9 The three hymns interpret the symbolism of the scroll and the Lamb. The number of singers increases from twenty-eight in v. 8 to every creature in all creation in v. 13. The first two hymns are songs of praise to the Lamb, whereas the last is praise to both the One on the throne and the Lamb (v. 13). The first hymn (vv. 9–10) is called a “new” song because there was never any like it before in heaven (see comments at 14:3).
“You are worthy” (axios, “comparable, equal to, deserving”; GK 545) refers to the qualifications of this person who alone has won the right to take the scroll and open its seals. His worthiness for this task was won by his loving sacrifice on the cross—“because you were slain.” This must be understood as a direct reference to the earthly death of the human Jesus of Nazareth—an understanding supported by the Greek aorist tense used here. It is no mythological death or salvation. Like other NT writers, John views the death of Jesus as a redeeming death—“and with your blood [or by the price of your blood] you purchased [or redeemed, agorazō, GK 60] men for God.”
The death of Jesus broke the stranglehold of the “powers and authorities” over the creation and produced a great victory of liberation for humankind (Col 2:15). It is this victory, obtained through suffering and death, that entitles Christ to execute the unfolding of the mystery of God’s consummation of history. The centrality of the cross and its meaning as a redemptive act comes repeatedly to the fore and should dominate our understanding throughout Revelation (1:5; 5:12; 7:14; 12:11; 13:8; 14:4; 15:3; 19:7; 21:9, 23; 22:3; etc.). Jesus’ death secured a salvation universally applied to all classes and peoples of the earth—“every tribe and language and people and nation” (cf. 7:9). Handel’s great closing chorus, “Worthy is the Lamb,” of his masterful oratorio Messiah has immortalized this text for the concert hall and the church since its first presentation in Dublin on April 13, 1742.
5:9 / The niv adds men to the phrase, you purchased men for God, thereby glossing over an important textual problem. Some ancient mss include the pronoun “us” (hēmas), rendering the phrase, “you purchased us for God.” The decision can not be decided on textual grounds alone, since both readings enjoy significant external support. In the context of the composition itself, if we take the elders, who sing the song, to be angelic beings, then the pronoun should be omitted on christological grounds: Christ did not die for angels. If however we take the elders to be risen elders (i.e., apostles and prophets) of eschatological Israel, then the pronoun could be retained on the same grounds.
5:9–10. John now hears the elders—perhaps joined by the living creatures—singing a new song, one with a different focus than their original song (Rev. 4:11). If the original song was the “Creation Song from the Elders,” this is the “Redemption Song from the Elders.” This song may be phrased and punctuated as follows:
You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals,
because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation, [and]
you have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.
The first line of the song answers directly the question of verse 2, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” The elders respond in the second person, speaking directly to the Lamb (as they had earlier sun to the Creator, 4:11). The basis of the Lamb’s worthiness is his willing sacrifice (you were slain) and the result of the sacrifice (with your blood you purchased men for God). The crucifixion of Jesus, although not specifically mentioned, is the reason for his worthiness. The verb purchased was the normal word used for the business transaction of buying (as in Matt. 13:46). In a few New Testament passages it describes the effect of Jesus’ death (as in 1 Cor 6:20). His blood given to the point of death was the price of their admission to the kingdom of God (v. 10). A similar verb is usually translated redeemed as when slaves were purchased and set free. (Some of the ancient manuscripts and the King James Version read, “purchased us for God,” but this is a mistake made by ancient copyists based on the notion that the elders John saw were glorified humans rather than angelic beings.)
How far-reaching was the Lamb’s purchase? Persons of every tribe and language and people and nation were included. His redemptive work was not for Jews only, but included representatives from ethnic groups and societies around the world. Today we have a much better understanding than John did of how widely varied human societies are. The worship of the elders anticipated the time when the Great Commission of Christ had reached its fulfillment (Matt 28:19–20).
The result of purchasing representatives from all the earth’s peoples is that they will be a kingdom and priests to serve our God. This marks a wonderful transformation and fulfillment of what God had told the Israelite people in the days of Moses: “If you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exod. 19:5–6). Throughout the centuries from John’s day until now, the Lamb’s purchased people have been fulfilling this privilege. The apostle Peter also understood this: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pet. 2:9).
There is also the future dimension. Lamb’s people one day will reign on the earth with their King. This wonderful time is described fully in Revelation 21–22 with the portrait of the new Jerusalem: “They will reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 22:5; see also 3:21).
9. And they sang a new song, saying,
“You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals,
because you were slain
and with your blood you bought [men and women] for God
out of every tribe and language and
people and nation
- and you made them for our God
a kingdom and priests,
and they will rule upon the earth.”
- “And they sang a new song.” This is the first of the three hymns that exalt the Lamb for his redemptive work on the cross. The other two hymns are sung respectively by the angels and all creatures. Who are the singers of this first hymn? At least one scholar states that they are the twenty-four elders because they have harps. Another argument is the reading of the line “you bought [men and women] for God,” which in the TR reads, “you bought us for God” (see KJV, NKJV). The four living beings are unable to say that the Lamb had bought them with his blood. But these are questionable arguments grammatically and textually. Scholarly opinion favors the inclusion of the four living creatures, because with the elders they fell before the throne in worship (v. 8) and would be expected to express their worship in song.
Twenty-eight voices sing a new song. The adjective new suggests that the new has come forth out of the old as a separate entity. The Old Testament lists new songs celebrating God’s wondrous deeds (Ps. 33:3; 40:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; Isa. 42:10). But in the Apocalypse, the singers extol the redemption of God’s people through the atonement of Jesus Christ. They praise not the one sitting on the throne but the Lamb who has accomplished his redemptive task. The Lamb deserves jubilant praise, because he triumphed over Satan by dying for the redeemed purchased from every tribe, language, people, and nation. The song is new not only “in point of time, but more important, it is new and distinctive in quality”. The Lamb is worthy of the highest praise.
- “You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, because you were slain and with your blood you bought [men and women] for God out of every tribe and language and people and nation.” The Lamb is worthy because of his willing sacrifice of his own life on the cross. His death was not a random casualty or an unavoidable tragedy. He voluntarily gave up his life to pay the penalty for sin, to satisfy God’s justice, to remove the curse, to reconcile the world to God, and to restore his people to true fellowship with God (14:4; 1 Pet. 1:18–19). Because of his sacrificial death, the Lamb is worthy to take the scroll out of God’s hand, to break its seals, and to make its contents reality (Rev. 13:8; Isa. 53:7).
The Lamb slain to redeem his people symbolizes the voluntary sacrifice of the crucified Christ and at the same time the supremacy of the exalted Christ. As we shall see later, one of the heads of the beast coming up out of the sea was slain as a parody of Jesus’ death (13:3). The difference is that Christ rose from the dead, while the beast is consigned eternally to the lake of fire (19:20). By shedding his lifeblood and dying on the cross, Christ Jesus paid for the sins of his people and set them free. By contrast, the beast, having suffered a fatal blow to one of his seven heads, enslaves his followers and continues to attack God, his name, his dwelling place, and his people (13:5–8).
Christ Jesus bought his people with his blood shed at Calvary. He did not pay Satan to redeem them, but with his death on the cross he satisfied the justice of God. He paid the penalty that God had placed on Adam and Eve and their descendants (Gen. 2:17) and set them free. God’s people owe Jesus “an overwhelming religious debt” for his willingness to pay the price for their redemption.
The phrase “out of every tribe and language and people and nation” occurs repeatedly in Revelation with variations in word order (7:9; 10:11; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6; 17:15). The word tribe conveys the meaning of physical ties and descent, while the term language has a much broader connotation and points to linguistic communication. The word that I have translated as people relates to an ethnic group of common descent; and the expression nation refers to a political entity with distinct geographic boundaries. But because of the frequent appearance of these four categories in Revelation, it is better to interpret them as an all-encompassing idiom. Jesus calls his followers, both Jews and Gentiles, from every possible place on the face of this earth, so that his people are the church universal.
- “And you made them for our God a kingdom and priests, and they will rule upon the earth.” Here is a parallel to the words in 1:6, “and made us a kingdom and priests to his God and Father,” and 20:6, “they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him a thousand years.” John relies on Exodus 19:6, where God tells the people of Israel that they are to be for him a holy nation and a kingdom of priests (Isa. 61:6). As God called the Israelites to be a special people in their time, so he addresses his people today and instructs them to be citizens in his kingdom and serve him as dedicated priests. This charge is for time and eternity, for this present life and the life to come. The present rule of the saints on earth will continue with Christ on the renewed earth.
The text expresses three points: first, those who have been purchased are placed in God’s kingdom; next, they are made priests; and last, they are given the privilege of ruling as kings. The text reads that the Lamb made them priests, that is, they are priests already and are in the kingdom now and certainly in the future. Through their prayers, they even now rule on the earth.
5:9–10. In a new song the 4 creatures and 24 elders ascribed worthiness to the Lamb to take the scroll and break the seals, stating that the Lamb had been slain and had purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. Those He purchased with His blood were made a kingdom and priests to serve our God (cf. 1:6), and to reign on the earth. “Purchased” is from the verb agorazō, “to redeem.” (See the chart, “New Testament Words for Redemption,” at Mark 10:45.)
A textual problem exists in these verses. The Greek text used by the KJV indicates that the new song is sung by those who themselves have been redeemed: “Thou … has redeemed us to God … and hast made us unto our God kings and priests, and we shall reign on the earth.”
The NIV, however, reads, “You purchased men for God.… You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” If the KJV is correct, the 24 elders must represent the church or saints in general. If their song is impersonal as in the NIV and they simply are singing that Christ is the Redeemeer of all men, it opens the possibility that the 24 elders could be angels, though it does not expressly affirm it.
While scholars differ on this point, it would seem that since the elders are on thrones and are crowned as victors, they represent the church rather than angels. Angels have not been judged and rewarded at this point in the program of God. But angels soon join the creatures and the elders in praising the Lamb (5:11–12). The two different interpretations here should not mar the beauty of the picture and the wonder of this song of praise.
The song that the four living creatures and the elders sang was a new song. The phrase a new song is very common in the Psalms; and there it is always a song for the new mercies of God. ‘Sing to him a new song,’ says the psalmist (Psalm 33:3). God took the psalmist out of the fearful pit and from the miry clay and set his foot on a rock and put a new song in his mouth to praise God (Psalm 40:3). ‘O sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvellous things’ (Psalm 98:1; cf. 96:1). ‘I will sing a new song to you, O God’ (Psalm 144:9). ‘Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the faithful’ (Psalm 149:1). But the nearest parallel in the Old Testament comes from Isaiah. There, God declares new things, and the prophet calls upon people to sing to the Lord a new song (Isaiah 42:9–10).
The new song is always a song for new mercies of God; and it will be noblest of all when it is a song for the mercies of God in Jesus Christ.
One of the characteristics of Revelation is that it is the book of new things. There is the new name (2:17, 3:12), the new Jerusalem (3:12, 21:2), the new song (5:9, 14:3), the new heavens and the new earth (21:1); and there is the great promise that God makes all things new (21:5).
One most significant thing is to be noted. Greek has two words for new: neos, which means new in point of time but not necessarily in point of quality, and kainos, which means new in point of quality. Kainos describes a thing which has not only been recently produced but whose like has never existed before.
The significance of this is that Jesus Christ brings into life a quality which has never existed before—new joy, new thrill, new strength, new peace. That is why the supreme quality of the Christian life is a kind of brightness. It has been said that ‘the opposite of a Christian world is a world grown old and sad’.
The Song Of The Living Creatures And Of The Elders
And they sang a new song and this is what they sang:
Worthy are you to receive the roll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and so at the price of your lifeblood you bought for God those of every tribe and tongue and people and race, and made them a kingdom of priests to our God, and they will reign upon the earth.
The praise offered to the Lamb by the four living creatures and the elders is given because he died. In this song, the results of the death of Jesus Christ are summed up.
