This morning our family completed its study of Revelation 1:4-8 in our study of the book of Revelation using Douglas Connelly’s The Book of Revelation Made Clear and The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups. In the passage John greets the seven churches for which the book of Revelation is intended. We read Connelly’s exposition of it yesterday morning and discussed the Serendipity Bible questions on it this morning
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.”
(ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV.)
Connelly begins his exposition on the passage by observing that the book of Revelation is not just a book of prophecy; it is also a letter to seven churches. The seven churches were located in Ephesus, where John lived, and six other cities in the Roman province of Asia (in the western half of what is now Turkey). Craig S. Keener observes that the book’s being addressed to seven churches doesn’t mean that there were seven letters. He suggests that there was probably only one scroll and that John’s messenger carried it from one church to another until all seven had heard it. He also suggests that people in the churches may have copied the scroll after it arrived and that its message would spread from the churches to the surrounding areas. (Craig S. Keener, The NIV Application Commentary: Revelation, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2000, page 68)
John opens his greeting to the seven churches by wishing “grace and peace” to them from three sources: “him who is and who was and who is to come” (God the Father), “the seven spirits who are before the throne” (the Holy Spirit according to Connelly, but see below), and “Jesus Christ.” Ancient letters generally opened with identification of the sender and addressees and prayer or thanksgiving concerning the addressees. Paul customarily invoked grace and peace on the recipients of his letters. John F. Walvoord comments, “These two words capture the richness of the Christian faith, grace embodying God’s attitude toward the believer coupled with His loving gifts, and peace speaking of relationship, here especially the peace of God. Grace represents standing; peace represents experience.” (John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1966, page 37)
John describes God the Father as “him who is and who was and who is to come.” Connelly interprets this as meaning that there is no past or future for God; instead God inhabits eternity and sees and knows all that was, is, and will be at the same time. I interpret God’s being eternal differently, understanding it to mean that He always was, is, and always will be. And, thinking that our free choices make parts of the future undetermined and thus unknowable, I view God as knowing only those parts of the future that He foreordains or can predict from His complete knowledge of the past and present. My view is known by many as open theism; see https://opentheism.wordpress.com/category/open-theism-2/revised-series/ for a explanation of it, noting that the twenty articles in the series appear in reverse order.
Connelly understands “the seven spirits who are before his throne” to be the Holy Spirit and suggests that since the number seven often refers to completeness or fullness, this may be “John’s way of describing the full presence of the invisible Spirit” (Connelly, page 17). If Connelly is right, John may have had Isaiah 11:2 in mind. However other interpreters understand the phrase to refer to the seven archangels of Jewish tradition. Robert H. Mounce examines the other places in the book of Revelation where the seven spirits of God are mentioned and concludes, “A survey of the four places in Revelation where the seven spirits of God are mentioned fails to provide sufficient information to arrive at a certain understanding of this enigmatic phrase. Although only a conjecture, it would seem that they are part of a heavenly entourage that has a special ministry in connection with the Lamb.” (Robert H. Mounce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Book of Revelation, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1977, page 70)
In verse 5 John refers to Jesus by three titles—“the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.” Connelly affirms that the titles “give credibility to [Jesus’s] message” and says something like this about them: Jesus witnessed faithfully of the Father despite opposition, and so we can depend him to stand with us; Jesus was the first to rise from the dead, and so we don’t have to fear death because we too shall rise from the dead; and Jesus rules over the kings of the earth, and so we don’t have to fear them because someday he will bring about justice for us (Connelly, page 18).
Thinking about Jesus causes John to burst into praise to him. He praises him for loving us so much that he died on the cross to free us from our sins. He praises him for our having direct access to him (“priests”) and going to reign with him (“kingdom”). He praises him for his future second coming when everyone will see him and recognize that he is over all.
About verse 8 Warren W. Wiersbe says, “The titles given to God in Revelation 1:8 make it clear that He is certainly able to work out His divine purposes in human history. Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet; so God is at the beginning of all things and also at their end. He is the eternal God (see rev. 1:4), unlimited by time. He is also the Almighty, able to do anything. Almighty is a key name for God in Revelation (Rev. 1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7, 14; 19:6, 15; 21:22).” (Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1989, page 569)
Questions from The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups
These questions are those on verses 4-8 asked about Revelation 1:1-8 in The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups.
DIG, 2. Who is John? Who are the recipient churches (vv. 4, 11)?
John is the apostle John. The recipient churches are in these cities in the Roman province of Asia: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_churches_of_Asia for a map showing them.
DIG, 3. What is significant about the references to God in verses 4 and 8?
See the paragraph above beginning “About verse 8.”
DIG, 4. What are the meanings of the titles given to Jesus (vv 5-6)? What three things does Christ do for us?
See the paragraphs above beginning “In verse 5” and “Thinking about.”
DIG, 5, What theme of the book of Revelation is foreshadowed in verse 7? Why is the phrase every eye will see him” significant?
The theme of the book of Revelation foreshadowed in verse 7 is that Jesus is returning to set things right. The phrase “every eye will see him” is significant because it indicates that when Jesus returns the whole world will recognize who he is.
REFLECT, 1. If asked to share three facts about Jesus that are especially significant to you, what would you say? Why are these facts so important to you?
Each of the three of us shared one fact about Jesus that is especially significant and explained why that fact is important to us.