by Roger McCay
21 February 2021
Sermon Passage: Revelation 1:4-8
Link to Audio Version
Two young girls were talking, as little girls do. And one said she had ten pennies. The other girl looked at her hand and only saw five. She said, “You only have five pennies.” The first girl replied, “I have five pennies and my father told me he would give me five more tonight. So I have ten.” She understood that her father’s promise was as good as done.
I find it interesting the number of folks delving into the book of Revelation recently. Maybe I’m just a little more aware of it, as I’ve started preaching through the book. But it seems there is an increased interest in the book, with online articles, studies and such. And isn’t it interesting that First Baptist, here in this small town, started a sermon series on Revelation on the same Sunday we began ours?
I suppose this makes perfect sense. People are looking for hope and answers in uncertain times—the coronavirus and all its fallout: people dying, people suffering (including loved ones); businesses failing; months and months of having to keep our distance and hole up. Add to that political turmoil, a loss of confidence in our elected leaders, national turmoil both in rhetoric and violence. War lingers, and we’ve still got thousands of deployed soldiers. Then there are the many ongoing issues in our country, like the destruction brought on by drug-use, human trafficking, domestic violence, the regular legal murder of children by their mothers, and so on. It’d take a long time to list the troubles of our nation. And that was just a general overview of events here in the U.S. A cursory look at the big picture of the world is similar (with some differences, of course). In addition to all that, some are forecasting an oncoming global depression. Then there’s the persecution of Christians across the world, which currently sits (according to Open Doors) with about 1-in-8 Christians living in countries “where they might suffer [high,] very high or extreme levels of persecution.” In hard numbers, statistically, that means “On average, every day, 13 Christians are killed for their faith, 12 churches or Christians buildings are attacked, 12 Christians are unjustly arrested, detained or imprisoned, and 5 Christians are abducted for faith-related reasons.” Every day! Those are our brothers and sisters, my friends. And then, there are our own personal, daily struggles and burdens.
It’s all pretty overwhelming. Such tribulation is discouraging. It can lead to depression and anxiety, and there is a noted increase in folks struggling with those issues. Sometimes it just seems like evil’s got the upper hand, that evil is winning. It’s like Elijah the prophet felt so long ago, crying out to the Lord, “I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” Or as some say today, “It’s all going to hell in a handbasket.”
But is evil really winning? Can evil ultimately win? The scriptures tell us “No.” Of course not. Which is, perhaps, why people are digging into Revelation. Revelation is about the victory of the Lord, and the victory of his people. It’s about hope—hope grounded in the very character of God, guaranteed by the Almighty. His promise of victory, justice and glory is as good as done.
Over the last couple of weeks we’ve examined certain details of our invitation to journey through the Apocalypse with confidence and anticipation. Two details we considered were the “From whom,” and the “To whom.” We saw the book was from the Lord, passed on through the Apostle John. It was written specifically to seven churches in first century Asia (in the mid-60s AD), but was also written with meaning for Christian’s in all places and times.
In our passage today, Rev. 1:4-8, John greets the churches, who were experiencing and facing even more tribulation (v. 9). He greets them with a blessing from the Trinity, a doxology for the Son, a promise of what is soon to come, and a guarantee from the Almighty. Today we’re going to marvel over the Lord (from whom the message comes and in whom its elements are secure).
Verses 4-5 are remarkably Trinitarian, from whom John passes a blessing of grace and peace. John doesn’t just say, “from the Father, the Holy Spirit, and the Son,” however. He give descriptors, using symbolic, prophetic language.
The Father is described as “him who is and who was and who is to come.” This is a way of rendering the Lord’s name for himself in Ex. 3:14-15, “I Am Who I Am.” It also reflects, as some suggest, the “twofold and threefold temporal descriptions of God” (self-designators) found “in Isaiah (Isa. 41:4; 43:10; 44:6; [and] 48:12), which themselves likely are reflections on the divine name in Exod. 3:14.” With such a rendering, John calls attention to the eternal nature of the Father, the principal cause and determinative end, who is always present and active in his creation. For churches facing persecution and tribulations, such assurance was much needed. As Robert Mounce puts it, “An uncertain future calls for One who by virtue of his eternal existence exercises sovereign control over the course of history.” Indeed this rendering of the divine name is repeated in v. 8, forming bookends (who sends on one end and who seals on the other): bookends to the blessings, worship, and promises of vv. 4-8; bookends emphasizing the eternal nature of the blessings and realities encapsulated in the passage and extending through the book—realities existing by the will of the eternal Father, the Lord God, the Alpha and the Omega (the beginning and the end), the Almighty. The Father stamped his name upon this Word, the book of Revelation, as an invincible guarantee, much like we see in the OT: “Thus says the Lord,” and “I am the Lord.”
