The Revelation’s Sender (Revelation 1:4-5a)
A father noticed that his young daughter was drawing a picture. The father casually asked, “What are you drawing a picture of, honey?” “God,” the little girl replied. “But,” Dad countered, “no one knows what God looks like.” “They will when I get done!” the little girl replied.
The Christians to whom Jesus had John send the Revelation needed to know what God looked like. They knew what the emperor—likely Galba or Otho when Revelation was written—looked like. They may not have known what the emperor’s face looked like—Galba and Otho both reigned a very short time. However, they knew about the worship of the emperor cult, and they knew about the tyranny refusal to worship the emperor brought.
The first-century Christians in Asia Minor needed to know fully who God was so that they might put trust and confidence in him and not worship the emperor and withstand the persecution their refusal to worship would bring. This passage tells the early disciples precisely who God is. We find here a clear representation of the Trinity. God is one (e.g., 1 Timothy 2:5). Yet, we find three “personalities” (for like of a better word) in the Godhead. We find a clear mention of these three distinct “personalities” at the baptism of Jesus. Matthew 3:13-17. God the Son is baptized (v 17), God the Spirit descends upon the Son as a dove (v16), and God the Father speaks from heaven (v 17). Those baptized are to be immersed “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). In the opening of Revelation, we find God the Father, God the Holy Spirit, and God the Son.
Before we notice the Triune God, John makes some observations we need to notice:
- John is the author. I believe the John mentioned here is the Apostle John. The writing style of the Apocalypse is like the writing style of the Gospel of John and John’s three epistles. Early church tradition identified the Apostle John as the author. It’s difficult to imagine another John well known enough simply to call himself “John.” However, since the author does not identify himself as an apostle, some prefer to call the author “John the Seer.”
- John, writing for God, addresses the Revelation to seven churches in Asia Minor. The number 7 stands for completion or perfection. Thus, the idea here is likely that these churches represent the different kinds of churches present in early Christianity.
- John offers grace and peace to these disciples. New Testament epistles often opened with offering the readers grace and peace (e.g., Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3; et. al.), for that was a common way of opening letters in the first century. However, grace and peace play a pivotal role in the Revelation.
- The churches in Revelation needed grace, for they, by and large, were steeped in sin. Jesus freely offered them this forgiveness. For example, Jesus told the Laodicean church to repent (Revelation 3:19). If they repented, the Lord would come through the open door, restore fellowship, and grant them to sit on his throne (Revelation 3:21). Revelation often mentions God’s great grace in one form or another. The Lord Jesus has freed us from our sins through his blood (Revelation 1:5). The Lamb is worthy to open the seven seals, in part, because he ransomed people to God through his blood (Revelation 4:9). Those coming out of the great tribulation have washed their robes in the Lamb’s blood (Revelation 7:14).
- The disciples to whom the Revelation was written needed peace. They were facing severe persecution and often dying for their faith. What great peace they needed! Throughout Revelation, we find a message of peace for these early disciples. They could find peace from this evening’s text, knowing that God always is and that Jesus is “the ruler of the kings on earth.” They could find peace in the promises Jesus offered in the letters to the seven churches to those who overcame. They could find peace in knowing that those who die in the Lord are blessed (Revelation 14:13).
Let’s explore the Triune God who sent this letter to the churches. Triune God is—
The Perpetual God, v 4
Grace and peace come from “him who is and who was and who is to come.” When Moses wanted to know God’s name, the Lord said to him, “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14). God is the “I AM,” the eternal, perpetual God. Only an eternal God could stand outside of time and space and create the universe. Only an eternal God can give us confidence that he is right this very minute and can come to our aid, come what may. Only an eternal God can build for us a home “eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1).
The disciples in Asia Minor needed to understand that God is perpetual. The emperor whom they were being pressured to worship would die, but God never does. The eternal God could be with them in their hour of death—whenever that might come—and send his angels to take them to their reward.
What a comfort for us to know that God is perpetual! No matter what tomorrow may bring, God will be able to help us, for he will be there! No matter when we die, God will be there! No matter when the Lord Jesus returns, God will have prepared an eternal dwelling for us!
The Perfect God, v 4
This message comes from “the seven spirits who are before his throne.” The picture here isn’t that the Holy Spirit is seven or divided. Revelation presents the Spirit as one. For example, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 3:6). Rather, the image is that he is perfect.
The Spirit’s perfection would have been a very important message for these first-century Christians to hear. Every single word inspired by the Spirit—from the promise of a crown of life for the faithful to God’s righteous wrath upon their persecutors—is true. As a perfect Spirit, the Holy Spirit had perfect knowledge of what was going to take place.
What a blessing to know that the Spirit is perfect! We do not need to doubt a single word of Scripture. We do not need to doubt a single divine promise written in Scripture.
The Potentate God, v 5a
The Revelation comes also from Jesus Christ.
- The faithful witness. As the faithful witness, Jesus’ testimony is true. God gave the Revelation to Jesus, and if the church were to hear the message appropriately, Jesus needed to be a faithful witness. Just as the perfect Spirit would have these words recorded appropriately, we know that Jesus gave these words to John truthfully. As the faithful witnesses, Jesus also died for man. The word for “witness” in Greek can also mean martyr. “Witness” here is the same Greek word as used in Revelation 2:13 to describe Antipas. Many of the newer translations use “witness” to describe Antipas. The King James Version and New King James Version use “martyr” to describe Antipas. “Witness” likely became associated with martyrdom because laying down one’s life for the Lord was seen as the greatest witness to the Lordship of Jesus. Jesus as a martyr reminds us of his cruel and unwarranted death because he stood for truth.
- The firstborn of the dead. In biblical usage “firstborn” represented that which opened the womb and symbolized the promise of future fertility. “Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine” (Exodus 13:2). Just as a firstborn child—whether of man or beast—opened the womb of its mother, Jesus, as the firstborn from the dead, opened the “womb” of death and is the promise of our future resurrection. 1 Corinthians 15:20-23. Jesus’ resurrection gives us the hope and the promise and the confidence of our own resurrection some glorious Day! What an important message for the Christians who first read Revelation! They were being called upon to be faithful to Jesus to the point of death. Jesus as “the firstborn of the dead” would give them confidence and hope resurrection and eternal life.
- The ruler of the kings on earth. Jesus is the true Potentate of the world—the “King of kings.” The emperor in Rome might claim superiority and call himself a god and king of kings, but Jesus reigns supreme over him. The Christians laying down their lives in the Roman Empire could know with certainty that Jesus was ultimately in control. Because Jesus had ultimate control, he would judge those who persecuted Christians (Revelation 20:12).
The Christians in Asia Minor could take comfort in knowing the Lord Jesus, the Potentate God, had sent the Revelation. He was a faithful—true—witness of the Revelation; every word would be true, for it came from Jesus. He was a faithful martyr—He endured faithfully to death just as he was asking the first-century Christians in Asia Minor to do. He was the firstborn from the dead—the One who would resurrect any Christian who gave his life for Christ Jesus. He reigned supreme over the Roman emperor and all the other kings of the earth.
What a blessing it is to know the God who sent the Revelation!