Harry Whittaker
Revelation - A Biblical Approach

Chapter 5 - The Sealed Book (ch. 5)

Revelation 5 is an immediate continuation of the vision of the heavenly throne and sanctuary described in chapter 4. The prophet now sees a sealed book - a cylindrical scroll, of course, after the manner of the times - in the hand of the Holy One on the throne. Grief at the inability of anyone to take the book and open it is assuaged by the sight of the slain Lamb who himself takes the book and is thereupon extolled in a hymn of praise. The vision then moves by stages to a climax. The Lamb is honoured also by a multitude of angels acknowledging his right to all kingly power and majesty. And after this, every living thing in all the universe joins in a mighty shout of praise “unto Him that sitteth upon the throne and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.”

It is obviously of crucial importance to be able to identify without any manner of doubt the nature and character of the book, which the Lamb takes and unseals. Happily this need not be at all a matter for conjecture (as a great many have made it) for there is available a mass of Bible evidence to demonstrate that the sealed scroll is none other than the Book of Life. The main items are catalogued here. Some of these have been received, with gratitude, from a fellow student of the Scriptures in South Wales.

1. The tremendous emphasis put on the connection between the Book and the sacrifice of Christ:

“Thou art worthy to take the book ... for thou wast slain ...” (v. 9)

“A Lamb as it had been slain” (v. 6).

“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive ...” (v. 12).

“the Lion of the tribe of Judah hath conquered to open the book ...” (v. 5) - i.e. the overcoming by Christ was in order that the Book might be opened. This point by itself is all but conclusive.

2. John’s weeping because, at first, no one was found to open the Book, is scarcely explained on any other hypothesis, but is fully explained on this.

3. “The Lamb came and took the book out of the right hand of Him that sat upon the throne” (v. 7). Then, later in Revelation, there is reference to the Lamb’s Book of Life (13: 8), and in such a way as to imply that the reader already knows its existence.

4. This chapter has three songs of praise:

By cherubim and elders when the Lamb takes the Book-at his ascension to heaven?

By a great multitude of angels-when he assumes his royal dignity at his second coming?

By all creation-when the Son gives the kingdom to God, even the Father (1 Corinthians 15:24)?

If this is a correct interpretation of the main structure of the vision, then the Book can scarcely be other than the Book of Life. It is from the time of Christ’s ascension that all authority is given to him in heaven and in earth.

5. Verse 12 contains a verbatim quotation from Daniel 7:10. Beyond question they refer to the same thing. The context bears this out:

Daniel 7:9, 10
thrones were set
the 24 elders upon 24 thrones (R.V. ) (ch. 4 :4).
the Ancient of days did sit.
a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne (4:2).
His garment white as snow.
like unto a jasper (4:3).
His throne like the fiery flame.
and a sardine stone.
His wheels as burning fire.
(Ezekiel 1:15-21. Not mentioned in Revelation except by implication in connection with the four-fold cherubim-chariot of Revelation 6).
a fiery stream issued and came forth from before Him.
the sea of glass.
thousand thousands ministered unto Him and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him.
the number of the angels was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands (ch. 5:11).
the judgement was set and the books were opened.
I saw the dead small and great stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life (ch. 20:12).

The passage in Daniel is continuous. The parallels in Revelation are first in ch. 4, 5 and then in ch. 20 - a plain demonstration that ch. 5:5 concerns the one who has the right to open the Book of Life which is mentioned explicitly in Revelation 20:12.

6. The Book cannot be a book of prophecy because:

it could have been revealed to John as other prophecies were revealed to Isaiah, Daniel etc.

the emphasis on the sacrifice of Christ and on the expressions of great joy would lack adequate explanation.

the prophecies (ch. 6 etc.) come when the seals are being broken, i.e. before the Book is actually opened.

7. The general shape of the first half of Revelation requires this conclusion.

Observe the sequence:

The Book is taken by the Lamb (ch. 5).

Six of the seals are broken (ch. 6).

The seventh seal is broken. Its opening is accompanied by the sounding of the seven trumpets (ch. 8, 9).

