We all want to be something when we grow up. We ask our children what they want to be and expect they will have answers. We expect them to dream, and dream big if they dare. We expect that of them, because we ourselves have dreams. Dreams of being something. Dreams of being someone.
That’s why it’s striking that John makes it clear that he’s no one. At least, not anyone special.
I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day….” (Revelation 1:9-10)
John calls himself a brother and a partner. He’s a prophet (as we’ll see in a few verses), but not a pope. He’s an apostle, but he doesn’t feel the need to mention it. He doesn’t send his writing to the churches on his own authority. He doesn’t ask anyone to look at him as someone authoritative. He has the Word and the Word is all the authority he needs. He doesn’t list his qualifications. He’s a brother. He’s a partner.
John is unlike us. We have big names and celebrities in the evangelical world. A young pastor (like yours truly) can find himself distracted by the glamour of the conference circuit or the allure of a book deal. John says no thank you. Call me brother. Call me partner.
And partner in tribulation no less. He has suffered and is suffering with these Christians. He is on the island of Patmos “on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” He is exiled, far from his church family. The Christian life is one of suffering, one in which those who enjoy the privileges of the kingdom of God often must simultaneously suffer scorn, derision, humiliation and brutality at the hands of the kingdom of this world. John’s audience has suffered. John has suffered. They are partners in tribulation.
John says he was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.” The Lord’s day is another way of saying “Sunday,” the first day of the week, the day Christians gather to worship, the day the Lord Jesus rose again from the dead. No amount of tribulation, no amount of inconvenience, no amount of exile or punishment or persecution will prevent John from worshiping the Lord on his day.
In the earliest days of the church, Sunday was a work day. Christians would wake up before dawn to gather together as a people and worship before they had to attend to their everyday work. How would the church look if Sundays were suddenly declared workdays once again? If we all had to report to our place of employment at 9am on Sunday morning, would the church fizzle and die? Or would we think it so important to worship our Lord together as his people that we would be willing to gather at 6am to worship before going about all our earthly responsibilities?
John was removed from society, considered a public enemy, and yet he still sought to be in the Spirit on the Lord’s day. Nothing would stop him worshiping his Lord. Could the same be said of us?
Maybe part of the key is thinking of ourselves as “brothers (and sisters!) and partners.” Maybe we are tempted by the way the world thinks of power and prestige and identity. Maybe we like to think of ourselves, our work, our families, our pastimes, our comfort as in some sense ultimate. Maybe we don’t really think of ourselves as family members of one another in the church. Maybe we don’t really think of ourselves as partners in suffering and the kingdom and perseverance.
John, an apostle and prophet of God himself, humbles himself. Calls himself a brother on the level of every other Christian. Calls himself a partner in everything every other Christian shares. May God humble us before Christ and each other in a similar way.