Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
The book sealed with seven seals, which no being in heaven or earth could open, Rev 5:1-3. Is at last opened by the Lion of the tribe of Judah, Rev 5:4-8. He receives the praises of the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders, Rev 5:9, Rev 5:10. And afterwards of an innumerable multitude, who acknowledge that they were redeemed to God by his blood, Rev 5:11, Rev 5:12. And then, of the whole creation, who ascribe blessing, honor, glory, and power to God and the Lamb for ever, Rev 5:13, Rev 5:14.
A book written within and on the back side - That is, the book was full of solemn contents within, but it was sealed; and on the back side was a superscription indicating its contents. It was a labelled book, or one written on each side of the skin, which was not usual.
Sealed with seven seals - As seven is a number of perfection, it may mean that the book was so sealed that the seals could neither be counterfeited nor broken; i.e., the matter of the book was so obscure and enigmatical and the work it enjoined and the facts it predicted so difficult and stupendous, that they could neither be known nor performed by human wisdom or power.
A strong angel - One of the chief of the angelic host.
Proclaiming - As the herald of God.
To open the book, and to loose the seals - To loose the seals that he may open the book. Who can tell what this book contains? Who can open its mysteries? The book may mean the purposes and designs of God relative to his government of the world and the Church; but we, whose habitation is in the dust, know nothing of such things. We are, however, determined to guess.
And no man - Ουδεις· No person or being.
In heaven - Among all the angels of God.
Nor in the earth - No human being.
Neither under the earth - No disembodied spirit, nor any demon. Neither angels, men, nor devils, can fathom the decrees of God.
Neither to look thereon - None can look into it unless it be opened, and none can open it unless the seals be unloosed.
I wept much - Because the world and the Church were likely to be deprived of the knowledge of the contents of the book.
The Lion of the tribe of Juda - Jesus Christ, who sprang from this tribe, as his genealogy proves; see on Mat 1:2 (note), Mat 1:3 (note) and Luk 3:23 (note). There is an allusion here to Gen 49:9, Judah is a lion's whelp; the lion was the emblem of this tribe, and was supposed to have been embroidered on its ensigns.
The Root of David - See Isa 11:1. Christ was the root of David as to his Divine nature; he was a branch out of the stem of Jesse as to his human nature.
Hath prevailed - By the merit of his incarnation, passion, and death.
To open the book - To explain and execute all the purposes and decrees of God, in relation to the government of the world and the Church.
Stood a Lamb - Christ, so called because he was a sacrificial offering; αρνιον signifies a little or delicate lamb.
As it had been slain - As if now in the act of being offered. This is very remarkable; so important is the sacrificial offering of Christ in the sight of God that he is still represented as being in the very act of pouring out his blood for the offenses of man. This gives great advantage to faith: when any soul comes to the throne of grace, he finds a sacrifice there provided for him to offer to God. Thus all succeeding generations find they have the continual sacrifice ready, and the newly-shed blood to offer.
Seven horns - As horn is the emblem of power, and seven the number of perfection, the seven horns may denote the all-prevailing and infinite might of Jesus Christ. He can support all his friends; he can destroy all his enemies; and he can save to the uttermost all that come unto God through him.
Seven eyes - To denote his infinite knowledge and wisdom: but as these seven eyes are said to be the seven Spirits of God, they seem to denote rather his providence, in which he often employs the ministry of angels; therefore, these are said to be sent forth into all the earth. See on Rev 1:4 (note).
He came and took the book - This verse may be properly explained by John, Joh 1:18. No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath Declared him. With Jesus alone are all the counsels and mysteries of God.
The four beasts - fell down before the Lamb - The whole Church of God, and all his children in heaven and earth, acknowledge that Jesus Christ is alone worthy and able to unfold and execute all the mysteries and counsels of God. See on Rev 5:9 (note).
Having every one of them harps - There were harps and vials; and each of the elders and living creatures had one.
