John’s Introduction to Revelation (Part2)

May 24, 2015 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos

We are looking at the last of the 66 books of the Bible, the book of Revelation.

  I like the way Dr. John MacArthur compares this book with Genesis:   “Revelation is the last book in the divine library. It is God's last word.  We don't have anything beyond this. What began in "Genesis ends in Revelation.  In Genesis you have the commencement of heaven and earth; in Revelation the consummation of heaven and earth.  In Genesis you have the entrance of sin and the curse; in Revelation you have the end of sin and the curse.  In Genesis you have the dawn of Satan and his activities; in Revelation you have the doom of Satan and his activities.  In Genesis you have the tree of life relinquished; in Revelation the tree of life regained.  In Genesis death enters; in Revelation death exits.  In Genesis sorrow begins; in Revelation sorrow is banished.  In Genesis paradise is lost; in Revelation paradise is regained.  But most central, in Genesis the Savior is promised; in Revelation the Savior is preeminent.”     My intention as we come into this book to focus only on the first three chapters because of the lessons we will learn from the messages of Christ to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3. From these churches we learn how we can become a healthy church, which is a good sequel to our recently completed series on the marks of a Healthy Church Member.  

The Prologue

Last week, I began an introductory study of the book of Revelation using John’s own divinely-inspired introductory section of the book or Prologue found in Rev 1:1-3.   I tried to break this introductory section into several parts because each part addresses a foundational issue that will help us to better understand this great book. We did not finish all the 6 points but we will do so today. We will also look at the salutation in vv. 4-6.  

1.   First, the nature of this book.

This book is a “revelation” or literally, an apocalypse. "Apocalypse" means an unveiling, an uncovering, a disclosing, a revelation. In this book, God is going to disclose to us things we would never know or be able to discover on our own.   1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known (this clause means “to intentionally show or make something clear through signs.”)   But the word apocalypse also indicates a particular type of literature that unveils, discloses, or reveals unseen heavenly or future realities by the use of symbolic signs and visions.  

2.   Second, the central subject of this book.

Jesus Christ is the central subject of this book. But this book presents Jesus, not in his humiliation as in his fist advent, but in His exaltation as He reigns in heaven and when he returns the second time. No book in the Bible reveals more of the splendor, power, sovereignty, and majesty of Jesus Christ than this book.  

3.   Third, the transmission of this book.

God gave this revelation to Jesus, then Jesus gave it to His angel, then the angel showed it to John, and then John delivered it to the churches.  

4.   Fourth, the recipients of this book.

1:1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants.   That word servants is literally “bondservants,” which has the sense of being a willing slave or property of another.   Although this book was specifically directed to seven churches in the Roman province of Asia, this book was ultimately intended for the whole church. This is why at the closing of every letter for each of the seven churches we read this statement, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”   And so this is a book for all Christians in all generations. This is for all believers who are the property of Jesus. This is for all who identify themselves with Jesus as his property, who love Jesus, obey Him and humbly serve Him. The blessed promises found in this is book is not for unbelievers but for Christians only.  

