The Lamb Worthy to Open the Scroll: Part 5 of 7 (series: Lessons on Revelation)
by John Lowe
The “ELDERS” also have “GOLDEN VIALS” (bowls) “FULL OF ODORS” (incense); and the incense is the prayers of God’s devoted people who have been under the persecution of evil in the world and as a result of the persecution have been killed—“And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” (6:10). The likening of prayers to incense comes also from the Psalms. “Let my prayer be before thee counted as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice” (Psalm 141:2). The elders and the creatures fall down in worship of Jesus. This pictures all of the heavenly beings worshipping the Son, just as they had done for the one on the throne (4:10), acknowledging Christ’s deity. The only appropriate response to this moment is praise. In this case, the instruments and implements they use are harps and bowls of incense. But the significant thing is the idea of intermediaries in prayer. In later Jewish literature, this idea of heavenly intermediaries bringing the prayers of the faithful to God is very common. We find that many angels participate in this great work; and sometimes it is the guardian angels who bring the prayers of men to God.
There are certain things to be said about this belief in heavenly intermediaries.
From one point of view, it is an uplifting thought. We are, so to speak, not left to pray alone. No prayer can be altogether heavy-footed and leaden-winged which has all the citizenry of heaven behind it to help it rise to God.
From another point of view, it is quite unnecessary. Before us is set an open door which no man can ever shut; no man’s prayers need any assistance, for God’s ear is open to catch the faintest whisper of appeal.
The whole conception of intermediaries arises from a line of thought which has met us before. As the centuries went on, the Jews became more and more impressed with the otherworldliness of God, His difference from men. They began to believe that there never could be any direct contact between God and man and that there must be Angelic intermediaries to bridge the gulf. That is exactly the feeling that Jesus Christ came to take away; he came to tell us that God “is closer to us than breathing, nearer than hands or feet” and to be the living way by which for every man, however humble, the door to God is open.
There He stands, the Lamb and the Lion, the One who is both Savior and Sovereign. At present Christ sets with the Father (Ephesians 1:20; Revelation 3:21), but He shall stand again and claim His inheritance; the earth.
9 And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;
As with so many new things in Revelation, the elders and creatures are singing a “NEW SONG.” The phrase “A NEW SONG” is very common in the Psalms; and there it is always a song for the new mercies of God (Psalm 40:3; 98:1; 144:9; 149:1). In this case, “NEW” is not a chronological designation, but rather, an acknowledgment of the high quality of the song. This song is meant for this particular situation, not simply reused from another. The song celebrates the fact that Jesus is worthy to take the scroll. He is the One to accomplish the plan of God—dying for people from every nation in the world. Not only did Jesus die to bring humanity to God, but He also enabled believers to stand before God holy and just.
One of the characteristics of the Revelation is that it is the book of new things. There is the new name (2:17; 3:12); there is the new Jerusalem (3:12; 21:2); there is the new song (5:9; 14:3); there are the new heavens and the new earth (21:1); and there is the great promise that God makes all things new (21:5).
The praise rendered to the Lamb by the four living creatures and the elders is rendered because He died. In this song there is a summary of the results of the death of Jesus Christ; and in verses 9 and 10, the song acknowledges that the redeemed belong to God.
There are some things I would like to say about the death of Jesus Christ:
It was a sacrificial death. That is to say, it was a death with purpose in it. It was not an accident of history; it was not even the tragic death of a good and heroic man in the cause of righteousness, and of God; it was a sacrificial death. The object of this sacrifice is to restore the lost relationship between God and man; and it was for that purpose, and with that result, that Jesus Christ died.
The death of Jesus Christ was an emancipating death. From beginning to end the New Testament is full of the idea of the liberation of mankind achieved by Christ. He gave His life a ransom for
many (Mark 10:45). He gave Himself a ransom for all (1 Timothy 2:6). He redeemed us—literally bought us out—from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13). We are redeemed not by any human wealth but by the precious blood of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:19). Jesus Christ is the Lord that bought us (2 Peter 2:1). We are bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23). The New Testament consistently declares that it cost the death of Jesus Christ to rescue man from the dilemma and the slavery into which sin had brought him. The New Testament has no “official” theory of how that effect was achieved, but of the effect itself, it is in no doubt whatever.
The death of Jesus Christ was universal in its benefits. It was for men and women of every race. There was a day when the Jews could maintain that God cared only for them and wished for nothing but the destruction of their enemies. But in Jesus Christ, we meet a God who loves the world. The death of Christ was for all men and, therefore, it is the task of the Church to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with all men. The disciples thought that as long as Jesus was alive, He could save them. But Jesus revealed that only His death would save them and all those who trust in Him.
The Lord Jesus Christ, was “WORTHY TO TAKE THE BOOK, AND TO OPEN THE SEALS THEREOF” because of His self-sacrifice. Because He is worthy, He is able to take the scroll and break its seals and open it. The song of the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures praises Christ’s work. He is worthy because:
He was killed
He ransomed people with His blood
He gathered people from every tribe and language and people and nation into His kingdom
He made them priests
He appointed them to reign on the earth.
10 And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.
Here they are appointed as kings and as priests. This is similar to John’s greeting in Revelation 1:6—“And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”
Verse 10 adds to what is said in verse 9 by pointing out another benefit we receive from the death of Jesus Christ: THE DEATH OF JESUS CHRIST WAS AN AVAILING DEATH. He did not die for nothing. In this song, three aspects of the work of Christ are singled out.
He made us Kings. He opened to men the royalty of the sonship of God. Men have always been sons of God by creation; but now there is a new Sonship of grace open to every man. We are kings, and as such we shall go forth with Him to rule the earth.
He made us priests. It is not that we are going to be such, but that we are such. This is what He made us. In the ancient world, the priest alone had the right to approach God. When an ordinary Jew entered the Temple, he could make his way through the Court of the Gentiles, through the Court of the Women, into the Court of the Israelites; but he could not enter the Court of the Priests. He could go only so far and no farther. But Jesus Christ opened the way to God for all men. Every man becomes a priest in the sense that he has the right of access to God—we shall worship Him in His immediate presence.
He gave us triumph. His people shall reign upon the earth. This is not political triumph or material lordship. It is the secret of victorious living under any circumstances. “In the world you have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). In Christ, there is victory over self, victory over circumstance and victory over sin.
When we think of what the death and life of Jesus Christ have done for men, it is no wonder that the living creatures and the Elders burst into praise of Him. Now think of this, I am going to be in Heaven someday to worship Him in spirit and in truth (and you may be standing next to me). One day I shall be in the company of a great multitude gathered out of every nation on the earth, and together we shall praise the Lamb who redeemed us by His blood. The first expression of praise in Heaven was on the ground of creation (Revelation 4:11), but this song celebrates the glorious work of redemption. It is a worship service unprecedented in all history.
Every redeemed soul becomes a part of God’s kingdom in a royal and reigning way. In that day we will not be subjects of the kingdom, but reigning ones with the King of kings (Revelation 1:6; 2:26-27; 3:21; 20:4-6). Jesus promised His own that they would share with Him in the day of His rule over the earth (Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:28-29). Paul also said that those who persevere with Christ “shall reign with Him” (2 Timothy 2:12). The role of the redeemed during the millennium is a regal one.