The salutations from the throne to the churches highlight key themes of the book, especially the present reign of Jesus – Revelation 1:4-8.
Next, the book presents greetings to the “churches” from the “throne,” from God, Jesus, and the “Seven Spirits.” It stresses Christ’s present over the political powers of the earth, and his sovereignty is based on his Death and Resurrection. The recipients of the book are identified, the “seven churches” in Asia .
It begins with God, who is called one “who is and who was and who is coming.” The phrase expands the self-designation of Yahweh given to Moses from the “burning bush,” I am who I am, which occurs three more times in the book, but with modifications that reflect theological developments.
- (Revelation 1:4-8) – “John, to the seven churches in Asia: Grace and peace to you from Him who is, and who was, and who is coming, and from the Seven Spirits which are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the Faithful Witness, the Firstborn of the Dead, and the Ruler of the Kings of the Earth. Unto him that loves us and loosed us out of our sins with his blood, and he has made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be the glory, and the dominion unto the ages. Amen. Lo! he is coming with the clouds and every eye shall see him, such also as pierced him; and all the tribes of the land shall smite themselves for him. Yea! Amen. Iam the And the Z, says the Lord, the God who is and who was and who is coming, the Almighty.”
Like Moses, John received his commission while in exile, separated from God’s people. Just as Yahweh freed His people from Egypt and summoned them to be a “kingdom of priests,” so Jesus has “loosed” his people and made them a “kingdom, priests” – (Exodus 3:14 19:4-5).
The application of terms from the history of Ancient Israel to the “churches” and “saints” is consistent in the book. The Exodus motif reappears in several of its subsequent visions – (e.g., Revelation 4:8, 11:17, 16:5).
The “seven spirits” are not mentioned anywhere else in Scripture. Here, and in chapter 4, they are linked to the “throne.” The image is derived from a passage in Zechariah: The “seven eyes of Yahweh go about all the earth” – (Zechariah 4:10, Revelation 3:1, 4:5, 5:6).
“Faithful Witness” refers to the obedience of Jesus in death, and “firstborn of the Dead” to his subsequent resurrection. “The Ruler of the kings of the earth” is the present status of Jesus. The three terms are derived from three Old Testament passages:
- (Psalm 2:2-9) – “The KINGS OF THE EARTH set themselves against Yahweh and his anointed one.”
- (Psalm 89:27) – “I also will make him MY FIRST-BORN, the highest of the kings of the earth.”
- (Psalm 89:37) – “His seed shall endure forever, and his throne as the sun before me. It shall be established forever as the moon, and as a FAITHFUL WITNESS in heaven.”
The label “kings of the earth” links the present passage with these two messianic Psalms; both foretold what Jesus became by his Death and Resurrection. His sovereignty over the “kings of the earth” is reiterated later in the book, and throughout, his reign is a present reality – (Revelation 11:15, 12:10, 17:14, 19:16, 20:4).
“To him who loves us, and by his blood, loosed us from our sins.” His sacrificial death redeemed the “churches” and demonstrated his love for them. “Loosed” is a literal rendering of the Greek verb, one which has the basic sense “free, deliver, loose.” The point is not so much the forgiveness of sin as liberation from its bondage. More commonly, the Bible refers to being “forgiven” or “cleansed” from sin. The probable Old Testament passage behind the clause is from Deuteronomy, a verse linked conceptually to the passage from Exodus already used in the verse:
- (Exodus 19:4-6) – “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, then you shall be my own possession from among all peoples: for all the earth is mine: and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.”
- (Deuteronomy 7:6-8) – “Yahweh your God has chosen you to be a people for his own possession, above all peoples that are upon the face of the earth… Because Yahweh loves you, and because he would keep the oath which he swore to your fathers, Yahweh brought you out with a mighty hand, and delivered you out of the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt.”
“He made us a kingdom, priests to his God.” “Made” is in the aorist tense and points to a past event, in this case, the death of Jesus. And here, the priestly role is a present calling for the “churches.” What Israel was called but failed to do has now fallen to the saints. “Kings, priests” signifies how the saints participate in the reign of Jesus – (Revelation 3:21, 5:10, 20:6).
“To him be the glory and the dominion.” The doxology reiterates the theme of God’s rule and alludes to a passage from Daniel:
- (Daniel 4:34-35) – “I, Nebuchadnezzar, uplifted my eyes and blessed the Most-High, and glorified him who lives forever, WHOSE DOMINION IS AN EVERLASTING DOMINION, and his kingdom lasts from generation to generation.”
The declaration stands in contrast to the claims of the Roman Empire. God reigns supreme through his appointed heir, Jesus, regardless of the claims and persecuting activities of the World-Power – (Revelation 1:9, 7:9, 10:11, 13:7).
“He is coming with the clouds” alludes to the passage from Daniel when the “Son of Man” was seen “coming with the clouds of the heavens.” In Revelation, the verb tense is changed from an imperfect (“he was coming”) to the present tense (“he is coming”). The prophecy is coming to fruition in Jesus – (Daniel 7:13-14).
“Every eye will see him…all the tribes of the earth.” “Every eye” includes the “churches.” The “tribes” mourn because the “Son of Man” was pierced on their behalf. The passage combines clauses from Daniel and Zechariah that refer to “tribes” – (Daniel 7:14, Zechariah 12:9-12, Revelation 5:9, 7:9-17).
In Zechariah, it was not the hostile nations that mourned, but the “tribes” of Israel. Here, it becomes “all the tribes of the earth,” for Revelation has universalized the prophecy that originally referred to Israel.
“I am Alpha and the Omega.” The one speaking is the “Lord God who is and who was and who is coming.” In the book, His voice is heard only here and in “New Jerusalem.” “Alpha” is the first letter of the Greek alphabet, and “omega’ is the last. He begins things and brings them to their intended conclusion.
“Almighty” represents the Greek noun pantokratōr, signifying one with might and sovereignty. In the Greek Septuagint, it translates the Hebrew term rendered “hosts” in “Yahweh of hosts.” His might reassures the “churches,” even in their tribulations, that He will complete what He has started, and He possesses the power to do so.
Throughout the salutation, the “seven churches” are in view. From the start, Revelation is addressed to the marginalized congregations in the Roman province of Asia. Above all, the salutation anchors the visions of the book in the past Death and Resurrection of Jesus.