************ Sermon on Revelation 1:4-5 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 2, 2007
"Grace and Peace to You"
"Grace and peace to you ..." Thirteen times we hear this exact greeting in the pages of the New Testament (Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; Gal 1:3; Eph 1:2; Phil 1:2; Col 1:2; 1 Th 1:1; 2 Th 1:2; Titus 1:4; 1 Pet 1:2; 2 Pet 1:2; Rev 1:4). Five times we hear a variation of this greeting (1 Tim 1:2; 2 Tim 1:2; Philemon 1:3; 2 John 1:3; Jude 1:3). We start every one of our worship services with this greeting. So, we hear it often enough. We read it often enough. What really does it mean? And, why is this the favored greeting of the apostles?
Now, take a look at John's form of this greeting as we have it in our Bible reading:
(Rev 1:4-5) Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, (5) and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.Notice how long it is?! Couldn't John just say "Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ"?
John greets the seven churches the way he does because that is how the Spirit inspired him to do the greeting. Don't forget, John is writing to Christians who are facing severe persecution for their faith in Jesus Christ. He is writing to Christians facing imprisonment, death, temptation, trials. He is writing to Christians who are being asked to compromise their faith. How can these Christians persevere? How can these Christians overcome (this is a word that comes up over and over again in Revelation)? And, overcome they must! The message of the Bible is that only those who overcome, only those who persevere, receive the benefits of eternal life. Only those get to heaven who remain faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
So, how can Christians persevere and overcome and remain faithful? How can they finish the race? Only if theirs is "grace and peace." The Christians in Smyrna facing imprisonment (2:10), the Christians in Pergamum facing death (2:13), the Christians in Thyatira being tempted with evil (2:20), the Christians in Laodicea whose faith is lukewarm (3:15) – they can persevere and overcome and remain faithful only if theirs is "grace and peace." No wonder John's greeting includes "grace and peace." Without grace and peace they are lost. Without grace and peace they are faithless. Without grace and peace they cannot overcome.
John tells us this evening that grace and peace – which all Christians need to persevere and overcome – comes from the triune God. Let's now take a closer look at the connection between each person of the trinity and grace and peace.
I The Father
A John starts off by telling us that grace and peace comes from the Father:
(Rev 1:4) "Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come ..."
We need to remember one of the rules for understanding the book of Revelation – namely, we need to interpret it in the light of the Old Testament. In his greeting John wants us to hear echoes of God's greeting to Moses out of the burning bush. God said to Moses, "So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt" (Ex 3:10). Moses protested. "Who am I?" "Who shall I say sent me?" God said, "I AM WHO I AM" (Ex 3:14). "I AM." Now, listen to John's greeting: "Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come" (Rev 1:4). Grace and peace comes from the God Who is, the "I AM," the source of all being and all life. Grace and peace comes from the God Who is always present, Who is eternally present. Grace and peace comes from the God Who is never absent.
This is what Christians needs to hear when they are under attack, when they face opposition, when they are the target of hostility, when they are asked to compromise. The "I AM" Who brought Israel out of Egypt is with them and is giving them everything they need; He is giving them grace and peace.
B Did you notice the two unique features that John says about God the Father? First of all, what John says seems to be out of order. John says "him who is, and who was, and who is to come." We would expect him to say, "him who was, and who is, and who is to come." Why this inversion of the first two items?
John's focus is not on God and His attributes – that God is eternal. Rather, John's focus is pastoral – that the eternal God is present, right now, today, with His people. Right now, today, this God is giving grace and peace to His people.
"Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come." Isn't this wonderful? Isn't this comforting? We can take to heart God's promise to never leave us or forsake us (Heb 13:5).
C There is one more unique feature. We would expect John to say, "Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who shall be." Instead, John says, "Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come." Why does John say, "who is to come"?
Go back to the burning bush. The "I AM" basically says to Moses, "I have come." He has come to do two things: to deliver His people and to destroy His enemies. As we read through the Old Testament history books, the writings, the prophets, we see God described again and again as the God Who is coming (Zech 14:5, Ps 40:7; Is 40:9-11, Mal 3:1). He is coming! He is coming to save His people. He is coming to defeat and judge His enemies. This is what John has in mind when he describes the Father as He "who is to come." He is coming. He is coming to save and to judge. As we wait for His coming He gives us what we need to persevere, to overcome, to endure – He gives us grace and peace.
