John follows his statement about revelation (Revelation 1:1–3) and his trinitarian greeting (verses 4–5) with a doxology to Jesus Christ (verses 5–7). A doxology is a word (logos) in praise of the glory (doxa) of God, or in this case, of Jesus Christ. There are several doxologies in Revelation (e.g., 4:6–11, 5:9–13, 7:12, 19:1–2). The sequence of verses 1–7 is instructive. Theology gives rise to doxology, faith to praise. A man or woman who thinks correctly about God but fails to worship him wholeheartedly has not understood him at all.
Why praise Jesus Christ? Two reasons: Atonement and advent.
Atonement: Of English coinage, and first used in the sixteenth century, the word atonement—literally, at-one-ment—refers to “God’s act of dealing with the primary human problem, sin…through Christ’s death.”[i] Verses 5–6 speak of the motivation, means, and purpose of atonement.
Love is the motivation for the atonement. We give our praise “to him who loved us.” Someone once asked Karl Barth, the great Swiss theologian, to state the heart of the Christian faith. He responded with the words of the children’s song: “Jesus loves me, this I know / for the Bible tells me so.” A simple statement, I admit, but truth need not be complex.
Death is the means of the atonement. John writes that Jesus Christ “freed us from our sins by his blood.” The Bible portrays sin as a power that oppresses us. Consistent with the metaphor, then, salvation is God’s power that liberates us. But liberation comes at a cost: The Liberator dies to set us free. His death, in fact, is evidence of his love: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
The church is the purpose of the atonement. Jesus Christ died “to make us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father.” The image of the church as “a kingdom of priests” derives from Exodus 19:5–6. From the first books of the Bible to the last, it is God’s stated purpose to create a community that receives his love, acknowledges his lordship in all things, and gives him praise.
Advent: Jesus Christ freed us from our sins one Friday afternoon in A.D. 30 (or 33), when he died on a cross in Jerusalem. This was the purpose of his first advent, or coming to earth. But the New Testament promises that Jesus Christ will return. “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him.” John, realist that he is, acknowledges that “all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him.” The time between the first and second advents is a time of opportunity for us to experience at-one-ment with God the Father through Jesus Christ his Son. If we do so, we will greet the return of Jesus Christ with hilarious joy, not delirious sorrow.
In verse 5, John describes Jesus as “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.” Have you accepted the testimony of Jesus Christ’s love for you? Have you experienced the power of his atoning death and resurrection on your behalf? Is he Lord of your life? Now is the time to give an affirmative to these questions, for Jesus Christ is coming again. “Even so. Amen.”
[i] “Atonement, atonement theories,” in Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki, and Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 17.