5.   Fifth, the other nature of this book.

The book of Revelation is also a prophecy.   1:1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. 1:3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy   Revelation is the only prophetic book in the NT. While it does deal with issues that confronted real churches that John wrote to at that time, many of the things that are written here concerns events that are future. This will especially be clear when you read chapters 6 to 22.   I mentioned last time that I will adress the question related to the clause in verse 1, the things that must soon take place?   When John says these things must soon take place, what does he mean by “soon? Did he mean that the things that he wrote about would all be fulfilled within a short time, as in when I say that a movie is coming soon, I mean the movie will be shown in theaters in just a few weeks or months?   How soon is soon?   I think 2Peter gives us some important insight as to what John meant by the word “soon.” Turn to 2Pe 3:1-10.  
  1. First “soon,” especially when it is applied to end time events, does not necessarily mean that the fulfillment of the predictions will happen immediately, in just a few months after the predictions were made.
  2Pe 3:1-4 This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, 3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”   The reason why scoffers will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation,” is because the fulfillment of the predictions, especially regarding the second coming of Jesus, and the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly, did not happen immediately after the predictions were uttered.   The biblical concept of “soon” does not necessarily mean that the prediction will be fulfilled immediately soon after the prediction is made.  
  1. Second, “soon” could mean a short period of time but only from God’s point of view. God’s timetable is different from man’s. What is a short day in God’s sight could be a very long period of time in man’s.
  2Pe 3:8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.  
  1. Third, “soon” could also have the sense of being unexpected. When something happens unexpectedly, we sometimes say that it happened sooner than expected.
  2Pe 3:10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief…  
  1. Finally, “soon” could also have the sense of being imminent. “Imminent” means “likely to happen at any moment” or it could mean that the fulfillment of the prophecy is “near to every generation.”
  Here are other NT examples of the concept of imminency being in the mind of biblical authors.  
  • 1Pe 4:7 The end of all things is at hand. (“is near” in NET, NASB, HCSB)
  • Jas 5:8 You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. (“is near” in NET, NASB, HCSB)
  • Ro 16:20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.
  • Heb 10:37 “ Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay;
  • Rev 1:3 for the time is near.
  In practical terms what this means is that the great tribulation, the events found in Revelation 6-19, the rapture and the second coming of Christ, the rewarding of believers, and the start of the literal reign of Christ here on earth in the millennium could all happen in our generation.   Jesus said His coming will be like a thief in the night and so He urged His followers to always be on the alert and keep watch. This is why the early Christians expected Jesus to return in their lifetime.   Now it has been more than 2000 years since our Lord Jesus promised to return. This means that we are more than 2000 years closer to the His second coming.   Paul said in Romans 13:11-12 ESV:  “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.  12  The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”   We don't know when the end time events in Revelation are going to happen. Jesus said to his disciples in Acts 1:7, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.”   But even if we do not know when the events in Revelation will be fulfilled we must always be in continual expectancy because they could happen in our generation.  This is why the Lord Jesus tells us in in Luke 12:40, "You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”   And so all of that explains the prophetic nature of this book and why John wrote about, “the things that must soon take place.”   So, what are we learning in this wonderful opening section? One, the nature of the book which is revelation, the central subject; the transmission; the recipients; the other nature which is its prophetic character. Now we come to the sixth point in this prologue, which is the promise of this book.  

6.   Sixth, the promise of this book

  1:3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.   Revelation is the only book in all the Bible which begins by promising a special blessing on the person who reads aloud the words of this book and on those who listen reverently and obey these words.  
  • Observe that the phrase “the one who reads” is in the singular. Only one person reads.
  • And he reads “aloud the words of this prophecy.” This is not private reading but public reading. The public reading of Scripture was taken over from Jewish practice. (It was a necessity since manuscripts were not readily available. The printing press was not invented yet and hiring a scribe to copy Scripture would have been very costly and laborious.)
  • Those who hear and who keep” is in the plural. Many people hear and obey.
  All these activities of one person reading aloud and several people listening and obeying the word of this book are describing to us a worship service. The verb tense of to read and to hear is in the present tense to indicate that this is not merely a single exercise but rather that the religious exercise must be kept regularly, especially on the Lord’s Day.   This verse should encourage all of us to be here every week because of the blessing that is promised.   But please take note: John pronounces a blessing not on those who merely “hear” the word, but on those who “hear it and keep what is written in it. Those who allow the message of the book of Revelation to penetrate their minds and hearts so that it reshapes their lives - they are the ones who will be blessed.   Now you will observe that at the end of this promise you read the reason for the readers to heed to the command, “for the time is near.”   It means that the end time is the next event and it is imminent. The next great event in redemptive history is Christ’s second coming and it could take place during our generation. And since we don't know when it's going to happen we have to live as if it were going to happen in the immediate future.   Now verse 3 formally ends John’s divinely inspired Prologue to the book of Revelation. From this section we have learned six foundational issues that will help us in having a better understanding of and will give encouragement for us to read the book of Revelation  
  1. The nature of this book
  2. The central subject of this book
  3. The transmission of this book
  4. The recipients of this book
  5. The other nature of this book
  6. The promise of this book
  Because we still have much time, I would like at this point to look at the next section in this book, which is the Salutation, vv. 4-6. This is like a second introduction to the book. If vv. 1-3 which contains the prologue is the first introduction, verses 4-6 which contains the salutation is the second introduction.  

