“I, John your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. On the Lord’s Day I was in the spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: ‘Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.” Revelation 1:9-11
John–meaning God is gracious–was exiled to the island of Patmos for missionary activity. So as he writes to the seven churches of Asia Minor [modern day Turkey] he calls himself a companion in suffering and patient endurance because he knows by personal experience what it is to face hardship for the gospel.
However, like many in scripture, he didn’t let his physical trial best his spiritual state. John was in the spirit on the Lord’s Day, the day that all the churches were gathering in Jesus’ name. He couldn’t be there personally, but he could still meet with God. No matter what we face in life, we can always meet with God. He’s already right there with us if we just allow ourselves to commune with Him. And John did.
He’ll introduce the loud, trumpety voice in the next few verses, but for now, it’s important to examine this list of seven churches. They were situated in key cities in the Roman Empire. In fact, each year the Leading Council of Asiarchs met at these cities in rotation–with the exception of Thyatira, which was more centrally located than the seventh Asiarch city of Cyzicus far to the north.
It’s believed that these seven cities may have been postal centers for larger geographic regions in the province. That being said, John circulated the entire book of Revelation to each of the churches, rather than just the piece addressed to each.
Just like John, these churches faced increasing persecution from the Roman government. Emperor Domitian filled the arenas with the Christians he routed out of homes, hidden churches and even catacomb communities. He loosed lions on many of them to entertain the bloodlust of the masses. Others he dipped in hot tar and tied to stakes, then burned them as living lamps to light his games and festivals.
The earthly cost was high, but the heavenly stakes were higher. Jesus warned that we who believe in him would have trouble in this world [John 16:33]. Paul acknowledged that the gospel message was and is a stumbling block to the Jews–the religious–and foolishness to the Greeks–the educated academics of his day [1 Corinthians 1:23]. But praise God, Jesus has also overcome this world [John 16:33]! We can take heart. We can press on to take hold of the prize for which Christ Jesus took hold of us [Philippians 3:14].
Throughout world history, many have faced suffering for the name of Christ. And there is never a guarantee that our lives will be exempt from that path.
I pray that you will never have to endure such opposition from sinful men [Hebrews 12:3], but as Christians, we all have to ask ourselves: What would you do if faced–like John and the Roman Christians–with the choice of denouncing Jesus as Lord or giving your life for Him?
Pray and ask God to help you with this answer. He does not ask us to go this road alone [Hebrews 13:5].