READ : Revelation 1
Stranded on a rocky island, the Apostle John meets the exalted Jesus and is given a thrilling new ministry.
It’s a joy for me to begin this series with you on the Book of Revelation, which to me
is the most fascinating, thrilling, mysterious book of the Bible. I love it especially
because of the way it exalts the risen Christ. I think of these words near the start of
Now to him who loves us and loosed us from our sins in his own blood, and made us to
be a kingdom and priests serving our God – to him be glory and dominion forever and
What is the Book of Revelation?
Now what is this book of Revelation? As the first verse tells us, it is a revelation.
It’s an opening from the heart and mind of God to his Son Jesus who then sends an angel to
bring his message to his servant John on the island of Patmos. Then John sends out that
message to the churches of Asia and eventually to us. God is speaking in it. Christ is
speaking in it. The Holy Spirit is speaking to us. And John is like a New Testament
prophet bringing the word of the Lord to people. So it’s a revelation.
It’s also what we call an “apocalypse.” There were a number of these in the centuries
just before the revelation was written – in which messages from other-worldly beings
come to the servants of God in sometimes highly symbolic language, assuring them of the
final victory of God’s purpose, enabling hard-pressed believers to see their situation
from a heavenly perspective. So an apocalypse is another kind of revelation from God. It’s
in highly symbolic form to encourage saints (believers) under pressure.
It is also an important letter. You see in the first chapter a greeting similar to that
which you find in other letters in Greece, Rome, and in the Bible. And then there follow
seven individual letters that are addressed to churches in Asia. It concludes with a
benediction. So in this way it becomes not only a letter to the seven churches, but a
letter of warning and promise to the whole church in all the ages.
John’s Situation on Patmos
Now who is this human writer, John? We know him as John, the son of Zebedee, the beloved
disciple of Jesus, the one who wrote the Gospel according to John and several key letters
in the New Testament. We know him as a mighty apostle, a leader of the church, a teacher,
a kind of a New Testament prophet, laboring in what is now present-day Turkey, which was
then a Roman province of Asia. He had been a prophet among these seven churches that we’ll
hear about shortly in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and
Laodicea. But John shares now with the people in their persecution, their zeal for the
coming kingdom, and their endurance through all kinds of tribulation.
Why is John here on the island of Patmos? Patmos is an island that I was privileged to
visit several times in tours to Turkey and Greece. It is about 40 miles off the coast of
present-day Turkey, just a big pile of rocks, rather desolate, out in the Aegean Sea. And
he’s there, John, because of the word of God and because of the testimony of Jesus Christ.
Apparently his witness to the lordship of Jesus was very troubling to the powers in Roman
government. Imagine what it was for John to proclaim a Jewish man as the Lord of
everything! Especially a man who was crucified by Roman authority. John was proclaiming
him as Lord of everything and the one Savior. He was too hot for Rome to handle, and for
whatever reasons they banished him to this island which had become a penal colony. He was
there because of the word of God and because of his bold testimony to Jesus. He was
seemingly stranded and helpless there, isolated from all familiar contacts, away from his
fellow Christians and from opportunities for service and witness. You can imagine his mood
as he’s there alone among the rocks in the desolate Aegean Sea.
Jesus Comes to Him
And then something wonderfully remarkable happens. It’s on the Lord’s Day. Even in the
New Testament the first day of the week was called “the Lord’s Day” because it was the day
when Jesus rose from the dead. And on this day when he’s in the Spirit on this desolate
island of Patmos, he hears a voice behind him like a trumpet blast. Now imagine that!
You’re all alone on this island and suddenly you hear a voice and it’s as loud as a
trumpet and it says, “Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches, to
Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to
Then John turns to see who it was that was speaking to him, and turning he sees seven
golden lampstands and in the midst of the lampstands one like the Son of Man which reminds
us of the exalted Son of Man in the book of Daniel and the title that Jesus often used for
I saw one like the Son of Man clothed with a long robe with a golden sash across his
chest. His head and his hairs were white as white wool, white as snow, and his eyes were
like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and
his voice was like the sound of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars and a
two-edged sword came forth from his mouth, and his face was like the sun shining in full
strength. And this is the one who says to John, “Write in a book what you see and send it
to the seven churches.”
Rev. 1:13-19, NRSV
Now this vision does what the book of Revelation does in many different ways. It helps
us to see behind the scenes, behind appearances in this world, behind common human
perspectives, to the way things really are. Many in our time have a diminished perspective
on who Jesus is. They think of him as simply a prophet, age-long dead. They think of him
as the “pale Galilean,” as gentle Jesus, meek and mild, or many of them simply acknowledge
that he is a great prophet from the past. But here in the book of Revelation, in the
opening chapter, there’s this revelation of the exalted Jesus in all his glory, wonder,
And when John sees him, he is overcome. He falls down before the one he sees as though
he were dead. But then, wonderfully, graciously, Jesus reaches out and touches him and
Don’t be afraid. I’m the first and the last and the living one. I was dead, but see,
I’m alive forever and ever, and I have the keys of death and of hades.
And then he goes on to tell John that he is to write what he’s seeing and what’s going
to happen. He says, “Write what you have seen, what is, and what is to take place after
this.” He is to tell of the exalted Jesus. He is to describe things beyond all
appearances, to show the way that they really are. He is to tell about the victory of
God’s coming kingdom.
So this is what happens to John on the island when he thinks that everything is over
for him, when all his opportunities of ministry are past, when he’s there simply to age
and die under the Aegean sun. Suddenly Jesus comes to him, and reveals his glory.
When John is overcome, the angel enables him to hear that voice that once he heard by
stormy Galilee. “Don’t be afraid. I’m the first and last and the living one. I was dead
and see, I’m alive forever and ever.”
This is a tremendous encouragement to the apostle John and gives him instruction about
what he’s to do. Now think of all that has happened as a result of this. We thought of
that when we were on the island of Patmos, how this forsaken place out in the Aegean
became the base from which something world-changing for twenty centuries happened.
This vision has been translated into thousands of languages around the world. Think of
the way it has encouraged God’s people for some two thousand years, giving them courage
and heart to face all kinds of tribulations and persecutions. Think of how many lives have
been transformed by it.
I think about a friend of mine who was so moved by the book of Revelation that he
memorized the entire book. He was a great missionary in Indonesia and in India. Later he
became a world Christian, a mighty evangelist named Hubert Mitchell. He told me that
memorizing the book of Revelation had been the greatest experience of his whole life. I
was moved by that and encouraged to want to do that myself. Later along with a couple of
others, we memorized the book together and on one occasion presented it in a church
Now think of the difference that this has made! What we are reading about, hearing
about today, Jesus is telling his servant, “You still have a work to do, a mission to
fulfill. You’re going to send letters to the churches that you love and to so many more.
You thought you were all finished here, but this can be the base for a powerful new
ministry beyond your dreams.”
And so it happens that what seemed the worst thing that ever happened to John was
transformed by the risen Jesus into the best. From this lonely pile of rocks he is to
speak to the church for all the coming centuries, making us strong in times of trouble,
giving us hope, touching millions.
Maybe you have sometimes felt like you’re on the shelf, maybe you’re older, maybe
you’re handicapped, maybe you’re limited in various ways, and you’re so helpless that you
feel there’s nothing you can do. Listen, take heart! Jesus Christ still comes to his
people. It seemed to John that he was a helpless victim. Now he learns who Jesus is, the
mighty Victor. The cruel emperor Domitian, though a tyrant, is not in control after all.
It’s the risen Lord Jesus Christ who reigns and who still says to his servants, “Don’t be