When John Saw JesusRevelation 1:9-20Theme: The glorified Christ.This week’s lessons teach us who Jesus is and why he is to be worshiped. LessonLet me point out a book I read called Angels in the Architecture, written by Douglas Jones and Douglas Wilson, two very brilliant writers. It has a chapter on poetic knowledge that argues that for human beings who can’t see directly and fully, as God does, there is a sense in which all knowledge must be metaphorical or communicated by symbols. God knows immediately; his knowledge is thorough; but that’s not the same case with us; our knowledge is always mediated which means that it comes to us by language, and the language that we use to speak of things is never the reality itself, but it points beyond the language to the realities. For example, we call God “Our Father” or “Our Father in heaven.” We don’t mean by that that God is exactly like what we mean by the word “father,” but that there are parallels there. God in heaven relates to us on earth somewhat as a father relates to his children. And so we read in Psalm 103, verse 12, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.” He behaves in a fatherly way toward us. That’s what the language means. Jesus used the same kind of language. He said, “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:9-11). So the Fatherhood of God, in that respect, has to do with the benevolence of a father to the children. That’s what Jones and Wilson are talking about. They say it’s true of all human language.
It’s certainly true of the kind of visionary language we have in the Book of Revelation. There’s a sense in which we all have to become poets in order to understand Revelation, starting with this vision of Jesus among the candlesticks in chapter 1.
Well, the letter doesn’t begin with this heightened approach to reality; it begins in a rather mundane setting. John is in Patmos, an actual island. It’s the Lord’s Day. Patmos is a rocky, crescent-shaped island, about thirty-seven miles southwest of the mainland of Asia; it’s sixteen square miles in area, and according to the Roman historian Tacitus, it was the place to which offenders or criminals were sometimes banished. The Christian apologist Tertullian wrote that John was banished there because of his proclamation of the Christian message, and it’s quite possible. The church historian Eusebius says that John was later released by the emperor Nerva, who reigned from a.d. 96 – 98, and that he went back to Ephesus. Now that’s the only data we have about that. But there’s no reason for questioning it. It’s probably the case.
The Lord’s Day probably refers to Sunday. This is the only place in the New Testament that Sunday is called the Lord’s Day. The Lord’s Day is an expression also used for the Day of the Lord, so the Lord’s Day here could refer to the final day of God’s judgment. It’s a phrase that comes out of the Old Testament, and some suggest that that’s what John is saying. But that’s probably not what he’s saying here at the beginning of the letter. What he’s doing is simply telling where he was when he received the vision.
Now, John makes clear at the very beginning of the vision that the kingdom about which he is talking is a kingdom that involves suffering, yet it is a true kingdom. He uses the words suffering, kingdom, and patient endurance. Jesus brought the kingdom to us by means of his faithful witness. John has become a part of it because of his testimony, and therefore he is suffering because of that; and those to whom he is writing are going to be suffering too.
What is true of all human language?
What distinction is Sunday given in Revelation?
What characteristics are part of the kingdom John describes in Revelation?
Further StudyUsing a Bible atlas, look up the island of Patmos to see where John was living when he received his vision. Write down all you find about this island.