The Unmistakable Voice of the Lord

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This series was first published in January 2019. -ed.

There’s nothing subtle about alarms. All potential distractions melt into oblivion when a blaring siren commands our focus. By design, they drown out all other noises and demand our attention. In the same way, when the apostle John heard the voice of the glorified Christ on Patmos, it was startling, arresting, and commanding.  

John doesn’t spend much time setting the scene of his vision. Two details suffice: “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” (Revelation 1:10). The phrase “in the Spirit” simply signifies that this was not a normal, human experience. Through the Holy Spirit, John was empowered to experience something outside his senses, and outside the physical realm. John’s vision cannot be explained by any phenomena of the created world—he wasn’t sleeping or dreaming; he was wide awake. Perfectly coherent and in his right mind, John was transported by the Spirit beyond the limits of human understanding to a spiritual plane of existence where he could commune directly with God.

This is exceedingly rare, even for an apostle, but Scripture does indicate some other instances of similar supernatural experiences. Isaiah “saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple” (Isaiah 6:1). Ezekiel writes of how “the Spirit entered me and set me on my feet; and I heard Him speaking to me” (Ezekiel 2:2). The book of Acts describes similar visions from the Lord for both Peter (Acts 10:9–16) and Paul (Acts 22:17–21). Concerning his own supernatural experience, Paul would later write to the Corinthians,

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows—was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak. (2 Corinthians 12:2–4)

Like Paul, we can’t say for certain how it happened for John. What we know is that the Lord supernaturally opened John’s awareness to the divine realm to communicate clearly and vividly with him—and through him, to us.

The only other detail John gives us is that he received this vision “on the Lord’s day” (Revelation 1:10). This is not an eschatological designation. John is not referring here to the Day of the Lord and God’s return in judgment (see 2 Peter 3:10). By the end of the first century, “the Lord’s day” was the customary way for Christians to refer to the first day of the week—to memorialize the day the Lord rose from the grave. John is simply telling us it was a Sunday on Patmos.

On that particular Sunday, John says he “heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet” (Revelation 1:10). The Old Testament refers to a similar sound before God delivered His law to the Israelites at Sinai: “So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled” (Exodus 19:16).

Throughout the book of Revelation, a loud sound or voice precedes solemn announcements and expressions of heavenly praise (see Revelation 8:1314:2). It’s a piercing, penetrating sound. It’s a sound like a trumpet, but it doesn’t come from an instrument. In John’s vision, it’s the voice of the Lord Himself, instantly commanding the apostle’s full attention and drowning out any other noise. The sound is unmistakable—the risen, glorified Lord Jesus Christ is speaking. It’s time to listen.

And what did He say? “Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea” (Revelation 1:11).

Suffering in exile, it’s possible that John wondered why the Lord had kept him alive. Why hadn’t he been put to death like the rest of the apostles? Why did he live long enough to see the church slip into spiritual decline? Was there even a future for the church?

In verse 11, God gives him the answer. The Lord still had more work for him to do. He still had one book left to write. He receives the privilege of looking ahead to the end of time—to the final victory over sin and the future glorification of the church. Doomed to a rock of exile, the apostle soared on the wings of prophetic revelation to the very throne of God and the glory of Christ. Shut out from the world, he would now traverse the heavens.

The Lord tells him to write what he sees. And what he saw was incredible.

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