Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it . . .
This is the book of God’s secret decrees and counsels concerning how things will fare with his people as history moves to its climax.
And I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.
So the conquering that makes the Lion of Judah worthy to reveal the decrees of God is a conquering that was achieved as a slain Lamb — which is exactly what verse 9 is going to say: “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain.”
And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed [or purchased] people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:1–10)
All Heaven Sings
It is clear from verse 9 that the ultimate effect of the achievement of the blood of the Lamb of God is that all heaven sings about his worth. “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain.” So let this fly as a banner over everything I say. The ultimate effect of the purchase of the Lamb is the praise of the Lamb (see Psalm 99:4–5; 40:16)
I want to go beneath this ultimate purpose and try to answer three questions from this text:
- What did the Lamb of God do?
- For whom did he do it?
- What do we say when we bring this message to the nations?
What the Lamb of God Did
They sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed [or purchased] people for God . . .” (Revelation 5:9)
What did he do? He died at the hands of slaughterers. “You were slain” — or slaughtered (what you do to an animal; sphazō). And by being slaughtered, with his blood drained out, he purchased people for God. “By your blood you ransomed (purchased, bought; agorazō) people for God.”
“The ultimate effect of the purchase of the Lamb is the praise of the Lamb.”
The central, pivotal, all-important act in this verse is the slaying of the Lamb. So the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, the long-awaited Jewish Messiah (verse 5) becomes a lamb-like lion and is slaughtered. This is the crucifixion of Jesus (Revelation 11:8). And by this crucifixion, this death, this blood-letting, the lamb-like lion purchased a people for God.
Now, what does that mean? Purchased away from what? Purchased for what? Purchased how? I will try to clarify what this means with four observations from the book of Revelation.
What Are We Purchased From?
Let’s start with: purchased from what? The wording of Revelation 1:5–6 is very similar to Revelation 5:9 and gives the first answer.
Redeemed from Sin
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Revelation 5:9 says the Lamb by his blood purchased a people for God. Revelation 1:5 says, the Lamb, Jesus Christ, “freed us from our sins by his blood.” So whatever other powers held his people in bondage, and whatever destiny awaited them, Revelation 1:5 says that the liberating price of the blood of the Lamb set us free from our sins. The payment that had to be paid was a payment for sins. And the payment was the death of the Lamb.
And so, the fundamental thing that happened in the slaying of the Lamb was that the death penalty of sin was paid. To free a people from their sins by the payment of the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 1:5) is the same as to purchase a people for God by the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 5:9).
It means that the blood of the Lamb — the death of the Lamb — was the payment of the penalty for the sins of this people. They are now free from that condemnation. It’s not going to happen to them. He “freed us from our sins by his blood” (Revelation 1:5).
Bought Back from the Beast
The second observation about the meaning of “by your blood you purchased people for God” is from Revelation 13:7–8 — a word about the beast.
It was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation [notice the link with 5:9 where the blood of the Lamb purchased people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation — the beast was given authority over them all], and all who dwell on earth will worship it [let that sink in, everyone, except one group], everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.
So, there was, as it were, a book before the foundation of the world. That book contained the names of a people. And if a person’s name was in the book, that person was kept from worshiping the beast. They were saved from the sway of his authority. And these names comprised a people, it seems, from every tribe and people and language and nation. And they had been written in the book before the creation of the world.
And the name of the book is “the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.” When Revelation 5:9 says that by the blood of the slain Lamb he purchased a people for God, it means, not only that he purchased them from their sins (Revelation 1:5), but also from worshiping the beast.
“By this crucifixion, this death, this blood-letting, the lamb-like lion purchased a people for God.”
That’s the reason for calling the book where they were written “the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.” They are in the book and kept from beastly idolatry by the blood of the Lamb. The blood of the Lamb protected them from the power of the beast and purchased the transformation of their heart so that they would not worship him. We will return to this.
So, we have seen two meanings of the words in Revelation 5:9, “by your blood you purchased people for God” — both describing what we are purchased from.
He paid the price of the penalty of their sins, so that they would not be condemned for their guilt.
He secured the effect of his blood on their hearts, so that they would not worship the beast.
Purchased from the penalty of sin. Purchased from the rebellion and unbelief of the heart.
Rescued from the Lake of Fire
One more observation about what this people are purchased from when it says, “by your blood you purchased people for God.” It comes from Revelation 14:9–11 and 20:15.
