After receiving Jesus’ instructions regarding the letters to the seven churches (chapters 2-3), John, “in the Spirit” (4:2), was called into the heavenly throne room (chapter 4). There he saw God on his throne—and twenty-four elders seated on twenty-four thrones that surrounded God’s throne—and four living creatures, odd creatures, with many eyes front and back, singing praises to God night and day. The twenty-four elders also fell before God’s throne in worship and praise.
Chapter 5 began with the vision of a scroll “in the right hand of him who sat on the throne” (5:1). That scroll had writing on both sides, and was sealed with seven seals. John began to weep, because no one was worthy to break the seals—but one of the elders said, “Don’t weep. Behold, the Lion who is of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome; he who opens the book and its seven seals.” (5:5).
Then John saw a vision of “a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, having seven horns, and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth” (5:6). The Lamb took the scroll from God (5:7)—at which point the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb and sang a hymn of praise to the Lamb:
“You are worthy to take the book,
and to open its seals:
for you were killed,
and bought us for God with your blood,
out of every tribe, language, people, and nation,
and made us kings and priests to our God,
and we will reign on earth” (5:9-10).
At that point, our lectionary passage begins.
REVELATION 5:11-14. WORTHY IS THE LAMB WHO WAS SLAUGHTERED
11 I saw, and I heard something like a voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousands (Greek: myriades) of ten thousands, and thousands of thousands; 12 saying with a loud voice,
“Worthy is the Lamb who has been killed (Greek: esphagmenon—from sphazo) to receive the power, wealth, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, and blessing!”
13 I heard every created thing which is in heaven, on the earth, under the earth, on the sea, and everything in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb be the blessing, the honor, the glory, and the dominion, forever and ever! Amen!”
14 The four living creatures said, “Amen!” The elders fell down and worshiped.
“I saw, and I heard something like a voice (singular) of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders” (v. 11a). These many creatures surround God’s throne. Even though there are many angels and four living creatures and twenty-four elders, they speak with one voice. This is a heavenly choir, and no one is out of tune.
“and the number of them was ten thousands (myriades) of ten thousands, and thousands of thousands; saying with a loud voice” (vv. 11b-12a). The book of Daniel tells of a vision of God in which “thousands of thousands ministered to him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him” (Daniel 7:10). This vision of John appears to borrow from (or to allude to) that earlier vision.
These terms, “ten thousands of ten thousands, and thousands of thousands,” are not precise measures, but instead are to be understood as numbers beyond numbering. They are like our word “zillions,” by which we mean “an indeterminately large number” (Webster’s dictionary).
“Worthy is the Lamb who has been killed” (esphagmenon—from sphazo) (v. 12b). This is the song that the heavenly choir sings in praise of “the Lamb who has been killed.” The Greek word sphazo is especially appropriate here, because it is the word used for slaughtering livestock—for the temple sacrifices. Jesus is the paschal lamb, sacrificed to save us from death and to atone for our sins.
“to receive the power, wealth, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, and blessing!” (v. 12c). Because of his willing sacrifice, the Lamb is worthy to receive these seven things. The fact that there are seven is probably not coincidental, because for Jews, seven was the perfect number, because God rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2-3).
“I heard every created thing which is in heaven, on the earth, under the earth, on the sea, and everything in them, saying” (v. 13a). This is quite a statement:
• “Every created thing which is in heaven” would include all the angelic host—and the twenty-four elders (4:4)—and the four living creatures (4:6).
• Every creature “on earth” would include humans and elephants and lions and birds and a host of other creatures—a real Noah’s ark of creatures, but not two of each kind but all of every kind.
• Every creature “under the earth” would include earthworms and moles—quiet animals for the most part—but they somehow participate in this great chorus. Perhaps they are like the quieter instruments in an orchestra—a piccolo or a flute. They wouldn’t contribute much volume to the sound, but we would miss them if they were silent.
• Every creature “in the sea” would include fish and whales and sharks and octopuses and sea urchins and oysters and thousands of other species. Once again, we tend to think of these as silent creatures. However, we have learned that whales have songs, and we have managed to record their beauty. We might someday learn the songs of the other sea creatures as well.
All of these creatures from all of these places will sing in chorus to honor the Lamb. While John doesn’t comment on the beauty of the orchestration, surely God will insure that it is the loveliest chorus ever heard.
“To him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb be the blessing, the honor, the glory, and the dominion, forever and ever! Amen!” (v. 13b). This is the song that the host of creatures will sing. “Him who sits on the throne” is God the Father (4:3). The Lamb is God the Son.
Blessing, honor, glory, and might repeat four of the things given to the Lamb in verse 12—although the word that is translated might in verse 12 is dynamis (power, might), while the word that is translated might in verse 13 is kratos (power, dominion).
“The four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’“ (v. 14a). The “four living creatures” were first mentioned in chapter 4 (and will be mentioned a number of times in this book). They are “full of eyes before and behind. The first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like a man, and the fourth was like a flying eagle. The four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within. They have no rest day and night, saying, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come!'” (4:6-8).
These four creatures pronounce the Amen, which signals agreement—which means “let it be so!”
“And the elders fell down and worshiped” (v. 14b). The twenty-four elders were first mentioned in 4:4. There they were seated on twenty-four thrones positioned around the throne of God. They were dressed in white robes and had golden crowns on their heads. It is hard to imagine a more elevated status than that which they enjoyed. Nevertheless, they fell down in a posture of reverence to worship “him who sits on the throne” (God the Father) and “the Lamb” (5:13).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Boxall, Ian, Black’s New Testament Commentary: The Revelation of Saint John (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009)
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Mangina, Joseph L. Brazos Theological Commentary: Revelation (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2009)
Metzger, Bruce M., Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993)
Morris, Leon, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Revelation, Vol. 20 (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1987)
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Reddish, Mitchell G., Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: Revelation (Macon, Georgia: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc., 2001)
Rowland, Christopher C., in The New Interpreter’s Bible: Hebrews, James 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2, & 3 John, Jude, Revelation, Vol. XII (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998)
Thompson, Leonard L., Abingdon New Testament Commentary: Revelation (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1997)
Copyright 2012, Richard Niell Donovan