II The Holy Spirit
A John now directs our attention to the Spirit. "Grace and peace to you ... from the seven spirits before his throne." This expression, "the seven spirits before his throne," is found only in the book of Revelation. What does it mean? Why seven spirits? Doesn't this do damage to the doctrine of the Trinity?
John uses the same expression for the Spirit in Revelation 4. Turn there with me and follow along as I read the first 5 verses:
(Rev 4:1-5) After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this." (2) At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. (3) And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne. (4) Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. (5) From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God.We see, then, that John is ushered into the very presence of God. And before the throne John sees seven lamps that are the seven spirits of God.
The seven spirits are seven lamps. John is telling us the Spirit gives God's people the light they need as they fight the darkness of despair, persecution, trial, death, compromise, and temptation. God's Spirit gives God's people "grace and peace."
B But why seven spirits? John explains this a little further in Revelation 1. Turn there with me and follow along:
(Rev 1:10-16,20) On the Lord's Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, (11) which said: "Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea." (12) I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, (13) and among the lampstands was someone "like a son of man," dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. (14) His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. (15) His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. (16) In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance ... (20) The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.You need to realize that in the Ancient World, lamps are put on lampstands. Now we see why there are seven spirits – one spirit or lamp for each lampstand. It is not a case of a lampstand for each lamp but rather a case of a lamp for each lampstand. In other words, the Spirit and the provisions of the Spirit are given to each of the churches. Each of the churches receives all that she needs in order to live for Christ in an evil and hostile world. Each church receives from the Spirit the grace and peace she needs to finish the race, to endure, to overcome. Each church receives from the Spirit everything she needs to bear witness to Christ in all things and at all times.
C We need to turn to one more passage to understand what John is saying to us. Zechariah 4. Please turn there and follow along with me when I read it. The setting is this. God shows Zechariah how He will bring grace and peace to Israel through the rebuilding of the Temple. Now, you need to realize that the Temple was destroyed years before by the Babylonians; not even two stones were left standing upon one another. The people wondered how the Temple could possibly be rebuilt. After all, they were a relatively small group of people. They were also a poor people. Listen to the answer Zechariah is given:
(Zech 4:1-6) Then the angel who talked with me returned and wakened me, as a man is wakened from his sleep. (2) He asked me, "What do you see?" I answered, "I see a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lights on it, with seven channels to the lights. (3) Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left." (4) I asked the angel who talked with me, "What are these, my lord?" (5) He answered, "Do you not know what these are?" "No, my lord," I replied. (6) So he said to me, "This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: 'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the LORD Almighty.The last sentence is the most important. How will the Temple be rebuilt? Not by the might of man. Not by military power. Not by political intrigue. But by the provision of the Spirit of God.
Seven lights, seven channels, a golden lampstand. Do you see the connection to John's greeting in Revelation 1:4? John is telling us that the church is built, she perseveres and overcomes and endures, only by and through the provision of the Spirit. Not by the might of man does the church endure hostility and attacks and temptations. Nor by military might. Nor by political intrigue. But by the Spirit who gives us the grace and peace we need.
III Jesus Christ
A John finally directs our attention to the Lord Jesus Christ. He says,
(Rev 1:4-5) Grace and peace to you ... from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
We have seen that grace and peace comes from the eternal, ever-present, Father. It also comes from the all sufficient Spirit. Now we see that it also comes from Jesus Christ.
An immediate question springs to mind: isn't this in the wrong order? Doesn't the Bible usually go in the order of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? So why does John mention the Spirit second and the Son third? John saves Jesus until last because from this point forward his focus is on Jesus.
B John identifies Jesus with three names: the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. All three names are taken from Psalm 89. Psalm 89, in turn, is a piece of poetry based upon 2 Samuel 7. We won't read 2 Samuel 7 but in this passage God makes a covenant with King David: God promises David that his throne will endure forever and God promises David that one of his descendants will rule over the whole earth. By ascribing these three names from Psalm 89 to Jesus, John is saying that Jesus is the promised King of David Who will rule over the whole earth and that through Jesus David's throne will endure forever.
