The apostle John was in exile on the island of Patmos when he received the vision he recorded as the book of Revelation. His glimpses of heaven reveal an important key for dealing with the problems we face on earth.
The visions that the apostle John received on Patmos not only revealed the future but help focus on mind and thoughts on Christ.
Source: Lars Justinen/Goodsalt
Most of you are familiar with the opening lines of the Lord's Prayer: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew:5:9-10). These words, taught during Jesus Christ's Sermon on the Mount, may match our sincerest desire, but too often the sheer gravity of circumstances here below can draw our attention away from remembering Jesus' admonition as to where to focus our attention.
It's often been said, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." When our life seems derailed by trials, it can hinder our vision of God sitting on His throne, transcendent above our overcrowded fishbowl down here. It's all too easy for our hearts to become isolated from God's promises for our ultimate spiritual well-being.
The last book of the Bible shows that we must keep our focus in the right place to bear with the hardships of this life and ultimately experience the wonderful blessings God has in store for us.
Exile and revelation
The apostle John was present when Christ taught about prayer during the Sermon on the Mount, and he was reintroduced to the power of Jesus' words in his time of need nearly 60 years later. Toward his life's end he wrote in Revelation:1:9, "I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ."
Most reliable sources indicate that John was exiled on this tiny Aegean island off the western coast of modern-day Turkey during the turbulent persecution of Christians under the cruel Roman Emperor Domitian.
Consider for a moment what may have been running through his mind as he looked down a craggy cliff to the churning waters crashing against the rocks below. Here he was, isolated on this remote island, unable to carry out the duties committed to him by his beloved Lord and Master decades earlier.
What thoughts did John have as he considered his state? Did he wonder where God was, if he had been abandoned to end his days in exile after giving so much of His life to serving His Master and spreading the gospel?
Perhaps you've had similar questions plaguing you at times. It may seem that at times we're also cut off and alone, exiled to our own personal Patmos!
Whether such questions were on John's mind then or are in yours right now, we do know that John was given reassurance about the future—reassurance that through him has also been given to us: "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God [the Father] gave Him [Christ] to show His servants—things which must shortly take place" (Revelation:1:1).
Christ was going to share with John the broad sweep of events that the world and His Church would experience in the time ahead, culminating in the climatic appearance of "a new heaven and a new earth" (Revelation:21:1).
Much of this heavenly vision would be unfathomably joyous, while other portions could cause utter heartache as Christ reveals what would happen to God's true servants in this age. So He lays a foundation of hope lest this astonishing disclosure be devastating to John and to others receiving the message.
Gaining a heavenly perspective first
Christ knew how to best reveal to John how His Father's will would "be done on earth as it is in heaven." Before revealing the future, He gives John a glimpse of what "in heaven" entails, opening a window on something wonderful to anchor our existence below.
This was to be the foundation of all revelation that would follow. That is, "first things first." It was as if Jesus, the risen Christ, was saying "Follow Me" not only by teaching us what to pray, but what to experience with our entire being when approaching the presence of "our Father in heaven."
God invites John to gain a heavenly perspective of what's ageless beyond our fleeting human existence and trials (compare Colossians:3:2; 2 Corinthians:4:17-18; Romans:8:18-23). Let's follow along and understand how we might move beyond our "personal Patmos" that may be isolating us not merely from others, but from God.
The revelation commences with the sound of "a loud voice, as of a trumpet," declaring, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last" (Revelation:1:10-11).
Jesus Christ begins to unveil what the Father gave Him to communicate by personally disclosing His eternal existence—encompassing everything that has been, is and will yet be. He and the Father had no origin but simply exist, beyond the bounds of time and space, and are the Source of all other life.
In this vision, Jesus appears in the midst of the seven lampstands (Revelation:1:13) symbolizing the churches that were being challenged in the first century, as well as all God's people who would follow down through the ages to our time. He's not an absentee savior or cosmic bystander, but as the Good Shepherd He is in the midst of His spiritual flock even when we are unaware of His presence.
A snapshot of the roles of Christ
Here we are given a snapshot of God's heavenly throne with a description of Jesus as "One like the Son of Man" wearing a garment that reached down to His feet, a golden band encircling His chest (Revelation:1:13).
It's here that God wants us to accompany John and approach His throne with the picture firmly in mind of One who has been like us in the flesh (as the Son of Man), but is now garbed in a gleaming robe that points to His role as our King and High Priest and God's ultimate heavenly Messenger.
This picture of God's throne above describes Christ as One who has "in his right hand seven stars, [and] out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength" (Revelation:1:16). The stars signify angels or messengers of God's people (verse 20), the sword is God's Word (see Hebrews:4:12), and His blazing brilliance is the radiance of divine glory (see Hebrews:1:3).
Here John—and we—face the reality that God has placed Christ in absolute control of the universe. He has a grasp of all and has the power to carry out divine judgment on His Father's behalf.
Notice also that the first words Christ mentions after revealing Himself are some that we can never hear enough: "Do not be afraid" (Revelation:1:17). He says this as He lays His right hand on John, showing deep personal care and friendship.
Why are we to not be afraid? He goes on to declare again: "I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore . . . And I have the keys of Hades [the grave] and of Death" (Revelation:1:17-18).
It is a claim that He alone can make, having existed in both worlds of life and death and now owning both! He's no stranger to the gravity of the world's pulls and the isolation of abandonment.
This claim echoes what He had declared as the God of Israel in the Old Testament (see John:1:1-3, John:1:14; 1 Corinthians:10:4), stating then: "Remember the former things of old, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure' . . . Indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it" (Isaiah:46:9-11).
Approaching the unapproachable
The great Revelator, Jesus Christ, continues in Revelation 4 to open up God's throne room to John and to us. John describes the vision: "Behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald" (Revelation:4:2-3).
Here the power, glory and holiness of God's nature and attributes are captured in a scene of precious jewels that dazzle and shimmer so brightly as to be nearly blinding—described elsewhere as "unapproachable light" (1 Timothy:6:16).
It is the same throne David prayed toward when He said of God: "You are very great; You are clothed with honor and majesty, who cover Yourself with light as with a garment, who stretch out the heavens like a curtain" (Psalm:104:1-2).
Notice that John's vision of this scene "in heaven" is stamped with a rainbow, which may harken back to the rainbow after Noah's Flood (Genesis:9:11-17), perhaps signifying God's promise of tempering His judgments in the harrowing prophecies being revealed to John (and see Ezekiel:1:28).
Revelation concludes with the establishment of "a new heaven and a new earth" in which there is "no more sea"—no more of the barrier that had kept John confined on Patmos—with God the Father and the New Jerusalem coming down to the new earth (Revelation:21:1-3).
Ultimately there will be no barriers between God and those who truly seek Him as their Heavenly Father, who hallow His name by what they do and not merely by what they have heard, and who yearn for His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
This same passage captures God the Father declaring, in similar manner to Christ's opening words in Revelation: "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts" (Revelation:21:6). Indeed, God sees things He has planned as if they already are (compare Romans:4:17), and He sees you in that picture with Him.
The invitation is at hand for you as much as for the apostle John. Christ clearly states: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and He with Me" (Revelation:3:20).
The key to keeping that door open is found in Jesus' opening words, which reveal that we heed His call of "Follow Me" by first focusing our attention on "our Father in heaven" before looking around down here. It's the key that opens up the book of Revelation. It's the key that helps us to, in the words of Hebrews:4:16, "come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need."