Summary: This is the first of eight sermons dealing with the Seven Churches of the Revelation
One letter, seven churches. Most of us are familiar with the Revelation of John, the last book in the New Testament, or at least we think we are. We’ve breezed through it pausing on the sensational bits, dragons, beasts with seven heads and ten horns and locust the size of Volkswagens. But for most of us what we know about the Revelation is actually what we know about the Left Behind Series or the Late Great Planet Earth. However the Revelation was originally addressed to a group of believers who didn’t have Tim LaHaye or Hal Lindsay to guide them or confuse them, whatever the case may be.
Two comments that you might find interesting, one person wrote about the Revelation saying “There are as many riddles in the Revelation as there are words.” While another wrote “The study of the Revelation either finds or leaves a man mad.”
So let’s start with a little background to the book of the Revelation. The book itself tells us that the author was someone by the name of John. Now tradition tells us that it was the Apostle John but there is no biblical evidence of that, all we know is that the authors name was John. Those who are in the know tell us that there is a good chance that the book was written by someone whose first language was not Greek. William Barclay the writer of the Daily Study Bible commentaries wrote this about the Greek that was used here “It is vivid, powerful, and pictorial; but from the point of view of grammar it is easily the worst Greek in the New Testament. He makes mistakes which no schoolboy who knew Greek could make.” But then again someone reading my writing before it gets proof read would deduce that English wasn’t my native tongue.
However whoever John was he wrote in a style that is often called Apocalyptic literature. Which comes from the Greek word which means the unveiling. And Apocalyptical writings were very popular especially between the Old and New Testaments. The Jewish people had been living under the rule of occupying armies for five hundred years and they looked ahead to the day that the Messiah would deliver his people. And the Revelation borrows from much of that literature in style but the message of the Revelation is very Christ centred.
Scholars place the writing of the Revelation somewhere around 90 – 95 about 60 years after the death and resurrection of Christ. The letter was written from a small Island in the Mediterranean Sea called Patmos; we are told by John that he was there because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus, which traditional has been accepted to mean that he had been exiled to the Island because of his faith a penal colony situated in the Aegean Sea between Turkey and the Isle of Crete.
If I pull up a map here we can see where the Isle of Patmos is actually located and here is a picture of Patmos today. It looks fairly pleasant, a small island ten miles long and five miles wide but listen to the Words of Sir William Ramsay, “John’s banishment would be preceded by scourging, marked by perpetual fetters, scanty clothing, insufficient food, sleep on the bare ground, a dark prison and work under the lash of the military overseer.” Pretty rugged conditions for a man probably in his nineties, no matter how pretty the view. And even if he wasn’t forced into hard labour, it was still exile, far from his home, family and friends.
It was the time the Emperor Domitian who was the first emperor to insist on emperor worship. That is he actually believed that he was a god and insisted that he be worshipped as such by all his subjects. Each year you would be required to appear at the temple and offer a pinch of incense and utter the words “Caesar is Lord.” Well for the Christians that posed a bit of a problem because they believed that only Jesus is Lord, and so they refused to obey the edict. Domitian responded by having those who refused to call him God executed, imprisoned or exiled. And it would appear that John had been exiled probably from 90 until 96 the death of Domitian
And so this rocky, barren island becomes the backdrop for the vision that John records as the Revelation, the influence of the sea can be seen throughout the book with the word sea or ocean being used twenty five times in different analogies. At times as you read through the book you can almost hear the crash of waves in the background.
And so John tells us in Revelation 1:10-11 It was the Lord’s Day, and I was worshiping in the Spirit. Suddenly, I heard a loud voice behind me, a voice that sounded like a trumpet blast. It said, “Write down what you see, and send it to the seven churches: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.” Couple of points here, no one has really completely established what was meant by worshipping in the Spirit, some would contend that John was in some mystical trance like state but others would say that he was simply enjoying private worship. The term the Lord’s Day would imply that it was the first day of the week, that is Monday. And John was worshipping, perhaps he had been singing a piece by Hillsongs Jerusalem, maybe he had been reading his scriptures or meditating on the goodness of God, we don’t know what it was specifically that for John entailed worshipping in the Spirit, but we do know that he was in a position spiritually to be open and receptive to what Jesus would have him hear, it was almost like he had a epiphany.