John to the Seven Churches
While the first three verses are John’s introduction to the book of Revelation, verse 4 begins John’s message with a salutatory introduction. Rev. 1:4, 5 says,
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 first-born of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
John’s book was addressed as a letter to the seven churches. It was not from John alone, but also from Jesus Christ. The pen was John’s, but the message was from Jesus.
Grace and Peace
He sends two things to the churches: grace and peace. This was Peter’s greeting in both of his epistles. It was Paul’s standard greeting as well (Titus 1:4; Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3, 2 Cor. 1:2, etc.).
“Peace” should be understood as the standard Hebrew greeting: shalom, which is a blessing of wholeness in health, safety, completeness, well-being, and harmony. Grace appears to be a New Covenant addition (John 1:17) to the standard blessing.
There are other implications of shalom when used in related forms. The Wikipedia notes,
The conjugated verb has other spins that are worth noting, such as: "Hishtalem" meaning "it was worth it" or "Shulam" as "it was paid for" or "Meshulam" as in "paid in advance,” Hence one can jokingly say that, "when it's paid-for then there is peace."
John apparently had this in mind when he wrote in Rev. 1:5, “To Him who loves us, and released us from sins by His blood.” His calling was to make peace and to restore us to a full and complete relationship with God by paying the penalty for the sin of the whole world (1 John 2:2). Without the cross, which extended grace, shalom could only remain a hope and a longing for one who was qualified to make it happen. In that sense, Moses brought the hope for peace, but Jesus brought grace to make it possible. But when the legal problem of sin’s debt was resolved in the divine court, ending the controversy that the law had against us, the Judge was able to extend grace (a favorable ruling) to us.
Even more, grace describes us as being in a state of honor in the divine court, allowing the court to hear petitions and cases brought by intercessors.
Yahweh, the Everlasting God
John describes God in a typical Hebrew paradox: “from Him who is, and who was, and who is to come.” This is essentially the definition of Yahweh, the Ever-living, the Ever-existing, the Timeless One, who spans the present, past, and future. In Gen. 21:33 Abraham “called on the name of Yahweh, the Everlasting God.”
Yahweh is said to be olam (“hidden, unknown, obscure”), here translated “Everlasting.” The word is more specifically understood as a time of existence that is unknown to us—in this case because our minds are finite and limited, unable to comprehend eternity. The psalmist contemplated this when he wrote in Psalm 90:1, 2,
1 Yahweh, Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. 2 Before the mountains were born, or Thou didst give birth to the earth [eretz, “land, territory”] and the world [tebel, “inhabitable globe”], even from everlasting [olam, unknown past] to everlasting [olam, unknown future], Thou art God.
Greetings from the Seven Spirits
John also brought the churches greetings “from the seven spirits who are before His throne.” The apostle obviously had communicated with these seven Spirits after he was caught up through the open door to the throne (Rev. 4:1, 2). Their presence is acknowledged in Rev. 4:5,
5 And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.
John had returned with a message, not only from God Himself, but also from the seven Spirits of God. According to Isaiah 11:2, these Spirits are:
1. The Spirit of the Lord (Yahweh)
2. The Spirit of Wisdom (Chokmah)
3. The Spirit of Understanding (Biynah)
4. The Spirit of Counsel (Etsah)
5. The Spirit of Strength (Gevurah)
6. The Spirit of Knowledge (Da’ath)
7. The Spirit of the Fear (Yira) of the Lord (Yahweh)
These Spirits are not impersonal forces, but angels—archangels, or perhaps angels that stand above the archangels themselves. As angels with personality and callings, they could speak with John and could give greetings to the seven churches. There are multitudes of angels of lesser rank, each directly supporting one of these seven Spirits.
Heb. 1:14 says of angels in general,
14 Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of [dia, “through”] those who will inherit salvation?
Collectively, the Seven Spirits form the Holy Spirit, which was given to the church at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit indwells us and ministers to others through us, as do all other angels who are assigned to us. Our angels determine our callings and empower us to fulfill those callings.
So we read in Acts 8:26 that “an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip,” telling him to go to Gaza, where he met the Ethiopian eunuch. But Acts 8:29 says,
29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.”
In this case, Philip’s “angel” was “the Spirit” who was ministering through Philip. As we will see later, the seven Spirits were distributed to the seven churches in order to bring heaven to earth in the complete manifestation of the Kingdom of God. Each church, however, was imperfect, but the seven Spirits worked through the overcomers during each church age, so that the Kingdom could come in the end.
