John, to the seven churches which 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 from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. (NKJV)
In this verse, we see those to whom John originally wrote, as well as the blessing he desired for them.
1. the seven churches which are in Asia.
First of all, the “Asia” John knew isn’t the Asia we know, that is, the Far East: China and such, but was a part of the Roman Empire in what we know as southwestern Turkey. It sat between the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea. The “seven churches” were within a fifty square mile area and are listed in order clockwise from the first to the last. We’ll have some more to say about each of them when we get there, but it’s important to remember, whatever else might be said about them, that these were seven actual, contemporaneous, churches.
2. the blessing he desired for them.
a. its substance: grace and peace.
Grace comes first. Grace must come first – always, because without grace, we’re only under God’s condemnation and judgment.
A common definition of grace is “God’s unmerited favor toward us.” That’s true, but I like to think of it more as “God’s unmerited favor toward us in spite of our merited disfavor from Him.” Or just three words, “in spite of….” You see, for all our supposed goodness and greatness, there’s nothing good in us Godward, Romans 7:18. We all sin and fall short of His glory, Romans 3:23. What does that mean: “fall short of His glory”? I think it means that we fall short – far short, when it comes to glorifying Him, giving Him the honor, respect and worship that He deserves. Our every breath is in His hand, and yet, like the man to whom that statement was originally made, we have not glorified Him, Daniel 5:23. All we deserve is His condemnation and judgment. Without grace, we would all perish in our sins.
Peace. In John 14:27, our Lord promised the disciples, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.” What does this mean, “not as the world gives”? The world’s peace depends on what is happening, on outward things, things going well, things going “our way.” The peace Jesus spoke of depends on none of those things. It rests simply on the fact that God is in control of the “outward things.” It looks up, not around.
What might this mean in the context of John’s writing, if anything? I think it could simply mean that, regardless of what happens in much of the rest of the book, chs. 21, 22 will put an end to all of that and usher in, as Peter put it, new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells, or as it could be translated, “is at home,” 2 Peter 3:13. It certainly isn’t at home in this world.
b. its threefold source:
From Him who is and who was and who is to come.
This refers to God the Father and describes Him as being present right now, as He present was in the past and as He will be present in the future. In other words, there has never been a time, and never will be a time, when, or where, He “isn’t” and isn’t on the throne of the Universe.
From the seven Spirits who are before His throne.
See also 4:5, which also refers to the seven Spirits of God. There is some discussion about who these are. Many expositors look to Isaiah 11:2 and what they say is his seven-fold reference to the Spirit, and, so, John refers to the Holy Spirit. Thus, it is said, we have a reference to the Trinity: Father, Spirit and Son. Others say, “No, it’s a reference to the seven angels (of the seven churches) who stand before God’s throne.” There were no capital letters in the original language. Everything was written in lower case letters. Isaiah 11:2 is a six–fold description of the Spirit of the LORD which rests on the Messiah.
Which view of the “seven Spirits” is correct? At different times, I’ve held to each of them. At this time, I don’t really know which view is correct. So I put forth the discussion, though there is more that could be said, and leave it at that.
From Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
the faithful witness.
This refers to His life and earthly ministry. At His trial before Pilate, Jesus said, “For this cause I was born, and for this cause I came into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth,” John 18:28.
the firstborn from the dead.
This refers to His resurrection. “Firstborn” refers to His priority, even in this. Colossians 1:18, In all things, He may have the preeminence.
the ruler of the kings of the earth.
This refers to His reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The question is, is that true of Him now? In the sense that providentially He rules in the everyday affairs even of kings perhaps it is true. Is that all John meant? That His rule is unseen and unacknowledged?
Perhaps the majority of Christians believe that, yes, He is ruling right now in His “heavenly session.” It’s a spiritual rule in the hearts of His people. Yes, but how many of “His people” are “kings of the earth”? Where is there, right now, even one world leader who acknowledges and tries to live and govern by His Word?
“Ruler of the kings of the earth” is more than a meaningless title. It refers to a time when He will be universally and openly acknowledged as “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” That title is always and only used in connection with His Second Coming. There is coming a time, believe it or not, when Washington, London, Moscow, all the other capitals of the world, and their leaders, will submit, willingly or not, to the rule of the Lord Jesus. We’ll have much more to say about this as we get into the book, Lord willing.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus.