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The phrase ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος occurs four times in the Textus Receptus, all in the Apocalypse as follows:

  • Rev. 1:4: ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος

Ἰωάννης ταῖς ἑπτὰ ἐκκλησίαις ταῖς ἐν τῇ Ἀσίᾳ χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη ἀπὸ τοῦ ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος καὶ ἀπὸ τῶν ἑπτὰ πνευμάτων ἃ ἐστιν ἐνώπιον τοῦ θρόνου αὐτοῦ

  • Rev. 1:8: ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος

Ἐγώ εἰμι τὸ Α καὶ τὸ Ω ἀρχὴ καὶ τέλος, λέγει ὁ κύριος ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος ὁ παντοκράτωρ

  • Rev. 4:8: ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος

καὶ τέσσαρα ζῷα ἓν καθ᾽ ἑαυτὸ εἴχον ἀνὰ πτέρυγας ἕξ κυκλόθεν καὶ ἔσωθεν γέμοντα ὀφθαλμῶν καὶ ἀνάπαυσιν οὐκ ἔχουσιν ἡμέρας καὶ νυκτὸς λέγοντα, Ἅγιος ἅγιος ἅγιος κύριος ὁ θεὸς ὁ παντοκράτωρ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος

  • Rev. 11:17: ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος

λέγοντες Εὐχαριστοῦμέν σοι κύριε ὁ θεὸς ὁ παντοκράτωρ ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος, ὅτι εἴληφας τὴν δύναμίν σου τὴν μεγάλην καὶ ἐβασίλευσας

It is noteworthy that ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ὢν occurs in Rev. 4:8 instead of ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν.

In addition, we find a definite article preceding a finite verb ἦν, which is a violation of Greek syntax. Yet, the author is acquainted enough with Koine Greek to have written twenty-two chapters in it. So, this seems to be an intentional violation of Greek syntax to suit a particular purpose.

More importantly, in Rev. 1:4, we find the phrase «...ἀπὸ τοῦ ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος...» Notice how the author writes τοῦ ὁ ὢν (two definite articles preceding a participle) instead of simply, say, τοῦ ὄντος (where the definite article and participle would be in agreement with the preposition ἀπὸ governing the genitive case).

  1. What is the significance of the phrase ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος?

  2. Is there a significance in the change from ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος to ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος?

  3. This may relate to the first question, but what is the significance of yet another violation of Greek syntax in the phrase τοῦ ὁ ὢν («...ἀπὸ τοῦ ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος...»)?

  4. Finally, is there any similarity in meaning between the aforementioned four occurrences of ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος and the sole occurrence of ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ὅσιος in Rev. 16:5?

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I will be awarding a bounty of 500 for this question in two days, hopefully to encourage detailed and thorough answers. –  H3br3wHamm3r81 May 6 at 18:52
1  
In a week, I will review the answers to see which is most detailed, which has the most support (citations, quotes from scholars), and of course, which answers the questions posed. Thanks everyone for your contributions thus far. They are each excellent. Also, if you give your opinion on what something means, and it isn't that obvious, please corroborate your opinion by citing a reputable scholar who concurs with your opinion. –  H3br3wHamm3r81 May 10 at 19:07

3 Answers 3

ὁ ἦν is not Strictly a Violation of Greek Syntax

You note something that is not exactly correct:

In addition, we find a definite article preceding a finite verb ἦν, which is a violation of Greek syntax.

Wallace states of what the article "IS" (emphasis added):

At bottom, the article intrinsically has the ability to conceptualize. Or, as Rosén has put it, the article “has the power of according nominal status to any expression to which it is appended, and, by this token, of conveying the status of a concept to whatever ‘thing’ is denoted by that expression, for the reason that whatever is conceived by the mind—so it would appear—becomes a concept as a result of one’s faculty to call it by a name.” In other words, the article is able to turn just about any part of speech into a noun and, therefore, a concept. For example, “poor” expresses a quality, but the addition of an article turns it into an entity, “the poor.” It is this ability to conceptualize that seems to be the basic force of the article.1

So what we have is an unusual and rare conceptualizing use of the article on a finite verb form, something Wallace notes is possible.2

But why?

