Revelation 5

Chapter five seems to be a continuation of the scene in heaven. While the groups praised and worshiped God, John saw that God was holding a scroll closed by seven seals, but no one in all of heaven was worthy to open his scroll. This caused John to weep until one of the elders pointed to the only one worthy of this task. He was described in the ancient terms “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Genesis 49:9-10) and “the root of David” (Isaiah 11:1), and the reason he was worthy to open the scroll was because he “has conquered.” This is a clear reference to Jesus’ death and resurrection as shown in the fact that John saw him as “a Lamb that appeared to have been killed” and the fact that the song of the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders refer to the redemption through his blood. Jesus seems to have said the same thing when John first saw him in 1:17-18.

The worship scene in chapter five is similar to that in chapter four but much larger. In addition to the four living creatures and twenty-four elders, now John saw and heard “many angels.” In the Greek text, John wrote, “The number of them was myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands.” A myriad means 10,000 when used as a number in the New Testament, so this has been taken to mean “10,000 x 10,000” or 100,000,000 angels. While this could certainly be, the fact that John put myriads and thousands together seems to indicate that he did not intend a direct count (as opposed to the 200,000,000 in 9:16 where he “heard their number”). Instead, we could take this to mean just a large countless throng of angels.

Not only were the angels praising, though; John “heard every creature – in heaven, on earth, under the earth, in the sea, and all that is in them” praising God as well (vs. 13). This is reminiscent of Paul’s declaration “that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow – in heaven and on earth and under the earth – and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11). At issue is the timing of the worship John saw. Because of the events that are yet to happen in the Revelation, it seems out of place to say that every creature will worship Jesus before the Tribulation.

A major key to interpreting the Revelation is understanding that it is not strictly chronological. Throughout the book John wrote down what he saw. However, “then I saw” is not necessarily the same as “then this will happen.” Several of John’s visions are clearly out of order when it comes to the timeline of the future events. Because the only connection between 5:9-10 and 5:11-14 is “the lamb who was killed,” it may be that the latter refers to worship that takes place at the conclusion of all things rather than at the beginning of the Tribulation. Noticeably absent from the second worship is the reference to the scroll, which is the main theme of chapter five to this point. However, since chapter six returns immediately to the scroll (and since there were originally no chapter and verse divisions), we cannot be dogmatic about this.

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Daniel Goepfrich

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