The Seven Churches of Asia: Introduction- Revelation 1 Pt. 2

Alpha and OmegaBehold, He is coming with the clouds, andevery eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth willmourn over Him. So it is to be. 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.” (Vs.7-8)

There are two quotations found in v.7 which give the background of the verse. The first is found in Daniel 7:13-14 “Behold, He is coming with the clouds” where Daniel is looking ahead at the coming Messiah. Daniel is referring to Him as the Son of Man in light of His rule over all the nations. The “coming with the clouds” was a well known expression in the Old Testament (Ezekiel 1:4-28) but I feel especially when used in light of passage where it is associated with Judgment.[i] (Zephaniah 1:15; Psalm 97:2)The quotation is substantiating and complimenting what John had already stated in v.5 (ruler of the kings of the earth). The 2nd quotation is taken from Zechariah 12:10-14 where God is demonstrating how He will destroy all of Israel’s enemies and be the supreme conqueror. The language is also parallel to that of Matthew 24:30 “And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory. The interpretation of the text in Matthew (and also Mark 13:26) would seem to me being speaking, at least partially,  of the events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Basically the two passages quoted are related to God’s finally defeating all His enemies as King and ruler of this earth. Not only will those who had pierced Him mourn but so will “all the tribes of the earth” which is a broadening of the text in Zechariah. The term “tribes” is used to denote a more universal idea in Revelation (11:9; 13:7; 14:6). The term “mourning” has had many different interpretations. Some have linked it with the idea of repentance and others feel it has a more emotional and terrifying meaning.[ii]  (See Revelation 6:16) Paul seems to be presenting this idea in Philippians 2:10-11 “so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” Where the idea of a final acknowledgement of Christ’s Lordship will be finally concurred.[iii] One final note worth mentioning is that in the text of John 19:34-37 where we read:

 34But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. 35And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe. 36For these things came to pass to fulfill the Scripture, “NOT A BONE OF HIM SHALL BE BROKEN.” 37And again another Scripture says, “THEY SHALL LOOK ON HIM WHOM THEY PIERCED.”

 It is interesting to pay special attention to the fact that John, who wrote the apocalypse, states that the actions of this soldier that “these things came to pass to fulfill the scripture” which seems to point not only to the quotation from Exodus 12:46 but also pointing to the fulfillment of Zechariah 12. Beale seems to see this as relating back to his understanding of the “already/not yet” where the events of the first coming where the inauguration while the 2nd coming will bring the consummation. I think this is correct in harmonizing the past fulfilment and the future fulfilment.[iv]

To further the idea presented in v.7 in the Lord being presented as the one who will conquer His enemies in the final day, John brings out other expressions to put emphasis on the Sovereign rule of His kingdom. How can we be sure God will be victorious over His enemies? The answer is because He has always ruled throughout history! His sovereignty has existed as long as God has existed. God transcends time and history, He created them and has ruled over them. The Alpha & Omega (AW) are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet and should be taken in parallel with the expression “first and the last, beginning and the end” (Rev. 22:13) The expression is linked with the term “Lord God” which is referencing the Father in this particular instance and is being used as the“self-identification of God (Johnson) but it is also used of the Son. This is very important in that it the giving of such a title or attribute is surely not coincidental. The apostle John identifies, as we will later see, Christ as Yahweh by rendering to Him these expressions.

I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, 11 saying, “Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.” (Vs. 9-11)

The next small section is where the apostle expresses his commission to writer on a scroll what He was about to see. This commission is the foundation for everything that will be written over the course of the next 22 chapters. This next section defines the authority and weight of the writing due to its source which is mainly God. This is not very different than what is proposed to us elsewhere in scripture where we are told that All Scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16 NIV), that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (2 Peter 1:20-21) and that to read the words of scripture were to be listening to the very voice of Jehovah. (Matthew 22:9-32)

John begins by communicating a word of comfort to the beneficiaries of his writing by stating that he was a “brother and fellow partaker” with them. John could say that he is a “fellow partaker” of these things only because he had been faithful despite hardship. There is no mention of his apostleship or eldership but he is showing them that he is equal with them in a threefold manner mainly: Tribulation[v], Kingdom and perseverance (endurance). All three are united by one definite article before the term “tribulation”. They are distinct entities, though united[vi] and the article shows that John and his readers are united in His suffering and glory.[vii]  What we must emphasize is that this participation in tribulation, kingdom and perseverance has a present sense. In other words, believers participate in these things today![viii] The foundation for our sharing in these things is found “in Jesus”.[ix] The means by which we take part in the Kingdom is by bringing glory to our King.[x] John expresses the means by which this glorification is achieved in that Christ is glorified through our perseverance. What brings perseverance is going through tribulations! (Romans 5:3; 8:23-25)The apostle knew all about hardship since he wrote these words during his expulsion to the Island of Patmos.

300px-seven_churches_of_asia_svgThe Island of Patmos was an Island Southwest from Ephesus. It was an Island approximately 10 miles long and 6 miles wide used by the Romans to exile those who they felt to be a threat to the peace they assumed they had established.  John was there primarily because he was a faithful steward! John was faithful to both the word of God and to the testimony of the Lord Jesus.[xi] The rejection of the word of God and testimony of Jesus was probably a way to denote his unfaithfulness to the pagan practices of his day. He refused to bow the knee to the gods of the pagan and offer up worship to them.

