One passage of prayer introduces the prayers of Revelation. In its earliest paragraphs, its author addresses a prayer to Christ the liberator:
“To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father – to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen” (Revelation 1:5b-6 ).
John already has identified Jesus Christ as “faithful witness [a phrase used again in Revelation to refer to the martyr Antipas], the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” This prayer of salutation identifies more reasons why Jesus deserves praise, honor, and glory. He loves us; as Jesus himself had observed, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13). Jesus as “faithful witness” laid down his life for those whom he loved. Jesus also is called “firstborn from the dead,:” although others in scripture had been brought back to life, they lived again to die again – Jesus arose never again to die. He is the ruler of the kings of the earth. With those last words the prayer wrestles us back into its original historical context, the first century Roman empire led by an emperor who considered himself divine. Temples were built throughout the empire for worship of various Roman emperors; some of these existed among the cities where the churches addressed in Revelation worshiped and lived.
John the apostle had been on a mountain with Jesus, Peter, and his own brother James when Elijah and Moses suddenly appeared while Jesus’ own appearance radically altered (see Mark 9:2-8) . John had heard Peter exclaim that they should build tabernacles or shelters for the three, apparently as areas for veneration. A cloud had enveloped them just as Peter suggested this pluralistic worship; a voice from the cloud intoned, “This is my Son whom I love (speaking of Jesus), listen to him!” So now John writes to Christians whose neighbors, perhaps as they themselves once had and are expected to, worship the Roman emperor as one of several gods. John’s message in his prayer will be echoed in prayers throughout his prophecy: Jesus is God’s Son; worship him!
John’s prayer also reminds that Christ has made us to be a kingdom (or “kings” in some translations). As citizens of his kingdom, he gives us privileges but also responsibilities. Among other implications of this prayer, Christians owe allegiance to Christ as king. He has made us priests. The New Testament does not include “priest” as a classification in lists of gifts (1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12) or church leadership roles (Ephesians 4,Titus 1-2, 1 Timothy 3), but Peter uses words that sound much like John’s prayer when he writes, “you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5-6). Priests serve. All Christians in their priestly role serve Christ’s God and Father; glory belongs to God.
This prayer in Revelation 1 foreshadows the dilemmas encountered by the seven churches in Asia of chapters 2 and 3. It introduces Christ’s actions and gifts that empower these Christians as they encounter obstacles to their faith. The prayer also sets out theological concepts that will emerge again and again in later prayers in Revelation. In a world where (both then and now) many causes and powers vie for the Christian’s focus, Revelation’s songs and prayers remind: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”(Revelation 5:12).
A favorite hymn of mine, “Worthy Art Thou” by Tillit S. Teddlie, reflects John’s prayer with one for us to sing,
“Worthy of praise is Christ our Redeemer, worthy of glory, honor and pow’r! Worthy of all our soul’s adoration, Worthy art Thou! Worthy art Thou! …Lord, may we come before The with singing, Filled with Thy Spirit, wisdom and pow’r, May we ascribe thee glory and honor, Worthy art Thou! Worthy art Thou!”