The triune God of Revelation - Revelation 1:1-4
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
~~The Triune God of Revelation
Revelation 1: 4-5
Soon after the outbreak of World War II, the then Prime Minister, Winston Church, gave a broadcast to the nation in which he described Russia as ‘a riddle wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.’ In other words, this was a nation which was very difficult to understand- and of course it still is! Its thinking and ways just seem impenetrable. And if that could be said of Russia, some would argue, the same could be said of Revelation- the Book of the Apocalypse. The basic problem is that we are not used to reading anything like this. However that wasn’t the experience of the first Christians because there were plenty of other similar writings around at the time full of the same kind of dream-like imagery, evocative symbols, garish colours and numbers full of significance. So what may seem obscure to us was far from obscure to the first readers mainly because much of what we find here comes from the Old Testament. As someone has said, ‘John writes with Scripture rather than about it. John paints an apocalypse, and the OT is his pallet.’ That’s about right, if you take a step back to read this powerful book you will see that it is grounded in the world of the Old Testament but with a specific application to the world in which we all live.
Now this kind of literature, which is called ‘apocalyptic’, meaning, ‘lifting the veil’ has two main aims: to comfort the comfortless and to challenge the complacent. Those facing hard times need to be encouraged to ‘keep keeping on’. You see that in the first three chapters where the risen and ascended Christ talks about those who are ‘victorious’ with a promise of a future blessing as a reward for their faithfulness.
On the other hand, there is always the temptation to compromise and so prove faithless. This begins to happen when we start seeing the world and its God-opposed ways as something we have to come to terms with and do a deal with by keeping your heads down and mouths shut- believe in private but don’t cause any waves by standing out in public. Again you see that in the letters to the seven churches where some believers have decided to take this easy option of ‘going with the flow’ with the result that they are almost indistinguishable from the pagans around them and they are called to repent.
The question is: how are Christians to be comforted and challenged, so ensuring that how they behave stays in line with what they believe?
The answer is by getting to grips with reality-the way things really are and not be taken in by the way things appear to be. In other words, we need to be exposed to the truth of God and his plans and purposes for the world.
You see, what we imagine to be the case will invariably effect how we go about living. Just think about it. The controlling narrative of our society is that the world has come from nowhere and is heading nowhere, in which case we shall start thinking and acting as if people are nobodies. Life then becomes cheap- hence easy access to abortions and the call for euthanasia. The pursuit of pleasure becomes all-consuming because where else are we going to gain satisfaction during our short stay on this planet? And if this is being fed to us day in day out by the media, by educationalists, through the entertainment industry and so on, then Christians will, unless they are careful, start to take some of these things on board. But if reality is more than we can see and touch, that there is a spiritual dimension - a God who made us and who is personally active in his world, as well as a devil who opposes him operating through political and culture shaping structures to deceive us- then we need to know that so we can act accordingly. If you like, we need a map which is an accurate representation of the way things are so we can negotiate our way through life. The world is giving us faulty maps which end up with people being hurt. God gives us an accurate map so we can thrive.
And this is where the Book of Revelation comes in- it is a kind map of ultimate reality. As someone has said, ‘the book’s symbolic visions shapes believers’ world views around what is true, good and beautiful according to God’s revealed standards and motivates them to live counterculturally in the world as a follower of the Lamb wherever he goes.’ I like that! The Book of Revelation isn’t a riddle, wrapped in a mystery which requires some kind of code to understand it, rather, it is the final book in the Bible which is meant to help us decode the world, so we can understand it, to figure out what is really going on behind all the fake news, the pressures of political correctness, the attempts to shape our thoughts by distorting the truth, but with the reassurance that that no matter what happens- God is still God and he is going to win in the end!
But that raises a fundamental question: who is this God who will win in the end? Is he powerful enough to win, or might the devil pull a fast one and beat him? Does he care enough to ensure he wins or might he be fickle and change his mind and decide to give up on us? Is he a God who is bound by time like we are and so might grow old and get tired? You see, everything turns on the nature and character of God. And just what those are, which are meant to drive us to our knees in worship and out into the world in witness, is given to us in the opening verses of the book: vv4-5: ‘Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.’