The Salutation

  The salutation identifies author and recipients, the greeting or benediction, and then closes with a doxology. We will look at these four things in the remaining time that we have.   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  

1.   The Author

The author identifies himself as John. Unlike in his other writings such as the Gospel and his three letters where he does not mention his name, here in Revelation, John identifies himself as its author. I do not really know why. Some scholars say that perhaps it is because the book of Revelation is of a different type of literature.   Another unique thing about John is that he gives no further description of himself. In contrast, when Paul wrote the salutation of his letters he would add descriptions like “an apostle” or “an apostle of Jesus Christ” or “a servant of God.” John wrote only his name with no additional description. Perhaps it is because it is well known to the Christians throughout the province of Asia that there was only one person who could speak with authority, namely, the apostle John. And perhaps also by this time John was the only living apostle. And so there was no need for him to add any other description.  

2.   The recipients

John wrote specifically to the seven churches that are in Asia. These were actual historical churches that existed in the Roman province of Asia. In the NT, “Asia” does not refer to the continent of Asia but to a province of Rome, which is the western part of present-day Turkey.   The seven churches John wrote to are mentioned in Rev 1:11: “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.” (Show map.)   Why did John address only these seven churches?   This is not because there were only seven churches in Asia. The NT itself refers to congregations at Troas (Ac 20:5- 12), Colosse (Col 1:2), and Hierapolis (Col 4:13) which were all in Asia.   These seven churches were chosen and were placed in this order because in the Bible the number seven is associated with completion, fullness, and perfection.   The first time the number seven is mentioned in the Bible is in Gen. 2:2-3. Here we read that God finished all the work that He had done on the seventh day and he rested from all his work that he had done. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.   The number seven here brings out the idea of completion and perfection because it was on the seventh day that God had completed and perfected the process of ordering creation.   A footnote. The number seven occurs 54 times in the Revelation. This number  appears more frequently than any other number. In Revelation there are seven churches and seven spirits (1:4), seven lampstands (1:12), seven stars (1:16), seven seals on the scroll (5:1), seven horns and seven eyes of the Lamb (5:6), seven angels and seven trumpets (8:2), seven thunders (10:3), seven heads of the dragon (12:3), seven heads of the beast (13:1), seven golden bowls (15:7), and seven kings (17:10).   And so why did John choose only seven churches? Perhaps they may have served to represent all of the churches in existence at that time and in every age. These seven churches also represented the qualities of both obedience and disobedience of churches throughout every age.  

3.   The Greetings or Benediction

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.   John begins his greeting with the typical “Grace to you and peace.” It sound almost like Paul's regular salutation which is "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ro 1:7; 1Co 1:3; 2Co 1:2; Gal 1:3; Eph 1:2; Phil 1:2; 2Th 1:2; Phm 1:3)   “Grace" speaks of God's attitude toward believers. It refers to God’s unmerited favor towards sinners particularly by sending Christ to die as the sacrifice for sins.   "Peace" speaks both of the believers’ reconciliation with God and their experience of divine peace through the cross of Christ.   Although “grace and peace” is the usual greeting that we see in the epistles, especially in Paul’s letters, John differs from other letter writers in delivering greetings from all three persons of the Trinity.   In this greetings, we see how John presents the doctrine of the Trinity. He doesn’t present it in a carefully defined, systematic theology kind of way.  He simply mentions the three persons as being the source of blessing to the believers.   Grace and peace come from all three Persons of the blessed Trinity.   The first source of this blessing is God the Father. He is described with this title, from him who is and who was and who is to come.” This speaks to the eternal nature of God.  It has the idea of a timeless Being, and is connected with the name Yahweh found in the Old Testament (Ex 3:14,  God said to Moses, “ I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘ I am has sent me to you.   The second source of this blessing is God the Holy Spirit. verse 4, "and from the seven spirits who are before his throne.”   Why does John speak of “seven spirits” when there is only one Holy Spirit? Why are there seven Spirits here?"  There are several possible answers to that.   Do you remember the significance of the number 7 that I mentioned a while ago, that the number seven is associated with completion, fulness, and perfection? One reason why John says "seven spirits" is because he is identifying the fullness of the Holy Spirit.   John could also be referring to the seven-fold ministry of the Holy Spirit. In Isaiah 11:2 we read of this wonderful statement about the Holy Spirit there. It says,   And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.   There you have seven aspects of the Holy Spirit. He is the Spirit of the Lord, the spirit of wisdom, the spirit of understanding, the spirit of counsel, the spirit of might, the spirit of knowledge and the spirit of the fear of the Lord. That's the seven-fold ministry of the Spirit.   It is also possible that the expression “the seven Spirits who are before His throne” borrows from the imagery of Zechariah 4:1-10, where the ancient prophet sees a menorah, a lampstand with seven bowls supplied with oil from two nearby olive trees. When the prophet asked what this imagery symbolized, the explanation given is in Zec 4:6: “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.”   Whether the seven spirits refer to the seven-fold ministry of the Holy Spirit or to the menorah, the seven in number identifies the fullness of the Holy Spirit.   This means that it is the Holy Spirit in all His glory and in all His fullness who sends grace and peace to the churches.   Finally, the third source of the blessings is God the Son. "Grace and peace come from Jesus Christ."   Three designations are given to Jesus Christ: he is the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.   And who is Jesus Christ?  
  • John says He is the faithful witness.  A faithful witness is one who always speaks the truth and Christ always speaks the truth. He never deviates from what is true.  In fact, In Jn 18:37, Jesus said to Pilate, "For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world— to bear witness to the truth."  Jesus is sending His testimony here in this book and He is a faithful witness. Here is just an example:
  Mt 24:3-9 As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.   9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake.  
  • The second title John gives Him is "the firstborn of the dead." What does he mean?  Firstborn doesn't mean He's the first one ever to be raised from the dead.  No, others had been raised in time before Him.  But it means of all those who were ever raised He is the preeminent one.  Firstborn, prototokos, means preeminent; he surpasses all others, all who have ever been raised before or after. He is the preeminent one.
  • And then he gives Him a third title, "the ruler of the kings of the earth."  He rules sovereignly over the kings of the earth. Who are the "kings of the earth"? John could mean emperors such as Nero and Domitian, territorial rulers such as Pilate and Herod, and their successors. In that case John was affirming that even though Jesus is not physically present and the earthly monarchs appear to rule, in reality it is he, not they, who rules over all (6:15; 17:2).
  It is remarkable that the Trinity sends us a benediction.   MacArthur:   Here comes grace and here comes peace from the whole Trinity to these seven churches and the true believers in them and all true believers. God is sending you His blessing.  The Holy Spirit is sending you His blessing.  Jesus Christ is sending you His blessing.  All three members of the Trinity are sending you grace and sending you peace.   John’s wish for the believers is that they may receive grace and peace. Because he writes under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we could say that his wish is also God’s wish, the Spirit's wish and the Son's wish for the believers. It's their wish that you have grace and peace. We can be sure of this, if they wish for us grace and peace, we’ll get it.     The mention of the person and offices of Christ leads John to a burst of praise to his Savior:  

