John’s Introduction and Greeting to the Seven Churches (Rev 1:1-8)

September 19, 2016 — Leave a comment

I. INTRODUCTION

A. Past Lessons

B. Text of Rev 1:1-8

1This is the Revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave him to show his servants what was necessary to happen soon. He sent his angel to communicate with his servant John. 2John testified about what he saw about the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. 3Blessed is the one who reads and those who hear and obey this message of prophesy and what is written in it. For the time is near! 4This letter is from John to the seven churches in Asia. Grace and peace to you all from the one who is, the one who was, and the one who is still to come; from the seven-fold Spirit which is in front of God’s throne; 5and from Jesus Christ who is the martyr, the faithful, the firstborn of the dead and ruler over the kings of the earth. Jesus Christ is the one who, in his love for you all, released you all from your sin by his blood. 6Jesus has made you all a kingdom of priests in God and his father. To him glory and power forever, amen.”

7Look! He is coming out of the clouds and every eye will see him including those who pierced him and every person from every nation of the earth will mourn for him. Yes! Amen!

8“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God—the one who is, was, and is still to come—the Almighty! 1

John's Introduction and Greeting to the Seven Churches (Rev 1:1-8)

Bamberg Apocalypse: “John Receives His Revelation” (1803)

II. A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO JOHN’S LETTER (1:1-3)

A. The Revelation of Jesus Christ (v. 1)

“This is the Revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave him to show his servants what was necessary to happen soon. He sent his angel to communicate with his servant John.” (Rev 1:1) 2

1. Revelation from Jesus and about Jesus

Much discussion is placed on the “subjective” versus “objective” genitives throughout the Bible (Mark 11:22; John 6:29; Rom 3:22, 26; Phil 3:9). The same issue is seen here. Is this the Revelation from Christ (subjective) or is this the Revelation about Christ (objective). Most likely, this phrase is both, which is called a “plenary” genitive (Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 119-121). I appreciate Bruce Metzger’s view that this clause is saying that revelation was made by Jesus Christ, that it is about him, and that it belongs to him (Metzger, Breaking the Code: Understanding the book of Revelation, 21).

2. God’s Chain of Command for Revelation

Revelation 1:1 makes it clear that this Revelation was given from God, to Jesus Christ, through an angel, and then to John. However, some people (Mulholland Jr, Revelation, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary 18, 420) would say that this angel is Jesus here and in other parts of Revelation (7:2; 10:1; 18:1, 21; 20:1).

3. How Soon Is “Soon”?

The word “soon” here is from the Greek, ταχος. It often means “short time; speed, soon.” BDAG describes it as pertaining to a relatively brief time subsequent to another point in time (992-993). Also see Luke 18:8; Rom 16:20; 1 Tim 3:14; Rev 22:6.

The idea of the end times and events that will happen soon begins with Daniel’s interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, “But there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets, and he has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in the future. Now I will tell you your dream and the visions you saw as you lay on your bed” (Dan 2:28, NLT). Daniel’s interpretation begins a series of interpretations about what will happen in the “latter days” (Dan 2:28) and “after this” (Dan 2:29, 45). Jesus says that the events described in Revelation must happens before the end (Luke 21:9) and that the end has not yet come (Matt 24:6; Mark 13:7). For more on this see Robert Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 54-55.

Various interpretations for “ἐν τάχει / soon” have been provided. One might be the speed which the events take place. For example, the events might happen “soon” as in they all take place in a relatively short period of time. Thus, the events happen in a rapid-fire sequence. M. Robert Mullholland writes that “throughout Revelation, when the term ‘soon’ or ‘quickly’ appears, while the fulfillment could always be imminent (and unexpected), the events noted will take place in God’s timing, whether soon or in the distant future” (Mulholland, Revelation, 62).

