Last week, we were introduced to key doctrinal concepts about the Trinity, especially the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the true and faithful witness, the paradigm of the Resurrection from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. He is the Alpha and Omega, and who has always existed, exists now, and is coming. He is called the Almighty. In other words, Jesus is fully God in His own right, or what Calvin calls “Autotheos”. This tells us that Jesus is sovereign over all the events of history from large down to the minutest detail. We who are minute details in the world’s scheme of things and only a number to our government, a statistic, are important to God. This would have served to provide assurance to the tiny Christian communities which John was addressing which were suffering under the hand of both the Jewish community and the Roman government with the short term prognosis of things rapidly becoming worse. It was important for them to know that God that God is able to save.
We also learned that God loves us. Jesus demonstrated this by freeing (washing?) us from our sins by means of His shed blood. He also demonstrates His continuing interest in us by making us a kingdom and priests before God and his Father. Even though the surface appearance looked entirely contrary to this, they were already reigning with Him.
When we take these two concept together, we have the two things that are necessary to our salvation. The first is God’s power to save. The second is His will to save. A God who is willing to save but unable to save is no more than a cosmic bartender who hears our tales of woe and cries in our beer with us. A God who is able but not willing to save would do us no good either. But Scripture reveals that God is both able and willing and has proved this in Jesus Christ. The natural response of the church community is worship and doxology, giving thanks to God for his abundant mercy and grace.
Finally we learned that God was about to judge those who had persecuted the true Israel. The Jewish communities who had colluded with the Romans in crucifying Christ and persecuting Jesus’ followers were about to undergo devastation. God was about to use Rome to destroy Jerusalem and the Temple. When the Jewish nation saw their destruction in progress, they would remember that they had pierced Jesus who was their nation’s only hope and had not repented, although many individual Jews did. They would beat their breasts in anguish. They would remember that Jesus predicted this Himself.
Exposition of the Text
In verse nine, we are introduced to the circumstances John and his churches were in. John was suffering tribulation on an Island called Patmos. This island is off the southwest coast of modern day Turkey. It is basically a large rock in the middle of the sea, windswept, barren, and isolated. The constant crashing of the waves acted like a Chinese water torture. The Romans used this as a prison. The Romans wanted everyone to give praise to Rome who was called “the Eternal City”. The Empire had started to glorify their Emperor as a god, calling him “Son of God” and “King of Kings”. They bragged on the prosperity they had brought to the world, their technology, their water and sewer projects, their roads, the stability they brought with their strong army and navy. They also bragged about their government and role as facilitator of culture. By sending someone who was ungrateful for all that the empire provided, sending someone to a desolate place like Patmos was meant to bring an offender to repentance. Another example of this was the banishment of the Roman poet Ovid to the desolate frontier for offending Caesar Augustus. After some time, it was hoped that one would come to one’s senses and acknowledge the Roman emperor and the empire by burning incense to him as a god. Or if the person did not repent, the harshness of the punishment would induce insanity and act as a deterrent to others.
John says that he is suffering there on account of his testimony to Jesus who is the Word of God. The Christians presented Jesus as being the true Son of God, the God who is Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer of the world. One can instantly see that this preaching once made known to the Roman government would present difficulties to the Christians. Christians by bearing witness to Christ were making claims for Jesus, a man the romans crucified for treason, was King of Kings and Lord of Lords were in effect denying these claims to the Emperor. When the first Roman Emperor, Julius Caesar was assassinated, a comet appeared in the sky. Some interpreted this as the divine Julius ascending to the right hand of Jupiter (Zeus) as the Son of God. When other emperors died, similar claims were made for them. However, the Apostles, including John who had seen it, testified that they had seen Jesus, who was to the Romans a crucified Jew, who actually ascended to the right hand of God the Father. (Jupiter is a Latinization of the Greek Zeus Pater or Theos Pater, translated God the Father).
The churches to which Revelation was addressed were undergoing persecution of like intensity as John for their faith. John reminds them that he is aware of and personally feels at one with them in this common suffering and was enduring patiently with them. Yet in the middle of this, he reminds them that he is also a fellow partaker in the Kingdom. In other words, their suffering in following Jesus was proof of their membership in the true Empire and its eternal Lord.
