Rev. 5:8 – When He took the scroll, the four living creatures and the 24 elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9And they sang a new song: You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals; because You were slaughtered, and You redeemed [people] for God by Your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10You made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign on the earth (HCSB).
And they sang a new song
Matthew Henry argues that the remainder of chapter 5 consists of a song in three parts: 1) the song of the church; 2) the song of the church and the angels; and 3) the song of all creatures. The church sings about its redemption by the slaughtered Lamb.
His blood has purchased people from every tribe and language, people and nation. Imagine the scene in heaven when the Arapaho joins the Armenian in praise, the Chilean lifts her voice in harmony with the Chinese; and the Hebrew worships Yahweh with the Hmong. There are no forgotten people in God’s economy, no lost civilization on earth. The same God who created all people sent His Son to redeem them, and no matter how diverse the human population becomes, it is well represented in the throne room of heaven.
Warren Wiersbe writes: “John affirms that the Lamb died for the whole world! (John 1:29) The more you meditate on the power and scope of Christ’s work on the cross, the more humbled and worshipful you become. This song was also a missionary song. Sinners were redeemed ‘out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation’ (Rev. 5:9). Kindred refers to a common ancestor and tongue to a common language. People means a common race, and nation a common rule or government. God loves a whole world (John 3:16) and His desire is that the message of redemption be taken to a whole world (Matt. 28:18–20)” (The Bible Exposition Commentary, Re 5:1).
A textual challenge
It should be noted that there is a textual problem in these verses. The King James Version says, “Thou … has redeemed us to God … and hast made us unto our God kings and priests” (v. 9), while modern translations such as the New International Version say, “You purchased men for God … You have made them to be a kingdom and priests …”
If the song is impersonal, as the NIV suggests, then it’s possible that the 24 elders are not men but angels. If, however, the correct translation is personal in nature, then the elders most certainly are human, and either the four living creatures represent mankind or only the elders are singing. In any case, angels are not redeemed and could not legitimately sing personally about being purchased by Christ’s blood.
“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 Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, Re 5:9-10).
A slaughtered Lamb
Two words come into play repeatedly in chapter 5: worthy and slaughtered. In verse 6 John sees Jesus as “a slaughtered lamb.” In verse 9 He is “slaughtered.” And in verse 11 He is “slaughtered.” These words take us back to Isaiah’s prophecy more than 700 years earlier: “Like a lamb led to the slaughter and like a sheep silent before her shearers, He did not open His mouth” (Isa. 53:7).
While the slaughter of Jesus remains the most heinous crime ever committed, it is not a senseless loss of life but a purposeful payment for the sins of fallen people. Because Jesus is slaughtered – get this, because He is slaughtered – He is worthy: Worthy to take the scroll (the title deed to earth); worthy to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing. A Messiah who is only a conquering king is not worthy to take the scroll, but a slaughtered Lamb is worthy to become a conquering king and receive all things from His Father.
Take note of what Matthew Henry writes about the redeemed being made kings and priests unto God: “Every ransomed slave is not immediately preferred to honour; he thinks it a great favour to be restored to liberty. But when the elect of God were made slaves by sin and Satan, in every nation of the world, Christ not only purchased their liberty for them, but the highest honour and preferment, made them kings and priests – kings, to rule over their own spirits, and to overcome the world, and the evil one; and he has made them priests, given them access to himself, and liberty to offer up spiritual sacrifices, and they shall reign on the earth; they shall with him judge the world at the great day” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, Re 5:6–14).
The new song of Revelation 5 is simply and profoundly a new chapter in the old, old story. The slaughtered Lamb is proclaimed worthy to take the scroll from the right hand of the same Father who sent Him to die. The sending itself was neither cruel nor reactive; it was foreordained and carried out in love, securing eternal life, priesthood and kingship for people from every tribe, language, people and nation. Indeed, worthy is the Lamb.
Next: The voice of many angels (Rev. 5:11-12)