I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day… -Revelation 1:10a
We’re going to take a little bit of time going through John’s description of the resurrected and exalted Jesus and its significance. So we’re really just setting the scene here. John has already told us in verse nine that he is exiled on the island Patmos. He is most likely working in the Imperial mines there, day in and day out. On this particular day, however, it seems he had a bit of a reprieve from the work of the labor camp and was able to worship, meditating on the Scriptures.
It is here, in slavery to the Empire for his witness of Jesus, that he longs once again for the comforting, forgiving, and life-giving Word of God. Every Lord’s Day (A.K.A. Sunday) during his exile, John must have longed for the hours of public worship in Ephesus, his home church, and his lonely heart sought such comfort as it could find in private devotion.
Or, as long as we’re speculating, I instead like to think that John, the apostle whom the Lord loved, loved his fellow prisoners enough to evangelize and invite them to worship with him, handing out the goods in both Word and Sacrament. Either way, there is a reason for his strange verbiage when he says, “I was in the Spirit.”
There is little doubt the Romans would have looked unkindly on him holding Christian worship, let alone drawing others into it. John would not have wanted to unnecessarily endangered himself or other saints who were possibly worshipping with him. And so he had to disguise the truth of what they were doing in a letter, though it would be apparent enough to those to whom he was writing.
To be “in the Spirit” here is not something that John, or any Christian for that matter, can accomplish through their preparations and works. This is what some falsely claim, yet they know neither God nor the power of His Word. They replace God’s Holy Spirit, who comes to us through the Word, with another spirit that comes specially to them without the Word, thus rejecting both.
Instead, it is through the Word and the Sacraments that the Spirit is given (John 20:22). It is through these, as through instruments, that the Holy Spirit works faith, when and where God wills (John 3:8), in those who hear and receive these tremendous gifts. Through the good news of the Gospel (in both the Word and the Sacraments) God justifies (i.e., declares forgiven, righteous, and holy) those who believe what they receive, and that they are accepted for Christ’s sake (cf. Augsburg Confession, article IV & V).
To put it directly, when John says, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day,” all he is really saying is, “I was reading, hearing, and keeping the Word in the worship of the church on Sunday.” To be in the Spirit is synonymous with being in the Word. And to be in the Word, to be reading, hearing, and keeping it, is to have the blessing of being in the Spirit. Every Christian enjoys this blessing, in addition to many others (Rev 1:3). There is not some higher tier of Christian who alone enjoys this, or who, through special rites, prayers, preparations, or any such thing, has special access to the Spirit while others do not. This was the folly of the Anabaptists which is still repeated by others sects, in contradiction to the Word of God, to this day.
All this may be too simplistic and ordinary for some who love the sensational, the outrageous, the visibly powerful and miraculous. But for an ordinary, everyday, failing-but-forgiven, miserable and beggarly saint like myself, it is more comforting than you could know. Or can you? To feel this comfort is to realize that as sinful as we are, as flawed and frail, and given to temptation and sin as we are, you and I can know God’s Holy Spirit. We are in Him through the Word of Christ.
In other words, if you want to know the Spirit, you can only find Him in the Word. The two cannot be separated. It has been this way since the beginning, or, at least the beginning as we know it. There has never been a moment throughout History that the Word and the Spirit are not there together. If you find the Spirit, you will have found Him in the Word. If you find the Word, do not for one second presume it is without the Spirit. He is there. Not to boast in Himself but rather to point you back to the Word, to Jesus.
This is where we find John on the precipice of his vision of the Son of Man:
- he is reading and/or meditating on the Scriptures.
- which means he is “in the Spirit,” just as every other Christian might be that day
- and this takes place on a Sunday, the ordinary day of worship for the apostolic church, also known as the Lord’s day
And this is where we will pick up next week. I will see you then, “in the Spirit” (wink, wink), as we continue our study of the Word. Until next time, the grace and peace of Christ be with you.
This is a weekly article series working through the book of Revelation. It is followed every Friday morning at 8 am (CST) by a live devotion dealing with the same subject matter and often additional material for reflection. Tune in Friday mornings on Christ Hold Fast's Facebook Page to learn more and ask questions.