Let’s open our Bibles tonight as we come to the wonderful book of Revelation to chapter 5. This is an absolutely crucial and formative chapter for the flow of the rest of the book, as well as being a marvelous account of the vision of God and of the Lamb that the apostle John experienced. Revelation chapter 5.
I suppose it’s common for folks to ask, “Is it possible that we could be near the end of human history? Are we living in the last days? Or better, are we living in the last days of the last days? Are those great events that will culminate human history looming closely ahead as history moves on toward its ultimate end? Could it be that we are living, for example, in the last generation? Could Christ come in the next ten years, five years? Could He come in the next three months?”
And the answer to all of that in general is yes, we could well be living in the last days. The Bible describes the time of the end with some very general descriptions that certainly fit our time. Apostasy is rampant. The nation Israel is back in the land. The stage is certainly set politically, economically, and militarily for a great world leader to arise to bring peace in the Middle East. Seducing spirits and doctrines of demons seem to have reached an apex in terms of their proliferation and influence. Europe is revived, as Daniel said would come in the time of the end. False prophets abound. Immorality has brought the world to at least the same point it was at when the Lord drown the whole of humanity in the time of the flood of Genesis.
All of those things tell us that we could well be standing on the brink of divine wrath. But no man knows the day or the hour of the coming of the Son of Man, and so we cannot speculate. God knows, we don’t know. We do not know the time. We can discern the scene around us and perhaps have a greater sense of anticipation than generations past have had. But the reality is that only God knows.
And while we do not know the time of the end, we must say that it could be any time near. We are not given the time of the end in Scripture, but we are given a description of the events. And the unfolding of the wrath of God in the end of human history and the establishing of the kingdom of Christ is described for us in amazing detail in the book of Revelation. There are some indications of it given in Ezekiel. There are some indications of it given in Daniel. There are other indications of it given particularly in the book of Zechariah. There are some references to it in Matthew and Luke.
But the great portion of Scripture that focuses in on the events of the end of human history is the book of Revelation. And the unfolding of the final scene is recorded from chapter 6 on. Now chapter 4 and chapter 5 then set the stage for God coming in final judgment to take back the fallen universe and to set His King upon His holy hill in Zion to reign over the world. The unfolding of that final revelation is just before us in this book, as we now come to the last look at chapter 5.
Now you remember that John in chapter 4 was taken up into heaven by way of a vision, and he saw the throne of Almighty God as He readied Himself for judgment. That was the basic scene of chapter 4. And now in the same setting, heaven, the throne of God, we see the Lamb coming to enact the judgment and be the person who takes over the universe. So in chapter 4 the focus is on God who sits on the throne. In chapter 5 the focus is on the Lamb who comes to the throne and takes the scroll out of the hand of God, which is the title deed to the universe, and then begins in chapter 6 to unroll that scroll, and that includes a series of judgments by which He takes back the universe.
In chapter 5, verse 1 we read, “And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals.” There is the seven-sealed scroll that is the title deed to the universe. It was rolled a little bit and then sealed, rolled a little more and sealed, rolled a little more and sealed, sealed along the edges so that it couldn’t be opened without breaking the seals; and no one could do that except one who was authorized. The great text inside the scroll laid out all the details of the taking back of the universe, but on the outside was written what the scroll was about. And that was typical of ancient scrolls that were documents involving title; the inside had all the details, the outside had a summary.
And the Father holds the scroll in His hand as much as to say, “Who will take the scroll now on My behalf, and enact what is written in it, and take back what is rightfully Mine?” And that leads us to the first major point in the chapter, the search for the Worthy One.
Verse 2 says, “And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and to break its seals? Who is fit to do this?’ And no one in heaven” – verse 3 – “or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it.” No one had the ability, and no one had the worthiness.
In order to open the scroll and enact its contents you had to be worthy to do that. That is you had to be the perfect heir of God. In order to open the scroll and to enact its contents you had to be able to do it. And so you had to have the power of God. Who then is the perfection of God and the power of God? Who is it that can do this? No one in heaven, no one on earth, no one under the earth.
And so in verse 4 John says, “And I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.” And John was weeping because he wondered if this meant that the earth would continue to be in the power of the prince of the air dominated by demon forces. And he wondered whether Jesus Christ was ever to be exalted, and whether the kingdom promised to Israel was ever to come, and whether the reigning promise to the saints was ever to take place, and all of those things. And so in the sorrow of the experience in this vision, he began to weep greatly.