In v.10, we see John expressing why his writings were to be headed and treated with precaution. In other words he is expressing the authority of his writing by stating three things.

Firstly, John tells us that he was “in the spirit”. This is very much the same thought we find in Peter (Acts 10:10-15; 1 Peter 2:19-21) and Paul (2 Corinthians 12:1-4). The apostle was in the spirit as being a state that was outside the normal human consciousness (Mauro). William Hendriksen writes:

He is taken out of contact with the physical world round about him; he is “in the Spirit”. He sees, indeed, but not with physical eyes. He hears, but not with physical ears. He is in direct spiritual contact with his Saviour. He is alone…with God! Cf. Dn. 8:2; Is. 6:1; Ezk. 1:4; Acts 10:10; 11:5). He is wide awake and every avenue of his soul is wide open to the direct communication coming from God.[xii]

Further John states that this was done “on the Lord’s day”. The idea is that this vision came during the day of worship for the New Covenant. Many organizations and individuals have paralleled this expression with “the Day of the Lord” found throughout scripture.[xiii] The problem with this interpretation is that there is no reason to think that John was thinking of something in the future or was transported spiritually to this day since he was still in the midst of the Candlesticks that day. It is speaking of when he received the vision for these seven churches that existed in his time not a future time of the day of Jehovah.

Finally John’s seal of authority is authenticated by stating that he “heard behind him a loud voice like of a trumpet”. The voice like a trumpet takes us back to Mount Sinai where the sound of a trumpet caused those at the foot of the mountain to “tremble”.(Exodus 19:16-20) The sound of the trumpet signified that a call was made to take heed of what was coming. There was a command to act which came directly from Yahweh Himself. John’s words were written for those who read this prophecy to take heed that God Himself demanded action from them as we will see in chapters 2-3.[xiv]

The apostle gives us the final task he has been commissioned to do in that he was to “write in a book what you see, and send it…” [xv]This is quite the opposite than what we read in Daniel’s commission where he was to conceal the prophecies granted to him to record. The seven churches mentioned beforehand (v.4) are finally defined as those in Asia minor beginning with Ephesus and finishing with Laodicea.[xvi]

[i] Some have taken the “clouds” as something that is literal. They point to Acts. 1 where the Lord is ascending in the clouds and because He returns in this same way, they feel it must be literal clouds. With that said these same would associate it with the rapture of the church.

[ii] The term is kortomai which is used elsewhere in the Revelation as a wailing or lamenting- see 18:9; 9:20-21; 16:9,11

[iii] Mr. Allen didn’t seem to believe that the eye that will see Him is speaking of believers but limits this expression to non-believers and the nation of Israel.

[iv] Note that the verbs in v.7 are in the future “every eye WILL see Him”

[v] The tribulation spoken of her should not be confused with the great tribulation. The Christian went through tribulation in the generation that these words were penned (John 16:33; 2 Timothy 2:12) but there is still an eschatological tribulation to come that will be far more intense. (Mark 13:19)

[vi] Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, Daniel Wallace, Zondervan, Page 286

[vii] Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, Daniel Wallace, Zondervan, Page 287

[viii] After Paul’s stoning by the Jews and being left for dead, he continued faithfully in preaching the gospel and encouraging the saints to continue in the faith. Paul states that “through many tribulations we enter the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:22) I believe this is the same idea expressed by John in these verses.

[ix] The KJV/NKJV read “Jesus Christ”

[x] Johnson makes a good point that we “share” in the kingdom today in that we are subjects to its rule (Colossians 1:13) and also share in its blessing (Rev. 5:10 & Ephesians 2:6) until the day comes where it will be consummated. (James 2:5)

[xi] It is worth noting that the term “testimony” (marturia) is the same word used in v.5 where it is translated as “witness”.

[xii] More than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation, William Hendriksen, Page 55-56

[xiii] See Acts 2:20; 1 Cortinthians 1:8; 5:5; 2 Corinthians 1:14; 2 Peter 3:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:2

[xiv] The KJV & NKJV read “I am the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last” however there is only very small textual support for this reading and the Majority text along with the Critical text omit this reading.

[xv] The KJV/NKJV (hence the TR) add “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last” however I feel the evidence is overwhelming (both critical and Majority text leave it out) to leave this terminology out. It is probably a repetition from v.8.

[xvi] There are many commentators who feel that this mention of the specific churches are representing seven church ages to which denotes the seven ages that the church will unfold. I am not convinced of this interpretation since I feel that the historical evidence is wanting. I feel we should attempt as much as possible to interpret the historical portions of this book as just that “historical” without attempting to read too much into the terminology.

2 thoughts on “The Seven Churches of Asia: Introduction- Revelation 1 Pt. 2

  1. Enjoyed this post as well but would like to ask one question. Concerning your statement in footnote xvi
    “I feel we should attempt as much as possible to interpret the historical portions of this book as just that “historical” without attempting to read too much into the terminology.” Would you see these seven churches as types of churches that have existed throughout the church age and are also present today?

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