By Christopher VanDusen
To anyone who’s been watching world events this past year, one can expect 2021 to bring even greater changes to our lives. More specifically, believers in the Lord Jesus Christ have seen their respective nations damaged, weakened, and even destroyed by people’s responses to the covid-19 pandemic, and their persecution increased as well. We can expect similar things in the near future, so what truths do we need to remember, understand, and apply to our lives to be ready for such turmoil, conflict, and persecution? The apostle John answers this question in Revelation 1:4-8.
The Book of Revelation consists of a series of messages and visions that John received from the Lord Jesus. He was tasked with sending this revelation to seven churches in what is now Turkey. The revelation was given to them to prepare them for increased persecution, social unrest, and ultimately, the fall of the Roman Empire, in which they lived. This is what John implies in the first sentence of Revelation.
In Revelation 1:1-3, John describes the Sources, content, and recipients of Revelation. He ends with a blessing upon those who righty respond to it, before greeting the seven churches in verses 4-8:
“4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 7 Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.
8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”” (ESV)
In this greeting, John and Jesus communicate four things to the seven churches to prepare them for the revelation of what they’ll go through:
- John Blesses the Seven Churches (vss. 4-5c)
- John Blesses the Savior Christ (vss. 5d-6)
- John Beholds the Savior’s Coming (v. 7)
- Jesus Brands Himself as Surpassing Creation (v. 8)
John Blesses the Seven Churches
John begins his greeting by blessing the churches to whom he’s writing like this:
“John to the seven churches that are in Asia:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.”
First, John identifies himself and his audience churches as “the seven churches that are in Asia”. “Asia” was a Roman province in modern-day Turkey, which consisted roughly of the western coast of that land mass, next to the sea that stretched westward to Greece. It was well-populated, and was home to the prosperous city of Ephesus, which was close to the coast, and important for trade. One of the churches was in Ephesus.
To these seven churches, John promises “grace” and “peace”. The word “grace” comes from the Greek word charis, which literally means “favor” or “benefit”. “Peace”, on the other hand, has a rich background in the Old Testament, since it alludes to the shalom that God promised to give to His people. This peace doesn’t only refer to the absence of conflict, but to the enjoyment of peace with God, which produces peace of mind, and peace with others.
But this grace and peace isn’t from John, but first from “him who is and who was and who is to come”. That is, it’s from the Person who exists, who always has existed, and who will always exist. Since John then says the churches’ grace and peace is also from “the seven spirits”, and “Jesus Christ”, this first description must be a reference to the Person of God the Father. Thus, John is saying that the grace and peace that the churches have is from the Father, the Holy Spirit, and God the Son.
John describes the second Person who gives the churches grace and peace as “the seven spirits who are before [God’s] throne”. To be “before”, or in front of, God’s throne, is to be close to the presence of God the Father, and intimately involved in what He does from His throne — control the universe. Hence, John is implying that the Father controls the universe through the Holy Spirit. But why does he describe the Spirit as “seven spirits”? This may be a reference to Isaiah 11:2, where the Spirit is described in seven ways in the words,
“And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” (ESV)
At any rate, there are many places in Scripture where the number “seven” represents completion or perfection, so that’s its meaning here. John is saying that the Holy Spirit is fully in the presence of the Father, and fully involved in His reign.
Finally, John says that grace and peace is also from “Jesus Christ”, or Jesus the anointed One. As the anointed One, Jesus is God’s ultimate Prophet, High Priest, and King of the universe. However, John describes him first as “the faithful witness”. This means that He’s the trustworthy witness of the revelation that John is about to describe to the churches. Second, He’s “the firstborn of the dead”. The term “firstborn” is an allusion to the Old Testament practice of giving the firstborn son the largest inheritance of the father’s wealth, making him the honored son. In a similar way, Jesus is the most honored Son of God, which was proven by the fact that He was the first to be given a new, perfect, and glorified body in His resurrection from the dead. Another way of saying “the firstborn of the dead” would be to call Him “the most important Son from the dead”. Lastly, John calls Jesus “the ruler of kings on earth”. This means He controls all human rulers, so nothing they do is without His permission.
John Blesses the Savior Christ
The second thing that John does to prepare the seven churches for Christ’s revelation is to bless Him in verses 5d-6:
“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.”
John begins this blessing by explaining why Jesus deserves such blessing. First, it’s because He “loves” John and the churches. This love is perfect, and never-ending. The main reason that John knows Jesus loves them is that He “has freed [them] from [their] sins by his blood”. The Greek word for “sins” literally refers to “missing the target”, and the target of all people is being morally like God in goodness and love. Any failure to do this is sin. However, sins result in more than this, but as John implies, they enslave people to destruction and misery, so they must be “freed” from them. And how did Jesus free the churches from their sins? “By his blood”. When John says this, he doesn’t merely and literally mean that Jesus saved them by His blood, but His blood shed through crucifixion represents His suffering and death under the Father’s wrath against sinners. By suffering death on the cross, Jesus took the punishment that His people deserve for their sins, thus freeing them from their sins.
