Monday, January 24, 2011

A Message of Hope for Struggling Christians

Part 2 of a series through the book of Revelation

AN INTRODUCTION TO REVELATION

John to the seven churches that are in Asia (v. 4a).
  • TITLE: “The revelation” (v. 1), which means “the UNVEILING.”
  • AUTHOR: John the apostle (vv. 1, 4). He refers to himself as simply “John” probably because he was well known to his readers. John wrote Revelation while exiled on Patmos. Patmos is a small island in the Aegean Sea, about 64 km from the coast of Asia Minor.
  • DATE: Possibly A.D. 95.
  • RECIPIENTS: The seven churches of Asia (v. 4). Asia was a Roman province in western Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). The churches are addressed (see chapters 2-3) in the order in which a courier would deliver this letter. Why only seven churches? Seven is the number of completeness. Perhaps through these seven churches Christ intended to address every church.
  • PURPOSE: To provide a message of HOPE to struggling Christians.

GRACE AND PEACE

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 (vv. 4b-5a).

The common Greek greeting (“grace”) and the common Hebrew greeting (“peace”) are combined (as is often seen in the opening of Paul’s letters).

Because of God’s grace, we can enjoy peace.

John lists three sources of grace and peace. First, grace and peace come “him who is and who was and who is to come.” Who is this? The Father (cf. Exodus 3:14-15).

Second, grace and peace come from “the seven spirits who are before [God’s] throne.” Who are the “seven spirits”? It’s possible that they are seven angels. Perhaps the best interpretation is that the seven spirits refer to the Holy Spirit (“the sevenfold Spirit”; cf. Zechariah 4:1-10; Revelation 3:1; 4:5; 5:6).

Third, grace and peace come from “Jesus Christ.” Christ is given three titles. Each of these three titles offered encouragement to the churches of Asia (and also offers encouragement to us today). Christ is “the faithful witness.” He proclaimed the truth even though, in the end, He was crucified for what He said. They need to be faithful to Christ even if it means suffering. (John’s readers were beginning to face increased opposition.) Christ is “the firstborn of the dead.” In other words, He has conquered death because of His resurrection. Death, for the Christian, is the beginning of something better. And Christ is “the ruler of the kings of the earth” (cf. Psalm 89:27, 37). (The Christians in the churches of Asia could take comfort in the knowledge that Christ was the true “ruler,” not Caesar.)

MAY IT BE SO

The word “amen” is found in both v. 6 and v. 7. “Amen” means “may it be so.” John makes two statements about Jesus to which we should say, “Amen.”
  1. Jesus deserves our praise. 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 (vv. 5b-6). This is the first doxology in the NT addressed only to Christ. Why does Jesus deserve our praise? First, He deserves our praise because He loves us. In Revelation, Jesus is presented as the slain Lamb (5:6, 12; 13:8). He proved His love for us by dying for us. Second, He deserves our praise because He saved us. “You were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (5:9). Third, He deserves our praise because He made us kings and priests. God said to Israel, “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6). Peter wrote to Christians, “You are … a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9). The church is the new Exodus community. Salvation is not just what God saves us from, but also what He saves us for.
  2. Jesus is coming again. 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 (v. 7). John combines Daniel 7:13 (“behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man”) and Zechariah 12:10 (“when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn”). Jesus did the same: “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30). First, when Christ returns, all those who rejected Him will see Him. “Those who pierced him” refers to all who reject Christ (not merely those who actually pierced Him while He was on the cross). Second, when Christ returns, those who rejected Him will mourn because of Him. Will the “wailing” be over sin (repentance) or over judgment (cf. 6:16)? Perhaps both (cf. John 19:37; Mark 15:39).
THE ALPHA AND THE OMEGA

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (v. 8).

Only twice does God speak directly speak in Revelation (here and 21:5-6).

History is in God’s hands.

This passage provides encouragement and hope to those who are feeling perplexed, feeling powerless, and being persecuted.