If anyone worships the beast . . . he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night . . . (Revelation 14:9–11)
And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15)
So the final, most terrible thing to say about what this purchased people are saved from by the blood of the Lamb is that by this purchase they were saved from God’s wrath, which John says is the lake of fire, and which results in torment that lasts forever and ever.
- Revelation 14:10, “He also will drink the wine of God’s wrath.”
- Revelation 14:11, “The smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever.”
- Revelation 20:15, “He was thrown into the lake of fire.”
This is what Jesus had said in John 3:36:
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
And it’s what Paul had said in Romans 5:9:
Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.
So, John gives at least three answers to the question, What does the blood of the Lamb purchase his people from?
- From condemnation under the penalty of our sins.
- From a heart of unbelief that gives way to worshiping the beast.
- From eternal torment under the wrath of God in the lake of fire.
What Are We Purchased For?
Now, what about what he purchased this people for?
People for God
The apostle John’s first answer in Revelation 5:9 is that he purchased them for God. And then he unfolds what that involves in verse 10. “By your blood you purchased people for God.”
Once, they were not God’s people. They may have been God’s possession by virtue of creation, so that God had rights to do with them as he pleased. But they were not God’s people as a treasure, or a family, or as priests in his presence, or as rulers in his kingdom. But Revelation 5:10 says that by this purchase “you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
Kingdom, Priests, Rulers
So they are purchased by the blood of the Lamb to belong to God, first, as a kingdom with God as their all-protecting, all-providing, all-guiding, all-satisfying King; second, as priests, all of them with access to our all-satisfying God by the blood of the Lamb; third, as co-rulers over the earth.
“The fundamental thing that happened in the slaying of the Lamb was that the death penalty of sin was paid.”
This is what this people were purchased for: to belong to God as his treasured possession — a kingdom under his care, a priesthood in his service, and magistrates sharing his reign. “You have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
So, what did the Lamb do? He died and, by dying, he purchased a people for God. And what does it mean that “by your blood you purchased people for God”? It means at least that when Jesus Christ died and rose again, his blood was a kind of payment provided by God in sending him (John 3:16) to free a people from the penalty of their sins; and free them from rebellious hearts and from the wrath of God; and give them the everlasting honor and joy of belonging to God as his treasure, his kingdom, his priests, his magistrates over the earth.
That’s what the Lamb of God did.
Whom Did the Lamb Purchase?
Now the question is: For whom did the Lamb do all this? For whom did Jesus make this purchase? Who are the “people” referred to in Revelation 5:9?
Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you purchased people.
What people? The word “people” is not there in the Greek text. It simply says, “By your blood you ransomed for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Perhaps the reason is just to keep from repeating the word “people” later in the verse (people from every people). But John expects us to supply the word people. Who are they?
Some from All
The first thing to notice is the word “from.” “By your blood you purchased people for God from (ek; see Revelation 14:4 where the same point is made with apo) every tribe and language and people and nation.” This is different from saying, “You purchased every tribe and language and people and nation.” And it’s different from saying, “You purchased all the people in every tribe and language and people and nation.”
The Lamb purchased a people scattered among all the nations. John is showing us again what Jesus said in John 10:15–16:
I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.
By his blood he purchased a people — his sheep — and he gathers them by means of his messengers and witnesses who speak the words of the Shepherd. The sheep hear his voice and they follow him, and he gathers them from every tribe and language and people and nation.
Poured Out for You
This is what John meant when he said in John 11:51–52, that “Jesus would die . . . to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.” It’s what Paul meant when he said to the Ephesian elders, “Care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). He purchased his church by his blood. It’s what Paul meant in Ephesians 5:25, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
And it’s what Jesus meant when he said at the Last Supper, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). And what is secured by the blood of the new covenant? A new, believing heart.
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:26–27)
Chosen by Grace
In other words, the blood of the new covenant, the blood of the Lamb, purchased a people who by that blood are kept from worshiping the beast. Their names were written in the book of life before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8). They are a people chosen by grace before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4).
“The effectiveness of Jesus’s blood-purchase cannot be stopped by ethnic pride or ethnic fear. ”
And those whom he chose, he purchased. And those whom he purchased, he called. And those whom he called, he delivered from the worship of the beast. And those with this new heart, he justified and forgave. And those whom he justified, he glorified.
