The phrase ‘I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day’ appears in Revelation 1:10 and has been the source of much discussion about its exact meaning. If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: it likely refers to the apostle John being spiritually transported in a visionary state to witness future prophetic events on Sunday, the day of Christian worship and celebration of Christ’s resurrection.
In this comprehensive article, we will analyze the original Greek text, examine the historical context, survey scholarly interpretations, and explore the significance of this cryptic yet intriguing phrase.
Examining the Original Greek Text
The Greek Words and Grammar
The phrase “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” in Revelation 1:10 contains several notable Greek words. The word translated “in the Spirit” is the Greek phrase en pneumati. This phrase refers to being under the influence and empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
The word for “Lord’s” is kyriakē, which means “belonging to the Lord.” This connects the day being referenced to Jesus Christ. And the word translated “day” is hēmera, referring to a literal 24-hour day rather than an abstract period of time.
So grammatically, the verse is stating that John was empowered by the Spirit on the actual day belonging to the Lord. Many scholars understand this Lord’s Day to be referring to Sunday, the day of Jesus’ resurrection and the primary day when early believers gathered for worship.
Relation to the Old Testament
The idea of a “day of the Lord” was also used in the Old Testament to refer to important days belonging to God. For example:
- The Sabbath (Exodus 20:10)
- The Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:27)
- Days of God’s judgement and salvation (Isaiah 13:6, Zephaniah 1:14)
So John builds on this OT understanding but specifies that the day he was prophesying about – the Lord’s Day – is the day on which Jesus rose and which becomes the primary worship day for the Church.
Historical Context and Background
When and Why Revelation Was Written
The Book of Revelation was written by the Apostle John during his exile on the island of Patmos, off the coast of modern-day Turkey. Most scholars believe Revelation was composed around 95-96 A.D., during the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian.
This was a time of intense persecution for early Christians in the Roman Empire. Domitian demanded that he be recognized as “lord and god.” His insistence on being worshipped as a god challenged Christians and led to widespread imprisonment and execution of Christian leaders who refused to acknowledge Domitian’s divinity.
It was under these dire circumstances that John received his apocalyptic vision of the future events at the end times foretold in the Book of Revelation. This vision gave hope to the early Christian community during an extremely difficult period when their faith was being tested like never before.
The visions and prophecies of Revelation assured the followers of Jesus that God was still in control, despite the terrible persecution they faced.
Early Christian Worship on Sundays
From the very beginning, Sunday was set aside as a special day of worship and rest by the early Christian church. This was because Sunday, the first day of the week, was the day on which Jesus rose from the dead.
The Gospels record that Jesus appeared to his disciples on multiple Sunday evenings after his resurrection (John 20:19, 20:26). These Sunday evening gatherings set a precedent for making Sunday a day focused on Jesus’ victory over death.
By the late 1st century, when John wrote Revelation, Sunday had become well established as a central day for communal worship among Christian communities. Early Christian writers like Justin Martyr and Tertullian provide clear evidence that the early church met weekly to worship on Sundays and considered it to be “the Lord’s Day.” So when John says “I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day,” he is referring to being spiritually immersed in a prophetic vision from Christ while worshipping with other believers on a Sunday.[/su_table]
|The Book of Revelation written by Apostle John
|Late 1st century
|Sunday well established as day of worship by early Christians
Major Interpretations and Perspectives
A Heavenly Vision on Sunday
One common interpretation is that “in the Spirit” refers to John having a heavenly vision of Jesus on a Sunday. Some believe the phrase signifies John was caught up by the Spirit into God’s throne room, similar to other biblical visions (2 Cor. 12:2–4).
The “Lord’s Day” is seen as referring specifically to Sunday, the Christian day of worship and remembrance of Christ’s resurrection. This view connects Revelation 1 to the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus on Sundays (John 20:19, 26).
Eschatological Day of Judgment
Other scholars argue “the Lord’s Day” represents the eschatological Day of the Lord, portraying coming final judgment (cf. Rev. 6:17; 16:14). The vision reveals Jesus ruling with divine authority, underscoring his role judging at history’s end.
“In the spirit” indicates John was granted a glimpse of this coming day. This fits Revelation’s overall message, revealing Jesus as triumphant King and divine Judge (Rev. 1, NIV).
Symbolizing Christian Worship
Some propose “the Lord’s Day” depicts Christian worship gatherings. Early churches met on Sundays, so the phrase marks these communal practices centered on Jesus as “Lord.” Caught up “in the spirit,” John presents striking symbolic visions of churches’ worship, perhaps to correct wayward practices.
Revelation focuses heavily on church contexts, addressing praises, prayers, testimonies, teaching, discipline, leadership, persecution, compromise, etc. This underscores churches’ need to exalt Jesus Christ as supreme Lord in worship.
Significance and Implications
Revelation’s Prophetic Nature
The phrase “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” in Revelation 1:10 highlights the prophetic nature of the book of Revelation. The apostle John received this revelation while filled with the Holy Spirit, pointing to the divine origin and authority of the vision.
Just as biblical prophets often experienced visions by the Spirit of God, John was transported in the Spirit to receive revelation about future events.
Many scholars believe the Lord’s day here refers to Sunday, the day of Christ’s resurrection. By receiving this revelation on Sunday while filled with the Spirit, John draws a connection between Christ’s finished work and the future culmination of God’s plans.
This prophetic book reveals how all of history is progressing toward the day when every knee will bow before Christ (Philippians 2:10-11).
The Lordship of Christ
The phrase highlights Christ’s lordship over all of history, from beginning to end. As John was filled with the Spirit, he entered God’s throne room outside of space and time to see visions of the past, present, and future.
All these visions reveal Jesus Christ as the rightful Lord over all, the one before whom every ruler and authority will one day bow.
This vision on the Lord’s day points forward to the culmination of history when the kingdom of the world will become the kingdom of Christ. It reveals that no earthly ruler or power can thwart God’s plans.
All people and all of creation will someday submit to the majestic reign of the risen and glorified Christ.
Setting Apart Sunday for Worship
From the early days of the church, Christians have set aside Sunday, the day of Christ’s resurrection, as a special day to worship the risen Lord. John’s vision on “the Lord’s day” reflects this practice already taking root in his day.
Receiving revelations of Christ on Sunday shows the significance of focusing our worship and attention on the Lord on this day.
Setting aside Sunday as the Lord’s Day allows Christians to regularly remember and celebrate Christ’s finished work. This practice of the early church continues today, as believers gather on Sunday to hear God’s word, receive the Lord’s Supper, and lift their voices in praise of the Savior.
Lifting up Christ’s lordship is the essence of true worship.
In closing, while scholars differ on the precise meaning, most agree that ‘I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day’ conveys a visionary experience of future revelation centered on Christ’s sovereignty. By examining the text, context, and interpretations, we gain better insight into this profound phrase that has had great theological impact.