Revelation 1:3-5, “Comfort & Challenge”

Some of you can really relate to this thought: if you have a child who is in some ways both the greatest comfort and love in your life — but also in other very real ways, a great challenge to you? Anybody got a kid like that? (Maybe everybody who has children can relate to that!) They can probably all be simultaneously our greatest comfort, but also one of our greatest challenges.

I’m going to suggest this morning that the Book of Revelation is something like “that child” among the books of the New Testament. In one sense, it is the source of some of the greatest comfort we have as Christians — and yet, in a number of ways, it is also very challenging to us, in both understanding it and applying it to our lives.  

We’re continuing our study of the first chapters of Revelation this morning, moving on to verses 3, 4, and 5, where we are both comforted and challenged by what we read here: 

I. The Blessing of Revelation

“Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it, for the time is near.”

If you look carefully at this verse, you can see there are three “blessings” promised to those who attend their devotion to this Book:

— “Blessed is he who READS”

— “and those who HEAR the words of this prophecy”

— and HEED the things which are written in it”

First of all, God specifically promises a blessing for those who read this book! That is striking, isn’t it? I mean, there is surely a blessing that attends the reading of ANY book of the Bible; it is all God’s word. II Timothy 3:16 says “ALL scripture is inspired by God, and is profitable …”. So it is profitable to read any scripture. But God specifically promises a blessing to the one who reads this book. If for no other reason, that ought to cause us to want to read it! Don’t miss the blessing God will give you for reading this book! 

Then He says those are blessed who “HEAR” the words of this prophecy. Not everyone could read — especially in those ancient times; literacy rates were not what they are today — so an important part of the ancient worship service (both in Judaism and in Christianity) was the public reading of scripture. 

— In Luke Jesus publicly read Scripture in the synagogue.

— This practice continued in New Testament churches: I Timothy 4:13 commands us: “Give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhortation and teaching.” 

So reading the scripture out loud was an important part of the first worship services — and should still be an important part of our worship today.

But again, God says specifically hear THIS book read out loud. Attend the services where we read these verses aloud together. LISTEN to the messages where we read these words aloud and teach them. (We also have a means of fulfilling this in our lives that those who lived in the 1st Century didn’t: we can listen to the Bible through various recordings and Bible apps! I know some of you are doing that. More of us should. Spend some time just listening to the word of God. Let God speak to you though it. And especially this Book of Revelation. God promises a special blessing for those who hear these words. 

But the final one of these is the most important, when it says; “And HEED the things which are written in it, for the time is near.” The word “heed” here is a Bible word (tereo) that means “watch over it; guard it; KEEP it”!

This same word is used of the guards who watched over the tomb of Jesus after He was crucified. They were guarding it; watching out lest anyone violate that sealed tomb. In the same way, God says, “Watch out carefully,” “guard” the words of this book. Be careful that you are not found going against what this book says with your own life.  In other words, DO what it says.

This is an important word for many who come to the Book of Revelation. There is a kind of person who comes to Revelation with an “intellectual curiosity.” They’re interested in knowing the details of the future; they want to know who the Antichrist is; and when the Lord will return, and what will happen to the world, and so on. But unfortunately they don’t really HEED the warnings that are in it, about the sin you need to stop doing; about the importance of standing for Christ in an ungodly world, and persevering in your faith in the face of persecution, and remaining faithful in your ministry. 

Those are some of the most important things God says in this book. But unfortunately many people aren’t coming Revelation to hear it and APPLY it in their life. They just want to satisfy their intellectual curiosity. Let me tell you something straight up: GOD NEVER GIVES YOU HIS WORD TO SATISFY YOUR INTELLECTUAL CURIOSITY. HE GIVES HIS WORD TO THOSE WHO WILL OBEY IT. 

We just saw this in our Sunday School lesson in John 7:17, where Jesus told the Pharisees, “If anyone is willing to DO His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is from God …”. God says, I’ll show you My word, but you have to be willing to DO IT! You can’t just come to it to satisfy your intellectual curiosity.

DOING the word is where it’s all at. It’s not just what you “read;” it’s not just what you “hear” in God’s word that’s important. It’s what you DO.

