To Him Be Glory & Dominion Forever
Many of us enjoy cheering when our favorite team wins. Like the 1992 NCLS—bottom of the ninth, two outs, down by one, and Sid Bream slides into home to send the Braves to the World Series. I was an excited ten-year old. Or the 1998 BIG12 Championship—game at double overtime and Sir Parker hits the pylon after a slant route, leading the Aggies to upset #1 Kansas. I might even recall my mother jumping on the couch for that one. We were making some noise.
Maybe you have an athlete you cheer for, or a board game in which you enjoy the victory. Maybe it’s the crescendo in your grandchild’s choir concert. Maybe it’s a good story or movie where the good guy finally wins. Whatever the scenario, we have these encounters where a decisive event happens that sends you soaring into joy and laughter and cheer and high fives and applause. Nobody has to tell you, “Okay, this is the point you shout.” The victory itself, the moment of achievement—when you witness it—it sends you soaring into praise, celebration. You are moved.
In a far greater way, Revelation does the same for the church. In this book, God reveals a decisive victory that—when you witness it—sends you soaring into praise. God has acted decisively in Jesus to redeem his people; and that victory by Jesus compels us to worship Jesus. That’s how the passage flows in verses 5-6. We started this section last Sunday. In verse 4 and 5, we looked at the grace and peace that comes from God, the Trinity. Today, the focus narrows to the redeeming work of Christ and the church’s worship of Christ. Christology leads to doxology. Knowing Jesus leads to the worship of Jesus. Let’s read it together starting back in verse 4 and going to verse 6…
4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: 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, 5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn 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 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
The Person of Christ
Let’s tackle this in four parts. One, I want to review the person of Christ in the first half of verse 5. Jesus is the faithful witness. He faithfully bore witness to God throughout his earthly ministry; but he also continues as a faithful witness in his resurrection body. He is the firstborn from the dead. Meaning, Jesus inaugurated the end-time resurrection age. That victory over death qualifies Jesus to stand as the ruler of kings on earth. Death always terminates earthly rulers. Jesus is the sole ruler who conquered death itself. Jesus now rules from a glorified state that will never end. He rules with an absolute authority that leaves no earthly king beyond the bounds of his control.
That means nobody can call the will of Jesus into question. Nobody can thwart his purposes. There will never be a coup that overthrows Jesus’ kingdom. No political party can jeopardize his governance of history. All his purposes for heaven and earth will be accomplished. There is no higher position or greater power for Jesus to gain. He has all authority over all kings. If you took the sum of all earthly rulers and their armies and put them against Jesus, Jesus makes them all look as intimidating as Elmo. He’s that great. He is intimidated by none of them in his immortal greatness.
The Love of Christ
Here’s why I wanted to review the person of Christ before jumping into the rest of verse 5. That’s the King who loves you. The one who reigns above all others, the only sovereign, the one who conquered death—that King loves us. That’s what it says, “To him who loves us…” It’s one thing to be loved by a family member or friend or a church. But that love is limited. It’s limited by the person’s emotional capacity. It’s limited by the person’s ability to meet your truest needs. It’s limited by how long their love can last—they will die. Jesus’ love doesn’t have those limitations. He is strong to love in any circumstance. He has the ability to meet our truest needs. His love is forever because he is forever. You cannot be loved by someone greater than Jesus.
Notice a few more things. The New Testament often speaks of how Jesus loved (past tense). The apostles remind us when Jesus expressed that love most decisively—it was at the cross. 1 John 4:10, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” He loved us.
But this says, “to him who loves (present tense).” Jesus’ love for his people continues. It doesn’t stop. Consider how that comes to a church suffering tribulation. When we suffer, various doubts can flood our minds; but one of them is whether the Lord still loves us. “Have you forgotten me, Lord? Do you still care? What I’m going through doesn’t feel loving! How much longer, Lord?” In the face of those cries, the Lord reveals Jesus as the one who loves us still. He loves us through the tribulation, through the pain, through the sufferings. He loves us with a love that never ends. That’s why Paul can say in Romans 8, “Who shall separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus?” Nothing can. No one can. Jesus’ love endures no matter what we face.
But let’s also clarify this love. When our culture speaks of “love,” what it often has in mind is moral permissiveness. “You are loving to the degree that you let me keep doing whatever I want”—so says our culture. That can’t be true, though. If love is moral permissiveness, then why does Jesus rebuke the churches for sin in chapters 2-3? True love is connected to morality because true love finds its origins in God who is holy. When Jesus loves the church here’s what that means: he has a genuine affection for your good in God, such that he acts to help you obtain that good. That’s true love.
It’s also a great love in that it’s directed at sinners. That’s the “us” in verse 5. Jesus does not love you because you’re so wonderful. He simply chooses to love us, unlovely as we are in our sins. But in loving us, he frees us from our sins.