Because of the desire to conceptualize an imperfect tense meaning as a substantive, much like the two participles that are found with it, as an appellative. This is because there is no such thing as an imperfect participle in the Greek, the imperfect is only found in the indicative mood.3

The imperfect tense has two primary things significant about it. (1) It indicates an aspect of continuous action, much like the typical present tense. (2) It does so with respect to past time (unlike the present, which is "present" time in the indicative mood).4 As Wallace notes:

The imperfect is often incomplete and focuses on the process of the action.

With reference to time, the imperfect is almost always past.5

So just as in English there is no such word as "wasing" (a theoretical participle of an imperfect), and therefore no such way to say "one who wasing" as a substantive participle, the Greek likewise is limited. So to convey the idea of "one who was" (carrying with it both the continuous aspect and connection of past time) can probably only be done by doing this odd construction of ὁ ἦν.

So it very much is intentional, but not strictly a violation of syntax, just an unusual use of the language.

Similarly, ἀπὸ τοῦ ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος is not a Violation

Just as the article on ὁ ἦν was acting as a "substantiver" of the finite verb, it is also possible for "the article can turn a phrase into a nominal entity."6 This is what we have here. If it were τοῦ ὄντος instead of τοῦ ὁ ὢν, their would be nothing to carry the prepositional relation through to the other two: ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος. And if those were each made into some genitive form, one would begin to lose the nominative aspect of what they are doing, as it is the nominative case whose genius is "specific designation" (i.e. "naming"),7 as is being done here.

So the τοῦ is acting as a "substantiver" of the naming phrase ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος, where the τοῦ in the genitive is what is linking that phrase to the proposition ἀπὸ, but the ὁ is still acting with the nominative participles to evoke the appellative qualities.

Your Specific Questions

1. What is the significance of the phrase ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος?

This is translated:

The one who is and the one who was and the one coming.

The significance may be in part as Mark Edward has argued in his answer, that it indicates the name YHWH (though some would argue simply stating Ἐγώ εἰμι does that). However, there seems to be two other points that arise as more significant from this:

First, it appears the reference in Rev 1:8 is to Jesus. He certainly is the topic of Rev 1:5-7. The question is if the v.8 "I" is a self-reference from the perspective of the Father or the Son, especially since the formulation in v.4 would point to being a reference to the Father.8

Evidences that supports 1:8 being the Son speaking are:

(a) Jesus is the chief spokesperson for God, the one revealing what God the Father wants revealed (Rev 1:1). This alone does not resolve the ambiguity, as one can wonder if Christ is quoting God or speaking for Himself in 1:8.

(b) There are no major textual discrepancies in Rev 1:17-18, especially as relates to identification here. I've emphasized key points to the present discussion.

UBS4 - 17 Καὶ ὅτε εἶδον αὐτόν, ἔπεσα πρὸς τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ ὡς νεκρός, καὶ ἔθηκεν τὴν δεξιὰν αὐτοῦ ἐπʼ ἐμὲ λέγων, Μὴ φοβοῦ· ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ πρῶτος καὶ ὁ ἔσχατος 18 καὶ ὁ ζῶν, καὶ ἐγενόμην νεκρὸς καὶ ἰδοὺ ζῶν εἰμι εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων καὶ ἔχω τὰς κλεῖς τοῦ θανάτου καὶ τοῦ ᾅδου.

TR (Scrivener 1894) - 17 και οτε ειδον αυτον επεσα προς τους ποδας αυτου ως νεκρος και επεθηκεν την δεξιαν αυτου χειρα επ εμε λεγων μοι μη φοβου εγω ειμι ο πρωτος και ο εσχατος 18 και ο ζων και εγενομην νεκρος και ιδου ζων ειμι εις τους αιωνας των αιωνων αμην και εχω τας κλεις του αδου και του θανατου

BYZ2005 - 17 Καὶ ὅτε εἶδον αὐτόν, ἔπεσα πρὸς τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ ὡς νεκρός· καὶ ἔθηκεν τὴν δεξιὰν αὐτοῦ ἐπʼ ἐμέ, λέγων, Μὴ φοβοῦ· ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ πρῶτος καὶ ὁ ἔσχατος, 18 καὶ ὁ ζῶν, καὶ ἐγενόμην νεκρός, καὶ ἰδού, ζῶν εἰμὶ εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων, ἀμήν· καὶ ἔχω τὰς κλεῖς τοῦ θανάτου καὶ τοῦ ᾍδου.