The third reason that Jesus deserves to be blessed is that He “made [them] a kingdom, priests to his God and Father”. First, He made the churches “a kingdom”, or a nation under King Jesus. More than that, they are a kingdom of “priests to his God and Father”. The word “to” means “for” in this case. But what does it mean that they’re “priests”? The job of priests is to serve as mediators between God and people through the offering of sacrifices and prayer. In the same way, the church consists of people who represent others before God, and serve Him by offering themselves as sacrifices to Him. However, it’s not just for “God” that they serve as priests, but for Christ’s God, and Father. This implies that the only way they have access to God is through Christ’s reverent father-son relationship with the Father. It’s only because Christ is their High Priest before God that they can serve God as priests.
Finally, the way that John blesses Jesus for these amazing acts is by saying that He has “glory and dominion forever and ever”. The word “glory” comes from the Greek word doxa, from which we get “doxology”. It literally means “apparentness”, and is used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 to describe the light of stars. When John says that “glory” belongs to Jesus, he’s saying that Jesus deserves recognition and praise for what He’s done for the church. Second, John ascribes “dominion” to Him, which refers to “control” or “rule” over the entire universe. And both of these things will belong to Jesus “forever and ever”. John expresses his certainty about this by concluding with “amen”.
John Beholds the Savior’s Coming
In verse 7, John prepares the churches for the revelation by promising Christ’s coming:
“Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.”
John begins this promise with “behold”, or “look”. This directs the churches to pay careful attention to this promise. First, Christ “is coming with the clouds”. These are the same clouds of God’s presence that carried Him into heaven when He left His disciples at Jerusalem, in Acts 1. Second, “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”. How is this possible, when those who “pierced”, or crucified, Him, will be dead? Because at the same time that He comes, all people will be raised from the dead, so that literally “every eye will see him”. Third, John says that “all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him”. The word, “wail”, refers to sad crying. “All tribes” is a reference to every single people group on earth. Therefore, every people group will be represented by those who will mourn His coming, since they know that He will judge them, and sentence them to their eternal punishment.
John confirms this promise twice by saying, “even so. Amen.” He first assures the churches that this is exactly how Christ’s coming will happen. Then, he gives his hearty and eager approval with “amen”.
Jesus Brands Himself as Surpassing Creation
John finishes this greeting by quoting Jesus in verse 8 as saying,
“‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.'”
How do I know that Jesus is the One speaking? Because John has just finished talking about Him coming. In order to confirm John’s promise, Jesus now describes Himself as the One who is in control of the future. His first description is “the Alpha and the Omega”. These two words are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. By using this phrase, Jesus is saying that He’s “the beginning and the end” of the reason for history. In other words, He created this universe, and He’s going to determine its destiny. The reason He’s the “beginning and the end” is that He’s “the Lord God”, or the “supreme Ruler” who is God Himself — the Creator and Ruler of all things. His second description is the same as that given to the Father by John. He exists, has always existed, and will always exist. Thus, He’s beyond the limits of time, and controls it. Finally, He calls Himself “the Almighty”, or “all-powerful”. His power is limitless, so He’s capable of doing whatever He wants with history.
You’re Blessed, So Bless and Behold the Lord
So, if you’re a believer in the Lord Jesus, how does this greeting apply to you?
First, as a member of Christ’s church, you have grace and peace from the timeless One, the seven Spirits before His throne, and Jesus your faithful witness, preeminent One from the dead, and Ruler of earthly kings.
Second, Jesus loves you and has freed you from your sins by His bloody death.
Third, Jesus has made us a kingdom of priests for His God and Father. We are to serve Jesus as His slaves, and the Father as His priests, by sacrificing ourselves for God’s pleasure, and others’ good.
Fourth, you must remember that Jesus is “coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him . . . and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him.”
Finally, you must remember that the Lord has control of history, and is unbound by time, but capable of doing whatever He wants with events, even today.
If you haven’t been saved from enslavement to your sins, and aren’t a sacrificing priest of God, then you’re in rebellion against Him, and are heading for eternal punishment. The good news is that God send His eternal and divine Son to become the man Jesus, to live the perfect life, and suffer and die for our sins on a Roman cross. Then, He raised Him from the dead, and took Him into heaven as the Ruler of the universe. He now commands everyone to change their minds and trust in Jesus as their Lord and Savior from sin to receive His forgiveness, mercy, and peace. Please make sure you’ve repented of your rebellion against Jesus, and are trusting in Him to save you from God’s wrath and your sins. If you’ve done that, He requires all of His people to be baptized in water as an appeal to God for a good conscience and a profession of faith.