Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Revelation Chapter 1, Part 2 - Greeting

The last time that we were in Revelation we looked at John's introduction in verses 1-3 of chapter one. Now with verses 4-8 we move into John’s greeting to those who were to receive this letter; the seven churches of Asia Minor. So let’s look at these five verses now, and then we will walk through them phrase by phrase:
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, 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 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

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.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Revelation 1:4-8
The first thing that we see here is that once again the author is identified as John. Next we see that this is being written to seven specific churches in Asia, and unlike the letters of Paul which were addressed to just one church, this letter is addressed to all seven and all seven would have received the entire letter. In other words, when we get into chapters two and three and see the individual messages to the individual churches, we need to remember that even though the message for the church at Ephesus was addressed to Ephesus it was heard by the other six churches as well, and the warnings expressed in each of these letters, while addressed to a specific congregation, must be heeded by all who hear it.

Then John said, Grace to you and peace. I have always loved this greeting in the New Testament because, as you see from the next part of the greeting, it is not from John but from the Lord Jesus Himself. Paul also used this same greeting in every one of his epistles, so let’s take a closer look at these words and see what they mean.

First, the word Grace is the Greek word cháris, which comes from the word chaírō meaning to rejoice. This word expresses the idea of favor or acceptance. Dr Zodhiates defines this word like this:
A favor done without expectation of return; the absolutely free expression of the loving kindness of God to men finding its only motive in the bounty and benevolence of the Giver; unearned and unmerited favor.1
The second part of the greeting is the word peace, which is the Greek word eiré̄nē. This word expresses the idea of harmony. Again, quoting Dr Zodhiates, he says this word expresses “tranquility, arising from reconciliation with God and a sense of a divine favor.”2

Next notice that the greeting is from God the Father, not from John. I am sure that John was also expressing grace and peace to the readers of this letter, but the text says that the grace and peace come not from him, but from the one who is, who was, and who is to come. Remember that John said in verse one that this is the Revelation of Jesus Christ that God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, so this grace and peace comes directly from the Father to the bond-servants of Jesus. And isn’t this exactly what He gives each of us with salvation? As we put our faith and trust in Christ and choose to follow Him as an act of our will, He gives us peace and unmerited favor that is motivated only by His love for us. Of the use of this phrase John MacArthur says:
The greeting ‘grace and peace’ is appropriate only for believer to believer, because it speaks of blessings that only they possess.3
Now we move into a section beginning at the end of verse four that some see as the first mention of the Trinity in Revelation. Notice that verse four and moving into verse five says “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 the ruler of the kings of the earth.” There is absolutely no debate over the fact that the One who is, who was, and who is to come is God the Father. There is also no debate about the identity of Jesus in this passage. Where the confusion come in is with the phrase “the seven Spirits who are before His throne.”  

There are some who believe this is a reference to the Holy Spirit, and there are others who view this as a reference to angels. In his commentary on Revelation Robert Van Kampen does a good job of laying out the reasons behind these differing views; he writes:
Those who support Holy Spirit as the seven spirits argue:
(1) Isaiah 11:2-3 describes seven benefits of the Spirit in the Septuagint (LXX).
(2) Revelation 1:4 seems to be focusing on a Trinitarian representation of the Godhead.
(3) Zechariah 4 indicates that seven lamps represent the "eyes of the Lord" throughout the earth. This is connected with the Spirit (Zech. 4:6).
(4) "Seven spirits" expresses the Spirit’s perfection. This idea is derived from the symbolic use of the number seven to denote completeness.
(5) Angelic beings would not be included among the Divine greeters.
(6) Christ holds the seven spirits, which follows the defined relationship of the Holy Spirit to God the Father and the Son in the New Testament (Rom. 8:9, John 15:26).

Those who support an angelic reference:
(1) The term spirit is used in the New Testament to refer to angels.
(2) The seven spirits are before the throne of God, which suggests a position of subordination, which would be inappropriate for the Holy Spirit.
(3) Angels are given a very prominent place in the Revelation throughout.
(4) Luke 9:26 and 1 Tim. 5:21 place angelic beings in positions of honor equal to that of the Father and the Son.
(5) Jesus Christ is never mentioned in Trinitarian type passages following the Holy Spirit. The order is always God the father, God the Son and God the Spirit. 4
While I do believe that Van Kampen makes some valid points I personally believe that his is a reference to the Holy Spirit, and his point that Jesus is never mentioned in Trinitarian passages following the Holy Spirit can be explained by the fact that Jesus is the primary focus of the Revelation and as such mentioned last for emphasis.

