John, A Fellow Participant in the Kingdom

SYNOPSIS:  Exiled to the isle of Patmos, John is a “fellow-participant” in the tribulation of the churches and a surrogate for them in his visions.

Island - Photo by Marek Okon on Unsplash
Commentaries on the book of Revelation include discussions about the identity of John. Who was he? Is he the same person as the Apostle John, the son of Zebedee? In fact, John of Patmos never identifies himself as an apostle or the son of Zebedee; therefore, some contend the author of the book must be a different John.

Attempts to identify John are important; however, it is all too easy to overlook the important role he plays in the narrative of the book and the functional information he provides about what he is and why he finds himself exiled on the isle of Patmos. In doing so, he presents a pattern of conduct and perseverance for his first-century audience to emulate.
  • (Revelation 1:9) – “I, John, your brother and partaker with you in the tribulation and kingdom and endurance in Jesus, came to be in the isle that is called Patmos, because of the word of God, and the witness of Jesus.” – (The Emphasized Bible).
John introduces himself to his readers as, “I, John,” using an emphatic Greek pronoun egō or “I, myself.”  The beginning and the end of his vision include this self-identification. A first-person tone permeates the book - it describes things that John saw and heard. The book of Revelation is, therefore, a narrative of what John saw, heard, and experienced “in the spirit.” The vision begins with his exile on the small island of Patmos (Revelation 1:9-1021:222:8).

When he addresses the churches of Asia, John needs no further introduction besides his name, evidence that indicates he was well-known to the seven assemblies addressed. He ascribes no office or title to himself; instead, he designates himself simply as, their “brother and fellow participant.”

John participates with the churches of Asia in “the tribulation, kingdom, and perseverance in Jesus.” He is a partner with the suffering saints of Asia in their tribulations, a “fellow-participant.” He stands with them, not over or apart from them.  In Verse 1, he identifies himself as a “slave” or doulos of Jesus Christ, a designation applied to believers throughout the book (Revelation 2:20, 7:3, 10:7, 11:18, 19:2, 22:3, 22:6).
John is an active participant in the visions recorded in the book and functions as a surrogate for his readers. He does not attempt to hide his occasional missteps. He is the guide of the readers of the book, yet he remains one of them.
In the opening vision, John finds himself “in spirit” where he hears a great voice “behind him.” The location of the voice is important; John’s description echoes the words of the prophet Ezekiel:
  • (Ezekiel 3:12) - “The Spirit lifted me up, and I HEARD BEHIND ME THE VOICE of a great rushing, saying, Blessed be the glory of Yahweh from his place.
The background from the book of Ezekiel stresses that John is taken unawares by the suddenness of his experience “in spirit.” Whatever he was doing, the vision came upon him unexpectedly, its source was external to him.
He heard the voice “behind him.” He was not looking for it and was not prepared for the experience. He was not engaged beforehand in meditation or, otherwise, seeking to enter an altered state of consciousness. This was not a self-induced vision; it was a revelation received from Jesus.

John understands some things about what he sees in his visions but, also, he fails to understand what he sees at key junctures.  In the vision of the innumerable multitude, for example, one of the elders asks him the identity of this group. John responds, “My lord, you know.” The elder explains the image by identifying the multitude as the redeemed from every nation that is in the process of coming out of the great tribulation.

Likewise, in his vision of the Throne and the Sealed Scroll, he is unable to answer the question, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and its seals?” Not only can John not answer the question, but he also weeps profusely as it is left hanging.  He can give accurate descriptions of what he sees, however, all too often he does not understand what the images mean. Frequently, a third party must intervene to explain what he sees (Revelation 4:55:6-1417:7-18).

John is an active participant in his visions.  When commanded, he does exactly what he is told.  He writes only what he is commanded to write.  When ordered to eat the little scroll, he does so.  When directed to measure the temple, he acts promptly and with precision.  He experiences physical sensations.  When he eats the little scroll, finds it sweet as honey but, then, bitter when swallowed (Revelation 10:4-10, 11:1-2).

When John sees the Great Harlot, Babylon, “drunk with the blood of the saints,” rather than revulsion, he wonders at her “with great wonder.”  This is precisely how the ungodly react to Babylon and the Beast (“they wondered after the beast”). An angel must rebuke John for wondering after the Harlot. This “failure” emphasizes the appeal and seductiveness of the Harlot.  She momentarily seduces even God’s prophet.  This is a warning to the readers of the book, some of whom are being seduced by the “prophetess, Jezebel.” Already, Babylon the seductress is active within the churches of Asia (Revelation 2:18-23, 13:3, 17:6-7).

When his vision comes to its end, John is overwhelmed and prostrates himself before an angel.  In reaction, the angel rebukes him sternly:
  • Do not do that!! I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God” (Revelation 22:8-9).
John was a real person who received a vision from an external source.   He reacted to its strange images in many of the same ways Christians have done since he first recorded them.  He saw and heard things he did not understand.  When asked to explain what he saw, he was stumped.  Frequently, John required a third party to interpret a vision or keep him on track.

John reacted with deep emotions. For example, he wept profusely when no one was found worthy to open the Sealed Scroll He experienced sorrow, fear, and wonder.  He was taken in momentarily by the splendor of the Great Harlot.  Twice he made the error of rendering homage to an angel.

It is the reader of the book who benefits from his experiences.  Like John, he or she needs the images he saw explained.  By means of his wonderment at the Beast, the reader is warned:  Do not be seduced by its glory or power By his twice-committed error of prostrating himself before an angel, the reader is forewarned against the veneration angels (compare - Colossians 2:18).

John’s role in the book of Revelation is to be a surrogate for his readers and, thereby, to involve his audience in his visionary experiences. He is the vehicle God used to communicate the visions, but they are intended for all the churches. The summons to follow the Lamb wherever he goes is a call to all believers to participate in the “tribulation and the kingdom and the perseverance in Jesus.”


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