Father Athanasios Mitilinaios
Revelation 1: 4-6.
The one who is and who was…Grace and peace from the Holy Triune God.
John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is coming, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, every one who pierced him; and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.
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. What we have here is a wonderful reference to the Holy Triune God. In the Greek text, the words Who is and Who was and Who is coming is very ungrammatical. Just to give you an idea, the Greek does not say Who is, but the existing and the existed. This is very strange grammar and quite unusual for the Greek language of that time. The purpose of this is to get the reader's attention. Again this is an intentional solecism [an act that breaks formal rules] and does not appear simply because it is written by an illiterate person since the following sentences are quite correct, from the seven spirits, John uses the genitive correctly and from Jesus Christ. So again, the reason for this solecism is to get the reader's attention. Saint Andrew of Caesarea writes on this verse, Grace to you and peace from the three persons of the Holy Trinity and he explains, The one Who is refers to the Father. Actually let's backtrack to the word from God. The Protestant translators write from Him,Grace and peace to you from Him. The Greek actually says from God.” So, to understand this verse better, let's pretend that there is a colon after God, so the words Who is and Who was and Who is coming is the explanation of the word God. Who is God, Who was God and Who is coming is also God.
So let us look and use the x-ray vision of the Church Fathers to understand this verse even more. When God said, I AM WHO I AM . (Exodus 3:14) to Moses; the Greek says, Ego eimi oh ohn, I AM WHO I AM , the same words we find in the book of Revelation. This is a great and memorable verse in the Old Testament when Moses asks God for His name. And we have parallel verses in the sixth chapter of Genesis, in the sixth chapter of Isaiah, Lord, what is your name? What should I tell the people of Israel? Do you want me to go to Egypt? And the Israelites will certainly ask me, 'who is this God who is sending you to free us?' I am Who is, the Existing One , we assume that God the Father is speaking to Moses. Then here in the book of Revelation the One who is refers to the Father. The One Who was reminds us of some key verses of Saint John in his Gospel who says, In the beginning was the Word. —in the beginning of creation that is. So, this Who was refers to the Son. And the One Who is coming refers to the Paraklete or the Holy Spirit Who came and stays in the Church and sanctifies the children of God through Holy Baptism.
However, we would also add that when we read Who is , Who was and Who is coming , all these three include the totality of time. They include the present, Who is, Who is now and always exists, always existed. It includes the past, the present and the future, Who is, now, Who was, the past, and Who is coming, and that is the future. This shows that God not only moves through time but He also transcends time. God is beyond, outside of past, present and future. For God there is no time. God created time. And this is what John wishes to show from this phrase, that God is over and above time. Furthermore, the name used by John, the One Who is, Who was and Who is coming, is very colorful in theology. When he says the One who is coming, this expresses God inside human history, because God does not move about. Long before Christ, Aristotle was correct when he said, God is the first mover of all and yet immobile. He moves it all. God is the beginning of any and all movement - the beginning of all movement while God Himself does not need to move. He's stationary, or immobile. Since God is everywhere, He fills everything. His presence covers every single point in the universe. It is not possible for Him to move. Movement suggests the occupation of a new area of space which was not occupied previously. I moved from point A to point B. I traveled from my house to get to my job. I walk. I come. I go. But as we all understand, God is omnipresent. He is everywhere; so He does not need to come and go. This come and go refers to the incarnate Son of God, the God-man.
Therefore, the One Who is coming, refers to the Divine Logos Who assumes the human nature, God the Word Who becomes man. This is just like the phrase in the Gospel of John when Christ tells the disciples I am going and I will come back. This come and go of God in history always refers to the human nature of God. What's characteristic here as well is that in the Greek, the original text says the One Who is coming, o erhomenos meaning the One Who is always coming. This is just like the One who is,o ων the One Who always exists, Who was, Who always was,and is therefore, the One Who is always coming. Thus,the pre-eternal God who is always present, always coming has never left history. He never took a break from history. He is always coming and yet this always coming has some special cases as well. We see this in a letter to the Hebrews when we read, “In a short while, in a little bit, the One Who is coming will get here. He will not be long." (paraphrase of Hebrews 10:37) The One Who is always coming, will come. What does this mean? It means that God is always inside our history. He sees the entire world. The entire universe is in God's hands. But when it says, "He will get here," these are the special appearances of God the Word, Jesus Christ.
