Today God has given me something in Revelation 1, verses 4 through 6, which say:
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, 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 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (Revelation 1:4-6)
One thing we’re going to be seeing a lot of in Revelation, is symbolic sentences. By that, I mean that we’ll be seeing a lot of sentences that are meant to convey much more than they immediately do at first glance. One such sentence is actually to be found here, where John says, “and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.”
To address the first bit of the sentence, we know that Jesus is a faithful witness because He is constantly witnessing before the Father for us. Not witnessing of our own ‘good’ works, but of His own death on our behalf…. The only work by which we can actually be saved.
A slightly more tricky phrase is when He is called the, “firstborn of the dead.” This can be interpreted in light of Jesus’ Resurrection-that would make Him, in a manner of speaking, to be the firstborn from the grave into a new, eternal life. However, we know that Jesus can’t only be the firstborn of the physical dead, as He was not the first person to be raised to life form the dead. For example, Ezekiel (in Ezekiel 37:1-14) raises an entire valley of the dead to life. So then, we can determine that Jesus is not the firstborn of the physical dead, but rather of the Spiritual dead. Jesus died physically, but then He went through the second death too – complete separation from the Father, and being sent to Hell. Thus, He can be called ‘the firstborn of the [Spiritually] dead’.
This can be interpreted in a different way though, if you consider the Jewish culture of the day. The Jews held the firstborn in very high esteem; the firstborn was considered to be superior to all his siblings. Thus, if you think of it that way, you could say that Jesus holds preeminence over everyone, as eventually everyone dies. You could also just leave out the last bit and say that Jesus holds preeminence over the dead, if you wanted to keep from straying too far from the text.
The final interesting bit of the sentence calls Jesus the, “ruler of kings on earth.” Now, contrary to what I said earlier about sentences having deeper meaning than they may first appear, this particular part of the sentence is somewhat clear. Jesus is preeminent over every king (you’ll note that this also fits in with the second interpretation of the “firstborn of the dead” bit). The reason he is superior to every king, is that He is the greatest and most powerful kind of king–a king who is not only a king, but also a prophet and a priest.
The Jews forbid any king to be a priest, any priest to be a king, and any prophet to be a priest (etc.), in part because having two or more roles was seen to give one person too much power. It acted as a fairly effective system of checks and balances (unless the king decided to disobey a priest or prophet; just read 1st or 2nd Kings to see how well that went.). However, Jesus became all three when He died for us and rose again: On the cross, Jesus made everyone all believers His subjects, offered a sacrifice for sins, and predicted that three days later He would rise again (of course, this last bit is a bit of a stretch, as He actually predicted both His death and Resurrection prior to the cross, you get the picture though.).