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Revelation 5:6-10 by Robert Dean
Series:Revelation (2004)
Duration:54 mins 59 secs

The Elders and the Rapture. Rev. 5:6-10

 

1)  Man was created as God's vicegerent to rule the planet. Everything is under man, he was the king of the earth. God is viewed as the landowner but man is the chief steward who administers the planet in God's name. The purpose and the destiny of the human race, therefore, is to rule the planet.

2)  However, when Adam disobeyed God in the garden and followed Satan the title of the king of the earth is lost, usurped by Satan who became the illegitimate ruler of the planet. He is referred to as the god of this age, the prince of the power of the air in the New Testament.

3)  As a result Satan had to be defeated. Satan's defeat was secured at the cross but his final destruction awaits the return of the true King.

4)  Christ also redeems the planet in order to restore the kingdom to man. He does this as the Son of Man and the son of David. He fulfils the Old Testament covenants, and we have two pictures of this in the Old Testament. The first is in Daniel chapter seven, the story of the successive kingdoms of man and how they will be destroyed by Jesus Christ when He returns to establish His kingdom. This also fulfils the Davidic covenant where David was promised that his house [dynasty] and his kingdom would be established forever and his throne would be established forever.

 

The scene in Revelation chapter five shows us the final enactment as the rightful ruler as the Lion of the tribe of Judah preparing to destroy the usurper, Satan. He will judge the rebels, the demons and humans in the Tribulation period and then take rightful ownership of His realm. This is the backdrop for understanding this transaction where the title deed is given to the one who is qualified.

 

The action develops in Revelation 5:7 NASB "And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne." The Lamb has appeared, and He comes and moves forward to the throne. He is the only one who is qualified to approach the throne.

 

Revelation 5:8 NASB "When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints." His action generates a response by the creatures who are before the throne. They fall down and worship the Lamb now, another indication that Jesus Christ is full deity. In Scripture it is prohibited for man to worship any creature. The word that is translated "harp" is the Greek word KITHARA [kiqara] which means a harp or a lyre. The harp is mentioned in 5:8; 14:2; 15:2. The bowl is the Greek word PHIALE [fialh] from which we get our English word vial. It refers to a bowl or a basin, a vial with a wide mouth. It was used in many types of religious settings, so it is a bowl or a libation dish that is used in religious ceremonies. This word appears twelve times in Revelation and in most of the others it has to do with the pouring out of judgment, but here it refers to an incense bowl and the smoke going up in the incense represents the prayers of the saints. It could be that some have harps and some have bowls but the term "each" there indicates that each person involved there has both of these because they involve different kinds of worship. So they are not falling down trying to hold on to everything, they are just present with each one so that they have what they need during different kinds of worship in heaven.

 

Revelation 5:9 NASB "And they sang a new song, saying, 'Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood {men} from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them {to be} a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.'" There is a textual problem here. The issue is who is really talking here. It is complicated because there are differences in Bibles, and that is because there were some differences in some of the Greek MSS on which these translations were based. The most common interpretation among of this passage across the board is that these 24 elders are angels. In some Bibles the word "men" is inserted in italics because it doesn't appear in the original. If angels are singing then that would not be singing because angels are not redeemed by the death of Christ on the cross. If we are reading the NASB or the NIV we are going to be led to the conclusion that it is the angels singing, and so the 24 elders would be angels, and if you are reading a KJV or NKJV we would say it must not be angels, it must be human beings that are singing this. So we have to understand what is behind this. However, a majority of dispensationalists believe that the 24 elders are representatives of the church.

 

The different in interpretation here isn't based on theological assumptions, it is based on the problem of textual criticism. That is, when there are differences in the various MSS and so there must be a decision as to the what the original text said. This is not a guessing game, it is a very scientific procedure which compares the various MSS to determine which was the original. That is the process of textual criticism. In some versions the pronoun "us" is added here, and this is seen in just a few versions, the Vulgate and Iranaeus, one of the church fathers. On other MSS, instead of having "you have redeemed us to God," it is reversed and it has, "you have redeemed God us." So the "us" is still there. That would be in Codex Sinaiticus, and various papyri, the Majority Text and certain Latin versions.

 

The Textus Receptus derives from a Greek New Testament which was put together by a very famous scholar just prior to the Reformation by the name of Erasmus (1466-1536). He had seven Greek MSS available to him of the New Testament, none of which were complete, and all of them were considered inferior. Nevertheless, he relied mostly on two of the seven. He was under pressure from his publisher to put this out in seven months and he had to do it all by hand. He made a host of errors. In fact, this Greek New Testament went through several revisions over the next 30-40 years before it was finalized. The printer didn't accept all of Erasmus's corrections and, in fact inserted some of his own. As a result several errors entered into the text, some verses entered into the text that weren't there in the original at all, and other times words that were not contained in any other Greek MSS. So it is on the basis of these seven MSS, primarily two of them, that Textus Receptus is based. This became the basis for the KJV of 1611. So when we think about the King James Bible it is based on the TR which relies primarily on two MSS with a little help from some others. In fact, the last six verses weren't in any of these MSS that Erasmus had, so he had to back-translate it into Greek from the Latin. There were some other verses that were inserted that weren't in any other MSS so there are some basic problems with the TR.

