The New Songs
Jan 20, 2016
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 in his first form. Then, like any babe that must grow after it is born, this New Creation Man also grows in stature 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 understanding 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. Revelation 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 Genesis 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 Leviticus 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 power of priesthood. In Matthew 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 not 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 Chronicles 25:7). Their function was “to prophesy with lyres, harps, and cymbals” (1 Chronicles 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 Corinthians 14:6, 7). Just as the sound of a flute or harp must be distinct in order to be understood, 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 words to his music until the music was forgotten.
So Revelation 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.” But take note that the One who is worthy to take the book is not only Jesus Christ. Verse 10 says “Thou hast made THEM to be a kingdom and PRIESTS to our God.” This is the entire CHRIST BODY. Jesus, the Head, was the primary One who was slain to purchase the world by His blood, but the overcomers are also included in this work of redemption. In fact, by following the example of their Head, the overcomers are co-heirs with Christ, for Paul says in Romans 8:16-19,
16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him. 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.
Many have not dared to comprehend the full extent of this “glory” that the children of God will be given as “fellow heirs with Christ.” It seems blasphemous to say that any man or woman could participate in the redemptive work of Christ. But in Revelation 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 on a secondary level, these were also types of all the martyrs whose blood was shed as a witness to Christ’s work on the cross.
It is this participatory work of redemption that is least understood. Those who do see it tend to speak of it only under their breath, lest others think them to be arrogant or blasphemous. Certainly, humility is a virtue, but at the same time we ought to be confident in our identity in Christ and know the divine plan for the collective Lamb of God.
Reigning on the Earth
This song 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 have people to reign over. Hence, this is not a song celebrating Universal Reconciliation. It is a song celebrating the formation of Kingdom government. As we will see, it is the third song that includes the rest of creation.
Toward the end of the book, John wrote about the martyrs (witnesses) who qualified to rule the Kingdom, saying in Revelation 20:4, 5, and 6,
4 … they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.
Here we see clearly that the first resurrection is limited to those who qualify as rulers during the thousand-year “Sabbath” rest that God gives the earth after its labor under the dominions of fallen men.
At the end of the thousand years comes the second resurrection, which includes all who remained in the tombs, “the dead, the great and the small” (Revelation 20:12). Jesus spoke of this general resurrection in John 5:28, 29, telling us that this resurrection will include both believers and unbelievers. At that time (after the Millennium) the righteous will receive immortality, while the unrighteous will receive divine judgment.
Paul affirms this as well in his testimony before Felix in Acts 24:14, 15, saying, “there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.” This cannot be the first resurrection, because it includes the wicked. The first resurrection includes only righteous ones.
Therefore, the song of the elders in Revelation 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 during the Tabernacles Age prior to the Great White Throne judgment, where all are raised.
The final truth to notice is that “they will reign upon the earth.” They do not reign in heaven, but on earth. This is consistent with the “stone” kingdom in Daniel 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 Revelation 11:15.
Song #2: The Song of the Angels
In Revelation 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 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 restated in so many words, but this is the implication. Of the first song, Revelation 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.
This is part 46 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Revelation." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones