From Him and to Him (Revelation 1:4-8)
Topic: Revelation Passage: Revelation 1:4–1:8
Happy Ever After
From Him and To Him
(One Mission: Firm to the End)
September 14th, 2014
I. What Would You Write?
As we return to the book of the Revelation, I want you to imagine this scenario. Imagine that the City of Buckeye imposed a 'church tax' on all the Christian churches in town. We were taxed when we met on Sundays, we were taxed when we had studies, events, fundraisers, etc. After a while, this would take quite a toll on our finances, wouldn't it? Churches would be struggling to meet this obligation, and we might be tempted to limit our meetings and our ministries.
As unbelievable as this scenario might sound, I didn't come up with this kind of situation in order to explore issues of taxation or totalitarianism. I created this scenario to ask you, if you had a chance to write a letter or an e-mail to all the churches in town, what would you say? How would you encourage the brothers and sisters in light of such challenges?
And even more relevant to our study this morning, I want you to think about how you would greet these churches. How would you begin? Would you say something like, “Hello, fellow churches in Buckeye. I pray this note finds you and your people encouraged in God's love.” How's that for an introduction? Or what about this? Might this better, “Greetings, brothers and sisters. I pray this note finds you enriched by God's treasure house of grace in Jesus”. Do you think that would be a better introduction? If so, why?
Turn with me this morning to Revelation 1. If you were with us last time, then you probably remember that we began our study of this book or letter by looking at verses 1-3 and talking about the “five firm footholds” we need in order to safely and effectively ascend what we called “Mount Revelation”. We'll revisit a few of those points this morning, but while verses 1-3 represent a kind introduction to the letter, verses 4-8 are the introduction of the letter
II. The Passage: “John to the Seven Churches” (1:4-8)
Let's look at those verses, verses 4-8, together as we dive in this morning. Let me read...
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.  Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.  “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
Now in terms of introductory greetings, that's a pretty good beginning isn't it? But in order to understand the importance of this introduction, I want you to notice how these five verses are built according to a Trinity-inspired design. Do you see that? Let me point out the specifics...
A. The Enthroned Father (1:4a, 8)
First, look again at the beginning of verse 4, and the beginning of verse 8:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come... “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
From the context here, and from other parts of this letter, we know these verses are referring to the enthroned Father. In verse 6 He is distinguished from Jesus as his God and Father, and in chapter 4, we see another reference to Him who sits on the throne. We read in 4:8...
And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”
So in 1:4, 1:8, and 4:8, the Father is referred to as the One “who is and who was and who is to come” or, “who was and is and is to come”. This reminds the reader that God is an eternal being. He also referred to as the Alpha and Omega. Those are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. When God refers to Himself with this title, I believe He is emphasizing His kingship over all time. Listen to how this same title is expanded in the very last chapter of the book: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (Revelation 22:13)
As an eternal God, He is Lord over our beginning, end, and everything in between. This is an especially significant title for the original readers of the letter in light of their circumstances. As a side note, what is fascinating about that quote from Revelation 22 about being the “Alpha and Omega” is that Jesus Christ is the speaker there.
B. The Seven-Fold Spirit (1:4b)
But if we go back to chapter 1, and look at the end of verse 4, we also find this very interesting description: 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...
These seven spirits are also referred to in 3:1, where we read has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. We also find them mentioned in 4:5, where it tells us before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God... And finally, in 5:6, when he described Jesus like a Lamb before God's throne, John tells us this Lamb had seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.
Now these could be a group of angels, but Revelation never refers to angels as spirits. Given their connection to both God the Father and Jesus, and the function of these spirits, it's better to take this is a reference to the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God of Himself.
Why would the Holy Spirit be referred to as seven spirits? Well, we need to remember that seven is a number of divine perfection or completion. Just as the seven churches here represent, in one sense, the complete church of Jesus, I believe the seven spirits represent God's perfect Spirit. This description might also be taken in the sense of the seven-fold Spirit. The prophet Isaiah has what might be a related reference when he talks about the Holy Spirit being on the Messiah. He writes:
And the Spirit of  the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of  wisdom and  understanding, the Spirit of  counsel and  might, the Spirit of  knowledge and the  fear of the LORD. (Isaiah 11:2)
C. The Worthy Son (1:5-7)
And so, if the opening blessing of “grace” and “peace” are said to come from God the Father, and then the Holy Spirit, then if this IS a Trinitarian design, we would expect to next see a reference to God the Son. And that's exactly what we find in verse 5. Now what I want you to notice (and you may have already noticed this), most of this introductory greeting is in fact focused on Jesus. Three of the five verses here are doing the very thing the opening words of this letters describe: this is “the revelation of Jesus Christ”, and He, above all, is being revealed in this opening greeting.