With the sounding of the seventh trumpet the opening of the Book is now fully possible: “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ... the time of the dead that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants... “ (ch. 11: 15, 18).

What could be clearer?

8. A further parallel, this time with Daniel 12, is instructive. It is often assumed that the sealed book of Revelation 5 is the book of Daniel 12:4, 9 which was to be “closed up and sealed until the time of the end.” But proximity of context and that phrase “until the time of the end” combine to require that this sealed book should be the one just mentioned in v. 1: “a time of trouble such as never was... and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the Book.” This book (of v. 1) is without doubt the Book of Life; verse 2 with its unequivocal reference to the Day of Judgement is decisive on this. The same conclusion must therefore hold for the sealed Book of Revelation 5.

Quite a number of the foregoing eight points of evidence are sufficiently weighty in themselves to establish a good case for believing the scroll of Revelation 5 to be the Book of Life. Taken together, the testimony becomes truly formidable. By contrast the evidence in favour of any of the many other suggested interpretations (that the scroll is the Old Testament and New Testament - “written within and on the backside” - or that it is the Apocalypse itself) is meagre indeed, to the point of being non-existent.


It is time now to give attention to other details about the Book. It is described as being “upon the right hand of Him that sat on the throne” not, as in the A.V., “in his right hand.” The difference is significant. The Book was not grasped. There is no withholding on God’s part. The only obstacle to the Book being taken and read was the divine Glory. Because of it, “no person (not, no man) in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon.” This last phrase should probably read: “neither to see it” - the 24 elders were all on their faces (ch. 4:10), because of the divine Glory.

When, therefore, the angel shouted out: “Who is worthy to open the book and (even) to loose the seals thereof?” his appeal (to which Peter may be making allusion in 1 Peter 1:12) is that one be found worthy to approach to the very throne of God. And there was found none worthy to do so, neither an angel in heaven, nor any mortal man on earth, nor any of past generations now buried under the earth. Well might John weep! The situation emphasized that redemption and the reading of a Book of Life could never come by angelic ministration nor by the efforts of any mortal man, nor by the self-sacrifice of those prepared to die for others, but in one way and one way only - through the death of a divinely provided sacrifice (v. 6). Is it exaggeration or presumption or blasphemy to suggest that even divine omnipotence and omniscience could have devised no other means to bring about human redemption than that Purpose which is being worked out in Christ?[3]


John’s grief was assuaged. One of the elders (how one would like to know his name!) tells him of a conqueror-the Lion of the tribe of Judah. The title is derived directly from Jacob’s prophecy concerning Judah: “Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion, who shall rouse him up? The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until he comes whose it is, and until there is unto him the gathering of the peoples (the Gentiles?).” The first part of this passage hints at resurrection. Its conclusion suggests the wider purpose of God with the Gentiles.

In harmony with this prophecy of Judah’s sovereignty, Jesus is also called “the Root of David.” Chapter 22:16 describe him as “the Root and Offspring of David.” The paradox is a striking one and yet perfectly true. Jesus was acknowledged during the days of his flesh as Son of David, and his right to David’s throne (whether legally or by natural descent) is fully established by the two genealogies of Matthew and Luke. Hence Isaiah 11:1: “There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch (Hebrew: nezer, whence “Nazareth”) shall grow out of his roots.’’[4]

But Jesus was also the Root of David, as well as conversely. Apart from the redemptive work of Christ there would be no eternal life for David who died with faith in him. The very promise God made to David implies this: “He shall build an house for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his Father, and he shall be My son. And thy house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever” (2 Samuel 7:13, 14, 16).

This double title of Jesus as Root and Offspring of David is the answer to the problem with which Jesus closed the mouths of his opponents in dialectic: Whose son (descendent) is the Messiah to be? David’s, to be sure! Then why does David in Psalm 110 speak of Messiah as his Lord? What man would dream of according superior status and honour to one of his own descendents? No father would dream of addressing his son as “sir” - yet, in effect, this is what David did! The only possible answer-which those astute theologians must have known full well, only it stuck in their throats - was that this Messianic Son of David must also have superhuman status. He must be divine! Thus Jesus taught the necessary dogma of the Virgin Birth, but his teaching fell on deaf ears and hard hearts.

Another delightful paradox now meets the student of Revelation 5: “Weep not: the Lion of the tribe of Judah hath prevailed ... and I beheld, and lo, ... a Lamb”[5] - a Lamb slain and yet standing, i.e. one who has given himself in sacrifice and has risen again from the dead (the word the Bible uses for ‘resurrection’ means ‘standing up’).


The Lamb’s seven horns and seven eyes imply fulness of power and knowledge-”All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” were the words of Jesus after his resurrection. The seven eyes, in particular, have a possible meaning that is worth exploring. This can best be done by putting alongside each other four passages from different parts of Revelation:

Chap. 5:6: “the seven eyes are the seven spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.”
Chap. 4:5: “seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.’
Chap. 8:2: “the seven angels which stood before God.”
Chap. 1:20: “the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven candlesticks are the seven churches.”

The combined teaching of these verses seems to be that in the symbolism of Revelation the seven representative churches of Asia figure as a seven branched candlestick, and that the light associated with each is an angel (compare the language of Jesus: “their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven”). This seems plain enough. Thus the “angel of the church” may be an actual angel, in accordance with the best canon of Biblical interpretation, that, if at all possible, words be allowed to mean precisely what they say. But then the exposition runs into rough water with the words: “Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write...;” for this approach seems to carry with it the rather fantastic corollary that the letters to the churches were addressed to angels and not to men.

However, such a strange conclusion is not inevitable. The Greek dative translated: “unto the angel of the church,” could also read: “for the angel of the church,” in the sense of “on behalf of the angel.” Admittedly this is not the commonest meaning to be read into a Greek dative, yet it is common enough in the New Testament. Here are a few illustrations where the same grammatical form is used.

Mark 14:15: “there made ready for us” i.e. on our behalf.

Matthew 6:25: “take no thought for your life”.

Matthew 17:4: “let us make here three tabernacles: one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.”

Matthew 11:29: “and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” The obvious meaning is “rest for your souls.”

Hebrews 4:9: “There remaineth therefore a (sabbath) rest for the people of God.”

The generally accepted view of the “angels of the churches” as being those men having oversight or leadership of the churches (and adopted in the notes on p. 16) has without doubt found favour only because any attempt to take the word “angel” literally has seemed to lead to such hopelessly absurd conclusions. Yet the group of passages cited earlier seems to point to the possibility that these angels are actual heavenly beings.

With the interpretation just suggested an entirely different picture emerges. The churches are seen to have guardian angels; and the letters to the churches are sent by Christ, and with his authority, on behalf of those unseen guardians of the spiritual well-being of the ecclesias. The idea is a most impressive one.

A similar picture is presented to the mind of the reader of Micah 5:5, although the context is very different: “And this man shall be the peace, when the Assyrian shall come into out land: and when he shall tread in our palaces, then shall we raise against him seven shepherds, and eight principal men.” Here, apparently, once more are Christ and the seven angels who care for his faithful (cp. also Matthew 24:31; 2 Thessalonians 1:7).


Jesus, the Lamb with seven horns and seven eyes, is described as approaching the throne and taking the book out of the right hand of Him that sat on the throne (v. 7). But the previous verse has described him as already standing “in the midst of the throne.” Once the Tabernacle setting of this vision is recalled this apparent contradiction is immediately and most instructively resolved.

In Ezekiel 1:26 the throne of the Almighty is over the outstretched wings of the cherubim. Thus the mercy seat, between the cherub figures in the Sanctuary, is “in the midst of the throne” of God, and is also His footstool. In the vision the slain Lamb is naturally seen first of all in the place of the sprinkling of blood, that is, between the cherubim, “in the midst of the throne.” In order that he might take the Book from the hand of Him that sits on the throne, an exaltation is needed up to the level of God’s dignity, a change of status which corresponds to the Ascension of Jesus and to the prophecy: “Sit thou at my right hand until I make thy foes thy footstool.” That this part of the vision is a “flash back” to the day of Christ’s ascension is strongly supported by the literal translation given in the R.V. margin: “he came and hath (already) taken the book” - what John is now seeing is a representation of what had actually taken place nearly forty years earlier.


