September 22, 2019
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 13:50 in the audio file.
Or, Every Head Up and Every Eye Open
Every church service I went to as a kid ended with an altar call. Right before the altar call, though, was a time between the sermon and the singing of “Just As I Am,” or whatever song it was that Sunday. That in between time was a time between you and the Lord, and the preacher. At our church, the preacher started his post-sermon prayer and, right before finishing, he said something like this: “With every head bowed and every eye closed, let me ask you, if you died today and were in the presence of Jesus, would you be ready to meet Him?” Then the preacher would ask if anyone wanted to be saved, and if so, you were supposed to raise your hand. He’d say, “I see that hand, … I see that hand,” and then finish his prayer.
We don’t end our sermons or our services in such a way, and my aim isn’t to comment on whether or not the mid-prayer, mostly-confidential call for action is good or not. But the feeling of that moment in the liturgy is burned into my senses. I can hear the quiet. I can feel the weight of the question. I can still remember the words.
There is coming another moment, more weighty, but not quiet, and not to be repeated. In that moment hearts will be revealed, and sealed. In that moment every head will be up and every eye will be open to see Jesus Christ coming on the clouds. In that moment it won’t be hands raised that only a few see, but cries of mourning raised across the earth.
Verses 4-8 in Revelation 1 bring us to the more typical letter greeting elements, though there are some different things about this greeting than in any of the NT epistles. Verses 1-3 introduced us to the nature of the apocalypse: it is an otherworldly, supernatural revelation, and that includes the promise of the apocalypse: blessing for all who hear and keep the words. With verse 4 we get the greeting from the human author, the identity of the original recipients, and then the theme of the book.
The first couple phrases are the easiest to interpret, for what that’s worth. John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace.
The human author who received the revelation from the angel sent by Jesus is “his servant John” (verse 1), and he identifies himself at the start of verse 4 as John. As usual with scholars talking about authorship of Bible books, there are people who aren’t sure it was John, or maybe it was another guy named John. From the earliest records in the second century, Christians understood this John to be the apostle John, the author of the Gospel of John and three epistles with his name.
The first significant skeptic to argue against apostolic authorship was Dionysius of Alexandria. Eusebius was a disciple of Dionysius, and gave an entire chapter in his Church History to the Dionysian arguments. Those arguments include that the Greek is different than the other Johannine books, and that it must be “another” John since John never identifies himself by name in John’s other books. But these arguments are not persuasive against authorship by the apostle.
There are also questions about the seven churches that are in Asia (the place we know as Turkey). Seven cities are named in verse 1:11, and chapters two and three are letters from Jesus to each church. But we know from the NT that there were other churches in this region (Colossae, Hierapolis; Colossians 1:2; 4:13). Why does John write to only seven?
Some would say that the most important part about this greeting is the number: seven. There are a lot of sevens in Revelation (though not quite 70 times 7). Since seven is used so often, and since seven is a number that tends to represent completeness, like a week is complete, the argument is that the seven churches represent the complete Church in all times and places.
But this is a lot of stress on a number, especially when the geographically specific in Asia is included, and the names of the seven cities are included, and the seven churches are specifically addressed by the Lord. There is certainly application beyond these seven; even the final call is “hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Yet the number seven in this case is specific more than symbolic. It is more reasonable to understand that these seven “cities are major cities in the province that are addressed in the geographical order in which a courier would deliver this letter” (Osborne), and that the revelation from John was for these local churches on purpose, even if it had relevance for other churches.
Then the greeting:
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, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and ruler of the kings on earth.
The grace and peace are typical for letters. The source of the grace and peace is threefold: from him, from the seven spirits, and from Jesus Christ.
Instead of the usual identification of God the Father, him who is and who was and who is to come plays off of the divine name in Exodus 3:14 when Yahweh says that “I AM WHO I AM.” This is eternal and in time but not bound by time; in the past, He is, as well as now, and not just “who will be,” but who is to come emphasizes the expectation of Revelation.
The seven spirits is another question. It could be understood as seven angels (cf. Luke 9:26), but, John knew how to use the word angels, as he does a few verses later. More than that, placed in between the Father and the Son we would expect to see the Holy Spirit, and, nowhere in Scripture do we expect divine grace and peace from another being than God Himself. It may connect with seven Spirit-specifics in Isaiah 11:2.
And the Spirit of 1) the LORD shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of 2) wisdom and 3) understanding,
the Spirit of 4) counsel and 5) might,
the Spirit of 6) knowledge and 7) the fear of
the LORD. (Isaiah 11:2)
The “seven spirits” are mentioned again in 4:5 (as seven torches of fire) and 5:6 (as seven eyes).
Three more things describe Jesus, and these seem to be connected with time, too. Jesus Christ is the faithful witness, the one who in His first coming “made the good confession” (1 Timothy 6:13) to death. Jesus was as faithful as the moon (see Psalm 89:37). The call to faithfulness in the following chapters was not something Jesus didn’t know about. As the firstborn from the dead, Jesus not only was chronologically the first to defeat death, He also takes His place at the front of a multitude. Paul described Jesus as the “firstfruits” meaning that Jesus is the beginning of the harvest of many resurrected men. And Jesus is the ruler of kings on earth, a present reality with future fulfillment at His second coming, when every knee will bow. The devil tempted Jesus to take this exalted position via a compromising shortcut (Matthew 4:8). But God promised to install a Davidic King, “the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth” (Psalm 89:27). The “kings of earth” are mentioned numerous times in Revelation (i.e., 6:15; 19:19).