And then we find in verse 5 the second point, from the search for the Worthy One we come to the selection of the Worthy One. Verse 5 says, “And one of the elders said to me, ‘Stop weeping, there’s no need for this. Behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David.” And both of those I noted for you last time are titles of the Messiah given in the Old Testament: the One who is the Lion, great power and fierceness, who comes out of the messianic tribe of Judah; the One who is the Root or the offshoot or the offspring of David; that is He has royal blood. He is the Messiah by virtue of coming through Judah’s loins, He is the King by virtue of coming through David’s loins, the One who is fit to be King by authority; and He is fit to be King by ability, and He is fit to be King by worthiness has overcome.
We noted that that has reference to His cross where He overcame death, and He overcame Satan, and He overcame demons ,and He overcame sin, and He overcame hell. He has overcome so as to be able and worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals. “Stop weeping. The Messiah will do it.”
Verse 6 says, “And I saw between the throne” – or in the midst of the throne – “with the four living creatures” – those four amazing cherubim, angels – “and the elders who were all mingled there on” – remember the elders were on twenty-four thrones, and the four living creatures, living beings, cherubim, angels, all mingling with the glory of God who was flashing out His glory in brilliant red and diamond light, bouncing, refracting off the crystal pavement beneath the throne, and shining all through an emerald rainbow. And flashings of lightning and thunder were coming from the throne as well. All of that along with the songs of praise, the anthems of praise that were swinging, as it were, around Him in both melody as well as the sayings of the angels. All of that great throne, all of that conflux of beings and movement as described so magnificently by Ezekiel as wheels within wheels, flashing and shining, it says, “In the middle of all of that” – verse 6 – “a Lamb was standing.”
John, no doubt, when he looked expected to see a lion, but instead he saw a Lamb. This Lamb was not down, it was not dead, it was standing. It meant that it was alive. It was standing, but it was as if it had been slain. It still bore the wounds of death. So here was a Lamb alive that had once been dead.
“Seven horns” speak of perfect power, the horn of an animal being the emblem of its power, seven the number of perfection. “Seven eyes,” having to do with perfect knowledge, perfect wisdom, perfect insight, perfect ability to see and assess and understand. And those seven eyes really are the seven-fold Spirit of God sent out into all the earth to see what needs to be seen.
Here comes the Lamb. The Lamb is worthy. The Lamb has conquered. The Lamb has been slain, being the sacrifice for sin. The Lamb is now alive. The Lamb has full power. The Lamb has full understanding. And verse 7, “He came and He took out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne the little scroll.” That moment is the most significant moment yet in human history, the moment when Jesus Christ takes the little scroll and begins to inaugurate the recovery of the lost universe, lost to sin, Satan, death, and hell.
And when He takes the scroll it is for the purpose of unrolling it. And as He unrolls it and breaks the seals, chapter 6 begins to unfold the judgments. But before we come to chapter 6, at this very moment in John’s vision, as he is catapulted far ahead of his own time to see the scene that is yet to come, before the Lord Jesus takes the scroll and unrolls it, there is one other thing here that we must note, and that is the song of the Worthy One.
All the beings in the universe break out in praise. Verse 8 says, “And when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures” – that is the cherubim, the four living beings – “and the twenty-four elders” – you remember they represent the redeemed and raptured church – “fell down before the Lamb.” They fell down in worship. This is the moment for which all of heaven and redeemed earth has been waiting.
Now as we come into this song of worship, this time of praise, we begin to notice some marvelous things. And I wish we had time to just literally exhaust all of it; but stay with me, and we’ll move rapidly, and say what time allows us to say.
“When He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders” – again, they represent the church; so symbolically they are the raptured church – “fell down before the Lamb,” – they fall down in worship; now notice – “having each one a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.”
In the text here I would prefer to take the phrase “having each one a harp” to refer directly to the twenty-four elders. It is, in my mind, the preferred interpretation because of the structure of the sentence in terms of its grammar. It is possible that it could also reach back and encompass the four living beings. But it would seem to me to be the best understanding of the intent of the inspired writer that the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, having each one a harp. The Greek grammar and layout seems to indicate that.
So here you have these representatives of the redeemed and raptured church, each having a harp. Now the harp, if you go back into the Old Testament – and we’ll do that just briefly, because you can look up the harp yourself in a concordance and trace it.
But in 1 Chronicles 25, verse 6, we have instruction in this chapter about offering songs to the Lord. It talks about the service of the sons of Asaph in verse 1, and of Heman and of Jeduthun who were to prophesy with lyres and harps and symbols. And then it goes on to list all of them, and there were many of them.
And down in verse 6 it says, “All these were under the direction of their father to sing in the house of the Lord with cymbals, harps and lyre.” A lyre would be a stringed instrument, shaped differently than a harp. “They were to do this for the service of the house of God. And they themselves were under the direction of the king. And their number who were trained in singing to the Lord, with their relatives, all who were skillful, was two-hundred-and-eighty-eight.” So you had a rather massive choir, a large choir, and you had instrumentalists accompanying them on harps and lyres and cymbals.
