To the seven churches in the province of Asia:
Grace and peace to you from I AM, who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before His throne, and from Jesus the Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the living.
To him who loves us and has [fully] freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom, prists to serve his God and Father – to him be glory and power forever and ever! Amen.
Behold, he is coming with the clouds,
and every eye will see him,
and those who pierced him,
and all the tribes of the earth will wail because of him.
It is true, amen.
I am the Alpha and Omega, says the Lord God, I AM, who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.
From verses 4-8, we have a summary of the whole book of Revelation. As a summary, we see statements about God, the seven spirits before the throne, statements about Christ that will be expanded throughout the book, statements about redemption that will be expounded throughout the book, and finally a reiteration of something found in the book of Matthew concerning the coming of Christ. It is for this reason that verse eight sums up by calling “the Lord God… Almighty” the beginning and end.
In verses 4-8, we find three stanzas with four lines. Each line is separated with “and”. In verses four and five, we first see the line, “Grace and peace to you from him who is, who was, and who is to come”. That is followed by “and from the seven spirits before his throne”. Third, we have “and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead”, and finally the fourth stanza is “and the ruler of the kings of the earth”. The end of verse five and verse six creates four lines. “To him who loves us”, “and has freed us from our sins by his blood”, “and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father”, and “to him be glory and power forever and ever! Amen” are those four lines. Finally, in verse seven, we have our final stanza. First we have, “Behold, he is coming with the clouds”. Next we read, “And every eye will see him.” Our third line is, “Even those who pierced him”, and finally, “and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him.” Each line is separated with the και.
When we begin to break down this specific passage of Scripture, we find that in verse four John uses the number seven. Many times the number seven repeats. Compare Revelation 1:4, 12, 16, 4:5, 5:1, 6, 8:2, 10:3, 11:13, 12:3, 13:1, 15:6-8, 16:1, 17:1, etcetera. This cycle of sevens is intentional, no doubt. One thing that I think it might be referencing is that the tribulation, as spoken by Daniel the prophet (9:27), is seven years in length. Of course, this is only one explanation, and there might be several. Some have claimed that the number seven is the number of completion, but it seems more likely that it symbolizes perfection. Thus, at the end of every seven, we find perfection. For example, when we compared previously the end of the seals, trumpets, and bowls of wrath, we find that each of them end with a storm. That storm symbolizes the coming of Christ, and the coming of Christ is the establishment of perfection (heaven) upon earth.
This might be why John writes specifically to seven churches in the province of Asia, even though we know that there are more than seven churches in Asia Minor. John is being deliberate in choosing seven, and we must also assume that he is being deliberate in the seven that he chooses. We will examine the seven later when we come to verses 9-11. If we will say that John is being deliberate about the seven churches, then he must also be deliberate about these seven ‘spirits’. The choosing of seven has to be something worth noting; otherwise he wouldn’t have been limited to seven churches in Asia Minor.
In the phrase, “who is, who was, and who is to come”, we find that the author intentionally has bad Greek grammar. John mixes nomitive and datives. This would be like me writing a sentence: “I is go to the store”. This makes little to no sense. John is writing a Hebrew phrase into the Greek. That Hebrew phrase is found in Exodus 3:14 and Deuteronomy 32:39. It is a statement that God makes of Himself: I AM. Thus, John is determining to say, “I AM, who was, and who is coming”, or “I AM, who was, and who will be”. Either way, we find the statement still bearing the tetragrammaton. Compare Revelation 1:4, 1:8, 4:8, 11:17, and 16:5. As for ὁ ἐρχομενος, it is used consistently in Revelation to the coming of Christ. Compare 1:4, 1:7, 2:5, 2:16, 3:11, 22:7, and 22:12.
Before moving on, we should see that in Revelation 11:17 and 16:5 the last phrase “is to come” is dropped. Now, it is evident in Revelation 8, if not in other places, that John knows his Greek grammar. The way that he masterfully uses the preposition ἐπι shows this clearly. So, in the case of Revelation 1:4, we must conclude that it is purposeful that John is exercising bad grammar. The Greek syntax in Revelation is very awkward, because the visions being expressed are stretching the limits of language itself.