In verse 10, it mentions that John was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day. This means that John was in some sort of spiritual ecstasy similar to that of the Old Testament prophets. The very isolation of John serves like the desert background in which external stimuli are removed in such a way as to allow the seer to hear the voice of God without distraction. One thinks of the visions of Daniel and Ezekiel here as a pattern. In fact, a good reading of their visions would help us in understanding the Apocalypse as well as a good understanding of the Old Testament as well.
We cannot tell exactly what is meant by “the Lord’s Day” here. Some think it to refer to Sunday, the day in which the church community gathered to remember the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Others think of it as referring to the Emperor’s birthday which would have been a public holiday. If this were the case, than on the day in which the rest of the world was paying homage to Caesar as a god, the true God appears to John. The other possibility is the eschatological Day of the Lord which is frequently mentioned in the Old Testament. Amos tells of it as being a gloomy day of judgment. If this is understood, this vision is a pronouncement of judgment on the enemies of the church.
In verse eleven, John is commanded to write down the vision and send it to seven churches which he names. All seven of the churches were situated in a semicircle starting at Ephesus and ending in Laodicea. We will learn more about these churches starting in chapter 2. John had charge over these seven and perhaps others in the southwest section of Asia Minor which is modern day Turkey, As John was separated from them, it would have been necessary for this vision to be committed to writing. A messenger would have been dispatched to these churches with the letter. He would first arrive at Ephesus where the letter would have been read by the reader in the congregation, a copy made for the church, and the messenger sent to the next church—and so on.
The message of Revelation was written to churches that existed 2000 years ago first, and not us. Jesus through the agency of the Apostle meant to encourage these suffering churches to remain faithful to Him unto the end. There was going to be a fulfillment of Revelation’s prophecies in their immediate future, their lifetime. As I have said before, the fulfillment of these prophecies provided proof of the Divine inspiration of the message. I have also told you that this is the first of a double fulfillment of Revelation. The destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD serves as a model of the judgment of the entire earth at the end of the age, perhaps in our own lifetime.
We are facing a situation today here in America which is very similar to those seven churches. The American nation which was founded on the model of the City of Rome, and tempered somewhat by Christian influences, has grown into a great empire. We as a nation brag about our own accomplishments, our culture, and our technology. We brag about our democratic form of government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” as being the light of the world which other nations should emulate. We are of course blind to the fact that these days are actually over. We are increasingly a police state in which government transparency means that the American people are to be naked before the airport scanners and the NSA while everything the government does is to remain hidden. The executive branch is usurping power. The government is becoming god. All who deny this are subject to audit from the IRS. Americans must realize that these things have marked the end of our democracy as much as the actions of Marius and Sulla marked the end of Roman freedom.
So, I feel the flames of persecution against Christians who will not compromise the faith are already kindled. And these fires are burning not only here, but in all the world. We only need to look at what is happening in Sudan, Egypt,, Syria, Iraq, North Korea, and other such places to realize the horrors of persecution which may be coming our way here. We need to patiently endure this even as these churches were admonished to do. We must also realize that we are to be fellow partakers in the sufferings that Christians throughout the world are already suffering. In the middle of this, we must never forget that we are members of the Kingdom of God. God is able and willing to deliver us from this present evil age. In fact, He has already done so. The Kingdom is a present reality marked by our following the suffering and cross of Jesus, but soon to be enjoyed in Eternal blessing. Jesus who is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith has finished the race of suffering and is not exalted at God’s right hand in glory where He makes intercession for us who are still on the race track. By God’s grace, we will attain the state of blessedness the heroes of the faith who having suffered have now joined the cloud of witnesses.
To this nation, I offer a strong warning. God has little tolerance for those who persecute His people. He has brought judgment on them before, so do not think that the United States will escape judgment. There is ample evidence that the curses of Deuteronomy and the judgment against nations recorded in the prophets are already happening in America. America is hereby commanded to repent, or else.
To the church, a warning also is offered. God did not spare the faithless Jews. Neither will he spare a faithless church. He will protect the faithful in the church though. Repent, while there is still time.