“The Revelation to John”, as a book, has a clear structure. It has a clearly defined beginning and end, as last week we have seen.2 John’s spiritual experiences, his visions told in this book, are the result of “being in the Spirit”. This happened to him four times.
“In the Spirit”
John first was “in the Spirit” on the Lord’s Day, the day of the Sunday Eucharist, hearing behind him a loud voice. Turning to see the voice speaking to him, in his first vision he perceives “seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man” (1:10-13). In the liturgical setting of the seven burning candles Christ who rose from the dead appears to him as “One like a Son of Man”, identifying himself as “the first and the last, and the living one; I died, and behold, I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (1:17-18). Having already been told to write to the seven churches, he then writes the words spoken to him, addressed to the angel of the church in Ephesus, in Smyrna, in Pergamum, in Thyatira, in Sardis, in Philadelphia and in Laodicea – seven churches in Asia Minor.
Later, maybe much later (as an “after this” indicates), John sees in heaven an open door (4:1). Perceiving this, he hears the voice which had already spoken to him, and is challenged to “Come up hither, and I will show you….” what is to take place “after this”. This is his second vision, beginning with what we will call the “First Throne Vision”. At once being “in the Spirit”, in heaven John sees a throne and one seated on the throne: a center of power and of movement, of various beings and of continuous glorification (4:2ff). But who is worthy to open the scroll in the right hand of him who is seated on the throne, or to look in it? No one is found to be worthy, neither in heaven nor on earth or under the earth (5:1ff). But now John is led to perceive “a Lamb standing” in the midst of the throne and its beings, “as if sacrificed” (5:5-6). This Lamb, quintessence of temple worship and sacrifice whom John the Baptist, personified in Jesus, had seen coming to him (Jn 1:29), indeed is able to open the scroll and break its seals. Now the apocalyptic process begins to unfold: by the opening of seven seals, the blowing of seven trumpets (but the sounding of seven thunders is sealed) and the pouring out of the seven bowls full of the wrath of God.
Twice more John is called with the words: “Come, I will show you…” by one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls. The first time he is “carried away in the Spirit” into a wilderness, to be shown the woman arrayed in purple and scarlet, Babylon the great – her doom and the doom of those over whom she had dominion (17:3ff); this happens between two Throne Visions. The second time he is called after the last Throne Vision, in the Final Vision, once more to be “carried away in the Spirit” unto a high mountain, to be shown “The Bride, the wife of the Lamb” – the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven, from God (21:9ff). Both times, it seems, it needs an extra effort of spirit for him to perceive the results of the apocalyptic process in the destinies of these two “women”, so much each other’s opposite.