vs. 2-4); settled at length by the announcement that the Lion of Judith has conquered and will open and read it (v. 5). He appears in form as a Lamb slain and takes the book (vs. 6, 7); whereupon the joy of heaven breaks forth in glorious song; the living ones and the elders first leading (vs. 8-10), and then the myriads of angels come in with the grand chorus (vs. 11-14).

1. And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the back side, sealed with seven seals.

Unquestionably this "book" is in imitation of Ezek. 2, and is the book of the future destinies of the church and of her fortunes as related to her persecuting enemies. From the fact that this prophecy fills a book [scroll] and consists of seven successive sections each fastend with its own seal, we can infer nothing as to the duration of the periods of time which it covers, or as to the point where its prophetic events shall commence their fulfillment. Light on these points must be sought elsewhere.—The reader will notice that this book is seen in the right hand of the great Being on the central throne. This corresponds with the statement (1: 1), "The revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave to him."

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.

These scenes served to awaken attention and to excite interest to its highest pitch.—"Worthy to open," in the sense of competent, capable, coupled perhaps with the idea of being honored of God to make this revelation. "To look thereon" were better read, therein, to look into it to read its revelations of human destiny.

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, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.

The prophet feels deeply, as one whose heart is keenly alive to the fortunes of Christ's church and kingdom, whose hopes of seeing some foreshadowings of her future have been raised by a sight of the book, but are now suspended and liable to he quenched in darkness if no one can be found to open it and to read. One of the twenty-four elders (heavenly representatives of the earthly church) comes to him in warm apathy, with the welcome tidings that one is found competent to loose those seals and to reveal the contents of the book. It is the risen Messiah, called "the Lion of the tribe of Judah"—the lion being the recognized and well-known symbol of this tribe (see Gen. 49: 9, 10); called also "the Root of David," i. e., the root-shoot, the fresh growth springing up from the root and constituting the new tree—a turn of thought taken from Isa. 11: 1, 10. He "hath prevailed" (Greek, hath conquered) so as to open the book. He has proved himself worthy and has received the honor of making this revelation.—The question has been raised whether in the state of prophetic ecstasy the prophet still retained his personal consciousness and identity, i. e., was still himself. Plainly in this case the seer of Patmos is still the same John, the anxious loving father of his spiritual children, the careful pastor of his flock, the faithful disciple whose heart trembles for the ark of God and watches with deepest interest the revelations of Zion's nearer future.

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.

And now the vision opens to bring the risen Messiah before him. There, "in the midst of the throne," as near as possible to the great central Being—probably the thought is—jointly sharing with him the honors of that throne [sunthronos], and immediately encircled by the four living ones and the twenty-four elders, stood One in appearance as a Lamb that had been slain just before seen as the Lion of Judah's tribe, but now the Lamb of Sacrifice "who taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1: 29). The genius of illustrative symbolism labors to represent his perfect power and perfect intelligence, and hence the Lamb has seven horns [supreme power], and seven eyes [perfect intelligence, knowledge, truth]. These eyes, somewhat imitating Zechariah (Zech. 3: 9, and 4: 10), are thought of as representing, not knowledge in the abstract, or perhaps we might say, knowledge in repose, but knowledge, the very light of God, sent forth in and by the glorious special Agent of saving light and converting truth—the Holy Ghost. No view of the functions of Jesus is full unless it includes his sending forth the Spirit as the great Revealer of God, acting in a sense subordinate to himself, really taking up his own unfinished work and bearing it onward to glorious completion and triumphant success in the enlightening, conversion and salvation of the world.—We may perhaps account it an imperfection in this symbolism that what appears at first as the seven eyes of the Lamb becomes so many spirits sent forth abroad into all the earth; but we may well bear in mind that when applied to represent the Great God, and especially the ineffable relations of the blessed Trinity, the highest efforts of symbolism must prove imperfect. The marvel in this case is that the symbols are so wonderfully expressive, and that the points they present are so remarkably in harmony with the great central truths of the gospel scheme touching the points in hand.—I need scarcely add that something must be put to the account of the influence of like symbols in the earlier prophets—e. g., Zechariah.

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 odors, which are the prayers of saints.