In verse five John gives us a threefold description of Jesus; he says that Jesus is: the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.  Warren Wiersbe says that this is a reference to Jesus’ threefold office of Prophet, Priest and King.5 Let’s look at each of these and see what we can learn.

First John says that Jesus is the faithful witness. This would refer to His role as a Prophet since a prophet was one who represented God to man. In His role as Prophet, John is telling us that Jesus was faithful to communicate to us exactly what He received from His Father. We can see this as well in the Gospel of John:
For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.

John 12:49-50
In his next description, the first-born from the dead, John is referencing Jesus’ office as our Great High Priest. The role of a priest was to represent man to God, and as one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet remained sinless (Hebrews 4:15) He alone is qualified for this office. The term “first-born from the dead” is also a reference to His resurrection.  “As the ‘Firstborn,’ He is the first to be resurrected with an everlasting body, which is a token of other selective resurrections including those of saints who die in the Church Age (Phil. 3:11), the Tribulation martyrs (Rev. 20:5-6), and the wicked dead of all ages (20:12-13).” 6

As the ruler of the kings of the earth we now see Jesus as our King. This description shows us the sovereignty of Jesus; He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. As the message of Revelation unfolds this will become a source of comfort to the Church since this title shows us that even though there are kings and princes on the earth they all get their authority directly from Jesus (Romans 13:1), and even though they may not honor Him as king He is still sovereign over them and they can only do what He allows, and He will only allow what is ultimately for our good (Romans 8:28).

John can no longer contain himself, and in the rest of verse 5 and verse 6 he breaks into praise for Jesus. He says, “To Him who  loves us and released us from our sins by His blood— and He has made us to be a  kingdom,  priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”  This is the first doxology of the book, and there will be many to follow. A doxology is an expression of praise to God, and here John is ascribing praise to His Savior because He is our Prophet, Priest, and King.

John begins this praise by remembering that Jesus loves us; and this love is the motivation for all that will follow. First, because of His love for us He released us from our sins by His blood. Hebrews says:
For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

Hebrews 9:13-14
It then goes on to say:

Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

Hebrews 9:22
Next John offers up praise because Jesus has made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father. This is a two-fold blessing: first John says that Jesus made us a kingdom, which parallels what Paul said in Colossians:
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,

Colossians 1:13
John MacArthur tells us:
Kingdom refers to more than the future millennial kingdom, when Jesus will reign on earth for a thousand years. Nor does it speak merely of the general rule of God over His creation. The kingdom is a spiritual reality right now… The kingdom is the special relationship men in this age have with God through Jesus Christ. A kingdom in its most basic sense is a group of people ruled by a king. Christians have acknowledged Christ as their King and are subjects in His kingdom. 7

But that is not all, not only has Jesus made us His kingdom; He has also made us priests to His God and Father. By calling us priests John is making reference to the fact that through the shed blood of Jesus we now have access to God. We do not have to go through a priest since we are priests ourselves. Peter talked about this in his first letter when he said:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

1 Peter 2:9-10
Peter called us a royal priesthood which goes right along with what John said in Revelation 1:6 where he said we are a kingdom, priests to His God. William MacDonald, in his commentary says that as Christians we are both holy priests and royal priests, then he give this explanation as to the difference:
As holy priests, [we] enter the sanctuary of heaven by faith to worship. As royal priests, [we] go out into the world to witness. This difference in priesthood is illustrated by the imprisonment of Paul and Silas at Philippi. As holy priests they sang praises to God at midnight; as royal priests they preached the gospel to their jailor (Acts 16:25, 31). 8 
This is great illustration of what our priesthood should look like; on the one hand it allows us to offer praises to God, and on the other is compels us to share His love with the world.

Now John closes this doxology with the words “to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” This is the exact response that everyone who read this book should have. We should fall on our knees and praise the God to who belongs all glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Now with verse seven we see the first prophecy of the book: “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him.”

Many link verse seven with the Second Coming of Christ, but a close examination of the text here will show that this passage is actually speaking of the Rapture; the time when Christ returns for His church just prior to the pouring out of God’s wrath on the earth. Note that this passage says, “He is coming with the clouds.” Note that this is the same imagery that Paul uses in 1 Thessalonians to describe the Rapture of the Church:
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.Therefore encourage one another with these words.

