The Seven Churches of Asia: Introduction-Revelation 1 Pt.1

gods20throne20in20heaven_clip_image001_0001The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John, 2 who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3 Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it;for the time is near. (Vs. 1-3)

The apostle John wastes no time in presenting the theme and perhaps also the title of this writing as “the Revelation of Jesus Christ”. The “revelation” (apocalupsis) is something that is being unveiled which was formerly hidden.  It is the idea to take something concealed or a kept secret and make is plain to the open eye. (Romans 16:25) That which is revealed “is primarily not a reference not to predictive revelation but to divine disclosure. (Beale P. 184) In other words the revelation is “God-breathe” (2 Timothy 3:15). It is not the revelation of John but that of Jesus Christ. It also demonstrates the grace of our God in communicating with us the precious and uplifting truths within. The words “of Jesus Christ” may be taken in two different ways. It can be said to mean the revelation that is given by our Lord as a revealer [i]or it can be taken to mean the revelation which has as its subject the Lord Jesus.[ii]  The latter has much evidence to concur such as the usage in passages such as 1 Corinthians 1:9-11, Galatians 1:12 or in the book itself (vs. 12:17; 14:12 ect…) The argument however that seems to me more persuasive is that of the revelation being by the Lord Jesus due to the fact that the chain that is shown in the following verses points to Christ as the instrument of revelation which follows throughout the book (22:16,20)

We read that this revelation is to unveil “the things which must soon take place”. The idea of something “soon”(en tacei) would refer to something that is seemingly just around the corner, imminent or rapidly on its way. There is a parallel that certainly could be alluded to in the book of Daniel and in particular chapter 2.

The   revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must   soon take place. He   has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come. (Daniel 2:28)

The language that is found in the expression certainly seems to point to the idea that something was going to be happening in the not-so-distant future.  What Daniel was told would happen “in days to come”, John sees the fulfilment of these things as “soon taking place”. Beale sees this language not as the fulfillment of the 2nd coming of Christ as much as the “quickness” language showing the inauguration of the kingdom, persecution and God’s final victory in Christ along with the on-going aspect of these things. (see pages 183-184)[iii]  There has been the argument made that “shortly come to pass” would be linked only with chapters 2 & 3 but the same expression is found at the end of the book (chapter 22) which would seem strange if the expression limited to merely two chapters.  What is most striking and comforting is John’s use of the term “must” It is not enough to say that the things written are going to happen but that they will absolutely happen and are inescapable. What a comforting thought that God’s final victory will take place outside the desires of any creature.

There is a chain of chosen messengers who have been granted the privilege of handing down the divine revelation of those things which “God gave him to show to His bondservants.” The sequence begins with God then follows with Christ, the angel and John. The final recipients that are to be blessed from the reading of the words of this prophecy are the Bondservants who, in my idea, are those who are the people of God within the gatherings.

V3 states to us the first beatitude[iv] in which a blessing is given to the one who reads and those who hear and heed. This book is often ignored or passed over by Christians whether in their private study or as a corporate gathering who study the scriptures together. It is also to many an intellectual exercise or the basis of many conspiracy theories running wild in our day but sadly when we subject ourselves to these things we miss the real value of this letter. Remember that this book is an unveiling and it would seem odd to say that there is some mysterious puzzle which lies within that is not worth our wrestling with the text. The singular “he who reads” and the plural “those who hear..heed” would refer to the historical fact that in the gatherings there was a single orator and the rest would hear the words of the letter. This was mainly due to a lack of manuscripts. The book is a reminder of the final conquering of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We find hope in this very concept even in our daily struggles. The language of the nearness of this event has provoked some different interpretations. Some see the thought the time being “near” as being something “imminent” but not necessarily “immediate” (Allen) which seems, at least in my opinion, to be stretching language beyond its means if we are to say “near” is well over 2000 years in the future. Mauro argues that “it is evident that neglect of the book would have been of little moment if the fulfillment of the prophecies written therein was not to begin for several thousand years. (P.49) The thought of “the time is near” would have been tremendously important to the original recipients of the letter who were facing terrible persecution. It should be noted that though there was great blessing for those who are the readers & hearers; there was a great curse that followed those who didn’t (22:18-19)

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 the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood— 6 and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Basically these next texts serve as a greeting or a form of salutation to the recipients of the letter. These addressees are referred to the “seven churches of Asia”. I have always wondered why exactly he chose those seven churches in light of all the other churches in the surrounding areas. Beale believes that the term “seven” seems to be a favourite number in the OT to denote something that is complete. (7 days of creation) So not only is it referenced to seven literal churches but it is possible that it is also to the fullness of the church (universal church).[v] This way the address could be seen “literally” to those seven churches but also could apply to the church as a whole throughout history.

