Late in his life, the apostle John finds himself in a prison of sorts, exiled to the island of Patmos. The island is tiny, only 25 square miles (64 square kilometers). It is a barren place where political prisoners are sent to contemplate their actions. John's crime is a simple one: he is a follower of Jesus Christ.

There on Patmos, John has an impressive vision of Jesus, risen from the dead and standing triumphantly. Jesus shares with John a message of hope and encouragement for his followers that are about to suffer a time of persecution. This message, contained in the Book of Revelation, is couched in symbolic language, a style of writing commonly used at that time. While much of it seems strange to us, the symbols used in Revelation would have been familiar to the original readers.

John sees Jesus standing in the middle of seven golden lampstands, which Jesus later explains: "The seven lampstands are the seven churches" (Revelation 1:20). John then receives seven letters for seven churches in the Roman province of Asia, an area where the Roman emperor was about to make problems for the Christians. Jesus begins the first letter by saying: "These are the words of him who ... walks among the seven golden lampstands" (Revelation 2:1).

The message of this image is as simple as it is important: when Jesus' followers face difficult times, Jesus is there with them. He stands in the middle of his churches, not far from them. In each of the seven letters, Jesus uses the phrase "I know ..." He knows what they've done, he knows their circumstances, he knows the enemies they face and the struggles they have. He writes to them as one who is infinitely familiar with every aspect of their lives. He walks among the lampstands.

None of that has changed. God knows you. He knows the good things you've done and the mistakes you've made. He knows the obstacles you've faced and what you've had to face them with. He knows your abilities and your possibilities even better than you do.

And he's not far away. He's nearby, waiting for you to turn to him and ask him for help. Whether you are facing persecution from the government or temptation from a co-worker, God wants to give you the strength to face whatever it is that threatens to pull you away from him. He's close. He knows. And he cares.

Jesus stands in the middle of his churches
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