Clearly, Jesus is the one speaking in vv.17-18. Two things are significant.

One, He calls himself "ὁ πρῶτος καὶ ὁ ἔσχατος" ("the first and the last"). Besides the parallel relation the phrase itself has to the Alpha/Omega phrase (which also communicates first/last idea from the Greek alphabet reference), there is a direct tie between the One Who is the Alpha/Omega and the first/last in Rev 22:13:

ἐγὼ τὸ Ἄλφα καὶ τὸ Ὦ, ὁ πρῶτος καὶ ὁ ἔσχατος, ἡ ἀρχὴ καὶ τὸ τέλος.

Rev 22:13 then establishes an identity connection from these two phrases between the one speaking in 1:17 (clearly Christ) and the one speaking in 1:8.

Two, the statement of v.18 has parallels (not exact) to the statement under discussion in this question:

v.18                                |   v.8
ὁ ζῶν,                              |   ὁ ὢν  
καὶ ἐγενόμην νεκρός,                |   καὶ ὁ ἦν
ζῶν εἰμὶ εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων |   καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος

Using v.18 for understanding, the first parallel communicates the current being alive. The second parallel speaks of His previous (before death) life. The third speaks of his continued life forever into eternity, which relates simply to the fact that he is alive in order to make a return, a "coming." With Rev 16:5, the parallel is stronger, as the idea of being alive is more direct with the ὁ ὅσιος reference.

Rev 22:13, by including all three forms of reference (i.e. also ἡ ἀρχὴ καὶ τὸ τέλος), ties Christ to Rev 21:6 Alpha/Omega reference as well.

Second, it is just as clear that the phrase is related to God the Father, both Rev 4:8 and 11:17 mention ὁ θεὸς (and the majority reading in the Byzantine manuscripts have it in 1:4 and 1:8 as well; one place where they vary from both the Textus Receptus and UBS texts). In Rev 4:8, it is used of the one sitting on the throne (4:9), which is different from the Lamb, the one who comes to take the scroll from the one sitting on the throne (5:7).

So this phrase ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος (one who is, was, and is coming) is used to create a unique identification, along with the other phrases of Alpha/Omega, first/last, beginning/end, each as identity names for the "oneness" of the Father and the Son who is the express image of God the Father (Heb 1:3).9 So God the Father through the Son is also ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος, just as the Son is also YHWH.

2. Is there a significance in the change from ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος to ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος?

The reversal in Rev 4:8 is more clearly a reference of use with God the Father. The Rev 1:4 also seems so, however, given that Jesus Christ is noted also in the next verse (v.5) as part of the salutation.

If there is any significance, it would seem to be that in this case, it is the declaration of the four living creatures ceaselessly beside the throne chanting this (whereas 1:4 is a reference from John, 1:8 from Christ, and 11:17 from the 24 elders of v.16). So the fact that they put emphasis on the linear order of past, present, future is probably because they have been ceaselessly declaring in from the past, in the present, and into the future (so one is to assume).

The other three references are placing emphasis on the present moment (of John's writing, of Christ's giving the message to John, and of the time for Christ to retake rulership of the earth [so 11:15], respectively).

3. This may relate to the first question, but what is the significance of yet another violation of Greek syntax in the phrase τοῦ ὁ ὢν («...ἀπὸ τοῦ ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος...»)?

I answered this above under the discussion of this unusual construction.

4. Finally, is there any similarity in meaning between the aforementioned four occurrences of ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος and the sole occurrence of ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ὅσιος in Rev. 16:5?

There undoubtedly is some relation, as it is too clear with the ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν part (since ὁ ἦν is rare). This phrase, however, in using all "being" verbs, is emphasizing the continuing existence of the righteous one (vv.4-7), a much more direct relation to the idea of YHWH and His name. The focus is not on the "coming" but the in contrast to those being judged in vv.4-7 to their own destruction, the righteous one will forever continue to be.