The phrase “He who is, was and is coming” seems to be expressing God’s transcendence throughout time and history in light of His Sovereignty. It is really not all that different from other expressions such as first and last (v.17), Alpha & Omega (v.8) or the beginning and the end. (22:13) Beale writes:

(God) not merely as present at the beginning, middle, and end of history, but as the incomparable sovereign Lord over history, who is thus able to bring prophecy to fullfilment and to deliver his people despite overwhelming odds, whether from Egypt, Babylon, or the nations.[vi]

We find the expression in 11:17-18 and 16:5-7 which we will deal with later on however it is worth mentioning that these verses are speaking of the sovereign consummation of the future.

The number seven is presented to us once again in being associated with the “seven Spirits”. Most commentators agree that this must be speaking of the fullness of the Holy Spirit within the church as a whole. There seems to be a parallel found in Zechariah 4:2-7 especially with the lampstand language to substantiate this:

“He said to me, “What do you see?” And I said, “I see, and behold, a lampstand all of gold with its bowl on the top of it, and its seven lamps on it with seven spouts belonging to each of the lamps which are on the top of it; 3also two olive trees by it, one on the right side of the bowl and the other on its left side.” 4Then I said to the angel who was speaking with me saying, “What are these, my lord?” 5So the angel who was speaking with me answered and said to me, “Do you not know what these are?” And I said, “No, my lord.” 6Then he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel saying, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts. 7’What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become a plain; and he will bring forth the top stone with shouts of “Grace, grace to it!”‘”

I did find it odd to see the “Spirit” in the 2nd position rather than the third in light of the usual Trinitarian equation. The Spirit is seen as being “before the throne” hence is seemingly in the role of representative. In light of the struggles of the believers in the province of Asia minor the idea of the Holy Spirit of God actually working on their behalf would have brought much needed comfort.

sevenThe writing is said to be “to” the seven churches but it is “from” God who is revealed as “Him who is, who was and is coming” (Father), the Seven Spririts (Holy Spirit) and finally the Lord Jesus in the 5th & 6th verses. The description of the Lord Jesus is used to comfort the saints in those seven churches who were in danger of compromising their testimony due to extreme persecution. The picture painted by John would have been a tremendous encouragement to them and yet at the same time a stern warning against unfaithfulness. I have often wondered if this letter is more popular in middle east countries as they could value the idea of suffering for Christ to a far larger degree. Perhaps our lack of interest flows here in North America as to the study of this letter finds its root in the lack of tribulations in comparison to our brethren in Islamic countries.

The term “faithful witness” is a term that reflects back to His time on the earth. The term “witness” is from the Greek marturia which seemingly denotes the idea of one being a faithful representative but it is used of Christians in this book as a means of identifying their faithfulness unto death. (Rev. 1:9; 11:7; 17:6) We derive our word “martyr” from this Greek word however the idea isn’t that Christ’s life was taken from Him but that He was faithful in giving it.

The 2nd description given by John is that of the firstborn of the dead. The firstborn denotes in this instance the position as the first to be raised from the dead. We see this terminology found also in Colossians 1:18 where it is also speaking of Christ supremacy over all things including death. Beale would see the title of “firstborn” in this instance at pointing to the inauguration of the new creation and His kingship (Rev. 3:14; Colossians 1:18)

Finally John gives us a third title that was absolutely staggering to those who were suffering in those days. Christ is not only the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead but He was also, at that time, the ruler of the kings of the earth! It is worth noting that it doesn’t say He is the ruler over the redeemed people even though this is true as we will see in v.6 but the point John is trying to make is that He is a ruler over the rulers of the earth! This is similar to saying He is “The King of Kings and Lord of Lords”. The expression the kings of the earth is used elsewhere to define antagonizers (Rev. 6:15; 17:2; 18:3,9; 19:19) The rulership of Christ over His enemies began at the resurrection and continues even unto today.

To summarize the threefold expression: This faithful witness, firstborn of the dead and ruler over the kings of the earth is the conquering one who persevered to victory over His enemies. These are all pointing back to His earthly ministry![vii] The Pharisees, Pilate, the Jews and the Gentiles would have thought they had ridded themselves of this one claiming to be the Son of God. They would have seen Him as being exposed as a fraud because they had vanquished Him by putting Him to death. The Lord Jesus allowed Himself to be put to death (John 10:17-18), He rose from the dead in bodily form (Luke 24:36-43) demonstrating that He conquered them in proving who He said He was and now He is at the right hand of the Father ruling over these powers, principalities and dominions. John would have expected them to do the same! Even though the rulers of the earth were going to put them to death, they needed to be faithful to the end! These rulers would have thought they had won against these faithful Christians but they could rest assured that they would be raised again from the dead and that these rulers were actually being ruled by a far greater king than they! This greater king, our Lord Jesus, had placed His affections upon the recipients of this writing. This love was one that was made apparent in their being released from an even greater ruler than these kings mainly sin. They may have been under the penalty of death by these earthly rulers but from the standpoint of the true King they were declared as no longer being under any penalty. The means by which we have been released[viii] is by the precious blood of the faithful one Himself, the lamb of God.

The blessing of salvation was not all that was purchased for us at the cross but John states that He has made us to be a kingdom[ix], priests to His God and Father! We find a significant parallel to this text in Exodus 19:6: and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.” Our being a Kingdom and priests is not something that only has a future effect but was a present reality to the saints and I believe is today! The idea of a kingdom of those under the king is what John is attempting to present. Beale makes an interesting point in that we are never really told what the functions as priest and as subjects of the kingdom entails at least not explicitly. (P.193)We must look to the Lord Jesus as to how He fulfilled the office and gather our roles from His example. The functioning as priests hints to the fact that we are now functioning as Israel in offering our offerings to the Lord in spirit and in truth (John 4:21-24). The ultimate function of our praise is that “to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever”!

[i] Subjective genitive

[ii] Objective genitive

[iii] In order to substantiate this argument, Beale argues from 4 points mainly that 1) Christ reigns now over the kings (v.5)- 2) The Son of Man vision (v.7) – 3) The seven lampstands fulfillment (Zechariah 4)- 4) The fulfillment of Isaiah 49:2 & 11:4 (v.16)

[iv] The other “blessings” are found in 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7 and 22:15

[v] “such being the significance of the phrase “seven Spirits”, we are warranted in assuming the parallel phrase, “seven churches”, in the same verse, is to be taken as embracing all the churches of that time and of all time subsequent; these making in their totality “one body”. For in Ephesians 4:4 mention is made of the “one body”, as well as of the “one Spirit”. (of the things which must soon come to pass, P. Mauro, Reiner, Pages 52-53)

[vi] Beale P. 188-

[vii] Faithful witness (John 1:18; 17:25; 18:37), Firstborn of the dead (1 Cor. 15:20; Col. 1:18) and ruler of the kings of the earth (Psalm 89:28; Hebrews 1)

[viii] There are some who would prefer the reading “washed” rather than “released”. There is a textual variant here in which two different but similar Greek terms are used mainly lousanti (to wash) or lusanti (to release). Mr. Allen argues that it is much easier to drop a letter than to add one.

[ix] The TR reading can be rendered as “kings’ rather than the idea of ‘Kingdom”


One thought on “The Seven Churches of Asia: Introduction-Revelation 1 Pt.1

  1. Thank you for this posting. I read it this morning at a time when it gave me great comfort. Verses 5-6 with your comments is what I found so comforting. I really think even though we may not suffer physical persecution in the so called “Christian countries” we are being attacked very strongly and need the message of this book to help us persevere.
    I did not do much study of this book until I was enlightened to see the tremendous message to the church throughout the end times.
    Keep up the good work. From the postings one senses you are doing much study and meditation.

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