C First of all, Jesus is the "faithful witness." This title, as I said, comes from Psalm 89. In Psalm 89 God says David's line will continue forever and his throne will endure. And then God says this:
(Ps 89:37) it will be established forever like the moon, the faithful witness in the sky.Have you been watching the moon this week? It was blood red one night, orange another, and there was a lunar eclipse another night. Through it all the moon was a faithful witness to the sun.
Jesus is like the moon. We usually don't think of Him this way. We usually think Jesus is like the sun, the light. But John says Jesus is the "faithful witness" just like the moon. Of what is Jesus the "faithful witness"? Jesus is the faithful witness to the Father. Every moment of His life, Jesus was a faithful witness to the Father and the Father's work. Jesus was so faithful in His witness that the Jewish religious authorities hated Him and killed Him.
Jesus is like the moon. He is the "faithful witness." And, the churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea are to be like the moon too. In fact, we all are to be faithful witnesses to Jesus Christ in the face of hostility and persecution and temptation and trials. We all are to be a faithful witness like Antipas. We read about Antipas in Revelation 2. Antipas lived in Pergamum, a city indwelt by Satan. Antipas was given the same name as Christ – faithful witness – because he was faithful to death, even as Christ was faithful to death (Rev 2:13).
D Second, Jesus is the "firstborn from the dead." This speaks of Christ's Easter resurrection. Because of His witness to the Father, Christ was killed. But God raised Him from the dead, never to die again. He is the firstborn from the dead. He is the first one Who arose from the dead Who never has to die again. Lazarus was raised from the dead but he died again. The widow of Nain's son was raised from the dead but he died again. The widow of Zarephath's son was raised from the dead but he died again. The Shunammite's son was raised from the dead but he died again. Jesus is the firstborn from the dead. He was raised from the dead but He cannot die again! He is the firstfruits (1 Cor 15:23).
Jesus is the "firstborn from the dead." In the Ancient World, the firstborn is the one who has the right to rule, to reign, to have sovereignty. This title also means, then, that Jesus has the right to rule, to reign, to have sovereignty. Paul states this very clearly in Colossians:
(Col 1:18) And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.Did you catch that last phrase? Jesus has "supremacy" as the firstborn from the dead. We also see this in Psalm 89. This title, as I already said, comes from Psalm 89. Don't forget, God is talking in this psalm about His covenant with David. Listen to what God says:
(Ps 89:27) I will also appoint him my firstborn [WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? LISTEN TO THE NEXT PHRASE], the most exalted of the kings of the earth.Did you catch this? "Firstborn" means "most exalted of the kings." "Firstborn" means the right to rule.
E This brings us to our third title. Jesus is "the ruler of the kings of the earth." Or, as Psalm 89 puts it, "the most exalted of the kings of the earth." He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. There is no question that Jesus rules. There is no question that Jesus has power and might and authority. But there is a question of who submits to and acknowledges His rule. We know the answer. Even in our own lives we know the answer. Christ is the Ruler Whose rule is acknowledged by the church and opposed by the Devil and his followers. But some day everyone will submit because God is coming to save and to judge.
F Jesus is "the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth" (Rev 1:5). Isn't this an outline of Christ's life? Didn't he start off as a witness, for which He was killed? Didn't He then become the firstborn from the dead? And, when He ascended into heaven, didn't He become the ruler of the kings of the earth?
And, isn't this also the path of the Christian life? We are called to bear witness to Christ in this hostile world. Knowing the promise of the resurrection we can be faithful in this, even to death. And, we know that if we endure and overcome, someday we will reign with Christ forever.
We are called to simply follow the path Jesus has already gone. Because Jesus has already gone this route, Jesus knows exactly what to give us. Because Jesus has already gone this route, Jesus knows exactly what we need. We need "grace and peace."
In this life Christians face persecution for their faith in Jesus Christ. Christians face imprisonment, death, temptation, trials. Christians are often asked to compromise their faith. We need supernatural help to persevere and overcome and endure. We need grace and peace. Allow me to put it this way:
Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come.
Grace and peace to you from the seven spirits before his throne.
Grace and peace to you from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
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