Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible, by John Wesley, [1754-65], at sacred-texts.com
rev 5:1And I saw - This is a continuation of the same narrative. In the right hand - The emblem of his all - ruling power. He held it openly, in order to give it to him that was worthy. It is scarce needful to observe, that there is not in heaven any real book of parchment or paper or that Christ does not really stand there, in the shape of a lion or of a lamb. Neither is there on earth any monstrous beast with seven heads and ten horns. But as there is upon earth something which, in its kind, answers such a representation; so there are in heaven divine counsels and transactions answerable to these figurative expressions. All this was represented to St. John at Patmos, in one day, by way of vision. But the accomplishment of it extends from that time throughout all ages. Writings serve to inform us of distant and of future things. And hence things which are yet to come are figuratively said to be "written in God's book;" so were at that time the contents of this weighty prophecy. But the book was sealed. Now comes the opening and accomplishing also of the great things that are, as it were, the letters of it. A book written within and without - That is, no part of it blank, full of matter. Sealed with seven seals - According to the seven principal parts contained in it, one on the outside of each. The usual books of the ancients were not like ours, but were volumes or long pieces of parchment, rolled upon a long stick, as we frequently roll silks. Such was this represented, which was sealed with seven seals. Not as if the apostle saw all the seals at once; for there were seven volumes wrapped up one within another, each of which was sealed: so that upon opening and unrolling the first, the second appeared to be sealed up till that was opened, and so on to the seventh. The book and its seals represent all power in heaven and earth given to Christ. A copy of this book is contained in the following chapters. By "the trumpets," contained under the seventh seal, the kingdom of the world is shaken, that it may at length become the kingdom of Christ. By "the vials," under the seventh trumpet, the power of the beast, and whatsoever is connected with it, is broken. This sum of all we should have continually before our eyes: so the whole Revelation flows in its natural order.
rev 5:2And I saw a strong angel - This proclamation to every creature was too great for a man to make, and yet not becoming the Lamb himself. It was therefore made by an angel, and one of uncommon eminence.
rev 5:3And none - No creature; no, not Mary herself. In heaven, or in earth, neither under the earth - That is, none in the universe. For these are the three great regions into which the whole creation is divided. Was able to open the book - To declare the counsels of God. Nor to look thereon - So as to understand any part of it.
rev 5:4And I wept much - A weeping which sprung from greatness of mind. The tenderness of heart which he always had appeared more clearly now he was out of his own power. The Revelation was not written without tears; neither without tears will it be understood. How far are they from the temper of St. John who inquire after anything rather than the contents of this book! yea, who applaud their own clemency if they excuse those that do inquire into them!
rev 5:5And one of the elders - Probably one of those who rose with Christ, and afterwards ascended into heaven. Perhaps one of the patriarchs. Some think it was Jacob, from whose prophecy the name of Lion is given him, Gen 49:9. The Lion of the tribe of Judah - The victorious prince who is, like a lion, able to tear all his enemies in pieces. The root of David - As God, the root and source of David's family, Isa 11:1, Isa 11:10. Hath prevailed to open the book - Hath overcome all obstructions, and obtained the honour to disclose the divine counsels.
rev 5:6And I saw - First, Christ in or on the midst of the throne; secondly, the four living creatures making the inner circle round him; and, thirdly, the four and twenty elders making a larger circle round him and them. Standing - He lieth no more; he no more falls on his face; the days of his weakness and mourning are ended. He is now in a posture of readiness to execute all his offices of prophet, priest, and king. As if he had been slain - Doubtless with the prints of the wounds which he once received. And because he was slain, he is worthy to open the book, Rev 5:9, to the joy of his own people, and the terror of his enemies. Having seven horns - As a king, the emblem of perfect strength. And seven eyes - The emblem of perfect knowledge and wisdom. By these he accomplishes what is contained in the book, namely, by his almighty and all - wise Spirit. To these seven horns and seven eyes answer the seven seals and the sevenfold song of praise, Rev 5:12. In Zechariah, likewise, Zac 3:9, Zac 4:10, mention is made of "the seven eyes of the Lord, which go forth over all the earth." Which - Both the horns and the eyes. Are the seven spirits of God sent forth into all the earth - For the effectual working of the Spirit of God goes through the whole creation; and that in the natural, as well as spiritual, world. For could mere matter act or move? Could it gravitate or attract? Just as much as it can think or speak.
