Tradition holds that the Roman emperor Domitian attempted on more than one occasion to put to death the Apostle John. According to Tertullian (A.D. 166-240), the second/third century theologian, “the Apostle John was plunged into boiling oil” but was unhurt, being miraculously delivered from death. Surviving the attempt upon his life, the Roman emperor, seeking to be rid of John, banished him to the island of Patmos (Tertullian, The Prescription of Heretics, chapter XXXVI; Rev. 1:9). Located in the southern part of the Aegean Sea, it was on the island of Patmos that John had a vision of Jesus Christ and wrote the book of Revelation (c. 95 A.D.). While in exile John writes, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea. And I turned to see the Voice that spoke with me….” (Rev. 1:10-12).
I have always been captivated by the wording of the first part of verse 12, “And I turned to see the Voice that spoke with me.” The Greek word translated “turned” pictures his back was to the Voice and he turned completely around and turned toward the Voice. The Greek verb translated “see” (βλέπειν – from blepo means “to see, perceive by the use of the eyes”) is in the present tense and active voice, meaning John’s eyes were glued on the One whose voice he heard and saw. This incident happened while John was on a high cliff in the southern extremity of Patmos looking over the Aegean Sea. Having had his back to the continent of Asia and the seven churches located there (Rev. Ch. 2&3), he hears a Voice sounding like a trumpet behind him. Hearing the commanding Voice, John instantly turns around and looks to the north-east where the seven churches were located. On a barren, rocky and lonely island John hears a mighty voice that captured his attention, causing him to immediately turn around to “to see the Voice that spoke” with him, who was Jesus.
The Bible is always exact in its wording from which we are to glean truth. How is it possible to “see a voice?” Endeavoring to examine John’s phrase, let us pray we, too, will see His Voice.
First, John saw the Lord’s Voice by Way of Remembrance. Sixty years had passed since John had last heard the audible voice of Jesus, but as soon as he heard His voice, he clearly relived in his mind the One to whom the voice belonged. How many of us have had the experience of receiving a phone call from a friend we have not heard from in a long time, but when we hear that familiar voice, we in our mind see the individual clearly. We see the voice by way of remembrance.
As soon as John heard the voice of the One he had walked with and heard teach for three years, he immediately saw in his mind the Voice who spoke with him. His mind flashed back to the many miracles he saw Jesus do, the teachings he heard from His lips, the prayers he heard Him pray, the instruction He had given him at the cross to look after His mother, the words He spoke after His resurrection and the words He spoke at His ascension. In the same respect we need to see His voice by way of remembrance. In our mind’s eyes we need to ever visually recall the times our Lord has spoken to us through His Word, helped us through difficult times, His presence unmistakably encompassing us, the time He has answered our prayers, and all the blessings He has bestowed upon us. We must never let fade from our memories His abundant blessings and abiding presence that have sustained us throughout our lives.
Second, John saw the Lord’s Voice as result of his Walk of Relationship. John, now sixty years removed from hearing verbally Jesus’ voice, because of his abiding relationship with the resurrected Savior could still hear His voice ringing in his ears. Matter of fact, when John wrote First John, he says he heard Jesus speak (I Jn 1:1). The tense of the word John uses for “heard” is in the perfect tense, meaning what he heard Jesus speak sixty years before was still ringing in his ears! Is it not true, that someone with whom we have had a close relationship or who has had great influence upon our lives, our ears continue to hear their voice long after the words have been spoken. It is all because of the relationship we had with them. My mother departed this life over twenty years ago, but I still have a visual image of her voice because of the relationship experienced.
Do we continually hear our Savior’s voice as the result of our relationship with the resurrected Christ? Like Adam in the early days of the Garden (Gen. 3:8), we need to walk daily with the Voice who desires to have continual fellowship with us. We must never lose sight of His Voice. Like John we need His voice ever ringing in our ears with his instruction and guidance. As we spend time listening to Him speak to us through the Word, we learn to see His Voice in life’s situations.
Third, John saw the Lord’s Voice in the Word of Reversal. When John heard the familiar Voice, he stopped what he had been doing and instinctively turned around, reversed the direction he was facing, to see the Voice that spoke to Him. Upon hearing the Voice of His Savior, John “turned around” to see the Voice who had a message for him to pen. John had learned that responding to a word of reversal from the Lord was always in his best interest. Is the Voice of our Savior clearly heard by our spiritual ears, that we instinctively turn around and respond in obedience when He speaks to our hearts regarding a matter or direction we are take or not take? In a world of a myriad of voices, do we hear and see His voice above all others? Are we so familiar with Jesus’ voice that when we see His Voice we instinctively respond? What if John had not turned around; oh, what he would have missed? May we ever keep our ears attuned to see the Voice of Him who for our best and His glory, at times speaks to us a word of reversal.
Interestingly, throughout the book of Revelation, His Voice from heaven is one of the main focal points of John’s Apocalyptic writing. In the last book of the Bible, John’s is clearly emphasizing that in the chaos of the last days clearly seeing His voice is of vital importance if one is going to survive the times. In the current hysteria of the day, our greatest need is to “see His Voice.”
O Lord, grant it to be so.