In Revelation, disciples reign with Jesus and fulfill their royal role as “priests” who render service in his Tabernacle.
The self-sacrificial death of Jesus is THE foundation of the visions of the book of Revelation. And his death means the installation of overcoming believers to rule as “priests” in his domain. Already, he reigns already over the “kings of the earth,” and the outpouring of his lifeblood has consecrated his followers to become “priests” for his God.
Priestly service to God IS what it means to reign with Christ, and this call echoes the original mission given to Israel when the nation stood before Mount Sinai – “You will be for me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation” – (Exodus 19:6).
- (Revelation 1:5-6) – “Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. Unto him who loves us and loosed us from our sins by his blood; and he made us a kingdom, priests unto his God and Father.”
In the Greek sentence, “kingdom” is in apposition to “priests,” that is, the latter term defines the former. This is a priestly kingdom, and therefore, its members execute their kingly duties AS “priests.” There is one group in view, not two; “priests,” not “priests” and “kings.”
In the book’s opening vision, Jesus is depicted as the glorious “Son of Man,” an image employing language from Daniel. And not coincidentally, he is portrayed as a priestly figure who serves inside a sanctuary.
First, John saw the “seven golden lampstands.” The ancient Tabernacle featured a seven-branched lampstand, but here, Jesus walks among seven individual “golden lampstands.” He is clothed with the full-length linen robe of a high priest that is held together by a “golden girdle.”
John saw him tending the seven “lampstands,” trimming wicks and replenishing oil as needed, and the “golden lampstands” represented the “seven churches of Asia” that he oversees from the heavenly Tabernacle – (Revelation 1:12-20).
To the saint who “overcomes,” this same Jesus promises to “grant him to sit down with me in my throne, just as I also overcame and sat down with my Father in his throne.” Note well! To rise to such a high honor, one must “overcome” in the same manner that he did – The faithful witness who loved us and “loosed us from our sins by his blood.” He is our high priest who also has appointed us to serve as his priests – (Revelation 3:21).
In the vision of the throne at the center of the universe, only the “slain Lamb” was “worthy” to open the “sealed scroll,” and he IS the “lion of the tribe of Judah” but he fulfills that role as the sacrificial “Lamb.” This understanding was confirmed when a myriad of voices broke into praise:
- “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain and purchased unto God with your blood men from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, and made them unto our God a kingdom and priests; and they reign upon the earth…Worthy is the Lamb that has been slain to receive the power, and riches, and wisdom, and might, and honor, and glory, and blessing.” – (Revelation 5:9-12).
Once again, the call of Ancient Israel is applied to the people redeemed by the “Lamb.” These men and women were constituted a “kingdom and priests,” and therefore, “they are reigning on the earth.” While some Greek manuscripts use a future tense verb (“they will reign”), the better manuscripts have the present tense form, “they are reigning on the earth.” And as reigning priests, the redeemed bear testimony and mediate the light of the “Lamb” on the earth.
In the vision of the “innumerable multitude,” John saw men and women “clothed in white robes” coming out of the “Great Tribulation” who have washed their robes and made them white “in the blood of the Lamb.” The image echoes the garments worn by Aaron and his sons when they were installed as priests – (Leviticus 8:6-7, Revelation 7:9-17).
This priestly company stands before the throne and the “Lamb,” and there, they “render divine service” in the “tabernacle.” “Render divine service” represents the Greek verb latreuô, the same verb applied to the service of the Levitical priests in the ancient Greek version of Leviticus, the Septuagint. And once more, present-tense verbs are used, for “they ARE SERVING him day and night” even now. The future tense describes their eventual reward – (“He that sits on the throne will spread his tabernacle over them. They will hunger no more…”).
The priestly image is even clearer when John “measured” the “sanctuary,” the “altar,” and “those rendering divine service” in it (latreuô), priests who were conducting their duties before the “altar.” After he “measured” the “sanctuary,” the entire “holy city” was handed over to the nations and “trampled underfoot forty-two months” – (Revelation 11:1-2).
This same reality is found in the vision of the “beast ascending from the sea.” The “beast” was given a “mouth speaking great things” with which it “slandered the tabernacle, those that dwell in the heaven.” In the Greek clause, there is no conjunction between “tabernacle” and “they who tabernacle.” The two terms are in apposition and the latter defines the former. This is confirmed by the next verse that interprets the image, “it was given to it to make war with the saints, and to overcome them.” The “beast” makes war on the priestly company that is “rendering divine service” (latreuô) to the “Lamb” rather than “rendering homage” (proskeneô) to the “beast” – (Revelation 13:4-7).
The “kingdom of priests” is presented once more at the start of the “thousand years.” After Satan was bound in the “Abyss,” judgment was given for the martyrs who had died for the “testimony of Jesus and the word of God, and such as did not render homage to the beast.” They “lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” This is the “first resurrection.” Then a voice declared – “Over these, the second death has no power; but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and reign with him a thousand years” – (Revelation 20:1-6).
In Revelation, Jesus is a priestly figure. His sacrifice redeemed men and women to God, and consequently, he now reigns as their high priest. In turn, his lifeblood poured out on their behalf consecrated them as a company of priests that rules and reigns with him, and they are summoned to reign in the same manner that he does. They “overcome” their enemies by the “blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony, and because they love not their lives unto death”; that is, through self-sacrificial service on behalf of their high priest, the “Lamb.”