The Spirit was moving in John to write, but like the apostle Paul, John just couldn’t get further without breaking into more praise for Jesus.
> To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Jesus is named with the attribute of ongoing love; He is “the one loving.” The one who is ruler of the kings, the one who is the Messiah, He didn’t just do His duty. He loves His people.
The primary act that demonstrates His love was His death, and that is referred to as His blood. He loves us and “has loosed” us, freed us from our sins by his blood. This is the doctrine of redemption. We were slaves to sin and destined for judgment. But Christ paid the cost of our sin against God on our behalf so that we could be freemen.
We are not just made free, Jesus made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father. We have been transferred from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of the Son of God’s love (Colossians 1:13). This does not mean that every part of the kingdom is active on earth as it will be (which is why we still pray the Lord’s prayer), but it does mean that the reign of Jesus has been inaugurated. We are citizens of that kingdom (Philippians 3:20). We are also priests, meaning that we have direct access to God through Jesus.
There is a progression of kingdom and priests. In Revelation 1:6, Jesus made us so. In Revelation 5:10, those in heaven worship Jesus who did the making of a kingdom and priests. In Revelation 20:6 we actually reign in His kingdom as priests on earth.
Some would note the promise made to Israel in Exodus 19:5-6 that speaks of being a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Here are a couple examples:
“The early church understood itself to be in the true succession of Israel and thus the inheritors of all the blessings promised to their spiritual predecessors” (Mounce)
“use of the Exod. 19:6 description of God’s people does not merely compare the church to the nation Israel but also conveys the tacit notion that the church now functions as true Israel” (Beale)
I disagree. The promise is extended, but not redefined.
No wonder then, that to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. The apostle affirms it with Amen.
It was hard to choose an outline description of these two verses. Motto seems too trite, but this is not a cliché. In verse 7 is a “short sentence or phrase chosen as encapsulating the beliefs” of Revelation. A synonym would be leitmotif, a “recurrent theme throughout a…literary composition.” This is why we read Revelation. This is the topic sentence of what Revelation is about.
Behold, he is coming. The rest of verse 7 says more about how and what effect it will have, but HE IS COMING is the announcement.
This one who loves us and redeemed us, who is our King, and who brought us to His God and Father, who is worthy of all glory and power, is coming with the clouds. This borrows terminology from Daniel 7:13 (though 7:14 should be read with it), but it is used differently than in Daniel. In Revelation this is His coming to earth, not His coming to heaven before the Almighty. We know that at least because of who observes His arrival. Every eye will see him, because every head will be looking up to see in Him the clouds and He will be recognized.
It will include even those who pierced him. There is debate about who this refers to, and the “literalists” usually don’t take it literally (which I think is okay to say because I’m attacking my literal friends, if you know what I mean). Some understand this to be the Jews, and then take the “tribes” in the next phrase to go with Israel. Since the Jews were those who pierced Jesus, this could be a reference to the judgment of the destruction of Jerusalem.
But, technically, the Jews didn’t pierce Him, the Romans did. And also, this would mean that Jesus coming in the clouds meant that Jesus already ”came” in judgment, and the cloud part is not really relevant. It also means that “tribes of the earth” just means the 12 Tribes of Israel, perhaps scattered all over, not a global identification. But the motto of Revelation is about the return of the King of kings, to take what is His. He died and rose again and His Father has given all things to Him.
So those who pierced him are all who wanted, and want, Him dead. It is a figure of speech for the murderous hearts. Men hate how Jesus exposes their evil deeds, and they will keep hating Him because of it. It’s why they hate Jesus’ servants now, hating us in place of Jesus. When all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him, this is when they know their judgment is certain. They wanted dead the only one who could give them life, but they will not bow to serve him. This borrows ideas from Zechariah 12:10, which John actually quoted in his gospel, 19:37. It is not quoted here, though it uses similar words.
John says, Even so. Amen.
To corroborate this, God says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” This is one of two times that God is quoted in Revelation (see also 21:5), and the other time is very similar. Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet (litterae Graecae sunt), which imply everything in between. The repetition of who is and who was and who is to come from verse 4 continues to leave no doubt who is in charge, and the Almighty is a frequent name for Him in the Old Testament.
The eternal, sovereign purposes of the Triune God are embodied in Jesus. We worship Him. We are saved by Him. The Son freed us, the Spirit gave us new life, the Father is glad for us to honor His Son and serve Him.
So, those beloved of the Son, live at the center, not the periphery. When you speak, remember who you represent. This is a day that requires courage, and you know the one who has made the day, and all days, and has your eternal days of joy in His presence in mind.
You do not need to bow your heads and close your eyes, but you do need to make sure you are ready for Christ’s return. He is coming. Remember that He loves you, that He has freed you from your sin, and that you serve and represent the King.
I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:13–16, ESV)