John and Corona – or: In Spirit on Lord’s Day
"I became in the Spirit on the Lord's day" (Rev 1:10)
The 2020 Corona Pandemic
As I write these lines countries across the globe implement and tighten restrictions on people’s movements and social contact – in a bid to slow the spread of the dreaded coronavirus. As a result, Christians in many places cannot spend the first day of the week as they normally would. Some face restrictions on the size of gatherings, others even face curfews. Many have been overtaken by events, some are overwhelmed, some can only meet in very small groups, and some are still considering what to do.
Well, the word of God is never short of advice, nor of consolation. Almost two millennia ago, an old but beloved disciple found himself in a similarly difficult situation.
Banished on Patmos
In two short verses John provides highly interesting information about the situation he found himself in:
"I John, your brother and fellow-partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and patience, in Jesus, was in the island called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus. I became in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a great voice as of a trumpet" (Rev. 1:9.10).
I, John, your brother
John was now an old man. He was the writer of the gospel that presents the glory of the Son of God. Now he was to write about Christ returning and take possession of the earth.
John was an apostle, but he introduces himself as a brother. What he is about to share with us is not an experience reserved for apostles or gifted servants. He writes as a brother.
Fellow comrade in tribulation...
John found himself in a difficult situation. We will find out in a moment what exactly this situation was. In any event, he speaks of ‘tribulation’, of an emergency situation. On the one hand, he was completely alone and isolated. On the other hand, he considered himself a ‘fellow-partaker’ or companions. Many of his brothers and sisters were in a similar situation, for similar reasons. They were geographically isolated. Nevertheless they were fellow-sufferers, companions in tribulation.
But their fellowship was not confined to suffering and need, it also involved their share in the kingdom. One day, the kingdom will come in power (then there will be no more need, misery, epidemics or ‘tribulation’). But before that point in time, the kingdom involves suffering. Christ does not yet reign on earth. This is what John felt keenly, and this is what we still feel today. Also in this respect, John knew himself in communion with many others. They were all suffering because they were linked with a kingdom whose King was rejected – but will one day reign in power.
...and the perseverance in Jesus
While the kingdom is in waiting, we also are in waiting, we have to ‘persevere’. We wait for the Lord to intervene in concrete emergency situations, and we wait for Him to come and take us to Himself and to put this world in order. When one waits under difficult circumstances, perseverance is needed. John was not alone in this either. He knew himself in community with others. They were companions in perseverance.
But there was another sweetener for time of perseverance: not only was there fellowship with others in this, but it was the perseverance ‘in Jesus’. The Lord himself suffered and persevered. The Lord is the one who links believers together. And He is the source of the strength we need to persevere.
I was on the island called Patmos
Patmos is a remote Greek island. John speaks of himself in the singular. We must assume he was the only one, that he had no contact with other believers.
For the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus
John was there ‘for the word of God’. He had been banished to Patmos in the course of the persecution of Christians. But he does not speak of the hostility of those who initiated his exile, but of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. For this he was ready to suffer. Not the slightest hint of bitterness can be heard in his words.
I became in the Spirit on the Lord's day
What could he do? He was all alone, no contact with believers. Now came "the Lord's Day," which is the first day of the week. Many decades ago, he had witnessed how the risen Lord suddenly stood in the midst of those gathered together, greeting them with the words "Peace be to you", and showing them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
The next Sunday, eight days later, John was there again. And again, Jesus stood in the midst. And ever since then, I have no doubt, whenever John was able to be there, he was there. But now, decades later, a Sunday had come when he was all on his own. What could he do? A single person cannot ‘gather’. It takes at least two or three (Mt 18:20). But John was deeply aware that it was the Lord’s Day. This expression is very special. It is the day belonging to the Lord, the day characterised by the Lord. It appears in only one other place in the New Testament: ‘the Lord's Supper’ (1. Cor. 11:20). Both belong together: the Lord's Day and the Lord's Supper (cf. Acts 20:7). Both are characterised by the Lord. But now a very strange day: a ‘Day of the Lord’ without ‘Supper of the Lord'.
But he was, or became, ‘in the Spirit’. He was occupied with the One to whom this Day belonged. Neither exile nor isolation could prevent him from enjoying Christ and being occupied with Him. And the Lord answered. On this very day and in this very situation, He spoke to John. Although it was a matter of prophecy, He entrusted his message to John on the very day which is special for Christians, the day on which they think especially of their Lord.
Whenever we can meet with believers as an assembly, it is a huge privilege – even if there are very few. Perhaps we, perhaps I, have not appreciated it as we might have done. Where the Lord still gives us the opportunity to take the Lord's supper today, on the basis of the teaching of Scripture, we can only thank Him. Where individuals are completely isolated, they still have opportunity to be ‘in the Spirit on the Lord's day’ like John on Patmos. The same is true in places where believers need time to find a common and unanimous way to fulfil the Lord’s desire and dying request: ‘Do this in remembrance of me’ (1 Cor. 11:24, 25).
‘But as for me, it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord, that I may declare all thy works’ (Ps 73:28).
‘And it came to pass as they conversed and reasoned, that Jesus himself drawing nigh, went with them’ (Lk 24:15).
 In particular, based on the unity of the body of Christ, separation from evil and in the recognition of the Lord’s authority; partaking of the bread and the cup in remembrance of Him, seeking to keep the unity of the Spirit (1. Cor. 10; 11; Eph 4).