Greetings to the Churches

SYNOPSIS - The salutation from the Throne to the seven churches of Asia highlights the main themes of the book, especially the present reign of JesusRevelation 1:4-8

Letter - Photo by Andrew Dunstan on Unsplash
The next paragraph presents greetings to the churches of Asia sent from the Throne at the center of the Cosmos– From God, Jesus, and the “Seven Spirits of God.” The books’ salutation lays stress on the present reign of Jesus over the political powers of the earth, a reign based on his past Death and Resurrection. The addressees of Revelation are identified - The seven churches or “assemblies” of Asia in the key cities of the Roman province of Asia.
  • (Revelation 1:4-8) - “John, unto the Seven Assemblies which are in Asia, Favour to you, and peace, from— Him who Is, And who Was, and who is Coming, and from— The Seven Spirits which are before his throne, and from— Jesus Christ,— The Faithful Witness, The Firstborn of the Dead, and The Ruler of the Kings of the Earth. Unto him that loveth us, and loosed us out of our sins with his blood,—and he hath made us [to be] a kingdom—priests unto his God and Father, Unto him be the glory, and the dominion, unto the ages. Amen. Lo! he cometh with the clouds, and every eye shall see him, such also as pierced him; and all the tribes of the land shall smite themselves for him. Yea! Amen. I am the A and the Z, saith the Lord,— the God who Is, and who Was, and who is Coming, The Almighty” - (The Emphasized Bible).
God is the one “who is and who was and who is coming.” This phrase expands on the self-designation given to Moses from the Burning Bush - “I am who I am.” The clause will occur three more times in the book of Revelation but with some modifications to reflect theological developments.

Like Moses, John received his commission while in exile separated from God’s people. Just as God freed His people from Egypt to make them into a “kingdom of priests,” so Jesus has now “loosed” his people and constituted them a “kingdom, priests.”

The application of terms and images from the history of ancient Israel to the churches of Asia is consistent throughout the book. The Exodus motif reappears in several of its subsequent visions - (e.g., Exodus 3:14 19:4-5, Revelation 4:8, 11:17, 16:5).

The term “seven spirits” occurs nowhere else in Scripture, except in the book of Revelation. Its significance is not worked out at this point in the book, although the “spirits” are linked directly to the Throne. The image is derived from a passage in the book of Zechariah where the “seven eyes of Yahweh go about all the earth” - (Zechariah 4:10, Revelation 3:1, 4:5, 5:6).

From Jesus Christ, the Faithful Witness, Firstborn of the Dead, Ruler of the Kings of the Earth.” “Faithful Witness” refers to his obedience in death, “firstborn of the Dead” to his subsequent resurrection. “The Ruler of the kings of the earth” is the present status of Jesus. The phrase alludes to two Old Testament passages:
  • (Psalm 2:2-9) - “The kings of the earth set themselves against Yahweh and his anointed one.”
  • (Psalm 89:27) - “I will make him higher than the kings of the earth.”
Likewise, the 89th Psalm is the source for the other two messianic titles used in the salutation:
  • (Psalm 89:27) - “I will make him my Firstborn
  • (Psalm 89:37) - “His seed shall endure forever, and his throne as the sun before me. It shall be established forever as the moon, and as a faithful witness in heaven.”
Thus, the “kings of the earth” is the verbal link by which Revelation connects Psalm 89:27 and Psalm 2:2-9, then applies both passages to what Jesus became due to his Death and Resurrection. His sovereignty over the “kings of the earth” is a repeated theme in the book, and his reign is a present reality - His elevation to the throne was accomplished in his past Death and Resurrection - (Revelation 11:15, 12:10, 17:14, 19:16, 20:4).

To him who loves us and, by his blood, loosed us from our sins.” The sacrificial death of Jesus redeemed his churches and demonstrated his love for them. “Loosed” is a literal rendering of a Greek verb with the basic sense of “free, deliver, loose.” The pertinent point is not the forgiveness of sin but the liberation from its bondage.

Loosed us from our sins.” This clause is unexpected. More commonly, the Bible refers to being “forgiven” or “cleansed” from sin, not “loosed.” The probable Old Testament passage alluded to is in the book of Deuteronomy, a verse that is conceptually linked to the passage from Exodus already alluded to in this verse:
  • (Exodus 19:4-6) – “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be mine own possession from among all peoples: for all the earth is mine: and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.
  • (Deuteronomy 7:6-8) – “Yahweh thy God has chosen you to be a people for his own possession, above all peoples that are upon the face of the earthBecause Yahweh loves you, and because he would keep the oath which he swore unto your fathers, Yahweh brought you out with a mighty hand, and delivered you out of the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”
He made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father.” “Made” is in the aorist tense and points to a past event, in this case, the death of Jesus. This priestly role is a present calling to which the churches of Asia are appointed. What Israel was called but failed to do has now fallen to the churches. “Kings - Priests” signifies what kind of reign this is and how the saints execute it - (Exodus 19:5-6, 1 Peter 2:5-10, Revelation 5:10, 20:6).

