Friday, 21 August 2020
I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. Revelation 1:9
John has given his introductory salutation, an explanation of who it is ultimately from (meaning the Lord), and he has provided a proclamation from the Lord concerning His very nature. John now returns to an explanation of how the revelation came to him. In this, he follows the prophets of old who likewise received revelation, but who also took the time to then explain how it came about. An example of this is found in Ezekiel 1 –
“Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the River Chebar, that the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God. 2 On the fifth day of the month, which was in the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s captivity, 3 the word of the Lord came expressly to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the River Chebar; and the hand of the Lord was upon him there.” Ezekiel 1:1-3
In this same style of receiving the prophetic word, John begins with, “I, John, your brother.” John is writing to those of the faith, meaning Christians. The greeting is intended to unite both writer and reader in a fraternal bond in the faith. From there, he says, “and companion in the tribulation.”
The word translated as “companion” is one which signifies a fellow partaker in an event. In other words, John is acknowledging the fact that he is a part of the tribulation that he already knows his reader is experiencing.
In other words, the state of tribulation is an expected part of being a Christian. It is not something we are delivered from while in this life. Rather, it is something that goes along with life in Christ. The word signifies an internal pressure that causes a person to feel confined. There is no way of escape while we are in this life.
With that noted, John next says, “and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ.” Some try to separate the tribulation from the kingdom. In other words, tribulation is of this life, but kingdom anticipates our future life. This is incorrect. The idea of the “kingdom” is one of present participation as well as future expectation.
For example, Paul speaks of the kingdom in relation to believers as “right now” in Romans 14:17, saying, “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” However, he also speaks of it as a future anticipation in 1 Corinthians 15:50, saying, “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption.”
Thus, the kingdom John is referring to is the state of existence believers are in at any given time. Hence, he notes along with it, “patience.” Believers possess eternal life and the kingdom right now. And yet, it is not yet realized in its fullness. Thus, there is the need for patience in Christ as we await the consummation of that which is already assured. The words of John harmoniously sync with those of the other apostolic writings in this regard.
With this note of comforting assurance complete, John now begins the specifics of how the revelation was received. He “was on the island that is called Patmos.” Patmos is a small, rocky, and barren island about 60 miles southwest of Ephesus. This is the only time it is mentioned in Scripture. At the time of the writing of Revelation, most likely at the time of Emperor Domitian (AD81-96), it was a Roman isle of banishment. Albert Barnes explains this –
“Lonely, desolate, barren, uninhabited, seldom visited, it had all the requisites which could be desired for a place of punishment; and banishment to that place would accomplish all that a persecutor could wish in silencing an apostle, without putting him to death. It was no uncommon thing, in ancient times, to banish people from their country; either sending them forth at large, or specifying some particular place to which they were to go. The whole narrative leads us to suppose that this place was designated as that to which John was to be sent. Banishment to an island was a common mode of punishment; and there was a distinction made by this act in favor of those who were thus banished. The more base, low, and vile of criminals were commonly condemned to work in the mines; the more decent and respectable were banished to some lonely island.”
For an aged man, this would have been a brutally hard existence. But John’s next words make the exile to this lonely spot out to be an honor because it was “for the word of God.” This does not mean that he was there to receive the word of God, but rather that he was there because of his proclamation of the word of God.
He, like the other apostles and faithful disciples of Christ, proclaimed Scripture. It is this “word of God” that was deemed to be contrary to the values of the Roman empire, and thus they attempted to have it silenced. What can be inferred here is that if John were martyred for his witness, it would be harmful rather than helpful to that end. Having martyred the other apostles, the word spread forth more, not less. In order to avoid this, John was sent into exile.
John finishes this verse by stating that his exile was also “for the testimony of Jesus Christ.” In proclaiming the word of God, he was proclaiming the message of Christ because the entire body of Scripture – both Old and New Testaments – points to Jesus Christ. Jesus stated as much in John 5 –
“You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.” John 5:39
And again –
“For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me.” John 5:46
The Old Testament proclaimed the Christ to come. From there, the New Testament proclaims the Christ who has come. This is the testimony of John, and it is what led to his exile on the lonely island Patmos.
Life application: John’s words speak of 1) tribulation, 2) kingdom, and 3) patience. As Revelation continues, John will address all three of these. Here is how they are explained in the New Testament –
1) Tribulation – Never in the Bible is there a guarantee that believers will be free from suffering in this life. In fact, based on the example of the apostles, the opposite can – and indeed should – be expected. Paul explains the purpose of our tribulations –
“And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:3-5
2) Kingdom – Peter admonishes believers about the kingdom –
“Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; 11 for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 1:10, 11
3) Patience – Patience is a product of the testing of your faith. James explains this in his epistle –
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” James 1:2
Though the recipients of these letters are different, all are believers who are partakers of the gospel message which is found in Jesus Christ. John’s words are directed to the seven churches, but they are ultimately intended for all believers in Christ to read and understand the message conveyed from God through him.
Lord, we ask that you allow us to glory in tribulations, have patience as we await the consummation of Your kingdom, and maintain fortitude as our faith is tested. We know that we will learn from them if we endure them. In this, we will become well-rounded and faithful Christians. So, if they are to continue, may we learn through what we face, to Your glory! Amen.