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3 And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness; and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns. [Revelation 17:3 NASB]

10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, [Revelation 21:10 NASB]

What does it mean to be "carried away in the Spirit"?

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John began the revelation experience physically and bodily on the island of Patmos.

Revelation 1:9

I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.

Soon after, he was in the Spirit in heaven.

Revelation 4:2 NIV

At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it.

After a long series of visions came a change of setting in Revelation 17:

1 Then one of the seven angels with the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits on many waters. 2The kings of the earth were immoral with her, and those who dwell on the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her immorality.” 3 Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns.

John was still in the Spirit as before but now the setting had changed to the wilderness. He was still in a vision of seeing things with his spiritual eyes. After another series of visions came another change of setting in Revelation 21:

9 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.

What does it mean to be "carried away in the Spirit"?

In these verses, they mean a change of spiritual setting. John's physical body remained on Patmos all these times. I see John in a trance with his eyes closed. His body was not doing much. His spirit, however, was extremely active in the connection with the Holy Spirit. He saw visions with his spiritual eyes in the spiritual realm. To show that his spirit was not disconnected from his body, when there was a change of spiritual setting, he would involuntarily move his eyeballs under the eyelids. This is how I imagine the scenes.

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  • So is it just a vision or a genuine case of out-of-body experience? (or we just can't tell from the text?) Mar 6 at 16:57
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    By out-of-body do you mean that John's spirit had completely severed from John's body?
    – Tony Chan
    Mar 6 at 17:02
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    I wouldn't be so sure to claim that it was "completely severed" (in the "astral projection" lore there is a thing called the "silver cord" which allegedly keeps your soul tied to your body during an OBE, but discussing that would be speculative and off-topic). Mar 6 at 17:05
  • Good points. I added.
    – Tony Chan
    Mar 6 at 17:22
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The phrase "in spirit" [ἐν Πνεύματι] occurs exactly four times in the book of Revelation and is always at the start of the one of John's seven visions:

  • John 1:10 - On the Lord's Day I was in [the] Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet
  • Rev 4:2 - At once I was in [the] Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it.
  • Rev 17:3 - Then the angel carried me away in [the] Spirit into a wilderness. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns.
  • Rev 21:10 - And he carried me away in [the] Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.

Note that "the" is supplied by the translators and the original would be better rendered "in spirit". Thus, for the book of Revelation, the phrase "in spirit" appears to sygnal the start of another of John's visions.

Note that in the rest of the NT the same phrase does no suggest any kind of out of body experience (necessarily) but simply a means of receiving a divine revelation or leading of various kinds, see, Luke 1:17, 2:27, Acts 18:25, Eph 1:13, Rom 8:4, Luke 10:21, etc.

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