In Matthew 7 Jesus said the one who “hears this word of Mine and ACTS upon it shall be like a wise man who built his house upon a rock.” But He said the one who hears these words of Mine and does not ACT upon them, will be compared to a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand!  What’s the difference between the wise man who built his house upon the rock, and the foolish man who built his house upon the sand? They BOTH HEARD the word; that wasn’t the difference. The difference was whether you ACTED upon the word. HEED it! DO it! 

Some of us read our Bibles every day, and go to Sunday School and worship service and “hear the word” and we go away and think, “I’ve really done God’s will today; I listened to the word.” NO YOU HAVEN’T done God’s will! You haven’t done His will until you have put it into PRACTICE in your life!    A lot of Christians today are like the man who says, “I’m really healthy; I’ve memorized the 12 most important exercises you can do every day!” Well that’s ridiculous, isn’t it? Reading/studying/memorizing exercise isn’t going to help you; you have to DO IT to get the blessing!

And don’t you see it’s the same with God’s word. The blessing is NOT in just reading it, or hearing it, but in DOING it. Don’t deceive yourself. You won’t be blessed if you just listen to what Revelation says; you’ll only be blessed if you DO what Revelation says!  (So you see there is both comfort and challenge here in :3: comfort with the blessing – but challenging that it only applies to those who HEED it!)

II. The Recipients of Revelation

“To the seven churches that are in Asia”

After a brief introduction, John says he’s the one who is writing this revelation down (this is the Apostle John, who wrote the Gospel of John, which is significant, as we will see when Jesus appears to him in the second part of this chapter!)

And he says he is writing this first of all, “to the seven churches that are in Asia.”  This is important. As Dr. Bob Lockhart wrote in his fine commentary on Revelation, “the book had to mean something to the first century recipients in their own particular context.” It’s not just all about the future; he wrote it to THEM. It had to mean something to THEM, THEN.

One important thing we need to understand is that Revelation was written to SEVEN REAL CHURCHES  in seven real cities that existed in “Asia” or what today we would call “Turkey” — the nation that just got hit by the devastating earthquake.  These churches are addressed by name in :11: the churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardia, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.  You can see the locations of these churches on the MAP (on the overhead/in your notes). 

These were real cities, that had real churches in them. And God was speaking to them, just like He did to the churches at Philippi and Galatia and Corinth in Paul’s letters.

Now, there is a train of interpreters who believe that these are not just 7 churches, but that they represent something supposedly “deeper.” They believe that these 7 churches somehow represent different “ages” of the church throughout history: that Ephesus was the church in the first couple hundred years, and and Pergamum was the church in the Middle Ages, and the last church, Laodicea is the church in the last days, etc.  For years people have tried to point out churches through history that “fit” this interpretation. But as Bob Lockhart wrote, it is like trying to “stuff square pegs into round holes.”

No, I don’t believe these churches represent different “church ages.” I believe these are just what the Bible says they are here: these are REAL cities; there were REAL churches at these places at that time (about 100 A.D.) when John was writing, and the Lord had some very particular messages for these churches, in their particular situations. We are going to look at those messages in depth in a few weeks, as God addresses them in Chapter 3 and 4. Some of the most striking and convicting messages from Jesus to His church are found in those 7 messages. I hope you’ll make a point to be here for each of them. God had some things to say to those churches about what they were doing well, and what they were NOT doing well, and about the areas in which He needed them to repent. We deal with many of these same issues in our churches today; they are very applicable to us; so it will be very beneficial for us to study His messages to them.

WHY are they so applicable? Because churches have not changed since the first century. Because man’s nature has not changed in the last 2000 years. We are still the same kind of people they were, in the same kind of churches they were, with the same sins and foibles that they had — and the word of God that applied to THEM, will apply powerfully to US today too! Because our basic nature has not changed.

