Background and Purpose

BACKGROUND AND PURPOSEI, 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. 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.” (Revelation 1:9-11)

I, John – In apocalyptic literature the identity of the writer is always prominent to validate the authenticity and the authoritativeness of the visions.(1) Like “I Daniel” in Daniel 7:28; 9:2; and 10:2, the apostle identifies himself as I, John. This is one of the many features of resemblance between the Old Testament and the New Testament apocalyptic seers. No other Scripture writer uses this particular phrase.(2)

Companion in Suffering – Persecution is a persistent theme of Revelation. John identifies with those undergoing persecution (“companion in suffering”) because he likewise endures hardship (imprisoned “on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus”) for the cause of Christ. Affliction and being part of Jesus’ kingdom go hand in hand. The language here clearly affirms that the believers to whom John is writing (and John himself) are in a period of persecution (tribulation) and that the Kingdom is, at least in the spiritual sense, already present with the Church (See Colossians 1:13; 1 Corinthians 15:27–28).(3)

Imprisoned on Patmos – The most common places of Roman banishment were the rocky Aegean islands off the coast of Asia. These included Patmos, which was forty to fifty miles southwest of Ephesus. Patmos was not a deserted island. It included a gymnasium and temple of Artemis (the island’s patron deity).(4) The most common belief is that John wrote Revelation around 95 AD, during the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian. This emperor had demanded that he be worshiped as Lord and God, something John would have refused.(5)

By this time, John would have been a very old man, in his eighties or nineties.(6) According to several early church fathers (Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Eusebius), John was sent to this island as a prisoner following his pastorate at Ephesus. Victorinus, the first commentator on the Book of Revelation, stated that John worked as a prisoner in the mines on this small island. When the Emperor Domitian died in 96 AD, his successor Nerva let John return to Ephesus.(7) Church tradition holds that John had been banished to Patmos in order to hinder the growth of the Church and because his message opposed the dominant religious practices of Rome, which included the aforementioned emperor worship.(8)

On the Lord’s Day In the Spirit – Because the Old Testament and ancient Judaism especially associated the Spirit of God with prophecy, “in the Spirit” may mean that John was in some sort of charismatic worship (1 Chronicles 25:1–6) or a visionary state (Ezekiel 2:2; 3:12, 14, 24; 8:3; 11:1, 24).(9) Or, it could simple mean he writings were inspired by the Spirit (which we know is true), “for prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21)

Some have indicated that “the Lord’s Day” refers to the first day of the week. However, this expression was never used in the Bible to refer to the first day of the week. It could be that John was referring to the day of the Lord, a familiar expression in both Testaments (Isaiah 2:12; 13:6, 9; 34:8; Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14; Amos 5:18, 20; Zephaniah 1:7–8, 14, 18; 2:3; Zechariah 14:1; Malachi 4:5; 1 Thessalonians. 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10). This would mean that he was actually projected forward (“in the Spirit” seems to imply an out-of-body vision) and actually witnessed the events taking place (remember, God is not bound by time or space).

The idea that the entire Book of Revelation was given to John in one 24-hour day (the first day of the week – Sunday) seems unlikely, especially if he had to write it all down.(10) Modern science fiction, which depicts time-travel that encompasses large blocks of time in the future with a return to where no time has passed at all, has nothing over eschatology.

Voice Like a Trumpet – John heard the voice of Christ “like a trumpet.” Trumpets are important in Revelation. In Revelation 4:1 the trumpet calls John up to heaven, which some suggest is an allusion to the Rapture. In Revelation 8:2, trumpets signal that the wrath of God will be poured out on the world. In the Old Testament, the Jews used trumpets to gather the assembly, to announce war, or to proclaim special days (Numbers 10). God’s trumpet will call the Church home (1 Thessalonians 4:16), gather Israel (Matthew 24:31), and announce war on the world (Revelation 8:2).(11)

The Seven Churches – As noted above, the seven local churches listed were not the only churches in Asia Minor at that time (see Colossians 1:2; 4:13). These churches may have been chosen because they were located on the connecting roads of a circular postal route.(12) A messenger delivering John’s message would arrive first in Ephesus. The other cities are arranged in the sequence a messenger would follow on foot to reach them. The distance between them generally varies from about thirty to forty-five miles.(13)

Apart from the geography, they also had a many-faceted completeness to them. On one side was Smyrna, a Church exposed to persecutions leading to death. On the other side was Sardis, having a reputation for spiritual life and yet dead. Laodicea, who in its own estimation was rich, needing nothing, and possessing ample talents, were deemed to be lukewarm to Christ’s cause. This contrasts with Philadelphia, which had little strength, yet in keeping Christ’s word had an open door set before it by Christ Himself. Ephesus was intolerant of evil and of false apostles, yet had left its first love. On the other hand, Thyatira, abounding in works, love, service, and faith, allowed the false prophetess to seduce many.

The church in Ephesus was in conflict with false freedom that is characterized by licentiousness (the Nicolaitans). Pergamos was in conflict with Balaam-like temptation of fornication and eating meat sacrificed to idols. Philadelphia was in conflict with the Jewish synagogue and legal bondage. These were in contrast with Sardis and Laodicea that faced no active conflict to challenge their spiritual energies due to their intoxicating states of complacency and humanism.(14)

Up Next – The Son of Man.

Reminder – If you like what you’ve been reading, and don’t want to wait for future blogs, the book is available for purchase (click on store in the upper right hand corner of this blog).

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  1. Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Re 1:9). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.
  2. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 552). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
  3. Barry, J. D., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Mangum, D., & Whitehead, M. M. (2012). Faithlife Study Bible (Re 1:9). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
  4. Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Re 1:9). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  5. Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 566). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  6. Richards, L., & Richards, L. O. (1987). The teacher’s commentary (p. 1073). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  7. Walvoord, John F. (1985). Revelation. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 930). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  8. Barry, J. D., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Mangum, D., & Whitehead, M. M. (2012). Faithlife Study Bible (Re 1:9). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
  9. Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Re 1:10). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  10. Walvoord, John F. (1985). Revelation. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 930). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  11. Wiersbe, W. W. (1992). Wiersbe’s expository outlines on the New Testament (p. 796). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  12. Cabal, T., Brand, C. O., Clendenen, E. R., Copan, P., Moreland, J. P., & Powell, D. (2007). The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (p. 1888). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
  13. Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Re 1:11). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  14. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 553). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

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