(5: 8) “And when He had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints.”
Now we see what transpires upon the Lamb’s taking of the seven-sealed book from the hand of His Father. At this point the vision of Daniel 7: 13-14 begins to be fulfilled. Its fulfillment will commence in the breaking of the seals of the scroll. The following scene is preparatory to the official assumption of Christ’s office as “kinsman redeemer.” The four beasts, those angelic beings in charge of creation, and the twenty four elders, representing the entire “church of the first-born,” all prostrate themselves in adoration before Him Who shall redeem His people and set the creation free from its bondage of vanity.
The harp is an heavenly instrument, and is indicative of joy and gladness (1 Chron. 25: 1, 6; 2 Chron. 19: 25; Psalm 71: 22; 92: 3; 149: 3). The golden vials (or bowls) of odours (incense) inform us that the priestly work of the saints, that is intercession on behalf of others, has now, at this stage in John’s vision, officially commenced. In this dispensation we offer sacrifices for ourselves, but not on behalf of other saints. True, we pray for all who are of the household of God. But there is a great difference between praying for fellow saints, and offering the prayers of others unto God. This latter function is what we see in John’s vision. It tells us that the time has now arrived for the “spirits of just men made perfect” to begin their intercessory work for the saints who are left on earth during the Tribulation.
That there will be a body of saints that must pass through the tribulation is evidenced in the epsitles of Revelation 2 & 3. However we read that an “open door” will be granted to a special body of believers who keep Christ’s word and do not deny His name (Rev. 3: 8, 10). Compare with Luke 21: 36.
This open door offers these saints relief from the coming tribulation. But what this open door is, is not so easy to conjecture. It may refer to an escape into the wilderness, and sheltering from the wrath of the beast, as described in Revelation 12: 6, 14. Or, it could refer to a special rapture of believers who, like Enoch, walk with God (see Genesis 5: 22, 24; Hebrews 11: 5). That this same “open door” (Rev. 4: 1) gives John access to these heavenly scenes now before us, may indicate that the latter view is nearer to the truth.
(5: 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;”
This ascription of praise begins the “Song of Redemption.” We have stated previously, that when the present Dispensation of Grace closes, the Dispensation of Judgment will begin. This will happen when Christ comes forward to take the book from the hand of His Father. This doesn’t mean, of course, that God’s grace will entirely end at that time. Rather, grace and law will overlap, just as they did during our Lord’s earthly ministry.
The praises sung now herald the last stage of our Lord’s redemptive work, which will be the pouring out of judgments upon an apostate and corrupt world. During this present age, Christ is gathering out a church from among the Gentiles, from every tribe and kindred and nation and tongue (Acts 15: 14). It is a representative body such as we see above that sings forth the merits of the Lamb of God, by Whom alone our stripes are healed (1 Peter 2: 23).
(5: 10) “And hast made us unto our God kings and priests, and we shall reign on the earth.”
As kingship and priesthood are earthly functions, so we cannot interpret this verse in any mystical or allegorical manner. What the church here sings looks forward to the time of Christ’s return, when the saints shall judge the world (1 Cor. 6: 2). This is the “first resurrection,” mentioned in Revelation 20. This is the blessed prerogative of the saints. It is the common practice to “spiritualize” these words and make them signify some kind of subjective reign in the heavenlies. However, Paul identifies saints as already seated in heavenly places with Christ (Ephesians 1: 3; 2: 6), after having been quickened by the Holy Spirit, or regenerated. This is a present privilege.
On the other hand, the first resurrection of Revelation 20 was future when John wrote. As regeneration is needed to overcome the temptations of the world, the persecutions of the beast and his image, and be made a partaker of the “first resurrection,” it is obvious that Paul’s “session in the heavenlies” and John’s first resurrection are quite distinct as to both time and nature. The one takes place now, and is spiritual. The other will take place when Christ returns; and its fulfillment will be consummated on earth.
(5: 11) “And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands;”
We now have a glimpse of the heavenly choir in its completeness. To describe such a scene is almost beyond the power of language. The throne is the center of worship. About the throne are the four beasts and twenty four elders. Surrounding them is a choir of thousands of angels, whose purpose is to sing praises unto God. Who can forget the time of Christ’s nativity, when it was perhaps this very heavenly host which appeared unto the shepherds, saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2: 14). But until now this peace has never been realized. Because man killed the Prince of Peace, desolations are determined unto the end war–Armageddon.
