“I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.” Revelation 1:9-11 NIV
Okay, last week we established that John was on the island of Patmos. Remember he was exiled for preaching about Jesus. Someone may have put him on the island by force, but he’s not done or retired from proclaiming the gospel of Christ. He still hasn’t quit on Jesus. He remains faithful and continues to endure patiently. As he addresses us and whoever is reading this revelation, he reminds us that he is our brother and companion in “suffering” or tribulation. John knows persecution and the cost for following Jesus. He also mentions that he is a companion in the “kingdom”. I don’t know why that just seemed odd to put that word in there like that. I guess it’s because I am odd. Anyway, I went to the Greek for further clarification, which did give me much other than what I thought which was the “kingdom of God” or the reign of Christ. However, because of his exile, which was basically imprisonment in a large island sized cell, he’s reminding us of who is in control. Yes, Domitian or whomever may have sent him to Patmos, but God was still on the throne. God is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning, and the end. He is the one who’s in control and is still in the kingdom building business.
This is similar to something Jesus said to Mary and Joseph when He was about 12 years old. Remember in Luke 2 when Jesus’ family had come to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival. They brought Jesus to dedicate Him to the Lord, which was customary for a child of that age similar to our confirmation class or catechism today. Once the dedication and festival are over the family is heading back home. During this time, it was common for an entire family to make these yearly pilgrimages. It was a significant amount of people, an entourage, company, or caravan as Luke 2:44 states. So, after a day on the journey home, they realize that Jesus isn’t with them. They lost the Messiah! Mary thought Joseph knew where Jesus was, and Joseph thought Mary knew where Jesus was. It was a big misunderstanding. So, when they realized Jesus was not with them, they went back to Jerusalem and found Him in the temple.
Understandably they are upset, and as a parent I get it. You can almost hear the tension as Luke lays it out for us in Luke 2:48-50. Mary says in verse 48, “Son, why have you treated us like this?” I can hear her also saying, “We were worried sick. You scared us to death. No wild locust and honey for you on the way home mister!” To which Jesus replies, “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” In the King James Version it says, “I must be about my Father’s business?” Mary and Joseph don’t understand that the preparation and training for the “family business” has already begun. What business is that? The kingdom building business, as in God’s kingdom here on earth. While Jesus may have told Peter in Matthew 16:18 that he would be the “rock” on whom He would build his church, God’s kingdom is immeasurably bigger than that. While God allows us to be a part of His kingdom building, He has absolute control over how it is built as creator, designer, and author of our faith, and He expects it to be built according to His will, word, laws, commandments, instruction, teaching, etc.
The point of sharing all this information about the kingdom of God is to prepare us for these 7 letters. These 7 letters may have been written 2,000+ years ago, but they are meant for all people for all time. God is still building His kingdom and speaking to us through His word. His word and will still applies because human nature never changes. As Ecclesiastes 1:9 says, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun”.
God’s kingdom building business isn’t finished. What Jesus is saying to these 7 churches is based on what has already been said by Him and God the Father over and over again throughout the rest of the scriptures, which includes both Old and New Testaments. Remember Jesus and the Father are one. In the beginning was God (Genesis 1:1). In the beginning was the “word” (John 1:1). Jesus was and is the “Word”. He was in the beginning with God and was God. Jesus didn’t just pop up all of the sudden. He is the “Alpha and the Omega”, the “beginning and the end”.
As this revelation and vision begin to unfold John makes a point to tell us in Revelation 1:10 that he was “in the spirit” or πνεῦμα (pneuma) in the Greek. I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me this conjures up a host of charismatic images from my younger years, and by charismatic I’m talking about things that you might see at a charismatic church, gathering, or revival such as speaking in tongues, jumping, shouting, raised hands, dancing, fainting, and a whole host of other physical manifestations of the spirit. I want to be clear that I’m not saying that as a joke or some kind of judgement. However, I’m not sure we really have a clue of what being “in the spirit” really is beyond an emotional experience and definitely not in the same sense that John is experiencing in this moment. The is a difference between attitude and ecstasy, and what I mean by that is John is purposefully focused his mind on the Lord. He’s not caught up a frenzy of showy emotion for its own sake.
John’s “in the spirit” experience is on another level entirely, exponentially higher. It’s impossible to describe the encounter perfectly, but in order for John to be able to do this and be worthy of such an encounter his heart, soul, and mind needs to be in a state of worship. He is focused. His heart and mind are on the Lord. Not only to talk to the Lord, but also to hear from him. Now when I say that it makes it sound like there is some magical state of nirvana if you want to call it that where our minds are in a perfect state of meditation. Our sense of self has been totally removed which I don’t believe is humanly possible. While some claim they can achieve this “state”, I remain skeptical. My point is that being “in the spirit” means that to the best of our ability we are trying to commune with God. However, and again, John’s encounter is something quite different than what we encounter today. It was special and unique because he is in the presence of the Lord. There is no greater experience, and it can’t be manufactured.
Okay moving on.
John says, “On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.” (Revelation 1:10-11 NIV) Okay we already know that he’s been tasked with relaying Jesus’ message to 7 churches, but immediately following this instruction John sees something incredible and terrifying at the same time. This is where the power and symbolism of the revelation begins. Here is what happens next.
“12I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned, I saw seven golden lampstands, 13and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. 17When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.” Revelation 1:12-17 NIV.
First of all, we know that this is Jesus again because the “son of man” says, “I am the First and the Last”. “I” is the first-person pronoun. If it was an angel then he would have said, “He is the first and the last”, otherwise the angel would be guilty of blasphemy. I’m sure angels were pretty magnificent, but this is something quite different. Later in Revelation 4, we get a description of the throne room of heaven where angels or heavenly beings are described differently. So, if the first-person pronoun isn’t enough then it’s always a good to cross reference with other scriptures to put it in greater context, and the first three chapters of Revelation definitively provide that evidence.
There are only a few people that have had this kind of experience, so it’s impossible to quantify. However, it’s clear that John is experiencing information and sensory overload. In verse 17, John says, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead”. “As though” in the Greek is ὡς (hōs). It’s an adverb in Greek and English, so nothing out of the ordinary, but it makes me wonder. Was John playing dead or did he just pass out? Either way, the dude was terrified. You don’t play dead if your just amazed or in wonder. When we see something amazing or awesome, we may freeze, stand there, or stare in silence. But this is “I’m afraid for my life stuff so I’m going to take a nosedive”. But that’s not all. He doesn’t just see and hear it. It’s a physical encounter as well. Jesus places his right hand on John. “Warning! Warning! Get the defibrillator!” Of course, Jesus is just trying to put John at ease or comfort him because He says, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.”, but I would be freaking out and probably pass out. Remember what God told Moses in Exodus 33:20? “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” Uh, it’s highly possible that this was going through John’s mind at the time.
Before we close this week’s installment of this series, it’s important to note some symbolism that is contained in this passage. There are two items that John sees in Jesus’ hands: 7 stars and 7 lampstands. Fortunately, Jesus is not being cryptic and makes it clear what they represent. 7 stars=7 angels, and 7 lampstands=churches. The 7 seven churches being lampstands makes sense because of the Matthew 5:14-16 (“light of the world”, “city on a hill”, “light a lamp”, and “let your light shine”) However, the 7 angels for the 7 churches is interesting and begs the question. If there was an angel for each of these churches, then is there an angel hovering above ours or yours right now? We can only assume that would be a big YES!
Are you getting goose bumps yet?!
Have a great weekend and Happy Father’s Day! Love y’all!
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Coordinator – Andrews UMC