If you go through the Psalms, you read in Psalm 33, and Psalm 71, and Psalm 92, and Psalm 98, and Psalm 147, 149, Psalm 150, you read about harps as a part of worship. And they indeed even show up in the book of Revelation. Chapter 14 and verse 2, “I heard a voice from heaven, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder, and the voice which I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps.”
Chapter 15, verse 2, “I saw, as it were, a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who would come off victorious from the beast and from his image and from the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God. And they sang the song of Moses.” There you have harpists. They are believers, they are people who have been redeemed, and they are playing the harp and singing the song of deliverance.
Now here then in this oratorio of escalating praise that began back in chapter 4, first of all, we saw the praise start in verse 8, and there were two movements of praise in this oratorio in chapter 4, there are three in chapter 5. But we see here, added to what has already been going on, the quartet of cherubim in their praise, the twenty-four elders making a total of twenty-eight; and now we find added to the twenty-eight: instruments, harps. And this note needs to be made also. Follow very carefully, because I think this gives insight into why they’re used and to what they mean. I think the symbolism here is very important.
The twenty-four elders have harps. What is the intent of that? Listen carefully. The harp or the lyre, another kind of stringed instrument, is regularly in Scripture associated with prophesying. It is regularly associated with prophesying.
For example in 1 Samuel 10:5, the prophet Samuel said to Saul, “And it shall come to pass when thou art come thither to the city, that thou shalt meet a company of prophets coming down from the high places with a psaltery and a harp before them; and they shall prophesy. And the Spirit of the Lord will come upon thee, and thou shall prophesy with them and shalt be turned into another man.” So the prophets will come, and they will come with harps, and harps are then associated with their prophecy.
Again in 2 Kings 3 the spirit of prophecy was not upon Elisha. As he stood before the two kings, “Elisha said,” – in 2 Kings 3:15 – ‘But now bring me a minstrel.’ And it came to pass, when the minstrel played upon his harp, that the hand of the Lord came upon him. And he said, ‘Thus saith the Lord.’” How interesting.
In other words, Elisha did not have the spirit of prophecy until someone came and began to pluck the harp. And then the spirit of prophecy came upon him, the Spirit of the Lord, and he began to speak. Somehow God ordained that in the sounding of those notes and in the plucking of those strings and in the making of melody, His Spirit would move.
In 1 Chronicles 25:1, “David separated unto the service Asaph and Heman” – as I noted – “and Jeduthun, who would prophesy with harps.” The forty-ninth Psalm and verse 4 adds to this: “I will incline mine ear to a parable; I will open my dark saying upon the harp.” How interesting.
It is safe to say then – and I want you to follow this. It is safe to say that the harp not only was used for accompaniment in worship, but it was used for the accompaniment of prophecy. The harp then somehow tied into prophecy. Here we see the harp.
What is it there for? Not only to accompany worship, but to symbolize all of prophecy, to symbolize all the prophecy, all the revelation that God had given, promising and describing the great events about to take place. All the Scripture that had ever been given regarding the end, all the prophecies that had ever been made regarding the end, the future, the final return of Messiah, the building of the kingdom, the judgment of the ungodly, all that Scripture had ever said about the end is symbolized with the harps, for they become the symbols not only of praise, but of prophecy. And so, there are the twenty-four elders plucking their harps in a symbolic indication that all that the prophets had ever said was about to come to pass.
In addition to the harps, notice in verse 8 that the twenty-four elders were also holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. Bowls, more like a saucer with a wide mouth, maybe more like what we would know as a cereal bowl, wide, made of gold. These kind of utensils, by the way, were found in the tabernacle. They were found in the temple. These kind of golden bowls, according to Zechariah 14:20 were used at the altar. And so we conclude then that these golden bowls symbolized the priestly work of intercession for the people. They were symbols of the priestly function.
Notice, they were full of incense. Incense was burned to send a fragrance upward. The Old Testament priests burned incense because it symbolized prayer rising to God fragrantly. As the incense went up and the smoke carried the fragrance up, it symbolized the offering of fragrant prayers to God. Normally the priests would stand before the inner veil in the Holy Place before the Holy of Holies, and they would offer incense before the presence of God, so that it would be wafted into the Holy of Holies, and there, as it were, to be swept into the very nostrils of God as a symbol of prayer rising for the people. In Psalm 141:2, for example, the psalmist writes, “May my prayer be counted as incense before You.”
In Luke we get another good indication of this. Chapter 1 verse 8: “It came about while Zacharias” – who was the husband of Elizabeth, the father of John the Baptist – “was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering.” That was the pattern. Whenever the priest went in to burn incense, the people prayed; and the incense symbolized the prayers of the people.
