(Rev. 1:10) What does it mean that John was “in the Spirit”?

CLAIM: John writes, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet” (Rev. 1:10). What does he mean by this?

RESPONSE: This expression (“in the Spirit”) is used four times in John (1:10; 4:2; 17:3; 21:10), and each time it is used, John is whisked away to a new vision. It isn’t certain whether or not John was taken physically or just given a vision—although 17:3 says that the angel “carried me away in the Spirit.” This seems to imply that he was taken as a person. This seems to fit with Paul’s language of seeing heaven, where he writes, “Whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows” (2 Cor. 12:2). This same sort of experience happened to Ezekiel the prophet:

Then I looked, and behold, a likeness as the appearance of a man; from His loins and downward there was the appearance of fire, and from His loins and upward the appearance of brightness, like the appearance of glowing metal. 3 He stretched out the form of a hand and caught me by a lock of my head; and the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the north gate of the inner court. (Ezek. 8:2-3)

Here, Ezekiel explains that he was lifted up “in the visions” that God was giving him. It doesn’t say that he was physically moved—just given visions. This notion of a spiritual trance would fit with Ezekiel’s earlier experience (Ezek. 2:2; 3:12, 14), Peter’s vision (Acts 10:10-11; 11:5), and Paul’s vision (Acts 22:17-18). In either event, the expression seems to be saying that John was given a vision from the Holy Spirit (whether it was physical or spiritual is uncertain).