In the midst of persecution
“I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, saying, ‘Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.” Revelation 1:10-11
Before you start reading this, take 10 seconds to look around you.
Done? Okay, now think about what you noticed. Are you outdoors or indoors? Cold or warm? Surrounded by people or by yourself?
Now that you’re conscious of your environment, take it one step further and think about the effects that environment is having on you at this very moment. It might be the comfort you feel from being close to friends or family. Or it might be how the person next to you at the DMV is sitting a little too close for comfort. The effects might be positive or negative. Subtle or obvious.
Environments have an undeniable effect on us. The physical world matters. But in this passage, we’ll look at what the apostle John was experiencing at the time he received this revelation and draw encouragement from the reality that your environment isn’t everything when you’ve given everything to God.
On the Island of Patmos
As we mentioned last week, the author of Revelation is John—the same John who already wrote four books of the New Testament, including the Gospel of John. The same John that Jesus referred to as the whom He loved. The John that took care of Mary, Jesus’ mother, on His behalf until she died. The John that was instrumental in the growth of the early church.
Yet at the time when the angel delivers this vision, John was alone. He was exiled on the Island of Patmos, a small island in the Aegean Sea. Looking at Revelation 1:9, it appears that John was on Patmos as punishment for his commitment to the “Word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” On top of that, it’s commonly held that Revelation was written in the mid-90s A.D., meaning John was an elderly man by this point. So, John was old. John was alone. John was experiencing serious hardships.
But in the midst of this persecution, John was not as alone as he appeared.
In the Presence of God
John states in Revelation 1:10–11,
“I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, saying, ‘Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.’”
While it is always a joy to hear from God, surely there was a special sweetness in this moment for John. Jesus had not abandoned the disciple whom He loved.
Before focusing on what John heard and saw, it’s important to note the beginning of verse 10. Despite being in less than ideal circumstances, John was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day. He had every earthly reason to grumble and complain. Every excuse to say the God had forgotten him. But still John trusted God and continued to seek Him.
Although our modern hardships may look different than John’s, we can adopt his spirit of perseverance and pursuit. Each of us will have our own combination of fruitless days, overwhelming months, and frustrating years. When those times come, we must remind ourselves that while our environments can affect us, we are not slaves to them. We are slaves to righteousness. And if we are disciplined in our righteousness through going to church, reading the Bible, and praying, then we will hear from the Lord. It may not sound like a trumpet, as it did for John, but we will hear from Him. As N. D. Wilson puts it in his book Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl, “Do not expect Him to speak in English. And do not expect Him to stay on whatever topic you might choose.” But God is speaking. And we must train ourselves to listen well.
Going back to John, he not only heard God speak, but he saw God. In Revelation 1:12–16 he describes what he saw. John witnessed Jesus walking in the midst of seven golden lampstands with seven stars in His right hand. The symbolism is explained by Jesus in verse 20. The lampstands symbolize the seven churches whom Jesus is about to address in chapters 2 and 3, signifying that Jesus walks with these churches through persecution. The seven stars are representative of the seven pastors of those churches, showing that Jesus holds His messengers in the palm of His hand.
More will be said on these churches in the coming weeks, but based on John’s response to this vision, it’s clear he is primarily struck by the sight of Jesus Himself.
On His Face Before God
Upon seeing Jesus, John falls at His feet like a dead man. God is so great, so wonderful, so glorious, that John can’t even stand before Him. This is a powerful reminder of the majesty of the God we serve. That yes, He is our Father who loves us intimately. Yes, He is our Comforter who wipes away our tears. But He is also the omnipotent, omniscient Creator of the entire universe. He is the Lord of Hosts. So, while we should feel a closeness to God, we should also have moments like this when we are so in awe of who God is, that we fall on our faces in amazement and fear. Proverbs 9:10 states, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” This year, the book of Revelation should foster both a greater fear of God and a greater knowledge of who He is. And through those, we will find greater intimacy with Jesus.
No matter who you are, no matter how comfortable you feel at this moment, hard times will come. If you rely on your environment to bring you peace, you will be tossed around by the waves of life. But, if you seek God as a Spirit-filled worshiper, then what you hear from Him and see of Him will comfort you even in the darkest of nights.