What Does John Mean by “in the Spirit” in Revelation?

by Eli Lyzorkin-Eyzenberg

What does John the Apostle mean when he penned these words?

Revelation 1:9 I, John, your brother and the one who shares with you in the persecution, kingdom, and endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony about Jesus.

Once God Almighty spoke his very brief words, John identified himself as the next speaker. In a similar way to Rev. 22:6-15, the speaker switches between the Almighty God and Jesus as we see in the following verse (Rev. 22:16).

Here John also identifies the historic circumstances during which he saw the vision and authored the letter in obedience to the Lord’s command. While we would have liked to know the exact year John wrote the Revelation, he thought it sufficient to only write of his exile.

His exile was on the island of Patmos, where the Roman government was known to send political prisoners. Scholars hypothesize that the time that John was on Patmos fits best to either approximately 95 CE during the reign of Emperor Domitian or to 68-69 CE during the reign of Emperor Nero, when persecutions of the Christ-followers were frequent and intense.

1:10a I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day…

There are three interpretive options here.

First, the Lord’s Day could be the Sabbath. It would make sense to speak of God’s day, the Sabbath (Shabbat), in this way. What works against this interpretation is that we never see this term used to signify the Sabbath. In addition, if indeed the day of the week was the Sabbath as opposed to other days, it is not clear why this would be important.

Second, this option is the traditional option, identifying the Lord’s Day as the day of his Resurrection – the first day of the Israelite week – Sunday. This theory suffers similar problems.

Never is the first of the week referred to as the Lord’s Day prior to this alleged instance. If this is in fact the case (that this does refer to the first day of the Israelite week) it is not at all clear why John felt compelled to tell his readers/hearers about it.

Third, in our view, this option is far more likely. The day of the Lord is the End Times day of reckoning and judgment that the Hebrew Prophets often spoke about. The phrase “the Day of the Lord/Lord’s Day” is used many times in the Hebrew Bible (Is. 2:1213:6-9Ezek. 13:530:3Joel 1:152:1-313:14Amos 5:18-20Obadiah 15Zephaniah 1:7-14Zechariah 14:1Malachi 4:5). As we read in Malachi 4:5-6: “Look, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord arrives. He will encourage fathers and their children to return to me, so that I will not come and strike the earth with judgment.”

Thus, John’s reference notifies the reader that while he is writing from a particular historic location during a particular time in history, the perspective he seeks to communicate to his hearers is rooted in the eschatological reality of the future Day of the Lord. Just as in the case of the Hebrew prophets of the Bible, John was able to speak to the present from the dual perspective of the past (the covenant) and the future (the consummation of the covenant and restoration of all things).

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