The Faithful Witness
Rev. 1:5 says that this book was also a message “from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness.” Later, in the message to the church of the Laodiceans, Jesus is again called “The Amen, the faithful and true Witness” (Rev. 3:14). This gives a more complete picture, helping us to define a “faithful witness.”
A witness is one who reports what he has seen or heard. Witnesses are called to speak the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The problem is that many earthly witnesses see different things. But Jesus is “the Amen” of God, giving testimony only to what He has seen and heard. The fact that He is a “faithful” witness means that He was faithful to testify of the whole truth. The fact that He is a “true” witness means that His testimony was accurate in every detail—that is, He spoke nothing but the truth.
The First-born of the Dead
Rev. 1:5 tells us that Jesus Christ was not only “the faithful witness,” but also “the First-born of the dead.” Others had been raised from the dead in the days of Elijah and Elisha. Jesus also raised Lazarus from the dead before He Himself was raised. However, all of these were raised back to a mortal state, and they all died again later. Jesus was the First-born from the dead to be raised to immortality.
The Emphatic Diaglott renders this, “the chief-born of the dead.” The term is prototokos, where proto carries the meaning of being first both in time and in rank. It appears to be a synonym for monogenes, the “only-begotten” Son. Paul uses the term prototokos in Col. 1:18, where he links this to Christ’s preeminence over creation,
18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything.
This idea derives from the law of the first-born in Deut. 21:15, 16, 17. The law sets forth the rights of the first-born son in order to protect those rights in case he is “hated” (or “unloved”). In this case, Jesus Christ is the First-born, but yet the bulk of humanity does not love Him, and various religions want to replace Him with their own gods or prophets. The law, however, does not permit this and in the end will enforce the rights of the First-born Son.
The Ruler of the Kings of the Earth
Rev. 1:5 also calls Jesus the Ruler, or Prince, who is over the kings of the earth. The book of Revelation is the drama of history, showing how the opposition to Christ is overcome steadily until He is crowned King of kings and Lord of lords. Rev. 17:14 shows this opposition and its end, saying,
14 These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.
John says that the Lamb wins His position because He is Lord of lords. The underlying implication is that the divine law recognizes Jesus as the Lord of lords and King of kings because He is the First-born Son. The law sets forth the will of God (Rom. 2:18), and it is prophetic because God will always get His way and achieve His goal. The historic opposition can be only temporary, because the will of men and kings is never able to overcome the will of God.
He Who Loves Us
Jesus Christ was the First-born from (ek) the dead, because He was willing to die. It was His love that motivated Him to die for the sin of the world. His death paid the penalty and “released us from our sins by His blood” (Rev. 1:5), extending grace to all.
Rev. 1:6 continues to speak of Jesus, saying,
6 and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father; to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever [aionas ton aionon, “for the ages of the ages”]. Amen.
The primary purpose of releasing us from our sins (vs. 5) is to form us into a kingdom. It is comparable and directly related to an earlier day when God established His kingdom in Exodus 19:6, saying, “and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” This is how we are to understand Rev. 1:6 as well, although the NASB translators did not seem to understand this. Perhaps they were thinking in Greek, rather than in Hebrew.
The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 1502, in its commentary on Rev. 1:6, tells us,
“The statement that Christ has made us to be a kingdom of priests unto God (v. 6) is from the basic declaration in Ex. 19:6, quoted centuries later by Peter (1 Pet 2:5, 9).”
This kingdom is formed in two stages, the first being a Pentecostal kingdom whose type and shadow is the kingdom of King Saul. The second stage is the Tabernacles kingdom whose type and shadow is the kingdom of King David. Saul himself was crowned on the day of “wheat harvest” (1 Samuel 12:17), that is to say, Pentecost. In contrast, David was crowned on the 59th Jubilee from Adam.
The Pentecostal kingdom is a legitimate, but leavened kingdom (Lev. 23:17). The solution to the leaven was to give the church the baptism of fire (Matt. 3:11, 12), so that the “chaff” might be burned up. Those who truly receive this baptism of the fiery presence of God are the ones truly keeping Pentecost.
Secondly, Christ is making us to be “priests.” Here again, there are two kinds of priests described in Scripture—one good and one bad. Ezekiel 44 speaks of both in the context of the Old Covenant, but yet prophesying of a later time when the church too would have priests that were both good and bad.
