Poole on Revelation 5:1: The Scroll of History

Verse 1:[1] And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne (Ezek. 2:9, 10) a book written within and on the backside, (Is. 29:11; Dan. 12:4) sealed with seven seals.

[I saw in the right hand…a book] Question: What is this Book? Response 1: It is the Sacred Scripture (Estius, Zegers), of the Old and New Testaments (Jerome and Ambrose and Gregory and Bede and others in Ribera), especially that part which contains the mysteries of Christ. It is said to be written within and outside, on account of its twofold understanding, the historical, which is open to all; and the spiritual, which is revealed to a few, which Christ alone both fulfills and opens to us. The seven seals signify the multiplicity of the mysteries of this Book (Estius). Others: This does not satisfy (Ribera, Cluverus, Gomar): 1. Hence it would follow that the Sacred Scripture was closed until the last times (concerning which it is apparent from Revelation 6 that this Vision is), or, at least until this revelation (Ribera); neither read nor inspected, nor understood, by any creature (Gomar), Angel or man (Cluverus), not even Peter and Paul, nor the rest of the Apostles, who had all already died before John (Ribera): which is repugnant to those passages in Luke 24:32, 45 (Cluverus, thus Ribera), and 2 Corinthians 3:16 (Cluverus). 2. What things are contained in this Book, they are in great measure explained by what follows (Gomar); and they only regard future things (Cluverus), and are not extant in the rest of the Scriptures (Cluverus, thus Gomar). Response 2: This Codex is fatidicus/prophetic or of the counsels of God, in which the series and order of things to be done unto the second coming of Christ is interwoven (Mede’s Works 545, similarly Ribera); as the double Prophecy of future events, which next follows, which that Codex was containing, shows (Mede’s Works 545). This Book, or volume, is a symbol of the decrees of God (Piscator): it contains the decrees of God (Hammond, Durham, Cocceius), concerning those things which were going to happen to the Christian Church (Durham), or, concerning vengeance to be inflicted upon the enemies of God and Christ (Hammond): it is the divine prescience and providence (Pererius out of Lyra and the Carthusian,[2] thus Cluverus, Gomar), of matters especially notable, adverse and favorable (Pererius); principally future events following in succession concerning the Church (Pererius, similarly Gomar), or her enemies (Gomar). This Book is the Apocalypse itself (Lapide, Menochius, Pareus, Forbes, Durham), or, the mysteries of the Apocalypse (Tirinus, Menochius), and the oracles in the prescience and predestination of God, contained, as it were, in the Book (Menochius, Lapide). It is called a Book on account of the certainty of the events, after the fashion of men, Exodus 17:14; Ezekiel 2:10 (Forbes), so that it might be signified that God knows all things with complete certainty, and considers and works with the greatest foresight. See Psalm 56:8; 139:16 (Cluverus). [It is said to be upon the right hand of Him:] [Either] because it is customary that Books that we regard to be of great value we carry with us (Grotius): [or] so that He might present it to the lamb; what things we give to others we extend in the right hand (Pareus): [or] so that might be shown, both the eminence of the matter; and that every condition of the Church is by the right hand of God directed, etc. (Forbes): [or] so the we might be taught that God is the absolute lord of His counsels, which, as they are of Himself alone, so they are able to be changed or frustrated by no one; and that He Himself, what He establishes by His wisdom, by His own power commits to execution (Durham). To place at the right hand is to will to carry out (Grotius). Ἐπὶ τὴν δεξιὰν, upon the right hand, is here put in the place of ἐν τῆς δεξιᾶς, in the right hand, as it is evident from verse 7, where it is taken as ἐκ τῆς δεξιᾶς (Pareus, Hammond), out of the right hand, in which accordingly it had been. And the Prepositions here, as among the Hebrews, are used indiscriminately (Hammond).

The disputes what this book was are very idle; for it was certainly the book of which we read hereafter, that it was opened, and to which the seven seals mentioned in the following chapters were annexed, of the opening of all which we read; and this could be no other than codex fatidicus, (as Mr. Mede calls it,) the book of the counsels, decrees, and purposes of God relating to his church, as to what more remarkable things should happen to it to the end of the world; which book was in the hand of the Father.

