Monday, July 5, 2021

11. The Revelation: The Setting of the Vision (Rev. 1:9-11)

John’s readers took comfort in the fact that Christ will one day return in glory to defeat His enemies. Yet the vision of Jesus Christ that begins the book does not describe Jesus in His future glory, but depicts Him in the present as the glorified Lord of the church. In spite of all disappointment, the Lord had not abandoned His people or His promises. This powerful vision of Christ’s present ministry to them must have provided great hope to the wondering and suffering churches to whom John wrote.

"I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 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.” (1:9–11)

This is the third time in the first nine verses that John refers to himself by name (1:1, 4). John was astounded that despite his unworthiness, he had the incomparable privilege of receiving this monumental vision.

John was an apostle, a member of the inner circle of the Twelve with Peter and James, and the writer of a gospel and three epistles. Yet he humbly identified himself simply as “your brother.” He did not write to impress, but as an eyewitness to the revelation of Christ that begins to unfold with this vision.

John also humbly identified with his readers by describing himself as their “fellow partaker.” Like them, John was suffering severe persecution for the cause of Christ, having been exiled as a common criminal. He could identify with other suffering believers. John was also part of the same kingdom as his readers—the redeemed community of those following the risen Christ. Finally, John identified with his readers in the area of perseverance. The Greek word for “perseverance” in verse 9 literally meant “to remain under,” that is, to patiently endure difficulties without giving up.

When he received this vision, John was in exile on the island called Patmos, a barren, volcanic island in the Aegean Sea. At its extremities it is about ten miles long and six miles wide, located forty miles offshore from modern-day Turkey. According to the Roman historian Tacitus, exile to such islands was a common form of punishment in the first century. At about the same time that John was banished to Patmos, Emperor Domitian exiled his own niece, Flavia Domitilla, to another island. John’s conditions would have been harsh. Exhausting labor under the watchful eye of a Roman guard, insufficient food and clothing, and having to sleep on the bare ground would have taken their toll on a ninety-year-old man. It was on that bleak, barren island, under those brutal conditions, that John received the most extensive revelation of the future ever given.

John received his vision while he was “in the Spirit.” His experience transcended the bounds of normal human understanding. In that state, God supernaturally revealed things to him. Though rare, such encounters occurred with other leaders in the Bible, such as Ezekiel (Ezekiel 2:2; 3:12, 14), Peter (Acts 10:9ff.), and Paul (Acts 22:17–21; 2 Corinthians 12:1ff.).

John received his vision on “the Lord’s day.” Some argue that this refers to the time of future judgment called the day of the Lord, but it is best understood as a reference to Sunday. The Greek phrase translated “the Lord’s day” is different from the one translated “the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:2; 2 Peter 3:10) and appears only here in the New Testament. Further, the vision John received had nothing to do with the future day of the Lord. It was a vision of Christ’s current ministry in the church. Finally, in the second century the phrase was widely used to refer to Sunday. The phrase “the Lord’s day” became the customary way of referring to Sunday because Christ’s resurrection took place on that day.

John received his commission to record the vision in dramatic fashion (1:10b). The loud voice was the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ (1:12–13, 17–18), sounding to John “like the sound of a trumpet.” Throughout Revelation, a loud voice or sound indicates the seriousness of what is about to be revealed.

The sovereign, powerful voice from heaven commanded John, “Write in a book what you see.” This is the first of twelve commands in the book of Revelation for John to write what he saw. On one other occasion he was forbidden to write (10:4).

After writing the vision, John was to send it to the seven churches. These cities were located in the Roman province of Asia (modern Turkey). These seven churches were chosen because they were located in the key cities of the seven postal districts into which Asia was divided. They were the central points for the sharing of information.

The seven cities appear in the order that a messenger, traveling on the great circular road that linked them, would visit. After landing at Miletus, the messenger or messengers bearing the book of Revelation would have traveled north to Ephesus (the city nearest to Miletus), then in a clockwise circle to Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. Copies of Revelation would have been distributed to each church.