Patmos

John was exiled to Patmos for his testimony – A “fellow participant” in the Tribulation and Perseverance “in Jesus” - Revelation 1:9

Island - Photo by Marek Okon on Unsplash
Patmos is a small island in the Aegean Sea positioned approximately ninety kilometers west of the city of Ephesus. It is eleven kilometers long by seven kilometers wide, making it one of the smaller islands of the Sporades archipelago. Roman literature from the period identifies these islands as a place where political offenders were exiled - (
Tacitus, Ann. iii. 68; iv. 30; v. 71) - [Photo by Marek Okon on Unsplash].

The island was not a penal colony. It had a population large enough to support a gymnasium, acropolis, and shrines to the Greek gods Artemis and Apollo. But its physical isolation made it an excellent place to banish political undesirables.

Political offenders were exiled under the regulation of in insulam, which included the confiscation of property and loss of civil rights. The purpose was banishment, not necessarily forced labor. Only the Emperor could impose this penalty.
  • (Revelation 1:9) – “I, John, your brother, and fellow participant 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.

JOHN’S EXILE

Later tradition claimed John was forced to labor in the mines on Patmos. However, there is no evidence that mines ever existed on the island during or prior to the Roman period (William Ramsay, The Letters to the Seven Churches).

Another regulation under which an individual could be exiled was the sentence of relegatio in insulam. This did not mean the loss of property or civil rights, and often was imposed by a provincial governor if he exiled the offender to a location within his jurisdiction, and Patmos belonged to the province of Asia.

According to the church father Tertullian, John was exiled under this law - (De Praescript. Haer. 36). Probability supports this last option. It is unlikely the emperor would take any interest in the case of a minor provincial.

ACCUSATIONS

The letter from Jesus to Smyrna describes the “slander of them who say they are Jews and are not,” and uses the Greek noun blasphémia.(Strong's #G988). While the term can mean “blasphemy,” it commonly meant “slander” as in false accusations.

At Smyrna, some saints were being accused to local magistrates by their opponents for activities offensive to Roman sensibilities, accusations that were “slander” in the eyes of Jesus - (Revelation 2:9-10).

John found himself on Patmos “on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” The preposition dia rendered here as “on account of” could indicate either that he went to Patmos to proclaim the gospel or was banished there because of his activities elsewhere.

The second alternative is the more probable. First, John was a “fellow participant” in the “tribulation.” Second, in Revelation, saints were persecuted for the “testimony of Jesus.” Third, an almost identical clause is found in the fifth seal opening where the martyrs were presented as individuals slain “on behalf of (dia) of the word of God and their testimony (martyria).” And fourth, the term “testimony” or martyria has judicial overtones - (Revelation 6:9, 11:7, 12:11, 12:17, 20:4).

Patmos Outcropping Photo by Daniël van der Kolk on Unsplash
[Patmos Outcropping Photo by Daniël van der Kolk on Unsplash]

Thus, John found himself banished to this small island, and therefore, he identified himself with the suffering churches of Asia. He was their “
fellow participant.” In his book, he does not call himself an “apostle” or indicate his status or authority. He is simply “John.” This suggests a figure well-known among the churches of Asia. More relevant, he identifies himself with the plight of his churches.

FELLOW SUFFERER

Therefore, John was a “brother and fellow participant in the tribulation and kingdom and endurance in Jesus.” “Fellow participant” or sugkoinōnos denotes joint participation (Strong’s - #G4791). The term is related to the Greek noun used elsewhere in the New Testament for “fellowship” - (1 Corinthians 9:23, Romans 11:17, Philippians 1:7).

In the Greek sentence, one single definite article or “the” modifies all three nouns (tribulation, kingdom, endurance). They are grammatically linked, and each noun is part of the whole. To be “in Jesus” means tribulation, kingdom, and endurance, for all three terms characterize what it means to follow him.

Tribulation” translates the Greek noun thlipsis, a “pressing together,” hence “pressure, distress, trouble, tribulation, affliction” (Strong’s - #G2347). This was something the church had experienced already at Smyrna. Later, in his vision of the innumerable multitude, John saw a group “coming out of the great tribulation” - (Revelation 2:9-10, 7:9-14).

Thus, “tribulation” occurs “in Jesus.” It is not something that God inflicts on the ungodly, but instead, it is what faithful Christians endure on account of their testimony. In contrast, the ungodly undergo “wrath” – (Revelation 6:16, 11:18, 19:15).

The churches participate in the “kingdom.” The kingdom or reign of Christ is a present reality and believers participate in it. The churches are members of his “kingdom and priests” - (Revelation 1:6, 5:10-12, 20:4-6).

The “endurance” also occurs “in Jesus.”  The call to endure through tribulation and persecution is a theme threaded throughout John’svisions. For example, the assault against believers by the “Beast from the Sea” is called the “endurance and the faith of the saints” - (Revelation 13:10, 14:12).
  • (Revelation 3:10) - “Because you kept my word of endurance, I also will keep you out of the hour of trial, which is about to come upon the whole habitable earth to try them that dwell upon the earth.

Tribulation, endurance, and kingdom all take place “in Jesus.” They typify church life because believers are identified with him, and he is the “faithful witness.” He inaugurated the kingdom by his death and resurrection, and his disciples now reign with him as “priests.” But they do so in and despite opposition and persecution from a hostile society and the machinations of the Devil who manipulates deceived humanity to execute his plans.



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