Greeting to the Seven Churches
Greeting to the Seven Churches
Brad Mills / General
Revelation / Revelation 1:4–8
John’s prologue set the stage for the symbolic language of Revelation. It was given to show the Church “things that must soon take place” (1). The events described in Revelation were about to begin at that time. However, spiritual warfare fills the present age. The vision held immediate relevance, even though not everything described occurred immediately.
Jesus received the revelation and then “made it known” to John through his angel (1). This idea comes from Daniel 2 where God “made known” Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, which Daniel interpreted symbolically.
John now transitions to a greeting that emphasizes the Triune God, especially Jesus.
The only Triune God, who is sovereign over all, sends greeting to his redeemed Church.
Read Rev. 1:4-8.
The common greeting of “grace and peace” is extended to the Church from all three persons of the Trinity; the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
If the church is going to persevere they must know the God to whom all worship is due. When false and counterfeit alternatives are presented to the world, the Church needs to be confident in the God they worship.
WSC Q.6: There are three persons in the Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.
Scripture is clear that there is only one God. And yet, there are several indications of a plurality within the Godhead. The “angel of the Lord” is identified with God and yet he remained distinct from God. Likewise, the Spirit of God has divine attributes operating as God’s personal agent.
These three persons in the Godhead are fully united with one another and distinct from one another at the same time.
I heard the story of a candidate who was on the floor of presbytery being examined for the pastoral office. He was asked to explain the Trinity. He rightly answered with this definition.
But the questioner asked him to elaborate further. The candidate began describing the work of each person within the Trinity.
But the questioner wasn’t satisfied. He asked him, “How can there be three distinct persons in one being?” Finally, the candidate acknowledged, “I don’t know.”
And with that show of humility and the limits of his ability to fully comprehend God, the candidate passed.
The Trinity will remain a mystery no matter how hard we try to find illustrations to explain it. You find yourself sinking in quicksand as soon as you add or take away from the definition here. Nothing on earth provides an adequate picture of our Triune God, which is why God forbid the portrayal of him in any physical form (Ex. 20:4-6).
This passage provides evidence of the equality between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as each person is present at the throne and involved in the work of greeting the Church.
Let’s consider the first person of the Trinity…
I. God the Father
The Father is described as “him who is and who was and who is to come” (4 and 8). This alludes to God’s name “Yahweh”, which is translated “I AM”, and was revealed to Moses (Ex. 3:14). It had become common in Jewish tradition to expand the Lord’s name into a threefold phrase (Isaiah 41:4; 43:10; 44:6; 48:12).
He is also titled “the Alpha and the Omega” and “the Almighty” (8). We hear this again at the conclusion of John’s vision. The one who sits on the throne of the new heavens and new earth declares, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end,” (Rev. 21:6).
In Rev. 1:17 the son of man declares “I am the first and the last.” And again in Rev. 22:13 Jesus says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Therefore, it’s debatable whether John is referring to the Father or the Son in Rev. 1:8.
Their close association makes sense with John’s Trinitarian theology where Jesus says he is one with the Father (John 10:30). However, I see the close repetition of “him who is and who was and who is to come” (vv.4 & 8) as bracketing the greeting with a designation of the Father.
Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters in the Hebrew alphabet. God is A to Z, he is the beginning and the ending, which means he is also represented at every point in between. There has never been a time or place from which God was absent.
R.C. Sproul said it so well in Chosen By God:
“If there is one single molecule in this universe running around loose, totally free of God’s sovereignty, then we have no guarantee that a single promise of God will ever be fulfilled.”
Knowing that the Almighty God is sovereign over every place and circumstance throughout history, gives us the confidence we need to endure whatever trials the present and future holds.
This is why it was so important for John to begin with a description of the attributes of God, before elaborating on the intense persecution they would face. We would all be devastated apart from a sovereign God.
Our confidence is strengthened and maintained by…
II. God the Spirit
Who or what are “the seven spirits”? Should we be considering the nine-person Godhead?
This is another example of John’s symbolic usage of numbers. It’s position within the greeting tells us that this is not some obscure reference to a few select heavenly beings that have been elevated to the position right before the throne. Furthermore, creatures – no matter how majestic – are unable to grant “grace and peace”. Rather, this describes the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
John references the seven spirits three more times:
• Jesus – standing in the midst of the churches – holds “the seven spirits of God” (Rev. 3:1).
• At the heavenly throne, John sees “seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God…” (Rev. 4:5). The seven torches represent the flame on top of the lampstands. Thus, the imagery is of the Spirit of God empowering the Church to stand firm as light bearers in the midst of darkness.