As a side note, a similar pattern of phrasing is used of the Greek god Zeus by Pausanias (2nd century AD) in his Description of Greece where it is "Ζεὺς ἦν, Ζεὺς ἐστίν, Ζεὺς ἔσσεται." The phrase is noted as "familiar to Hellenic readers ... in the song of doves at Dodona (Ζεὺς ἦν, Ζεὺς ἔστιν, Ζεὺς ἔσσεται) or in the titles of Asclepius and Athene."10 However, the form in the NT is that of the nominative phrasing discussed above (a name designation of both the Father and Christ), as opposed to the assertion here. Also, the NT form, except in Rev 16:5, emphasizes the "one who is coming."


Just for sake of a more complete answer, here is Wallace's statements about 1:4...

8) With Finite Verbs

This usage occurs only in one set phrase found in the Apocalypse alone.

Rev 1:4 χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη ἀπὸ ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος grace to you and peace from the one who is and the [one who] was and the one who is coming

The syntax here is doubly bizarre: not only does the preposition ἀπό govern a nom. form, but the Seer has turned a finite verb into a substantive. The imperfect verb is possibly used since no imperfect participle was available and the Seer did not wish to use the aorist. If the author of this book is the same as the evangelist who wrote the Gospel of John, the parallel between the ἦν in the Johannine prologue and here may be more than coincidental: both would affirm something about the eternality of the Lord.

Cf. also Rev 1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 16:5.11


NOTES

1 Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics - Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Zondervan Publishing House and Galaxie Software, 1999), 209.

2 Wallace, 231.

3 William D. Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar, 3rd. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 182.

4 Mounce, 183.

5 Wallace, 541.

6 Wallace, 231.

7 Wallace, 37.

8 Theologians are on both sides as to who is speaking in v.8 (note: most of these are from a Protestant perspective; they are listed in no particular order). It is important to note that those ascribing it to God the Father in v.8 still see the phrasing as applicable to Christ from other passages.

On the side that it is God the Father, some examples are: (1) Robert James Utley, Hope in Hard Times - The Final Curtain: Revelation, Vol. 12, Study Guide Commentary Series (Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International, 2001), 23; (2) Kendell H. Easley, Revelation, Vol. 12. Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 14 (under the discussion for v.4); (3) A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), Rev 1:8; (4) W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor’s Greek Testament: Commentary, Vol. 5 (New York: George H. Doran Company, n.d.), 340; (5) Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 2:569; (6) Robert B. Hughes and J. Carl Laney, Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary (The Tyndale Reference Library. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001), 735; (7) D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, and G. J. Wenham, eds., New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 1426; (8) Roy B. Zuck, A Biblical Theology of the New Testament (Electronic ed. Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), 182; (9) Rolland McCune, A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity: The Doctrines of Man, Sin, Christ, and the Holy Spirit Vol. 2 (Allen Park, MI: Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, 2009), 98.

On the side that it is God the Son, some examples are: (1) John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Dallas Theological Seminary, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 2:929; (2) Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), Rev 1:8; (3) Marvin Richardson Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1887), 2:414; (4) Kenneth S. Wuest, Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament: For the English Reader (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), mentioned in "Bypaths in the Greek New Testament" under discussion of 1 Pet 2:21; (5) Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1993), 1:333; (6) William Greenough Thayer Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, edited by Alan W. Gomes, 3rd ed. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub., 2003), 261; (7) Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 94; (8) William Burt Pope, A Compendium of Christian Theology: Being Analytical Outlines of a Course of Theological Study, Biblical, Dogmatic, Historical, Volumes 1-3 (London: Beveridge and Co., 1879), 2:254; (9) Charles Caldwell Ryrie, A Survey of Bible Doctrine (Chicago: Moody Press, 1972), n.p. in elec. ed. (see ch. 3, under "The Deity of Christ").

9 I hold to a hermeneutic that sees unity in the Scripture, and so a reference from Hebrews is perfectly valid as a proof point for discussion in Revelation.

