John to the Seven Churches
Nov 23, 2015
While the first three verses are John’s introduction to the book of Revelation, verse 4 begins John’s message with a salutatory introduction. Revelation 1:4, 5 says,
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 first-born of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
John’s book was addressed as a letter to the seven churches. It was not from John alone, but also from Jesus Christ. The pen was John’s, but the message was from Jesus.
Grace and Peace
He sends two things to the churches: grace and peace. This was Peter’s greeting in both of his epistles. It was Paul’s standard greeting as well (Titus 1:4; Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, etc.).
Grace appears to be a New Covenant addition which Jesus added (John 1:17) to the standard blessing. Peace should be understood as the standard Hebrew greeting: shalom, which is a blessing of wholeness in health, safety, completeness, well-being, and harmony.
There are other implications of shalom when used in related forms. The Wikipedia notes,
The conjugated verb has other spins that are worth noting, such as: "Hishtalem" meaning "it was worth it" or "Shulam" as "it was paid for" or "Meshulam" as in "paid in advance,” Hence one can jokingly say that, "when it's paid-for then there is peace."
John apparently had this in mind when he wrote in Revelation 1:5, “To Him who loves us, and released us from sins by His blood.” His calling was to make peace and to restore us to a full and complete relationship with God by paying the penalty for the sin of the whole world (1 John 2:2). Without the cross, which extended grace, shalom could only remain a hope and a longing for one qualified to make it happen. But when the legal problem of sin’s debt was resolved in the divine court, ending the controversy that the law had against us, the Judge was able to extend grace (a favorable ruling) to us.
Even more, grace describes us as being in a state of honor in the divine court, allowing the court to hear petitions and cases brought by intercessors.
Yahweh, the Everlasting God
John describes God in a typical Hebrew paradox: “from Him who is, and who was, and who is to come.” This is essentially the definition of Yahweh, the Ever-living, the Ever-existing, the Timeless One, who spans the present, past, and future. In Genesis 21:33 Abraham “called on the name of Yahweh, the Everlasting God.” Yahweh is said to be olam (“hidden, unknown, obscure”), here translated “Everlasting.” The word is more specifically understood as a time of existence that is unknown to us—in this case because our minds are finite and limited, unable to comprehend eternity. The psalmist contemplated this when he wrote in Psalm 90:1, 2,
1 Yahweh, Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. 2 Before the mountains were born, or Thou didst give birth to the earth [eretz, “land, territory”] and the world [tebel, “inhabitable globe”], even from everlasting [olam] to everlasting [olam], Thou art God.
Greetings from the Seven Spirits
John also brought the churches greetings “from the seven spirits who are before His throne.” The apostle obviously had communicated with these seven Spirits after he was caught up through the open door to the throne (Revelation 4:1, 2). Their presence is acknowledged in Revelation 4:5, “And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.”
John had returned with a message, not only from God Himself, but also from the seven Spirits of God. According to Isaiah 11:2, these Spirits are:
1. The Spirit of the Lord (Yahweh)
2. The Spirit of Wisdom (Chokmah)
3. The Spirit of Understanding (Biynah)
4. The Spirit of Counsel (Etsah)
5. The Spirit of Strength (Gevurah)
6. The Spirit of Knowledge (Da’ath)
7. The Spirit of the Fear (Yira) of the Lord (Yahweh)
These Spirits are not impersonal forces, but angels—archangels, or perhaps angels that stand above the archangels themselves. As angels with personality and callings, they could speak with John and could give greetings to the seven churches. There are multitudes of angels of lesser rank, each supporting one of these seven Spirits.
Hebrews 1:14 says of angels in general,
14 Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of [dia, “through”] those who will inherit salvation?
Collectively, the Seven Spirits form the Holy Spirit, which was given to the church at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit indwells us and ministers to others through us, as do all other angels who are assigned to us. Our angels determine our callings and empower us to fulfill those callings.
So we read in Acts 8:26 that “an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip,” telling him to go to Gaza, where he met the Ethiopian eunuch. But Acts 8:29 says,
29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.”
In this case, Philip’s “angel” was “the Spirit” who was ministering through Philip.
As we will see later, the seven Spirits were distributed to the seven churches in order to bring heaven to earth in the complete manifestation of the Kingdom of God. Each church, however, was imperfect, but the seven Spirits worked through the overcomers during each church age, so that the Kingdom could come in the end.
The Faithful Witness
Revelation 1:5 says that this book was also a message “from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness.” Later, in the message to the church of the Laodiceans, Jesus is again referred to as “The Amen, the faithful and true Witness” (Revelation 3:14). This gives a more complete picture, helping us to define a “faithful witness.”
A witness is one who reports what he has seen or heard. Witnesses are called to speak the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The problem is that many earthly witnesses see differing things. But Jesus is “the Amen” of God, giving testimony only to what He has seen and heard. The fact that He is a “faithful” witness means that He was faithful to testify of the whole truth. The fact that He is a “true” witness means that His testimony was accurate in every detail—that is, He spoke “nothing but the truth.”
The First-born of the Dead
Revelation 1:5 tells us that Jesus Christ was not only “the faithful witness,” but also “the First-born of the dead.” Others had been raised from the dead in the days of Elijah and Elisha. Jesus also raised Lazarus from the dead before He Himself was raised. However, all of these were raised back to a mortal state, and they all died again. Jesus was the First-born from the dead to be raised to immortality.
The Emphatic Diaglott renders this, “the chief-born of the dead.” The term is prototokos, where proto carries the meaning of being first both in time and in rank. It appears to be a synonym for monogenes, the “only-begotten” Son. Paul uses the term prototokos in Colossians 1:18, where he links this to Christ’s preeminence over creation.
This idea derives from the law of the first-born in Deuteronomy 21:15, 16, 17. The law sets forth the rights of the first-born son in order to protect those rights in case he is “hated” (or “unloved”). In this case, Jesus Christ is the First-born, but yet the bulk of humanity does not love Him, and various religions want to replace Him with their own gods or prophets. The law, however, does not permit this and in the end will enforce the rights of the First-born Son.
The Ruler of the Kings of the Earth
Revelation 1:5 also calls Jesus the Ruler, or Prince, who is over the kings of the earth. The book of Revelation is the drama of history, showing how the opposition to Christ is overcome steadily until He is crowned King of kings and Lord of lords. Revelation 17:14 shows this opposition and its end, saying,
14 These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.
John says that the Lamb wins His position because He is Lord of lords. The underlying implication is that the divine law recognizes Jesus as the Lord of lords and King of kings because He is the First-born Son. The law sets forth the will of God (Romans 2:18), and it is prophetic because God will always get His way. The historic opposition can be only temporary, because the will of men and kings is never able to overcome the will of God.
He Who Loves Us
Jesus Christ was the First-born from (ek) the dead, because He was first willing to die. It was His love that motivated Him to die for the sin of the world. His death paid the penalty and “released us from our sins by His blood” (Revelation 1:5), extending grace to all.
This is part 7 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Revelation." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones