Our passage for study serves as an introductory salutation and doxology for John's revelation.
v4. John addresses his words to seven particular churches. These may be within John's pastoral care, although it is more likely that the number 7 is an apocalyptic device, a number that tells us that John's words come with divine authority. The greeting is typical, although with a Christian twist; "grace", a typical Greek greeting, is united with "peace" (shalom), the Hebrew greeting. The greeting is from the one whose name cannot be declared openly, Ex.3:14-15, and also from the "seven Spirits." This reference is to the Holy Spirit, the perfect number again being used, a number with cosmic significance.
v5a. The greeting of grace and peace also comes from Jesus. Jesus is given three titles: First, he is the "faithful witness". This title refers to his work of revelation, particularly during his life on earth. Jesus' second title is "the firstborn from the dead." This title refers to Jesus' resurrection - he is the first to rise. His third title is, "ruler of the kings of the earth." On the last day all will bow before Jesus.
v5b-6. A doxology to Christ follows which describes his redemptive ministry. Jesus loved us and gave his life for us to free us from the bondage of sin, enabling us to be "kings and priests." This was the hope of Israel, Ex.19:5-6, a hope now fulfilled in the church. We have royal standing in the sight of God and access into his presence.
v7. The doxology to Christ continues, describing what will be. Christ is about to come and establish his rule on earth. The end is near at hand - "he is coming." John uses two Old Testament texts to craft this verse: Daniel's coming "Son of Man", Dan.7:13, and Zechariah's "pierced" one, Zech.12:10. The Son of Man is the one who comes with the clouds to stand before the Ancient of Days and take possession of a kingdom. The pierced one stands before Israel as the rejected one, although John has him pierced before the world. The spearing of Jesus at the crucifixion serves as an initial fulfillment of this prophecy. Thus, Christ's coming is imminent and those against him will mourn on that day.
v8. In conclusion, John declares a word from God. The Lord God is the beginning and end of all things; He is the "Almighty"; He is supreme over all things, supreme over all circumstances.
Believers in the first century, who lived under the terror of the Roman emperor Domitian, may well have wondered if God was in control. In the face of the violence, death and destruction of State authorized persecution, where was the protecting hand of the Lord?
We have all experienced the chaos of life, and it is because we believe in a loving sovereign God that we are perplexed by the seeming reign of evil. If God is fore us, how is it that the circumstances of life seem to work against us?
Of course, the simplistic solution for suffering is to look to divine intervention, yet our God is not an interventionist God. On many occasions, during the history of the people of Israel and the Christian church, God's people have waited in vain for his hand to stay an evil power. We too wait in vain when we look to God to give us long life, health, wealth and happiness. Even when prayer is used as a lever to prompt divine action, the troubles often continue. We may then speculate on the "why" of our suffering. Like Job's friends, the troubles can easily be put down to "indwelling sin", or "little faith". Both of these are common suggestions, but in the end they are inane ones.
When John addresses the seven churches in Asia he proclaims a central theological truth that has the power to confront their pending troubles. God in Christ is supreme over all things. He is the "Almighty" one. It is this truth which gives encouragement and support in times of crisis.
How then does Christ's supremacy intersect with our troubles? As the one who is the beginning and end of all things, nothing can frustrate his eternal will. Whatever may occur, God's ultimate intentions for us are good; he "loves us." We may be caught up in the chaos of this age, but in the hand of Almighty God, this chaos cannot frustrate His sovereign intentions for us. So, we need to take our eyes off the trouble, off the shadows, and look to Jesus the source of truth and life, v5. We are forgiven and so have the right of heavenly rule and the right of free access into God's presence, v6. Above all, the day is soon coming when Jesus will return to judge this age and its evil and so vindicate his people, v7.
We stand blessed under the hand of the Almighty God for the shadows will soon wane in the brilliant light of eternity.
1. What is meant by the description of God as "Alpha and the Omega"?
2. In what way does God's sovereignty intersect with the troubles of life?