4.   A Doxology

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   In Jewish and Christian texts, doxologies often function to conclude a main section in a letter (Phil 4:20; 2 Tim 2:18; Heb 13:21), or in a few cases to close the entire letter (Rom 16:25- 27; 2 Pet 3:18; Jude 24-25)   John moves from the Trinitarian greetings to the doxology and applies it to Jesus. He focuses on Jesus because, after all, Jesus Christ is the central subject of this book. He dominates the book.   To him who loves us (present tense indicates the continual love)   EBCa: “Through all the immediate distresses, persecutions, and even banishment, John is convinced that believers are experiencing Christ's continual care.”   and has freed us from our sins (aorist points to a completed act)   This emphasizes that the blessing is a present possessions already enjoyed by the believer.   “To free someone from sin" is a metaphor that implies that individuals are held captive by their sins and that release from this captivity has been secured by Christ.”   “We have received not merely the pardon of sin, but deliverance from its power. The chains in which Satan held us captive have been snapped asunder and we are free.”     by his blood. “blood” here refers to Christ’s entire atoning work. Blood signifies death, and in the case of Christ, sacrificial, substitutionary death for sin.  Through His death, His atoning work on the cross, He released us from our sins.   6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father. This is status Jesus gives to those whom He loves and has freed from sins. It would have been enough for Jesus love them and free them from their sins. But He goes far beyond, and made us a kingdom and priests to His God and Father.  This is more than Adam ever was.  Even in the innocence of Eden we never read of Adam among the kings and priests of God.   Jesus didn't just save us from something. It wasn't just a negative thing. It is also positive. He “made us a kingdom.”  What does John mean by that? This is a collective designation for all believers.  We who believe in Christ are all transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s dear Son Jesus Christ. We enter into this kingdom by faith in Jesus Christ. In this kingdom Jesus rules and so we enjoy His loving rule and His almighty protection. What a privilege to be ruled by the king of kings. In this kingdom, we rule with Christ.   Furthermore, says John, He made us “priests to His God and Father.”  Having been released from our sins we have become a kingdom and we're under His rule.  We have also become priests.  What does that mean? We now have direct access to God.   A priest is one who had the right to enter God's presence.  In Israel, the priest and the priest alone could go into the Holy Place.  And once a year, the high priest into the Holy of Holies where God was. We now are all priests.  That's why we say we believe in the priesthood of believers.  We all have access to God.  Oh what a Savior we have!   No wonder John says, after describing to us what Christ did and continues to do for us,  “to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen”   What does he mean? He means this One who has given us all of this has the right to everlasting praise, everlasting glory, everlasting sovereignty.  That's what the word dominion means. In fact, it would be an internal injustice if He didn't get the glory and He didn't get the dominion forever and ever.   And then he adds that wonderful solemn response, amen. That means, "Let it be.” Let it be.   And so with this praise John concludes this section. He does so with praise. So should we. If we understand what Jesus Christ has done for us, if we realize that He loves us and has released us from our sins by His blood, that he made us a kingdom and priests before God, then we ought to give him all the glory and dominion that He deserves forever and ever.   I agree with MacArthur who said “…having understood it, we will all reach a brand new and exalted level of capability to praise Christ.”   In closing let me just highlight some of the lessons we learn from this study:  
  • The book of Revelation is not just for the seven churches John wrote to but it is also for all of Christians today.
  • What a great blessing that all the persons of the blessed Trinity are more than willing to bless us with grace and peace. The blessing is not just a wish from a human being. This is God’s wish for all believers. God wants us to enjoy his grace and peace.
  • Now there is an implicit warning in all of this—a warning that the person who refuses to hear and refuses to act on God’s Word, will not be blessed. This is a warning to those who are not yet saved, this book will not benefit you if you are not a bondservant of Christ. Surrender your life to him. Pray that God will save you so that you can be a recipient of the blessings and wonderful promises that are found in this book.
  • Remember again that special blessings are promised by God to all who read aloud and explain this book and to all of those who hear and obey this book. Let this be an encouragement to you to attend regularly our services, especially now that we are studying the book of Revelation.