10 Nicoll, The Expositor’s Greek Testament: Commentary, Vol. 5, Rev. 1:4.

11 Wallace, 237.

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Hmm...I'm not so sure Rev. 1:8 is referring to Jesus. It seems ambiguous, especially in light of the textual variant. I examined Tischendorf's apparatus and hardly any witnesses support the reading in the Textus Receptus. Nonetheless, most excellent answer. –  H3br3wHamm3r81 May 7 at 4:01
    
@H3br3wHamm3r81: I had to ponder whether 1:8 was Jesus also. The two things that convinced me were the associations of the Alpha/Omega reference to Jesus from Rev 1:11-13 and 22:13-16. –  ScottS May 7 at 9:33
    
But Rev. 1:11 is also a textual variant, with Ἐγώ ἐιμι τὸ Α καὶ τὸ Ω, Ὃ πρῶτος καὶ ὁ ἔσχατος being supported by hardly any witnesses. The majority omit it. As Heinrich Meyer notes, "The addition after λεγούσης, ʼεγώ εἰμι τὸ α καὶ τὸ ω, ὁ πρῶτος καὶ ὁ ἔσχατος καὶ (Elz.), is without attestation." And, I hate to admit it, but Rev. 22:13 is a bit ambiguous too as to who it is referring to by the phrase "the Alpha and the Omega." –  H3br3wHamm3r81 May 8 at 8:10
1  
@H3br3wHamm3r81: Ah, THAT variant! :-) Sorry, missed that (no excuse, really, other than I was focusing on looking at the Greek in 1:8, and took 1:11 from NKJV reading... ooops). However, I do still think there is a good argument for 1:8 being Jesus, so I'll edit my answer to show that. –  ScottS May 8 at 14:06
    
@H3br3wHamm3r81: edit completed for now (unless I find more evidence); changes mainly in the section regarding #1 of your questions. –  ScottS May 8 at 15:48

Translating ο ων και ο ην και ο ερχομενος

Just to bring this into English, here are a few sample translations of the phrase as it appears in Revelation 1.4:

him who is and who was and who is to come (ASV)

him who is and who was and who is to come (ESV)

the one who is, who was, and who is coming (ISV)

him which is, and which was, and which is to come (KJV)

him who is and who was and who is to come (NRSV)

Him who is, and who was, and who is coming (YLT)

What we have is a description of God, starting with the present tense, followed by the past tense and the future tense.


Relation to God's identity in Exodus 3

In the larger narrative of the Hebrew scriptures, Exodus 3 has a special place in God identifying himself to Moses. When God claims to be the god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses pushes God to give him his name. God responds by saying:

'ehyeh asher 'ehyeh (אהיה אשר אהיה)

This is usually translated as something like 'I am who I am', though some arguments have been made for 'I will be who I will be'. Later writers would expand or adjust God's self-declaration when bringing it into another language.

The Aramaic Targum Pseudo-Jonathan of Exodus 3.14 translates it into a present-future state of being:

I am he who is and who will be 1

And Deuteronomy 32.29 of Targum Pseudo-Jonathan later has a present-past-future state of being:

I am he who is and who was, and I am who I will be 2

This latter paraphrase is identical in shape to what we see in the Revelation.

Both the Septuagint (completed c.130 BC) and Philo (Life of Moses 1.75, written early-first century) translate the phrase in Exodus 3.14 into Greek as:

egō eimi ho ōn (ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν)

This may be translated as either 'I am the one', or 'I am he who is'. The phrasing 'ο ων' is identical to the first part of the phrase found in the Revelation.

With this information above, it's highly probable John's phrase 'ο ων και ο ην και ο ερχομενος' was intended to be a translation or expansion on God's self-identification in Exodus 3.14.


The third verb in Revelation

Between the original Hebrew phrase, and the Aramaic and Greek translations, the focus is on God's state of 'being': he is, he was, he will be. In the original narrative of Exodus 3, this leads into the revelation of God's own name, YHWH, which is suggested by scholars to come from the Hebrew verb 'to be'.

However, the Revelation gives us a twist on this. The Revelation does not say God is, was, and will be, it says that God is, was, and will come. The third verb isn't about God's state of being, but is an action in itself.


Variations on the phrase in Revelation

Richard Bauckham3 takes note of John's usage of 'to come' for the future verb, and looks to internal variations on the phrase in the Revelation. The phrase in itself appears five times in the Revelation, in verses 1.4, 1.8, 4.8, 11.17, and 16.5. Some manuscript traditions have all of these verses with the full phrase, present, past, and future tenses included. But according to Bauckham, these verses originally had the following:

1:4: the One who is and who was and who is to come.

1:8: the One who is and who was and who is to come.

4:8: the One who was and who is and who is to come.