Next, John writes, the blessing of grace and peace is also from “the seven spirits who are before his throne.” Seven Spirits? What does that mean? Well, there are various ideas, but it seems best to consider this as an unusual way to reference the Holy Spirit. The “seven spirits,” are arranged with the Father and the Son (though neither is named in such a way), as the tripartite persons, the one divine, from whom come the blessing of grace and peace. In this designation, “the seven spirits,” John brings to mind OT teachings and prophecies, using prophetic, symbolic language.
Notice that in just one verse, John uses the number seven twice—seven churches, seven spirits. In all, the number seven comes up 55 times in the epistle (out of 88 times in the whole NT). So, the number seven has an important emphasis in the Apocalypse. Many see the number indicating a sense of fullness or completeness, originating in the creation account in Gen. 1-2, with the six days of creation “followed by the consummate seventh day of God’s rest.”  Thus, as the reasoning goes, in the first case of seven, the seven churches were a representative number of churches for the whole church. The second seven, “the seven spirits” would then be a reference to the fullness, or perfection, of the Spirit of God. So, perhaps, the perfection of the Holy Spirit is in mind. Indeed, the Spirit’s perfection in being and work is an eternal, ongoing reality.
Nonetheless, from a prophetic point of view, perhaps Isaiah 11:2-3 in the Septuagint (the version of the OT mostly quoted in Revelation) is particularly in mind, as it actually names what might be called “seven modes of operation,” benefits or gifts of the Holy Spirit who will rest on the Messiah. Consider what it says:
2 and the Spirit of God shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom (1) and understanding (2), the spirit of counsel (3) and strength (4), the spirit of knowledge (5) and godliness (6) shall fill him; 3 the spirit of the fear of God (7).
Thus, in context, the notion that the number seven refers to the Spirit’s perfect work and giftings in the seven churches, and thence to the Spirit’s perfect work and giftings in all the churches, makes sense.
So how do we take it? Well, for the seven churches and for us today, the designation “seven spirits” signified that the Holy Spirit (who is perfect and complete in being), is perfectly at work in the church, bringing all his gifts and power to bear for God’s people. In this we can be encouraged. We are not left alone with the one God at a distance from our struggles. The Lord God is at work among us, spiritually gifting us abundantly with what we need as a church (the body of Christ), working patiently and tirelessly in our individual and corporate lives, in a perfect way. What an encouragement that is (or can be, even should be) for Christians who face uncertainty, uncertain times, struggles of various sorts, suffering and persecution. The Spirit is with you, bringing grace and peace.
Third, John writes, in v. 5, that the blessing of grace and peace is from “Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.” Here John heralds the Lord Jesus’ threefold office of Prophet, Priest and King: Prophet (faithful witness), Priest (the firstborn of the dead), and King (ruler of kings on earth). Wayne Grudem helps define these offices for us:
Christ fulfills these three offices in the following ways: as prophet he reveals God to us and speaks God’s words to us; as priest he both offers a sacrifice to God on our behalf and is himself the sacrifice that is offered; and as king he rules over the church and over the universe as well.
We find OT roots of the titles John uses here, for Jesus, in the Messianic Psalm—Ps. 89:27, 37. Verse 27: “And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.” Then, in vv. 36-37,“His offspring shall endure forever, his throne as long as the sun before me. Like the moon it shall be established forever, a faithful witness in the skies.”
As Prophet, Jesus is the “faithful witness” of the Father—the mouthpiece of God. John 12:49:
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.
Jesus’ claimed his mission was (and is) to bear the witness to the truth (John 18:37):
“Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
Jesus is also the faithful witness of God’s will. John 6:38-40:
38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
Jesus is the Word of God (John 1:1), bringing to us the true testimony of the Kingdom of God, the Lord’s message of salvation—God’s redemptive work throughout all of history, the gospel. As Jesus proclaimed, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Jesus’ Word is Truth; his testimony is true, and in our trust in him we are saved.
Hence, Jesus’ title of Priest, “the firstborn of the dead.” He fulfills the truth of his Word. As Michael Wilcock describes, “He is the Priest who has offered himself and died, and then risen from the dead, to obtain new life also for the rest of God’s children.” Jesus is the Lamb of God, whose sacrifice atoned for the sins of all who believe in him. John repeatedly emphasizes this fact by referring to Jesus as “the Lamb” 28 times in Revelation. That Jesus is the “firstborn of the dead,” he was the first person to arise from the dead in the eternal way (Col. 1:18). Jesus’ resurrection, as the firstborn, is a guarantee to his followers of our resurrection—1 Cor. 15:20: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” His resurrection is proof that his sacrifice on the cross was sufficient and acceptable to God. Thus, Hebrews 9:11-14:
11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 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, 14 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.
The resurrected Christ stands as our advocate, his blood the means of our redemption, being set free from our sins (1 John 2:1; Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:24-25; and Rev. 1:5). What a wonderful thing it is that glorious Jesus, our Lord and Savior, as Priest, is constantly raising up his offering before God for our sins! His offering is acceptable, good and perfect, truly saving those who believe in Jesus.
Jesus is also “the ruler of kings on earth.” Notice John does not say he will be “the ruler” once he comes again. “The ruler of the kings on earth” is a title—a present and ongoing truth. Jesus is now ruling the kings, and therefore their kingdoms—all the kingdoms on earth. Jesus rules over all the nations of the earth, all the people of the earth. And, as Herman Ridderbos puts it, “the entire human existence is determined by the reality which the Scriptures call, “The Kingdom of God.” His Kingdom is now. He reigns as “King of Kings, Lord of Lords” (Rev. 19:16). We don’t have to wait for Christ’s reign over the earth to begin some period in the future either before or after Christ’s final Parousia. Jesus has reigned since he was given all authority over heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18) and exalted and presented before the Father, at his ascension (Daniel 7:13-14), where he sits at the right hand of God, ruling over all (1 Peter 3:22). His Kingdom is a present reality, where Christ works for good and restrains evil, giving blessing and executing judgment.
So, with that said, what does Jesus’ rule over the kings on earth look like? John Piper lists five ways in a sermon on this passage, which gives us a snapshot:
- He controls who becomes a king and who doesn’t (Daniel 2:21).
- He regulates what the kings of earth do, sometimes holding them back from evil and sometimes ordering international events to further his purposes (Genesis 20:6).
- He has authority to claim citizens for his own kingdom from all the nations and states of the earth (Matt. 28:18-19).
- He will triumph and bring all his saving purposes to victory (1 Cor. 15:25).
- Christ is ordering the world for the good of the church (Eph. 1:22).
To that snapshot, I’ll add that Jesus, the Righteous King, brings judgment whenever, wherever, and upon whomever he wills, as we see God repeatedly do through the scriptures. Judgment is also a major theme of Revelation—Rev. 1:7.
The Kingdom of God, while present (where Christ rules from heaven) is still to come. It is in an ongoing state of coming as the bride of Christ matures, with its final consummation coming at Christ’s Parousia (his final return) at the end of history (like illustrated in Jesus’ Kingdom parable in Mark4:26-29, often called “The Parable of the Seed Growing”). Thus, the Kingdom is already, but not yet.
Therefore, the blessing of peace and grace, in Rev. 1:4, is from “him who is and who was and who is to come” (the Father), “the seven spirits who are before the throne” (the Holy Spirit), and “Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth” (the Son).
Holy, Holy, Holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!
My friends, our God is incomprehensible in scope and being, but what he deigns to tell us of himself in the Bible is true. I hope you can find encouragement in the fact that the Lord, the one God in three persons, has got it covered (everything)—complete sovereignty. Nothing gets by him; nothing can have victory over him. What worldly authority or spiritual force of evil can possibly overcome the Lord? Those in rebellion against the Lord only bring down God’s wrath and destruction upon themselves (Psalm 2).
