THE SEALED ROLL.—The vision of the previous chapter remains. The scenery does not shift, but the attention of the seer is now directed to one feature— the book, or roll, which was on the hand of the Throned One. This roll none in heaven, earth, or under the earth could open; but the Lamb takes the roll to open it, or to unfold its purport to the waiting world and Church; the Church and world praise Him who is the Light, revealing to them all they need to know.
The Lion of the tribe of Juda—The lion was the ancient symbol of the tribe of Judah. Jacob described his son as “a lion’s whelp” (Genesis 49:9); the standard of Judah in the Israelitish encampment is said to have been a lion. It was the symbol of strength, courage, and sovereignty.
The Root of David.—The Lion is also the representative of the royal house of David. “Christ cometh of the seed of David” (comp. Mark 12:35 with John 8:42); the prophets have described Him as the Branch, which would spring from the ancient stock (Isaiah 11:1; Zechariah 6:12). But there seems also a reference to the deeper thought that He who is the Branch is also the Root (comp. Isaiah 11:10); He is the one who was David’s Lord (Matthew 22:41-45), and “the true source and ground of all power” to David and David’s tribe, and of all who looked to Him, and not to themselves, for strength.
“Worthy art Thou to take the roll,
And to open the seals thereof;
For Thou wast slain,
And didst buy to God in Thy blood
Out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation,
And didst make them a kingdom and priests,
And they reign upon the earth.”
The English version, “hast redeemed,” and “hast made,” weakens the reference to the completed character of Christ’s redeeming work. It is the great victory in suffering and death which inspires the song, and makes them sing, “Thou art worthy;” and so they speak of that work of Christ as a work truly done: “Thou didst buy (omit “us”) out of every tribe, &c., and didst make them,” &c. The suffering Saviour has died, has broken the bond of the oppressor, has claimed, by right of purchase, mankind as His own; and the price was His blood. It is well to notice the harmony between this passage and the statements of other Apostles: “Ye are not your own;” “bought with a price.” (See 1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Corinthians 7:23; 1 Peter 1:18-19; 2 Peter 2:1.) Observe, also, the four terms (tribe, tongue, people, nation), employed as if to give emphasis to the universality of redemption, for four is the number of extension in all directions. With this compare Romans 5:15-19; Colossians 3:11; Hebrews 2:9. We have a right to teach all to say, “He redeemed me and all mankind.” It is instructive to dwell on the climax “they reign,” in contrast with “Thou wast slain.” It is like an anticipation of the now familiar words—
“Thine the sharp thorns, and mine the golden crown;
Mine the life won, and Thine the life laid down.”
“Didst make them a kingdom and priests.” (See Revelation 1:6.) This kingdom and reign is the outcome of Christ’s work. “Every precept of Christianity is quickened by the power of the death and resurrection of Christ. It is by the presence of this power that they are Christians, and it is as Christians that they conquer the world” (Westcott). “They reign on the earth.” Such is the best reading; the tense is present It is not, I think, to be explained away as a vivid realisation of the future; it is a simple statement, which is as true as that the followers of Christ are “a kingdom and priests.” They reign with and in Christ, but they also reign on the earth. Christ gives them a kingship, even sovereignty over themselves—the first, best, and most philanthropic of all kingships. He gives them, too, a kingship on the earth among men, for they are exerting those influences, promoting those principles, and dispensing those laws of righteousness, holiness, and peace which in reality rule all the best developments of life and history. All who traverse these laws are intruders, transitory tyrants, exerting only a phantom power. They are not kings: they may govern, they do not reign. (Comp. 1 Corinthians 3:21-23; Ephesians 2:6.)
“Loud as from numbers without number, sweet
As from blest voices, uttering joy.”
—Paradise Lost, iii. 346, 347.
“Worthy is the Lamb,
That hath been slain,
To receive the power.
And riches, and wisdom, and might,
And honour, and glory, and blessing.”
The doxology is seven-fold. We have noticed (Revelation 1:6) the increasing strength of the doxologies in which the redeemed take part. This, though a sevenfold one, does not interrupt that advance of praise; for in this chorus the redeemed do not take part. The definite article is prefixed to the word “power” only; in the doxologies of Revelation 4:11; Revelation 7:12 it stands before each word. This has led some to view the single article as prefixed to all that follows, and to regard all the words as though they formed one word. May it not, however, be used to give emphasis to the “power”? None, above or below, was “able” (same word as “power” here) to open the book (Revelation 5:3); but the Lamb has conquered to open it, and the chorus proclaims the Lamb worthy of that power. Some have thought that the seven terms of the doxology refer to the seven seals which the Lamb is about to open. This seems strained. The notion of completeness is common to this seven-fold blessing and the seven seals; this is the only connection between them.
“To Him that sitteth upon the throne,
And to the Lamb,
(Be) the blessing, and the honour,
And the glory, and the might,
To the ages of the ages.”
The song of praise rises from all quarters, and from all forms of creation. The whole universe, animate and inanimate, joins in this glad acclaim. To limit it to either rational or animate creation is to enfeeble the climax which this third chorus forms to the two preceding ones, and is to denude the passage of its fulness and of its poetry. The Hebrew mind delighted in representing every bird and every grass-blade as joining in God’s praise. “Mountains and all hills, fruitful trees and all cedars, beasts and all cattle, creeping things and flying fowl,” as well as kings of the earth and all people, were called on to bless the name of the Lord. Christian poets have told us that “Earth with her thousand voices praises God.”
“Nature, attend! join every living soul,
Beneath the spacious temple of the sky,
In adoration join’d; and, ardent, raise
One general song! To Him, ye vocal gales,
Breathe soft, whose Spirit in your freshness breathes.
***And thou, majestic main,
A secret world of wonders in thyself,
Sound His stupendous praise, whose greater voice
Or bids you roar, or bids your roaring fall.
Soft roll your incense, herbs, and fruits, and flowers,
In mingled clouds to Him whose sun exalts,
Whose breath perfumes you, and whose pencil paints.”
—Thomson, Hymn to Seasons.
The Apostle who pictured all creation as waiting in eager expectation for the full redemption—the redemption of “the body” (Romans 8:23), looked forward to the time when “the whole universe, whether animate or inanimate, would bend the knee in homage and raise its voice in praise” (Philippians 2:10). The doxology which thus rises from the universe is appropriately four-fold: the definite article (omitted in the English version) must be supplied before each word (“The blessing,” &c.). The two preceding songs were in honour of the Lamb; in this last the praise is addressed to the Throned One and to the Lamb. This linking of the Lamb with God as the Throned One is common throughout the book. Here they are linked in praise; in Revelation 6:16 they are linked in wrath; in Revelation 7:17 they are linked in ministering consolation; in Revelation 19:6-7, they are linked in triumph. In the final vision of the book the Lord God and the Lamb are the temple (Revelation 21:22) and the light (Revelation 21:23), the refreshment (Revelation 22:1) and sovereignty (Revelation 22:3), of the celestial city.
“How feeble and how faint art thou to give
Thomson takes refuge in silence from the overwhelming thoughts of the divine glory:—
Myself in Him, in light ineffable.
Come, then, expressive silence, muse His praise.”
Here the inspired seer describes the chorus of praise as dying into a silence born of awe and gratefulness and love.