The Apostle John And His Writings
VI. The Revelation of Jesus Christ
Again we have a book written at the end of the apostle's life. We have already said in speaking about his life that he spent time in exile. As far as we know he was the only one of the apostles to die a natural death, after leading a life that was not only long but in which he also had to suffer for the Lord's sake. The Lord had asked John and his brother James whether they could drink the cup that He was about to drink or be baptized with the baptism that He was about to undergo, and they had said, "Yes" (Matt. 20:22-23). James was the first of the apostles to be martyred and John lived and suffered much for the Lord's sake although, as far as we know, he was not one who died a martyr's death. Instead, he was exiled to the isle of Patmos, probably during the reign of the emperor Domitian. Now in Revelation 1 we have the historical account, the setting for this book.
"I John, your brother and fellow-partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and patience, in Jesus, was in the island called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus" (1:9).
This is as much as John says as to what had been done to him, 'I was there for that reason'. This is similar to how the apostle Paul began some of his epistles, "I Paul prisoner of Jesus Christ" (Eph.3:1, Phile.1). Paul was a prisoner of the Roman Empire but he was there for the Lord's sake. John wrote very similarly. He referred to himself as "I John, your brother". We considered Diotrophes in 3 John who wanted to lord it over his brethren (and there have been many similar people since and it still happens today - and not only in 'churches', it can happen in any gathering of the Lord's people where man wants to have the pre-eminence) but John, who was an apostle, to whom the Lord had committed apostolic authority, wrote as an elder or here as a brother.
Other Christians were persecuted too. John was exiled to this island. Others had, perhaps, given their lives, and still others were suffering in various ways, but he did not make much of what he was undergoing for the Lord's sake. He simply wrote, "your brother and fellow-partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and patience". The Lord Jesus is patiently waiting for that day when He can come back and set up His kingdom, and waiting for that day a few years prior to that when He can take His bride home to Himself. We sometimes think of how patient we are but let us be content to share in His patience. How much greater His longing must be that these things which have been promised Him should come to fruition. So often we do not think of these things but the Lord Jesus has this much on His heart.
Personally, I would feel that John had not been on the island of Patmos long. No matter where the apostle Paul was as a prisoner it seems he was chained to somebody, and in this way God very graciously gave him a captive audience. One after another of these men that he got chained to seems to have been led to the Lord so that after he had been in Rome for a while he could send greetings to the Philippians from the household of Caesar (4:22). This was a term that was used for the Praetorian Guard which guarded the emperor and served as the city guards in Rome and who had the custody of the official state prisoners and so on; it is not that it was necessarily Caesar's family.
John probably had not been on Patmos very long because he was all by himself, but the Lord had promised His presence: "For where two or three are gathered together unto My name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt.18:20). Men had taken this old brother and put him on an island by himself. They had tried to isolate him from his fellow believers. But it seems he must not have been there very long, for if he had had contact with people some of these would have been Christians with him. He was near the beginning of his time there, and as an old man getting somewhat feeble, humanly speaking, but certainly not in regard to spiritual things.
".. I became in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a great voice as of a trumpet, saying, What thou seest write in a book, and send to the seven assemblies: to Ephesus, and to Smyrna, and to Pergamos, and to Thyatira, and to Sardis, and to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea." (1:10-11).
The Lord's day meant something to John. I wish that Christians in their relations with their fellow Christians would think of the Lord's day as a little more than just 'Sunday'. John was in the Spirit on the Lord's day. There may have been no one else to have fellowship with but is it not precious that one who is suffering for the Lord, who is deprived of the fellowship of his brethren, is not deprived of the Lord's fellowship. The Lord came to this old brother.
"Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to Him, to show to His bondmen what must shortly take place; and He signified it, sending by his angel, to his bondman John." (1:1).
This book is not to be a revelation of John, and I do not want to speak a great deal about him, although in giving the setting I think we need to know a little about him. If you look at the title in your Bible it might read, 'The Revelation of St. John the Divine', but the first verse givers us the true title, "Revelation of Jesus Christ".
