Revelation 5 Commentary

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vv.1-5 “The scroll, then, is not only about judgment or about the inheritance of the kingdom. Rather, it contains the announcement of the consummation of all history–how things will ultimately end for all people: judgment for the world and the final reward of the saints (11:18). Christ alone, as the Messiah, is the executor of the purposes of God and the heir of the inheritance of the world. He obtained this by his substitutionary and propitiatory death on the cross (5:9).”

“Ancient Roman wills or ‘testaments’ were sealed with six seals, each of which bore a different name of the sealer and could only be opened by him […] This has led some to identify the scroll as the testament of God concerning the promise of the inheritance of his future kingdom […] A slight variation of this view refers the scene to the Roman law of mancipatio. Under this law an heir received either an inheritance at the death of the testator or the use of mancipatio in connection with transference of the inheritance to an executor, known as the familiae empto. The executor could use the property till the death of the testator, at which time he was obligated to distribute the possessions in accordance with the instructions of the testator […].”

“One of the many sorts of documents in the ancient world sealed by witnesses was a will (often sealed with six witnesses, though seen witnesses also appear.) Once it was attested that the person who made the will was genuinely dead, the seals would be broken and the will opened, making public its contents. In this way the veracity of its contents were guarded. It may be significant here that it is only after the Lamb has been slain the book can be opened (5:6), if this book is the Lamb’s book of life, his legacy for his followers, it becomes theirs through his self-sacrifice.”

vv.5-6 “The image of the Lion from Judah comes from Genesis 49:9-10, which Jewish people usually applied to the Davidic Messiah. The ‘Root of David’ is the Messiah who comes from the truncated house of David (Isa. 11:1), anointed by the Spirit (11:2) and appointed to rule all the nations with peace. Early Judaism recycled the imagery of the passage to represent a mighty warrior prince.
“But here the central paradox of Revelation and of Christian faith in general comes to the fore: Jesus conquered not by force but by death, not by violence but by martyrdom. The Lion is a Lamb! Regularly in ancient literature, lions functioned as images of great strength – the courageous, powerful rulers of the animal kingdom. Even Jewish texts use the image of a lion for courage and power in general more often than specifically for the Messiah. John turns, expecting to witness a powerful hero. Yet the Lamb, by contrast, provides an image of helplessness. Lambs were the most vulnerable of sheep, and sheep were among the weakest of creatures, typically contrasted with predators.
“Most significantly for John, this is a slaughtered lamb, a sacrificial lamb. Plagues will fall on the disobedient world (Rev. 6-16), but just as the blood of the Passover lamb delivered Israel from the climatic plague (Ex. 12:23) so Jesus’ blood will protect his people during God’s judgments on humanity (Rev. 7:3). Jesus’ victory is like a new exodus (5:9-10; 15:3), and Jesus himself is the new Lamb (cf. 1 Cor. 5:7)”

“Since the Lamb operates by the ultimate power, the power of God, the Lamb conquers. As ‘Lamb’ is the key christological noun in John’s vocabulary, so ‘conquer’ (nikao), also translated ‘overcome,’ ‘prevail,’ ‘win the victory,’ ‘triumph,’ ‘win the right,’ is the key christological verb. It occurs twenty-three times, twice as often as in all other New Testament books combined. The Lamb indeed ‘conquers’ (3:21; 5:5; 17:14), as do faithful Christians (2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21; 12:11; 15:2; 21:7). Indeed John explicitly points out that ‘conquering’ is what binds together Jesus and his followers (3:21), and that Christians ‘conquer’ not only by what they do but by what Jesus has done (12:11).
‘Conquering’ in both cases, that of the Christ and that of Christians, means no more or less than dying. It never in Revelation designates any destructive judgment on the enemies of Christ or Christians. Jesus stood before the Roman court, was faithful unto death, and this was his victory and his reign. John calls Christians to do the same messianic conquest […] ‘In the context of Apocalypse as a whole, ‘conquering’ means being acquitted in a court of law. The acquittal of the faithful is paradoxical. It is expected that they will be found guilty in the local Roman courts and executed. But the testimony they give and their acceptance of death will win the acquittal that counts – in the heavenly court, in the eyes of eternity’ […] For Christians, what it means to ‘win’ has been redefined by the cross of Jesus.”

v.6 “The ‘eyes’ are more explicitly identified as the ‘seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth,’ probably a symbolic reference to the divine Holy Spirit who is sent forth by Christ into the world (1:4; 4:5). The teaching of the fourth Gospel is similar, where the Spirit is sent forth to exalt Christ and convict the world of sin (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7-15).”

“seven horns. The horn is an ancient Jewish symbol for power or strength (cf. Dt 33:17). The fourth beast of Da 7:7, 20, had ten horns (cf. Da 8:3,5). Seven horns would symbolize full strength.”

v.8 “The ‘bowls full of incense’ represent the ‘prayers of the saints’ (8:3-4). Prayer (proseuche) in this scene is not praise but petition. Why would John mention the saints on earth as petitioning God? In 6:10 the martyrs are seen as calling to calling to God for his judgment on those who killed them, and in 8:3-4 the prayers of the saints are immediately connected with the trumpets of God’s judgment. These prayers, then, are evidently for God’s vindication of the martyred saints. And since v. 10 refers to the coming kingdom, it may be that the prayers are petitions for God to judge the world and to extend his kingdom throughout the earth (Luke 18:7-8). ‘Saints’ here, as elsewhere in the NT and the rest of Revelation, is simply the normal term for the rank and file of Christians, i.e., those set apart for God’s purposes (2Cor 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Rev 11:18; 13:7, 19; 19:8; 22:21).”

vv.10-13 “But the perspective of the true heavenly chorus celebrates an even more critical focus of God’s activity in history: the redemption of saints from among all nations by the blood of a new Passover Lamb (5:9). Like ancient Israel (Ex. 9:6), these people will also be a ‘kingdom and priests’ (Rev. 5:10). Those persecuted for their refusal to participate in the worship of emperor may have been struck with the contrast of the pretensions of human power. In various regions throughout the empire regional choruses sang the emperor’s praises. But an audience immersed in the Old Testament would be most struck by the fact that this new act of redemption encompassed believers from all peoples.”

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