But as we’ve learned, God has chosen to redeem the creation through the sanctification of His covenant nation, Israel. This was partly symbolized by the two cherubims upon the mercy seat of the ark. The faces of the cherubims were turned toward each other, and their gaze directed to the mercy seat itself, upon which the sacrificial blood was to be sprinkled (Exodus 25: 20). Thus, as guardians of the tree of life they have respect to the precious blood of the Second Adam, by virtue of which the Tree will once again be restored to men. This explains to us why the four beasts are associated with the elders and angels in this glorious Song of Redemption.
(5: 12) “Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing.”
The angels sing a seven-fold ascription of praise to Him Who redeemed the creation from its bondage of vanity. Perhaps these same angels are the “sons of God” mentioned by Job in 38: 7, who shouted for joy when the foundations of the earth were laid. But the earth became cursed on account of sin. And so when the time now comes for the Lamb of God to purge the earth of that curse, the angels once more break forth into universal adoration.
“Power, riches, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, and blessing.” In this enumeration we find earthly things combined with things Divine. Riches, power, and strength relate to our Savior’s role as Son of Man, and as king upon the throne of David. They signify the manifestation of His Lordship in the eyes of the whole creation. But as Jesus Christ is both Son of Man and Son of God, His heavenly characteristics are sung as well. “Wisdom, honor, glory, and blessing” are all attributes tied to His eternal Sonship.
Wisdom “was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was” (Proverbs 8: 23). Honor and glory were set aside by Christ when He “made Himself of no reputation, and was made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2: 6-7). After His resurrection and ascension, He re-assumed His glory (John 17: 5), and was made “Head over all things to the church” (Eph. 1: 22). And thus He is worthy to receive the blessings of the creation, in both its heavenly and earthly spheres. There is still a phase of creation that stands in rebellion to His Lordship. Satan and His angels, the principlalities and powers in heavenly places (Eph. 6: 12), still resist His dominion and attempt to thwart His design. Hence the need for a “Dispensation of Judgment.”
(5: 13) “And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever.”
This verse offers indisputable proof that Christ’s redemptive plan includes not only fallen man, but fallen creaturehood. See Romans 8: 21. When sin entered the world through Adam’s transgression, man lost the dominion which was given Him by God. This dominion was later restored via covenant (Genesis 9: 1-3), and transferred to Noah. However, it was forfeited by him as well. Then it was transferred to the nation of Israel, by way of the Sinaitic covenant (see Exodus 19: 5-6). But as Scripture reveals, it was again forfeited on account of sin. Now there is a new and better covenant, even the “New Covenant,” whereby dominion will be restored, on grounds of a perfect righteousness. The fulfillment of this covenant is yet future, and will be ushered in by the judgments of the seals and trumpets and vials.
Contrary to the assertions of some, the church has not regained the dominion which was lost by Adam, Noah, and the covenant nation. Because of man’s “total depravity,” the only way dominion can be restored is by the Son of Man Himself. And it is through Him that we shall rule and reign and have dominion over the creation. Dominion will be established in the First Resurrection. And that it is neither part nor parcel of the present Dispensation is demonstrated by the history of professing Christendom, which shows the church as no better than Israel in the matter of self-government. To vain boasters who would assert otherwise, Paul sends a warning: “Be not high-minded, but fear: for if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest He also spare not thee” (Romans 11: 20-21).
In the verse above, universal creaturehood gives a four-fold ascription of praise. It is fourfold, inasmuch as the number four has reference to creative works. Again this informs us of the nature of the fulfillment of John’s visions. Scenes in heaven will be followed by scenes on earth. And it is significant that in this entire book, the word “Heaven” is always used in the singular and not once in the plural: thereby telling us that “Heaven” is used in contradistinction to “the earth.”
In this particular vision, we find a fulfillment of Psalm 8. The scope of our studies prohibits us from discussing the entire Psalm, and how it relates to the verse above. However, when we realize that the First Adam was made a “little lower than the angels” and given dominion over the creature; and that this dominion was subsequently forfeited on account of sin; we shall see that the Psalm necessitates a true fulfillment by the Second Adam, Jesus Christ.
(5: 14) “And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped Him that liveth for ever and ever.”
The Song of Redemption is now concluded. As stewards of the tree of life, the cherubims say “Amen.” As representatives of the redeemed, the four and twenty elders fall down once more and worship the Lamb by Whose blood atonement is made for sin. What a glorious scene! We leave these visions with some reluctance, knowing that we have barely skimmed the surface of their meaning. However, we must now proceed to the substance of those visions whose fulfillment will issue in the redemption of the creation, the sanctification of Israel, and the punishment of the enemies of God. As we close this study, we prepare to enter onto an entirely different stage, where the administration is no longer grace, but judgment.