We might refer to Him here as the worthy Son, since we see John crying out in praise to him in verse 6: to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
And the structure of these verses is very interesting. We find here three triads or sets of three that tell us something unique about Jesus. Just as I've indicated in regard to the number seven, the number three also has symbolic significance in the Bible. It is often the number of testimony, and to be more exact, the number of established testimony. When the seraphim in Isaiah 6 cry out “Holy! Holy! Holy!”, their testimony is established beyond doubt. When Jesus rose on the third day, the testimony that He had truly beaten death was certain.
Here, there are three sets of three, which gives us an even great indication that John's descriptions here are true and established. Let's look at these together. First, John points to..
1. Christ and His Position (v. 5a)
We see this in the first part of verse 5: [and grace and peace] from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.
Three titles. Three realities that speak of Jesus' unique identity and position. First, Jesus is the faithful witness. We find a similar title in 3:14, where Jesus refers to himself as the faithful and true witness. We also discover this same title being applied in 2:13 to a man names Antipas, who was a faithful witness for Christ. This is also the same word used repeatedly in the book of Acts for those who testified of Jesus.
The fascinating thing about this word is that the Greek word is martus, from which we get the English word “martyr”. So a “witness” is someone who testifies to the truth of Jesus, even if necessary, with his or her own life. Jesus did this very thing. He testified and testifies of the truth of God, even giving up His life to stand by His message.
But Jesus is also describe in verse 5 as the “firstborn of the dead”. I think this title is expresses the same idea Paul put forward in I Corinthians 15:20...But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. Jesus has beaten death, and His victory is a guarantee that we too can share in that victory.
Finally, Jesus is described in the first part of verse 5 as “the ruler of kings on earth”. As those who lived under local vassal kings and ultimately, under the rule of the Roman emperor, this is such a critical reminder of such an astounding reality: Jesus is Lord! And His lordship extends over every king, prince, governor, president, prime minister, czar, and dictator in the world. But there's more. We discover in the second half of verse 5, and into verse 6, that the second triad is concerned with...
2. Christ and His People (v. 5b, 6)
Every description we find her not only speaks of who Jesus is, but to be more precise, what He does or has done for us. Look at that first reminder and savor it for a second...To him who loves us... From the loftiest hymn to the simplest children's song, there is nothing as sweet as the truth that “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
But the second description in this second triad is inextricably linked to the first. How has Jesus loved us, supremely? He has freed us from our sins by his blood. The cross of Christ was implied in the title “firstborn of the dead”, but here it is made explicit for the first time in this letter. The love of Jesus is not only proven in the lengths to which He went for us, but also the heights to which we have been liberated by His suffering and sacrifice.
And we go on in verse 6 to learn more about what His costly redemption purchased for us.
...and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father. Like I Peter 2, this phrase points us back to Exodus 19:6, where God tells the nation of Israel, and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Our loving Savior did not set us free with His blood so we could continue living for ourselves. No. He calls us to come under His kingship and to serve Him as priests, bringing God to others and others to God wherever we are.
But remember, there's one more triad her. Look at verse 7. There we find the focus is on...
3. Christ and His Plan (v. 7)
Jesus has a plan that is being fulfilled. And as we see from the first phrase in verse 7, that plan includes the reality that he is coming with the clouds. Like the previous verse, this phrase also draws on imagery from the Old Testament, in that Yahweh, the God of Israel, is described in several places as coming “on the clouds”. Daniel 7 speaks of the “Son of Man” who comes before the Ancient of Days “on the clouds of heaven”. And in Matthew 24, verse 30, Jesus himself predicted:
Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
And those same words are alluded to in the next two descriptions from verse 7. We read...
and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him. I believe this is both a reference to the global impact of the second coming of Jesus, but also to the local impact in terms of the Jewish people. That's who I believed is being referred to by the phrase “even those who pierced him”. I say that because that phrase is drawn from yet another Old Testament passage, Zechariah 12:10. That verse reads:
“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.”
And this is exactly read in the final part of Revelation 1:7...and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.