I am reading Harry Lee Poe’s great biographical trilogy of C.S. Lewis right now, and at one point he chronicles how Lewis wrote a book of the allegory of love in literature, and followed it all through history, from the first century through Augustine and the 400s, to the Middle Ages and more recent days.  And he wrote: ‘During that period, customs changed. Chronology changed. Government changed. Religion changed. Art changed. Philosophy changed. The one constant was human nature, which has not changed.” (Harry Lee Poe, The Making of C.S. Lewis, p. 153)

That is SO right. So much has changed since the first century — but man’s nature has NOT changed. The things Jesus saw and addressed in those 7 churches, are the same things that WE deal with in our churches today: the same sins, the same compromises, the same difficulties, the same blessings.  So even though Revelation, and those 7 letters specifically, were written to seven REAL churches in seven REAL cities; it is very applicable to us in our church today. Because our nature, and the things the Lord needs to speak to us about, have not changed.  

So again, there’s both comfort and challenge here: that God speaks to the issues of our life, but again it will be challenging in the conviction that it brings to our lives.

But having given the blessing, and indicating who he’s writing to, he begins the letter “Grace and peace”— just like so many of the Apostle Paul’s letters. And where does grace and peace, and all the blessing of this letter come from?

III. The Triune Author of Revelation

From the Bible we learn that the One, True God is a TRI-UNE God, “Tri-une” literally means “three in one.” We serve ONE God, who exists eternally in three Persons, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We see this taught throughout scripture, and we specifically see it here in Revelation 1:4 and following, where it says:

— “From Him who is and who was and who is to come”

— “From the Seven Spirits who are before His throne”

— “And from Jesus Christ”

That’s the Trinity. Let’s look at it for just a minute:

A. “From Him who is and who was and who is to come”

This is God the Father. This phrase, “Him who is and who was and who is to come,” violates the rules of Greek grammar to describe Him – but it almost perfectly translates “Yahweh,” or “I AM” of the Old Testament! When Moses asked God what he should tell Israel the name of their God was, He said tell them “I AM” has sent you! This is the Hebrew “Yahweh,” or “Jehovah.” The God who created the world; the God who appeared to Moses and Abraham; the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the One “who was and who is and who is to come.” Yahweh God; God the Father. Psalm 90:2 says: “From everlasting to everlasting, You are God”! So this message is first of all from God the Father.

B. But it is also “from the seven Spirits who are before His throne”

This is the Holy Spirit.  So why does He say “the SEVEN Spirits” who are before the throne; why not just say “the Holy Spirit”? Many Bible scholars believe it’s because He is writing specifically to these 7 churches, this refers to the fact that the Holy Spirit is fully available to each church. It’s not a coincidence that He is addressing 7 churches, and He refers to 7 Spirits. It’s a way of saying that the Holy Spirit is there for each church. 

Now: we know from elsewhere in Scripture (and this is a key to Bible interpretation, by the way: when you come to a passage that’s difficult to understand, let other, clearer passages in the Bible help you understand the difficult passage. When we’re trying to figure out what a difficult verse means, OTHER verses can help us know what it does NOT mean. So from other scriptures we know this does NOT mean there are literally “seven Holy Spirits.” In other places Jesus calls Him “THE Spirit.” We see in other scriptures that there is ONE Father, ONE Son, and ONE Holy Spirit. So we see in these clear scriptures that this does NOT mean there are literally 7 different Spirits of God. It must symbolic, of something like how the Holy Spirit is available in His fullness to each church.

But this is a good reminder to us: we can’t function as a church, or as individual Christians, without the Holy Spirit. We NEED Him! 

— I know personally, as a pastor, when I am studying for a message from the Bible, I have NOTHING to share, until the Holy Spirit gives me something. And sometimes even while I am typing, I will literally be going, “WOW, where did I get THAT from?” Well, it came from the Holy Spirit! And if He is not leading and helping me, I have NOTHING! I need Him! And you do too!

— And we need Him together in our worship too. We need Him to fill us and draw us near to God in worship. When we are not full of the Holy Spirit, our worship is flat and lifeless. 

— And there is no power in our witness without the Holy Spirit. Jesus said in Acts 1:8, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and you shall be My witnesses.” We need His Spirit to fill us to be witnesses for Him.

The Holy Spirit is “God in us,” who empowers everything we do. We need Him. And like we’re talking about in our prayer class on Sunday nights, we SHOW how much we really believe we need Him, by how much we pray. We need to constantly praying for the power of the Holy Spirit in every area of our lives. Those 7 churches in the first century needed the Holy Spirit — and we need Him today too! PRAY for the Holy Spirit to move in your life, and in our church.