So, we saw so far that the expression, Who is, Who was and Who is coming refers to the Triune God. However, this same expression can also be applied to God the Father only. There is so much wealth in these lines and St. Andrew of Caesarea says once again on this, that the entire phrase, the One Who is, and Who was and Who is coming , can also refer to the Father Who is the beginning, the middle and the end of everything. Another name of God is the Alpha and the Omega, which means, anything that has a beginning or an end is in God. So, everything that has a beginning exists in God and everything that has an end exists in God. Everything begins in God and finishes in God. Therefore, in reality, if this entire phrase refers to the Father, then peace from God means the One Triune God with the differentiation of the Three Persons. We see immediately after the reference to the Father - the One Who is, Who was and Who is coming , reference is made to the seven spirits, in other words, the Holy Spirit and the Lord Jesus Christ, as we will see. From the seven spirits who are before His throne, what still echoes is the greeting, Grace to you and peace from God the Father and from the seven spirits who are before His throne. (These underlined sentences actually are the beginning of the next paragraph, as the spirits are being discussed and explained.)
This greeting refers to the third Person of the Holy Trinity who precedes the second Person. What is notable here is that the first and the third Persons are mentioned first, and the second Person is mentioned afterwards, last. The Holy Evangelist gives priority to the two Persons and leaves the incarnate Person last since this Person will serve as the center of this entire book. So, here the Holy Spirit is called the seven spirits before the throne of God. The throne of God obviously refers to God the Father while the number seven reveals the fullness and the perfection of the Holy Spirit. This is beautifully expressed in the Prophet Isaiah in his sevenfold declaration of the attributes or the gifts or the energies of the One Holy Spirit. Prophet Isaiah in his eleventh chapter writes, Spirit of wisdom, spirit of understanding, spirit of council, spirit of might, spirit of knowledge, spirit of piety, and spirit of fear of God. All of this is borrowed by the hymnographer in the composition of the prayers of the day of the Pentecost to honor the Holy Spirit. The same Holy Spirit, the undivided Holy Spirit divides the gifts. But the Spirit remains one and indivisible.
So, the Holy Spirit is expressed with the term the seven spirits but again as we can see, it is one Holy Spirit. At this point, I will refer to the method of interpretation used by our Church Fathers. They let the Holy Scripture interpret Holy Scripture. The words, seven spirits - are they mentioned elsewhere in the Scriptures, and how are they stated? This is how we can interpret the word of God with accuracy. Now why is the Holy Spirit called the seven spirits? First and foremost, it shows readiness, because it is in front of the Father; it shows readiness for a mission; it shows readiness to be sent off for the purpose of sanctification. In other words, this spirit of God waits from one moment to the next to rush out. Remember Pentecost; suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from Heaven. Therefore, the Spirit is ready to rush to the world and to give the gifts from the tremendous love that He has for the world. Now what holds the Spirit back? He awaits the will of God, the Father, and the path that will be opened by the Son. The three Persons of the Holy Trinity work out the salvation of the world. We mentioned this in the past, how the Spirit of God was moving above the waters, above the abyss and the face of the waters in Genesis. Why is it just the Spirit of God? Just as the Spirit took the form of a dove later in history, now it gives us the image of a giant bird that incubates life out of the waters. So, the Spirit of God was embracing the waters so to speak to keep them warm much like a bird that sits on its eggs to incubate them; and life springs forth out of the waters. How beautiful.