• Finally, the Lamb is seen “standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (Rev. 5:6).
All of these references allude to Zech. 4:2-10 where seven lamps represent the one Spirit of God, and verse ten describes “these seven” lamps as “the eyes of the Lord, which range through the whole earth.”
These seven spirits symbolize the fullness of the Holy Spirit and his divine work in heaven and through the Church on earth.
We are invited to worship God because the Spirit of God has effectually enabled us. It is the Spirit of God who works faith in us, uniting us to Christ. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, enlightens our minds, and renews our wills. The only reason we embrace Jesus Christ is because the Holy Spirit has persuaded and enabled us to do so (WSC Qs.29-31).
True worship must be offered in and through the Spirit. This is worship in Spirit and truth. It is the only worship that is acceptable to God.
It’s possible that John’s portrayal of the Trinity in a unique order (Father, Spirit, Son) is following the layout of the temple. Much of the imagery in Revelation reflects temple furnishings (candlesticks, bowls, altars, incense, fire). The Holy of Holies would represent the Father seated on the throne. Before the Holy of Holies, within the Holy Place would be the lampstand with seven stems representing the Holy Spirit. And, finally the Son is at the altar, whose sacrificial death atones our sins.
Let us now consider…
III. God the Son
The greatest portion of the greeting is devoted to a description of Jesus Christ. Let’s begin with this trifold description in verse five:
• “the faithful witness” – Jesus, who suffered and was faithful unto death, becomes our preeminent example of perseverance.
• “the firstborn of the dead” – A reference to Christ’s resurrection (Col. 1:18). He is the firstfruits of the resurrection that all believers will enjoy at his return (1 Cor. 15:23).
• “the ruler of kings on earth” – His sovereign reign over every earthly kingdom, now and forever!
All three concepts are found in Ps. 89:27, 37. They refer to God’s preservation of the Davidic throne through Jesus Christ’s eternal reign over all of creation.
Reflecting upon this brings John to a statement of praise about Christ’s redemptive work. Out of his love for us he “freed us from our sins by his blood.” The blood of Jesus has released us from the penalty and power of sin. We have forgiveness and victory over sin.
As long as we remain in this body of flesh, we will fight against temptation. However, we no longer remain enslaved to sin because the Son has set us free (John 8:32-36). Our freedom from sin allows for sanctification and eventually, eternal life (Rom. 6:22).
Christ’s redeeming work has made the Church a kingdom of priests (Ex. 19:6; 1 Pt. 2:9). Since the fall, access to God has only been possible through a mediator.
The Lord established Aaron, followed by the entire tribe of Levites, to facilitate worship. God spoke through prophets and people worshipped through priests. A mediator was required from both directions.
But Jesus Christ has now become the permanent mediator between God and man (John 14:6). Jesus has revealed to us, in his person and work, the Word of God. And by his own shed blood, he has granted us access to God once and for all.
There is no more need for ongoing sacrifices. Nor is there any more need for a hierarchy of priestly mediators. There are only two kinds of priests today: the High Priest Jesus and the priesthood of all believers.
First, as a holy priesthood, every member of the Church has equal access to God. We share in the benefits of Christ’s completed work. Second, 1 Peter 2:5 helps us to see that even though we no longer offer sacrifices on a physical altar, we do bring our “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” We must all present our bodies as “a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Rom. 12:1).
Of course, the only thing that makes those sacrifices “holy and acceptable to God” is the blood of Jesus. If you believe in him, Jesus Christ has already set you apart! He has already made you clean! Our High Priest has clothed you in garments washed by his blood. He has given you access to the foot of his throne not only once a year, as under the old covenant on the day of atonement; you have been granted daily access to God.
Now we can see why John concludes his doxology with a summary of exalted praise “to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (6).
We will pick back up at verse seven next week to focus on the return of Christ, but I think it’s appropriate to close with this thought on worship.
Worship, as John articulates in this greeting, involves both God’s revelation and the believer’s response of praise. Worship and word go together. They should never be separated. God’s word guides our worship at every point of the service. This is why we call this whole event a worship service (not just the music and singing portion).
Richard Phillips argues that fulfilling your priestly role is “the primary reason to come to church” (REC: Revelation, 33). Come in order to offer sacrifices of praise to the living God! Yes, fellowship for believers, and evangelism of unbelievers is a byproduct of corporate worship. But our most fundamental purpose in gathering week after week is to offer worship to our Sovereign King of kings and Lord of Lords.
Exported from Logos Bible Software, 11:39 AM February 12, 2019.