Principles of Interpretation; Rev. 1:1-3
What we have here is a salutation from the Trinity. It begins in verse 4, "John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace to you, and peace, from him whois, and who was, and who is to come; and from the seven Spirits who are before his throne." The word "churches" is the Greek word EKKLESIA [e)kklhsia] in the dative plural, indicating more than one. The word EKKLESIA can refer to an assembly or a meeting but it is used in a technical sense in the New Testament to refer to a gathering of believers, believers in the Lord Jesus Christ who have put their faith alone in Christ alone and at the instant of salvation have been identified with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection, and so they are in the body of Christ. The word "churches" is used in two senses in the Bible. It is used in the sense of a local church which refers to a gathering of believers in a local assembly, and then it is also used of the universal church which is the body of Christ, the body of Christ made up of all believers of all time, dead and alive. But not every member of a local church is a member of the body of Christ because not every member of a local church is a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.
So we have here seven local churches "which are in Asia." The Asia that is referred to here is not the Asia that most have in mind, the far east, but in the ancient world Asia originally referred to a Roman province on the western shore of what is now modern Turkey. The capital of Asia was the city of Ephesus. It was a port at that time. The church at Ephesus was the first of the seven churches that are identified in verse 11. John is writing from the island of Patmos which is off the coast of Turkey about 40 miles from Ephesus. These churches are the subject of Revelation chapters two and three.
"Grace to you, and peace" is the opening salutation. The first word "grace" is the Greek word CHARIS [xarij] and it emphasizes the unmerited favor of God, the unearned love of God. Grace emphasizes all that God has done for us in our lives, all that God has done for us in our salvation. He says, Grace to you, and the "you" is in the dative case, the dative of advantage. It indicates that this is for your benefit, your advantage, to pay attention to what is in the letter. "Peace" is EIRENE [e)irhnh] which is based on the standard Jewish greeting shalom, which is the Hebrew for peace. Grace and peace both have their ultimate source in the Trinity.
Then we get into a very interesting clause: "from him who is, and who was, and who is to come." The first word is the Greek preposition APO [a)po], translated "from," and it indicates the ultimate source of something. This is repeated three times. The threefold repetition of APO indicates three distinct persons in the Trinity. If there was only one person there might be one APO and then each of these descriptions might relate to the same person. The threefold repetition of APO indicates a threefold repetition related to each member of the Trinity. This is a Trinitarian introduction. When we first look at this clause we have to ask the question: To whom does this refer? Does it refer to God the Father or does it refer to Jesus Christ? We might think it refers to Jesus Christ. If we look at verse 8 we have a repetition of this phrase: "I am the Alpha and the Omega." The KJV or the NKJV there is the insertion of the phrase "the beginning and the end" after that. That is not found in the critical text or in the Byzantine text which is the majority text, so therefore it is not in any of the better MSS. "I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God." It is important to indicate that. The KJV leaves out "God," but it is clear that in the majority text "God" is there. The term "Lord God" in the New Testament primarily refers to God the Father. So it is God the Father speaking. Right before verse 8 we have John talking about Christ's coming at the second advent. "Behold, he is coming with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all tribes of the earth shall mourn because of him." Obviously that is talking about the Lord Jesus Christ. And then when he moves into the next verse we automatically want to associate that with Jesus Christ. In fact, in verse 10 when Jesus Christ appears to John on the island of Patmos John says, "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last." So we see that that is the Lord Jesus Christ appearing to Him, so we want to take this title Alpha and Omega and apply that to Jesus Christ. Are we confused yet?
We have to do technical work here to figure all this out or we'll really start assigning the wrong phrases to the wrong person of the Trinity. That is not easy because if we think about the Trinity, Jesus said, "I and the Father are one." Everything that can be ascribed to the Son can also be ascribed to the Father; everything that can be ascribed to the Father can also be ascribed to the Son. So the title Alpha and Omega applies to both the Father and the Son, it is not distinct to the Son. The reason we say that is because in verse 8 where we have the phrase, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the one who is, and was, and is to come, the Almighty, " when we have the phrase "the Almighty" following "who is, and was, and is to come," the Greek word PANTOKRATOR [pantokratwr] (Almighty) only refers to God the Father. It does not refer to the Lord Jesus Christ. So we have to identify those particular passages.
Revelation 4:8, "And the four living creatures each having six wings; were full of eyes around and within: and they do not rest day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come." To whom does that refer? It refers to God the Father because in the context the Lord Jesus Christ has not yet appeared. He does not appear until chapter 5 verse 6, and He appears as the Lamb.