So when Jesus returns, both Jews and Gentiles will mourn like those who have lost a child. But they will do so because they have lost all hope of gaining eternal life according to their own design and desires. Jesus is most certainly returning to fully redeem, but also to judge.
III. Who is Speaking, What is Spoken
So let me summarize what we've seen here, and talk about the significance of all this.
Real quickly as a short aside, you may have noticed how often we went back to the OT in those verses. Did you know that even thought Revelation never once quotes directly from the OT, of the 404 verses in Revelation, as many 278 of those verses probably make some allusion to the Old Testament? In fact, of the roughly 950 OT quotes or allusions in the twenty-seven NT books, over a quarter of those are found in this one book, Revelation.
But again, let me summarize. We've seen that John structures his opening greeting along the lines of the Trinity, with blessing being extended from God the Father, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus, the Son of God. But we've also talked about how John spends most of his time describing, in three sets of three, Jesus in reference to His position, His people, and His planned return.
Now why is all of this so important beyond the individual importance of each idea? Because this is the greeting of the book, and when you find a greeting like this, it's most likely there for a very good reason.
What I think we have here is not only an extensive revelation or revealing of Jesus, but more specifically, a revealing that speaks directly to the struggles and fears of the first readers. We have not yet talked about how these seven churches were faring spiritually.
But I think it's enough to say at this point that they desperately needed to hear or be reminded of the fact that Jesus is a “faithful witness”, and we should, we must listen to Him. They needed to remember that He is the “firstborn of the dead”, and therefore gives us hope of life beyond death; that Jesus is, in spite of how things appear, the “ruler of the kings on earth”, and therefore His purpose will always win the day and override the plans of men.
They also needed to remember that Jesus had not forgotten them, but loved them.
They need to remember that He had in fact freed them by His blood; that He had given them a mission as subjects of the kingdom, as priests of God and for God in this lost world.
And as they faced and felt friction from this rebellious world (know what that feels like?), they needed to remember that Christ is coming back. He has not abandoned us. He will come. And His return will not be a secret. Every person will have to face Him. And in that day, there will be great sorrow as justice is dispensed by Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father.
You see, all of these themes are the very ideas that John, that Jesus, that God will go on to develop in the Revelation. But what I find so encouraging is that we find them here in the opening greeting. Just as those struggling and financially challenged churches in a future, but fictional Buckeye would be encouraged by a greeting that points to our heavenly wealth, so too does John want to remind his readers of this critical, but simple idea:
The ultimate validity of what is spoken is directly connected to the unique identity of who is speaking.
If a couple weeks ago, Jerry over at Circle K says, “Let me tell you, we are going to grind those ISIS terrorists into the ground”, that statement is a very different from President Obama saying the exact same thing this past Wednesday night. John is telling them, “Yep, this is the revelation of Jesus Christ. And in case you've forgotten, and so I have your undivided attention, let me remind you about who He is.”
We need this same reminder, don't we? How easy it is for us to reassure ourselves according to the spiritual principles and precious promises of God's word without even referencing the One who gave us these things. But how persuaded will we be, how comforted could we be, how convicted would we be if we lose sight of who is speaking to us?
What does this mean? It means we desperately need to look with the eyes of faith on Jesus. As Paul told Timothy in II Timothy 2, we need to “remember Jesus Christ”. We need to be, Hebrews 12:2, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith...
This is not simply saying, “Who is Jesus to me?”. It is daily asking, “Who IS Jesus, regardless of who I want Him to be, and beyond my weak conceptions and my misconceptions?” Only the word of God can tell us this. And God has given us a feast this morning in terms of the unique identity of Jesus. And all this in three verses.
The question then becomes, does God have your attention? Are you spiritually sitting on the edge of your seat, and leaning in, eager to hear what Jesus has to say...to you? May God prepare our hearts in this very way for not only our entire series in this book, but every time with gather, and every single time you open your Bible at home, or at work, or at school, or wherever. When you do, stop and say, “There is no one like Jesus. No name higher, no love deeper, no grace richer. Therefore, as you speak, let me have no desire greater than hearing from you.”
More in Happy Ever After (Revelation)
November 22, 2015Keep What is Written (Revelation 1:1-22:21)(overview)
November 15, 2015I am Coming...Come! (Revelation 22:6-21)
November 1, 2015A Tour of Our Future Glory (Revelation 21:9-22:5)