Where is Jesus when we need him? This was a very real question for the suffering church. One of them had been executed, their leader had been exile, many had been persecuted for their faith, and all knew they could be next. The answer given to this in Revelation is one of the most wonderful, comforting, yet perhaps most overlooked in Scripture. It is overlooked by us because it is placed among so many other important ideas in the introduction of the letter, and because we are often more interested in rushing past it to get to the apocalyptic material that follows.
The setting for this is that John, on the Lord’s day and being in the Spirit, had a prophetic vision (Revelation 1:9-10). John may have been exiled and separated from the people in the church, but nothing could separate him from God. Even in these difficult circumstances he was able to worship and be in the Spirit open to hearing from God. Paul wrote, neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, … will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:37–39).
John says, I was in the Spirit. Have you ever been in the Spirit? Have you ever been so focused on the worship of God that you are lifted above your earthly situation, filled with joy, your heart bursting with his presence and your lips full of his praise; that you have been, as the hymn writer Charles Wesley wrote, lost in wonder, love and praise? I think this is closely linked with what Paul wrote about the Holy Spirit saying, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:16). In some wonderful way, God’s Spirit testifies with our spirit and we sense God’s presence in our lives.
John reveals many titles of Jesus among which he is called the Living One (Revelation 1:17-18). This refers to more than Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, it signifies his eternal existence and is connected with the description of God … who was and is and is to come (Revelation 1.8). John’s answer to the question where is Jesus, is answered in his vision: “I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest” (Revelation 1:12–13). Jesus interprets the meaning of this for us saying, “The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches” (Revelation 1:20). Jesus walking among the lampstands is a vision of Jesus walking among the churches. The answer to the question is: Jesus is with you, walking among you. Jesus is near.
God walking among His people is a central biblical theme. We see it at creation when God walks in the garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. We see God’s presence in the Exodus in the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. We see it as Jesus walks with his disciples and as the Holy Spirit is sent to dwell in the lives of God’s people. And this is reinforced at the end of Revelation where we read, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God'” (Revelation 21:3). God will make his dwelling with humanity. He will set up his home among us and be with us through eternity. He created us for this relationship, and when we were lost in sin, he came looking for us to save us, to bring us home, to reunite us with himself for eternity.
Imagine how this news would be of encouragement to the seven struggling churches. To know that Jesus was with them would have given them hope, strength, courage and inspiration. This is not some minor deity who couldn’t measure up, this was the Living One, the Faithful Witness, the King of Kings, the First and the Last, Almighty God, who was with them. And He is with us!
When were you last in the Spirit?
What help do you find in the knowledge that Jesus is near?
Rev John Malcolm