The purchase of the blood of Christ was a real purchase. He obtained forever what he paid for. None of them is lost. That’s the first thing to say in answer to the question: Who are the people he purchased? They are the people in the book of life, chosen before the foundation of the world: the church, the bride, the sheep, the children, all believers.
Every People and Nation
And the second thing to notice about this purchased people is that they are “from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Of all the things that I could say (and perhaps should say) about the global purposes of God for every tribe — think of it: thousands of them — every language — over six thousand — every people, every nation (not political nation states, but ethnic segments of humanity) — of all the things I could say about how many of these are unreached and unengaged, let me show you a connection you may not have seen.
Worthless Without Christ
When Paul wanted to show the adversaries in Philippi that it is useless to boast in the flesh — in human distinctives apart from Christ, here’s what he said in Philippians 3:4–6:
If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
Historic people: Israel. Honored tribe: Benjamin. Cultural, linguistic, and ethnic elite: Hebrew of Hebrews. Highest religious exclusivity: Pharisees. All of them honored. All of them esteemed. All of them historically venerated. In relation to God, all of them precious. And yet, all of them worthless where Christ is missing. “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (Philippians 3:7). And yet the slain Lamb purchased a people from them all.
Neither Superior nor Inferior
All over the world, people feel superior about their tribe, their people, their language, their ethnicity. Or they feel inferior about their tribe, their people, their language, their ethnicity. Their sense of ethnic superiority makes them feel more worthy of God’s favor. Or their ethnic inferiority makes them feel less worthy of God’s favor.
And into that universal pride and fear the heavenly song of Revelation 5 says: the Lamb of God infallibly purchased people from all of them. The effectiveness of his blood-purchase cannot be stopped by ethnic pride or ethnic fear. He has conquered by his blood. He will have what he purchased. His blood will break the back of all ethnic pride, and overcome all ethnic fear. It will shatter all tribal superiority, and surprise all tribal inferiority. The blood of the Lamb will bring down all linguistic snobbery, and give hope to linguistic shame.
In other words, Revelation 5:9 not only tells us the multiethnic, global reach of the purchase of Christ; it also points to the kinds of obstacles (ethnic pride and fear) that cannot defeat the achievement of his blood. The price is paid. The people are purchased. No ethnic boast, no ethnic embarrassment can change the achievement of the blood of the Lamb. The Lord will receive the reward of his suffering!
What We Say to the Nations
Finally, what is our message to the tribes and languages and peoples and nations? When you go, what will you say? Make no mistake: God uses human emissaries and ambassadors to speak on his behalf and call his purchased people out of darkness (Acts 26:17–18). You will say this:
The God who made and rules the heavens and the earth and the seas is a great, holy, sovereign, righteous God of truth and justice who holds every human being accountable for the wrongs we have done against each other and all the dishonor we have shown to him.
But in his mercy God chose a people for himself — a people from all the tribes and languages and peoples and nations of the world, including yours. He sent his only, eternal, divine Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to accomplish a great salvation by his death and resurrection. He never sinned. But he died and rose again, and reigns in heaven, and will come again to justify the world.
“He is a great Savior, a great Friend, a great Guide, and a great Treasure.”
And when he shed his blood — the infinitely valuable blood of the Son of God — he purchased his people. He paid the penalty for all their sins. He freed them from the wrath of God. He secured for them new hearts of faith and hope. He took them from slavery, and made them his own family and treasure. They will be his kingdom, his priests, his magistrates over the world. It is finished.
All of this glorious salvation God has accomplished in Christ Jesus. It is a finished work. It is a complete redemption. It is the greatest work that God has ever done. And it is free. You cannot earn it. You cannot buy it. You cannot barter for it or deserve it. You cannot complete it. Or finish it. Or add to it.
It is all in Christ. Receive him now as your Savior and Lord and the Treasure of your life, and it will all be yours. Even as I speak, God is gathering his people. His sheep hear his voice. And they come.
Receive him, and you will receive in him all that God has ever done for sinners. In him you will find all the treasures that he purchased for his people: all your sins forgiven, all God’s wrath removed, everlasting joy as God’s kingdom, God’s priests, God’s magistrates. And yes, you will find that even your new heart of faith was purchased by the blood of the Lamb. And you will be glad.
He is a great Savior, a great Friend, a great Guide, and a great Treasure. I am urging you on his behalf. He has sent me to you. Welcome him as your new life.
This is what you will say.