Revelation 11:16, 17, "And the four and twenty elders, who sat before God on their thrones, fell on their faces, and worshipped God, saying, We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, the one who is, and was, and is to come; because you have taken your great power, and reigned." This takes place after the seventh trumpet and is again a scene in heaven. The context there indicates that they are falling down before God the Father. He is distinguished from the Messiah in verse 15. "Lord" refers to God the Father; "Christ" refers to the Messiah. One other place that mentions this same phraseology is in Revelation 16:5.
Revelation 1:8, "The one who is, and who was, and who is to come." This phrase has some interesting aspects to it. The first description is "the one who is." This is the present active participle of the to be verb EIMI [e)imi] and it has an article with it. Whenever a participle has an article in Greek it is going to function more like a noun than a verb, and that means it is a substantive; it is referring to a person. So it can be translated "the one who is." Since it is an existential verb it is the one who is existing, present tense; the one who is continually existing in present time. Then when we look at the second description we have again the repetition of that article, but this time it is associated with a finite verb. You don't put an article with a finite verb. It is not that it is bad grammar, it is not typical. So why would you put an article with a finite verb? The reason you would do that, the reason John does that, and the reason it is this way, is not because it is bad grammar but because this entire phrase represents a name. This is a title, therefore the entire title must be treated in a different way than normal sentence grammar. Here we have a definite article used as a relative pronoun again, "the one who was," and there is a finite verb, the perfect active indicative of the same verb, EIMI. One of the reasons this is written this way is because there really isn't another way grammatically to express the idea that John wants to express, and that is continual existence in past time. This is the same idea as in John 1:1. The third term is "the one who is coming." It is a middle passive participle, what is called the deponent verb which means it has a passive form but an active meaning. It should be translated "to come." It is the basic word meaning to come or to move from one point to another, and the emphasis is on the movement itself, the coming. So He is the one to come—ERCHOMAI [e)rxomai]. We can translate this "the one who is coming." The emphasis of this present tense is future; He is coming. There is an air of expectancy here.
If we are thinking we will be saying that Jesus Christ the Son is the one who is coming, not the Father. So how can we say that this title fits the Father? Exegetically, in terms of the way this phrase is used throughout Revelation it always refers to the Father. Second, it is clearly a Trinitarian statement indicating that the three-fold source of this revelation is from the Father, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus Christ. But something happens at the end of Revelation that is very informative. In the first chapter of John's Gospel John says, "No man has seen God at any time." The only-begotten God has revealed Him. No person has ever seen God the Father face to face. Jesus Christ the Son is the revealer of the Father, but down through history all that the human race has seen has been the revealer of the Trinity, Jesus Christ. But in Revelation 21 there will be a change. Verse 3ff, "And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God [the Father] is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." So what we see here is that there will be a revelation of God the Father and we will personally see Him. Revelation 22:4, "And they shall see his face; and his name shall be on their foreheads." So we will see God the Father. There is a coming of God the Father in Revelation. Not only is there reference to Jesus Christ as coming at the second advent but there is this coming of God the Father.
Another line of evidence is seen in the preposition in the next phrase. The apocalypse is also "from the seven Spirits who are before his throne." The word "before" here is the preposition ENOPIOS [e)nwpioj], and it means to be before or in front of. Whose throne is it? Nowhere in Revelation does Jesus Christ sit on His own throne. You can trace the word THRONOS [qronoj] throughout Revelation and it is always the Father's throne. Just one passage to look at: Revelation 3:21, "To him who overcomes will I grant to sit with me on my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne." Right now Jesus Christ is in session. When Christ went to heaven He was seated at His Father's right hand. The first part of verse 21 is talking about the session, that Jesus sat down on His Father's throne. He is still seated on His Father's throne. He does not receive His throne until He returns in glory at His second coming. That is the throne of David in Jerusalem. Revelation 1:4 is talking about the Father.
The second part of this introduction mentions the seven spirits who are before His throne. One reason this would not refer to angels is because we have an indication that this revelation comes from God the Father and God the Son. We wouldn't include angels in a description of the Father and the son where the middle element would be angels. Revelation doesn't proceed from angels, it proceeds from God, and the specific member of the Trinity who is responsible for Revelation is the Holy Spirit. So even though the term "seven spirits" is an unusual phrase it is a phrase that is used in Revelation on a couple of occasions to describe the Holy Spirit. But from whence does that description come? Many people think that it goes back to a passage in Isaiah, Isaiah 11:2.