No sooner had the Lamb received the Book than the cherubim and elders burst into a mighty hymn of praise to the accompaniment of harps and the offering of much incense (“the prayers of the saints”). In Scripture harps appear to signify intensification of emotion, whether of sorrow or of joy (here, certainly, the latter).

The worshippers proceeded to sing “a new song.’’[6]

It may be that the substance of this “new song” is in the words that follow: “thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof ...” But it is tempting to believe that the song was something more in addition to this ascription of praise, for Psalms 92, 96, 98 are all “new songs,” two of which specifically mention “singing unto the Lord with the harp.” Furthermore, each of these is followed by a “cherubim psalm,” beginning “The Lord reigneth,” and concluding with “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Perhaps, then, there is reference to these six psalms by the description “golden vials full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.”

The text of the additional song of praise (vv. 9, 10) seems to have suffered quite an appreciable amount of dislocation, so that it is difficult to know just what the correct manuscript reading should be. If the preponderating evidence of the manuscripts is followed, the following rather strange text results: “Worthy art thou to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain and didst redeem (or purchase) us to God by thy blood out of every tribe and tongue, and people, and nation, and didst make them a kingdom of priests, and they reign upon the earth (or, in the Land).”

Three points here call for comment. First, from this time onward - that is - from the time of the Ascension, it has been in the power of the Lamb to break the seals and to open the Book of Life, and therefore - by implication - to establish the Kingdom. Then why the delay? What decides when the Book is to be opened?[7]

The unexpected switching of pronouns, if the above reading can be sustained (a matter by no means certain), presents difficulty. So also does the present tense: “they reign on the earth.” One thing is clear - the cherubim and elders represent those who have been redeemed through Christ. But they are spoken of in two classes: those out of every tribe and people, i.e. faithful Israelites, for in the Old Testament these two words are normally appropriated for the chosen race; and those out of every tongue and nation which only too obviously are the believing Gentiles. The switch of pronouns from “us” to “them” and “they” may perhaps be a further indication of the greater blessing now being given to Gentiles at a time when Israel’s casting-off was imminent.

Readers need to be warned against the unscrupulous manhandling of this passage by some of those with a dogma to support, who believe that Christ comes to gather his saints together and take them off to heaven. Faced with the plain statement of Revelation 5:10 which can only mean either “on the earth” or “in the Land,” these misguided people attempt ta cook the translation so as to read “and we shall reign over the earth,” i.e. from heaven.[8] This reading can only be the result of ignorance or dishonesty, for the same grammatical form comes literally dozens of times in Revelation and is never translated “over” (e.g. 11:10; 14:6).


Now cherubim and elders are joined by an innumerable host of angels who share their rejoicing at the glory of the Lamb.[9]

In their adoration of the Lamb the angelic hosts are led by “the Church.” This is John’s counterpart to the lofty inspiration which was Paul’s in Ephesians 3:10 R.V.: “To the intent that now unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places (that is, to the angels in heaven) might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God.”

There follows yet another paean of praise both to God and to the Lamb It comes from “every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and in the sea” (cp. Philippians 2:10), and appropriately the Amen is said by the four cherubim.

[3] In Gethsemane, when Jesus prayed: "If it be possible...” the Father's answer was, in effect: "No, it is not possible."
[4] And this Hebrew verb strongly suggests "Ephratah" (i.e. Bethlehem).
[5] There does not seem to be any obvious reason why John should consistently use in Revelation a different Greek word for "Lamb" from that which he employs in his gospel. Is it this? — The same title "Lamb" identifies the one who died as a sacrifice for sin but the change of word implies a change of nature and of status.
[6] They did so falling down before the Lamb. Then ought not saints today to worship the Lamb, for they are represented in this vision (Luke 24:52)?
[7] This question is discussed at length in the Appendix.
[8] e.g. the J.W.’s “New World” translation, which here, and here only, translates this common expression in this particular way.
[9] Yet let it be observed that the redeemed stand nearer the throne than the angels do!
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