Jesus Christ is the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, who has made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father, to him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming amid the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him. All the peoples of the earth will lament him. Yes. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, ” says the Lord God, “the one who is and who was and who is to come, the almighty”. Revelation 1:5-8)
Sometimes when I read the New Testament I find myself lightly skipping over the introductory material of each book ( You know, the “Paul , an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are….Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord…” verses). However, of late some of these very verses have captivated me; none more than the verses in our passage today from the opening of the book of Revelation. Here, in these few verses is one of the clearest pictures of the greatness of Jesus teamed with a grand invitation to join in his praise. The technical name for what occurs here is ‘An Ascription to Glory’. I prefer to think of it in terms I understand as a heartfelt toast to the one to whom we owe everything.
Imagine, if you will, a great banquet held to honor man or woman who has given themselves sacrificially over many years to the service of the community and the love of its people. The entire evening’s program is spent remembering what she has done. Then, at the end, she is introduced. Everyone rises, and with heartfelt gratitude and praise lifts a glass as the host proclaims “Here’s to Jane, who has….. May she always….” It ends in the clinking of glasses and voices raised in loud “To Jane!” And “Here!, Here!”
This is exactly what is happening in this passage. John introduces the guest of honor, Jesus, who is the faithful witness, the one who revealed God to us in his very being (“No one has ever seen God, the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known” (John 1:18); Jesus, who is the first born of the dead ( “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his”(Romans 6:5); Jesus, who is the ruler of the kings of the earth (“At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10).
Then John rises, as do we, raises the glass and proposes the toast: “ Now to him who….” And what follows is the most wonderful and beautiful remembrance in all of scripture:
“Who loves us”.
Isn’t that the heart of it all: Jesus loves us? And because he loves us he “has freed us from our sins by his blood” (“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows …upon him was the chastisement that made us whole and by his stripes we are healed” Isaiah 53:4-6 ). Finally, John calls to mind the great honor he has given us by making us partners with him in the salvation of the world, for he has made us a “kingdom of priests”. We are not just forgiven, we are drafted and transformed into those who, like Christ, represent God to humankind and represent humankind to God.(“God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself and has given to us the message of reconciliation” II Corinthians 5:19)
The wishes for the honoree follow, but here they are not just wishes but acknowledgement with joy of what already is and always shall be : “To him be glory and power forever and ever!” The only response appropriate for so great a toast for so great a person must be an enthusiastic response from all: “Here! Here!” gives way to the even greater affirmation- “Amen!”
Perhaps some may feel that this comparison with a banquet and a toast trivializes this passage. I don’t think so and, please believe me, nothing is further from my intention. Rather I have found the comparison very helpful in my own worship. This passage and others like it (there are several in the New Testament) have come alive for me as every time I encounter one I view it as a call to worship. Moreover, it simplifies for me just what is expected in that call. I am to bring to mind who Jesus is and what he’s done and I am to acknowledge that with gratitude and praise. Often I use the very words of a toast, adding the word “Here’s” to the words “to him who…”. It is the same thing and I just understand it better that way. And I never end without a rousing affirmation: “Amen! Amen!”
I am amazed how often the writers of the New Testament erupt in what appears to be spontaneous praise. It seems that at some point in almost every book the writer is so overcome with the greatness of God that he has to pause to praise. Passage after passage begins with words like “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ….” Or “But thanks be to God who…” or, as in our passage today, “Now to him who…”. My hope is that their praise inspire ours and that the patterns of their praise may be our guide until all of life becomes thanksgiving and praise to him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and has made us into a kingdom of priests for his God and Father. Amen
Fred Durham is the President of Alighieri Press and serves as an author and speaker.