Revelation 1: 1-6
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.
To the seven churches in the province of Asia:
Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father – to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
The author of the book of Revelation we’re told right at the beginning is John. This is likely the same John who was one of the first disciples of Jesus, he had a brother called James, he wrote the Gospel of John and later the epistles of 1st, 2nd and 3rd John.
The book was written sometime around 95 AD according to most scholars. If you think about it, if John were alive when Jesus was walking the earth, this is 60 years later, so John by now was at least 80 years old. He was no spring chicken.
What was happening at the time when John had his vision and wrote this book?
In 95AD the Emperor in the Roman Empire was a man called Domitian and he was a really nasty piece of work. While most of the Emperors had a bit of an ego, Domitian took this to a whole new level and claimed that he was in fact not human but divine and was therefore to be worshipped by all the subjects of the Empire. The way to demonstrate your loyalty to Domitian was to declare him publicly as having the title of ‘My Lord and My God’.
It would be a bit like British Prime Minister Teresa May declaring that all citizens of the UK had to go to Downing Street and worship her as God. I'll not even mention what Donald might ask for....!
That’s pretty much what Domitian did. He called on everyone to declare that he was 'Lord and God.'
As you can imagine, for the Christians who were living at this time, this was simply not acceptable. As far as they were concerned, they only had one Lord and one God and His name was Jesus and He alone was worthy of worship. And so most Christians simply said, 'No. We will honour and respect Domitian, but when it comes to worshipping him, that’s where we draw a big line in the sand.'
Domitian, as you can imagine, wasn’t impressed. And so Christians were punished and persecuted, both by the authorities and by the people living around them. They were sent to the lions, they were dropped into boiling tar, they were beaten, they were put out of their homes, they lost their jobs, their families, their lives. All because they believed that Jesus Christ was the Messiah and they worshipped Him as God.
That’s what has happened John when he has this vision he records in Revelation.
Look at verse 9:
“I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.”
The island of Patmos was a barren little island off the coast of Turkey where people were sent into exile and punished by the Empire. Often they were subject to hard labour and brutal beatings. And here we find John, at in his 80’s, exiled – why?
Verse 9: “...because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus...”
John couldn’t stop talking about Jesus. He wouldn’t stop preaching the Word of God. He’d probably been warned, told what would happen if he didn’t stop. But he couldn’t help himself. He was so passionate about Jesus, so consumed with making sure everyone knew about Christ, so determined to obey God rather than men, that nothing, not even the might and power of the Roman Empire, could stop him from declaring that Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ alone is his Lord and his King.
And it’s as he is banished to the island of Patmos, away from family and friends and his church, all alone and probably a bit afraid of what the future holds for him. But look what he’s doing:
“On the Lord's Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: "Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea."
It’s Sunday and he says he’s ‘in the Spirit’ – in other words he’s worshipping and praying and seeking God. He’s not having a pity party about why has this happened to me, he’s not moaping in the corner, he’s not blaming God – he’s having his own little church service, probably all by himself, and the Holy Spirit falls upon him and he has this Vision.
What’s he to do with the vision he’s about to receive? He’s told: "Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea."
Write it down and send it to these 7 churches. The 7 places listed were all cities and towns in turkey at the time, and in each town or city there were communities of Christians, churches, who were probably experiencing similar persecution for their faith in Jesus that John was facing. And so Jesus wants to communicate with them, he wants to send them a letter, and he does so through John.
But the message from Jesus isn’t just for them 2000 years ago, it’s for every Christian and every church in every generation, including us reading this in 2017.
I'm so thankful that our God sees and our God speaks. He knows what we are facing and He is not indifferent to our pain.
Perhaps you need to hear that today: God sees what you are facing, He knows your pain, and He is speaking in the midst of your circumstances. He didn't lift John out of exile, He didn't remove the suffering - but He was with him every second and in every situation. Be assured, He is with you today too. His presence is around you right now.