Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 1:4–7

Revelation 1:4–7
From John, to the seven churches that are in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from “he who is,” and who was, and who is still to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ – the faithful witness, the firstborn from among the dead, the ruler over the kings of the earth. To the one who loves us and has set us free from our sins at the cost of his own blood 6 and has appointed us as a kingdom, as priests serving his God and Father – to him be the glory and the power for ever and ever! Amen.
7 (Look! He is returning with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all the tribes on the earth will mourn because of him. This will certainly come to pass! Amen.)
(NET Bible)

Saved to do what?

Pastor and Christian thinker Tim Keller has described the flow of people out of old-line Christian denominations by saying: “People are opting instead for a nonreligious life, for a non-institutional, personally constructed spirituality, or for orthodox, high-commitment religious groups that expect members to have a conversion experience. Therefore the population is paradoxically growing both more religious and less religious at once.”[1]

If Keller is right ? and I think he is ? then we may have increasing numbers of people who consider themselves Christians yet who plan to live a nonreligious life. If Jesus has saved us, then what exactly did he save us to become? Consumers?

By naming the author and recipients, Revelation 1:4 makes clear that John’s prophetic-apocalyptic core is wrapped in the external shell of a first-century letter. John names himself as the author and says seven churches are the recipients. While the Greek text merely locates the churches in Asia, NET accurately translates that word to be the Roman province which was known by that name. This province was located in the western third of modern Turkey.

John acts as a messenger for “ ‘he who is,’ and who was, and who is still to come” (1:4). Scholars agree that this phrase is a reference to Exodus 3:14, where God tells Moses, “You must say this to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” In Greek, the I AM phrase in Ex. 3:14 matches he who is in Rev. 1:4. What idea is the author trying to present? Osborne says, “God’s eternal power, already seen in the past and guaranteed in the future, is still at work in the present, even if for a time he is allowing the forces of evil to have their day.”[2]

More difficult is the interpretation of “the seven spirits who are before his throne” (1:4). The most commonly accepted interpretation considers this a reference to Zech. 4:2–7, which focuses on God accomplishing his work through the Holy Spirit.

Bible study will reveal a chronological progression in 1:5 in that Jesus served as a faithful witness, died for doing so and was raised to rule the world. NT scholar Robert Mounce writes a telling insight about Satan’s proposal to Christ: “What the devil offered in return for worship (‘all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor,’ Matt. 4:8) Jesus achieved through faithful obedience that led to death.”[3]

After presenting the example of Jesus as a martyr and conqueror, John immediately turns to praise for what Jesus has done for every believer: “To the one who loves us and has set us free from our sins at the cost of his own blood and has appointed us as a kingdom, as priests serving his God and Father” (1:5b–6). It is easy to take all this for granted! Note carefully that Jesus’ love for us is expressed in the present tense; it could have been translated the one who keeps on loving us. In addition, he has “set us free from our sins” (1:5), and he was the only one who could have loosed those bonds. Jesus did that by dying in our place. However many ages may come, to Jesus be the glory and the power!

But that is not the end of the matter! Keener emphasizes that “In declaring that Jesus made us a ‘kingdom and priests,’ John reminds his audience that salvation is not just what God saves us from (our sins, 1:5), but what he saves us for — a destiny as his agents and worshipers (1:6).”[4]

In case you wonder why all the tribes of the earth should mourn, the Old Testament pictures God riding the clouds as an invincible divine warrior (Psalm 18:9–15; Psalm 104:1–4). Jesus is coming for war!

Jesus is serious; are you?

John makes it really clear that the one who saved us is the one who will suddenly return in overwhelming power. Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8).

John describes Jesus by saying, “the faithful witness, the firstborn from among the dead, the ruler over the kings of the earth” (1:5). Before we can rule with Christ, we must serve as his faithful witnesses. Grace may be free, but much is expected of those who receive it!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God (New York: Dutton, 2008) xv.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 61.

[3] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, Rev. Ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997) 49.

[4] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 71.


Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!