Now, something interesting is that we have a progression of the Godhead as the Father, Spirit, and Son. We would typically think of it as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Some have said that the “seven spirits” should instead read, “sevenfold spirit”. I can’t accept that. There are a couple reasons. First, the syntax doesn’t agree. Second, we find in 3:1, for example, the seven spirits being paralleled with the seven stars. This would suggest that there are indeed seven, and that we aren’t addressing a sevenfold star, nor a sevenfold lampstand. Exegetically, it just doesn’t follow to say that the pneumatas are one spirit manifest in seven manners (Isaiah 11:2). Notice in Revelation 3:1 that Jesus is referring to the seven spirits in relation to the seven stars, which are the seven angels.
Now, some have considered that these seven spirits are somehow connected to the seven spirits in the book of Enoch, which are alluded to in Ezekiel 9:2 and 1 Timothy 5:21. They are the “archangels”, of which we know both Michael and Gabriel. The book of Tobit in the Catholic Bible has the story of an angel named Raphael. While this idea seems worthy of considering, I am much more partial to using the canonical Scriptures to interpret texts than I am to search in the outside apocrypha for answers. In Revelation 19:10 and 22:9, there is strong rebuke to angel worship. Thus, we can’t assume that this kind of placement of the seven spirits between the I AM and Jesus Christ in verse four is about angels.
What is most probable is that these seven spirits are the seven angels of the seven churches in Revelation 1:20. This would be why they are mentioned side-by-side with God and His Christ. This would also explain why the spirits have a kindredness – conjoining – to the churches. In 5:6 these πνευματα are the seven eyes of Christ, sent forth into all the earth. Compare this to Zechariah 2:8 – Jerusalem is the pupil of God’s eye – and Zechariah 4:10 – where the lamps are the eyes of the Lord. The connection between lamps and angels is important, for αγγελος means divine messenger, whether human or spiritual. If these angels are the archangels, then we see the connection to Hebrews 1:7, 14. However, if they are the ministers, we are left asking how one identifies the minister – are they the apostle? Prophet? Pastor? Either way, we see the connection in the spirits and the lamps, which tells us that God does not separate the two. Compare Daniel 12:1, 10:13, and 10:20.
In verse 5, we find that Jesus is called “Jesus Christ”. This is the only time we find this in the book of Revelations. From here on out, he is simply called Jesus alone, save 22:20-21 where we find κυριος Ἰησους (Lord Jesus). For the faithful witness, we find this same phrase repeated in Revelation 2:13 and 3:14, and those two verses alone call Christ a μαρτυς in the whole of the New Testament. Nowhere else do we find Christ being referred to as a μαρτυς (witness). No doubt Psalm 89 was in mind, using verses 37 and 27 in verse 5. In verse 37, the context tells us that a son of David is being spoken of as a “faithful witness” – ער בשחק נאמנ – just like the moon. In verse 27, a firstborn just like Israel (see also Exodus 4:22).
The idea of Christ being the faithful witness is expounded in the next couple lines of the stanza. He was the ὁ πρωτοτοκος τον νεκρον – the “firstborn from the dead”. Compare Colossians 1:18 and 1 Corinthians 15:20. The word prototokos has a secondary definition of ‘sovereignty’, as seen in Hebrews 12:23. It could be that this is what was in the mind of John: “The true witness of God, the sovereign of the dead”. Likewise, we find that Christ is the arche of the rulers, kings, of the earth. Thus, we have Christ depicted as the “King of kings” – the chief and highest authority over the kings. This is a statement found in Isaiah 55:4 about “David”. God declares that He has made this Messiah to sit upon the throne of David and be His witness, and also to be the leader and commander of all the peoples. We also find in Psalm 89:27 that the “firstborn”, or the prototokos, as the most exalted of the kings of the earth. It is my guess that John intended both firstborn and sovereign.
In this, we have the faithful witness being explained as the one who is sovereign over death, and therefore sovereign over the dead, and also the ruler of all the earth. Christ’s faithfulness even unto death was given triumph by the power of God to raise Him from the dead, thus making Him the “firstborn from the dead”, and giving all authority both in heaven and on earth unto Him. It is this that John is expressing in calling Christ Jesus the “faithful witness”. Indeed, even the Greek word witness is where we gain our English word “martyr”.
