Numbers may escape the notice of you and I, but hold a strange fascination for mathematicians. Similarly, we find there are certain numbers which hold a fascinating significance in the book of Revelation. Note, first of all, the greeting: “Grace and peace to you from him who is, and was, and who is to come.” These words describe God the Father as the Lord of all time and all eternity. His name in Hebrew, Yahweh, means “I Am.” In English, “I Am” sounds like a statement in the present tense, but in Hebrew it contains all the tenses used in Revelation 1:4 – in effect, “I am he who is, and he who was, and he who is to come.”
Next we come to the key number of Revelation, the first of a series of sevens: “and from the seven spirits before his throne.” Why is the number seven significant in Revelation? Because, whenever you encounter seven of anything in this book, it is a symbol of completeness and perfection. Who is signified by the “seven spirits before his throne”? Here we find the first of many echoes from the Old Testament prophecy. In Isaiah 11:2 the prophet speaks of the Spirit of God coming upon the Messiah. In Isaiah’s passage the Spirit of God is described in a sevenfold way: he is (1) the Spirit of the Lord, (2) the Spirit of wisdom, (3) the Spirit of understanding, (4) the Spirit of counsel, (5) the Spirit of power, (6) the Spirit of knowledge, and (7) the Spirit of the fear of the Lord. So the “seven spirits” of Revelation 1:4 are a symbol of the Holy Spirit in His sevenfold completions, perfection, and fullness.
This greeting of grace and peace comes from God the Father, the eternal “I Am”; from the Holy Spirit; and from Jesus Christ, the central figure of Revelation, who is introduced in threefold fashion as (1) the faithful witness, (2) the firstborn from the dead, and (3) the ruler of the kings of the earth. So, in this passage, Jesus is introduced in threefold fashion as the truth-teller, the life-giver, and the law-maker.
This introduction is followed in verses 5-6 by a threefold doxology to: (1) “him who loves us;” this is a statement in the present tense. It’s an amazing fact. Despite all our foolishness, waywardness, selfishness, and sin, the Lord Jesus loves us. He is always on our side. (2) Who “has freed us from our sins by his blood;” Jesus breaks the shackles of sin and destructive habits in our lives. He sets us free from addictions and destructive habits which harass us, enslave us, and chain us down. It is true that many Christians continue to struggle with evil habits even after coming into relationship with Christ. But the blood of Christ gives us the power to break the chains of sin – if we will but turn the control of our lives over to Him. (3) He has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father. We are all sinners, estranged from a holy and just God because of our sin. The role of a priest is to bridge the alienation between the people and God, to bring the people near to God again.
All believers are called to perform the function of a priest. It is a high and holy calling, given to us by Jesus Himself. We are to reach out to others in their pain and lostness. We are to explain to them the sacrifice that Jesus has made on their behalf. We are to share with them the fact that God loves them and longs to draw them to Himself, to heal their loneliness and alienation. For this reason, Jesus has made all believers, including you and me, to be a kingdom of priests.
In verse 7 the Lord is introduced to us not only in terms of who He is, His attributes and His glory, but also in terms of what He will do in the future: “Look, he is coming with the clouds.” This is the focal point of human history, the single event toward which all human history, the single event toward which all events – and heavenly events as well – are moving. One day Jesus Himself will break through the skies, and He will appear again in glory, just as when He left the earth. His coming will have planet-wide impact; He will be visible to everyone in the world at once.
In verse 8, we come to the final verse in John’s introduction to this remarkable book. The prologue gives useful information about Revelation, and the most important bit is the purpose for which John is writing. There are many secondary purposes for Revelation, such as giving information about the future and exhorting the churches to which it was written. But the great purpose of Revelation is to provide Christians with a view of history from God’s perspective in heaven.
By keeping this grand purpose for Revelation in mind, we can best understand the role of verse 8 in concluding John’s prologue. It might seem strange, after all, that at the end of the apostle’s introduction, God the Father Himself speaks to the readers. This is more surprising when we note that the first person of the Godhead does not speak again in this long book until almost the end (Rev. 21:5-8). Why then, does John’s prologue conclude: “I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty’” (v.8)? The answer is that since Revelation presents God’s view of history, it makes sense for God to present Himself as the Sovereign who is able to hold all things together and accomplish all His purposes in Christ to save His people.
In no other book of the Bible do we find this wonderful mark of approval of God. When we read these words, we are reading a copy autographed by the Author Himself!
Revelation 1:4-8 Study Questions:
Do you ever think of yourself as a priest?
Even in this short opening John manages to unveil a good deal of what he believes about God and Jesus, and about the divine plan. God is the Almighty, the beginning and the end. Other “lords” and rulers will claim similar titles, but there is only one God to whom they belong. What other “lords” in our own day make competing claims to the Almighty status – as John testifies here – in reality belongs to God alone?
Where else in the New Testament is the account of Jesus’ return?