Revelation 1:9-12

In this first chapter of Revelation, John describes to us how Jesus appeared to him while he was in exile on the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea. Patmos was a Roman penal colony, set on an island measuring approximately four miles by eight miles. It was rocky, fairly harsh and inhospitable at that time. John was sent there because he was a follower of "The Way" - also known as a "Christian". He was a church leader and well known to the seven churches in Turkey, to whom Jesus wanted to speak directly. (Revelation 2:1-3:22)

The Roman authorities saw "Christians" as subversive because they would not conform to the cult of emperor worship (in which every citizen was ordered to revere the current emperor as a god) but insisted on worshipping only Jesus. John identified closely with those to whom he was writing, both the congregations in the seven churches then but, indirectly, with us today as well. (Revelation 1:9) John saw himself as the brother of all believers, because that is what the word of God says. (Romans 8:28-30) Of course, we too are included in this so, one day, we shall meet!

John regards himself as a brother and a companion in three things:

  • suffering,
  • the kingdom of heaven, and
  • patient endurance.

Suffering and opposition

These three themes recur throughout, not only the book of Revelation, but in our own Christian lives. We do not see so much suffering for believers in the Western world today, with its greater tolerance for different views and beliefs (and its apathetic attitude towards religion in general), but it certainly exists in many other countries around the world. Nonetheless, the more that you and I share the good news about Jesus with our neighbours and in our peer groups, the more we are likely to find opposition. Of course, we should not go looking for such things to happen but, as we stand firm for what we know to be true (Jesus Himself), we can expect our Enemy to be displeased. In Turkey, not very many miles from the location of the churches to whom this letter was addressed, Christian believers have been held, tortured and murdered for being just that – believers.

Any Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist who becomes a Christian today will very likely be rejected by their family. In some cases, such converts have been treated as if they do not exist or have died - to the extent that funerals are often held for them. In other cases, they are pursued and killed by members of their own families. This level of opposition gives the lie to the frequently stated belief that "all religions lead to God". Clearly they do not! Christians do not serve the same god as other religions! But, we need not be disturbed by talk of "Allah", "Buddha", "Krishna" or any other god (and there are thousands upon thousands of them). All these so-called "deities" are no more than the product of human thinking, albeit developed over hundreds or thousands of years. Only one God has claimed to speak directly to us, revealing Himself both in words and by coming Himself in human form. This living God invited us to call Him "Jehovah" (a name based on the Hebrew verb meaning "I Am"). He alone is King of kings and Lord of lords, the One before whom, one day, every knee will bow. (Romans 14:11)

John Stuart Mill said (in 1867): "Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." John F Kennedy later re-stated this as follows: "For evil to prevail, all that is necessary is that good men do nothing." Perhaps we should now change this to read: "All that is necessary for evil to prevail is that Christians do nothing." If it were not for the presence of the Holy Spirit in our world, Satan would run riot. It is because of the presence of God that the Enemy's designs on the planet and its inhabitants have been thwarted. People chase after idols in the form of thrill-seeking, popularity, pleasure and riches and, when those things fail to satisfy, many turn to all sorts of gods and religions. Ultimately, none of these possibilities can satisfy the spiritual emptiness in our hearts. We have to look in the right place.

"But if from there you will seek [inquire for and require as necessity] the Lord your God, you will find Him if you [truly] seek Him with all your heart [and mind] and soul and life." (Deuteronomy 4:29 - Amplified Version) We must attend to what the Lord has revealed to us through the Bible. If we maintain our faith and do not compromise, we can expect to suffer to some degree or another. This is likely to happen in increasing measure as the "Church Age" in which we live draws to a close, even in the democratic, Western nations, but more of that later! What is the "Church Age"? It is the time that began at the Day of Pentecost (Acts, chapter two), continuing through the present day and beyond, until the return of the Lord Jesus, when He gathers all believers to Himself - as described in Paul’s first letter to the church at Thessalonica. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)

A glorious future... but not just yet

All believers are brothers and sisters in Christ. We are part of a vast family of people, a holy nation, a people belonging to God. As brothers and sisters, we have a responsibility to one another to love and care for each other. We belong to a kingdom that is everlasting. (Colossians 1:13-14) When our bodies die, our spirits (the real us) will continue and we shall live for ever in the kingdom of heaven. Death will be a welcome transition - one that we have longed for - and the start of our new lives in the eternal presence of God. (Romans 8:18-25)

However, for the time being, we are called to patient endurance. Jesus never promised that following Him on this Earth would be easy. On the contrary, our human nature constantly wants to retreat to a way of life with which it is comfortable – the life we were used to living, prior to becoming Christians – and it doesn’t become any easier over time. (Ephesians 6:12 - King James Version) Sometimes it seems that, the longer we have been a Christian and the more we know and understand about Christianity, the harder it becomes. That is where perseverance comes in! (James 5:2-4) Perseverance doesn't come easily, but it is through difficulties and trials that our love and faith in God are tested. For example, God often does not answer our prayers until the very last minute. That can be hard, but let's remember that God is faithful. Let's determine not to give up and to hang on until our prayers are answered. Remember, too, that while we are awaiting our answer, God is moving in other people’s lives to help them become the answer to our problem. The answer to our prayer may also be an opportunity for others to come to know Him. Paul (the apostle) spoke these words to the elders of the church at Ephesus when he took his leave of them for the last time: "In everything I have pointed out to you [by example] that, by working diligently in this manner, we ought to assist the weak, being mindful of the words of the Lord Jesus, how He Himself said, 'It is more blessed [makes one happier and more to be envied] to give than to receive.'” (Acts 20:35)

Winning the battle

John was on the island of Patmos, a penal colony on a bare outcrop of rocky island in the Aegean Sea. He was there because of his stand as a Christian and because of the testimony of Jesus. But John was an "overcomer". What does that mean? It meant that he overcame the activities of the enemy, Satan. He was not afraid of Satan. Neither was he afraid of what Satan could do to him. His imprisonment was yet another opportunity for John to be close to his Lord Jesus.

When Satan was cast out from God's presence to the earth, he knew that his time was short, so he went about trying to deceive the human beings that God had created and to win them over to his cause. But, for those who trust God, Satan’s activities are ineffective because they are looking forward to something far better. John had to endure imprisonment on Patmos, but what was that compared to a personal revelation from Jesus? James, the brother of John, was beheaded (Acts 12:2), but what was that compared to being in the presence of God? Peter was crucified, but what was that compared to being re-united with his Lord? (Revelation 12:7-12)

It is time for us to take our stand for Jesus. If we are going to share the good news about Jesus in our town or village, our street or suburb, amongst family or friends, we must be prepared to say what we believe without embarrassment or apology and without fear or shame. Let’s face the fact that Jesus went all the way to death and the grave on our behalf. The least we can do in response is to love those around us enough to tell them the truth, directly and clearly, so that there can be no misunderstanding. Being known as a Christian may affect our reputation and even change our life through the sacrifice of time and energy, but is this not a price worth paying? (Mark 8:34-38)

John hears a voice

John received his vision on "The Lord’s Day". This day would have been the first day of the week. It was the day on which the believers celebrated the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ by meeting together. As they had been taught, they took bread and shared the cup of wine in remembrance of Jesus and all that He had done for them. He will one day share it with us again, but not until we are together in heaven with Him. (Mark 14:24-25) John was also "in the Spirit". He wasn't dreaming but had a vision, like that given to Peter. (Acts 10:10) John would have been in a state of heightened spiritual awareness, prompted by the Holy Spirit and probably following (or during) a time of worship. He could both see and hear what was happening, so that God could ensure that he would write down all that he saw.

The voice of God is likened to a trumpet blast in various places in the Bible. (For example, when God was giving Moses the "ten commandments" - Exodus 20:18 - and here in Revelation itself - Revelation 4:1). God’s voice has authority and will be heard above every other thing. But, even in the still, small voice of Elijah’s experience, God’s voice was unmistakable. All of us can learn to hear God's voice, whether it's loud and clear, or gentle and quiet. God wants a relationship with us and He will use whatever it takes to capture our attention. Let's listen for the voice of God speaking in our lives, through everyday events, the choices with which we are presented and, sometimes, the comments of family and friends.