In the last part of verse 5 and all of verse 6, we find our second stanza. In the first stanza, we find the subject being the authority of God. Here, we find the subject of the second stanza is turned toward Christ’s work in us – namely, to make us a kingdom of priests. We have a Hebrew idiom being reproduced literally in the Greek. Therefore, the second line parallels the first. It should be translated, “To Him who loves us… and has made us…” This idiom is also found in 1:18, 2:2, 2:9, 2:20, 3:9, 7:14, 14:2-3, and 15:3. Revelation 1:18 should thus say, “I am the Living One; He who was dead…”
In this stanza, we find that the focus is upon He who loves us, and the contrast is being made between agape and the complete act of redemption by His blood. Because He has loved us, and because He has freed us from sin by His blood, He has made us to be βασιλειαν – a kingdom. Compare 1 Corinthians 6:11, Ephesians 5:26, Titus 3:5, and Hebrews 10:22. It is from the complete act of redemption – the full cleansing of our sins – that we are considered a kingdom and priesthood. Notice in verse six the comma between βασιλειαν and ιἐρεις. This states that we are a kingdom, each member also being a priest. Compare Exodus 19:6 and 1 Peter 2:9. We also find Isaiah prophesied about everyone being a priest in Isaiah 61:6, however we also see a distinct priesthood to Israel at the end of the age in Isaiah 66:21.
The idea of priestliness is expressed in Romans 12:1-2, the complimentary verse being Romans 15:16. “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercy of God, to offer yourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and blameless before God, which is your reasonable act of worship. Do not be conformed to the ways of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what is the perfect and pleasing will of God.” “…the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” In this we find that Paul displays that he was a priest preparing the sacrifice of the Gentiles. That preparation is the laying down of our own lives to drive the Jew to jealousy. In this, we find that our kingdom is theocratic – under God – in that we are grafted into Israel (Romans 11:11-25), and that we are all priests unto God in that we declare the Gospel of God as ministers of the New Covenant.
He who loves us has freed us from our sins by His own blood. That blood was prayed over at the Last Supper, called the “blood of the New Covenant” poured out for the forgiveness of sins. It is the breaking of bread, which is the broken body of Christ, and the drinking of the cup, which is the blood poured out, that we find the kingdom and priesthood. It is the Kingdom because we offer ourselves as living sacrifices – breaking our own bodies for one another; we pour ourselves out as a drink offering – pouring out our blood on behalf of our brethren. We give both body and soul, sweat and blood, for our brothers and sisters in Christ.
This is the Eucharist. Because of our priestly ministration unto God’s people – whether Israel or Gentile – we are the Kingdom of God manifest upon the earth until the day when Christ shall return and His Kingdom will be established throughout the whole world. Our priesthood is defined by our lifestyle of sacrifice. We offer our own bodies and our own blood on behalf of those around us. We look unto Christ as our first fruit from the dead, and we don’t hold back to be a faithful witness just like He was. It is through the display of the Gospel – not merely the recital of it – that the Gospel is preached. It is this that gives God “glory and power forever and ever!”
The doxology found at the end of verse six is similar to the many doxologies throughout the New Testament. Compare Revelation 5:13, 7:10, 2 Peter 3:18, 2 Timothy 4:18, Hebrews 13:21, 1 Peter 4:11, and Matthew 6:13. Most likely 1 Chronicles 29:11 is the source of most of these doxologies.
In verse 7, we find another stanza. Compare Daniel 7:13, Zechariah 12:10, and Matthew 24:30. In Daniel 7, we find that this “coming in the clouds” is at the end of the age. This coming in the clouds of the son of man happens when the little horn is thrown alive into the lake of fire (Daniel 7:11). Compare that detail to Revelation 19:20. The little horn in Daniel 7 and 8 are one and the same. They are most likely (I can’t see any other interpretation) the same as the man of sin in 2 Thessalonians 2, and the beast mentioned later in Revelations 19. If that is the case, verse 7 is looking forward to the end of the age when Jesus returns.
Why does John mention they who pierced Christ? This is one of the aspects of Revelations that has been completely misunderstood and neglected in the majority of commentary upon the Book. This is mentioned because Israel is a major aspect to the book of Revelations. We will follow this through the whole book. There is the presence of both the church and Israel in the book of Revelations, and because of that, John gets our minds thinking about this from the very get go.
This last detail at the end of verse 7, “Let it be, amen”, seems to be an affirmation of the truth of the statement, and then an “amen” to close the prayer. “It is so, amen,” or “it is true, amen”.
Finally, in verse 8 we find the Alpha and Omega. This was an expression of the first and last things of all. One has said because it expresses the entirety of things, it could fitly express the shekinah (Schoettgen, 1086). It is most likely referring to Isaiah 44:6, 41:4, and 43:10. Κυριος ὁ θεος… ὁ παντοκρατωρ (Lord God Almighty) is a favorite title of our author: 4:8, 11:17, 15:3, 16:7, 19:6, 21:22.