B. The Report of What John Saw (v. 2)

“John testified about what he saw about the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.” (Rev 1:2)

Again we see another case of subjective versus objective genitives with the phrase τὴν μαρτυρίαν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, “the testimony [borne] of Jesus Christ.” This could also be translated, “the testimony about Jesus Christ.” Aune believes this is a subjective genitive, “the testimony [borne] of Jesus Christ” because in the Book of Revelation the witness is given by the subject of the phrase (Dave Aune, Revelation 1-5, 19; Charles, Revelation of St. John, 7.

C. The Church’s Response (v. 3)

“Blessed is the one who reads and those who hear and obey this message of prophesy and what is written in it. For the time is near!” (Rev 1:3)

1. 7 Beatitudes in the Book of Revelation

This is the first of seven beatitudes in the book of Revelation. Some of these beatitudes encourage believers to live righteously and persevere in light of the prophesies (1:3; 16:15; 22:7). Others promise future rewards for those who are obedient (14:13; 19:9; 20:6).

2. One Reads, Many Hear

The Greek text supports the idea that New Testament letters were likely read by a single person aloud so that other people could hear. In this verse, it says: “Blessed is the one (singular) who reads and [blessed] are those (plural) who hear and [blessed] are those (plural) who obey.” John’s heading of Revelation means he expected one person to read this letter with a group of people listening. John likely intended this book to be read in a ritual setting: a church service. The New Living Translation brings out the nuance of this idea, “God blesses the one who read the words of prophecy to the church.”

3. Why Is Revelation Important?

The last section of this verse provides the reason for obeying this book. John writes, “for,” or it could be translated “because,” the time is near! Believers should obey the instructions in this letter because the time is near (Osborne, Revelation, 59).

III. JOHN’S GREETING TO THE SEVEN CHURCHES (1:4-8)

A. John’s Letter to the Seven Churches from the Triune God (vv. 4-5)

1. Greetings from John, Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit (v. 4)

“This letter is from John to the seven churches in Asia. Grace and peace to you all from the one who is, the one who was, and the one who is still to come; from the seven-fold Spirit which is in front of God’s throne;” (Rev 1:4)

a) The Identity of John

(1) Internal Evidence

It is a fair statement to say that evidence that this letter was written by the disciple John solely based on internal evidence is weak. Yet, some internal evidence is shown by the fact that John is known by each of the seven churches and he is fully aware of their situations. The evidence is quite inconclusive, yet there is nothing that would make apostolic authorship impossible.

(2) External Evidence

While the internal evidence of John the apostle being the author of Revelation is weak, the external evidence is quite the contrary. The external evidence is very strong in attesting that John is the author of this letter. Here is a brief list of early church fathers who believed John the apostle was the author of Revelation:

  • Clement of Alexandria
  • Hippolytus
  • Irenaeus
  • Justin Martyr
  • Melito
  • Origen
  • Tertullian

All of these second and third century writers reference John the apostle as the author without question or doubt. Donald Guthrie, in his 1,161 page New Testament Introduction asserts, “There is no need to cite further evidence in support, for there are few books in the New Testament with stronger early attestation” (Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 931).

(3) Suggestions Based on John’s Gospel

Various inferences can be made to support John’s authorship based on a comparison between John’s gospel and Revelation.

  • John’s messages use the Greek word, λογος, for Christ which is unusual among other NT authors (John 1:1; Rev 19:13).
  • Christ is described as the Lamb (ἀρνίον in Revelation, ἀμνός in the gospel).
  • Figures of speech of waters, springs, etc. are used (John 4:10-14; 7:38; Rev 7:17; 21:6; 22:17).
  • Christ is described as a shepherd (John 10:1; 21:26; Rev 7:17).
  • Both suggest that temples are no longer needed for worship (John 4:21; Rev 21:22) and both have a symbolic allusion to manna (John 6:31; Rev 2:17).
  • Additionally, there are contrasts between light and darkness, truth and false, and the power of God and the power of this world (Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 929-938; Osborne, Revelation, 2-6).