Second, the Spirit of God is sent from the Father and from the Son. The Lord Himself says, But when the Counselor [Paraklete] comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me; (John 15:26) The Greek word is ekporevetai , goes out, proceeds, from the Father. So the Holy Spirit is sent out from the Father and from the Son but goes out from the Father only. Now if you ask me, what does send out mean? I will tell you nothing. I do not understand a thing. If you ask me, what does ekporevetai or proceeds mean? I will also tell you nothing. It is beyond my comprehension. St. Gregory the Theologian says if you can comprehend that the Son is born of the Father then you can also grasp the meaning of this ekporevetai or the Holy Spirit Who goes out from the Father. We simply go on repeating these expressions because they glorify God and they express an accuracy as far as the relations go among the Persons of the Holy Trinity. But we do not exactly know how all these things find their application in the unfathomable mystery of the Holy Trinity.
Also, in the book of the Revelation, we read as Christ tells John, And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God… (3:1) In other words, the Him who has the Holy Spirit sends Him out along with the gifts. Saint John writes, And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. (5:6) These are great and awesome images which serve to show how the Spirit of God is sent out full of its gifts because the number seven again is symbolic. It shows the multitude of gifts and that the Spirit of God comes laden with gifts for the world. In addition, the Spirit of God is in front of the throne of God as seven spirits because because of its ability to permeate. The Holy Spirit slips through everything everywhere. The Lord says the Holy Spirit searches the deep things of God. In other words, He is God. The Holy Spirit is God and it permeates the essence ( ousia ) of God.
Furthermore, we read, From the throne issue flashes of lightning, and voices and peals of thunder, and before the throne burn seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God; (Rev. 4:5), These are the seven spirits of God Who is the Holy Spirit. Prophet Ezekiel says this very beautifully. Now why do we keep using Ezekiel, Isaiah and Daniel? We use them to show there’s a great consistency between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Let us note also, this consistency in Ezekiel, In the midst of the living creatures there was something that looked like burning coals of fire, like torches moving to and fro among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. (1:13)These revolving blazing lamps show that the Holy Spirit penetrates everywhere, knows all and that there is nothing that escapes the Holy Spirit.
Grace and peace to you from him who is the faithful witness, the Firstborn from the dead and the ruler of the kings of the earth. Here again what echoes is the greeting, grace and peace to you from God the Father, the seven spirits, or the Holy Spirit, and from Jesus Christ. And from Jesus Christ - as we see, Christ is placed last because the entire book will be focusing on Christ who is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. However, He is purposely mentioned third here with three characteristic titles, - three descriptive names – first, the faithful witness; second, the firstborn from the dead; and third, the ruler of the kings of the earth. All these three epithets or names refer to Jesus Christ. They refer to His human nature, not the divine; and Jesus Christ signifies just that, while Son of God refers to the divine nature Who is, and Who was and Who is coming and from the seven spirits before His throne and from Jesus Christ . But Saint John, here, wants to present to us Jesus Christ who is the center of history and the central figure of all the events he's about to describe in his vision. And these are the events that form the book of the Revelation along with all the events that make up the human history. The first name describes Jesus Christ as the Faithful Witness. Now, why the Faithful Witness? This is simply because a faithful witness can only tell the truth. Everything He says is true. However, Faithful Witness is the name of God in the Old Testament in the 88th Psalm of the Septuagint; and as the moon is to endure all through the age, so is the witness in Heaven faithful . The faithful witness here in the book of Revelation is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is Yahweh or Jehovah. This is the same faithful witness in Psalm 89:37 – Yahweh, whom the Jehovah’s Witnesses call Jehovah. Jesus Christ is Yahweh, or Jehovah, the Lord.
When are the blind Jehovah's Witnesses—the false witnesses actually - when are they going to see this? They believe Christ to be a creation. What a terrible blasphemy! So, Jesus Christ is the faithful witness or the faithful martyr for two more reasons. The first one is because He gave witness to the Truth, remember for example when Pilot asked Him, ‘Who are you?’ and He answered, For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice. (John: 18:37). Poor Pilate asks, “What is truth?" (18:38) and Christ does not answer. Some have ventured to say that Pilate should have asked, Who is the truth? and that he would have probably received a response. At any rate, the truth is a great subject. This is why we're struggling, to come to the truth. Poor Pilate had the entire Truth in front of him. The Truth is not some abstract idea or thought. The Truth is a Person. I am the Truth , Christ announced. He didn't say, "I came to tell you a few nice things about the truth to help you along.” I am the Truth and the life!
