4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia:
But before we examine those three, let’s take a moment and consider verse 4:
4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia:
If you’ve read the other letters of the New Testament, you have seen this kind of customary introduction before. (Gal. 1:1-2; 1 Peter 1:1-2) Rather than sending this letter to a single church, John addresses Revelation to seven churches in what is now western Turkey. There were more than 7 churches in Asia when John wrote these words, but he chose these seven for several important reasons.
First, if you read chapters 2-3, John addresses these churches by name: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia (not that one, though it could use some help too), & Laodicea. Not only does he address them by name, but he also pinpoints their spiritual health or sickness. He encourages and rebukes as needed. These were all real churches, with real church members, and real challenges. We’ll examine those churches in great detail in the coming weeks. But there is another reason John chooses to write to seven churches.
John uses this Old Testament symbolism. In writing to seven churches, John is writing to the full or complete church—to every church in every age. In fact, if you look at a map of these seven churches you notice they are in a rough circle, yet another figure of completeness. So, in addressing these seven churches, John is effectively saying, “Every church in every age has the same needs, is called to the same task, and shares in the same hope.”
1. OUR NEED
Consider the challenges faced by the early church. Immediately following the resurrection of Christ, the book of Acts records the initial spread of the gospel in the Mediterranean in and around Israel. Most of that book is the story of the first apostles being jailed for preaching the gospel. In Jerusalem, the apostles were jailed by the Jewish authorities. By the end of the book, in A.D. 62, Paul is awaiting trial in Rome. Through the end of the 60s, Emperor Nero would set Rome on fire, blame Christians for it, and institute the first government-sponsored persecution of the church. By the time John writes Revelation, in the late 90s, Domitian is the new emperor and requires everyone to refer to him as “Lord and God.” Those who refused are killed. This government-sponsored antagonism against Christianity will continue in Rome for another two centuries.
Grace to you and peace (v. 4)
Many letters of New Testament begin with this greeting. The great need of every church, the great need of Lake Wylie Baptist is the grace and peace of God. No, we are not being fed to lions, yet. But I do know Christians in this church who have left jobs because they held the teachings of Christ more dearly than their career. I do know students in this church who have risked losing scholarships because their commitment to the truth was greater than their commitment to their school.
This grace and peace find their origin in the Triune Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Grace and peace come, first:
from him who is and who was and who is to come
This is God the Father, the changeless, eternal, sovereign architect of all history. This is a constant flow of grace and peace because the well from which it is draw is and was and is to come.
Are you tired of being a Christian? Tired of being told you are a bigot? Anxious about the future? Friend, your Father is the one who is and was and is to come— the future is already present and past to him. His rule will outlast this week, this month, this decade, this nation. Grace and peace also come from:
from the seven spirits who are before his throne
The seven spirits is a symbolic description of the Holy Spirit of God, the third member of the Godhead. In Isaiah 11:2 we’re told that the Holy Spirit is the spirit of:
1. The Lord
The grace and peace of God are grace and peace which equip you—with wisdom, with counsel, with power, with fear of the Lord. The Holy Spirit has been given to all true believers and his ministry is to fill you for faithfulness to Christ. Grace and peace, finally come from:
Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.
The threefold description of Christ summarizes his entire ministry:
• In life he was a faithful witness.
What is your great need? You could say, “I need a new place to live. I need a better job. I need better health.” What is the need of Lake Wylie Baptist Church? We could say that we need more space. We need more rooms. We need more volunteers. What is the need of the global church? We need more missionaries. We need more church plants. We need more pastors.
But friends, above all of these needs, there is one great need. We need an experience of the all-surpassing grace and peace of our triune God. The Father, giving you his changeless favor. The Son, giving you his perfect righteousness and taking your guilt upon himself. The Holy Spirit, giving you a new heart, giving your faith, granting you repentance so that you may receive all that Christ has done. This promise of grace and peace is not a promise that you will get a better job, but that you are adopted into the Father’s family. It is not a promise that you will avoid trials, but that the Spirit will indwell you and empower you to face every trial imaginable. It is not a promise that you will not be anxious, but that even in the deepest anxiety, you will not be forsaken because Christ was forsaken in your place. If we are going to endure the trying times set for us in the good providence of our God, we need to hear him declare his intention to grant us his grace and peace.
Not only does this passage show us our need. It also shows us our task.
2. OUR TASK
The greeting shifts from the grace we receive to the glory we give. The great task of the church, as we await that day, is to glorify God. Look at the end of verse 5:
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.
Grace to us. Glory to him. Our job today as Lake Wylie Baptist Church in the year 2023, is the glory of God. What does that mean? Are we to sit around singing hymns all day long? “Sorry, honey I didn’t fold the laundry. Had some hymns to sing.” On a practical level. How do we glorify God? John says, Christ, having saved you, had made you a kingdom, and priests. This language of “kingdom” and “priests” first shows up at the founding of Israel as a nation. God had redeemed the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt and spoke these words to them in Exodus 19:6
Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’
With God as their sovereign king, Israel was to obey his commands as loyal subjects. And, as priests, they were to offer sacrifices for sin. And notice, this was conditional for Israel: “If you will obey…” But here in Revelation, it is already accomplished for the church. John writes in the past tense: “has freed us… has made us a kingdom… has made us priests.” In essence, John is saying, “the church is the new Israel.”
6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring
7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.
1 Peter 2:9
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Church, there is no other way to put this: when Jesus Christ came, the covenant that God made with Israel became obsolete, and the true Israel of God is no longer an ethnic nation. The church is the kingdom of Christ. We glorify him by living in accordance with his commands. We read and obey the Sermon on the Mount. He has made us priests. We don’t offer animals. We proclaim the death of Christ as the only sacrifice that truly covers and atones for sin. This is our task. We are to obey Christ and proclaim Christ. This is how we glorify God. We obey his commands and we call others to believe in the work of Christ.
3. OUR HOPE
When I was a little boy, I remember my dad getting a paper copy of the Bass Pro Shops catalogue. We flipped through the pages looking at fishing rods and reels. Then my dad selected one for me. This was before the internet, so everything was ordered by mail or by phone. This was also before two-day shipping so you never quite knew when your order would arrive. Over the next week my little boys mind could not contain itself. I couldn’t sleep. I just knew that maybe tomorrow it would come. John writes to persecuted, marginalized, ostracized, exhausted Christians and he knows that they need more that a fishing rod to motivate them. So, he writes:
7 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.
The same Jesus who was a faithful martyr, the firstborn of the new creation, the ruler of the kings of the earth will return. And no one will miss his return. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 that Christ’s return will be accompanied by a cry of command, the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. When Christ returns, every eye will see him. Every ear will hear him. Every sinner who through their sin made his death necessary for our salvation will look on him whom they have pierced.
Not only is our hope in a future event, our hope is in an eternal person. The passage concludes in verse 8 with these words:
8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
In verse 4, God the Father was described as the one who was and is and is to come. Now those words are spoken by Christ of himself. How do we know this is Christ speaking? Because Christ speaks the same words at the end of Revelation, sealing its promises to us:
12 “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
Our hope is not in ourselves. It’s not in success as we might define it. Our hope is in him who is, was, and is to come, the Alpha and the Omega, the Almighty. Friends, I have walked with Christ for 31 years. And yet I still get tripped up in sin. I’m amazed at how quickly I can still give into behavior that dishonors Christ. You may be right there with me. We are all still under construction. Our hope is not in ourselves. We all daily face challenges that if unaccompanied by the Holy Spirit are insurmountable. Our church, baptizing more Christians, growing every month faces challenges. Our culture bent on silencing the truth will not give up. But the success of our task does not ultimately depend on our faithfulness, but the faithfulness of the Almighty. Not on our abilities, but his. Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord.
He maketh the rebel a priest and a king,
(Arthur Pierson, A New Song to Sing)