This book begins on a note of extraordinary assurance.
The opening informational crawl (“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”) of each major Star Wars movie has become one of the most recognized features of the franchise. In it, George Lucas found a way to orient new viewers to the ongoing narrative, and refresh the memory of previous viewers.
The Book of Revelation has an introductory crawl as well that functions to keep the reader oriented to its ultimate author, God.
First, this epistle/prophecy is written “to the seven churches that are in Asia” (1:4). The book was never meant for an indiscriminate audience of casually interested readers. Neither was it given for indiscriminate reasons, such as to gratify curiosity, or stir up speculation. The divine Sender intended His Revelation to convey “grace and peace” to His collective redeemed people, as with the other apostolic writings that open with wishes of grace and peace.
Grace is supposed to be processed in the setting and life of Christian communities, hence this book is not written to seven individuals, but seven churches. Revelation does not function well for the isolated believer sequestered away, mulling over YouTube prophecies, and may in fact make him or her even more strange in their views.
And so in the very beginning of this prophecy / epistle, before any unsettling events are disclosed, the triune God makes clear His desire to provide His churches with all the grace and peace needed to meet the challenges of today and the future.
The God who supplies us with His grace is not restricted by time. God is. His grace and peace are always relevant and immediate. Not only so, but this God was. He has accomplished things in history, great works that cannot change. His grace is so unalterably fixed in the past that we mark calendars according to it (Christmas, Easter), and remember it as often as we meet (the Lord’s Supper, c.f. Mt. 26). God is to come as well, meaning His grace won’t be frustrated in the future.
Grace past, grace present, grace future is the unstoppable blessing toward all the churches, even as they occupy a sometimes confusing present, and hurtle toward what seems to be a threatening future.
Grace also proceeds from “the seven spirits who are before His throne” (v. 4). This is an entirely different way of speaking about the Holy Spirit, since we are so accustomed to thinking of Him in the singular, and at the end of the trinitarian formula, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” He is here addressed in the multiple sense, and as the second of the trinity, not the third.
As we’ll see exemplified in the seven churches, the one Holy Spirit has been at work in all seven representative stages of church history, but at any given time, in any moment of need, He is the cumulative supply to us all at once. This is significant when we consider how often old evil reemerges in the church, packaged as something new and exciting. No matter what problems we might ever face, the cumulative grace of the seven spirits is available to us in the Holy Spirit.
Grace is also “from Jesus Christ” (v. 5), who, we are reminded, lived on this earth as “the faithful witness,” testifying through His life and word of a holy, righteous, and loving God. He resurrected as “firstborn of the dead,” and ascended to be “the ruler of kings on earth.” Grace is powerful because this is the conduit it flows through when coming to us.
John signs off from this “crawl” with a benediction:
“to Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (v. 6).
What should we do? John offers remarkably little in the way of prescriptive commands other than “Behold” (v. 7).
Indeed, there is little else grace requires than for us to absorb it. And, in verse 7, our meditation is upon the completion of this grace, when “He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.”
God is the God of the whole show, present, past, and future. What He has begun, He will finish.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (v. 8).
This grace is the secret by which all the saints of God make it through the tricks and traps of church history, the unfriendly developing world situation with its war, death, famine, and natural catastrophes, the rise and reign of the antichrist, the Satanically energized power of lies, and a final destination in blessed eternity.
One of my favorite films is Flight of the Phoenix. Even after seeing it multiple times, at crucial points I still get nervous. Like the initial crash when the plane pinwheels through a dust storm, or when Captain Towns (played by Dennis Quaid) attempts to start the engine of the plane he and his crew have reconstructed. Or when the Phoenix races down the desert plain trying to take off, while being pursued by hostile nomads. Now the scriptwriter has already completed the tale. The film’s producer has already arranged cameras, lighting, acting, roles, wardrobe, budget, and every other essential. All the money, resources, energy and talent have been spent. The film has been shot, edited, and distributed. I live through the cinematic moment again over popcorn, feeling unnerved in dramatic moments even when I know how it will end. But I never need suffer from anything more than a little adrenaline.
That’s the beauty and certainty of grace. Even as it seems human foibles will ruin everything, the ending is a done deal because God’s grace has already written the story.
*I have adapted elements of this post from Thad Townsend’s Sunday message covering the same verses.