In the Old Covenant era, Eli and his sons were the main types of bad priests. Ezekiel 44:10-12 calls them idolatrous. The good priests are “the sons of Zadok” (Ezekiel 44:15). Zadok, of course, was the high priest who replaced the last of the line of Eli (1 Kings 2:27, 35). This story prophesies how the Melchizedek Order would replace the Levitical Order of priests that had become corrupted. The name Zadok appears in Melchizedek.
And yet Ezekiel was also prophesying of a later time when the priesthood in the church would also corrupt itself. Those priests have reverted back to Old Covenant practices and thought patterns, disqualifying themselves from the Melchizedek Order. Hence, the message to the seven churches sets forth “him who overcomes,” contrasting them with those who do not overcome. The overcomers are the ones that Christ is forming into the priesthood for ministry in the age to come.
Hence, even as Abiathar (the last of Eli’s line) was disqualified under the Old Covenant, so also is there a priesthood under the New Covenant that will be disqualified. In both cases, those disqualified will be replaced by those who are found worthy. This is one of the key issues at the time of the first resurrection in Rev. 20:6, where the overcomers are raised to immortality as king-priests of the Melchizedek Order.
This priesthood theme is rooted in the types and shadows long before Christ came. Those types were explained further by the prophets—especially Ezekiel. The book of Revelation completes this progression of revelation. John can hardly be understood without knowing what Ezekiel was telling us, along with the stories of Eli and Zadok which form the foundation of his prophecy.
In fact, the qualifications for priesthood are set forth in the law. Lev. 21:17-21 disqualifies Old Covenant priests on the basis of physical defects; but because “the law is spiritual” (Rom. 7:14), the same law applies in a spiritual way to priests under the New Covenant. Each physical defect has a corresponding spiritual defect that disqualifies people from the Melchizedek Order.
Forever and Ever
Rev. 1:6 (NASB) reads, “to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever.”
Many translations, along with the NASB, make this error. Other translations are more correct:
“to Him be the glory and the might for the ages of the ages. Amen.” (The Emphatic Diaglott)
“to him is the glory and the power to the ages of the ages. Amen.” (Young’s Literal Translation of the Holy Bible)
“Unto him be the glory and the dominion, unto the ages. Amen.” (Rotherham, The Emphasized Bible)
“to Him be glory and might for the eons of the eons. Amen.” (The Concordant Literal New Testament)
No one disputes the fact that Christ will have glory and dominion for eternity. Yet the phrase aionas ton aionon is based on the indefinite word aion, which is an eon or age. In the end, however, we must define the term according to its Hebrew equivalent, olam, which means “hidden, indefinite, unknown.” By themselves, neither aion nor olam can be used to express infinite time. Indefinite is not the same as infinite. Indefinite might refer to infinite time, but only if the context demands it.
In the case of Rev. 1:6, where Christ’s glory and dominion is said to be aionas ton aionon, we know that His glory will never end. Neither will His kingdom end, because Dan. 2:44 tells us that “in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed.”
Even so, John’s wording in Rev. 1:6 is not so clear in regard to Christ’s “dominion.” If he means the Kingdom, then certainly it will never be destroyed, but will endure forever. But when we speak of Christ’s personal reign, 1 Cor. 15:25, 26 says,
25 For He must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be abolished is death.
Paul says that Christ’s “reign” will end in some way. How will this end? The answer is found a few verses later in 1 Cor. 15:28,
28 And when all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, that God may be all in all.
It is not that Christ will cease to reign, of course, but this shows that something new will be brought in after death is destroyed. Christ will present the perfected Kingdom to the Father. In that sense, one might say that the kingdom will no longer be Christ’s, but the Father’s Kingdom. The “dominion,” in its absolute sense, will shift from Christ to the Father, making Christ subject to the Father, even though He retains His authority over humanity and creation.
Knowing this, we may ask ourselves what John meant in Rev. 1:6, when he tells us that Christ’s “dominion” is for the ages of the ages. We may interpret this in two ways. First, we may say that the context demands that the indefinite “ages of the ages” be understood as never-ending, since Jesus Christ will always enjoy dominion over creation, even when he is second in authority to the Father. Second, we might argue that John deliberately used the indefinite phrase, “ages of the ages,” in order to show that Christ’s top “dominion” was to end in the far future when the last enemy has been destroyed.
Both views are true, but in my view we do not have sufficient evidence to prove precisely what John meant.
John’s “Amen” at the end of this verse gives his affirmation and agreement with what has been said.