A truth that emerges from the pages of Revelation over and over again is that the nature of the church is to live on mission. In our congregation we talk about living for the glory of God as Joyful followers who know, grow in, serve, and share Jesus Christ so others can do the same. This means that, as we run around the bases of life, we will be involved not only in serving others in some meaningful way, but also sharing with them how they can come to know and grow in, serve, and share Jesus also.
Yet, we all know living on mission is usually not easy. Whether Christians are facing persecution for their faith or whether they are simply afraid of how others will react to them, it is easy to feel as if living on mission is like stepping off a cliff. How can we gain the courage?
Since this is an important purpose of Revelation, John points the way to this courage in four main ways as he greets the churches to whom he is writing in Revelation 1:4-8.
1. We Find Power And Peace That Comes From Our God. 4-5a
John lets readers know right away that this power and peace are available to the Church throughout the world in all ages, as he writes, “John to the seven churches that are in Asia.” We discovered last week we can expect a great deal of symbolism in Revelation, including in the use of numbers. Most likely John did in fact write and send this entire prophetic letter work to the seven churches he mentions here and in chapters two-three. However, it also is most likely that the seven churches represent the universal church. We know at that time there were more than seven churches in Asia Minor (what is today southern Turkey). Why did he address these seven, no more, and no less? At least part of the answer may be that he wanted to signify something with these seven churches. This leads to the next point.
We also see in Revelation that the number 7 has a symbolic meaning—suggesting fullness (see later in 1:4, as well as the seven seals, seven trumpets, seven symbolic histories, and seven bowl judgments of chapters 6-16, as well as Gen. 2:2-3; Lev. 25:8). Most likely the addresses to these seven churches are intended to speak to the Church worldwide, and so this power and peace are given by God to all true believers throughout the world and throughout history.
Next, in his greeting, John expresses his desire, i.e. his prayer, for all who read Revelation: That we would experience God’s saving and transforming unmerited power, as well as the wholeness of life also known as peace: “Grace to you and peace.” As we will see shortly, these divinely-originated resources are, in part, so we can live on mission.
To begin, this grace and peace come from God the Father: “from him who is and who was and who is to come.” Based upon similar phrases found in Isaiah (Is. 41:4; 43:10; 44:6; 48:12) that appear to have originated in Exodus 3:14 and the statements there on the divine name, this description of God emphasizes that he is the self-existent, ever-present God who is able to do all that he promises. This is especially true of the part of the description, “the one who is.” Additionally, because it appears again in 1:8 in conjunction with “the Alpha and Omega” (a name that emphasizes God is the origin of all the world and history and controls the end of all things, as well as all in between), and in conjunction with “the Almighty,” the two last parts of the description, “who was and is to come,” emphasize that God is in control in, over, and behind all things. He is absolutely sovereign. He also is all-powerful.
So, to know that grace and peace can and do come from such a God is to know that we have great resources!
Next, John expresses his desire or his prayer that this grace and peace also come from the third person of God, the Holy Spirit: “and from the seven spirits who are before his throne.” Because of other trinitarian prayers for (or statements of) God’s resources elsewhere in the New Testament (e.g. 2 Cor. 13:14; Phil. 2:1), there can be little doubt, sandwiched in between God the Father and also Jesus Christ, this reference is to the Holy Spirit. Here the Spirit is depicted as the perfect and full Spirit, the one who is perfectly capable of empowering saints in whatever way is needed. This reference to the Holy Spirt also is an allusion to Zechariah 4:2-9 where Zechariah receives a vision of a lampstand with seven lamps on it that receives perpetual olive oil from nearby olive trees and symbolizes the continual empowerment the Spirit gives to the governor of Judah, Zerubbabel, and to others to rebuild the temple. In 4:6 we read: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” Likewise, John is being shown that the Spirit empowers those who are kings and priests (Rev. 1:6), the end-times temple of God (cf. 1:20).
Yet, to emphasize that these divine resources come from all three persons in the one true and living God, John adds in verse 5: “and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.” Here, readers are reminded that Jesus has gone before us as a faithful witness to God the Father, to the plan of salvation, and to all that the Father had wanted him to communicate (John 1:1-18; Heb. 1:1-3; Rev. 1:10)—even in the face of great trials and persecution! He is not calling us to do anything that he himself has not already done (see John 20:21!).