Odours, which are the prayers of saints - The frankincense and odours offered at the tabernacle were emblems of the prayers and praises of the Lord. That prayers are compared to incense, see Psa 141:2 : Let my Prayer be set forth before thee as Incense. Hence that saying in Synopsis Sohar, p. 44, n. 37: "The odour of the prayers of the Israelites is equal to myrrh and frankincense; but on the Sabbath it is preferred to the scent of all kinds of perfumes." The words which are the prayers of saints are to be understood as this is my body, this signifies or represents my body; these odours represent the prayers of the saints.
A new song - Composed on the matters and blessings of the Gospel, which was just now opened on earth. But new song may signify a most excellent song; and by this the Gospel and its blessings are probably signified. The Gospel is called a new song, Psa 96:1. And perhaps there is an allusion in the harps here to Psa 144:9 : I will sing a New Song unto thee, O God: upon a Psaltery, and an Instrument of Ten Strings, etc. The same form of speech is found, Isa 42:10 : Sing unto the Lord a New Song, etc.; and there the prophet seems to have the Gospel dispensation particularly in view.
Thou - hast redeemed us to God - out of every - nation - It appears, therefore, that the living creatures and the elders represent the aggregate of the followers of God; or the Christian Church in all nations, and among all kinds of people, and perhaps through the whole compass of time: and all these are said to be redeemed by Christ's blood, plainly showing that his life was a sacrificial offering for the sins of mankind.
Kings and priests - See Exo 19:6 (note); Pe1 2:5 (note), Pe1 2:9 (note), and the notes there.
The voice of many angels - These also are represented as joining in the chorus with redeemed mortals.
Ten thousand times ten thousand - "Myriads of myriads and chiliads of chiliads;" that is, an infinite or innumerable multitude. This is in reference to Dan 7:10.
To receive power - That is, Jesus Christ is worthy to take, λαβειν, to have ascribed to him, power - omnipotence; riches - beneficence; wisdom - omniscience; strength - power in prevalent exercise; honor - the highest reputation for what he has done; glory - the praise due to such actions; and blessing - the thankful acknowledgments of the whole creation. Here are seven different species of praise; and this is exactly agreeable to the rabbinical forms, which the author of this book keeps constantly in view. See Sepher Rasiel, fol. 39, 2: "To thee belongs כבוד cabod, glory; גדולה gedulah, magnitude; גבורה geburah, might; הממלכה hammamlakah, the kingdom; התפארת hattiphereth, the honor; הנצח hannetsach, the victory; וההוד vehahod, and the praise."
Every creature - All parts of the creation, animate and inanimate, are represented here, by that figure of speech called prosopopaeia or personification, as giving praise to the Lord Jesus, because by him all things were created. We find the whole creation gives precisely the same praise, and in the same terms, to Jesus Christ, who is undoubtedly meant here by the Lamb just slain as they give to God who sits upon the throne. Now if Jesus Christ were not properly God this would be idolatry, as it would be giving to the creature what belongs to the Creator.
The four beasts said, Amen - Acknowledged that what was attributed to Christ was his due.
The four and twenty elders - The word εικοσιτεσσαρες, twenty-four, is wanting in the most eminent MSS. and versions.
Fell down and worshipped - Επεσαν και προσεκυνησαν· Fell down on their knees, and then prostrated themselves before the throne. This is the eastern method of adoration: first, the person worshiping fell down on his knees; and then, bowing down touched the earth with his forehead. This latter act was prostration.
Him that liveth for ever - This clause is wanting in ABC, thirty-seven others, Syriac, Arabic, Coptic, Ethiopic, some copies of the Slavonic, Itala, and Vulgate; and in Andreas, and Arethas, ancient commentators on this book. It is also wanting in some editions, and is undoubtedly spurious. Griesbach has left this and the above twenty-four out of the text.
Now follow the least intelligible parts of this mysterious book, on which so much has been written, and so much in vain. It is natural for man to desire to be wise; and the more difficult the subject the more it is studied, and the hope of finding out something by which the world and the Church might be profited, has caused the most eminently learned men to employ their talents and consume their time on these abstruse prophecies. But of what use has all this learned and well-meant labor been to mankind? Can hypothesis explain prophecy, and conjecture find a basis on which faith can rest? And what have we better in all attempts hitherto made to explain the mysteries of this book?