The Redeeming Work of Christ
Notice how he next describes the redeeming work of Christ. “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.” Freedom by blood, kingdom of priests—those are two big clues that point backwards to the Exodus. John uses Exodus language to describe what Jesus’ death achieved. Do you remember the Exodus deliverance?
There’s a huge problem. God’s people are in slavery. They’re slaves to Pharaoh’s tyranny. They cannot escape by their own power. God must rescue them. So, God sets his love on them. He makes himself a Father to Israel; and as a good Father, he comes to rescue his son. Nine plagues of judgment come, but it’s not till the tenth plague that Israel will experience freedom. That tenth plague is the death of all the firstborn.
So, as part of freeing his people in relation to this final plague of death, God institutes the Passover. Exodus 12-13—each household was to take an unblemished lamb and sacrifice it. They had to then paint the lamb’s blood on the doorposts of their homes. When God passed through the land of Egypt to kill the firstborn—if he saw the blood of the lamb he would pass over your household. Everyone under the protection of the lamb’s blood would not suffer God’s judgment in death. And if you escaped death that night, guess what also happened? You were liberated from slavery. The Passover lamb’s blood saved from death and liberated from slavery.
But one more thing the Passover did—it set Israel apart for God’s service in the wilderness.[i] The whole point of the Lord breaking the yoke of slavery was so that Israel could be freed to serve him and worship him and enjoy a covenant relationship with him.[ii] That’s why he also consecrates the firstborn to himself through the Passover. The firstborn represented the type of people Israel as a whole was meant to be, a people set apart for God’s service, no longer enslaved to other masters.[iii]
That’s why God eventually sets them apart as a treasured possession in Exodus 19:6—what he further describes as a kingdom of priests. He rescued them and then set them apart from all the other nations as his kingdom of priests. Think about it. Kingdom has to do with dominion, rule. Priesthood has to do with serving in God’s presence. Does that remind you of what God made Adam to do in the garden? Have dominion, serve in his presence? God liberated them from slavery to then set them apart to do what all of us were created to do—reflect God’s rule, serve in God’s presence.
Of course, read the rest of the Old Testament, and it’s clear that Israel was unable to maintain that status. Being God’s kingdom of priests was contingent on their obedience; and time and again they failed. What they needed wasn’t just freedom from foreign oppressors. They needed freedom from their sins. Israel’s ongoing bondage pointed to the need we all have in Adam. Sin is the greater master keeping us from reflecting God’s rule and serving in his presence. Sin reigns in our mortal bodies to make us obey its passions—that’s how Paul puts it in Romans 6. Even worse, it’s not that we’re wanting to get out but can’t. The bondage is such that we prefer it. And such a bondage will all lead us to death under the wrath of God without escape.
Who, then, can liberate us? According to John, it’s Jesus. Jesus is the greater Passover Lamb who spills his blood to free us from slavery to sin. Revelation regularly refers to Jesus as the Lamb. Passover is the background. The Lamb conquers by his blood. The Lamb wins his people by his blood. In the same way the people escaped Egypt at the cost of the Lamb’s life, Jesus frees us from the tyranny of sin at the cost of his life. In John 8:34-36 Jesus says, “…everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So, if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Jesus sets people free by dying in their place.
Not only that, but he makes you into a kingdom of priests. Israel could never live up to it. Jesus did live up to it; and it’s through his work on the cross that we become set apart as a kingdom of priests. Sin no longer rules us; we’re free to serve God as we were created to serve him. Being a kingdom of priests isn’t just something we’re looking forward to; it’s something we are right now. Freedom from sin means we can now reflect God’s rule. You can now serve in his presence wherever you are and in whatever you do. As Paul puts it elsewhere, “sin will have no dominion over you.”
Within the book of Revelation, there are other kingdoms you can belong to. But these kingdoms are all ruled by the Beast, who sets himself against Christ. In Revelation, Jesus’ kingdom isn’t one among other good kingdoms. You either belong to the kingdom of Christ or to the kingdoms ruled by the Beast. For Jesus to make us a kingdom means for him to transfer us from the Beast’s tyranny and into a kingdom that reflects the coming rule of God. We are a kingdom. We are priests to God the Father—and all because of the Lamb’s victory over sin and death. More on what that means for us in just a minute. For now, notice where he moves next.
The Worship of Christ
He moves to the worship of Christ. Jesus’ present love and past liberating work compels the church to worship: “…to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” To render Jesus glory is not to give Jesus something he lacks. It is to recognize the worth he has. What may surprise you, though, is that “glory” is something regularly attributed to God in Revelation. In Revelation, God possesses glory that manifests his intrinsic worth—like when the sanctuary fills with smoke in 15:8.[iv] Creatures must recognize God’s glory in praise and devotion—you see that especially around the throne in chapter 4.[v] Then further, terrible judgments fall on those who refuse to give God glory—like in 16:9.[vi] Glory belongs to God alone.
