The Revelation to John begins with this all-important statement. This is a Revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him so that he might show his servants what must very soon take place. Phillips
One of the later early Fathers of the church, Apringius of Beja in the Sixth Century, had this comment on verse 1. From this we learn that this book is called an Apocalypse, that is, “revelation,” which manifests those secrets which are hidden and unknown to the senses, and that unless Christ himself reveals them, he who perceives the revelation will not have the strength to understand what he sees. ACCS
These words are a powerful reminder to all of us that understanding Scripture requires the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Understanding the Word of God requires us to be open to receive it, not knowledgeable to figure it out on our own. This is especially true when reading Revelations.
We in the Western world have grown up with a mix of ancient Greek philosophy and Renaissance intellectualism, i.e., the scientific method, whether we know it or not. In practical terms, we are trained to read everything as true or not true. With that thinking, verse one above means that God told Jesus to tell John about events that are to come.
But we Western Christians have a difficult time understanding that Revelation, and the whole New Testament, is the product of Hebrews. Yes, even Luke’s father was Jewish and raised his son as a Jew. Scholars today tend to believe that much of the NT was first written in Hebrew. It makes sense because nearly all the first Christians were Jewish.
If John first wrote the Revelation in Greek, he was still a Jew who thought in Hebrew, then translated into Greek. It is likely the visions he experienced were in Hebrew because that was the language John best understood.
The proper Hebrew reading of Holy Scripture expects us to see 1) what is direct and obvious. Then we look for what is 2) hinted at. Next comes 3) how the text comments on or compares with other scripture. Finally, and most importantly, we must look for 4) the deep meaning.
We can do the first steps on our own to a large extent if we remind ourselves to do them. It is at step 4 that we must seek the Holy Spirit. Some call it the hidden meaning as Jesus did a few times. Yet, it is hidden only from those who lack proper guidance.
The Holy Spirit can come to us in many forms, including fellow Christians who share their insights on the text. In fairness, we each have our talents. Some of us can only see what’s on the surface. Our brains are too linear to connect a phrase in Revelation with one in Genesis. Others of us see the whole range of scripture in its interconnectedness. A few can experience flashes of understanding that can only come from God. Together, we can help each other understand.
Most Christians tremble at the mention of studying Revelation and with good reason. It is page after page of strange images that have little relevance in modern America.
A common translation of verse 4 is, 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, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. ESV
It is too easy to slide on by this sentence with the surface knowledge that John is writing to 7 churches while sitting beside 7 spirits/angels next to the throne of God listening to Jesus talk about what is to come.
With level 2, we wonder what John meant with him who is. When we check the Greek, we see that the wording is, from the being who was and who is coming. I checked about eight English translations, and they all have just about the same form as the ESV, including the phrase him who is. The Message does replace the word being with God, which appears to be the best understanding, given the context. If John is at the Throne of God, it’s not too big a leap to believe the blessing comes from Him. But don’t forget that the blessing also comes from the 7 angels and Jesus the Messiah.
With level 3, we connect the 7 churches with those listed in the next chapters. We connect the number seven with the seven days of the creation story and with the most important of the perfect numbers—along with 1, 3, 10, 12, and combinations of them. We note that the phrase who is is a name of God from the Pentateuch. We will see the 7 spirits later in Revelation. We have already read about the death and resurrection of Jesus, so have no trouble with him being called the firstborn of the dead.
As for the 4th level, this is an introductory sentence with little intention of hiding deeper meanings, but, both grace and peace is in the blessing. It echoes the words in the Gospel of John, chapter 1:16. Indeed, every one of us has shared in his riches—there is a grace in our lives because of his grace. Phillips
Look also at Luke 1:19. “I am Gabriel,” the angel answered. “I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and tell you this good news. Because you do not believe what I have said, you shall live in silence, and you shall be unable to speak a word until the day that it happens. But be sure that everything that I have told you will come true at the proper time.” Phillips Here we have one of the seven angels speaking to Zacharias about the birth of John who would announce the coming of the Messiah. There is a double meaning within this quote also. The good news was intended to be the coming birth of John, but it is also the message that the Messiah brings to all the world.
The phrase, the ruler of kings on earth, should not be ignored. When we look back at the trial of Jesus before Pilate, Pilate could find nothing wrong with Jesus, as we read in Luke on Palm Sunday. John’s Gospel has Pilate in the same position, until this exchange. “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” NIV
No doubt when Pilate sent his report to Rome, he explained that Jesus claimed to be a king. That was reason enough for his execution. More importantly, Jesus’ answer to Pilate explains the phrase the ruler of kings on earth in Revelation. As God’s representative on earth, Jesus has absolute power over every life on earth, including kings, rulers, and the elite.
Notice the last verse of today’s reading. I am the Alpha and the Omega (Greek), the Alef and the Tav (Hebrew), the A and the Z. Also, notice that this is God speaking. In Revelation 21:6 the title is again given to God. This title appears in the Bible only three times, all in Revelation. The third is found in 22:13. “Look, I [Jesus] am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. NIV The Son of God claims the name of God.
Read my earlier comments on this theme here.
Be righteous and do good.