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Grace and Peace, Glory and Power (1:4-8)

John's grace and peace formula has sometimes been described as trinitarian, centering on Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is possible if "the seven spirits of God that are before his throne" (compare 4:5) are understood as a peculiar way of referring to "the Spirit of God in the fulness of his activity and power" (Caird 1966:15). Yet John is quite capable of referring to "the Spirit" in the singular when he wishes to do so (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22; 14:13; 22:17). Referring to the seven spirits is probably a way of underscoring the majesty of God, as in 4:5, where they stand as John's explanation of "seven lamps" of fire blazing before the throne, or in 5:6, where they are identified with the seven eyes of the Lamb (Jesus Christ), and are said to be "sent out into all the earth" (see also 3:2). These texts suggest that the seven spirits have no identity distinct from God or Christ, whether as a source of prophecy or a means of worship. John's greeting, therefore, is more like Paul's customary greeting, "from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (without explicit mention of the Spirit), than it may seem at first (compare, for example, Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3; Eph 1:2; Phil 1:2; 2 Thess 1:2; Philem 3). The greeting begins and ends with God, who is, and who was, and who is to come (vv. 4, 8), but in between focuses its attention on Jesus (vv. 5-7).

Something is missing, however, in John's formula. Unlike Paul, John accents God's power and majesty so strongly that he never calls God "our Father," only the Father of Jesus (that is, "his Father," v. 6; compare 2:28; 3:5, 21; 14:1). To know God as Father is at most a promise in the book of Revelation, even for victorious Christians (see 21:7), not a present reality. In this respect, Revelation is more Jewish in its perspective than most of the New Testament. Jewish piety was reluctant to approach its sovereign, transcendent God as "Father." Christians, by contrast, pray the "Our Father" almost routinely, and they are glad to claim Paul's words about praying "Abba," or "Father," in the Spirit (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6). Yet few Christians realize the bold step they are taking in addressing the eternal God so intimately, a step they would never have taken had Jesus not taken it first and invited them to follow (compare Mk 14:36; Lk 11:2).

Some modern readers of the Bible are no more ready than John was to call God "Father." They include feminists for whom the term carries too many implications of male domination, as well as numberless men and women for whom the notion that God resembles their human fathers destroys all possibility of trusting God. The horror of child abuse and the void created by hundreds of thousands of absent or unknown fathers in our society has made the very term father problematic for many, both inside and outside the church. For them, the fatherhood of God belongs not to the present but to a future they are not ready even to imagine (see 21:7). If they are Christians, their God is not yet the "Abba" of Paul's letters, but "the Lord God" of the book of Revelation, the Alpha and the Omega . . . who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty (pantocrator, v. 8; cf. 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7, 14; 19:6, 15; 21:22). It is fair to say that the eternal, sovereign God keeps his distance throughout the book of Revelation. But Jesus and his angels draw near on almost every page, in judgment or in love.

Jesus Christ, named in verse 5, is given three titles (the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth), accenting each stage of Jesus' saving work, from his obedience and death on the cross to his resurrection to his final victory over human powers and hostile armies. The first two are the presupposition of the entire book of Revelation, while the third will come to full realization in John's visions as the book draws to a close. The full name, Jesus Christ, occurs in verse 5 for the third and last time in the book of Revelation (compare vv. 1, 2). From here on, starting at 1:9, John will always use the simple human name, "Jesus," reserving "Christ" (in good Jewish fashion) for use as a title: "the Christ" or "the Messiah" (11:15; 12:10; 20:4, 6).

In the middle of verse 5 John abruptly breaks into song. There will be many songs and hymns in the book of Revelation, including more elaborate ones that are sung later on by the angels in heaven (see, for example, 4:8-11; 5:9-14; 7:11-12; 11:15-18; 12:10-12; 15:3-4; 16:5-7; 18:2-8; 18:21-14; 19:1-8). This, however, is a song to be sung on earth, one that the public readers of John's letter can lead their congregations in singing. Jesus remains the center of attention in this song, for it is Jesus who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood (v. 5), and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father (v. 6). The repetition of "us" and "our" draws John and his readers together as a confessing community of faith, beneficiaries in common of Jesus Christ's death on the cross. All that Jesus has done is "for us." Christians collectively are a kingdom and priests, like ancient Israel (compare Ex 19:6). They are a people belonging to God, acknowledging Jesus as King, and destined to reign with him (compare 5:10; 20:4, 6; 22:5).

John's song has the form of a doxology (from the Greek word doxa, "glory" [to him be glory and power forever and ever! Amen, v. 6]). In Paul's letters a thanksgiving (for example, Rom 1:8; 1 Cor 1:4; Phil 1:3; Col 1:3; 1 Thess 1:2) or blessing (2 Cor 1:3; Eph 1:3) customarily followed the "grace and peace" formula. Only in Galatians, where there was no thanksgiving, did Paul introduce a doxology between an opening greeting and the body of the letter (Gal 1:5; most other New Testament doxologies conclude either a letter or one of its major sections). True doxologies normally end with "amen" (for example, Gal 1:5; Rom 11:36; Eph 3:21; Phil 4:20), but in this case John has used the "amen" to link the doxology to a prophetic pronouncement that follows (v. 7). The "Yes, Amen" at the end of verse 7 echoes the simple Amen at the end of verse 6 (so that v. 7 serves as a prophetic response to John's song), while at the same time introducing a final pronouncement in verse 8 by the one who is, and who was, and who is to come.

The subject in verse 7 is still Jesus Christ, but the accent has now shifted from past to future. Drawing loosely on two biblical texts, Daniel 7:13 and Zechariah 12:10, John dramatically announces the one event above all others that "must soon take place" (1:1), that is, the "coming" of Jesus. Like the eternal God on his throne, Jesus Christ is to come (vv. 4, 8). John announces it here in the third person as if he were a prophet watching it happen ("Look, he is coming"). Jesus himself will repeat it several times in the course of John's visions ("I am coming" or "I will come"), more as a warning or a threat than a promise (for example, 2:5, 16; 3:3, 11; 16:15; 22:7, 12). At the end of the book, however, John has made his peace with the sobering prospect of that coming, as Jesus says, "Yes, I am coming soon" and John answers, "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus" (22:20). Here at the outset John sees that coming in his mind's eye, and he hints at its implications for a guilty world. It will be visible to all, even those who pierced him, and an occasion of mourning for all the peoples of the earth (v. 7).

John says nothing of what that coming will mean for his Christian readers. Their hope is based rather on verse 8, where the Lord God becomes the Speaker: I am the Alpha and the Omega . . . who is, and who was, and who is to come—echoing and affirming the letter's opening words, Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come (v. 4). Only twice in the entire book of Revelation does God speak directly (the other time being 21:5-8), and each time it is with the self-identification "I am the Alpha and the Omega" (see Aune 1983:280).

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