Yet John doesn’t hesitate to give Jesus glory. In other words, giving Jesus glory fits into a broader theme, where to worship anything else alongside God is idolatry and merits judgment. And John’s point is that Jesus receives glory without compromising true worship, because Jesus is one with his Father in worth and glory. Jesus implied that himself in John 5:23, “The [Father] has given all judgment to the Son, in order that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father.”
In light of his glorious person and redeeming work, worship is appropriate for Jesus. Not only does he possess God’s glory; Jesus’ redeeming work also liberates us to share in that glory as we serve as priests in God’s presence. Therefore, we worship Jesus. We include Jesus in the worship of God. All true worship will include Jesus in the worship of God. All other worship is false. We get the grace; he gets the glory.
Remember that you ARE a kingdom of priests.
That’s the gist of verses 5-6. Let’s now think a little further on what all this means for our identity, worship, and mission. Let’s begin with our identity—who you are determines what you do. If you are a carpenter, you appreciate certain things about wood that others don’t appreciate, you give yourself to certain habits that improve your craftsmanship. If you are a nurse, you value ongoing education about the best medical procedures; you’re attentive to your patients’ health and double your efforts to preserve life. At a far deeper level, though, we have a spiritual identity that determines the kind of person we are and what we commit ourselves to. For the Christian, Jesus has made us a kingdom of priests. That’s who you are. It’s not simply what you will become. It’s an act Jesus already completed: “he made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father.”
That’s who you are now. There will be days when you may not feel like a kingdom of priests. There may be occasions when you look at the church and say, “We sure don’t look like a kingdom of priests.” But from God’s perspective, that’s who Jesus made us to be. I said last week that church is hard. But church is also glorious; we are a kingdom of priests. That shapes the kind of person we are. It shapes our values and determines our commitments. It shapes how we relate to God—we are those who have access to his presence now. It shapes how we relate to each other—your brothers and sisters are priests too; “priest” isn’t a position in the church, it’s what we all are.
Part of walking out the Christian life is remembering who you are in union with Christ. In a world like ours, it’s easy to start thinking that your fundamental identity is found in what you own—the more stuff you own, the greater you are. The world will tell you that your identity is in your sexuality, your social status, your skin color, your political party. Sometimes we might even believe the world and start giving ourselves to the wrong things. But this is part of the Beast’s plot to keep you confused and chasing after another kingdom besides Christ’s. Revelation teaches us to remember that we are a kingdom of priests. When you go to the office tomorrow, you belong to a kingdom of priests. When you sit in the classroom, you are a kingdom of priests. When you interact with a customer, you will do so as a kingdom of priests. When you enter retirement, you will still be a kingdom of priests. It’s who you are. Remember this.
Give Jesus your exclusive worship (every day, not just Sunday).
If you are a kingdom of priests, how does that affect what you do? One big thing it affects is your worship: give Jesus your exclusive worship. In the Old Testament, the priestly order represented the whole. They led Israel in the worship of Yahweh because all Israel was to worship Yahweh alone and not the gods of the nations. So also with us—except that under the new covenant we’re all priests. The entire church is a priesthood assisting others in true worship. John even models it by directing us to worship to Jesus: “to him be glory and dominion forever and ever.”
At the same time, we need to be careful when discussing worship. Revelation has much more in mind when it comes to worship. Revelation does not reduce worship to the praises we sing on Sunday. Sometimes we do this without realizing it—like when we say of another church, “I really like their worship.” But that thinking misses a major thrust of the Bible, especially Revelation. Worship has more to do with surrendering all loyalties to Jesus Christ every day, in everything, and with everyone.
In Revelation everybody is a worshiper. It’s just a matter of whom you worship. Either you worship Jesus, or you worship the Beast. The Beast lures the world into false worship; and he does it with idolatry, sexual immorality, economic exploitation, political one-upmanship. People buy the lies of the Beast and give themselves to his kingdom; and their slavery to his worship gets so bad, that even when God brings judgments they still don’t repent.
It’s within this setting that the church’s worship of Jesus gets tested. In 2:10 the church is warned that Satan will cast some of them into prison. They must be faithful unto death. What would your worship of Jesus look like in the face of persecution? It’s easy for us to say he’s worthy in a setting like this. But how worthy is Jesus when someone puts a gun to your head? How worthy is Jesus when someone says, “Deny him, or we take you away from your spouse and kids!”
