Here is shown for the first time the Lamb presented distinctly and definitely in the scene. It was not so even in Rev. 4, where we have seen the display of the judicial glory of God in His various earthly or dispensational characters, save His full millennial one, but not His special revelation now as our Father. In itself we know that Jehovah God embraces and is said of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Yet here the Holy Ghost is seen not in His unity of person and working, but in His variety of governmental activity as the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth; and the Lord Jesus is not yet discriminated as such. The glorious vision of Him who sits on the throne may include therefore both the Father and the Son; it is rather God as such, than the revelation of each in the Godhead, the general or generic nature, not personal distinction.
But here in the opening verses a formal challenge is made which at once displays the glory, worth, and victory of the Lamb, the holy earth-rejected Sufferer, whose blood has bought for God those who were under sin, and indeed all creation. There is to be in consequence the full blessing of man and of the creature on God's part; yea, saints not only delivered, but, even before the deliverance is displayed, led into full understanding of God's mind and will. Christ is just as necessarily the wisdom of God as He is the power of God. Without Him no creature can apprehend His ways or purposes, any more than a sinner knows salvation without Him. We need, and how blessed that we have, Christ for everything! Thus, whatever the glory of the scene before the prophet in chap. iv., that which follows shows us the wondrous person and way in which man is brought into the consciousness of the blessing, and the appreciation of the divine plan and glory.
"And I saw on the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the back, sealed up with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a great voice, Who [is] worthy to open the book, and to loose its seals? And no one in the heaven, or on the earth, or underneath the earth, was able to open the book or to look on it. And I wept much because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look on it. And one of the elders saith to me, Weep not: behold, the Lion that [is] of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath overcome, to open the book and its seven seals." What creature could open these Seals? None anywhere. But the strong angel proclaims, and the Lord Jesus comes forward to answer the proclamation. He takes up the challenge after a sufficient space to prove the impotence of all others. The comfort assured to John by the elder is thus justified; for the elders understand. And he sees the Lion of the tribe of Judah to be the Lamb, despised on earth, exalted in heaven, who advances and takes the book out of the right hand of Him that sat on the throne. The Lamb is here described as the Root of David; at the close (22: 16) He describes Himself as the Root and the Offspring of David. How great is His grace! Then they all, living creatures and elders together, fall down before the Lamb with a new song.
"And I saw in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, a Lamb standing as slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth. And he came and took [it] out of the right hand of the sitter on the throne. And when he took the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fall before the Lamb, having each a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sing a new song, saying, Worthy thou art to take the book, and to open its seals, because thou west slain and didst purchase to God with thy blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and madest them to our God a kingdom and priests; and they shall reign over the earth." The Lamb is marked by perfect power and wisdom, but it is in the Spirit on high as before on earth (cp. Act_1:2). And His own sing of His shed blood.
It is striking that after this, as we are told, "And I saw and heard a voice of many angels round about the throne and the living creatures and the elders: and their number was ten thousands of ten thousands, and thousands of thousands, saying with a great voice, Worthy is the Lamb that hath been slain to receive the power and riches and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and blessing." Here we have the angels, who are now distinctly named. How comes it that no angels appear in Rev. 4? And why have we them in Rev. 5? There is always the wisest reason in the ways of God of which scripture speaks, and we are encouraged by the Spirit to inquire humbly but trustfully. The inference it warrants seems to be this: that the assumption of the book into the hands of the Lamb, and His preparing to open the seals, marks a change of administration. Up to that point of time angels have held an executory ministry of power from God. Where judgments were in question, or other extraordinary intervention on His part, angels were the instruments; whereas from this time we gather the title to a marked change for the world to come in those that are Christ's above.
The title of the glorified saints is thus asserted. We know for certain, as a matter of doctrine in Hebrews 2, that the inhabited world to come is to be put not under angels, but under Christ and those that are His in heavenly glory. Here the seer is admitted to a prophetic glimpse that falls in with the doctrine of St. Paul. In other words, when the Lamb is brought definitely into the scene, then and not before, we see the elders and the living creatures united in the new song. As one company they join in praising the Lamb. They sing, "Worthy art thou, because thou west slain and didst purchase." Thus we have them combined in a new fashion; and, as a consequence, the angels are now definitely distinguished. Supposing that previously the administration of judgment was in the hand of angels, it is easily understood that they would not be distinguished from the living creatures in Rev. 4, because the living creatures set forth the agencies of God's executory judgment. Whereas in Rev. 5, if there be a change in administration, and the angels that used to be the executors are no longer so recognised in view of the kingdom, but the power is to be in the hands of the glorified saints, it is simple enough that the angels fall back from the cherubim, being eclipsed by the heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ. If previously angels were seen in the living creatures, they henceforward retire from this dignity to their own place, and therefore no longer fall under that symbol.
From this it follows that the four living creatures might be at one time angels, at another saints. The symbol sets forth, not so much the persons that are entrusted with these judgments, as the character of the attributes in action. Scripture, however, affords elements to solve the question, here by the marked absence of angels, who, as we know, are the beings God employed in His providential dealings with the world, and this both in Old Testament times and still in the days of the New Testament. The church is only in course of formation; but when complete, the glorified saints are caught up, and the First-begotten is anew owned in His title, they too will be owned in theirs. For as the Lord is coming to take visibly the kingdom, we can readily understand that the change of administration is first made manifest in heaven before being displayed on earth. If this be admitted, the change is accounted for in Rev. 5. The general fact is in Rev. 4; this administrative change in Rev. 5. Hence the cherubim and the elders unite to sing.
All the results are anticipated for every creature when once the note is struck (vers. 13, 14). "And every creature which is in the heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and which are on the sea and all things that [are] in them, heard I saying, To him that sitteth on the throne and to the Lamb, the blessing, and the honour, and the glory, and the might unto the ages of the ages. And the four living creatures said, Amen; and the elders fell down and did homage."*
* The omission of "him that liveth unto the ages of the ages" is fully established, and finely illustrates how a spurious clause takes away from the truth. For as read by the best copies the homage was to the Lamb as well as to God as such. It is attested more fully than the omission of ἡμᾶς in ver. 9, though for this sufficient is given, and required by the context.
As a matter of fact, "the earnest expectation of the creation waiteth for the revealing of the sons of God" (Rom_8:19). But their presence glorified on high, before that revelation, was so momentous as to call forth by the Spirit the ascription to the ear of heaven from every creature above or below before deliverance actually came. So the Lord said on earth, when the seventy reported the demons subject to them in His name, "I beheld Satan fallen from heaven." All would follow duly the keynote then struck.