Monday, July 29, 2013

Revelation 1:4-8 - "A Magnificent Greeting and Response"

Text: Revelation 1:  4 -  8
Title : A Magnificent Greeting and Response
Date:  28/07/2013 

Last week,  in our  introduction  to  this  fascinating book  of the Bible we considered  Chapter 1 and verses  1-3. We  discovered  that   the  Revelation  to John is in fact  a revelation  of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is from Him and about Him. To put it another way, the  message of the Revelation is   about  God and His greatness. The fact that  John was shown what  must soon take place, indicates that  God  directs  history, the present and the future. 
We noted  that this Revelation  was given to John via an angel  for the benefit and encouragement of the  suffering church  in the last times [1]. At this time the church was suffering persecution under the reigns of  Roman  emperors  Nero and Domitian.  A specific blessing  is attached for all who  read, hear and keep what is written in  this Revelation.

In this next section  (verses  4-8), which the ESV entitles “Greeting to the seven churches”   we  note (i)  to whom this letter is addressed (v.4a)  (ii)  we find  a   benediction (vv.4b-5a)  and (iii) a doxology  (vv.5b-6) and finally  an announcement of  Christ’s second coming  (vv. 7-8).
A benediction  is what God says to us  by way of  a blessing, and a doxology is what  we say to God by way of   thanksgiving and praise.
1.     The  Letter addressed  to  seven churches in Asia (V.4a)
The letter  from  Jesus comes  via  an angel to John and it  is addressed  to “the seven churches  that  are in Asia". This  Asia  was  a  Roman province. This territory is today  a part of the modern state of Turkey, now known as  Asia minor. Modern  Asia is  the  largest and most populous  continent , including India and China  (60 % of the world population: Wikipedia).
The names of the seven  churches in Roman Asia  are  provided  for us in  verse 11. They are subsequently individually addressed in chapters  2 & 3.We shall make a closer study of these in due time.   Taking a look at  a map  we  note  that these churches are  distributed in the province of Asia in a circular fashion. The list begins with  the church at Ephesus, the church perhaps closest to the heart  of  the apostle John. It is said that he was the pastor of the church at Ephesus, and that he had close ties with  the other 6 churches mentioned here.    The fact that  seven churches are mentioned  is  significant. The  number  seven   plays a very  significant role  in this book. It symbolizes completeness.
The  seven churches in Revelation are a description  of the church in every age and therefore relevant  for our own church today.

2.      A Benediction : ( Vv. 4b-5a)
The first words  from Jesus  to John  are in the  form of  a  benediction or a  blessing: “Grace to you  and peace  from him who  is and who was and who is to come…” .  The contents of this blessing are "grace and peace."  GRACE is God's favour given to those who do not deserve it, pardoning their sins and giving them the gift of eternal life.  PEACE  follows GRACE. William Hendriksen says: "PEACE, the result of GRACE is the reflection of the smile of God in the heart of the believer who has been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ." 
What a wonderful blessing is here pronounced upon the seven churches of Asia and upon the entire church in the world!  To appreciate  the full significance of this blessing we must  keep in mind that the church is  living  in a troubled world. This is what  the book of Revelation shows us. The  church is born into,  and  surrounded by  spiritual darkness. It is a world of   malice, envy, perversion, strife, war, bloodshed, terrorism and destruction.
To the church in this troubled world  the Lord  God speaks  a word of  grace and peace!  Note  that this  grace and peace   is dispensed in a Trinitarian  manner

(i)            FIRSTLY :  “From Him who  was and  who is and who is to come”. This  person  referred to here  clearly stands apart from  the seven spirits’  and  from ‘Jesus Christ.’  Who is this  person?  It is  the Lord God  who is also described  in verse 8  as the “Alpha and Omega, who is and  who was and who is to come.”

(ii)        SECONDLY:and from the “seven spirits who are before His throne”. This rather unfamiliar  expression  refers to the Holy Spirit. The  number seven, again  makes  reference  to the fullness  and perfection  of His work  and  influence in the world and in the church.  To prove this assertion we must consider  some  other  texts.   The  church in which  the Holy Spirit is fully  manifested is also indicated by the same number.  Note then that there  are seven churches in Asia, and there are seven candlesticks and seven stars,  (Rev. 1: 11, 12, 16, 20). And the Lamb  (whose Spirit He is) has seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God (Rev. 5:6).  In  Rev. 3:1  the Lord Jesus  is said to have the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars“.  Again, in Rev.  4:5   we read  “…from the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God…”. There can be  little doubt  that  the phrase  "the seven Spirits which are before his throne" refers to the Holy Spirit, who has given  to the church at Pentecost after Christ had ascended  to His heavenly throne.  From John’s  Gospel  we learn that the Holy Spirit is given  as the indwelling Spirit  (Jn 14:17) for the help,  comfort  and peace of the church (Jn. 14:16,26; 16:7). He is the   dispenser of the  peace of God and of Jesus Christ. 

