Fellow Participant in the Kingdom

SYNOPSIS - Exiled to the isle of Patmos, John was a “fellow-participant” in the tribulation of the seven churches of Asia - Revelation 1:9.

Cape Disappointment - Photo by Stephanie Bergeron on Unsplash
Stephanie Bergeron 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 Revelation 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 while “in the spirit.” The vision begins with his exile on the small island oPatmos (Revelation 1:9-1021:222:8).

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

John participates with the churches 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 recorded visions and functions as a surrogate for his readers. He does not attempt to hide his occasional missteps. He is the guide for his audience but 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. His 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 Ezekiel stresses that John was 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 he also fails to do so at key literary junctures.  For example, in the vision of the innumerable multitudeone of the elders asked him the identity of this group. John responded, “My lord, you know.” The elder explained the image by identifying the multitude as the redeemed from every nation that was in the process of "coming out of the great tribulation."

Likewise, in his vision of the Throne and the Sealed Scroll, he was unable to answer the question - “Who is worthy to open the scroll and its seals?” Not only could John not answer the question, but he also wept profusely as it was left hanging.  He could give accurate descriptions of what he saw, however, all too often he did not understand what the images meant. Frequently, a third party intervened to explain the imagery (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 saw the "Great Harlot," Babylon, “drunk with the blood of the saints,” rather than revulsion, he wondered at her “with great wonder.”  This is precisely how the ungodly react to Babylon and the Beast (“they wondered after the beast”). An angel rebuked John for wondering after the Harlot. His “failure” emphasized the appeal and seductiveness of the Harlot -  She momentarily seduced even God’s prophet.  This served as a warning to the original readers of the book, some of whom were being seduced by the “prophetess, Jezebel.” Already, Babylon the Seductress was active within the churches of Asia (Revelation 2:18-23, 13:3, 17:6-7).

When his vision came to an end, John was overwhelmed and prostrated himself before an angel.  In reaction, the angel rebuked 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 ever 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.

Colosseum sunset - Photo by Dario Veronesi on Unsplash
Colosseum by Dario Veronesi on Unsplash

It is the student of Revelation who benefits from his experiences.  Like John, the reader needs his visions explained.  By means of his wonderment at the "Beast from the sea," we are warned - Do not be seduced by its glory or power By his twice-committed error of prostrating himself before an angel, the reader is warned also against the veneration of angels (compare - 
Colossians 2:18).

John’s role in the book of Revelation is to be a surrogate for his readers and thereby involve them 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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