Straight away we are introduced to God as he really is and not as we imagine him to be. Here we are encounter the one true God who exists within his own being in a joyful fellowship of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In some ways the whole book of Revelation is about delighting in the Trinity.
Now you might want to ask: how do we get the Trinity from these verses? It is quite simple really.
First of all, John writes that ‘grace and peace’ is coming to these Christians scattered around Asia Minor- Modern day Turkey. Grace is the undeserved kindness of God to sinners and peace flows from it as is its fruit: peace with God, peace in our hearts, peace with each other. Now in the Bible the great blessings of grace and peace have one source- God. And yet here John says there are three sources. ‘Grace and peace to you from [here is the first one] him who is, was and is to come, and [here is the second], the seven spirits and [number three] from Jesus Christ. So if God is the source of grace and peace, and there is only one God, yet three sources are mentioned here, that means there are three persons within the being of God, all equally divine, because they are all equal sources of the divine blessings of grace and peace- do you see?
So let’s take each person of the Trinity in turn and ask: who is he and what does he do?
First, John speaks of the Father in his eternity and unchangeableness, the one ‘who is, and who was and who is to come’, sovereignly present at every point in history- not only the history of the world but the history of every single person living in that world. This is repeated and unpacked a little further on in verse 8, ‘“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” But that is not the way we would have written it. We would have spoken of God as the one who was, is and is to come, putting the past tense first. But it’s the present tense John uses. Why?
Well, here is an instance of the Book drawing on the Old Testament taking us to Exodus chapter 3 where Moses encounters God in the burning bush and asks what should he tell Israel about the name of their God, and God replies, ‘ I AM WHO I AM.’ This is the God whose very name- ‘I AM’ -means commitment, as if to say, ‘all that I am I am for you. All that I will ever need to be will be for you’ So, even when John spells out the immensity of God he does it in a way that reassures his people that this God is at their side and will lead them as he lead Israel, through this wilderness of a world gone wrong, into his Promised Land of heaven. Yes, it means that God has no origin- he just is- ‘I AM’- which was translated as Yahweh- a personal name, but there is security in that name for God’s people in his unchangeableness. It means he doesn’t tire out or change his mind, being one thing one day and different another day, God the Father is totally dedicated to the salvation of his people come what may and will never change.
And these truths are fleshed out by the other titles of God which surround it in verse 8.
He is the ‘Alpha and Omega’. Alpha is the first letter which stands at the beginning of the Greek alphabet, and Omega is the final letter marking its end. So this tells us something about God’s eternal relation to the world. He precedes all things, he originates all things and he is steering all things to their ultimate goal – all things being brought under Christ’s Lordship. The entire universe comes from God, belongs to God and is being ruled by God. You can’t even begin to compare this God- he brackets the whole universe like alpha and omega bracket the whole alphabet. And you know what? He brackets your life and mine in the same way. He was there when you were being formed in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139); he was there when you were growing up; he was there when you were converted and he will be there when you are ready to leave this world for the next- he is our alpha and omega.
He is also the ‘Lord God Almighty.’ The term ‘Almighty’ doesn’t refer to abstract power, ‘God has more muscle than anyone else’. Rather, it is talking about his executive power, using that power to control all things for the sake of his people and the glory of his name. That is why Paul can say that ‘In all things God is working together for the good of those who love him’- that is what this tender executive power of God does-God the Father.
Then there is God the Son, ‘and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood…..be glory and power for ever and ever!’
Here John sets the stage for Revelation’s kaleidoscopic portrait of the Lord Jesus, the supreme sovereign who saves his people by his own shed blood and returns to execute divine vengeance on his foes- v 7, “Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”’
Now the interesting thing is that titles given to God-the Father- are also given to Jesus the Son. In 1:8 God says, ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega.’ In 1: 17, Christ says, ‘I am the first and the last.’ Do you see the equation? What is true of the Father regarding his deity is true of the Son. Put simply, Jesus is God.
