Summary: We should fall at Jesus' feet in joyous worship when we realize what He has done for us
Exposition of Revelation 1:4-8
Last week, we began studying the Book of Revelation. We were reminded of the Book as being a comedy in the sense that it ends in a eternal wedding for believers and a tragedy to unbelievers ending in eternal death. We also remember that John tells us that what He is giving here is a full disclosure of what he had been told. Therefore every one who hears or reads Revelation is responsible to apply the words of this prophecy to their own lives. This means that we must learn it to know what is to be applied. If we will keep to its covenant blessings for faithfulness, then the end is a blessing. If we fail, then the covenant curses will come upon us. This is basically similar to what was offered Israel in the Book of Deuteronomy. They failed to keep the covenant and brought upon themselves catastrophic judgment.
This sounds scary to us as well. Who could keep to God’s covenant promises? Are we any better than Israel. But we can take comfort from the pen of Martin Luther who reminds us “If we did in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing”. That sounds like bad news, but listen to what comes next: “Were not the right man on our side, the man of God’s own choosing”. We must understand that the battle is the Lord’s who will keep those who are His.
Exposition of the Text
Verses 4-5: John, to the seven churches which are in Asia—Grace and peace to you from He Who is, Who always has been, and who is coming and from the seven spirits which are before His throne, and from Jesus Christ the witness, the faithful, the firstborn from the dead and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
The writer again simply refers to himself simply as John, meaning that he was well known. He does not try to impress his being an apostle on them. He is simply in this book a fellow servant, a brother, or simply John. Being an apostle, he would receive great honor in the New Jerusalem. Yet he is humble even as Jesus was humble in his coming to earth in a lowly manger. This would be a good lesson for all of God’s servants today. So many today want to lord it over the brethren like they were some potentate whom God could not get along without. We are all servants. We are to bow before the Lord only. Even one of the angels refused worship. So who are we mere humans to demand others fall at our feet?
The seven churches were real churches. Whether or not they also represented church ages as well, as some think, is an open question, but these churches really existed and should be treated as such in interpreting the book. They all were in what is today southwest Turkey and the circuit of them made a semicircle. The messenger John would have sent would have started in Ephesus and ended in Laodicea. These were real churches with real gifts as well as real problems from which we can learn much.
Grace and peace was a unique Christian blessing which combines the greetings of East and West. The Jews greeted each other with the word ‘shalom’ which means peace and well-being. And the Greeks greeted each other with the word ‘charis’ which means grace. God’s church is not a church for a particular race of people, but rather to the ‘whosoever’ of every tribe under heaven. Christians everywhere greeted each other with these words. They were also used, as here in letters.
John’s ‘grace and peace’ is by far the most elaborate in the New Testament. Paul typically used: “Grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” And Peter uses: “Grace and peace to you, be multiplied.” But the greeting in Revelation is Trinitarian if the seven spirits of God is understood as the Holy Spirit. It is hard enough for us to understand how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct from each harder and yet One God. No less hard is it to compare the seven spirits here with the Holy Spirit, unless the number seven, the number of God’s perfection is taken into account. The number seven is prominent everywhere in Scripture all the way from Genesis, but is most prominent in this book.
The first person mentioned in the greeting is the Father who is called the “One Who is, the One Who always has been, and the coming One. The Greek here is especially strained but refers back to Exodus 3:14 where the Greek translation of the Hebrew states “I AM, the One Who is”, translation mine. The sentence “I am” is the simplest of all sentences, yet it describes the most complex being in and above the universe itself. But this simple sentence is very profound in that while it is a complete thought, it is highly defined. ‘I am’ is usually complemented by a noun or adjective to complete its meaning, such as “I am strong.” Here the word ‘strong’ defines or limits the meaning of a very abstract sentence in a concrete way. Not only does it say “I am strong” but it also says “I am not weak.” But it also does not say “I am good looking.” I may or may not be that as well, but ‘strong’ does not mean ‘good looking’. This means that adding anything to I AM limits Who God is. But God is beyond all limits, so adding anything to the I AM makes God less than Who He is. It is wonderful for our understanding when He allows these limiters to help our understanding. So when God says “I AM your Shepherd (Yahweh Rophe), we can get a feeling of comfort in that God looks after us like a Shepherd cares for his sheep. But we must always remember that God cannot be limited by the word ‘shepherd’. He is much more than that. We can say that “God is Love” so long as we do not make it equivalent to “Love is God”. For although one of God’s attributes is love, God is more than be contained even by this great word. So God revealing Himself to Moses as I AM necessarily keeps Him from being labeled. Moses wanted to know God’s name. Knowing someone’s name is to get a handle on that person. It becomes a means of coercion. For example, when we want to get the attention of our son to take out the garbage we use the name to get a handle on him. We would say for example: “John Paul Whitaker, take out the trash! Now!” Note the full name is used to get attention. But we must be reminded like Moses, it is God who needs to get a handle on us and not vice-versa. This I AM is the name of the Sovereign of the universe.