b) Seven Churches in Asia

“In the NT this [Asia] always refers to the Roman province of Asia, made up of about one-third of the west and southwest end of modern Asia Minor. Asia lay to the west of the region of Phrygia and Galatia. The words ‘the province of’ are supplied to indicate to the modern reader that this does not refer to the continent of Asia” (Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible [Biblical Studies Press, 2005]).Audience of the Book of Revelation

c) The One Who Is, Was, and Is Still to Come

The expression “εἰρήνη ἀπὸ ‘ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος’ Rv 1:4 is quite extraordinary. It may be an interpretation of the name Yahweh already current, or an attempt to show reverence for the divine name by preserving it unchanged, or simply one more of the grammatical peculiarities so frequent in Rev” (BDAG, 106–107).

This short clause in Rev 1:4 identifies “the one who is” as God because some Greek manuscripts add “θεου, God” to clarify who is the subject here. It is an allusion to Exod 3:14 in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. “God replied to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. Say this to the people of Israel: I AM has sent me to you’” (Exod 3:14, NLT).

d) The Holy Spirit

While some believe the “seven spirits” are angels, the most likely conclusion is that this is a reference to the Holy Spirit. Support for the seven Spirits referring to the Holy Spirit follows:

  • Seven qualities are listed in the Greek version of the Old Testament in Isa 11:2.
  • Zech 4:2, 10 refers to “seven eyes” that roam throughout the earth.
  • In Zech 4:6 the Lord defines action by his Spirit.
  • Other evidence in the book of Revelation mentions the seven Spirits (3:1, 4:5, 5:6).
  • It is a means for expressing the Spirit’s perfection and completion.

2. Greetings from Jesus (v. 5)

“and from Jesus Christ who is the martyr, the faithful, the firstborn of the dead and ruler over the kings of the earth. Jesus Christ is the one who, in his love for you all, released you all from your sin by his blood.” (Rev 1:5)

a) Jesus Is the Martyr

Some translations might say “witness.”

b) Jesus Is the Faithful One

“It will be as eternal as the moon, my faithful witness in the sky!” (Pss 89:37, NLT).

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Laodicea. This is the message from the one who is the Amen—the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s new creation” (Rev 3:14, NLT).

c) Firstborn of the Dead

This “refers to the high, privileged position that Christ has as a result of the resurrection from the dead (2 Sam 7:13-16; Pss 2:7-8; 89:27-37) . . . he is inaugurator of the new creation by means of his resurrection” (Beal, The Book of Revelation, 191).
“I will preserve an heir for him; his throne will be as endless as the days of heaven” (Pss 89:29, NLT).

d) Ruler over the Kings of the Earth

Here John uses a genitive of subordination to show that the kings of the earth are subordinated under Jesus. Therefore, my translation yields, “Jesus is ruler over the kings of the earth” (Wallace, Greek Grammar, 103-104).

e) Released Believers from Their Sins by Blood

This short clause provides a reminder of the gift Jesus Christ gave through this death on the cross. Jesus’s death on the cross—his blood shed—means that anyone in the world can be counted as righteous before God. This is a free gift that Jesus has offered for everyone.

3. The Triune God Together

Revelation 1:4-5 provide a super clear description of our Triune God together in he same sentence. John greets the churches saying greetings from:

  • God – “from the one who is, the one who was, and the one who is still to come” (v. 4)
  • Holy Spirit – “from the seven-fold Spirit which is in front of God’s throne” (v. 4)
  • Jesus Christ – “and from Jesus Christ” (v. 5)

B. A Kingdom of Priests (v. 6)

“Jesus has made you all a kingdom of priests in God and his father. To him glory and power forever, amen.” (Rev 1:6)

This connects to Exodus 19. “Then Moses climbed the mountain to appear before God. The LORD called to him from the mountain and said, ‘Give these instructions to the family of Jacob; announce it to the descendants of Israel: “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles” wings and brought you to myself. Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.” This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.’” (Exodus 19:3–6, NLT, emphasis mine)

C. Jesus’s Arrival (v. 7)

“Look! He is coming out of the clouds
and every eye will see him
including those who pierced him
and every person from every nation of the earth will mourn for him.
Yes! Amen! (Rev 1:7)