Jesus promised very clearly that we would be able to hear and know His voice. (John 10:1-5) Above all, perhaps, we can hear what He is saying to us through God's word, the Bible. It's not necessarily restricted to the words recorded as having actually been spoken by Jesus (and printed in red type in some Bibles). We may be reading one of the psalms or any passage from any part of the Bible and a thought or image pops into our mind. Of course, not every thought that comes into our minds at any moment is coming from God. But, the more we read His word, the more we begin to recognise the kind of thing that God - through Jesus or the Holy Spirit - will be wanting to say to us. It is vitally important that we learn to recognise His voice because then the time that we spend praying becomes a proper conversation, not just a religious rite or ritual that we are expected to perform.

John certainly recognised God’s voice. There was no doubt about it. It had an authority about it and came from behind John. He had to turn around to see who was speaking to him. This picture of God speaking from behind to guide us and direct us crops up a few times in the Bible. We may not always be aware of God's presence with us, but He is always there to watch over us, like a father teaching his daughter to ride a bicycle. "Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it.'" (Isaiah 30:21) On this occasion, the voice had an instruction that was unmistakable:

"Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches." (Revelation 1:11)

A message for then and now

God wanted to speak to His people at the main churches in the province of Asia: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. His purpose was not simply to give encouragement or warnings to them; similar problems have faced many churches in different places throughout human history since the days of Jesus. The letter that John produced and circulated to the churches in Asia then has been preserved for our benefit too. Reading this letter and understanding what is meant in it, is as important to us today as it was to those believers some two thousand years ago. Are we ready to receive what God has to say to us? Some of it may not be pleasant; some of it may be challenging, but if we hear what the Spirit is saying to us, then all of it will be productive in our lives.

This is God’s word to you and me. It is a special revelation of things to come that we need to know and understand. It will help us to live our lives in a godly and holy way and to be an example, through good times and bad, to people who are not yet believers or to those who have become lax in their relationship with their Lord. Are we prepared to listen to His voice? The voice of the world around us constantly threatens to drown out the voice of God. The world in general hates God and has no understanding of what He has done, nor any desire to find out. But, individually and little by little over the centuries, the good news about Jesus has begun to take effect. It started at Pentecost and, by the end of the first century, most of the known world had heard it. By the end of the "Church Age", the entire population of the Earth will have heard it and people will have made their individual responses. What God has to say to us here and now is so important.

Carrying a torch for Jesus

In this case, God was speaking, in His capacity as the great High Priest, from amongst seven, golden lampstands. The lampstands represent the seven churches to whom this letter is addressed. A church in those days was simply a gathering of all the believers in a particular locality. There were no such things as "denominations" or different types of church. The Christian believers who banded together were described in the Greek language as "ek-klesia" - those who were "called out". They had been "called out" of their previous backgrounds and beliefs to acknowledge their shared faith in Jesus the Messiah.

Despite the complications of human structures and organisations, the same is essentially true of all churches today. To be a member of a church (whether it be in Ephesus, Laodicea, New York, London, Perth or any other locality), you simply need to be a believer - a "called-out one". You need to have:

  1. Confessed your sinfulness to God (to confess means to agree with God that you are a sinful person);
  2. Repented (made a conscious choice with the help of the Holy Spirit to turn away from your sins and to begin living rightly and honestly before God) and
  3. Asked Jesus to be the Lord of your life.

Unfortunately, the very word "church" today means all sorts of different things to different people. Jesus Himself actually spoke more about "the kingdom of heaven" than of "churches". He also told a parable about the kingdom of heaven that likened it to a field in which good seed had been sown, but where an enemy had come along and deliberately sown weeds as well. (Matthew 13:24-30) In many churches today, there is a great deal of religious activity going on. Many labour under the delusion that,if you do more good things than bad in your life, you can consider yourself a "Christian", but Jesus makes it very clear that repentance and faith in Him is the only qualification required to be part of the kingdom of heaven.

John's vision was a little clearer. Each church is represented by a lampstand in the presence of God. The purpose of a lampstand is to hold a candle that emits light. We are called by Jesus to reflect His light as He lives amongst us. We are called "the light of the world" by none other than Jesus Himself. Our light (as a fellowship of believers) stands in the very presence of Jesus. (As we shall see later on, it is possible for a lampstand to be removed from His presence.)

"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:14-16)

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