As we have seen, the primary source of the Christian faith is revelation. Now we turn to the primary content of the Christian faith: Who God is and what he does. Revelation 1:4-5 touches on both topics.
Before examining these topics, however, notice the literary context of John’s remarks. Ancient letters begin with the sender’s name followed by the recipient’s name and a short greeting (e.g., Jas. 1:1, 1 Pet. 1:1–2)—just like John does here. But the greatness and goodness of God so overwhelm John that he transposes an ordinary greeting into an extraordinary declaration of God’s doing and being.
Doing: What God does may be summed up in three words: grace and peace. “Grace is the divine favor showed to the human race,” Robert H. Mounce explains, “and peace is that state of spiritual well-being that follows as a result.” He goes on to note that, “[Bruce] Metzger calls attention to the fact that grace and peace always stand in that order and observes that ‘it is because of God’s grace that his people can enjoy peace.’”[i]
Being: Who God is may be summed up in one word—Trinity. Although the Bible does not use it, Trinity—from tri- (three) and -unitas (oneness)—accurately summarizes the biblical teaching about God’s nature: He is Three-in-One (Deut. 6:4 and Matt. 28:19). To avoid logical contradiction, Christians speak about God’s threeness and oneness in different respects. Threeness describes the divine persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (In verse 4b, “the seven spirits” is best interpreted as a symbolic description of the Holy Spirit.) Oneness, one the other hand, describes the divine essence.
Undoubtedly, the doctrine of the Trinity is difficult to understand. Why, then, do Christians insist on it? For four reasons: First, God’s nature demands it. “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Since love is a relational term, it demands a beloved. Love cannot be given in solitude. So, either God, who is eternal, has an eternal beloved or is eternally lonely. Since creation is not eternal, and since God is love, he has an eternally Beloved Son (Matt. 3:17). The Holy Spirit is the bond of love tying them together.
Second, the Bible declares it. Notice how often John uses descriptions of God as descriptions of Jesus Christ. For example, compare Revelation 1:8 and 21:6, in which God is “the Alpha and the Omega,” with 22:13, in which Jesus Christ is “the Alpha and the Omega.” These descriptions do not make sense unless the Trinity is an accurate description of God.
Third, worship desires it. John directs praise and prayer to Jesus Christ as if he is God (e.g., Rev. 5:9–10). But the worship of a creature is blasphemous (Ex. 20:3–6; Rom. 1:18–23). So, praising and praying to Jesus Christ is blasphemous unless he is in fact God. The doctrine of the Trinity flows out of the doctrine of the Incarnation, that Jesus Christ is God “in the flesh” (John 1:14). Unless Jesus is divine, he is not worthy of our praise and prayers.
Finally, salvation depends on it. Speaking of Jesus Christ, Verse 1:5b says, “To him who loved us and has freed us from our sins by his blood….” A mere human cannot free us from our sins. But God cannot die. So, if Jesus frees us from our sins by his blood, he is both God and man. Once again, Incarnation leads to Trinity.
In my English Bible, verses 4–5a contain fifty-six simple words. So few words. So much theology. But how great and good the God they describe!
[i] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 45.