During these challenging times, we find ourselves counting each day of self-quarantine. We are relying on technology more than ever to get us through the isolation and keep our spirits up, but despite the many advantages of modern technology, we still may feel empty. Virtual meetups can make our social isolation less painful, but we remain relegated to connecting in only a virtual world. Connecting and being present with others in this limited context is challenging.
It’s amazing how much our lives have changed during the current crisis. The novel coronavirus is dramatically altering the structure of our everyday lives through orders of social distancing, quarantines, isolation, and lockdowns. It’s no longer business as usual, and in a sense, we are all enduring a kind of apocalypse. In the opening verses of the book of Revelation, John speaks of his banishment on the rocky Isle of Patmos. It is a lonely and isolated place. New Testament scholar Sigve K. Tonstad points out that John does not describe his lockdown as forced exile but as voluntary—or rather, in twisting the idea of forced exile, John finds reasons for voluntary mission (Revelation, 2019, pp. 51–52). John is not exiled through involuntary sequestering but because of “the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 1:9). John does not live in loneliness and fear because he is invited into something much more real; he realizes that he has work to do despite the constraints of his exile.
Imagine having to voluntarily follow today’s isolation measures without the communication channels provided by modern technology? How would we chat with family and friends or send surprise birthday wishes through Zoom? We have access to great technology, and in our isolation, our phones and social media feeds provide us the latest news and updates. To combat our aloneness, we are driven to seek virtual interactions—to be seen and heard by others and to see and hear them. Yet, even with all the conveniences afforded by technology, we feel less than satisfied. When you can’t have in-person relationships, it is more difficult to fully enjoy or appreciate your connections. Modern technology can’t adequately recreate the human condition. Having a Zoom session is not as satisfying as being with a person you care about. Much social interaction is lost in texts, emails, and emojis. We are fundamentally made for fellowship. How can we remain truly for one another in meaningful ways when we can share so little?
John mentions being “in the Spirit,” which allows him to meaningfully communicate with the communities he is isolated from. In his visionary experience, John sees Jesus holding the suffering churches, helping them find their place in this confusing and broken world. He sees the same Jesus he knows and loves ascend in glory to reign over this massively complex world. John experiences what it is like for God to become like him and lay down His divine privileges. Jesus lived a human life like yours and mine. Not only does He understand our loneliness and isolation, but His entire human life was led by the Spirit, something that He invites John and all of us to experience too.
This is the same language Paul uses in Ephesians 1 and 2: Jesus is the one who ascended to the place of power and authority under which everything has been set. Paul goes on to say that we have already been seated with the glorified Christ in this place of power and authority (Ephesians 2:4–7). Beyond connection, it’s about being a part of what Jesus is doing, even from the remoteness of our situation. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Jesus is the ruler over all—the very same Jesus who suffers as He is deeply touched by our infirmities. That understanding sheds new light on the nature of the constraints that cause our boredom and isolation. We are not alone, and if we pay attention, we’ll realize that there is work to be done in our voluntary isolation. If John could communicate the things of God by the Spirit, why can’t we? John brings us back to what really matters—people communicating and worshipping with an entirely different emphasis.
Though we live in a world with various assumptions, losses, worries, and fears about the future, John subverts all of these to declare that Jesus is the rightful ruler over all things. At the end of the day, Jesus still stands in for us and carries the last word over every injustice and lack of leadership in our broken world. It’s about connecting with the ascended Jesus and learning to tell His story in the various places we find ourselves.
What matters to John is not only that Jesus is looking after and holding on to us but that we can entrust ourselves to the one who rules the world, exercising His beautiful lordship and looking like a slain lamb seated in highest glory.
So, what is Jesus inviting us into today that we can’t accomplish with our technology, social media, or Zoom? He asks us to join what He is doing because that’s where true relationship happens. Despite our losses, confusion, and isolation, God is inviting us to pay attention to His Spirit, so He can do things with us that we can’t do by ourselves. That’s what being truly present is all about, but if we fail to pay attention to the Spirit of God, He will be unable to fully witness and connect. In the midst of our current crisis, let the testimony of Jesus continually be in our minds, crowding out all worry and fear. We must pay attention and let the Spirit invite us into something more truthful and beautiful. What we desire is God’s gracious and glorious rule of love. That’s the only thing that can fulfill the world and renew all that is broken.
Craig Ashton Jr.