The Lord’s ways are beyond us (Rom. 11:33). Thus, even when we don’t see the victory, the victory is there. Even when we don’t understand the reason why the Lord rules in the way he does, the way and reasons are perfect and good, as they are according to God’s matchless wisdom and knowledge. While the Kingdom of evil rebels against his rule, he overcomes the Evil One’s schemes and the evil of men to accomplish his good purposes for the sake of his church, whom he loves.
If your trust is not in the Lord today, know that he is trustworthy. Trust in him. Trust in Jesus. Receive the grace and peace, the salvation from your sins, that the Lord freely offers. It comes with an Almighty guarantee.
And brothers and sisters, let us be encouraged. Let the Lord (his being, power, and love) sustain you. His Spirit is perfectly at work in the church bringing all his gifts and power to bear for God’s people. Let yourself embrace his blessing of grace and peace, no matter the chaos of the world around you, no matter the tribulation that comes your way. Since the Lord is the Almighty, his Church should be encouraged.
 Michael P. Green, ed., 1500 Illustrations for Biblical Preaching (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 172.
 Cf. Ian Bremmer, “The Next Global Depression Is Coming and Optimism Won’t Slow It Down,” Time, pub. 6 Aug. 2020: https://time.com/5876606/economic-depression-coronavirus/.
 Ewelina U. Ochab, “One In Eight Christians Worldwide Live In Countries Where They May Face Persecution,” Forbes, pub. 13 Jan 2021: https://www.forbes.com/sites/ewelinaochab/2021/01/13/one-in-eight-christians-worldwide-live-in-countries-where-they-would-be-persecuted/?sh=4922b73f5016.
 Lynn Allison, “Mental Health Providers Struggle to Meet Pandemic Demand,” Newsmax, pub. 18 Feb 2021: https://www.newsmax.com/health/headline/mental-health-providers-pandemic-struggle/2021/02/18/id/1010559/.
 1 Kings 19:10.
 G. K. Beale and Sean M. McDonough, “Revelation,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007), 1089.
 Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 46.
 Rev. 1:4, 11-12, 16, 20-2:1; 3:1; 4:5; 5:1, 5-6; 6:1; 8:2, 6; 10:3-4; 11:13; 12:3; 13:1; 15:1, 6-16:1; 17:1, 3, 7, 9, 11; 21:9. By comparison, the number seven only comes up 33 times in the rest of the NT.
 G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 186.
 Leon Morris, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 20, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 54.
 Lancelot Charles Lee Brenton, The Septuagint Version of the Old Testament: English Translation (London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1870), Is 11:2–3.
 Cf. Henry Barclay Swete, ed., The Apocalypse of St. John, 2d. ed., Classic Commentaries on the Greek New Testament (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1906), 5-6.
 Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 2004), 624.
 Michael Wilcock, The Message of Revelation: I Saw Heaven Opened, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 35.
 Rev. 5:6, 8, 12–13; 6:1, 16; 7:9–10, 14, 17; 12:11; 13:8; 14:1, 4, 10; 15:3; 17:14; 19:7, 9; 21:9, 14, 22–23, 27–22:1; 22:3.
 Herman N. Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom, trans. H. de Jongste (Philadelphia, PA: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1962), 46.
 John Piper, Sermons from John Piper (1980–1989) (Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God, 2007): Sermon preached on 26 November 1989, “Jesus Is the Ruler of Kings on Earth,” Rev. 1:4-5.
 Concerning the Kingdom’s present and continual coming, Ridderbos, 44, writes, “The coming of the kingdom is the consummation of history, not in the sense of the end of the natural development, but in that of the fulfillment of the time appointed for it by God (Mark 1:15) and of what must happen before it. This latter formula is characteristic of the eschatological preaching (cf. Rev. 1:1), also of that of Jesus’ (cf. Matt. 17:10; 24:6, Mark 13:10, Luke 24:44). The coming events are not only represented as an irresistible fate, but as the course of the history of salvation ordained according to God’s counsel. This proves that the coming of the kingdom is not only be conceived in a spatial-vertical sense (cf. Rev. 1:10) but also in a temporal-horizontal sense.”
 Reginald Heber, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” Trinity Hymnal (Suwanee, GA: Great Commission Publications, 2006), 100.