On the open right palm of the one seated on the central throne, John saw a scroll with writing on both the inside and the outside and sealed with seven seals. (5:1) (Probably because John could see writing on the outside, he would have concluded that there would have been writing on the inside or the usual location of the text.) Possibly the sealed scroll in the hand of the Almighty reminded him of the words in Deuteronomy (29:29), “the secret things belong to YHWH our God.”
An angel, strong in appearance, proclaimed with a powerful voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” This appears to be a question about who would be entitled to reveal the hidden things of God. When no one in heaven, on earth, or underneath the earth (evidently referring to all who had died) could be found to unlock the secrets of the scroll, John began to weep profusely. Apparently he thought its important contents would remain permanently concealed from Christ’s disciples because no one had been found worthy to open the scroll and look at what it contained. (5:2-4)
One of the twenty-four elders then told John to stop weeping, for the one who had conquered, “the lion from the tribe of Judah, the root of David,” could open the scroll and its seals. Based on what Jesus Christ had said to his disciples while on earth, the congregation did know that he alone could provide the complete revelation about his Father and enjoyed an intimacy that no one else had. (Matthew 11:27) So it was fitting for one of the twenty-four elders, as representing the congregation destined for future glory, to identify the worthy one. By flawlessly carrying out his Father’s will and laying down his life in sacrifice, Jesus Christ conquered the world. The world of mankind alienated from his Father and its god proved to be powerless in diverting him from his faithful course. He remained unconquerable and triumphant. (5:5)
As the “lion from the tribe of Judah,” he is the possessor of the rulership that was promised to remain in Judah’s line of descent and to which he became an heir as a man. (Genesis 49:9, 10) He is also the “root of David.” This designation may have reminded John of Isaiah’s prophecy about the Messiah. “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse [David’s father], and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” (Isaiah 11:1, NRSV) “On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.” (Isaiah 11:10, NRSV) Through Jesus Christ, as from a root, the royal authority in the line of David came to life.
The visionary form of the glorious victor, however, did not prove to be a lion but a lamb with visible evidence of having been slaughtered. This emphasized that God’s Son had triumphed through his sacrificial death. Horns are representative of power, and so the “seven horns” of the Lamb identified Jesus Christ as the possessor of ultimate God-given power or of all the authority in heaven and on earth he had been granted. (Matthew 28:18) He also had the fullness of God’s spirit resting upon him as represented by the “seven eyes” or the “seven spirits,” which make it impossible for any development on earth to escape his notice or to interfere with the aid and guidance he provides to his disciples. (5:6) By reason of the unlimited vision made possible through God’s spirit, Jesus Christ is the possessor of complete knowledge.
When the Lamb took the scroll from the one seated on the throne, heaven resounded with praise. The four living beings acknowledged the greatness of the Lamb, prostrating themselves before him. Each of the twenty-four elders also fell down before him. The incense in their golden bowls represented the “prayers of the holy ones,” suggesting that the prayers of all of God’s people are being heard as if they were personally present. With their golden harps, the twenty-four elders accompanied their singing of a new song. Possibly the reason for its being called a “new song” is its focus on the new development relating to the once-slaughtered Lamb and the scroll. “Worthy are you to receive the scroll and to open its seals,” they sang, “for you were slaughtered and with your blood you purchased for God [persons] from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. And to our God, you made them a kingdom and priests, and they will reign [or, they reign] upon the earth.” Collectively, Christ made persons he purchased with his precious blood to be a kingdom or a royal realm under him as king. Individually, he made them to be priests. (5:7-10)
Greek manuscript evidence is divided about the tense of the word for “reign.” Fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus and numerous other manuscripts read basileúousin, (“they reign”), whereas fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus and many other manuscripts say basileúsousin (“they will reign”). The present tense would allow for the meaning that, while on earth, believers reign in the sense that they are no longer under the dominion of sin because of what Christ has done for them. Regarded from the standpoint of the future, they would be sharing in royal authority with him. The Greek preposition preceding “the earth” is epí, which has the basic sense of “on” or “upon,” but the term is not restricted to this meaning. In Luke 1:33, for example, the angel Gabriel is quoted as saying to Mary concerning the Son of the Most High, “he will reign over [epí] the house of Jacob forever.” If the future tense of reign is original in Revelation 5:10, the meaning could therefore be that the reign of the redeemed would be over the earth, with their location not being the aspect under consideration.
Next John saw an innumerable host of angels and heard them acknowledging the once-slaughtered Lamb as being worthy to receive the power, riches, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, and praise. Then followed a universal expression of praise, with every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth (apparently the realm of the dead), and in the sea uniting their voices and saying, “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb [be] the blessing and the honor and the glory and the might forever and ever.” The four living beings added, “Amen!” (So be it!), and the elders apparently fell to their knees and bowed down with their faces touching the floor of heaven. (5:11-14)
In 5:6, fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus and a number of later manuscripts do not include the word “seven” before “spirits.”
The Greek verb proskynéo, in its basic sense, denotes “to prostrate oneself” (3:9; 4:10; 5:14). In the visions, John would have seen persons kneeling and then bowing low. The context indicates whether prostration constituted an act of worship.