C. “and from Jesus Christ” — and then it launches into a whole description of who He is. Now USUALLY you would find Jesus mentioned as the SECOND person in the order of the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. Jesus is almost always mentioned second. But here He is mentioned third: but it is not because of His lack of importance! Rather it is because it is EMPHASIZING Him. It begins here and and then spends the next 2-3 verses going into detail on just who Jesus is, so the emphasis here is on Him. Just like we talked about last week: The focus of Revelation in JESUS! We’re going to spend a lot of time looking at HIM in this book — and next week as we get into :5-7. 

But for now we need to see that all three Persons of the Triune God are described here in :4-5: God the Father, “who and is and is to come;” God the Son, “Jesus Christ,” and God the Holy Spirit: “the seven Spirits who are before the throne.” The Trinity is emphasized here at the very outset of Revelation, and we will see the Trinity mentioned throughout this Book, to the very end, where the last verses of Chapter 22 mention “God,” and “Jesus” and “The Spirit.” From first to last, we see the Triune God taught in Revelation. Don’t miss that. Don’t de-emphasize the Trinity. It is a vital part of our faith. 

On September 20, 1519, the five ships of Magellan’s armada plunged into the Atlantic Ocean beginning what would become the first trip around the world. Laurence Bergreen writes in his book, Over the Edge of the World: “Amid the intricately choreographed flurry of activity aboard the ships, officers shouted orders. … The ship’s pilot would call out the following to the two men aloft on the yard: ‘Ease the rope of the foresail in the name of the Holy Trinity, Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit, three persons in one single true God, that they may be with us and give us good and safe voyage, and carry us and return us safely to our homes!’”  (pp. 72-73)

It ought to be convicting to us today, when most of the American population — and indeed many in our Christian churches — are virtually ignorant of the doctrine of the Trinity, that justa few hundred years ago, every sailor raising a sail on a ship was familiar with the doctrine of the Trinity; they heard it every day! It is surely a mark of apostasy, of the falling away from God in our society, that the doctrine of the Trinity is so unfamiliar to our ears today!

But we also need to understand that The Trinity is not just a “doctrine” to believe. The Trinity is a Biblical description of the One True God who loves us and who saves us. God the FATHER loved us even after we sinned; God the SON came to earth to die for our sins, as we shall see; and God the Holy SPIRIT comes into our life and helps us day to day as “God in us!” God gave this Book of Revelation to Christians in these seven churches who were about to experience persecution, and a vital part of the message of this book is: “I, the Triune God: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, will help you through what you are about to endure!”

The stellar Southwestern Baptist Seminary theology professor Dr. Malcolm Yarnell, in his book on the Trinity, wrote: “To borrow a metaphor from Irenaeus, who saw the Son and the Spirit as the two hands of God, God loves redeemed human beings by wrapping his arms of grace in Jesus Christ and fellowship in the Holy Spirit around them.”   (Malcolm B. Yarnell III, God The Trinity, pp,. 52-53)

What a great picture: God the Father loves us, through His “hands” of the God the Son and God the Holy Spirit! God is saying in this Book: I the Triune God, am HERE FOR YOU, to help you through the difficult days ahead! That was God’s message to the persecuted church of the first century, and this is His word for US today too! Some of us right here today  need to hear this word: The Triune God loves you, and He will carry you through the days ahead!

So that is definitely comforting! Although again, mixed with a bit of challenge, as the nature of the Trinity is not one that is easy for us to understand. So we see both comfort and challenge here again in Revelation in this presentation of the Trinity. 

But as much as the Trinity is emphasized here and later in Revelation, even more so is Jesus specifically the focus of this book, as we saw last week. Verse 5 we begins a special emphasis on Him, and next Sunday morning, Lord willing, we will look at the rich description Revelation gives us here in Chapter 1 of Who He is, and What He did for us!

About Shawn Thomas

My blog,, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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1 Response to Revelation 1:3-5, “Comfort & Challenge”

  1. Geraldine Hogsed says:

    Thank you for the great teaching help.

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