"Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter;" (Revelation 1:19)
I wonder as I write this piece if I'm like "Father McKenzie" in The Beatles' song Eleanor Rigby :
"Writing the words of a sermon that on one will hear" ? I suppose the content might be "a snooze" to some folks, but I hope there will be a few "brave souls" who will stick with this! It just might give you a totally different perspective about the Book of Revelation; specifically about the writer of the Book of Revelation that you probably never thought about before!
My personal Bible devotional reading for today was Revelation chapter one. I've read the Book of Revelation many times. I've taught classes from the Book of Revelation. During the first few months of 2000 (since we thought of that as such a significant year at the time) I preached a series of sermons from the Book of Revelation on Sunday mornings. Today, I have no new theological view of the Book of Revelation, nor do I have some great end times message which will send chills up readers' spines. I do have a new perspective to report! I thought about something I'd never thought about before as I read and pondered the words of the first chapter of Revelation: I thought about the author and what he had to be feeling and going through just prior to experiencing the spectacular Revelation of Jesus Christ that he received.
John was an old man at the time. Tradition says he was a really old man at the time. In fact, John was often called "The Elder". He used that name in two of his epistles. I want to make it clear that this guy was not "John the Baptist". This was the man who is called "St. John the Evangelist" by Roman Catholics. He and his brother James were among the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ. This is the John who wrote The Gospel of John. Scripture tells us that when James and John were young and actively following Jesus they were called the Sons of Thunder. They literally hoped judgment would soon fall on their enemies. James was martyred decades before John experienced what he described in the Book of Revelation. And, John, who'd been a rather hot-headed young guy had become known as the "apostle of love" as an old man. My, what a difference the years of walking with God in humble service and obedience had made in John's life!
John may have been as old as ninety when he wrote the Book of Revelation. He'd been exiled to the island of Patmos. (It's a barren island about twenty-four miles off the coast of Turkey.) I was reading this morning that John was exiled to Patmos by the Emperor Domitian. The exile lasted for about eighteen months, and then tradition says John went to live out his final days in Ephesus. I was always taught that Patmos was totally barren; that on one lived there. It was surprising to learn today that there was a Roman administrative center on the island in the first century, so John was certainly not "all alone" on the island as we've sometimes believed. It's likely he was not held in a dungeon or anything like that. Domitian probably just wanted him stuck on that island so his influence on others could be very limited.
I spent some time this morning thinking about what it must have felt like to be elderly John on the island of Patmos. Boy, I'd love to have been able to go back in time, speak his language, and interview him. Was he depressed? Was he bored? Was he hopeless? I imagine he must have been tired. He'd lived quite a full and meaningful life, but it certainly would not have been an easy life. Was his wife still living? Did he have children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren? If so, where were they? Was he lonely? I'd guess he must have been lonely. The big questions I wanted to ask John were: Did you feel like your life was over? Did you feel like your ministry was over? Did you feel like your best days were all behind you? Did you feel like you had nothing particularly to look forward to in this life? Did you feel like you'd accomplished pretty much all you were going to accomplish, and that now you were just waiting to die?
I can't prove it, but I suspect he may have felt some or all of those things.
At Christmas time, we hear a lot about the whole "Elf on a Shelf" thing. (I won't address that now; I really don't like that whole idea!) I certainly can't relate to being an "Elf on a Shelf" but I can relate to feeling like my own life has been "on a shelf", and that my best days and most important and significant days are behind me. (I could write pages about that, but I will not.) No, I'm not ninety, and I've got a long way to go till ninety, but that feeling of being bored and "all washed up", well, let's say "it's pretty lousy!"
I thought about John, and all of a sudden I liked what I was reading! I got so blessed by reading Revelation chapter one today! I'm a very verbal guy, but I'm at a loss for words to tell you how excited, and happy, and hopeful, and (yes) blessed I felt as I read it! Here was an old guy on an island pretty much thinking not much was left for him in this life and "POW!" What a Sunday that must have been for John! Yeah, it was a Sunday; check that out! I wanted to ask John, "Which Sunday was more exciting for you- that first Easter Sunday we just celebrated a few days ago, or was it this one?!" I know you probably think it had to be the day Jesus rose from the dead, but don't be too sure about that! I suspect it was this one!
I wonder how long the Revelation experience was for John? Three hours? Four hours? Five hours? More? And, when he wrote the Book- where'd he get the scroll and the pen and ink? Did he write the Book of Revelation from Patmos itself, or was it later from Ephesus? What a project it must have been to write it! Think of it- no computers, no typewriters, no copy machines, no printing presses. It was a labor of love. Later, others- scribes- have to have handwritten out copies of it for distribution to the believers of that day.
It's 2016. And, I'm reading that Book. And, all over the world, people are still reading it, and still studying it, and talking about it, and arguing about it. But think of it! God cared about an old guy on an island who was lonely and who probably thought there was nothing more (in this life) for him! And God gave him that great revelation and that great assignment and responsibility! I've often said that someday in heaven, I want to "look up" Gideon from the Book of Judges and Joseph from the Book of Genesis and just talk to them- interview them- hear their personal stories. Well, I've got to add John to the list. You may be surprised that it's not about his years walking with Jesus as a young man that I want to talk about- I want to talk about when he got that "Revelation of Jesus Christ"!
Yes, this really touched me and did something for me today! And, for those of you who didn't get "scared off" at the beginning of this piece, I hope these words have touched and blessed you today, too!