1. God’s Arrival out of the Clouds

In the Old Testament clouds are often mentioned in connection with divine activity. Examples of this are:

  • “And the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to Moses. Then he gave the seventy elders the same Spirit that was upon Moses. And when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But this never happened again” (Num 11:25, NLT, emphasis mine).
  • “Then Solomon prayed, “O LORD, you have said that you would live in a thick cloud of darkness” (1 Kings 8:12, NLT, emphasis mine).
  • Dark clouds surround him. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne” (Psalm 97:2, NLT, emphasis mine).
  • “You lay out the rafters of your home in the rain clouds. You make the clouds your chariot; you ride upon the wings of the wind” (Pss 104:3, NLT, emphasis mine).
  • “This message came to me concerning Egypt: Look! The LORD is advancing against Egypt, riding on a swift cloud. The idols of Egypt tremble. The hearts of the Egyptians melt with fear” (Isa 19:1, NLT, emphasis mine).
  • “As my vision continued that night, I saw someone like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient One and was led into his presence” (Dan 7:13, NLT, emphasis mine).

2. The Timing of God’s Arrival

Myself and most of orthodox Christian disagrees with the preterist view of Rev 1:7. The preterist view sees the “cloud coming” of Christ in judgement in AD 70 is taken from Matt 24:30. In this view, Christ has already come in judgment of the earth in AD 70.

D. The Alpha and Omega (v. 8)

“’I am the Alpha and the Omega,’” says the Lord God—the one who is, was, and is still to come—the Almighty!” (Rev 1:8)

1. God’s Supremacy

God uses the Greek alphabet to express his supremacy of everything (Rev 1:8, 18, 2:8; 21:6; 22:13). He says that he is the “Alpha” which is a translation of the first letter of the Greek alphabet, α. He also uses the last letter of the Greek alphabet, ω. As Alpha, God is the originator of all things. As Omega, he is the consummator of all things.

2. God’s Divine Name

God’s divine name in Rev 1:8, ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος, “the one who is, was, and is still to come” (also seen in Rev 4:8, 11:17, 16:5) is based on rabbinical exegesis of Exod 3:14 as recorded in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint, LXX), Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν, “I am the one who is” or “I am who I am.” Also see Isa 41:4; Hosea 1:9 (F. Blass and A. Debrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 79.

IV. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION

A. Our God Is Three in One.

The first time I taught through the book of Revelation a couple of the attendees told me about a guy named Irvin Baxter who teaches about the book of Revelation. I looked him up to see some of this thoughts and interpretations of the book. A quick glance at the doctrinal statement on his website was discouraging. Under the “What We Believe Tab” he writes this about God, “There is one God who created all things. In order to save us, He became man. Jesus Christ was God in flesh, Emmanuel — God with us (Matthew 1:23).” This might be a good start, but this doctrinal statement about God is drastically incomplete! What about the Holy Spirit? All of Baxter’s views on Revelation are irrelevant to me because his doctrine about God is poor. The book of Revelation provides us with one of the clearest representations of our Triune Godhead.

B. Just as He Brought the World into Existence He Will Redeem It.

God created this world, saw it fall from grace, and he will redeem it. There is hope for a better future for Christians. We must hold on to this and not forget about the plans God has for us and his future kingdom.

C. Revelation Should Be Part of Our Study.

Revelation 1:3 taught us that John intended this letter to the seven churches to be read during their church settings. In their time and situation, that meant a person would stand in front of a group and read the letter aloud. Now that application looks different. We have access to the text of Revelation and are allowed to read it whenever we want. Whether we apply this personally or corporately, we need to make the book of Revelation part of our daily study. Too often the book of Revelation collects dust in many Christians’ Bibles (including pastors). However, the text of this letter suggests that John expected this book to be given our attention.

Notes:

  1. Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own
  2. Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own

Christopher L. Scott

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Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor's degree from Fresno Pacific University and master's degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

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