John to the Seven ChurchesRevelation 1:4-5Theme: Who, what, when, where, and why.This week’s lessons teach us the various theories concerning the authorship and date of the Book of Revelation.
LessonThe churches to which John writes are the seven churches in the province of Asia (Rev. 1:4). These were actual churches that lay at a more or less circular route. But there were more than seven Christian churches in Asia Minor. There was a church in Troas, for example; we learn about it in Acts 20. There was a church in Colosse; Paul wrote a letter to the Colossians. The letter to the Colossians also mentions a church in Hierapolis, and there were probably others.
So we have to ask, why these seven only? The number seven is somewhat symbolic. It has to do with completeness; and if that’s the case here in the choice of the seven churches, it probably means that these churches are to be thought of as representative of the Church universal. These were real churches. The book was to be read by each one, but all of it was to be read by each one. That’s why when the letters conclude, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches,” “the churches” is plural, which means each church was to read what had been written to the others, and we’re to read them that same way.
How do they describe what’s going on in our churches today and what should we learn from it? I said earlier that verses 4 through 7 are in the form of an ancient beginning to a letter. After the identification of the author and the one to whom he’s writing, you have a blessing, which in this case is: “Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before the throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” That is a Trinitarian greeting.
Part of the greeting is from God the Father, that is, “from him who is and who was and who is to come.” It’s undoubtedly a deliberate reference to God’s revelation of his name to Moses at the Burning Bush (Exod. 3:14). But have you noticed the order of those phrases in verse 4? In normal conversation, we start with the past, we move to the present, we talk about the future. We would say, in reference to God, “him who was, and who is and who is to come.” But John doesn’t do that: he begins with the present and then he goes back to the past and talks about the future. The reason of course is that he is emphasizing that God is eternally present. That’s the way God the Father is introduced.
And then, secondly, we have a blessing from the Spirit. There’s a puzzling phrase here: “the seven spirits before the throne.” It’s unusual. John is referring to Isaiah 11:2, where there are seven aspects of the Holy Spirit. Isaiah talks about him as being the Spirit of the Lord, of wisdom, of understanding, of counsel, of power, of knowledge, and of the fear of the Lord.
And then, thirdly, we have a blessing from Jesus Christ. Why is he mentioned last? Well, because John wants to focus on Jesus as the central figure of the Bible. And indeed he does it here by listing three of Christ’s titles. First of all, he’s the “faithful witness.” He was a faithful witness to all that God instructed him to teach. In John 18:37, interestingly enough, Jesus says: “…For this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” So, when you remember that this letter is being written to Christians who would endure hardship and suffering and perhaps even death for the sake of their witness, it’s certainly an encouragement to them to know that the Lord Jesus Christ whom they’re serving, himself bore a faithful witness even though he suffered for it. And so John is saying, many of you may be martyrs for the sake of the testimony, but remember, stand firm because Jesus did it before you.
What does the number seven symbolize in Revelation?
Why was John’s letter addressed to just seven churches in the province of Asia?
What did John most likely mean when he referred to seven spirits before the throne?
Why did John give Jesus the title of “faithful witness”?
Further StudyRead the following passages as they relate to the eternal aspects of God: Exodus 3:14; Isaiah 44:6, Revelation 1:8.