Monday, 17 August 2020
… and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth.
To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, Revelation 1:5
Still in his opening salutation, a salutation which is intended to convey grace and peace to the reader, and which began in the previous verse, John now comes to his portion of the greeting which pertains to the Son, saying, “and from Jesus Christ.” Placing the Son last in the greeting is John’s way of aligning Him with what he will next say concerning the Son. From verse 5, through verse 8, the words will refer to the Person of Jesus Christ.
In this, he begins with a threefold description of Him, beginning with the note that He is “the faithful witness.” The expression refers back to the 89th Psalm, a psalm which is clearly messianic in nature –
“If his sons forsake My law
And do not walk in My judgments,
31 If they break My statutes
And do not keep My commandments,
32 Then I will punish their transgression with the rod,
And their iniquity with stripes.
33 Nevertheless My lovingkindness I will not utterly take from him,
Nor allow My faithfulness to fail.
34 My covenant I will not break,
Nor alter the word that has gone out of My lips.
35 Once I have sworn by My holiness;
I will not lie to David:
36 His seed shall endure forever,
And his throne as the sun before Me;
37 It shall be established forever like the moon,
Even like the faithful witness in the sky.” Selah Psalm 89:30-37
As the objects in the sky testify to the handiwork of the Creator, so are the promises of God faithful. In His covenant with David, there is the surety that God would fulfill what He had spoken. The coming of Christ is the fulfillment of these promises. The sun is likened unto Christ in Malachi 4:2, speaking of His righteousness.
This term ὁ μάρτυς ὁ πιστός, or “the witness the faithful,” refers to Christ’s testimony, but especially his death. The word martus, or “witness,” is where our word “martyr” comes from. When standing before Pilate, Jesus said –
“You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” John 18:37
John understood that Christ’s life, even to the point of death, was a witness to God’s plan of redemption that had been promised since the very fall of man. Christ Jesus faithfully accomplished His work. In doing so, and without sinning during the process, He became “the firstborn from the dead.”
It is the same expression used by Paul in Colossians 1:18. The Bible is clear that Christ was dead. His human body suffered and died. And more, He was buried. The account carefully details this in order to show that Christ didn’t just appear dead. He was truly dead. And yet, the Bible proclaims that he prevailed over death, coming from the grave on the third day.
The Bible also speaks of others coming from the dead, such as Lazarus in John 11. But these instances are restoration of life, not a resurrection from the dead. The difference is that those people went on to die again. Christ, through the resurrection, has an eternal life. And more, in Him is the ability to grant that life to others. The reason why takes us back to the fact that He is the “faithful witness.”
In His life, He did not sin. As death is the wages of sin, then – as Peter says in Acts 2 – “it was not possible that He should be held by it.” His perfection is testified to by the resurrection. Understanding this, John next mentions, concerning Christ, a third aspect. He is “the ruler over the kings of the earth.”
In the accomplishment of His work, faithfully testifying to the Lord’s hand in it, and as is evidenced by His resurrection, the Lord God placed Christ Jesus in the position of all authority and rule. This is seen in Jesus’ words of Matthew 28, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” Frequently, Acts and the epistles state that Christ is now at the right hand of God. The right hand signifies not a physical position, but rather rule and authority.
All rule and authority belong to Him. John focuses on the earthly rule here, showing that what is coming in the book of Revelation is not out of the control of God, but that it is judgment by God upon the earth. This idea of Christ’s faithful witness, His being the firstborn from the dead, and His possessing the power of God, is also seen in Paul’s words to those in Rome –
“…concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, 4 and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” Romans 1:3, 4
This threefold note concerning Jesus corresponds to His three positions of Prophet (witness), High Priest (atoning death), and King (ruler over the kings of the earth). These positions will be noted throughout the book of Revelation. John next continues with a note concerning the first and second positions, that of faithful witness and High Priest. From here, through verse 6, the words form a beautiful doxology, beginning with, “To Him who loved us.”
John 3:16 speaks of God so loving the world that He gave His only begotten Son. Christ is that Son, and He is the faithful witness of God’s love, living out a perfect life and giving that perfect life up in exchange for our wrongdoing. In this act, John continues, saying, “and washed us from our sins in His own blood.”
The Old Testament, and the book of Leviticus in particular, details the sacrificial system of Israel – all of which is a type and picture of what Christ would accomplish for His people. The animal had to be perfect and without blemish. It was then presented to the high priest where it was slaughtered in exchange for the sins committed by an individual, or even by the entire congregation. Without the shedding of innocent blood, atonement could not be made.
However, the book of Hebrews says that “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). The sacrificial system of Israel was given to prefigure Christ. Only in a like for like exchange could atonement be made. But it had to be a perfect offering. Thus, Peter says –
“And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; 18 knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” 1 Peter 1:17-19
Christ is the fulfillment of those ancient types and shadows. It is He alone who could wash “us from our sins in His own blood.” The idea of washing signifies total cleansing. The sinner is made pure in the precious blood of Jesus Christ. The defilement is rinsed away, reconciliation with the Creator is made, and peace between the warring parties has ceased.
Life application: Jesus is the complete expression of God in a form that we can understand. He declared, or revealed, to us the Father that was otherwise unknowable except through creation. This encompasses His entire life, death, and resurrection. Being fully man, He was able to suffer and die, which He did. But because of His sinlessness, death could not hold Him. In His resurrection, Jesus proved that He was not a created being, but the Heir of creation. He is the incarnate Word of God. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords.
In John 13:10, on the night of His crucifixion, Christ Jesus used two different words for washing, saying, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean.” the bath represents justification, or being declared “not guilty.” The word translated as “wash” indicates our sanctification. As we sin after salvation, we confess it and are cleansed from that sin; a sin that doesn’t affect salvation, but rather our on-going relationship.
Thus, the doctrine of eternal salvation is seen in what Christ did for His people. We are cleansed, once and forever, of our sins. Let us then wash ourselves daily from the external defilement that we incur so that we will be acceptable instruments, ready for service to our God.
Lord God, thank You for what you have done in the Person of Jesus Christ. He is the full expression of Your infinite being, an expression of You in a body and a form that we can comprehend and appreciate as He reveals You to us for all eternity! Thank You, O God, for sending Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to lead us back to Yourself. Praises and glory belong to You forever and ever. Amen.