Two things will always trouble and interest mankind, the great subject of Truth and that of life. The axis that the entire humanity revolves around has in its two poles, in its two ends, the subject of truth at the one and life at the other. This axis of humanity is Jesus Christ. I am the Truth and the Life . So, I came to bear witness to the Truth. So, I Am the Truth Christ says, which means, everything He says, everything, will always be true. The truth about God, the truth about man, the truth about the world and the true worship of the True God and the love of the true God can only be found through Christ! Outside of Christ, there is deep darkness. Philosophers are struggling. They not only contradict each other but they often contradict themselves. They go around in circles, full of uncertainty. My friends, if we do not know Christ, we are living in deep darkness. We should feel very privileged; we should feel ecstatic, because we know how to get to know Christ or at least we know the way to get to know Christ in His fullness. So, He's a Faithful Witness for everything He will say. This applies whether written or unwritten and of course, everything that is written in the book of the Revelation is trustworthy and true.
St. Paul says this in Timothy 1:15 (paraphrased). The Word of God is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance . But we must mention that Christ is often called a faithful witness in the book of the Revelation. For instance we read, And to the angel of the church in La-odice'a write: `The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, (3:14) — three names for Jesus Christ, the Amen. Amen is a Hebrew word and what's interesting is that this word does not take an article but here, strangely enough, we see the article the in front of it. And Saint Paul will do the same about Jesus Christ, call Him The Amen, The Yes, The Sure and so on. Amen in Hebrew means let it be . So, pray that it is so; that is how it is; certainly. The Amen here means the Sure One, the Faithful and True Witness. These are all synonyms that show the faithfulness and the credibility of this witness. It is not by accident that in the Greek language the word witness and the word martyr are the same. We use the same word; the word martyria also means witness. So Christ is also a true witness, a true martyr because He martyred on the Cross. He was raised upon the Cross for the sake of the true witness or martyria . Since the martyria or witness of the truth is indispensably connected to sufferings and to fierce attacks of the devil, the devil-held world rather, the word martyrion in Greek means both witness and suffering.
A true witness will keep witnessing during peaceful times and during polemic times. So, a faithful witness or a martyr, not only tells the truth but dies for this truth. When the truth is offered to the world, it is offered with martyrdom. Truth and persecution, truth and suffering are very closely connected, so closely that the same word martyria expresses both. This is why the Evangelist will write; When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for their martyria (6:9)or testimony that they gave. They were slain of course, for the Word of God. They gave the martyria or the true witness, the true testimony of the Word of God, and the devil-ruled world killed them. Above all of them, we have the Absolute Martyr, the Absolute Witness, Jesus Christ Himself, because He brought to us the entire Truth. Moreover, for the sake of this truth, He became the first martyr with the martyrion of the Cross. The second name of Christ is the First Born from the dead. There are so many names throughout the Scriptures for Christ, so many that they call for our attention. He is called a Snake, a Thief, a Shepherd, the Sheep-pen, the Amen, the Faithful Witness, the Truth, and the Life. We find a plethora of names attributed to Christ in the Holy Scripture.
