Chapter 1 – ISLAND INTERRUPTION REVELATION
If you ask the average person what’s in the book of Revelation, their first responses will sound almost like Star Wars. Angels! Demons! Cosmic battles! Plagues! Dragons! Smoke! Fire! Lightning! And finally, a glittering utopia in a galaxy far, far away!
But before we go flying off into that kaleidoscope of galactic colour, we need to stop and recognize the down-to-earth origins of this unusual book. The elderly apostle John was stuck in exile on a tiny island (just eight miles long, four miles wide) off the coast of present-day Turkey. What crime had he committed? None, other than his faithful service to Christ, which the Roman authorities of his day did not appreciate.
This godly man was concerned not just about his welfare. As a spiritual leader, he wondered about the churches in his care. How were they doing without him? Would he ever get back to them? How could he encourage them? What would stimulate their faith to continue trusting the Lord Jesus through times of persecution and great testing?
In our current setting, when bad things—sickness, job loss, relational breakdowns—happen to “good people,” our response often reveals the true condition of our hearts. Some may question God: “Why me? Why now? Why this?” Some turn hostile, like Pharaoh in the Old Testament, who repeatedly “hardened his heart” (cf. Ex. 8:15).
But others, like John, draw ever closer to the person of Jesus Christ, finding hope and strength. As Eugene Peterson, author of the popular Bible paraphrases The Message, points out, “Perhaps the greatest mystery in suffering is how it can bring a person into the presence of God in a state of worship, full of wonder, love and praise. Suffering does not inevitably do that, but it does it far more often than we would expect.”1
As John mused and turned his reflections over to God, he sensed a wonderful presence on that desolate shore. The voice of God seemed to rise. “On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet…. I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me” (1:10, 12a).
The expression “the Lord’s Day” denotes the day on which the early church worshiped. It was not the Sabbath day (Saturday) but rather the first day of the week, the day Christ rose from the dead. Christians worshiped on Sunday because they were celebrating the risen Lord. Though most of the early believers were Jewish, they were willing to change their traditional day of worship to honour the dramatic event of the empty tomb.
On this Sunday, though banished on a rocky island, John states that he was “in the Spirit.” What does that mean? The book of Romans assures us that all believers have the Holy Spirit. But this expression gives a sense of being especially aware of God’s presence in the moment.
Then John hears a loud voice like a trumpet—in fact, God’s voice. Most of us have not heard this kind of audible voice, but some have; I knew a classmate in Bible college who, during his time as a merchant marine and far from God, had this kind of experience at sea. It transformed his life from doubt to faith. He heard the audible voice of God. This began his journey to the Lord Jesus Christ.
John turns and sees the exalted Jesus—a very different view from when he had walked with Jesus in Galilee. John’s response is dramatic: he falls stunned onto the ground. He is, to be honest, terrified, and overwhelmed by his encounter with the risen Christ.
One of our current weaknesses in worship is the lack of genuine reverence. But when the supernatural breaks through, it brings a deep fear into our lives. It creates a state of wonder, which is one of the elements of genuine worship. True worship changes us. It transcends our troubles. It puts all of life into proper perspective.
In seeing the risen Savior, John receives a disclosure of what is happening to the churches across the Roman province called Asia Minor as well as what is about to happen to the broader church in God’s redemptive plan. This final message is to prepare people throughout all ages for Christ’s return. It encourages those in difficulty. It brings hope and comfort, but also a warning to the spiritually indifferent or apathetic.
Though the church is under great opposition and persecution by the adversary, Satan, Revelation’s message is one of the coming victory through Christ’s power. We are about to see things from God’s perspective.
What does the end look like? Curiously, it is clothed in a different literary genre than the rest of the New Testament. It is written in apocalyptic style. The images John uses are meant to stir our imagination. The language at times may seem confusing and difficult, which is why the book of Revelation is often forgotten entirely or else used to support all kinds of farfetched notions.
What we must always keep in mind is that this is a message to deal with the present challenges of life. It’s meant to give us hope in life’s most difficult and distressing moments when our world seems to be collapsing around us. God reveals himself as sovereign—in other words, he is in control. One day we will see everyone surrender to his authority so that it can be boldly announced. “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever” (11:15b).
A Message for the Perplexed
The Australian scholar Leon Morris (1914-2006) set the stage for us in this way:
The gospel had been preached throughout the Roman province of Asia (as elsewhere). Some had believed and become Christians. They had been taught that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, the Son of God. Now having died for us, he rose triumphant to die no more (1:18). He went back to heaven, but in due course, he would return. Jesus would destroy the kingdoms of this world and set up God’s perfect kingdom. It was an inspiring faith, and the little group of Christians embraced it with fervour. They looked and longed for the promised completion of when God’s will would be perfectly done throughout the whole earth.
And nothing happened. The church continued to be a tiny group, doubtless adding a few members from time to time, but not becoming, and not looking like becoming, a mighty force to take over the Roman Empire. That Empire continued it’s wicked way. Oppression and wrong abounded. Evil men prospered. Idolaters persisted in idol worship, and the cult of the Emperor flourished. Because they would not conform, the tiny band of Christians found themselves the object of suspicion and sometimes outright persecution. A few of them were killed. Some were put in prison.
What had become of the message which had induced them to become Christian in the first place? Where was the promise of Christ’s coming? All things continued as they were from the foundation of the world. If God was active in the world it demanded a very strong faith to perceive it. And most of the Christians, as they always have been, were people with no more than an average faith. Had they been mistaken in coming to Christ in the first place? Was it all a delusion? Was Christianity a fine religion indeed for the sanctuary but unable to cope with the demands of the real world? Must they conclude that it was a pretty delusion, which must inevitably be shattered on the hard rocks of social and political realities? Was the real power in the hands of the emperor and his associates?
To a church perplexed by such problems, Revelation was written. We must not think of it as an intellectual puzzle sent to a relaxed church with time on its hands and an inclination for solving mysteries. It was sent to a little, persecuted, frustrated church, one which did not know what to make of the situation in which it found itself. John writes to meet the need of that church.”2
In the first chapter of this book, we learn much about the essence of worship. Three things stand out, helping to transform us and to show our current context from an eternal perspective.
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