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, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. Revelation 1:4-8
The Apocalypse of John begins by describing Jesus Christ as:
- the faithful witness
- the firstborn of the dead
- the ruler of the kings of the earth
Within the context of the John’s work, “faithful witness” serves as a reminder of Jesus’ crucifixion. Similarly, John identifies those who died for their faith in Christ as faithful witnesses (e.g. Revelation 2:13, 17:16). The Greek word for “witness” is the root for the English word “martyr,” and the association is apropos in the Apocalypse of John. John’s readers face sometimes lethal persecution. Jesus’ faithfulness unto death sets the standard for faithful Christian witness in a hostile world.
If faithfulness leads to martyrdom, then John’s readers should know that death does not get the last word. Jesus is the firstborn of the dead. There is a day of resurrection coming.
Furthermore, Jesus reigns over the kings of the earth who are causing so many problems for the church. For now, Jesus’ reign remains hidden from the world. Someday, it will be known to all. Echoing the words of Daniel 7:13-14, John tells us that Jesus is coming on the clouds. Every eye will see him, even those who pierced him. All the tribes of the earth will wail in lament at his appearing. Throughout the Apocalypse, the message is clear. Jesus will triumph over every power that stands in the way of his reign. The kingdoms of this world will fall. The destroyers of the earth will be destroyed. Sin and evil will be washed away. Even death itself will die.
Taken together, then, John’s summary parallels the acclamation of faith that accompanies the Eucharistic prayer:
- Christ has died
- Christ has risen
- Christ will come again
This is the story of salvation in a nutshell.
Associating the church’s liturgy with the Apocalypse of John is very appropriate. John has his vision while in the spirit on the Lord’s Day, the day of Christian worship. The Apocalypse is filled with liturgical language and imagery. This short passage has a doxology and two “amens.” Already, the courts of heaven and God’s people on earth celebrate Jesus’ reign. What will someday be visible to all is already visible to eyes of faith in the church’s liturgy.
It is in worship that God’s coming kingdom is made most real for his people now. Jesus, John said, freed us from our sins and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father. To be a member of the kingdom in the present tense is to be a priest. Under God’s new covenant, Christians do not need a physical temple or tabernacle to serve as priests. In John’s worship scenes, God’s people in heaven and earth are united in the praise of the conquering Lamb at the throne of God. The prayers of the saints rise like incense to heaven. From the altar where they have shed their own blood, they cry out for the consummation of God’s kingdom.
The reign of Christ calls for both witness and worship. To think that you can do one without the other is severely misguided.