Then it goes on to say, "Which God gave to Him, to show to His bondmen what must shortly take place". For many people this is a mysterious and confusing book and they use all kinds of uncomplimentary terms about it, but this is a revelation of Jesus Christ, a revelation that God gave Him, and one reason people say what they do about the Revelation is because most of those speaking do not qualify as "His bondmen". One who is not a true bondman of the Lord Jesus, who has not been bought by Him and one who has not realized that we are His to serve Him is not going to gain much from the Revelation.
This is to be a revelation of Jesus Christ. Many people read the book of Revelation with the idea of finding out what the future holds, and, of course, in our USA people are always wanting to find out where America is going to be in the coming events, and so on. But the Revelation is not given to give us all the details of what is going to happen. It is a revelation of Jesus Christ in the sense that we have not seen the Lord Jesus in this new character elsewhere in Scripture. We have statements elsewhere in Scripture that He is the One who will judge (e.g. John 5:27), but how is this going to come to pass, what is going to happen, how is He going to undertake this? This is what we have in the Revelation. The Lord Jesus is presented to us in this book in His judicial majesty and as the coming King, the One who will put down all the powers of this world, all the powers of evil that Satan can muster together. He will deal with them by the word of His mouth. There is an intimation of this in the Gospel of John, "Jesus, having said these things, went out with His disciples beyond the torrent Cedron, where was a garden, into which He entered, He and his disciples. And Judas also, who delivered Him up, knew the place, because Jesus was often there, in company with His disciples. Judas therefore, having got the band, and officers of the chief priests and Pharisees, comes there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Jesus therefore, knowing all things that were coming upon Him, went forth and said to them, Whom seek ye? They answered him, Jesus the Nazaraean. Jesus says to them, I am He. And Judas also, who delivered Him up, stood with them. When therefore He said to them, I am He, they went away backward and fell to the ground" (18:1-6). They fell over backwards with just one word. He had the power with that one word "I am" to destroy the group, but no, He willingly submitted Himself to be led to Calvary. But the time comes in this book when He executes judgment. The presentation of the Lord Jesus in this book is always at a certain distance.
This is a book that is given for encouragement. First of all for John personally, the revelation that he was given was for his own encouragement as he was suffering on Patmos. The Lord was with him and opened up the future. We have detailed in this book the final victory, we find that things are going to come out right, so it was for John's encouragement. It is also for our encouragement. Whether we understand all the details as to what is meant by all the various seal and trumpet judgments and so on is immaterial in one sense. If we see the overall picture that the Lord Jesus is the Victor, the Worthy One, the One whose kingdom will be set up despite all the opposition that has come through all the ages and will come from every direction at that time, then there is blessing for us. If that is what we see then we see a little of what God wants us to see. This book is not given to us so that we can work out the schematics, all the details of what is going to happen, I believe it gives us much of that, but the real picture is "the revelation of Jesus Christ". It is not the revelation of the sequence of future events.
At the end of verse 1, "He signified it, sending by His angel, to His bondman John, who testified the word of God. This word "signified" really means He gave it in signs, and I believe there was adequate reason for that. Even from a human standpoint, when we get into the content of this book, what it says particularly in regard to the downfall of the Roman Empire was needful. Daniel had already spoken of the four world empires and how the stone cut without hands would smite the great image and smash the whole thing to pieces, grind it to powder, and then that stone would become a great mountain (Dan.2). This too is symbolic language describing the setting up of the kingdom of the Lord. God shows us in this book how Rome, and the power of Rome, is going to come to an end and the earth is going to be judged. Many terms are used that allude to Rome at that time, such as the great harlot sitting on seven mountains (Rome was built on seven hills) (Rev.17). If this book had been written without using symbolism, if it had just given its message in plain everyday Greek it would have been a very revolutionary book and a very dangerous book for a Christian to have, but God in His wisdom gave it in signs. He was not giving this revelation as a sensational expos