4 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, 5 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 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 7 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.
8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” – Revelation 1:4-8 ESV
The book of Revelation is filled with mysteries and wonders. It contains fantastic images of never-before-seen creatures and indescribable scenes. John is going to share his personal visions of heaven and reveal the sometimes disturbing nature of events far into the future. There will be times when his words confuse and confound us. And there will be other times when what he has to say comforts and encourages us. We will find ourselves tempted to decipher his somewhat cryptic messages and place meanings on every word he says. Reading Revelation can be like working a puzzle, where you feel the constant need to be in puzzle-solving mode. But it is a book that must be read with patience and discernment. It is not a riddle to be solved or a complicated equation which requires us to find the one and only answer. As its name implies, Revelation is a revealing of something. And John gives us a clue as to what the core message of that revelation is all about: “Behold, he is coming with the clouds” (Revelation 1:7 ESV).
John told us right from the start that this was “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place” (Revelation 1:1 ESV). God gave this message to Jesus, who then made it know to John by passing it to him through an angel. And because John wrote down all that he saw, it has now been passed on to us. John “bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw” (Revelation 1:2 ESV). The book we are reading contains the revelation of Jesus – not His incarnation, like the gospels contain – but concerning His second coming. Throughout the Old Testament, there were prophecies concerning the coming of Jesus to earth. They spoke of him being born to a woman (Genesis 3:15), who would be a virgin (Isaiah 7:14), and His birth would take place in the town of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). They predicted His rejection by His own people (Isaiah 53:3), His betrayal (Psalm 41:9), His trials (Isaiah 50:6, 53:5), His sacrificial death (Isaiah 53:10-12), and His resurrection (Psalm 16:10-11; 49:15).
But Revelation is about something altogether different. It deals with a different coming of the Lord – His second coming. This book contains a message to the church of Jesus Christ regarding His future return. And while Revelation is filled with disturbing images and predictions of judgment and coming tribulation, it is meant to be an encouragement. We are told, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near” (Revelation 1:3 ESV). The majority of what is contained in this book is future-oriented. It tells us of things yet to come. But it should impact how we live in the present. It is a reminder that our God is in control and that His plan is not yet complete. His Son came and, by His death, made salvation possible. But His Son is coming again, and when He does, He will make the restoration of all things possible, including that of the people of God, the nation of Israel.
But to whom was this message of revelation intended? What audience did God have in mind when He provided the content in this book to John? Verse 4 tells us. John addressed his letter to “the seven churches that are in Asia” (Revelation 1:4 ESV), and in the following chapters, he will disclose exactly which churches he had in mind: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. But why these churches? And why only these seven? Was his message only applicable to them and no one else? The consensus of opinion is that these churches were chosen because they provide a comprehensive representation of the church over the ages. These seven churches varied in size and spirituality. They existed in different cultural contexts and, as we will see, their spiritual health and vitality was all over the map. It is believed that these seven churches are intended to represent the church of Jesus Christ over all the ages, since the church’s birth on the day of Pentecost, recorded in the Book of Acts. In Scripture, the number seven is always used to convey the idea of completeness. These particular churches were chosen because their stories provide us with a comprehensive outline of how the church has handled its role in the world over the centuries. To a certain degree, we will find that each of these churches, as they are described, have existed in every age, including our own. There is the faithful church, the lukewarm church, the compromising church, the suffering church and the dead church. But these seven churches may also provide us with a historical representation of the church over the ages, with each representing a different phase or dispensation in the life of the church of Jesus Christ. We will explore that idea in greater detail later.
John addresses these seven church with the following salutation:
4 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, 5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. – Revelation 1:4-5 ESV
In these two short verses, we have the inclusion of all three members of the Trinity. John refers to “him was is and who was and who is to come.” This is most likely a reference to the eternal nature of God the Father. The seven spirits are believed to be a reference to the Holy Spirit. Once again, the number seven is most often used in Scripture to refer to completeness or perfection. By saying “the seven spirits”, John is speaking of the Spirit’s diverse, and all-encompassing ministry. Just as the seven churches represent all churches over all time, the “seven spirits” represent the Holy Spirit in all His glory and majesty – in other words, His completeness and perfection. Finally, John mentions Jesus Christ the faithful witness. He was faithful in the sense that He did what God had commissioned Him to do. He came and witnessed to His own role as Savior and Messiah. He preached of the Kingdom of Heaven and the availability of a restored relationship with God through faith in Him. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT). And John refers to Jesus as the firstborn of the dead. He was the first to be resurrected, but He will not be the last. The apostle Paul wrote about this very thing.
18 Christ is also the head of the church,
which is his body.
He is the beginning,
supreme over all who rise from the dead.
So he is first in everything. – Colossians 1:18 ESV
And when Paul had stood before King Agrippa, facing false accusations and the possibility of death, he told the king that Old Testament prophets had clearly predicted that “the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:23 ESV). It is because of Jesus’ resurrection that we have hope. His resurrection is what guarantees our future resurrection. Paul reminds us:
20 But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.
21 So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. 22 Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. 23 But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back. – 1 Corinthians 15:20-23 NLT
Which brings us back to John’s primary message in this book. “Behold, He is coming!” John reminds us that Jesus loved us and freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom of priests to his God and Father. But that’s not all. He’s coming again and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him” (Revelation 1:7 ESV). This is the point of the book. This is why it is written to the church, the body of Christ. It is a reminder to us that God is not done. His plan is not yet complete. There is still more to come. And John wraps up his salutation with following words from God: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8 ESV). God is the everlasting one, who has always been. But so is His Son. Listen to the following words, spoken by Jesus, and recorded later in the book of Revelation.
12 “Look, I am coming soon, bringing my reward with me to repay all people according to their deeds. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” – Revelation 22:12-13 NLT
It is Jesus who is going to bring about the culmination, the end, of God’s grand redemptive plan. His first coming made the redemption of mankind possible. His second coming will make the restoration of all creation and the final glorification of His people possible. The words, “Behold, he is coming” should bring us great joy and provide us with confidence because our God is not yet done. The best is yet to come.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.