[Written within, etc., ἔσωθεν καὶ ὄπισθεν] Within and behind, or on the back (Erasmus, Vatablus, Beza, Piscator), that is, on all surfaces (Vatablus), on both parts of the parchment (Erasmus, Vatablus, Camerarius), on the convex and concave sides (Hammond), on the interior and posterior, or exterior (Camerarius, Beza); that is, ἀμφοτέρωθεν, on both sides (Camerarius), contrary to the common practice (Cluverus, similarly Ribera, Menochius). For the Ancients wrote on skins or parchments (Menochius, thus Ribera), which were rolled up, and rolled around a cylinder, Isaiah 34:4; Ezekiel 2:9, 10; Luke 4:20; Revelation 6:14 (Ribera) (thence called volumina/volumes[3] [Menochius]): and accordingly they were wont to be written within only, not on the outside (Ribera, similarly Cluverus, Menochius): which nevertheless was sometimes done, which sort of Books were called ὀπισθόγραφοι/opisthographoi, written on the back as well as the front (Ribera, similarly Cluverus, Beza). Pliny the Younger’s Epistles 3, “To Marcus”, He left to me one hundred and sixty commentaries, opistographos indeed and written with tiny letters, etc. Juvenal in Satire 1 said concerning a most lengthy Book, …And Orestes,[4] written with the margin of the last book already full, and on the back, but not yet finished. See Alexander ab Alexandro’s Festival Days[5] 3:30 (Ribera). Now, this was signifying, either, 1. the abundance of things written (Gomar, similarly Pareus, Ribera, Hammond), or of the threatened calamities (Hammond); or, 2. the fullness of the Divine knowledge (Cluverus); or, 3. that there are no new counsels or decrees in God, Acts 15:18, and that therefore no space was left empty here (Durham); or, 4. the certitude of the matter remembered so carefully and in such great detail; or, 5. the special providence of God in all and every condition of the saints (Forbes); 6. the genius of these Apocalyptic Visions, which are thus dressed up, so that they might display an elegant appearance and a very full sense in the external shell itself, and [have latent] inside the history of truth. And Jerome, Rupertus, and many others understand this writing within and without of the mystical and literal senses (More’s An Enquiry into the Mystery of Iniquity 1:4:592). Others: The passage is thus to be divided, γεγραμμένος ἔσω, καὶ ἔξωθεν κατεσφραγισμένον, etc. For it does not say that the book was written within and without, but written within, sealed without (Grotius). As if any scrolls were written without, but sealed within. So unhappy is that Interpreter of the Apocalypse, the great Hugo, even in matters of less importance (More’s An Enquiry into the Mystery of Iniquity 1:4:592). And many things are opposed to this new division, and teach that the book was written within and without; 1. that the opening of each seal exhibits some new representation, which was not able to be done if all the seals were on the posterior part, which all accordingly were to be opened before any part of the book was revealed; 2. a comparison with Ezekiel 2:10, where a long succession of calamities is represented by the volume written within, throughout the whole, and without, in great measure; yet in such a way that somewhat was left there which would cover and conceal the things written, and give a place for the seals. And that here ὄπισθεν is the same as without in Ezekiel[6] (Hammond).

Written within, and on the backside; very full of matter, so as it was written on all sides.

[Stamped (or, sealed [Beza, Piscator]) with seven seals] The use of seals was twofold; 1. to shut up secrets (Pareus, Cluverus), as in Isaiah 29:11; Daniel 8:26; 9:24 (Cluverus); 2. to confirm, or bestow authority (Pareus, similarly Cluverus), as in Esther 8:8, 10; Jeremiah 32:10; Daniel 9:24 (Cluverus). It signifies, therefore, that the counsels of God (Durham, Gomar), [and] what things are here written (Pareus, thus Cluverus), 1. are authentic (Pareus), certain, authoritative, most well attested, of inviolable and infallible truth (Cluverus); 2. are abstruse and most secret (Cluverus, similarly Pareus, Piscator, Gomar, Durham, Forbes), and completely shut up, as it is implied by the number seven (Forbes), which is a symbol of completion (Piscator): or, seven for the number of Visions following (Durham), and of calamities, which He warns are about to come before those things which were here written would be learned (Ribera). Others: There is here πρόληψις, a prolepsis. For he saw the Book with one seal; but with that opened he learned that six parts were sealed (Grotius). For there were seven rolls, each sealed (Grotius, Hammond), in such a way that the second was wrapped in the first (for Hebrew pages were rolls, מגלות/megilloth/scrolls), the third in the second, and so on (Grotius). The form of this Book ought to agree with the scope of the Lamb, who in this place regarded Former and Latter. For what pertains unto the first Seal was obliged to be viewed before the second or the rest would be opened. Now, the prophecies in this Scroll appear to have been portrayed and written down, partly by Icons and Signs, which were not to be read but contemplated, whence that come and see;[7] partly by the marks of letters, for in the fifth and sixth Seal an oration is attributed to a thing seen (Mede’s Works 969).

Sealed with seven seals; hitherto concealed from the world, and to be revealed by parts, as to the bringing to pass of those things decreed in it; though all at once by God here revealed, in a degree, by visions unto John.

[1] Greek: Καὶ εἶδον ἐπὶ τὴν δεξιὰν τοῦ καθημένου ἐπὶ τοῦ θρόνου βιβλίον γεγραμμένον ἔσωθεν καὶ ὄπισθεν, κατεσφραγισμένον σφραγῖσιν ἑπτά. [2] Denis the Carthusian (1402-1471) was a Carthusian monk, theologian, and mystic, considered by some to be the last of the Schoolmen. He commented on the entire Bible. [3] Volumina is derived from the verbal root volvo, to roll. [4] A book written by Varro. [5] Alexander ab Alexandro (1461-1523) studied law at Naple and Rome, but, being dissatisfied with the practice of law, devoted himself to literary pursuits. His Dies Geniales is a miscellany of curious observations on philology and antiquities. [6] Ezekiel 2:10a: “And he spread it before me; and it was written within and without (פָּנִ֣ים וְאָח֑וֹר; τὰ ὄπισθεν καὶ τὰ ἔμπροσθεν, in the Septuagint)…[7] See Revelation 6:1.