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May 10, 2005
An Exegesis of the Book of Revelation: Chapter 1: verses 4-8
Filed in: Biblical Studies, Current Affairs, The Revelation of Jesus Christ

Prerequisite.

Greetings and Doxology

4John,
      To the seven churches in the province of Asia:

   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, 5and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

   To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, 6and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
    7Look, he is coming with the clouds,
      and every eye will see him,
   even those who pierced him;
      and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen.

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

The Views:

John continues opening the Book with greetings and informs us that it is written to the seven churches in the province of Asia.

As we've previously noted, there is little division among the major views for this early passage - though the seeds of disagreement are there.

Historicists and Futurists generally agree that the seven churches are representative of the church age in history - and we'll develop that further in Chapters 2 and 3. Spiritual interpreters acknowledge the seven historical churches that were intended recipients of the Book, but have no attachment to history - for the Spiritual interpretation everything about the book has primary value in personal application.

It could be assumed that designating the Book for seven churches is a unique address in the New Testament - and certainly no other letter was written specifically to these seven particular churches in what is present day Turkey. But Paul's letter to the Galations, and the epistles of James and Peter were addressed to several churches and widespread groups of believers - possibly Ephesians as well was intended for circulation and maybe to many of the same churches in Asia as the Book.

"Grace" and "peace" is a typical salutation - but we see it expanded upon in this Book - in a more revelatory style - including more than a reference to God the Father. Most scholars are of the view that "him who is, and who was, and who is to come" refers to God the Father, the "seven spirits before his throne" refers to the Holy Spirit (though Gregg opines that this is "one of the more perplexing expressions in the Book"), possibly denoting the Sevenfold Spirit of God, and that "from Jesus Christ" refers, of course, to the Son of God.

This certainly is in support of Trinitarian doctrine - and is perhaps notable because it is the only New Testament letter that seems to include the Spirit in its opening greeting - as well as the Father and the Son.

Jesus is ascribed three characteristics: "who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth" and the first two of these are rather universally agreed upon by scholars. The "ruler of the kings of the earth" characteristic engenders some disagreement between the primary views. Futurists believe that this is primarily a reference to future rule by the Messiah. Historicists and Spiritual interpreters believe that this was to give faith to persecuted believers and that it was a recogniftion of Sovereignty and Jesus' "rule in the hearts of his believers".

Further, there is a salutation to the person and work of Jesus: "To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen." Some scholars suggest the "freed us from our sins by his blood" evokes visions of Exodus and that the Exodus theme is something to be aware of through the Book.

To this point the most significant point of disagreement between the views is the phrase "has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father" - note that an alternate translation of this text would substitute "a kingdom of priests". There is a widespread separation among the prophetic views - and actually within specific segments of church doctrine in which denominations disagree - in regard to the people of Israel (the Jewish nation) and the Christian Church. Generally, the Historicists and Spiritual interpreters will hold that the Church has replaced or substituted for Israel - that the sacraments and prophecies concerning Israel reach fruition and are fulfilled in the Church. Generally, Futurists hold that there is a Church age that has occurred because of the hardness of Israel which enabled salvation to be presented to all people - but that there is a limit to the age and that God's plan for Israel will not be thwarted - that specifically in the wrapping up of history, Israel will once again take the stage as the chosen people of God. The impact of the difference in these views impacts doctrinal views on circumcision, baptism, the meaning of the Kingdom of God, and the overall meaning of the major and minor prophets in the Old Testament among other things. Certainly one of the roots of the idea that the Kingdom of God became active in the work of Christ is this passage.

It is also true that Spiritual interpreters and other scholars of other views also focus on the fact that "a kingdom and priests" is about personal access to God - that because of the work of Christ there is no requirement for an intercessor between the individual believer and God.

The initial greeting closes with a doxology ascribing glory and power or dominion and power - some scholars point out that this is the first of seven doxologies in the Book.

Verse seven introduces us to the overall theme of the Book. It also opens stark disagreement among the major views - all really concerning what "He is coming" means. A significant number of Historicist and Spiritualist interpreters favor interpreting this passage as the second coming of Christ. Some number of both camps though suggest that this coming is a figurative description - for visitation of God's judgment on Israel during the time period in which the Book was written or as a kind of 'continual coming of judgment during all of history' (this particularly favored by Spiritual interpreters). For the most part, Futurists interpret this passage as a reference to the literal return of Christ at the end of this present (Church) age.

References to scripture:

There is an unmistakable reference to Zechariah 12:10. And certainly an allusion to Matthew 24:30, and Exodus 19:6. Some scholars also suggest a possible reference to Isaiah 11:2 - in regard to the Sevenfold Spirit. I am not aware of any other scholars that point to other direct references in this passage.

Call for unity:

As you will no doubt discern from most of my suggestions - I am largely in favor of being pluralist with these views - especially to the extent that a favored point of view is not significantly damaged by allowing the other views to co-exist. As we proceed through this Book, this becomes more difficult to do. Please bear with me.

For all Christians - regardless of denomination or prophetic point of view - there is some agreement that the Church has inherited God's favor - has replaced Israel in some way. This agreement exists because it is scriptural. The mystery and disagreement is rooted in the temporal. It seems clear from a reading of Romans 9, 10, and 11 that we currently live in an age where the Church has obtained the blessings promised to Israel - but that this condition is not permanent.

In Romans 11:11-15 Paul writes:

11Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. 12But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring!

    13I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry 14in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. 15For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.

Further, in verses 25-32 Paul writes:

25I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. 26And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:
   "The deliverer will come from Zion;
      he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.
    27And this is my covenant with them
      when I take away their sins."

    28As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, 29for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable. 30Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, 31so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God's mercy to you. 32For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

Though this teaching seems clear - I recognize that discerning Christians may differ on the temporal nature of the age we live in.

But here's something that we can all agree on - we are the ingrafted branches at present - the inheritors of the promise to Israel to be the people of God. As Paul suggests, this should not lead us to arrogance.

Additionally, Historicist, Spiritual, Futurist positions all believe that there is a Second Coming of Christ - and that it is still in the future. Whether or not we individually hold that verse 8 in chapter 1 refers to that we can still choose to be unified. If you hold the position that 'coming in the clouds' does not represent the Second Coming - it doesn't negate that there will be one. If you hold the position that this is a prediction of the Second Coming - you can still allow that Jesus has come into the hearts of His believers and reigns in at least his spiritual Kingdom. Whatever our view - there is no harm to be pluralistic at this point.

My thoughts:

Next post in this series. Although earlier than I expected - we are going down a long trail in looking at this passage.



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People Pulling

Though it is not a direct reference, I believe that the "kings and priests of God" (or alternatively "kindom of priests") is referring to the covenent that God has with His people. This goes all the way back to the beginning of the nation of Israel:

Exodus 19:6 And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.

Emcee: Thanks Henry. Definitely a promise to Israel that we shall keep in mind going forward.

Posted by: Henry Martin at May 12, 2005 9:00:14 PM

Excellent post. It would be interesting to cross reference God's view of Israel both temporally and prophetically from the book of Daniel, which to my mind is a striking companion "key" book in approaching exegesis in Revelation. FWIW.

EMCEE: JWebb - it's worth a lot. And I'm enthused but not surprised that you are so knowledgeable. For now, I'm still whaling away on chapter 1. The next post will be huge (as in size - not making a claim as to efficacy) and if you have the time I'd love to hear your view on it.

Posted by: JWebb at May 16, 2005 12:29:22 PM

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