Now you see twenty-four elders holding golden bowls like the priest did, full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. Just as the harps represented the prophecies and the revelations and the Scriptures that predicted the coming of the end – follow this – the bowls and the incense represent the prayers of all the saints through all the ages, that the promised redemption might come. It’s a rich and magnificent scene.
Here then we have anticipation on the part of the redeemed and raptured elders. As they pluck their harps they are saying all that prophecy has ever indicated would come to pass is about to happen. As they, as it were, hold the bowls and the incense rises, which is the prayers of the saints, they are saying all that the saints have ever prayed for in terms of the ultimate and final redemption is about to come to pass. And so both the prophetic promise of God and the prayers of the saints are indicated in the harps and the bowls.
There was a tremendous eagerness on the part of the saints in the past, and there is today and there will be in the future, that the kingdom come. In fact, Jesus said, when He taught us to pray, “Pray like this: Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” And while there is a contemporary and immediate fulfillment to that kind of prayer in the spiritual sense, there is also an eschatological sense in which we are praying for the end and the final redemption and glory of God.
The prayers of the saints, by the way, become a major theme through the book of Revelation. We run into the prayers of the saints in chapter 11, verse 18; chapter 13, verses 7, 9 and 10. We run into the prayer of the saints in chapter 14, verse 12; chapter 16, verse 6; 17, verse 6; chapter 18, verses 20 and 24; chapter 19, verse 8; chapter 20, verse 9. So we’re going to see a lot about the prayers of the saints. But the saints have prayed for this moment.
Look at chapter 6, verse 10 as an illustration. Here are some saints who have been slain. They have been martyred. And what are they doing? Verse 10 says, “They’re crying with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’” In other words, “Lord, how long are the wicked going to prosper and the saints be martyred? When are You going to come? When are You going to punish the wicked and exalt the righteous?”
Chapter 8 you find another illustration in verse 3: “Another angel came and stood at the altar. He had a golden censer,” – that is the same kind of golden bowl – “and incense was given to him that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand. And the angel took the censer and he filled it with the fire of the altar, and threw it to the earth; and there followed peals of thunder and sounds and flashes of lightning and an earthquake.” And now the prayers are really being answered. He takes the incense of prayer, turns it and throws it back into the holocaust of judgment on the earth. The symbolism and imagery is magnificent and vivid.
So here are the redeemed. For sure the twenty-four elders holding harps and golden bowls; perhaps the angels do as well, although it’s best to see them with the twenty-four elders. And the symbolism is simply this, that all that the church has ever promised through the Scriptures and all that we have ever prayed for is now about to come to pass. All the anticipation of holy writ, all that believing, hoping prayer, all that believers have cried for to deliver them from sin and disease and Satan and flesh and demons and the cursed universe, all that prayer that has gone up for centuries and centuries for God to act, for Christ to come is now in a consummate way lifted up in one final plea for the action to start. And all that the prophets have ever said about this moment is strummed in a final effort to play the tune that will lead to the final end.
The harps and the bowls fit the context, because verse 9 is the response to the promises and the prayers: “And they sang a new song.” In other words, they knew it was going to happen. They knew it like they’d never known it before. There was a brand new song, a brand new anticipation as the twenty-four elders bring before God what represents the desire of the saints. Their hope based on the promises and their prayers.
Now please notice, they sang a new song. I don’t want to belabor every word, but I can’t get past “they.” Who is it? Again, it could possibly include the four living creatures, but it also could be restricted to the twenty-four elders.
You say, “Well, now wait a minute. Aren’t the four living creatures involved in this oratorio?” Yes they are. “And can’t it be said that they are also singing the song of redemption?” Yes, in a general sense it can.
Certainly the four living creatures we found back in chapter 4, verse 8, didn’t we, not ceasing to say, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty who was and who is and who is to come.” They started it all off. And there in verse 10 again, the twenty-four elders along with the four living creatures, or living beings, cherubim say, “Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor,” and so forth in that verse. “Aren’t they there?” Yes.
“And aren’t all of the angels included down in verse 11 of chapter 5?” Yes. Many angels and many angels joining the oratorio in verse 12: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain.” And then in verse 14; and there you have the four living cherubim beings who keep saying, “Amen.”
Yes, the angels are there. Yes, the cherubim are in the oratorio. Yes, they’re in the song of redemption. But, most interesting, this is the only use of the word “sing” in chapter 4 or 5. Every time it talks about the four living creatures, or the rest of the angels, it uses the word “say,” not the word “sing.” Somebody suggested that only the twenty-four elders sing and the angels are in to rap. If they are, it will be a whole lot different than what we hear today. But it is the only use of the word “sing,” which fascinates me.