Yet, it is not only as an example that Jesus Christ can help us to be faithful witnesses. He also can do this since he is the firstborn from the dead (which means that his resurrection leads to our resurrection). Because Jesus conquered sin and death, we can conquer it and live out true resurrected life now. And, we go out into the world with the power of and representing one who is “the ruler of the kings of the earth” (see also 17:14; 19:16). Usually in Revelation this kind of reference to kings speaks of those in opposition to Jesus Christ, so the focus is upon this age we now live in (when there still is opposition) and not the age to come (when there is none). Because this is true of Jesus, he can empower and take care of us in the ultimate sense so that nothing or no one can separate us from our eternal reward, his protection, or his love (Rom. 8:31-39), and so that we can carry out our mission faithfully and fruitfully.
Additionally, we need to see in these three descriptions of Jesus Christ (“faithful witness,” “firstborn of the dead,” and “the ruler of kings of the earth”) John is alluding to Psalm 89:27, 37, where all three phrases are used to speak of the king who will rule over his enemies and whose seed will sit on his throne forever. Jesus Christ is the one who brought and started this new kingdom and the new creation that transforms and empowers us.
So, the reality we can have such grace and peace from this God—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is no small thing. As we go out into the world to give testimony to Jesus Christ, we do so in the greatest power known to man—that of the infinite eternal God! He will never command us to do something that he does not also give us the more-than-sufficient-ability to do.
The mention of Jesus Christ leads John to break into a word of praise in the rest of verse five and into six. As John does this, he also expresses the second way we can have courage.
2. We Live For The Glory Of The One Who Saved Us, Jesus Christ, And Can Live For His Glory Because He Saved Us. 5b-6
That John is breaking into praise is evident from what we read at the beginning and end of these statements: “To him…to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” Whenever we see this form (e.g. Eph. 3:20-21), it suggests that the person breaks into a statement of a desire to give God glory (here to God the Son), and then must also state what has moved him to do so. For John here, it is the reality that that Jesus “continually loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father.”
John not only celebrates the love of Christ that motivated his saving work, but the fact that he has freed his people from the penalty of sin, is freeing them from the power of sin, and someday will free them from the presence of sin—and all this through his substitutionary atoning death on the cross.
Yet, it is not just forgiveness of sin and eternal life which motivates John’s praise, it is also that, as a result, we are part of his kingdom and are priests who serve him and thus bring others to know him! The wording of verse 6 (“and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father”) is an allusion to Exodus 19:6 and what God said of Israel after he brought them out of their Egyptian bondage and when they were at Mt. Sinai. As kings and priests, Israel was to be a light to the nations, but they failed. Revelation clarifies that what Israel failed to do, the new and true Israel (Jew and Gentile), that is, the New Testament Church, will carry out (see also Rev. 5:10; 11:7).
If there were any doubt that this passage was providing courage and strength for mission, it should now be removed. John highlights that Jesus’ salvation of us results in our living on mission. And John praises him for this!
The third way John points to the courage we can have as we live on mission is found in verse seven.
3. We Focus On The Certain Coming Of Jesus Christ And The Fulfillment Of All God’s Promises. 7
Here John writes: “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.” Here John not only seems to be emphasizing that Jesus’s first and second comings start and complete the fulfillments of that to which Old Testament authors looked forward (Dan. 7:13; Zech. 12:10), but also is calling our minds to the certainty of God fulfilling all he promises to us in Christ.
What this means is that God will not only enable the Church to fulfill her mission and that includes whatever part God has determined each saint play in that mission, but he will also preserve, protect, and reward his people as he promises throughout Revelation, and will bring them into his blessed and favorable presence forever (Rev. 21-22).
The final way John points us to the way of courage is in verse 8.
4. We Find Courage In The Knowledge Of Our Almighty God. 8
John writes: “‘I am the Alpha and Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’”
Since we focused upon these descriptions in verse four, we don’t need to repeat here what we said. The main point is as Jesus said in Matthew 19:26: “With God all things are possible.”
Too often, when we think about serving and sharing Jesus Christ so that others can come to know, grow in, serve, and share him also, we conclude that it is something we have to make happen. We are confident or we lack confidence based upon what we ourselves can or cannot do.
What John encourages us to do in these five verses is to look beyond and outside ourselves, to our triune God and the work he has done, is doing, and will do in us. Our living on mission is more about what he can do through us than what we can do for him!
This is an emphasis that is started here and runs throughout the book of Revelation.
So, step off the cliff with courage!
Joyfully And Courageously Living On Mission With You,