Sunday, 16 August 2020
John, to the seven churches which 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, Revelation 1:4
With the introductory verses complete, the greeting now opens with the author simply stating his name, “John.” Nothing else is given, such as title, father’s name, etc. Because of the lack of any of these, it is obvious that the author is widely recognized. It adds a high note of surety that this is the apostle John – the author of the gospel and three epistles ascribed to him as well.
His address is “to the seven churches.” The number seven, throughout Scripture, is of great significance. EW Bullinger defines it as the number of spiritual perfection. These are not the only seven churches that are found in the area being addressed, and so the number seven defines not “all” the churches but rather “these select” churches.
The reason for selecting these particular churches will become evident as the letter proceeds. In short, it is because each typifies any given church at any given time. Some churches will face this issue, while others may face another issue. However, all can be categorized by either the strengths or the failings that are mentioned by the Lord here in Revelation. Therefore, the seven churches represent the fullness of the one true church founded on Jesus Christ. It is these seven churches “which are in Asia.”
The term “Asia” does not carry the same significance today that it once did. Rather, it speaks of the Roman proconsular province known as Asia. It is in the western area of Asia Minor and is a part of the country of Turkey today. It is referred to throughout the book of Acts, and both Paul and Peter refer to it in their letters, such as in 1 Corinthians 16:19.
These are Gentile churches in Gentile areas. It is important to understand this, lest the intent of the letters to the churches get twisted in order to justify the heretical doctrine of hyperdispensationalism (which will be addressed as we continue through the verses). Christ Jesus gave a beautiful picture of this in the feeding of the multitudes during His ministry.
The two relevant passages are found in the gospels, where He fed five thousand and where he fed four thousand. After feeding them, the pieces were gathered up, and the exact amount gathered was recorded –
But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still hardened? 18 Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments did you take up?”
They said to Him, “Twelve.”
20 “Also, when I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of fragments did you take up?”
And they said, “Seven.” Mark 8:17-20
The words translated as “baskets” and “large basket” are entirely different. One is a kophinos, or small handbasket. The other is a spuris, or large plaited basket. So large was one spuris that it was used in Acts 9:25 to lower Paul down from the wall of the city to allow him to escape. A point was being made by mentioning the baskets and the number of them that would only be realized later.
There were twelve small baskets representing the twelve tribes of Israel, from whom would come a small harvest – a remnant (Romans 11:5, for example). There were seven large baskets representing the seven churches from whom would come a large harvest, a harvest which has continued on for two thousand years. These seven churches of Asia are given to represent the one church. To them, John next says, “Grace to you and peace.”
Grace (charis in Greek) is unmerited favor; it cannot be earned. This is the common greeting among the Greek people. Peace however is the common greeting among the Hebrew people. In their language, the word is shalom. This is more than a greeting for calm or quiet. Rather, it is a state of wholeness and completion in all ways. John unites the two terms just as the church is united between Jew and Gentile. This grace precedes the peace because only after receiving the grace of God can a person experience the peace of God. That is extended, as it says, “from Him who is and who was and who is to come.”
In this greeting, there is a veiled and yet sure reference to the Trinity. The words “from Him who is and who was and who is to come” are a united thought in one clause. It is, at this time, referring to God the Father. This is certain because verse 5 will continue by saying, “and from Jesus Christ.” However, the term “who is and who was and who is to come” will also be used to refer to Jesus in verse 8.
The term will also be used in Revelation 4:8 and 11:17, and will be discussed at that time. Therefore, John is setting up a theological tower that supports the notion that Jesus Christ is fully God. This is perfectly evident in how he is structuring his words. Next, John says, “and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne.”
This is a reference to the Holy Spirit who manifests the character and nature of God in a sevenfold manner. This is seen in veiled ways in the Old Testament, such as in Isaiah 11 where both the Son and the Spirit are referred to –
“There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse,
And a Branch shall grow out of his roots.
2 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 of the fear of the Lord.” Isaiah 11:2
Upon the Son rests the “sevenfold Spirit” – The Spirit of the (1) Lord, meaning Yehovah; the Spirit of (2) wisdom and (3) understanding; the Spirit of (4) counsel and (5) might; the Spirit of (6) knowledge and of (7) the fear of the Lord.
To more get a fuller understanding of John’s use of his words here, Vincent’s Word Studies provides more insight –
The Father is Him which is, and which was, and which is to come. This is a paraphrase of the unspeakable name of God (Exodus 3:14), the absolute and unchangeable. Ὁ ὢν, the One who is, is the Septuagint translation of Exodus 3:14, “I am the ὁ ὢν (I am ):” “ ὁ ὢν (I am ), hath sent me unto you.” The One who was ( ὁ ἦν ). The Greek has no imperfect participle, so that the finite verb is used. Which is and which was form one clause, to be balanced against which is to come. Compare Revelation 11:17; Revelation 16:5; and “was ( ἦν ) in the beginning with God” (John 1:2). Which is to come ( ὁ ἐρχόμενος ). Lit., the One who is coming. This is not equivalent to who shall be; i.e., the author is not intending to describe the abstract existence of God as covering the future no less than the past and the present. If this had been his meaning, he would have written ὁ ἐσόμενος , which shall be. The phrase which is to come would not express the future eternity of the Divine Being. The dominant conception in the title is rather that of immutability. Further, the name does not emphasize so much God’s abstract existence, as it does His permanent covenant relation to His people. Hence the phrase which is to come, is to be explained in accordance with the key-note of the book, which is the second coming of the Son (Revelation 1:7; Revelation 22:20).
Life application: The seven churches fanned out about 50 miles from Ephesus, but (as noted) they are not the only seven churches in that area. Rather, they were carefully chosen because they had specific problems that needed to be addressed and which represent the same situations that have crept up in churches since that time. In other words, they are emblematic of the entire Church Age – from Pentecost to the Rapture.
Also, the specific wording here in Revelation provides a clear and unambiguous indication of the eternality of Jesus. He is not a created being. Rather, He is the eternal God. As the thought concerning God the Father in this verse is later in verse 8 applied to Jesus, it shows that Christ is fully God. The wording here, taken together with the coming verses, demonstrate this. It is a similar analogy to Hebrews 13:8 – “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
This is a main purpose of the book of Revelation. It is to provide a full understanding that Jesus is God, and that humanity is accountable to God by how we receive this truth. We cannot call on a “Jesus” meaning “another Jesus” (see 2 Corinthians 11:4) who is a created being and expect to be saved. Such a teaching is heretical. Jesus Christ is the central focus of the biblical message. He is the incarnation of the Lord (Yehovah) of the Old Testament. He is God.
Oh God! We proclaim that Jesus is Lord. We acknowledge that He is the One to whom our hearts, our love, our devotion, and our allegiance belongs. He is the One who reveals Your heart to us, and it is through faith in Him that we receive the blessed and precious Holy Spirit. Thank You for Jesus Christ our Lord who makes reconciliation to You possible! Hallelujah and Amen.