Worldly treasures can test our worship of Jesus. In 13:15-17 if anybody wants to buy, sell, or trade, they must receive the mark of the Beast. In John’s day, that may have been burning incense to the Roman emperor. In our day, it may be acknowledging some false set of beliefs about sex, gender, or race to keep your job. It may be someone threatening a lawsuit unless you accept a vision of morality that’s contrary to Christ. You can do that and get all the riches and the luxuries and favoritism you want. Or worship Christ no matter how counterculture that loyalty becomes. When you choose to worship Christ over the Beast and money, either you starve because you can’t buy, sell, or trade, or the Beast’s people eventually murder you. That’s what it means to worship Christ.
Or consider how the church’s worship of Jesus would be tested before Roman political powers. Caesar was Lord. Often that meant people treated him with utmost reverence and never questioned his rule. But worshiping Jesus relativized the emperor’s political authority, right? Worshiping Jesus means no person, no government, no regime has the ultimate say. Christ is the true Lord. He has ultimate say. We live in a culture where America is number one, where people can worship whatever god they want as long as that god serves our country’s interests. Don’t be deceived by the Beast. Keep your allegiance with Jesus and worship him. To worship him means to go his way, to follow his words, to uphold his justice, even when the world hates it.
Teach people the ways of God (display + declare).
Something else. Not only did priesthood mean worshiping the true God; being a priesthood also included teaching people the ways of God. That happened in two primary ways—displaying and declaring.
Displaying had to do with simply acting out what it means to be in covenant with Yahweh.[vii] As a priesthood, God marked off Israel from the rest of the nations. They were a holy people. They were to fear God and stand in awe of his name. They were to walk with the Lord in peace and uprightness. God made Israel distinct in this way. It was good for the nations to see what a community serving God looked like. It was also to the nations’ detriment when Israel failed to be distinct.
Likewise, it is to the nations’ detriment when we fail to be distinct. We too are holy. God set us apart from the world for the world. The world should be able to observe the life of our church and see what serving in God’s presence looks like. Morally, they should see purity. They should see a people truly freed from slavery to sin. They should see a love for what is holy before God and brokenness when we fall short.
Relationally, they should see order, unity, and peace. They should see the rule of God made visible in our relationships—that our passions don’t rule us, but our Savior rules us. They should note our wisdom in dealing with various issues (cf. Deut 4:6). Socially, they should see God’s heart for the vulnerable and the poor and the orphan. They should gain a true vision for justice. When others look into your life, do they see the rule of God? After spending time with you, do others leave thinking, “That man walks with God. That girl has so much wisdom; I want to get to know her God.”
Or do they see a people who are no different from the rest of the world? Whenever the church starts acting like the world, it should grieve us deeply. In chapters 2-3, Jesus has stern warnings for churches who forsake this calling to display God’s ways, and instead soil their garments with the world’s ways. Pray that the Lord would work in your life to make you distinct—not distinct in the smug, self-righteous way; but distinct in all the right ways that brings the blessing of God’s rule into their lives and compels others to want to know Jesus.
The other way priests taught the ways of God was by declaring. When God spoke about Levi in Malachi 2, he mentions how the priests were to turn many from their iniquities, how the lips of a priest guarded knowledge and how other people should seek instruction from their mouths. In Romans 15, Paul uses priestly language to speak of his missionary work among the Gentiles. 1 Peter 2:9 also describes our priestly role in these terms: “proclaiming the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Proclaiming his excellencies.
Revelation continues this theme but does so in a very pointed way. As priests, the church declares the excellencies of Christ. In doing so, they’re often put to death. But when John sees them from heaven, they’re beneath the altar crying out to God. The altar is that place where the priests would have poured out blood from the sacrifices. In other words, the sacrifice they bring as priests is the sacrifice of themselves to get the gospel out. They follow in the footsteps of the Lamb. They declare the Lord’s words to others, even at the cost of their lives. Only the Lamb’s blood atones, but their blood helps others to know that atonement and reconciliation with God.
The same for us. God has made us a priesthood not only to display his ways but to declare his ways, even at great cost to ourselves. As priests, we spend our days bringing outsiders closer to God.[viii] Whether that’s with our children, extended family, friends, coworkers, classmates, teammates—whatever context you might find yourselves in, remember that you are a kingdom of priests. Jesus had made you a priest to serve in his presence. Both in displaying his worth by what you do and by declaring his worth in what you say, teach others the ways of God. And may the Lord use you to help many others come to acknowledge Jesus’ glory. To him be glory and dominion forever. Amen.
[i] Exod 11:7; 12:31.
[ii] Exod 5:3; 6:7-8; 7:16.
[iii] E.g., Exod 13:2, 11-16; 19:16; Num 3:13.
[iv] Rev 15:8; 21:11, 23.
[v] Rev 4:9, 11; 7:12; 11:13; 15:4; 19:1, 7; 21:24, 26.
[vi] Rev 14:7; 16:9; 18:7.
[vii] Malone, God’s Mediators, 137.
[viii] Malone, God’s Mediators, 173.
other sermons in this series