(iii)           THIRDLY: “… and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of  kings on  earth.” The Lord Jesus is now mentioned  as the third part in the dispensing of this wonderful grace and resultant peace. Regarding Him we learn three  things:

a.      He is the faithful witness:  As faithful witness  He came to bear  the testimony of God’s truth.  To Pilate  He said: “For this purpose I have come  into the world- to bear witness to the truth.” (Jn. 18:37). Jesus did not come to teach   His own ideas. “My teaching is not mine, but His who sent me.” (Jn. 7:16);  “…I speak of that which I have seen  with my Father…” (Jn.8:38); “…I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as  the Father taught me...” (Jn. 8:28). Jesus remained a faithful witness  until  His death  on a cross, and so in life and in death you may rely on His Word: "Grace to you and peace!"

b.     He is  the firstborn of the dead:  This refers  to Christ’s resurrection. The resurrection  is the ground of our hope. Because He lives, we  who trust in Him shall  also live, even though we must first die (Jn.11:25,26). That thought  fills us with joy and peace. Herman Hoeksema says:  “For, mark you well, He is not merely risen: He is the first begotten of the dead! And the firstborn is he that "opens the womb" and prepares the way for all his brethren. Thus Christ was in the womb of death, was born from death, opened the womb of death for all those whom the Father gave Him. And it is He, standing in that spot of glorious light, Whom you see from your present darkness, Who calls to you: "Grace and peace to you!" [2]

c.      He is the ruler of  kings on earth:    Christ is ruler of kings on earth! What an affirmation! This is a confirmation of Psalm 2 (a Messianic Psalm), where God says  to the rebellious kings of the world (Ps. 2:6-12): “As for me I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill… therefore O kings be wise; be warned , O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry and you perish in the  way.”  Christ is in charge of this world. How the  seven churches needed to know that, and how we need to know that today!  No Nero, Domitian , Hitler, Stalin, Lenin- no ruler  will ultimately  resist Him whom God  has anointed as King and  set up on  His holy hill. The church  which is in Christ is perfectly safe. Her salvation and her  final victory are  certain.  Jesus did remind His people  in Jn. 16:33 : “In the world you will  have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.",  and therefore  we may believe  these words:  "Grace to you, and peace!"

3.     The Doxology :  ( vv. 5b-8)
As the church  receives this  benediction or  blessing of grace and peace from her Lord so  she  joyfully  responds and confesses what she believes about  the Lord Jesus Christ, her Saviour: “To Him  who loves us, and  has freed us (lit. washed us) from our sins by (lit. in) His  blood, and made us a kingdom  and priests  to His  God and Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen."  

The doxology affirms:
(i)               The love of Jesus  for us.
(ii)             The fact that He has freed us by washing our sins away. We are freed not only  from the past guilt of sin, but  also from the present power  and  corruption of sin.  “The law of the Spirit of life has set you free in  Christ  Jesus  from the law of sin and death” (Rom 8:2)
(iii)           The fact  that we belong to a new kingdom  and are under a new rule.
(iv)            The fact that we occupy a new priesthood – a new system of worship in which we do not worship idols, but  the God and Father  of our Lord Jesus Christ.  A priest is one who is completely consecrated  to God’s service. The church is a worshipping priesthood.  At the coming of our Lord Jesus,  when the eternal kingdom of glory shall be ushered in, when all the elect shall have been gathered in, and  when the body of the Lord shall be complete, when  we will have received our resurrection bodies, and when all things shall be made new,  and  when the tabernacle of God shall be with men in the new heavens and the new earth,  then shall this kingdom of priests be fully realized.

With this in mind  we can say: “unto Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen!”  He is, of course always  glorious  apart from us, and He has dominion , even now, but from our perspective  we are not quite there yet in terms of our experience. Since the victory is accomplished, we need to constantly remind ourselves of the endgame.  Jesus shall reign! Don’t give up.   

4.     Behold, He is coming! (vv.7-8)

Our text  closes  with  a solemn   assurance of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: "Behold, he is coming with the  clouds, and every eye shall see him, even those who pierced him, and all  the tribes of the earth will  wail (or mourn) on account of him. Even so, Amen. I am Alpha and Omega,  says  the Lord God,  who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty."
This refers to the final coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
·       It will be a personal  return. He Himself will come.
·        It will be a visible  return. "Every eye shall see him."
·       It will be  a time of universal wailing , when all those who did not trust in Him in this life will  know that they now stand judged before the Lord of glory. There will  be  a sense of anguish, misery and wasted opportunity. Repentance has been left too late. (Hell is truth known too late!). Who can speak of the misery of those who have rejected the Son of God? Oh  my friend,  do you have peace with God?
·        It will be a day of  utter joy  and bliss for the believer.  
·        It will be  an event  that  will mark the end of  history as we know it.
·        It will be a sudden, catastrophic event ( Matthew 24:29-31; 36-51).     

All this is very certain. The  word  of Him who is the  "Alpha and Omega”, the beginning and the end shall stand. He determines  all things in such a way that His word  is accomplished, His design is fulfilled, His end is reached.  He is coming, surely and irresistibly.

Peace, therefore, to you who look forward  to  the coming of the Lord in the midst of the conflict and sufferings of this present time!  Behold He comes! Amen !

[1] i.e. between the ascension and the descension  of Christ – the church age
[2] Herman Hoeksema : Behold He cometh , Presbyterian  & Reformed Publ. , p.21

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