Globe - small - Photo by Fernando @cferdo on Unspla
Photo by Fernando@cferdo - Unsplash

To him be the glory and the dominion unto the ages of the ages.” The doxology reiterates the theme of God’s kingdom rule and alludes to a passage from the book of Daniel:
  • (Daniel 4:34-35) - “I, Nebuchadnezzar uplifted my eyes and I blessed the Most-High and glorified him who lives forever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom lasts from generation to generation.”
This bold declaration set in opposition to the claims of the Roman empire is announced to the suffering churches of Asia. God reigns supreme through his appointed heir, Jesus, regardless of appearances or the persecuting activities of hostile forces - (Revelation 1:9, 7:9, 10:11, 13:7).

He is coming with the clouds.” This alludes to a passage from the seventh chapter of Daniel where a human figure was seen “coming with the clouds of the heavens to approach the Ancient of days.” In Revelation, the verb tense is changed from an imperfect (“he was coming”) to a present (“he is coming”). What was promised is now coming to fruition in the lives of the churches. The passage from Daniel is one of the key Old Testament verses applied several times in Revelation, beginning in its very first vision:
  • (Daniel 7:13-14) – “I continued looking in the visions of the night when lo! with the clouds of the heavens, one like a son of man was coming,—and unto the Ancient of days he approached, and before him they brought him near; and unto him were given dominion and dignity and kingship, that all peoples, races and tongues unto him should do service,— his dominion was an age-abiding dominion, which should not pass away, and his kingdom that which should not be destroyed” – (The Emphasized Bible).
Every eye will see him, whoever pierced him, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over him.” “Every eye” includes the churches of Asia and hints at a broader group. The “tribes” mourn because the Son of Man was pierced on their behalf, not over their eternal doom. Later, the term “tribe” will be applied to the redeemed men and women from “every tribe” that mourn when they see the one who was pierced - (Revelation 5:9, 7:9-17).

In verse 7, the book combines clauses from the books of Daniel and Zechariah - Both refer to “tribes,” the term that links the two passages:
  • (Daniel 7:14) – “And unto him were given dominion and dignity and kingship, that all peoples, tribes and tongues unto him should do service,— his dominion was an age-abiding dominion, which should not pass away, and his kingdom that which should not be destroyed.”
  • (Zechariah 12:9-12) – “That I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. But I will pour out upon the house of David and upon the inhabitant of Jerusalem the spirit of favour and of supplications, and they will look unto me whom they have pierced,— and will wail over him as one waileth over an only son, and will make bitter outcry over him as one maketh bitter outcry over a firstborn So shall the land wail, tribe by tribe apart.
In the book of Zechariah, it was not the hostile nations that mourned but the “tribes” of Israel when they were rescued from the assault. But now, in Revelation, the “tribes” of Israel become “all the tribes of the earth.” A prophecy originally given to national Israel is now universalized and applied to the churches of Asia (at a minimum).

I am Alpha and the Omega…the Almighty.” The one speaking is the “Lord God who is and who was and who is coming.” His voice is heard in the book only here and in “New Jerusalem.” No other scriptural passage refers to God as the “Alpha and Omega.” ‘Alpha’ is the first letter of the Greek alphabet, ‘Omega’ the last (‘Α,’ ‘Ω’). He is the one who begins things and brings them to their intended conclusion - (Revelation 21:5-8).

Almighty” represents the Greek noun pantokratōr, which signifies one with might or sovereignty over others. It is used in the Greek Septuagint to translate the Hebrew term for “hosts” - (e.g., “Yahweh of hosts”). This is a fitting end to the salutation. The reference to His might reassures the churches. The same One who transcends history - (“He who is, who was and who is coming”) - will complete what He started - (“Alpha and Omega”) - And He possesses the power to do so - (“Almighty”).
The salutation contains key themes that are expanded in the book. This includes Jesus as the one who “overcame” through his sacrificial death, his present reign, the participation of believers in his reign, and his sovereignty over all of the political powers on the earth.
Throughout the salutation, the seven churches remain in view and its themes set the tone for the entire book. From the start, the book of Revelation is addressed to the marginalized Christian congregations in the province of Asia.

Above all, the opening paragraph anchors the visions of the book and their interpretations in the past Death and the Resurrection of Jesus.

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