Every time the angels are spoken of as engaging in this oratorio of praise, it refers to them as “saying.” Here, adousin means “to sing” an ōdē, from which we get an ode, which is a song, means “a song.” And the elders adousin ōdē, they sang a song.
Again, I say it’s fine to speak of all the angels enjoying this song of redemption. But specifically to speak of angels singing you would have to include them then in the “they” of verse 9; and it’s best to limit that to the twenty-four elders.
You say, “Well, now wait a minute. Angels sing. We know that, because the Bible says, ‘Hark, the herald angels sing.’” Where is that verse? That’s not a verse of the Bible; that’s a song, that’s a hymn, “Hark the herald angels sing.” There’s nothing in the Bible that says the angels sing.
And Job 38:7 says that at creation the morning stars sang together. That could be a reference to angels; and it’s very possible that they might have sung at creation. But never again does Scripture say angels sing. Some have suggested that maybe they did sing before creation, and once the fall came they didn’t sing anymore. And maybe they should be included here in verse 9, because now that the fall is about to be reversed, they’re ready to sing again.
If you go back to Luke chapter 2 and remember the birth of Christ, you will remember that Scripture says this: “And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly hosts praising God, and saying.”
Always the redeemed sing. We can’t say for sure that at creation when the morning stars sang together that it did mean the angels were singing, or that their song was a song like our song – it may have been. We can’t say specifically here that this excludes the angels. It’s possible now that they have gotten their song back, because they can see the reverse of the curse. But those would be the only two allusions in all of holy Scripture about angels singing. If they sing, then it’s before the fall and in anticipation of the reverse of the fall, and not in the middle. The redeemed sing, God’s blood-washed children sing; but angels don’t sing in Scripture.
Dr. Criswell writes, “Music is made up of major chords and minor chords. The minor chords speak of the wretchedness, death, and sorrow of the fallen creation. Most of nature moans and groans in a plaintive and minor key. The sound of the wind through the forest, the sound of the storm, the sound of the wind around the house is always in a minor key; it wails. The sound of the ocean moans in its restlessness; it is speechless trouble. Even the nightingale’s song, the sweetest song of the birds, is the saddest.
“Most of the sounds of nature are in a minor key. It reflects the wretchedness, the despair, the hurt, the agony, the travail of the fallen creation. But an angel knows nothing about that. An angel knows nothing of the wretchedness, nothing of the despair, nothing of the fall of the lost race.
“The major key and the major chords are chords of triumph and victory. Surely, God has taken us out of the miry clay, He has taken us out of the horrible pit, He has set our feet upon the rock; and He’s put a new song in our souls, and new praises on our lips. But an angel knows nothing of this. An angel has never been redeemed. An angel has never been saved. An angel has never fallen and been brought back to God. That’s the only reason that I find as to why angels never sing, it is God’s people who sing.
“That’s why the redeemed sing” – he writes – “and the angels just speak about it. They see it, they watch it, but they know nothing about it personally. It takes a lost and fallen man who has been brought back to God, who has been forgiven of his sin, who has been redeemed. It takes a saved soul to sing.” End quote.
I think there’s some truth in that. The Bible is filled with indications that the redeemed sing, and no indications specifically that the angels sing.
And so the twenty-four elders most likely sing this new song. It’s a new day, and it’s a song of redemption. It’s a song that they know personally, because they have been redeemed. They are joined by the four living creatures, for sure. And in whatever way angels express themselves by saying, or if they at this particular time learn how to sing as they once did, in either case, they join them for this glorious, final thrust of music that finds its way all the way down to the end of the chapter.
It’s a new song. Please note that. They sang a new song. I wish we had the time to go through the book of Psalms and see all the places it talks about new song, more places than new life, more than a new creation, new anything is new song; because redemption brings a song. Psalm 33, Psalm 40, Psalm 96, Psalm 91, Psalm 144, Psalm 149, and elsewhere. When God saves somebody, it brings a new song. And here is even a new, new song, as they anticipate the final, full, glorious redemption.
Chapter 14 and verse 3 again says, “They sang a new song before the throne and before the living beings and the elders; and no one could learn this song except one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been purchased from the earth.”
There’s another new song from another new redeemed group. There was a new song for those redeemed in the Old Testament. There’s a new song here for those redeemed in the church age. And there’s a new song for those redeemed out of the tribulation who are led by the one hundred and forty-four thousand. They’re just new songs of redemption popping up through redemptive history. And I believe this is primarily the song of the redeemed represented by the elders, but it’s joined by the angels.
Isaiah 42, by the way, seems to be talking about that same song. Isaiah 42:9 through 13, I just need to read it. We’re not getting too far too fast here, but you need to see this.