Isaiah chapter 11:1, 2 is a Messianic passage. "And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: and the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD." This is using the analogy of a tree, and the stem of Jesse refers to David's father. This identifies the fact that the Messiah comes through that Davidic line. The "spirit of the Lord" in the first phrase of verse 2 refers to the Holy Spirit indwelling and empowering the Messiah. The Holy Spirit was the power source for Jesus Christ during the incarnation. This doesn't mean that everything that Jesus did was through the Holy Spirit because He did some things in the power of His own deity to demonstrate that he was God. For example, stilling the storm, indicating His sovereignty over the elements of meteorology. He changes the water into wine, indicating that he is the creator and able to change the water into a completely different kind of substance. He did some things in His own power but He did many of His miracles and handled every problem and difficulty in temptation and tests from reliance upon the Holy Spirit. That is what sets the precedence for the church age Christian life. Then in this passage in Isaiah 11 "the spirit of the Lord" is broken down into different manifestations of quality in the rest of this verse: "the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD." When we get to these last three clauses we have the same word ruach used of the spirit of the Lord. But those aren't autonomous personalities. The Spirit of the Lord is an autonomous personality: the Holy Spirit; but "the spirit of wisdom" isn't a separate entity. Follow: The Spirit of the Lord manifests Himself with wisdom and understanding, with counsel and might, and with knowledge in the fear of the Lord"—three sets of two; six manifestations. The "Spirit of the Lord" is the person, it is not the same category. "Spirit of the Lord" isn't to be identified with the list of the other six. He is the Spirit of the Lord manifesting Himself as wisdom and understanding, and counsel and might, as knowledge and the fear of the Lord." So you only have six there, you don't have seven. The only way to get seven is to include that title as part of the other six, but that is a categorically different title, a different nomenclature. That is, who He is and the next six are what he manifests.
There are a number of commentators who go to Isaiah chapter eleven as the basis for understanding the seven spirits in Revelation. But there is a better understanding. There is a vision given in Zechariah 4:1-10. There is a parallelism given between Zechariah 4 and Revelation 4 & 5. Revelation 4:5 mentions that "from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings and voices. Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne which are the seven Spirits of God." Then in verses 6 of chapter 5 we read, "…having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth." So this gives us a connection between the seven Spirits of God who is related to the seven lamps and seven eyes which indicates omniscience and knowledge, and that these are sent out into all the earth.
Zechariah 4:1-10, "And the angel that talked with me came again, and waked me, as a man that is wakened out of his sleep, and said to me, What do you see? And I said, I have looked, and behold a candlestick all of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it, and his seven lamps thereon, and seven pipes to the seven lamps, which are upon the top thereof." Where have we seen seven lamps? There are seven lamps identified as the seven Spirits of God in Revelation 5:6.
"And two olive trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon the left side thereof. So I answered and spoke to the angel that talked with me, saying, What are these, my lord? Then the angel that talked with me answered and said to me, Do you not know what these are? And I said, No, my lord. So he answered said to me, This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the LORD of hosts." So the seven lamps and this whole vision with the oil and the lamps burning is tied in verse 6 to the Holy Spirit. It is indicating that the oil that gives the fire is analogous to the Holy Spirit. He is the one who gives power in the spiritual life.
Zecharian 4:10 "For who has despised the day of small things? for these seven rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel; these are the eyes of the LORD, which stand to and fro throughout the whole earth." So we see a connection between the seven lamps, the Holy Spirit in verse 6, and the seven eyes in verse 10. So the term "seven spirits" is a description of the fullness of the Spirit's ministry.
This use of the terms "seven" introduces to us what is called biblical numerology. This isn't the kind of numerology that you get with the mystics and astrology, this is the recognition that numbers in Scripture have more significance than simply their literal value. The numbers have to be taken literally. There are seven spirits, you don't divorce that from its literal value. What we see in hermeneutics is a difference between the literal use of numbers with a symbolic value versus allegory. In allegory the literal aspect has no value whatsoever. In fact, in allegory the literal doesn't happen. In literally interpretation there are 144,000 Jews but that 144,000 may have a symbolic value. There are literally seven churches but the number seven also has a symbolic value, and the number seven has the number of fullness or completion. When we look at that we see that these seven represent the fullness of something, the complete picture, and that the Holy Spirit provides a sufficiency of revelation to us, He is sufficient in His role as the restrainer of evil.
What we see in Revelation 1:4 is that this derives from the ultimate source of God the Father who is and was and is to come. So we have the salutation, the greeting, and that the book is from God the Father who is eternal and whom we will eventually see, and from the seven spirits who are before His throne. Third, it is from Jesus Christ who is described three ways. He is first of all the faithful witness; second, the firstborn from the dead, and third he is the ruler over the kings of the earth. These three phrases are pregnant with meaning. The first two are utilized in the Old Testament is Psalm 89. The picture that John gives us is that this epistle comes from the Trinity.