Session 2

Revelation Study –Session 2

In our previous session we focused on the first three verses of Revelation.  In those verses we saw that: 

·         Revelation is an unveiling/uncovering/apocalypse (taking away the covering)

·         Given by Jesus Christ

·         Focusing on things that must shortly take place

·         Presented in symbolic language...”communicated” = sign-i-fied

·         Written by John the Apostle

·         And there is a blessing for the one who reads, those who hear, and those who heed the message of the book


In this session, we are going to focus on the second paragraph of the book in Revelation 1:4-8.  Like the majority of New Testament books, Revelation is written as a letter.  Verses 4-8 are the salutation of the letter and they contain all the normal elements of a New Testament salutation.  

·         The writer identified as John.  Three (3) times in this first chapter (vv. 1, 4, & 9) John identifies himself as the writer.  And once again in the final chapter, John puts his name in this book.. 

·         The recipients are identified as “the seven churches that are in Asia…”  These churches are identified by name in chapters 2 and 3.  The are the churches as Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicia. 

·         The greeting is “grace” (God's unmerited, underserved, unearned favor toward His people) and “peace” (wholeness or well-being which is a result not of outward circumstances but the result of being right with God).  As we have seen elsewhere in Scripture, the order of these words is important.  Peace comes to our lives as result of God's grace!


To this point, the salutation is typical of salutations in many other New Testament letters.  What makes this one unique is in it there is distinct reference to the triune God.  John says this greeting of grace and peace comes from none less than God the Father, God the Spirit, and God the Son.  And in this salutation are some significant truths about the nature of the triune God that the suffering Christians in the 1st century and Christians in every century need to understand.


THIS GREETING OF GRACE AND PEACE COMES FROM GOD THE FATHER - "Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come." This is a recurring description of God in Revelation.  In addition to this verse, you will find it in this precise form Revelation 1:8; 4:8; & 16:5. Five times in Revelation an expression like that used to describe God.  It is a reference to the eternal nature of God and captures well meaning of the great Old Testament name for God--YAHWEH OR JEHOVAH. The idea is that God is changeless. He is same yesterday, today, and forever.  I believe there is a specific reason John referred to God in that way.  He was writing to people whose world had literally turned upside down.  The recipients of this letter seemed completely helpless and over-powered and at the mercy of a greater power.  And at the very outset John says to them, "In world of turmoil, confusion, and uncertainty, calm your heart and quiet your fears by focusing on the eternal, unchanging nature of God."


THIS GREETING OF GRACE AND PEACE COMES FROM GOD THE SPIRIT – John describes the Holy Spirit in a very unique way.  Instead of simply using the word “Spirit” or phrase “Holy Spirit,” John says that the greeting comes from "the seven Spirits who are before His throne."  Three other times (3:1; 4:5; 5:6) the phrase "seven Spirits" is used in Revelation to describe the Holy Spirit.  It is important to understand that this phrase is not a reference to seven distinct or different spirits, but to the one and only Spirit of God.  Remember, Revelation is written is symbols and this is the first symbol in the book.  In apocalyptic literature number 7 always symbolizes perfection or completeness.  Thus the phrase "seven Spirits" is another way of referring to complete, perfect Spirit of God or as we call Him, the Holy Spirit.


As we study Revelation we will see the increasing use of numbers as symbols. Even a casual reading of the book will reveal the recurring use of certain numbers.  One of characteristics of apocalyptic literature is the attachment of special significance to certain numbers.  In Revelation numbers are symbols and should not be read with the literal exactness that you would use in a mathematical formula.  This is a good point in our study to overview the meaning of the more commonly used numeric symbols in apocalyptic literature.

Number 1 - Represents a single object and came to be associated with idea of unity or independence.  One stands for that which is unique and alone.  


Number 2 - In the primitive world as in the world today, people gained courage and strength in companionship.  Two are stronger and more effective than one.  Thus two came to stand for strengthening, for redoubling courage and energy.  Two witnesses were required to confirm the truth.  The word of one witness is strengthened, augmented by the word of another.

·         In Revelation 11, the truth of God is confirmed by two witnesses who are slain and rise again and ascend to heaven.  This symbolizes a strong witness.  [Summers, p.22]

·         In Revelation 13 are two wild beasts, one from the sea and one from the earth, who wage war against the righteous.  Together they are a formidable foe.

·         But in chapter 14 we see against the two wild beasts God has a twofold instrument of warfare—the conquering Christ and the sickle of judgment.  These overcome the two beasts, showing symbolically that the cause of righteousness will triumph over the cause of evil.


Number 3 - Came to symbolize that which is divine.  This probably arose from people finding in the home the most divine thing life has to offer--father love, mother love, and child love.  Ancient people carried this idea into their conception of God.  Thus three came to stand for divinity.  The threefold repetition of “holy” in Revelation 4:8 (“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.”) arises from associating the number 3 with God...


Number 4 – This was the symbol for the natural world.  Ancient people viewed world in terms of four--four directions, four winds, four seasons, four phases of moon, four basic elements (earth, fire, water, and air).  Thus, when they thought of the world, they thought in terms of four.

·         In Revelation 4 are four living creatures that symbolize the four divisions of animal life in the world.

·         In Revelation 6 are four horsemen that symbolize the destructive powers of the world at war.

·         In Revelation 7 are four angels standing at the four corners of the earth.

The world in which people live and work is symbolized by “4.”  Also, four is the first number divisible by two.  To be divisible was sign of weakness.  Thus, four did not just symbol world, but it came to symbolize weakness in the world or trial in the world.


