Proper 29/Christ the King (Reign of Christ)

November 26, 2000
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
2 Samuel 23:1-7
Reading 2: 
Psalm 132:1-12, (13-18)
Reading 3: 
Revelation 1:4b-8
Reading 4: 
John 18:33-37
By Patricia Farmer

Revelation 1:4b-8

The book of Revelation (The "Judas" of the New Testament according to D.H. Lawrence) may not be ideal for Thanksgiving, however it does fit nicely for Christ the king Day. The reason I chose it for comments is partially because my husband, Ron Farmer, just finished a manuscript for a forthcoming commentary called, The Revelation to John in the forthcoming commentary series from Chalice Press. I'll give you a sneak preview. [Editor's note: Revelation is available from Flux, the P&F bookstore.]

The Text
John gave the customary Christian greeting: "grace to you and peace." These words convey the essence of the good news. Grace refers to God's unmerited favor bestowed upon the readers, and peace is the resultant effect.

Grace and peace have a divine origin, which John expressed in a threefold manner: First, God is described as the one "who is and who was and who is to come." This typical Jewish conception of God expresses the idea that God is the eternally existing and active one (not the occurrence of the dynamic "is to come" rather than the static "will be"). The order here is significant: present, past, future. That God is active in the present, not just the past or the future, is a real comfort to readers who are experiencing a difficult time. John's use of this lofty expression may also be a subversive jab at the aeternitas claimed on Roman coins. Second, "the seven spirits" who are before God's throne is a symbolic reference tot he manifold energies of God's Spirit (Isa. 11:2) which were expected to rest upon the messianic king and were active in the church. The number seven connotes the fullness of God's Spirit. Third, along with the eternally existing/active God and sevenfold Spirit of God, John included Jesus Christ ast he source of grace and peace.

Three titles are ascribed to Christ. He is "the faithful witness." The Greek word translated witness is martus. As Christians were increasingly required to testify in court, the word gradually took on the meaning of one who is put to death because of his or her faith (hence, the origin of the English word "martyr"). By reminding the readers that Jesus was a faithful witness-even to the point of death-he laid the groundwork for his later appeal to his readers to be faithful witnesses, too. The second title, "the first-born of the dead," would embolden the readers to respond to his call to be faithful witnesses. Jesus is the first-born of many to follow; death is not really the end. Christ is also called "the ruler of the kings of the earth." John can urge his readers to defy the kings of the earth, because Christ is the ruler over them.

Reflecting on Christ's titles caused John to burst into a doxology. Normally doxologies are addressed to God, but this one is addressed to Christ who is described in terms of his three deeds. First, he "loves us." The use of the present tense is highly appropriate, for he is very much alive. He also "freed us from our sins in his blood," an obvious reference to his redemptive death. The third deed recalls Exod. 19:6-he "made us a kingdom, priests to his God." Being made a kingdom means that Christians recognize God's kingly rule and activity in the world, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. Being made priests means that all Christians-not just a spiritual elite-are mediators between God and humankind. They are both to pray on behalf of all people and to be faithful witnesses to God.