Chapter 5 of Revelation: Harp and Bowl

CloudsBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Do you get excited when you read the Bible?

In May 2013 I had the privilege of attending a prayer service in Charlotte, NC. Normally, I would drive to school on Friday morning, attend Friday evening and all day Saturday, and drive home late Saturday evening so attending a Sunday morning prayer service in Charlotte was a treat for me.

Harp and Bowl Prayer

This prayer service consisted of prayer mixed with music. Some prayer and music was prepared in advance; some was spontaneous. The point was to praise the Lord, to enjoy the His presence, and to linger. This style of worshipful music and prayer is referred to as a Harp and Bowl service (Rev 5:8; also: The idea apparently originated with King David (Psalm 141:1-2) which perhaps inspired the Apostle Paul’s admonition to pray without ceasing (1 Thes 5:17).

The outbreak of worship is Revelations 5 arises immediately after the fifth verse:

And he [the Lamb] 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 (Rev 5:7-8).

Worthy to Open Scroll

The excitement arises because of the scroll which: no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it (Rev 5:3 ESV). This scroll, which previously was treated as an idolatrous object of worship (Deut 5:8), was suddenly now being opened by someone worthy: the Lamb—ironically referred to as the Lion of Judah (Gen 49:9). This passage obviously refers to Jesus Christ.

The interpretation of this chapter accordingly hangs on one word: scroll—what scroll is it? The Greek word for scroll is βιβλίον normally translated as: Bible. So why do many translations read: scroll?

The First Book (Codex)

In the first century, the very first book (called a codex) ever assembled was the New Testament (NT). The church did not agree on the content of the NT until the fourth century. However, many of the books now contained in the NT were already assembled together in the first century, bounded together on leather pages printed front and back—an innovation.

Christian evangelists developed the book format for three important reasons—it was cheap, transportable, and was easily distinguished from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament—OT) which were traditionally written on multiple scrolls which were neither cheap nor transportable. Consequently, scholars disagree as to whether the Apostle John’s vision referred to the OT (scroll) or the NT (book). The Book of Revelations is one of the last books in NT to have been written so arguments go either way. Theologically, translating βιβλίον as scroll makes sense because John’s point then becomes that the OT is understandable only when viewed through the lens of Christ.

Getting Excited

So in verse 9 we see a party breaking out in heaven: 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 people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation (Rev 5:9 ESV).

So if you get excited reading your Bible, consider yourself an angel!


  1. Do you have questions from last week? Did any important events happen in your life this week? Do you have any thoughts that you would like to share?
  2. What sort of seals are we talking about here in v 5:1?
  3. What is the image of the Lion of Judah? (Genesis 49:9)
  4. What about the image of the lamb? (Exodus 12:21)
  5. What is the symbolism of the seven horns? What do horns signify? (Daniel 7:7-8)
  6. What is the image of a new song? (Isaiah 42:10; Psalm 40:3)
  7. What about the four living creatures? (Ezekiel 1:5)
  8. What does Amen (ἀμήν) actually mean?

405 ἀμήν
• ἀμήν (LXX occas. for אָמןֵ , usu. transl. by γένοιτο; taken over by Christians; in pap symbol. expressed
by the number 99 [α=1 + μ=40 + η=8 + ν=50; ESchaefer, PIand I 29], but also as ἀμήν [POxy 1058, 5].
Ins: ISyriaW 1918; MvOppenheim-HLucas, ByzZ 14, 1905, p. 34ff, nos. 36, 39, 46, 84)

1. strong affirmation of what is stated
a. as expression of faith let it be so, truly, amen liturgical formula at the end of the liturgy, spoken by the congregation 16:10 p. 137, 19 Ja.; Cyranides p. 124, 18 Ἀμήν· τέλος· ἀμήν· ἀμήν) ἀ. was almost always put at the end of books, but not in the older mss. (and hence v.l.) Mt 28:20; Mk 16:20

Chapter 5 of Revelation: Harp and Bowl

Also see:

Chapter 4 of Revelation: The Times and The Seasons 

Chapter 1: Alpha and Omega 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

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