But in verse 5 Jesus is seen not seen as God, but historically as the God-man, ‘the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead and the ruler of the kings of the earth.’ Here with great emphasis three things are said of him.
First, to these believers in Roman Asia who are about to enter a time of persecution, John presents Jesus as ‘the faithful witness’ in that he is the model of how to stand firm and never compromise the truth of God. The Greek word for witness is martyr; originally it simply meant a witness to the truth, but because so many Christians died witnessing to the truth of Jesus, ‘martyr’ became a technical term for someone who died for their testimony.
The second title given to Christ is ‘the first-born from the dead.’ That’s a reference to his resurrection which is the power and guarantee of our own resurrection. The first-born was the future head of the family. Jesus is the elder brother of God’s family, the Church. So because he conquered death, so shall we. In one sense a Christian doesn’t die, he just changes his address.
And even now, Jesus is the ‘ruler of the kings of the earth’. Anyone else other than a Christian reading this would have thought that John had lost his mind. How can he write to a tiny, threatened, minority group, that Jesus, and not Caesar, is Lord? Well he can do so because of his complete confidence in the words and witness of the Lord Jesus and the fact of his Risen life and power –that is why.
Then John gives a call to worship the One whose love for sinners had taken him to the cross where ‘he freed us from our sins by his blood.’ He freed us from the chains of unbelief and sin and eternal condemnation by bearing that condemnation for us; he has enabled us to walk free with new power and new purpose in our lives as sons and daughters of God. He has brought us into his world-wide kingdom where we have citizenship- an eternal kingdom which is eternal life. This Jesus can give things no earthly ruler could even dream of giving because of who he is and what he has done- he is the first and the last, the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end- and you know what? He has done it all for you and me.
Finally, we have the Holy Spirit rendered here as the ‘seven spirits’ or better still the ‘sevenfold Spirit’- seven being the number of perfection and wholeness. He too is the source of grace and peace. When you think about it, the way grace and peace is being given to these people, and to us, is by the production of the book of Revelation itself. To know that Jesus, not Caesar is Lord and that this Lord is tender towards you is a wonderful source of grace giving you deep peace. And we know the Spirit is involved in this because in verse 10 we are told that John was ‘in the Spirit’ when he received this prophecy. And at the end of each letter a church fellowship is told, ‘hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches’ i.e. listen to what he is saying through this Book. This Book is the Spirit’s gift to his people and is to be read and treasured as such.
But not only is he the one who brings this prophecy about, he is also the one who tenderly applies it to our hearts bringing the grace of God from the heart of God and the peace of God from the throne of God; he is God dwelling with and working in us.
The fact that the Spirit doesn’t get the extended treatment the Father and the Son do in this passage doesn’t mean he is unimportant. It actually underscores for us the Spirit’s role not to draw attention to himself, but to glorify the Father and the Son which he delights in doing. And the way he strengthens us is by working in us through reading the Book of Revelation so enabling us to keep looking to the Father and the Son and as we do that becoming more like them.
I like the way the Puritan writer Richard Sibbes describes this work of the Spirit: ‘The very beholding of Christ is a transforming sight. The Spirit that makes us new creatures and stirs us up to behold this servant [Jesus], it is a transforming beholding… A man cannot look upon the love of God and of Christ in the Gospel, without it changing him to be like God and Christ. For how can he see Christ and God in Christ, but also see how God hates sin, and this will transform us to hate it as God does, who hated it so that it could not be expiated but with the blood of Christ, the God-man. So, seeing the holiness of God in it, it will transform us to be holy. When we see the love of God in the Gospel, and the love of Christ giving himself for us, this will transform us to love God.’ Isn’t that your experience? The more you look at Jesus the more you want to become like him? That is the Spirit at work.
The Book of Revelation is really the Gospel presented in a unique way. It comes from the Trinity, is about the love of the Trinity and is designed to draw us deeper and deeper into that love.
Copyright information: The sermon texts are copyright and are available for personal use only. If you wish to use them in other ways, please contact us for permission.