SUMMARY.--The Book in the Hand of God. John's Grief Because No One Can Open It. The Assurance of the Elder. The Lamb that Had Been Slain. The New Song. The Grand Chorus of Angels, Elders, and Living Creatures.
1, 2. And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book. The book is in the right hand of God. It is not a printed book, such as we have one our shelves. There were no printed books then in existence. It is a manuscript, written upon both sides, and rolled together in the form of a scroll, and sealed with seven seals. We learn, what is recorded in the next chapter, that these seals were so arranged that when they were loosened in succession each one permitted a part of the book to be read. Possibly there were seven leaves to the book, since as each seal was loosed, a leaf of the book was revealed. The parchment was written on each side; the book was full, complete, nothing more to be added to what it contained. This sealed book is the book of the future, sealed to human vision, unknown even to the angels of heaven, and containing the record of "what shall be hereafter," to the end of time.
3. And no one in the heaven, or on the earth . . . was able to open the book. No one (the word man does not occur in the Greek) was found able to open the book, for no one can penetrate the future. It is held in the strong right hand of Him who sits on the throne, the omnipotent disposer of the future, who controls the destiny of churches, men, and nations. The sweep of the panorama, that has pictured forth upon its canvas the destiny of the Church and the world, cannot begin until the seals of this book are opened. Had no one been found able to open the seals, the closing book of the Bible would never have been written.
4, 5. And I wept much, because, etc. The exiled apostle is filled with anxiety to penetrate the secrets of futurity, and to know the fortunes of that Church which he loved better than he loved his own life. He was then a prisoner on a rocky isle of the sea. It was a time of persecution. He was separated from the saints, and ardently desires to know the results, in the future, of all the struggles, sufferings and blood of a persecuted people. 5. One of the elders saith unto me, Weep not. It is one of the twenty-four elders that assures him that the book will be opened; and let it be distinctly noted that such a duty as instructing a prophet in heavenly things was never laid upon a human being under either covenant. Such duties mark the elders as belonging to the angelic realm. The Lion of the tribe of Judah. "Judah is a lion's whelp" (Gen. 49:9); see also Isa. 11:1, 10. Jesus was of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, or descended from David.
6, 7. When John looked to behold the Lion of Judah, the root of David, who should open the book, he beheld the only being in the universe who could take it from the hand of God. There is none other to whom the future is revealed. He only, to whom all power in heaven and earth has been given, can control the events of earth. He only can hold in his hand the book of destiny, open its leaves, and reveal its record to men. John looked to see this mighty one who was deemed worthy to exercise the prerogative of God. But he appears in symbolic form, as a Lamb of God slain for sins; a sacrificial Lamb bearing wounds, the marks of having been slain. The Lion had become a Lamb. The Lamb became a Lion, a conqueror, and "prevailed" so as to be able to hold and open the book, or to hold the reins of all power by submitting unto death. Seven horns, and even eyes. This symbolic Lamb had seven horns, the perfect number joined to the well-known symbol of power; the seven horns denoting omnipotence; also the Lamb had seven eyes, defined by John to symbolize the omniscience of him who hath the Spirit without measure. See note on "the seven Spirits of God" in 1:4.
8. When he took the book. The deliverance to him of the book was a signal for the four living creatures and the elders to fall before the Lamb, as they had fallen before the throne. They recognize in the fact that he has the book "that all power in heaven and earth is given into his hands." Hence, they offer him homage as Divine. Having every one of them harps. For praise. The grammatical construction seems to include both living creatures and elders. Golden vials full of odors. These symbolize the prayers of the saints. The imagery represents these heavenly assistants presenting these in heaven in behalf of the saints on earth. The comforting thought is that these prayers are not lost, but are presented at the throne of God and before the Lamb.
9-14. They sung a new song. To the music of their harps. A song that could not be sung until the Lamb had taken the book. Didst purchase unto God with thy blood men of every tribe, etc. See the Revised Version. The Common Version is incorrect, as is now admitted by all scholars. The song does not sing of what Christ has done for those who are singing, but of what he has done for men. The singers are not of those redeemed. 10. Hast made them. Not "us," as in the Common Version. Kings and priests. A kingdom and priests. See note on 1:6. And they (not we) shall reign on the earth. As coadjutors of Christ. See note on 2:10. 11. And I beheld . . . many angels. The countless multitudes of angels also unite in the praises of the Lamb. 13. And every creature. All animated creation gives glory to the Lamb. 14. And the four living creatures said, Amen. They, then, though they may be in sympathy with, are different from the animated creation. Four orders join in these honors to the Lamb: (1) The Living Creatures; the Cherubim; (2) the Twenty-four Elders; (3) the Angels; (4) all Animate Creation.
THE DOXOLOGIES.--The action of this chapter is wonderfully dramatic. The Being upon the throne with the sealed book in his right hand; the proclamation of the strong angel calling for some one who was worthy to open the book; the declaration that no created being of the universe could open it; the apostle weeping, in his anxiety to know concerning the future, and from disappointment that no one could open the book; the assurance of the elder that the Lion of the tribe of Judah had prevailed to open it; the appearance of the slain Lamb who prevails as the Lion, and his taking the book out of the right hand of God, are all calculated to fix the attention with breathless interest, and to strike the imagination with startling power. And the picture grows still grander as the heavenly tenants sing their doxologies in praise of the victory of the Lamb. First, the four living creatures and the elders sing a new song; then a countless number of angels, about the throne, the living creatures and the elders join in the chorus. These praises ring through the heavens, and the reverberations reach from heaven to earth, and every creature "in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea" join in the ascription of praise to the Lamb. To these praises the cherubim respond, Amen! and the elders fall down and worship Him that liveth forever and ever.