(1) It was a sacrificial death. That is to say, it was a death with purpose in it. It was not an accident of history; it was not even the tragic death of a good and heroic man in the cause of righteousness and of God; it was a sacrificial death. The object of sacrifice is to restore the lost relationship between God and humanity; and it was for that purpose, and with that result, that Jesus Christ died.
(2) The death of Jesus Christ was a death which brought freedom. From beginning to end, the New Testament is full of the idea of the liberation achieved by him for all people. He gave his life as a ransom (lutron) for many (Mark 10:45). He gave himself as a ransom (antilutron) for all (1 Timothy 2:6). He redeemed us from—literally bought us out from (exagorazein)—the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13). We are redeemed (lutrousthai) not by any human wealth but by the precious blood of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:19). Jesus Christ is the Lord that bought us (agorazein) (2 Peter 2:1). We are bought with a price (agorazein) (1 Corinthians 6:20, 7:23). The New Testament consistently declares that it cost the death of Jesus Christ to rescue us from the dilemma and the slavery into which sin had brought us. The New Testament has no ‘official’ theory of how that effect was achieved; but of the effect itself it is in no doubt whatever.
(3) The death of Jesus Christ was universal in its benefits. It was for men and women of every race. There was a time when the Jews could hold that God cared only for them and wished for nothing but the destruction of other peoples. But in Jesus Christ we meet a God who loves the world. The death of Christ was for all people, and therefore it is the task of the Church to tell everyone about it.
(4) The death of Jesus Christ was a death which was of benefit. He did not die for nothing. In this song, three aspects of the work of Christ are singled out.
(a) He made us royal. He opened to men and women the royalty of the children of God. Human beings have always been God’s children by creation; but now there is a new relationship of grace open to all.
(b) He made us priests. In the ancient world, only the priest had the right of approach to God. When ordinary Jews entered the Temple, they could make their way through the Court of the Gentiles, through the Court of the Women, into the Court of the Israelites; but into the Court of the Priests they could not go. It was a case of so far and no further. But Jesus Christ opened the way to God for all people. We all become priests in the sense that we have the right of access to God.
(c) He gave us triumph. His people shall reign upon the earth. This is not political triumph or material lordship. It is the secret of victorious living under any circumstances. ‘In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!’ (John 16:33). In Christ, there is victory over self, victory over circumstance and victory over sin.
When we think of what the death and life of Jesus Christ have done for us, it is no wonder that the living creatures and the elders burst into praise of him.
5:9, 10 In their new song, they acclaimed the Lamb as worthy to execute judgment because of His redemptive work on the cross. There is a question whether they include themselves among the redeemed (“have redeemed us to God”) or whether it should read, as in some versions, “and did purchase for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation”.
Beyond redemption, the Lord has made believers kings and priests to worship Him, to witness for Him, and to reign with Him over the millennial earth.
5:9 The new song celebrates the redemptive work of the Son as the basis of His right to judge. Divine rule has its basis in creation (ch. 4) and redemption. Christ is worthy to open the scroll because He was slain on the Cross, purchasing with His blood believers out of every nation. True authority links both sovereignty and love, might and morality.
5:10 Many claim that the reign of the saints on the earth is a fancy. It is claimed that it is carnal and Jewish. The saints in heaven, who are made kings and priests (1:6), do not so regard it. That reign is not first spoken of in 20:4, because it has been stated in 3:21 in a promise and here in praise (compare Matt. 25:31).
5:9, 10 — “You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation .… ”
God does not play favorites. He searches for men and women, boys and girls, to redeem from every ethnic group, race, and language subculture from throughout the world. He is truly the God of all the earth.
5:9 new song. Cf. 15:3. The OT is filled with references to a new song that flows from a heart that has experienced God’s redemption or deliverance (cf. 14:3; Pss 33:3; 96:1; 144:9). This new song anticipates the final, glorious redemption that God is about to begin. purchased for God with Your blood. The sacrificial death of Christ on behalf of sinners made Him worthy to take the scroll (cf. 1Co 6:20; 7:23; 2Co 5:21; Gal 3:3; 1Pe 1:18, 19; 2Pe 2:1).
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