11:17: the One who is and who was.

16:5: the One who is and who was.

The first two appearances of the phrase are identical, but variation sets in after that.

Revelation 4.8 has an order of past-present-future. John puts the past tense first, because this occurrence's context is the creation of the world in verse 11.

Revelation 11.17 comes with the close of the first half of the book. Verses 15-19 conclude the set of seven trumpets with a shout of God's victory over 'the kingdom of the world'. Bauckham notes traditional Jewish eschatological expectations that God would 'come' to save his people, and sees John investing this in the Christian expectation of the 'coming' of Jesus.

But John has taken advantage of this usage [of ερχομενος as an eschatological verb related to 'the age to come'] to depict the future of God not as his mere future existence, but as his coming to the world in salvation and judgment. He no doubt has in mind those many Old Testament prophetic passages which announce God will 'come' to save and judge (e.g. Ps. 96:13; 98:9; Isa. 40:10; 66:15; Zech. 14:5), and which early Christians understood to refer to his eschatological coming to fulfil his final purpose for the world, a coming they identified with the parousia of Jesus Christ.

Hence, because 11.17 portrays this eschatological finale, God is no longer 'to come', but has arrived with the sounding of the seventh trumpet: he conquered the kingdom of the world (11.15), has 'taken your great power and begun to reign' (11.17), so that it is now 'time for the dead to be judged' (11.18).

Thematically, this finale is seen again in the explosive 'outpouring' of God's wrath in chapter 16, hence the lack of the future tense in 16.5 there also.


Summary

  1. The phrase in the Revelation is John's expansion of 'ehyeh asher 'ehyeh ('I am who I am') from Exodus 3.14.
  2. The future-tense verb in John's phrasing is the verb 'to come', not 'to be'.
  3. The original text of the Revelation had important variations on the phrase, tied into each occurrence's context.
  4. John's use of the phrase goes beyond simply a declaration that God exists in the present, past, and future. The future tense of 'is to come' is eschatological, and is dropped when that future finally arrives within the scope of John's visions.

In Bauckham's words:

Thus John interprets the divine name as indicating not God's eternity in himself apart from the world, but his eternity in relation to the world. ... John has characteristically interpreted that early Israelite faith in God's historical being for his people into the later, eschatological faith in God's final coming to bring all things to fulfillment in his eternal future.


Footnotes

1 As reported by a variety of commentaries on Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Revelation, with the Bauckham book mentioned in footnote 3 being just one of them. Unfortunately, I can't find any that actually give the original Aramaic, only a translation equivalent to what I've provided above. The Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon has Pseudo-Jonathan Exodus 3.14 available here. (Retrieved May 6, 2014.)

2 See comments in footnote 1. The The Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon has Pseudo-Jonathan Deuteronomy 32.29 available here. (Retrieved May 6, 2014.)

3 Richard Bauckham. The Theology of the Book of Revelation (2003), p.28-30.

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Could you add the actual Aramaic text of the cited targumim? –  H3br3wHamm3r81 May 6 at 20:58
    
Just added footnotes 1 and 2 regarding the Pseudo-Jonathan texts. (Also, links for the LXX and Philo.) –  Mark Edward May 6 at 22:10
  1. What is the significance of the phrase ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος?

The phrase is the title of "the everlasting one." The Apostle John is borrowing this "everlasting" imagery from the Book of Isaiah, where the direct reference is to YHWH.

Isaiah 41:4 (NASB)
4 “Who has performed and accomplished it,
Calling forth the generations from the beginning?
‘I, the LORD (YHWH), am the first, and with the last. I am He.’

The following verse expands on what first and last mean, which John will refer to as the Alpha and Omega in The Revelation.

Isaiah 43:10-11 (NASB)
10 “You are My witnesses,” declares the LORD (YHWH),
“And My servant whom I have chosen,
So that you may know and believe Me
And understand that I am He.
Before Me there was no God formed,
And there will be none after Me.

11 “I, even I, am the LORD (YHWH),
And there is no savior besides Me.

No deity exists beyond His existence (before or after). The Hebrew Bible therefore refers to the eternality of YHWH not in terms of endlessness, but in terms of a double negative: nothing (negative) exists before his beginning (negative), and nothing (negative) exists after his end (negative). In other words, "transcendence" is explained in the Bible through double negatives. The simple positive propositional statement "God is eternal" does not convey this nuance of transcendence; the double negative however does convey the nuance that nothing is transcendent before (beyond) His non-beginning, and nothing exists after (beyond) His non-ending. Another verse conveys the same thought.