 

Over subsequent centuries a number of other MSS have been discovered, and in the 19th century there was a lot of discovery made. Four MSS specifically were discovered which all came out of North Africa. One is called Codex Alexandrinas, there was Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus, and another papyri numbered 246. All of these date to the late 3rd or fourth century, so they are quite a bit older than the TR. Most of those that Erasmus used dated from the 11th to 14th century. Because of that discovery there was a massive revision in the 19th century of our understanding of the history of the transmission of the text. Scholars began to grapple with this whole issue of how to figure out the original readings when there were these variations. One of the first really solid attempts to try to articulate a procedure to try to resolve these problems was introduced by a couple of Anglican scholars, brilliant men, Westcott and Hort, and it became known as the Westcott-Hort view. It is still the dominant view that most scholars take today. It basically assumes that older is better. But newer isn't always worse; older isn't always better. Nevertheless, that is a view that has dominated textual criticism over the last 100 years or so and it is usually referred to as either the Critical text, and it is found in the United Bible Society's [UBS] text of the Greek or the Nestle version in A27. In recent years, since World War II, another view has developed called the Majority text view. This view basically thinks that the majority of documents—we now have over 5000 complete or incomplete copies of the New Testament—presents the correct view. 

 

Some things to note:

1)  There is no English translation based on the Majority Text.

2)  The Majority Text is very close to the TR but there are over 1800 differences between the Majority Text and the TR.

3)  In the book of Revelation the Majority Text usually agrees with the Critical Text instead of the TR. It is a superior reading.

4)  Notice in verse 9 when it gets down to the word "men," the NASB, the Critical Text, inserts the word "men," and that is based on only one MS. The difference is that in one MS, Codex A, it omits the word "us" completely. But "us" either follows "to God" or comes before "to God" in every other MS. But it is omitted from one and the scholars come along and put so much weight on that one that, despite the fact that every other MS that we have has the word "us" in it, they take it out. And this isn't even a debate between the Majority Text and the Critical text.

 

In some ways this is influenced by theology, because if these are men that are singing this praise to God, "You have redeemed us," they couldn't figure out how they got there. What are all these human beings doing in heaven at the beginning of the Tribulation? Because they got raptured. If you don't have a doctrine of a pre-Tribulation Rapture you can't figure out why these human beings are in heaven at this stage, and why they are wearing crowns, why they have resurrection bodies. So the Majority Text reads: "You have redeemed us to God by your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation." That agrees with the KJV, the NKJV and Textus Receptus. But in verse 10 the Majority Text agrees with the Critical text. It seems like it goes on to say, "And you have made them to be a kingdom of priests to our God." It says, "You have made us to be kings and priests to our God" in the NKJV. What is going on here? This has led to a lot of confusion.

 

The best way to understand this is to ask what is going on in verses 9 & 10 when it talks about "they sang a new song." Sometimes you have parts to songs, and so when we sing a particular hymn and there is a ladies' part and there is a man's part we would still refer to the whole congregation singing even though one group may be singing one thing and one group singing something else. In the ancient world, especially in the Temple worship in the Old Testament, psalms were often sung antiphonally. That is what we have here. On one side are the twenty-four elders who are singing, "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open it seals … and have redeemed us…" etc. Then that is answered by the four living creatures and the angels who sing, "Yes, you have made them [the twenty-four elders] to be a kingdom of priests to our God." The problem is easily handled by understanding this to be an antiphonal response.

 

There are some questions that are often raised which we will try to answer.

1)  First of all, we have to understand that even though the 24 elders are always grouped with the four creatures who are angels before the throne of God that doesn't mean they have to be classified as angels. In many of the scenes in Revelation the Lamb is present also, but the Lamb obviously is not an angel either.

2)  The elders offer bowls of incense which represent prayer, as do the angels, but the angels are not the only ones who are involved in intercessory prayer.

 

Another thing we need to observe is that in Daniel chapter seven is another verse, v. 9, where Daniel observes: "I kept looking Until thrones were set up, And the Ancient of Days took {His} seat; His vesture {was} like white snow And the hair of His head like pure wool. His throne {was} ablaze with flames, Its wheels {were} a burning fire." There is no one sitting on those thrones. No one is seated on those thrones around the throne of God until those 24 elders show up in Revelation 4:4. These 24 elders wear white garments which depict the white garments that are given to the overcomers. Finally, the 24 elders wear STEPHANOS crowns, victors crowns. The crowns that are promised to believers are STEPHANOS crowns, not DIADEMOS crowns, the crowns of ruling authority, the crown a king would wear. So the picture here is that these 24 elders are redeemed men singing praise to God for having redeemed them.

 

Illustrations