Isaiah 42:9, “Now behold, the former things have come to pass, now I declare new things. Sing to the Lord a new song. Sing His praise from the end of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it, you islands and those that dwell on them! Let the wilderness and its cities lift up their voices, the settlements where Kedar inhabits. Let the inhabitants of Sela sing aloud. Let them shout for joy from the tops of the mountains. Let them give glory to the Lord, and declare His praise and the coastlands. The Lord will go forth like a warrior, and He will arouse His zeal like a man of war. He will utter a shout; yes, He will raise a war cry. He will prevail against His enemies.”
And this seems to be at the very time when Messiah comes in judgment. So that is maybe even a part of this song, the apocalyptic coming of the Lord to take over and to conquer, to redeem the universe, and the final redemption of man; for the kingdom becomes the theme of the new song.
The song says this, and I know you know these words: “Worthy art Thou to take the book” – or the scroll – “and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.”
“Worthy art Thou to take the scroll.” Who is worthy? The Lamb, who is the Lion, who is the Root of David, who is the Lord Jesus Christ.
“You are worthy. You have the right. You have the inherent right, because You are God. You have the earned right, because You have overcome the enemy. You have the power. You are God’s heir. You are God’s right arm. And so You have the worthiness to take the scroll and break its seals.” That means to enact what is written in it by way of judgment to take back the universe. It’s as if the world is captive to Satan, and Christ reveals step by step by breaking the seals the battle plan by which He conquers the universe, and banishes Satan.
Why is He worthy? “For Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.”
You see, whoever was going to be the king of the earth, whoever was going to be the monarch of the universe, whoever was going to be the heir of God had to be slain. The law required the slaying of a perfect, blameless, spotless lamb; and it was Him.
Back in verse 6, He was the Lamb standing, who had been slaughtered. It was the sacrificial substitutionary death of Jesus Christ as a lamb on the cross of Calvary that made Him worthy to take the scroll. Why? Because in that death He redeemed sinners. Look at it: “And did purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.”
“You have a right to redeem Your own, You bought them. You have a right to redeem the universe, You made it. You purchased for God with Your blood,” – agorazō, “to buy out of the marketplace” – “You paid the full price.” The background of this rich imagery is the buying of slaves from the marketplace, and setting them free. Someone who is philanthropic would go into the marketplace and spend a fortune buying slaves that were there, and then just turning them free.
At the cross, the Lord Jesus paid the price to buy the slaves of sin with His own blood from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and set them free. He bought them from the slavery of sin, and redeemed them to become saints to God for His service and for His worship. He redeemed them from sin and death and hell and Satan and demons to make them saints to God who share God’s glory. And the price; His life. “You were slaughtered. You were slaughtered.”
I have to add another note here. Some translations include in verse 9 the word “us.” “Worthy art Thou to take the book” – or the scroll – “and to break its seals, for Thou wast slain and did purchase us, us.” “Redeemed us to God by Your blood,” says, for example, the New King James Version.
There is strong manuscript evidence in the ancient manuscripts for including the word “us.” The majority of manuscripts, both early manuscripts and late manuscripts, include “us.” And it makes sense in the context, since back in verses 5 and 6 it is the elders who are singing the song.
I think it is their song. It is the song of the redeemed. As I said, the angels may be in the background joining in somehow; but the ones with the harps and the ones with the bowls and the ones who sing the new song of redemption are the elders. And it’s appropriate then to include from the context standpoint “us,” because they’re saying “You purchased us. You redeemed us to God by Your blood.”
If that indeed is the case, and if the majority of manuscripts are right, even though the New American Standard doesn’t include it, if the rest are right, it strengthens the idea that the twenty-four elders indeed represent the raptured church; and that, of course, would strengthen a pretribulation rapture. Angels have never experienced redemption, so the angels can’t sing, “You’ve redeemed us.”
The extent of the redemption then is given, verse 9, “from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” And I think all that’s trying to say is, “from everywhere, from everywhere.” And the Greek is ek; it means “out of.” “You have redeemed us out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” Out from within, all of these different groups the redeemed have come.
Jesus Christ shed His blood for the whole world. “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son.” The assumption is, if He loved the world and gave His Son, He gave His Son for the world He loved, which means the sacrifice of Christ was sufficient for the whole world. He provided a universal redemption, but only some enjoy its reality, “some out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” This isn’t a universalist statement that He has redeemed every tribe and tongue and people and nation. No, “out from” everyone.
These four terms, “every tribe and tongue and people and nation,” occur five times in Revelation, and they always refer to all of humanity, just a general sense of all of humanity. Out from all of humanity God, through Christ, has redeemed souls. “Tribe” indicates the same descent. “Tongue” indicates the same language. “People” indicates the same race. And “nation” indicates the same culture. So people from every descent and every language and every race and every culture have been redeemed. From out of every lineage and out of every language and out of every race and out of every culture the Lord has redeemed us.
Now can you imagine what this meant to John? You understand that when John gets this revelation, he’s on the Isle of Patmos. The church is a little over fifty years old; the church has been battered and abused and slaughtered. His friends, the apostles, have died as martyrs; he is in exile. He might well conclude that things were disastrous. He has just received seven letters, five of which indicated the churches that were the primary churches in the development and expansion of Christianity had defected from the faith. And it might well have been in his mind a reality that, “The way this deal is going, by the time we get to the end there won’t be any redeemed people.”
I mean, there were those euphoric days at Pentecost when three thousand were saved and five thousand were added, and the church exploded and filled Jerusalem with its doctrine. And there were those wonderful days of the apostle Paul planting churches. And then there was the end of the life of Paul, and near the end he said, “Everyone in Asia has turned away from me.” And churches had lost their first love, and compromised with the world, and tolerated sin, and become dead and nauseating.
Can you imagine the wonderful, thrilling exhilaration of John as he hears the twenty-four elders saying through this new song in melody and word that there will be a gathering together of redeemed people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation on the globe? And at this time, Christianity is just in a little place. What hope, what thrill, what joy must have entered his heart.
And then verse 10 adds the result of such redemption: “And Thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”
The word “them” is interesting to note. Why not “us”? Well, I don’t know. “Thou hast made us.” Maybe because that’s a little too narrow. Now you’ve got to include more than just the twenty-four elders who are the saints of the church age, raptured and redeemed; you’ve got to include all of the Old Testament saints, all of the tribulation saints. They will all be kings and priests to our God, and reign upon the earth. And so he uses the third person, because of the vastness of the final comprehensive redemption.
What is the goal and the outcome of this redemption? We have been made a kingdom and priests to our God, a kingdom and priests to our God. Something noted, by the way, in chapter 1 verse 6; and also in chapter 20, verse 6. We are a kingdom and priest.
What is a kingdom? A community of saints under sovereign rule. He is our King. We’re not part of a kingdom, we are a kingdom. We are royalty under the great King. We share His blood, as it were; we share His royalty. We are joint heirs. We’re not part of a kingdom, we are a kingdom. In fact, He is a King, and we’re all kings, and we all reign with Him.
Maybe the Corinthians got the message messed up, but they at least had it in a small capsule. First Corinthians 4:8, Paul sarcastically says, “You’re already filled, you’ve already become rich, you have become kings without us. I would indeed you had become kings.”
He had probably told them, “The day’s coming when we’re going to be kings. We’re going to be a kingdom of kings.” And they thought they had already arrived. He sarcastically reminds them they hadn’t. But they would.
The end of chapter 3 verse 21 in Revelation, “All believers are granted to sit down with Me on My throne.” We will be a kingdom of kings, and we will reign over the earth. We will be royalty forever, reigning with our ruling Christ on the earth, and reigning throughout eternity in the new heaven and the new earth.
And then he adds, “and priests to our God.” We will be priests as well. That signifies complete access to God’s presence. The priests had complete access to God’s presence, for worship, for praise, for service. We will be royalty, and we will be priesthood.
We even now are priests. First Peter 2:5 and 9 tells us we are priests unto God. That’s anticipatory of our future priesthood, when we have total access, perfect communion with God.
So we are redeemed, and the twenty-four elders are singing a new song. And they’re singing, “You’re now worthy to take the book and to break its seals. You died, You were slaughtered, and You paid the price; and You purchased us with Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation. And You’ve gathered all the redeemed, and You’ve made them to be a kingdom of kings and priests with eternal access and communion to God, who will reign on the earth.” This is the song of the twenty-four elders.
For the fourth time in the chapter, John says he saw something, verse 11: “And I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living beings and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads,” – that’s a little hard to add – “and thousands of thousands.”
“I looked,” – a vision; he had a vision in a vision – “and I heard, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne.” And now the thing is beginning to crescendo to the voices of the four living creatures saying what they were saying; are added the twenty-four elders, are added the harps; and now an innumerable number of angels surround the throne where God and the Lamb are present.
And the number is beyond calculation. It says “myriads of myriads.” That’s murion in the Greek. Murion times murion. It basically means ten thousand times ten thousand.
You see, ten thousand was the largest Greek number that had a word for it. They didn’t have words for million and so forth, because they didn’t count anything that went that high. And all they had was ten thousand as a word in their vocabulary. So when they wanted to talk about an innumerable number they said ten thousand times ten thousand – which I think makes a hundred million – and thousands and thousands plus however many. By the way, murion in Luke 12:1 and in Hebrews 12:22 is translated “innumerable.” They were uncountable; millions of them.
And they join the praise, verse 12. Now notice, when the angels come in, does it say they sang? What does it say? “They say with a loud voice.” And this leads me to assume then that they’re still not singing, and maybe they never do.
“Saying with a loud voice.” God likes everything loud. Have you noticed that? He likes everything loud. I hear people say, “Oh I don’t like the music, it’s too loud.” Listen, sister. Wait till you get to heaven. You ain’t heard nothing yet until you hear millions of voices singing loud. You haven’t any reason to complain.”
Verse 12: “Saying with a loud voice.” And this is an interesting thought: they can only echo the song of redemption. They can’t initiate it, it’s not their song. Back in chapter 4 they can say, “Holy, holy, holy.” And they can say, “Worthy are You, our Lord, to receive glory and honor.” They can glorify God. But they can’t sing the song of redemption. They can’t invent it, they can only echo it. “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.”
In Psalm 33:3 they sang loud. In Psalm 98:4 they were supposed to sing loud. And here they are loud. This time they’re saying loudly in an angelic doxology, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain.”
Please remind yourself again that the emphasis is on His death as a perfect redemption, and so He must be given worship and praise and adoration. “He is worthy because He was slain, to be given power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” And I read that, and I say, you know, this is one of those things that’s such an unbelievable doxology, it almost defies exposition; you almost don’t want to touch it.
But for men and angels, He is worthy to receive all this praise. He is worthy to receive recognition because of His power, His omnipotence. He is worthy to receive recognition because of His riches, His spiritual wealth, His material wealth; He owns everything. He is worthy to receive praise because of His wisdom. He is omniscient. He made wisdom wisdom. He is worthy to receive recognition and praise because of His might or His strength, His reserve of power. In the Greek it’s ischun. He is worthy to receive honor because of His holy character. He is worthy to receive glory or a recognition of His divine majesty and heavenly radiance. And He is worthy to receive blessing because of His absolute perfection.
“You are to receive an accolade for Your power, an accolade for Your riches and Your wisdom and Your might and Your honor and Your glory, and the tremendous blessing that flows from You.” Those are seven qualities true of the Lamb and true of God. And they are intrinsic to the person of God and the person of the Lamb. He doesn’t have to receive them, He is them. They aren’t given to Him, they are Him. And all we can do is praise Him for what He is. All this greatness the Lamb possesses; and He is worthy.
And so, you have an innumerable number of angels, plus the living ones, the twenty-four elders. And then in verse 13 the whole creation joins: “And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them.”
You read that somebody will inevitably say, “What does that include?” What does that include? Did you read that? It includes every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them.
Do you want me to explain that? Why would I explain an absolutely all-inclusive statement? There’s nothing left out. You’d better ask, “What doesn’t that include?” And the answer is nothing. I mean, I’m sure it’s everything from angels and men to frogs and gophers. I say frogs because they’re in the water, and gophers because they’re under the earth. Every being, the whole creation has been groaning, Romans 8 says, and now it explodes in praise. The whole created universe is now on the brink of its anticipated glory.
And the final fifth piece of this praise hymn to God and the Lamb is very brief. And they aren’t singing. “All these other beings say,” – because singing, as I said, belongs to the redeemed – ‘To Him who sits on the throne,” – that’s God – “and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.” Endless blessing, endless honor, endless praise, endless glory, endless worship to God, to Christ. The whole universe chimes in. What a moment.
They’re all so ecstatic because it’s going to happen. The curse is reversed. And the kingdom comes, and God will reign. And those four cherubim constitute the amen corner. Verse 14: “And the four living creatures kept saying, ‘Amen. Amen. Amen.’ And the elders fell down and worshiped.”
“Amen” is a solemn confirmation. It means “let it be, let it be, let it be,” “make it happen, make it happen.” And they say it over and over and over and over. And the twenty-four elders make a fresh prostration in worship of God and the Lamb. And soon, in fact, very soon, this great assembly will march out of heaven to execute judgment, to gather the elect, to return with Christ and set up His kingdom. The stage is set.
Father, thank You for this wonderful study tonight, this great chapter. We are in awe of it. And we can only say with those cherubim, “Amen, amen, amen, amen.” Over and over we say it, “Let it happen, let it happen, let it come.” For we groan waiting for the glorious manifestation of the sons of God, and all creation groans in travail, until the time of its release from the curse.
We know, as we said at the very beginning, that we could be near the end. We have no fear of that. We rejoice. We sing praise. We understand the glory and the joy. We understand the happiness of heaven in anticipation of the King coming.
Father, may we live in that wonderful hope, and may it spur us while we still have time to lead many in the direction of the Savior, so they can join with us in that happy, blissful joy, as we stand on the brink of heaven, one day waiting as the King comes, in His dear name, His glorious name, and His mighty name we pray, Amen.
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