So, Jesus Christ who was the Faithful Witness, was also the First Born from the dead. Here, a great testimony is given. The identity of the One witnessing to John is fully certified here, and it is none other than Jesus Christ. Now it may not be very clear here, but towards the end of this chapter, Christ will say, I became dead and behold I'm alive again. He is alive again, through His holy Resurrection. All this refers to the human nature and more specifically to the body because the soul does not die. So the First Born from the dead is the pre-eternal God who became man, died on the cross, resurrected and now lives as God-man forever and ever. We also read, I am the First and the Last , (18) another name of Christ and the Living One . But when he says I am the First and the Last , He speaks as God because no human being can be the first and the last, the alpha and the omega. The alpha and the omega does not exist in any creation, in any human being; it is an attribute only of God. And the Living One, does not apply to a human being. The Living One refers to God. So, Christ can say, “I became dead, as a human being and behold I am living; I'm alive; I live.” In other words, He resurrected and lives forever and ever as God-man, not as God and not as a human being but as God-man forever and ever. And He has the keys of death and Hades.
Christ defeated death and Hades. He destroyed the bonds of Hades. Zigavinos, one of the Church Fathers expresses this very nicely, he says, "Christ is called the First Born from the dead being the first one to burst out from the belly of Hades." The verb burst shows the power of Christ Who pulverized Hades. He destroyed the bonds of Hades. He smashed the chains, the locks, and the doors of the eternal gates of Hades. So He is the first that exploded through the doors of Hades, as First Born from the dead. Saint Paul also uses this term in his letter to the Colossians. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. (1:18) He has supremacy because He's first in everything. He paves the way and we follow. He is the first dead to resurrect and we will follow; we will be the second, the third and so on. Saint Paul says Christ comes first and He guarantees our own resurrection.
He writes, But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep . (I Corinthians 15:20) So He was raised first and many will follow Him. And finally we come to the third name of Christ in this verse, and from Jesus Christ who is the faithful witness, the first-born from the dead and the ruler of the kings of the earth. This title serves as an echo of the meeting with Pilate, where Christ offers His great martyria or testimony, that yes, He is truly King. Saint John the Evangelist records, my kingdom is not of this world . (John 18:1) Pilate asks, "So are you a king?" Christ answers, You say that I am . This means simply that yes you are correct; I am a king. Therefore, Christ is King, a ruler, and the ruler of history. He is the universal judge. He is victorious. This last name of Christ makes up the subject of the book of the Revelation being the central theme of the book. We read, they will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings . (Revelation 17:14)
So, again in this verse we have three epithets for Jesus Christ. These names seem to form a natural sequence between them. He who came to bear witness to the truth; and He died for the sake of this truth. He resurrected, gaining victory over death, not only for himself but for all mankind for whom He will finally be victorious as God-man, King and Lord of all the kings and all the rulers of the earth. These three names of Jesus Christ—the Faithful Witness, the First Born from the dead and the Ruler of the kings of the earth - these three names serve as the diagram of the entire journey of God the Logos throughout history. He comes. He gives the martyria or the testimony. He suffers a martyr’s death and exits human history. He actually takes human history along with Him by His Resurrection and Ascension and He transforms it to the kingdom of God. Let's pay close attention to this. He enters history, martyrs and dies for the Truth, resurrects, ascends and with the final judgment, He assumes the entire history, the entire creation and changes it to the kingdom of God.
Now, what other book can compare to the magnificence of the book of the Revelation? What other book can even come close? Is there any other book in the entire universal literature? What book? None, absolutely none can even come close to the splendor of the book of the Revelation. These are tremendously huge subjects. My friends, we insist on some theological points. We insist on some theology. We understand this can be a little tiresome but we need to develop patience. We need to emphasize, we must emphasize, that we need to raise ourselves up. We must lift up our minds. We must elevate spiritually, raise our spirituality. Our spiritual standards need to get higher. Let's not limit ourselves to some basic morality. No. Christ did not incarnate to make us nice people. Let us stop telling ourselves that we are good persons and that is sufficient, resting in this self-sufficiency, which is nothing more, than a spiritual starvation limit. We are the cause of the starvation limit when we are content with the few crumbs of some religious knowledge. No, my friends, the children of God must become filled with the bread of God and the bread of God is the bread that came from Heaven, God the Word Who gave Himself for food, real food! So we can see God the Word, through this Heavenly bread. That is why my friends, do not protest if we offer some theology here. It is not very much, but it is the bread that nourishes the children of God.