Number 5 & 10 – These numbers, which mean essentially the same thing, stand for completeness.  A complete person had five fingers on each hand and five toes on each foot.  Five doubled to ten came to stand for full completeness.  In Revelation, a beast with 10 horns is a recurring symbol of the complete power of human government.  The dragon in chapter 12, the first beast in chapter 13, and the scarlet beast in chapter 17 each had 10 horns symbolizing completeness of power. 


Number 7 – This number was derived by adding perfect world number 4 and perfect divine number 3.  The result was earth crowned with heaven – the four square earth plus the divine completeness of God.  This is most sacred Hebrew number expressing completeness through union of earth with heaven.  Seven runs throughout Revelation. More than 50 times the number seven occurs in Revelation.  And, as we saw in our previous session, the book itself is divided into seven acts, with each act except for the  last one, divided into seven parts. 


Number 70 – This is the sacred number 7 multiplied by complete number 10.  The result is a very sacred number.  For this reason, there were 70 members in Jewish high court.


Number 12 – This is a well-known Hebrew symbol derived by multiplying number for world (4) by number for divinity (3).  It stands for organized religion in the world, thus there are 12 tribes of Israel and 12 apostles.

·         In Revelation 21 there are 12 gates in Holy City...

·         In Revelation 4 and 5 are 24 elders (12 – religion x 2 – strength) before the throne of God...


Number 1000 – This is the number for completeness (10) to third power.  It obviously stands for unquestionable completeness.  The most well known use of this number in the Scripture is in Revelation 20, which speaks of Satan being bound for 1000 years and those who have been martyred for Christ reigning with Him for 1000 years.  In keeping with the symbolic use of numbers in apocalyptic literature, those passages are referring to complete periods of time.


Number 144,000 – This is the number for unquestionable completeness (1000) multiplied by symbol for organized religion (12) squared.  In Revelation 14 this number is used to represent a vast and complete multitude of people who are redeemed.


Number 3 1/2 – This is the number for perfection (7) cut in half.  It stands for incompleteness.  It is symbolizes a restless longing not yet fulfilled.  When writers of apocalyptic literature wanted to describe people in despair and confusion, this is the number they would use.  It is found in Revelation in various forms--3 ½...a time, times, and a half time...forty-two months...or 1260 days...

·         In Revelation 11 the nations are allowed to tread on the court of the temple for 42 months...

·         In Revelation 11 the two witnesses prophesy for 1260 days...

·         In Revelation 11 the bodies of the two witnesses are on display for 3 ½ days...

In whatever form it's found, it always stands for a period of hoping and waiting for a better time.


Number 6 - One short of perfect number and it carries a sinister meaning.  Ray Summers says of six, "IT HAD WITHIN IT THE STROKE OF DOOM.  IT HAD THE ABILITY TO BE GREAT BUT FAILED TO MEASURE UP.  IT WAS FOR THE JEW WHAT "13" IS FOR MANY TODAY--AN EVIL NUMBER."  Of course, the most well-known use of this number is in Revelation 13 where the beast from the earth is described with the number 666, which is the picture of ultimate evil.


In Revelation numbers are symbolic and must be interpreted in light of their symbolic significance.  The greeting of grace and peace in the salutation to Revelation is from the "seven Spirits" meaning the perfect Spirit of God.


THIS GREETING OF GRACE AND PEACE COMES FROM GOD THE SON – Verses 5, 6, & 7 contain a beautiful description of who Jesus is and what He has done for us. 

Listen to what vv. 5, 6, and 7 say...describes vividly who Jesus is and what He has done for us....

1.      Who Jesus Christ is...

·         “The faithful witness” - Can be relied upon...trustworthy...speaks witness He speaks truth which he knows first hand from Father...whatever He says we can trust in it....

·         “First-born from dead” – Either the first to be resurrected or the Lord over death... probably the latter (see Colossians 1)...this was a great promise to those facing death under Domitian's persecution...whether we live or die, we are under Lordship of Christ who has conquered death!!

·         Ruler of kings of the earth” - Though kings/emperors/governors claim authority and persecute and kill people of God, Jesus Christ is real ruler of this world and those who dwell in it...special significance to those believers being persecuted for not submitting to worship of the emperor...

2.      What Jesus Christ done for us...

·         “...loves us...” - Present tense...continuous...goes on forever...what a reassuring word to those beleaguered 1st century believers...

·         “...released us from our sins...” - Past tense...means Christ did something once for all to free us from bondage...that something  was  his sacrificial  death…

·          “...made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father...” - He gave us royalty...through Him we have entered royal family, become children of God...twofold privilege--free access to God/ministry to world...

·         “...He is coming...” - As he went away, will return...not be secret return, for every eye shall see Him...dual reaction to His return...people of God will rejoice because He will vindicate and glorify them...those who opposed God will mourn for it will be time of judgment for them...this verse states a theme which recurs again and again in Revelation...sooner or later enemies of God be defeated and friends of God will be victorious...


Verse 8 is the conclusion of the salutation.  This verse tells us  that:

·         God is eternal – He is “...the Alpha and the Omega...”...He is from A to Z, from beginning to end...He was before time began, He is now, and He will be when time ends....

·         God is the Almighty - He has dominion over all things, controls all things, holds all things in His grasp...

This was exactly word that embattled Christians of Asia needed to hear.  No empire, no matter how great, had been able to stand against Rome.  What chance had the Christian church, made up mostly of poor people and slaves, against such a great power?  Humanly speaking, no chance whatsoever! Looked as if going to be wiped out.  But John begins book by saying those who think that way have left out the most important factor of all--the complete/eternal/almighty God! 


That is a word Christians need to hear today.  No matter what happens on the world scene, God has the power to protect and make victorious those who remain faithful to Him!


Grace to you and peace from God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit!