4) John, to the seven churches which 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. (NKJV)
John sort of does a reverse in his Revelation. Most writer first greet their readers and then explain the intent of their writing. This is what John does in his own letters. Yet in Revelation, John gives us the intent first, and now in verse four is his greeting. He says he is writing this to the seven churches in Asia. Well, first, there were more than seven churches in Asia, and second, not all of these churches are Pauline churches.
If there were more than seven churches in Asia, then why did John choose these particular seven? First, John did not choose them – Jesus did. (Remember from verse #1, Jesus is revealing to us through John what the Father has revealed to Him.) Secondly, seven (7) is the number of completeness. Third, the virtues and sins of each congregation will correspond with the seven sins and virtues inherent in the Church. Not the seven deadly sins, but failures of missing the mark within the Church. We do not know the founding fathers of all these churches. We do know Paul started the congregations at Ephesus and that John was heavily involved with them there. We do know from Acts that John was involved with Paul and Barnabas very early in their first missionary journey. He did not complete the journey, but other than these, we do not know very much about John’s evangelism. That said, whoever the founding fathers of these congregations were, Jesus has chosen them for His Reveal.
The word “church” in the Greek is ekklesia (pronounced ek-klay-see’-ah). While it can be translated church, it really means a group of people or congregation that has been called out or set apart. If we pay attention to the writers of the epistles – whether Paul, Peter, John, or Jude – that is how they wanted it to be understood. There is one church under one Lord, Jesus the Christ. In all the New Testament Scriptures, ekklesia is translated church; but it should be understood as the group of persons or congregation of persons set apart who are meeting in a particular location. This may be hard for us to wrap our heads around today with a so-called church around every bend, with not only different denominations but also those claiming to be non-denominational; but in reality there is only one Church under one Lord. If you are reading this and you attend or belong to what we today term a “church”, you are actually a member or part of a congregation. From this point on, I will use congregation where it refers to a single congregation, such as the congregation in Ephesus. I will use the English word church for the collective bride of Christ.
In the Bible study I attend, one of the gentlemen shared with us that it is hard to understand sometimes what Christians believe. He pointed out that you could go to two or three different congregations of the same denomination, and hear two or three different belief systems. This mindset of each congregation thinking of itself as a church and in some cases as THE CHURCH, creates the rationale of being self redeeming. This is what we believe, or this is where we stand, or this is what we think….. This makes it easy to forget that we are a group of people, set apart, called to DENY OURSELVES, TAKE UP OUR CROSS, and FOLLOW HIM, Jesus Christ THE ONE LORD. Read the last chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans. How many times did he say to greet a certain person and the congregation that met in their house? To the congregations that will be named beginning in Revelation, chapter 2, just remember there was more than just one congregation in each of those cities. Not because there was a worship center on every corner but because there were no worship centers at all, and the people met in each other’s houses.
Continuing in verse 4, we see the beginning of what looks like a typical greeting. Grace to you and peace. But instead of grace and peace, John says,”Grace to you and peace from Him.” In the other letters, the authors of the epistles greeted the congregations with the blessings of grace and peace of Jesus and the Father. In other words they (the apostles) were coming to them or writing to them in the grace and peace of Christ and pronouncing upon them a blessing of Christ’s grace and peace. Here, John is pronouncing Christ’s grace and peace directly to them from Christ! Important difference. It is not the grace and peace of Christ but the grace and peace from Christ. In this case, John is the conduit not for just the blessing of but the direct reception by the readers (which include you and me) of Christ’s grace and peace.
To grasp the power of what is being said here, let us look more closely at the words translated “grace” and “peace”. Grace in the Greek is charis, a word that most of us who have been in church a while have heard from time to time. It is pronounced khar’-ece. It is defined as every kind of unearned and unmerited favor, blessing, and good, that proceeds from the Father and the Son. Receive from Christ all that His finished work on the cross has purchased for them. Reminding them and us that through the death of Jesus on the cross, the debt for redemption was paid in total, in full. That the punishment for total and complete forgiveness has been served by Christ’s death on the cross. That justification, meaning being made righteous in the Father’s eyes, has been completed by Christ’s resurrection. That the work is done, complete, finished through Christ’s ascension, where He now SITS at the right hand of the Father. Hebrews tells us that Jesus is our High Priest in the order of Melchizedek – a priest forever and that He is sitting at the right hand of the Father. None of the Old Testament priests sat, because their work was never done. Jesus is sitting, signifying that His and the Father’s work, the work of salvation for the world, is completely done. That is the grace that comes to us from the Father and from our Lord Jesus!
The word translated “peace” is eirene (pronounced i-rah’-nay) and carries with it the same definition as the Hebrew word shalom. They both mean peace, but not just peace as opposed to violence or war, not just peace or nonviolence between two people. It means a completeness of harmony, wholeness, prosperity, welfare and tranquility. When a Greek-speaking person or a Hebrew came up to someone and greeted them with eirene or shalom, they were wishing them peace in their relationships, prosperity in their businesses or work, wellness and wholeness in their health and life, and peace or tranquility of mind. In our reading this, Jesus through John’s writing is giving us both His grace and His peace….
Still in verse four, we have one of the first statements of a trinity. Not the Trinity that we normally think of; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but,”Him who is and who was and who is to come,”. These three statements are very important statements. They are also very Johannian – Jesus is the one who IS. This means that He is alive today, in the here and now. This is proof of both the resurrection and the promise of eternal life. This is also important from the standpoint of this vision that John is revealing is from Christ now, at this point in history. It doesn’t matter if it is 1935 years ago when this was revealed directly to John for believers of that day, or if it is today. The Holy Spirit re-reveals John’s vision to us. It means that Jesus is the great I AM. He is always with us in our present.
Who was. John begins his Gospel with, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” Jesus is the eternal second person of the Godhead. Remember as we shared last week that God is not limited by time. He is outside time, and so is Christ. But this statement, who was, also speaks to Christ’s human life on the earth. We need to keep in mind that though the gnostics are not as prevalent at this time as they would be in another 50 years, there were the beginning stages of a non-belief in the actual physical existence of Jesus, a belief that it was all spiritual and that there was no cross at all. John is saying He was, He was with God in the beginning, and He was here on earth as a human man. Christ’s life was real, Christ’s teachings were real, Christ’s acts of healing were real, Christ’s miracles were real, Christ’s passion was real, Christ’s resurrection was real, and Christ’s position at the right hand of the Father is real!
Who is to come. This is the promise of our place with Him, of the second coming of Christ, the promise that we will not always be separated physically from Him. This is a promise I think should be more important to all believers than it is. Unfortunately, fire insurance (being saved from eternal damnation) is more important to most believers than eternal life in the presence of Christ and the Father. Most people are brought to Christ by being saved from something than by being saved to something. The fear of hell and all the dastardly events forecasted for its occupants tend to lead more people to seek salvation through Christ than the thought of sitting around playing their harp in Heaven. The issue is that most people see Christianity as a religion and not a relationship. A religion based on a guy who lived a good life and tried to tell everyone else how to live a good life. Yes, he died an undeserved death and because He lived a good life, if you believe the right things about Him, He promises you eternal life somewhere besides hell. But there are still rules and regulation one must follow!! And you perform these rules and regulations to the best of your ability, then you can avoid being skewered over hell’s flames for eternity. What a train of thought…..Unfortunately, not only does the secular world see Christianity in this way, but also many professing Christians view it this way as well.
The thing is, Christianity is not a religion. It is a relationship with the risen and resurrected Lord, Jesus Christ. It is also, through one’s faith in Christ, a relationship with God the Father. This is the difference between a believer and a disciple. For the disciple, the second greatest promise of Jesus besides that of salvation was the promise of His second coming, the promise of His return. The disciples lived the whole three years of Jesus’ ministry with Him. They heard every sermon and every teaching. They witnessed every healing, every miracle, and every resurrection. They saw His every moment, even when there was no one else around. They witnessed His relationship with the Father. They walked with Him, they talked with Him, they ate what and where He ate, they slept where He slept. (However, they didn’t understand the difference between the carnal world view of the Messiah and what was Jesus’ and the Father’s view.) They were lost when the passion occurred. Their greatest excitement was when He appeared to them after His resurrection, and Promise 1a for them was the promise that He would return and take them to where He was. I believe that after His resurrection, one of their favorite promises of His came from John 14:1-3, “Let not your heart be troubled, you believe in God, believe also in Me. In my Father’s house are many mansions, if it were not so, I would have told you, I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”
You see, the promise of the second coming was not to escape the trials and persecutions of this world. No. It was because the disciples wanted to be back in His very physical presence again. Why? Because they had a relationship!! They had been raised in a religion and they knew the difference…. It’s the same today: the disciple has a relationship. Unlike those living 2000 years ago, we haven’t experienced Jesus in the physical, for ours is purely spiritual; but we long for that time when we will see Him face to face. The second coming is so important that the Church has a whole season dedicated to it. It is called Advent. Unfortunately, we tend to spend most of that season preparing for Christmas than focusing on Christ’s return…..I guess it is easier to focus on what we believe has happened than to focus on something we are not as sure of. For the early church, the second coming of Christ was of the greatest focus, promise, and teaching.
Still in verse 4: “and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne.” Again the number seven (7). which signifies completeness. John is very clear here. The word is “Spirit” – not “angel” – and it is capitalized. The Greek here is another word familiar to people who have been around the faith for a little while. It is pneuma (pronounced nyoo’-mah). Its literal meaning is the vital breath of life. But Strong’s Concordance says that here it means,”the spiritual presence of God that comes to and acts upon Christians, illuminating and empowering them, and remaining with them, imparting to them spiritual knowledge, aid, consolation, sanctification, and making intercession with and for them.” What a mouth full!! Strong says that this is the gift that each every believer has from Jesus – the presence and power of the Holy Spirit that is given to us to illuminate, to help us to understand the Father’s will and word. The presence of the Holy Spirit that is given to us to empower us, give us strength to move ahead, strength in our faith. Power to have victory not only over the obstacles of everyday life, but also over the principalities and powers of darkness not of this world. The promise that the Holy Spirit is always with us and never leaves us. The presence of God’s Holy Spirit which helps us to understand the deep mysteries of God, whose presence is there to aid us in times of trouble, to console us in times of loss. To possess the Holy Spirit of God which consecrates us and sets us apart form the world. His gift is that we possess the Holy Spirit of God who intercedes with us for God and intercedes for us with God.
Here in Revelation, John tells us that each the congregations has their own very same gift of the Holy Spirit, which when listened to will do the same for their congregations. Yet when we get into chapters two and three, Jesus will end each statement to each congregation with, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Apparently, congregations have the very same struggle we as individual Christians have. We are not always open to listening, following, abiding, relying on, or living under the direction of the Holy Spirit. It seems to be something we do only in times of extreme need or when we want to impress others with our spirituality. It looks like congregation have much the same struggle.
John ends verse 4 with,”who (Spirits) are before His throne.” The question is, whose throne? This is the Revelation of John from Jesus, so this identifies as Jesus’ throne. Now Jesus is sitting at the right hand of the Father, so yes the Spirits are before the Fathers throne also, but the important thing to remember is that in this verse, Jesus is the Him who is, and that the Him who is present in the world is manifested through the work of the Holy Spirit. Thus, it is through the Holy Spirit that Jesus is present with us, comes to us, acts upon us, illuminates and empowers us, lives with us, imparts spiritual knowledge to us, aids/consoles/sanctifies us, and makes intercession with and for us. It is the same with the seven Spirits that represent the seven congregations. How often do we neglect the gift and power that John says has been given to us and our congregations??
I can’t believe I have to end this week’s study here. Can you believe how much information was in this one verse?
Let’s sum it up:
1. The number seven (7) stands for completeness.
2. Seven congregations are chosen to represent the seven virtues and failing of the Christian Church.
3. The blessings of Grace and Peace are much more than the English words imply.
4. Jesus was in the beginning, Jesus became human, Jesus is always present, Jesus is returning.
5. Christianity is a relationship, not a religion
6. The promise and power of the Holy Spirit is for us as individual Christians and to our congregations.
7. Jesus manifests Himself to us as individuals and to our congregations through the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Next week we’ll pick up with Revelation 1:5. Until then.