The scene progresses: the Lamb of the heavenly world advances and takes the book of destiny. A thrill of joy pervades the exalted personages of heaven; first, those nearest the throne—the four living ones and the twenty-four elders. Each of them has his harp, in readiness for outbursting song, and also "golden vials full of odors" [incense] which represent the prayers of saints. These vials—prayers—were specially pertinent to the hands of the elders, who appear throughout as the special representatives of the church on earth. At this point in the progress of these scenes the elders seem to lead. The living ones are with them (it would seem) under the law of heavenly sympathy.—But let us not fail to notice that the prayers of the church below have very much to do with the counsels of the great throne above and with the partial revelation now to be made of those counsels. Many a prayer of earnestness amounting to agony has been wrung from trembling, tortured hearts amid the scenes or the fear of bloody violence. The incense of those prayers, treasured in golden vials, now goes up before the throne. In answer thereto, the Lamb has taken the book of destiny to reveal some words of comfort touching God's judgments on his incorrigible foes, and his deliverance for his faithful friends.

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.

"A new song"—the old song, celebrating the wisdom, power and love of God in creation having been given above (4: 9-11). The "new song" celebrates not only the fact of the atoning sacrifice—the "Lamb slain"—but the now pending victories of the Lamb over his enemies and the triumphs of his kingdom on the earth.—The logic of this song should be noted. "Thou art worthy to take and open the book because thou wast slain and hast redeemed thy people even by thy blood." That wondrous sacrifice, never to be forgotten in earth or heaven, justifies and demands the awarding to Jesus of the most exalted honors. So Paul has said (Phil. 2: 6-11). Because Jesus "made himself of no reputation; took the form of a servant; became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross—therefore God hath highly exalted him and given him a name above every name."—This song celebrates the twofold work wrought by Christ for his people; (1) redemption; (2) exaltation to glory. "Thou hast redeemed us by thy blood;" thou hast also "made us unto our God kings and priests." The first precedes, but the other follows. Neither can be omitted.—As to the more precise reading and sense of the text, it may be noted that in the words—"Hast redeemed us" (v. 9), the Alexandrine manuscript omits "us" altogether. But the other most ancient manuscript (namely the Sinaitic) retains it. The passage seems lame and unfinished without it But in v. 10 there is a general concurrence of the best authorities (headed by the Alexandrine and Sinaitic) in giving "them" instead of "us," the sense being that the song purposely includes not only the already ransomed in heaven but all the then struggling ones of earth and indeed all who should through future ages "believe on Jesus through their word." These authorities favor also the reading, "unto their God." Also many say, a kingdom (instead of "kings"), and some, a priesthood (instead of "priests"). The reading " kingdom" might assume that they are subjects, not kings, constituting Christ's promised glorious kingdom. If we accept the reading "kings," we must still hold Christ supreme, and give to this word as applied to his people only the sense of exalted honor, dignity, reward, analogous to his own. Precisely how much and what is meant by the words "on the earth;" who can tell? I take them to mean this at least that Christ's people shall not be crushed down and savagely ruled over on the earth forever. The long pt prevalent course of things shall yet be reversed; the former oppressors become the crushed ones, and the former oppressed, the exultant conquerors. (See Isa. 14: 2.)

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 honor, and glory, and blessing.

In the outer circle of the heavenly hosts appear now the angelic throng in numbers almost without number. In their song all forms of honor, power and glory are ascribed to the Lamb that was slain; yet they do not say, slain for us." Still they love the song and pour out their souls in most exultant strains. These are things which another apostle has said "the angels desire to look into," and here they are anticipating the opening glories of Messiah's conflict and victory, rejoicing that One so worthy is to wear so nobly the highest honors of the heavenly world.

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 honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever.

14. And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell clown and worshiped him. that liveth foraver and ever.

If the intelligent beings in the universe have not been all included previously, this comprehensive description must take in all—all the holy ones, all save the rebels in hell. All these holy ones are of one heart to ascribe blessing, honor, glory, power in equal strains, with undiscriminating praise, (1.) to Him that sitteth on the throne, and (2.) to the Lamb forever and ever. No question as to the supreme divinity of Jesus Christ is ever raised around that highest throne of the universe. No discordant note is heard there, making the slightest discrimination between the infinite honor ascribed to God, and the equally infinite honor given to the Lamb that was slain, his own eternal Son.—To all this the four living ones respond, "Amen." And the twenty-four elders again fall prostrate and worship.—The best authorities (Sinaitic, Alexandrine and others) omit "him that liveth forever and ever." This avoids the difficulty which might be felt from the appearance of discriminating between the Father and the Son. Was the clause interpolated in some later manuscripts to make such a distinction? or was it omitted by some to obviate it? The evidence is strong for its omission.

Next Chapter (VI.).

Previous Chapter (IV.).

Preface | Introduction | I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX | X | XI | XII | XIII | XIV | XV | XVI | XVII | XVIII | XIX | XX | XXI | XXII
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