In the foregoing chapter the prophetical scene was opened, in the sight
and hearing of the apostle, and he had a sight of God the Creator and
ruler of the world, and the great King of the church. He saw God on the
throne of glory and government, surrounded with his holy ones, and
receiving their adorations. Now the counsels and decrees of God are set
before the apostle, as in a book, which God held in his right hand; and
this book is represented,
I. As sealed in the hand of God,
II. As taken into the hand of Christ the Redeemer, to be unsealed and
The Sealed Book.
A. D. 95.
1 And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a
book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals.
2 And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who
is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?
3 And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth,
was able to open the book, neither to look thereon.
4 And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and
to read the book, neither to look thereon.
5 And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the
Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to
open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.
Hitherto the apostle had seen only the great God, the governor of all
I. He is favoured with a sight of the model and methods of his
government, as they are all written down in a book which he holds in
his hand; and this we are now to consider as shut up and sealed in the
hand of God. Observe,
1. The designs and methods of divine Providence towards the church and
the world are stated and fixed; they are resolved upon and agreed to,
as that which is written in a book. The great design is laid, every
part adjusted, all determined, and every thing passed into decree and
made a matter of record. The original and first draught of this book is
the book of God's decrees, laid up in his own cabinet, in his eternal
mind: but there is a transcript of so much as was necessary to be known
in the book of the scriptures in general, in the prophetical part of
the scripture especially, and in this prophecy in particular.
2. God holds this book in his right hand, to declare the authority of
the book, and his readiness and resolution to execute all the contents
thereof, all the counsels and purposes therein recorded.
3. This book in the hand of God is shut up and sealed; it is known to
none but himself, till he allows it to be opened. Known unto
God, and to him alone, are all his works, from the beginning of
the world; but it is his glory to conceal the matter as he pleases.
The times and seasons, and their great events, he hath kept in his own
hand and power.
4. It is sealed with seven seals. This tells us with what
inscrutable secrecy the counsels of God are laid, how impenetrable by
the eye and intellect of the creature; and also points us to seven
several parts of this book of God's counsels. Each part seems to have
its particular seal, and, when opened, discovers its proper events;
these seven parts are not unsealed and opened at once, but
successively, one scene of Providence introducing another, and
explaining it, till the whole mystery of God's counsel and conduct be
finished in the world.
II. He heard a proclamation made concerning this sealed book.
1. The crier was a strong angel; not that there are any weak
ones among the angels in heaven, though there are many among the angels
of the churches. This angel seems to come out, not only as a crier, but
as a champion, with a challenge to any or all the creatures to try the
strength of their wisdom in opening the counsels of God; and, as a
champion, he cried with a loud voice, that every creature might hear.
2. The cry or challenge proclaimed was, "Who is worthy to open the
book, and to loose the seals thereof?
If there by any creature who thinks himself sufficient either to
explain or execute the counsels of God, let him stand forth, and make
3. None in heaven or earth could accept the challenge and undertake the
task: none in heaven, none of the glorious holy angels, though
before the throne of God, and the ministers of his providence; they
with all their wisdom cannot dive into the decrees of God: none on
earth, no man, the wisest or the best of men, none of the magicians
and soothsayers, none of the prophets of God, any further than he
reveals his mind to them: none under the earth, none of the
fallen angels, none of the spirits of men departed, though they should
return to our world, can open this book. Satan himself, with all his
subtlety, cannot do it; the creatures cannot open it, nor look on it;
they cannot read it. God only can do it.
III. He felt a great concern in himself about this matter: the apostle
wept much; it was a great disappointment to him. By what he had
seen in him who sat upon the throne, he was very desirous to see and
know more of his mind and will: this desire, when not presently
gratified, filled him with sorrow, and fetched many tears from his
eyes. Here observe,
1. Those who have seen most of God in this world are most desirous to
see more; and those who have seen his glory desire to know his will.
2. Good men may be too eager and to hasty to look into the mysteries
of divine conduct.
3. Such desires, not presently answered, turn to grief and sorrow.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick.
IV. The apostle was comforted and encouraged to hope this sealed book
would yet be opened. Here observe,
1. Who it was that gave John the hint: One of the elders. God
had revealed it to his church. If angels do not refuse to learn from
the church, ministers should not disdain to do it. God can make his
people to instruct and inform their teachers when he pleases.
2. Who it was that would do the thing--the Lord Jesus Christ, called
the lion of the tribe of Judah, according to his human nature,
alluding to Jacob's prophecy
and the root of David according to his divine nature, though a
branch of David according to the flesh. He who is a middle person, God
and man, and bears the office of Mediator between God and man, is fit
and worthy to open and execute all the counsels of God towards men. And
this he does in his mediatorial state and capacity, as the root of
David and the offspring of Judah, and as the King and head of the
Israel of God; and he will do it, to the consolation and joy of all his
The Sealed Book.
A. D. 95.
6 And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the
four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it
had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the
seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.
7 And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him
that sat upon the throne.
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.
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;
10 And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we
shall reign on the earth.
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
12 Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain
to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and
honour, and glory, and blessing.
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 honour, and glory, and power,
be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for
ever and ever.
14 And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty
elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and
Here, I. The apostle beholds this book taken into the hands of the Lord
Jesus Christ, in order to its being unsealed and opened by him. Here
Christ is described,
1. By his place and station: In the midst of the throne, and of the
four beasts, and of the elders. He was on the same throne with the
Father; he was nearer to him than either the elders or ministers of the
churches. Christ, as man and Mediator, is subordinate to God the
Father, but is nearer to him than all the creatures; for in him all
the fulness of the Godhead dwells bodily. The ministers stand
between God and the people. Christ stands as the Mediator between God
and both ministers and people.