Isaiah 44:6 (NASB)
6 “Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts:
I am the first and I am the last,
And there is no God besides Me
.

Also please note that these two verses from Isaiah, cited above, refer to the LORD (YHWH) as both "the chosen one" who is also the savior (or redeemer) in the context of Kingdom Rule, which theme will appear later in The Revelation (described, below).

So, to tie the idea to The Revelation, we see "The Alpha and The Omega" connected to the LORD (YHWH) from the Book of Isaiah. The letters are the corresponding first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, by which the "Word of God" is communicated.

Revelation 1:8 (NASB)
8I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

He is what Isaiah would call, "the First and the Last." Thus he is the TRANSCENDENT eternal one. (In my opinion, the double negative described above keeps us away from pagan concepts of transcendence.) In conclusion, the phrase ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος refers to Isaiah's way of describing the LORD (YHWH) as the transcendent eternal one.

  2. Is there a significance in the change from ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ 
     ὁ ἐρχόμενος to ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος?

The eternality of the LORD (YHWH) is his divine essence, which is shared between both the Father and Son, who, while subsisting in this same eternal transcendent essence, are different Persons.

Thus the references to both the Father (Rev 1:4, Rev 1:8, and Rev 4:8) and then to the Son (Rev 11:17 and Rev 16:5-6). In these two latter passages there is immediate reference to imminent Kingdom Rule, which is the "to come." (The "one beginning" to reign is the ὅσιος = "Holy One," which is a direct reference to the Son od David; here please see answer to last question, below.) This is where the "savior / redeemer" imagery of the LORD (YHWH) now appears from Isaiah cited above. In Isaiah that imagery appeared in the context of retribution and Kingdom Rule, and now the LORD (YHWH) --in the Person of the Son-- is "the one to come," which is now instead conveyed through the image of imminent Kingdom Rule.

Revelation 11:17 (NASB)
17 saying,
“We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign.

Revelation 16:5-6 (NASB)
5 And I heard the angel of the waters saying, “Righteous are You, who are and who were, O Holy One, because You judged these things; 6 for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it.”

Thus we see on the one hand the LORD (YHWH) in the Book of Isaiah as "Chosen One" and Savior and Redeemer, however, here now in The Revelation the Son judges and begins his eternal Kingdom Rule, which is why the "ὁ ἐρχόμενος" is truncated from his title, since his retribution and Kingdom Rule are what constitute the "ὁ ἐρχόμενος" -- in other words, His retribution and Kingdom Rule are what is coming.

  3. This may relate to the first question, but what is the significance 
  of yet another violation of Greek syntax in the phrase τοῦ ὁ ὢν («...ἀπὸ 
  τοῦ ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος...»)?

There is no violation of syntax. The article can double as definite (personal) pronouns of the third person in Attic Greek, from which Koinè evolved. (Please click here.) The article can also occur with the participle. (Please click here.) Thus the structure of the "ἀπὸ τοῦ ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος" is in perfect grammatical Koinè Greek as is its corresponding translation into English: "From the one who is...."

  4. Finally, is there any similarity in meaning between the aforementioned 
  four occurrences of ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος and the sole occurrence 
  of ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ὅσιος in Rev. 16:5?

As was noted, the latter references are to the Lamb, who is the Son as noted in (Rev 11:17 and Rev 16:5). The latter passage mentions "Holy One," which is not ἅγιος, but ὅσιος, which is a reference to the Son of David in the New Testament (Acts 2:27 and Acts 13:35). In Isaiah 43:10-11 (noted above), the LORD (YHWH) is "the Chosen One" and Savior / Redeemer...

In conclusion, the Christ (Chosen One) is the therefore the Savior / Redeemer, who is The First and The Last (Alpha and Omega). As one who partakes of the Divine Nature (YHWH), He is, was, and is coming.... But as the Son of David (Savior / Redeemer): He is, was, and is to rule.

REFERENCE:
Smyth, Herbert Weir (1918). Greek Grammar. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 284-285, 288.

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