rev 5:7And he came - Here was "Ask of me," Psa 2:8, fulfilled in the most glorious manner. And took - it is one state of exaltation that reaches from our Lord's ascension to his coming in glory. Yet this state admits of various degrees. At his ascension, "angels, and principalities, and powers were subjected to him." Ten days after, he received from the Father and sent the Holy Ghost. And now he took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne - who gave it him as a signal of his delivering to him all power in heaven and earth. He received it, in token of his being both able and willing to fulfil all that was written therein.
rev 5:8And when he took the book, the four living creatures fell down - Now is homage done to the Lamb by every creature. These, together with the elders, make the beginning; and afterward, Rev 5:14, the conclusion. They are together surrounded with a multitude of angels, Rev 5:11, and together sing the new song, as they had before praised God together, Rev 4:8, &c. Having every one - The elders, not the living creatures. An harp - Which was one of the chief instruments used for thanksgiving in the temple service: a fit emblem of the melody of their hearts. And golden phials - Cups or censers. Full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints - Not of the elders themselves, but of the other saints still upon earth, whose prayers were thus emblematically represented in heaven.
rev 5:9And they sing a new song - One which neither they nor any other had sung before. Thou hast redeemed us - So the living creatures also were of the number of the redeemed. This does not so much refer to the act of redemption, which was long before, as to the fruit of it; and so more directly to those who had finished their course, "who were redeemed from the earth," Rev 14:1, out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation - That is, out of all mankind.
rev 5:10And hast made them - The redeemed. So they speak of themselves also in the third person, out of deep self - abasement. They shall reign over the earth - The new earth: herewith agree the golden crowns of the elders. The reign of the saints in general follows, under the trumpet of the seventh angel; particularly after the first resurrection, as also in eternity, Rev 11:18; Rev 15:7; Rev 20:4; Rev 22:5; Dan 7:27; Psa 49:14.
rev 5:11And I saw - The many angels. And heard - The voice and the number of them. Round about the elders - So forming the third circle. It is remarkable, that men are represented through this whole vision as nearer to God than any of the angels. And the number of them was - At least two hundred millions, and two millions over. And yet these were but a part of the holy angels. Afterward, Rev 7:11, St. John heard them all.
rev 5:12Worthy is the Lamb - The elders said, Rev 5:9, "Worthy art thou." They were more nearly allied to him than the angels. To receive the power, &c. - This sevenfold applause answers the seven seals, of which the four former describe all visible, the latter all invisible, things, made subject to the Lamb. And every one of these seven words bears a resemblance to the seal which it answers.
rev 5:13And every creature - In the whole universe, good or bad. In the heaven, on the earth, under the earth, on the sea - With these four regions of the world, agrees the fourfold word of praise. What is in heaven, says blessing; what is on earth, honour; what is under the earth, glory: what is on the sea, strength; is unto him. This praise from all creatures begins before the opening of the first seal; but it continues from that time to eternity, according to the capacity of each. His enemies must acknowledge his glory; but those in heaven say, Blessed be God and the Lamb.
This royal manifesto is, as it were, a proclamation, showing how Christ fulfils all things, and "every knee bows to him," not only on earth, but also in heaven, and under the earth. This book exhausts all things, Co1 15:27-28, and is suitable to an heart enlarged as the sand of the sea. It inspires the attentive and intelligent reader with such a magnanimity, that he accounts nothing in this world great; no, not the whole frame of visible nature, compared to the immense greatness of what he is here called to behold, yea, and in part, to inherit.
St. John has in view, through the whole following vision, what he has been now describing, namely, the four living creatures, the elders, the angels, and all creatures, looking together at the opening of the seven seals.