2. The form in which he appeared. Before he is called a lion;
here he appears as a lamb slain. He is a lion to conquer Satan,
a lamb to satisfy the justice of God. He appears with the marks of his
sufferings upon him, to show that he interceded in heaven in the virtue
of his satisfaction. He appears as a lamb, having seven horns and
seven eyes, perfect power to execute all the will of God and
perfect wisdom to understand it all and to do it in the most effectual
manner; for he hath the seven Spirits of God, he has received
the Holy Spirit without measure, in all perfection of light, and life,
and power, by which he is able to teach and rule all parts of the
3. He is described by his act and deed: He came, and took the book
out of the right hand of him that sat on the throne
not by violence, nor by fraud, but he prevailed to do it (as
he prevailed by his merit and worthiness, he did it by authority and by
the Father's appointment. God very willingly and justly put the book of
his eternal counsels into the hand of Christ, and Christ as readily and
gladly took it into his hand; for he delights to reveal and to do the
will of his Father.
II. The apostle observes the universal joy and thanksgiving that filled
heaven and earth upon this transaction. No sooner had Christ received
this book out of the Father's hand than he received the applauses and
adorations of angels and men, yea, of every creature. And,
indeed, it is just matter of joy to all the world to see that God does
not deal with men in a way of absolute power and strict justice, but in
a way of grace and mercy through the Redeemer. He governs the world,
not merely as a Creator and Lawgiver, but as our God and Saviour. All
the world has reason to rejoice in this. The song of praise that was
offered up to the Lamb on this occasion consists of three parts, one
part sung by the church, another by the church and the angels, the
third by every creature.
1. The church begins the doxology, as being more immediately concerned
the four living creatures, and the four-and-twenty elders, the
Christian people, under their minister, lead up the chorus. Here
(1.) The object of their worship--the Lamb, the Lord Jesus
Christ; it is the declared will of God that all men should honour
the Son as they honour the Father; for he has the same nature.
(2.) Their posture: They fell down before him, gave him not an
inferior sort of worship, but the most profound adoration.
(3.) The instruments used in their adorations--harps and vials;
the harps were the instruments of praise, the vials were full of odours
or incense, which signify the prayers of the saints: prayer and
praise should always go together.
(4.) The matter of their song: it was suited to the new state of the
church, the gospel-state introduced by the Son of God. In this new
[1.] They acknowledge the infinite fitness and worthiness of the Lord
Jesus for this great work of opening and executing the counsel and
purposes of God
Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof,
every way sufficient for the work and deserving the honour.
[2.] They mention the grounds and reasons of this worthiness; and
though they do not exclude the dignity of his person as God, without
which he had not been sufficient for it, yet they chiefly insist upon
the merit of his sufferings, which he had endured for them; these more
sensibly struck their souls with thankfulness and joy. Here,
First, They mention his suffering: "Thou wast slain,
slain as a sacrifice, thy blood was shed." Secondly, The fruits
of his sufferings.
1. Redemption to God; Christ has redeemed his people from the bondage
of sin, guilt, and Satan, redeemed them to God, set them at liberty to
serve him and to enjoy him.
2. High exaltation: Thou hast made us to our God kings and priests,
and we shall reign on the earth,
Every ransomed slave is not immediately preferred to honour; he thinks
it a great favour to be restored to liberty. But when the elect of God
were made slaves by sin and Satan, in every nation of the world, Christ
not only purchased their liberty for them, but the highest honour and
preferment, made them kings and priests--kings, to rule over
their own spirits, and to overcome the world, and the evil one; and he
has made them priests, given them access to himself, and liberty to
offer up spiritual sacrifices, and they shall reign on the
earth; they shall with him judge the world at the great day.
2. The doxology, thus begun by the church, is carried on by the angels;
they take the second part, in conjunction with the church,
They are said to be innumerable, and to be the attendants on the
throne of God and guardians to the church; though they did not need a
Saviour themselves, yet they rejoice in the redemption and salvation of
sinners, and they agree with the church in acknowledging the infinite
merits of the Lord Jesus as dying for sinners, that he is worthy to
receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and
glory, and blessing.
(1.) He is worthy of that office and that authority which require the
greatest power and wisdom, the greatest fund, all excellency, to
discharge them aright; and,
(2.) He is worthy of all honour, and glory, and blessing, because he is
sufficient for the office and faithful in it.
3. This doxology, thus begun by the church, and carried on by the
angels, is resounded and echoed by the whole creation,
Heaven and earth ring with the high praises of the Redeemer. The whole
creation fares the better for Christ. By him all things consist;
and all the creatures, had they sense and language, would adore that
great Redeemer who delivers the creature from that bondage under which
it groans, through the corruption of men, and the just curse denounced
by the great God upon the fall; that part which (by a prosopopoeia) is
made for the whole creation is a song of blessing, and honour, and
glory, and power,
(1.) To him that sits on the throne, to God as God, or to God
the Father, as the first person in the Trinity and the first in the
economy of our salvation; and,
(2.) To the Lamb, as the second person in the Godhead and the
Mediator of the new covenant. Not that the worship paid to the Lamb is
of another nature, an inferior worship, for the very same honour and
glory are in the same words ascribed to the Lamb and to him that
sits on the throne, their essence being the same; but, their parts
in the work of our salvation being distinct they are distinctly adored.
We worship and glorify one and the same God for our creation and for
We see how the church that began the heavenly anthem, finding heaven
and earth join in the concert, closes all with their Amen, and
end as they began, with a low prostration before the eternal and
everlasting God. Thus we have seen this sealed book passing with great
solemnity from the hand of the Creator into the hand of the
Matthew Henry "Verse by Verse Commentary for 'Revelation' Matthew Henry Bible Commentary".