The New Songs
The Lamb (arnion) in the book of Revelation is the prize creation of God. While it took seven days to create the first heavens and the first earth, it takes another seven “days” (7,000 years) to bring forth the New Creation Man. Then, like any babe that must grow after it is born, this New Creation Man also grows in stature (or numbers) until all creation becomes part of Him.
This is the key to understanding Revelation 5. As we will see shortly, even Bible commentators have difficulty comprehending this chapter, because it seems so, well, universal. Apart from believing the divine plan of universal reconciliation, it is not possible to understand what John revealed in this chapter.
This Lamb was found worthy to take the book and to open its seals. Rev. 5:7 says,
7 And He came, and He took it out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.
First, we see that the Lamb knew His identity. He knew who He was and understood why He was worthy to take a book out of the right hand of the Father. This was not foolhardy confidence that many exhibit when they base their worthiness on their own fleshly worth or their own works. Taking the book “out of the right hand” of the Father indicates that the Lamb was accepting authority from the highest Sovereign of the Universe.
In Gen. 48:18 the right hand was used to bless the first-born son and to give him the dominion mandate. Exodus 15:6 says, “Thy right hand, O Lord, is majestic in power.” In Lev. 8:23, 24 Aaron and his sons were anointed on their right ear, their right thumb on their right hand, and their big toe on their right foot when they were consecrated with the authority of priesthood. In Matt. 26:64 Jesus was seen “sitting at the right hand of power.”
The twenty-four elders also bear witness to the reason for the Lamb’s worthiness in verse 9, as we will see shortly.
The Priesthood of the Elders
Revelation 5:8 says,
8 And when He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, having each one a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
Because the elders have harps and “bowls full of incense,” they are pictured as priests offering incense in the temple of God. John, of course, was very familiar with temple activity, for through his mother he was of the high priest’s family. Of course, there is no literal incense in the temple in heaven, so John explains to us that incense represents “the prayers of the saints.”
Each also has a harp, which plays divine music. The priests were the musicians in the temple band and choir. David had a choir of 288 priests (1 Chron. 25:7). Their function was “to prophesy with lyres, harps, and cymbals” (25:1).
In 1 Corinthians 14, the apostle Paul speaks of the gifts of tongues and of prophecy, likening them to “flute or harp” (1 Cor. 14:6, 7). Just as the sound of a flute or harp must be distinct in order to be understood, Paul says, so also should tongues be interpreted in order to allow the people to do what God is telling them to do.
So the harp represents prophecy, and for this reason, David also prophesied by music when he played his harp, and the psalms were the lyrics sung to his music.
So Rev. 5:8 pictures the Lamb taking authority to open the divine plan to our understanding, while the elders, by their harps, prophesy to reveal the divine plan to those who have offered incense to God.
Song #1: The Song of the Elders
Revelation 5:9, 10 says,
9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nations. 10 And Thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”
The Lamb was worthy because He was slain in order to redeem “men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” who “will reign upon the earth.” Verse 10 says “Thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God.” Jesus, the Head, was the One who was slain to purchase the world by His blood, and this act of love was what made Him “worthy” to break the seals on the book.
Having redeemed them, they become “priests to our God.” The High Priest is Jesus Christ Himself, but the redeemed ones are also priests. There are some responsibilities that only the high priest was allowed to do, but priests are mini-representations of the high priest. Even as Jesus Christ is the Mediator between God and men (1 Tim. 2:5), so also priests are mediators between Christ and men in this work of redemption.
It seems blasphemous to say that any man or woman could participate in the redemptive work of Christ. But in Rev. 6:9-11 (as we will see later), the martyrs were pictured as sacrificial lambs, whose blood was poured out under the altar. The sacrificial animals were all types of Christ; but yet John pictures the martyrs as sacrificial lambs whose blood was poured out under the altar. A martyr is literally a witness—in this case, a double witness to Christ’s greater sacrifice.
Reigning on the Earth
The song (Rev. 5:10) focuses upon the priestly overcomers who qualify to “reign upon the earth.” Not all believers are called to be rulers. The first resurrection at the start of the Millennium is a limited resurrection, where only the overcomers are raised—the rulers in the Kingdom. John says that representatives from every nation will be part of God’s government.
The overcomers who “reign upon the earth” must reign over others. Hence, this is not a song celebrating Universal Reconciliation. It is a song celebrating the formation of Kingdom government, sung by a choir of overcomers. Not until we come to the third song (Rev. 5:13) do we see the theme of Universal Reconciliation, sung by the rest of creation.
The song of the elders in Rev. 5:9 and 10 is about the overcomers and the special reward they are given. They are the first to receive immortality, in order that they might establish divine government and “reign upon the earth” during the Tabernacles Age.
They do not reign in heaven, but on earth. This is consistent with the “stone” kingdom in Dan. 2:35, which, after crushing the Babylonian image on its feet and grinding the image to powder, grows until it fills the whole earth. In other words, the Kingdom of God will include all the nations of the earth, as David prophesied in Psalm 67, and as John prophesied in Rev. 11:15.
Song #2: The Song of the Angels
In Rev. 5:11, 12 John saw an outbreak of joy and praise from the myriads of angels who suddenly emerge from the background to affirm the truth expressed in the song of the elders.
11 And I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, 12 saying [or singing] with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.”
The fact that this is a song is not stated in so many words, but this is the implication. Of the first song, Rev. 5:9 says, “And they sang a new song, SAYING.” This “saying” is not mere speaking, but singing, or expressing the words in song. So also are we to understand the second and third songs in this chapter.
The angels attribute seven things to the Lamb, which add to the revelation in the song of the elders. Seven is the number of spiritual perfection or completion. These seven things are not only rewards from the throne, but they are also what is needed to rule properly.
They need to have power to issue decrees, riches to finance the government, wisdom to know how to exercise power with love and mercy, might to enforce the laws and decrees of divine government when necessary, honor to gain the people’s respect through the power of forgiveness (Psalm 130:4), glory to have the character of Christ, and blessing as the seed of Abraham to dispense that blessing to all nations.