1 Thessalonians 4:16-18
Also note that the text says all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. If this were referring to the Second Coming the tribes of the earth would have already been mourning because of the judgment that is being poured out on the earth. According to Robert Van Kampen, the only time in the book of Revelation that you see the wicked mourning is in chapter 6 at the sixth seal, which is when God begins to pour out His wrath on the earth in the Day of the Lord.9 (This will be discussed in detail when we get to chapter six.)

Verse seven also says that every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him. If this is talking about the Rapture of the Church, and I believe that it is, then this passage clearly rules out the possibility of a secret rapture.

The phrase ”those who pierced Him” refers not to the Roman soldiers who carried out the crucifixion, but is a reference to all of the unrepentant people of the earth. Those who have rejected Christ and who love their sin will mourn when they see Him. The word translated “mourn” here is the Greek word kóptō, and this word means “to beat the breast or cut oneself in loud expressions of grief, to lament, wail.”10 John MacArthur says that the mourners:
[W]ill be prompted by terror, not repentance. They will mourn not for the Christ they rejected, but over their doom. They will ‘not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts.’ 11
Even as they are confronted face to face with the holiness of God those who have rejected Him will still not repent.

Then in verse eight Jesus speaks; He says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega.” The one “who was, who is, and who is to come, the Almighty.” This statement is Jesus signature on the prophecy we have just been given; His guarantee that is will come to pass exactly as it is written. Much like the promise that God made to Abraham, and then confirmed with an oath that He swore by Himself (Hebrews 6:13), Jesus is validating this promise by three of His divine attributes.

First, He says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega.” Alpha is the fist letter of the Greek alphabet, and Omega is the last; by using this title Jesus is making reference to His Omniscience. He is saying that all knowledge begins and ends with Him and because He is all-knowing we can be assured that He will come again.

Next Jesus says that He is the “one who was, who is, and who is to come” which shows us His Omnipresence. Since He is not confined by space or time we can be assured that there is nothing that He cannot see, and since nothing can take Him by surprise there is nothing that can stop His return.

And then He says that He is “the Almighty.” This one eliminates any doubt that would possibly be left after the first two. As the Almighty Jesus is showing us His Omnipotence. He is all-powerful and because He is sovereign over all things there is nothing anywhere that can thwart His will. This passage says that He will return and that the world will see Him and mourn, and that is exactly what will happen.

1 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G5485). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
2 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G1515). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
3 MacArthur, J. (1996, c1984). 1 Corinthians. Includes indexes. (7). Chicago: Moody Press.
4 Robert Van Kampen.  Revelation Commentary Ch1 Pg4 (© Orlando Fl.: Sola Scriptura
5 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (Re 1:4). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
6 Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-c1985). The Bible knowledge commentary: An exposition of the scriptures (2:929). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
7 MacArthur, J. (1996, c1992). Colossians (39). Chicago: Moody Press.
8 MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. (1997, c1995). Believer's Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments (1 Pe 2:9). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
9 Robert Van Kampen.  Revelation Commentary Ch1 Pg6 (© Orlando Fl.: Sola Scriptura
10 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G2875). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
11 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (34). Chicago: Moody Press.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

John MacArthur & Pretrib Rapture

Who knows, maybe John (Reformedispy) MacArthur is right and the greatest Greek scholars (Google "Famous Rapture Watchers"), who uniformly said that Rev. 3:10 means PRESERVATION THROUGH, were wrong. But John has a conflict. On the one hand, since he knows that all Christian theology and organized churches before 1830 believed the church would be on earth during the tribulation, he would like to be seen as one who stands with the great Reformers. On the other hand, if John has a warehouse of unsold pretrib rapture material, and if he wants to have "security" for his retirement years and hopes that the big California quake won't louse up his plans, he has a decided conflict of interest. Maybe the Lord will have to help strip off the layers of his seared conscience which have grown for years in order to please his parents and his supporters - who knows? One thing is for sure: pretrib is truly a house of cards and is so fragile that if a person removes just one card from the TOP of the pile, the whole thing can collapse. Which is why pretrib teachers don't dare to even suggest they could be wrong on even one little subpoint! Don't you feel sorry for the straitjacket they are in? While you're mulling all this over, Google "Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty" for a rare behind-the-scenes look at the same 180-year-old fantasy.