When I became a Christian at age 20, I somehow got the impression that if I gave my life to Jesus, all the problems of life would quickly go away and my non-Christian family members would soon wise up and come to Jesus like me. When that did not happen, it created something of a spiritual crisis in my life. Initially things were great. My sins were forgiven. I had new friends and hope for the future. But it seemed that life was actually harder now that I was a Christian. Before I was Christian, I could escape the pain of life through drugs and booze. I no longer reached out to drugs and booze for comfort, but I found no consolation for my suffering and pain. The more distant God seemed, the more I found myself withdrawing from Bible reading, prayer, and church. I felt like God was absent and distant in my time of grief, suffering, and pain.
Revelation is addressed to churches that were experiencing persecution, suffering, and pain. John, the author, was on the island of Patmos, most likely in exile because of “the word of God” and “the testimony of Jesus.” Following Jesus and preaching the word of God got John into trouble, not out of it. The same was true for the seven churches whom John was writing. Two things stand out to me about this passage. First, John identifies himself as a “brother” and a “partner in the sufferings” (v. 9). John was not only a partner in the “kingdom,” but he also shared in the difficulties and hardships inflicted upon the early Christians. We have all had well meaning people try to cheer us up when we were down, but unless they really know our pain, it can come off as trite and cliché. John is writing from the standpoint of marginality, oppression, and affliction. He is in the trenches with the churches whom he is writing. There is something credible about that fact. Second, the question of ‘where is God’ when we suffer is given a partial answer here. When John turns to see the voice speaking to him, he sees Jesus standing in the midst of the seven churches, symbolized by the seven lampstands. It is comforting to know that when we (or our church) are going through difficult times, Jesus stands with us. God is not far from us. God is right there in the middle of the situation. We need eyes to see.